Are All Doctrines Equally Weighty; Doctrine is Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

 

In a recent Zionsbanner broadcast, I used a quote by Sir Isaac Newton, who did theology as well as science. It goes: “In nonessentials straw, in essentials iron.” I went on to explain that I do not think that any doctrine is nonessential. So, how do we reconcile the fact that believers will disagree on doctrine, yet there are areas of doctrine in which we cannot afford to disagree? How can we consider all doctrine to be equally important in light of the fact that some doctrines seem to have greater significance than others? I think if we bear in mind that doctrines do not stand in isolation, but touch other doctrines, an analogy which might help us to understand is a jigsaw puzzle.

Like puzzle pieces, because doctrines touch other doctrines, they have weight, and some doctrines may be weightier than others. Before we take this analogy any further, you may be saying, “But Jeff, how do you support this idea that doctrines have weight scripturally?” Let me turn to two passages. The first of these passages is 1 Corinthians 15:3. It reads, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” The Greek word here for “first of all” is πρωτος which carries the meaning of prṓtos, as exampled here:

1. From Homer, prṓtos signifies the “first” in space, time, number, or rank.

2. The word occurs in the LXX some 240 times, half in Genesis to Nehemiah, and mostly with reference to number, though also at times rank.

3. Philo uses the term in various connections (e.g., ho prṓtos is the only true God for the sage); in Josephus the term is used for leaders in the tribe, people, or priesthood (e.g., Ezra), as well as for the first in time.[1]

 

We can see that the idea of rank was certainly an allowed meaning for this particular Greek word, and this is the sense used in our Bible reference. It is reasonable to believe Paul is saying that the things listed in that passage are of prime importance, or that they are extremely weighty doctrines.

Jesus also hinted about a hierarchy among Scriptures when He spoke of weightier things in the Law. Our second Scripture passage says,“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Matthew 23:23, NKJV).” Since all of the Law was Scripture, Jesus here seems to be indicating a hierarchy within the Law, with some teachings or doctrines being of greater weight than others.

How can these things be? Let’s now go back to the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle. In a jigsaw puzzle some pieces touch more pieces than others. For instance, a corner piece may only touch one or two pieces while a piece in the center may touch as many as five or six. Therefore, some doctrines within the body of truth may impact other doctrines more extremely than others. Beyond this, some doctrines may touch on matters far more central to salvation than other doctrines do. While all doctrine is equally important, not all doctrine is equally weighty. One must ask how central the doctrine in question is to other key doctrines related to the Christian worldview and salvation, and on that basis give the doctrine a level of weight. So, while all doctrine is important, I may disagree with my brothers and sisters on less weighty doctrines while still regarding them as important. At the same time I can find some doctrines more central where there is little room for disagreement, thus allowing us both to disagree in love, remain unified, and preserve the message of salvation. I hope this analogy is useful to many who read it (and I hope many read it), and that it might help you as you wrestle with the balance between cooperation and integrity in your faith.

 

 

 


[1] Bromiley, G.W., Friedrich, G., Kittel, G. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pp. 965-966). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.