What does Paul mean by sound doctrine? e.g., in the following verse:

Titus 2:1 (ESV)
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

Today, some people talk about doctrines, some of which have different names. For example, irresistible grace or effectual calling.

Is Paul referring to all teaching in general or some specific doctrine?

  • @Siju George - what exactly do you mean by a 'canonical answer'? What's missing from the current answer I've provided?
    – Steve can help
    Feb 17, 2020 at 8:25
  • Thank you for your answer :-) I happened to be in a meeting where there was an argument between two people who stood for sound doctrine. According to one sound doctrine included "not wearing ornaments". Another person argued that sound doctrine are the 5 solas. So to "teach what accords with sound doctrine" how much of behavior modification can be demanded? I hope you got my english. Thank you. Feb 17, 2020 at 21:41
  • 1
    @Siju George see Hebrews 6:1,2 for a set of doctrines taught by the apostolic church.
    – One Face
    Feb 17, 2020 at 22:18
  • 1
    I am curious to see if there is a connection between "sound" and formal logic, (considering Paul's Philosophy/Logic use). Is this a reference to sound and valid logic? Feb 17, 2020 at 22:51
  • 1
    Thank you @SteveTaylor, I have awarded you the bounty. Thank you for teachiung me more about hermeneutics :-) Feb 22, 2020 at 10:39

6 Answers 6


Paul's letter to Titus is fairly clear end-to-end that its main concern is the behaviour and lifestyle of believers. The surrounding passage makes it clear that 'sound doctrine' or 'healthy teaching' is primarily a matter of living out good character and being consistent in their lifestyles.

Wider Context

Titus 1:1

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness...

The qualifications for Elders are focused first and foremost on the character and attributes of the person, rather than demanding they hold specific beliefs - they must be 'above reproach' (1:6, again 1:7), and lastly must "hold firmly to the trustworthy word as taught" (1:9), which is not elaborated upon further, assuming it's not a summary statement referring back to the previous qualifications.

Local Context

In Chapter 2, Paul explains what he means by 'sound doctrine' (ὑγιαίνω διδασκαλία) in the subsequent verses, and this is set in contrast against the earlier verse:

Titus 1:16

[the defiled] profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Titus 2:1-9

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.

What does the word 'doctrine' mean here - has this changed over time?

The Question hinges on on what exactly is meant by διδασκαλία, which many translations render as 'doctrine'. However, I would argue that this is not a faithful modern translation, and does not accurately render the Greek into English.

διδασκαλία literally means 'teachings', and so covers a broad range of meaning. The modern 'doctrine' has a much narrower range and tends to cover only theological grounds, rather than whole-life applications. This ambiguity was introduced by the Vulgate (4th Century), which rendered many uses of διδασκαλία as doctrinas, which may or may not have retained the Greek's broader meaning at the time (either way the 4th Century was extremely contentious for teachings, so it is unsurprising that a translation from that period may over-emphasise the need for 'doctrine' rather than 'teaching'). Over the passing centuries, doctrinas certainly arrived at a relatively narrow range of meaning if this was not already the case.

But when we transliterate the Vulgate's doctrinas into doctrine in modern translations, we fail to preserve the full range of διδασκαλία in Titus and other New Testament texts, and so can obfuscate the clear meaning of the text. In this case the letter to Titus is crystal clear on what it means by ὑγιαίνω διδασκαλία, and reinforces this throughout the text.


Paul makes it crystal clear that 'sound doctrine' involves teaching the whole church from top to bottom how to be: how to live good lives in accordance with sound teaching. If that's not clear enough, this is underlined yet again shortly thereafter:

Titus 2:11-12

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age...

  • 1
    Good answer. Doctrine (as we now typically think of it) is important but has grown intellectually top heavy. "Watch your life and your doctrine" Paul summarizes in 1 Timothy 4. Grace (not just the doctrine of it but the reception of it) teaches us how to live. Feb 19, 2020 at 14:18

The exact same Greek words ("sound doctrine" in Titus 2:1) also occur in three other of Paul's writings -

1 Timothy 1:8-11 (NASB)
8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

The Greek word for "sound" is ὑγιαίνω, and the Greek word for "teaching" is διδασκαλία, which is also translated as "doctrine," as the following two passages indicate.

2 Timothy 4:1-3 (NASB)
1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires...

Finally, the same words occur earlier in the Epistle to Titus.

Titus 1:7-9 (NASB)
7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

While there is not much variation of the word διδασκαλία, which means teaching or doctrine in the New Testament, the word ὑγιαίνω has one other major connotation in the New Testament. That is, the word means healthy (physically "sound") such as is found in Luke 5:31; Luke 7:10; Luke 15:27; and 3 John 1:2. Thus there is healthy ("sound") teaching or doctrine, and unhealthy ("unsound") teaching or doctrine.

In the following verses, the Apostle Paul defines the "line" where the good doctrine turns into bad doctrine. The first "rule" is that the teaching must "boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" as the following verses indicate.

Galatians 6:11-16 (NASB)
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

The "rule" is the boasting in the cross of Christ. Sound teaching therefore must direct its "boasting" to the cross of Christ. (For example, the unsound teaching or legalism of circumcision in the Galatian church detracted from the boasting in the cross of Christ.) There is also one more "rule" mentioned by the Apostle Paul with regard to teaching.

1 Timothy 6:11-16 (NASB)
11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

This "commandment" is that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us (1 John 3:23). In other words, sound teaching can only come from those who know the Lord--that is, those who believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, the teaching must be edifying, or loving to those who hear.

The spiritual gift of the exposition of the Bible (teaching) is therefore meant for edification (1 Cor 14:26) through the "boasting" of the cross of Christ. That is the meaning of "sound doctrine."

  • 2
    (-1) I'm disappointed that so many people have up-voted an Answer to "what does Paul mean by X in Titus 2:1" which A) ignores the context of Titus 2:1 when proposing an interpretation, and B) quietly assumes correct translation and transliteration of διδασκαλία > doctrinas > doctrine.
    – Steve can help
    Jan 3, 2017 at 11:50
  • "The spiritual gift of the exposition of the Bible (teaching) ... is the meaning of 'sound doctrine.'" This answer makes no sense in the historical context, since the New Testament canon wasn't even completely formalized until six centuries after Paul wrote to Titus - unless you are suggesting that all of Paul's writing was exegesis of the Old Testament.
    – user33515
    May 10, 2017 at 1:32
  • @SteveTaylor I would argue that Joseph's answer is useful in it's elaboration of "sound" as "healthy", which is even aligned with your answer, and the gospel as the way of life. Moreover the Vulgate's translation(!) of διδασκαλια --> doctrinas appears reasonable (online-latin-dictionary.com/…). But i think your point is that the meaning of "doctrine" is today confused with "dogma".
    – JHM
    Mar 23, 2022 at 20:48

What does Paul mean by “sound doctrine” in Titus 2:1

The word in the Greek text, and the definition of "sound" is—

ὑγιαίνω (Theognis, Hdt.+; inscr., pap., LXX, Philo, Joseph., Test. 12 Patr.) be in good health, be healthy or sound.

If the doctrine is to be "good," and "healthy," it must be in harmony with the rest of Scripture...ALL the rest of Scripture. No doctrine (teaching) that is not in agreement with the rest of Scripture could possibly be considered "sound" or "healthy."

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: —2 Timothy 3:16 (AV)

Scripture was not "made," it grew. The various parts of the Bible constitute an organic whole, and comes to us by way of God's progressive revelation to man. Since Scripture is given by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it never contradicts itself. Each part of the Bible is in complete submission to every other part of the Bible.

Sound doctrine always recognizes the supernatural inspiration and harmony of Scripture.

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    The problem with that is simple: "Agreement" with the rest of scripture is completely based on a person's interpretation of the scriptures. If you present a doctrine that you genuinely believe to be fully supported by all scriptures and someone else rejects that doctrine because they insist that it is not supported by all of the scripture, then what you have is NOT a bad doctrine, but rather an impasse between two hard headed Christians. In the Bible, Jesus said that He sent us the Holy Spirit to be our Helper upon His departure. I propose we should work that into our theological equations.
    – OCDev
    Jul 5, 2015 at 14:49
  • "The various parts of the Bible constitute an organic whole ... comes to us by way of God's progressive revelation to man." The Bible is not itself revelation, but is rather the witness to revelation. Even the Torah is a transcription of God's words to Moses.
    – user33515
    May 10, 2017 at 1:35
  • @OCDev The Holy Spirit should guide a person in order to understand any truth at all for spiritual things are spiritually discerned. One's own understanding will always be at fault for carnal nature can't understand the things of God.
    – One Face
    Feb 17, 2020 at 22:11
  • This passage capitalises more on behaviour than abstract beliefs - but let's not ignore the place of Apostolic tradition, either. The "New Testament" was preserved by early Christians to preserve the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. Similarly, where we are unsure of their meaning, it can be helpful to look back at the earliest generations to see how they understand these texts. This can at least help guide which interpretations to consider or discard. For example, in the second century there's no expectation of more Apostles appearing, so that can shape our view of church leadership.
    – Steve can help
    Feb 25, 2020 at 6:09

What does Paul mean by “sound doctrine” in Titus 2:1

Titus 2:1 (ESV)

"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine."

Does Paul referring to all teaching in general or some specific doctrine?

ΠΡΟΣ ΤΙΤΟΝ 2:1 1881 (WHNU)

συ δε λαλει α πρεπει τη υγιαινουση διδασκαλια

The Greek words ("υγιαινουση διδασκαλια") "hygiainousē didaskalia" is literally translated as "healthy teachings." and is a more accurate translation than "sound doctrine."

Some renderings by other translations.

New Living Translation Titus 2:1

"As for you, Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching."

International Standard Version Titus 2:1

"But as for you, teach what is consistent with healthy doctrine."

The answer to your question is in chapter two of Titus 2, ,counsel to "older men 2:2",counsel to "older women 2:3," counsel to "younger women"2:4-5 counsel to "younger men 2:6," and to "slaves and servants 2:9."

Since a life guided by wholesome/healthy teachings of God brings such blessings now and in the future, we need to know, in practical terms, how we can make God’s sound teaching our way of life. The apostle Paul provided the answer in his letter to Titus in the second chapter ,he counselled "But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with wholesome teaching." The counsel is beneficial to all , young , old, male and female.

Counsel for older men.Titus 2:2 (NASB)

"Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance."

Older men are usually looked to as examples of faith and loyalty , (Lev. 19:32) so they should take Paul's words at heart and like him, older men should be worthy of imitation .

Philippians 3:17 (NET Bible)

17 "Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example."

Older Christians are to be temperate , dignified,and sensible, older men should thus be clearheaded, watchful and not given to extremes in drinking, or other things. They should be tolerant of the energetic younger ones , and have full control of their feelings and impulses.

1 Peter 1:13 (NET Bible)

"13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Finally older men should be "sound in faith, in love, in perseverance." Perseverance (endurance) is a feeling that could wane with advancing age and possibly Paul, in mentioning it, had in mind Jesus words : "But the person who endures to the end will be saved. (Mat.24:13 NET) Older men should be excellent examples for the rest of the congregation for their experience and healthy spiritual qualities.

Counsel for the older women .(Titus 2:3)

"Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good."

“Likewise,” by this obviously Paul means that “the older women” also have certain responsibilities to live up to so as to fulfill their role in the congregation. They are to " exhibit reverent behavior,"Behavior" is an expression of one's inner attitudes and which are reflected in one's conduct and appearance. A woman with positive attitudes for spiritual things and friendliness can positively influence young women around her. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 gives advice to women how to conduct themselves.

9 "Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control.[c] Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, 10 but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God."1 Timothy 2:9-10 (NET Bible)

"But teaching what is good."

Paul gave clear instructions that women are not to be teachers in the congregation. "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet."( 1 Timothy 2:12 ) However this does not prevent them form teaching ,the invaluable knowledge of the scriptures which they have ,in their households and to others.

Counsel for the Young Women. Titus 2:4-5(NET)

4 "In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited.

Although the above instructions of Paul are centered on domestic duties, young women are to be of sound mind and not let themselves go overboard with material concerns to the detriment of spiritual things, otherwise the message of God may not be discredited.

Counsel for Young Men. Titus 2: 6-8 (NET)

Paul now comes to Titus and to the younger men.

6 "Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled, 7 showing yourself to be an example of good works in every way. In your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and a sound message that cannot be criticized, so that any opponent will be at a loss, because he has nothing evil to say about us."

Many of today's youths are irresponsible and destructive in their ways -- drug and alcohol abuse , smoking, illicit sex, debase music and entertainment, etc. Christians youths are urged by Paul to follow wholesome teachings for a healthful and satisfying life, that cannot be criticized by opponents. Likewise , speech must be “wholesome” and such that it “cannot be condemned” so that they may give no cause for complaint by opposers.​

Counsel for Slaves and Servants Titus 2:9(NET)

9 "Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything, to do what is wanted and not talk back, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything."

Not many of us today are slaves or servants, but many are employees and workers rendering service to others. Thus, the principles cited by Paul apply just as well today. "To be in subjection to their masters in everything," means that Christians are to show their employers and supervisors respect. They must be honest workers giving a full days work as their employer's due, and also maintain a high standard of Christian conduct,"in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything."Titus 2:9

Does Paul referring to all teaching in general or some specific doctrine?

Paul in his writing is urging fellow Christians to fill their mind with wholesome Bible teachings, and not a specific doctrine.

2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)

16 "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for [b]training in righteousness;"


I found the most accurate translation to be "but you, speak the things which are fitting to the healthy teaching," Titus 2:1. The word "healthy" indicating life. Not the biological or psychological life, but zoe, the spiritual, divine, and eternal life, Jn 10:10; 3:16. Which appears to be a theme of the Bible: Gen 2:8-9; Titus 1:2-3; Rv 22:2. Like someone above pointed out, the word "teaching" should mean teaching generally, not an academic "doctrine." Paul exhorted Timothy "to remain in Ephesus in order that you might charge certain ones not to teach different things...which produce questionings rather than God's economy, which is in faith," 1 Tim 1:3-4. As someone above also pointed out, the whole rest of Titus describes behaviors: which to me means experience over mere knowledge of them. Since this kind of godly or pious living (cf Titus 1:1) is nothing that any of us, Christian or nonchristian, can accomplish through our self-effort (Lk 18:18-19; Rm 1:18--2:24; 3:19-20; 7:23-24), then the healthy teaching must be the giving of grace, and not rule-keeping. Titus 2:1 reminds me of these words of Paul: "let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good for building up, according to the need, that it may give grace to those who hear," Eph 4:29.


Apostle Paul also knew that people will not endure sound doctrine and warned Timothy about it:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; - 2 Timothy 4:3

In 1 Timothy 1:8-10, apostle Paul described what is contrary to sound doctrine.

But, apostle Paul was not teaching something new, he knew the meaning of good doctrine

For I give you good doctrine: Do not forsake my Law (H8451:Torah)-Proverbs 4:2

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