Truth Magazine - Editorial: Soundness by Mark Mayberry

Truth Magazine - Editorial: Soundness by Mark Mayberry

Posted by Mark Mayberry on Sep. 20, 2023

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EDITORIAL: Soundness

By Mark Mayberry

Synopsis: While many stress the importance of physical health and fitness, the Bible emphasizes spiritual well-being. Soundness refers to the state of being healthy. From a spiritual standpoint, are we strong or sickly?


Recently, an evangelist among us suggested that the soundness of a local church is not connected with how brethren conduct their worship, or use their funds, or perform their collective work. What does it mean to be sound? What is required of us individually? What is required of us on a congregational or collective basis?

Old Testament Usage

Some Things Are Sound

The book of Proverbs repeatedly praises the concept of “sound wisdom” (Prov. 2:7-8; 3:21-22; 8:12-17, esp. v. 14), which necessarily implies its opposite. The self-willed fool quarrels against “all sound wisdom” (Prov. 18:1-2).

Some Things Are Not

In Psalm 38, entitled “A Prayer of a Suffering Penitent, David says,”There is no soundness in my flesh" (Ps. 38:1-8, esp. v. 3 & 7). Why? Because of his sins and transgressions:

O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath, And chasten me not in Your burning anger. For Your arrows have sunk deep into me, And Your hand has pressed down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden, they weigh too much for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my folly. I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart (Ps. 38:1-8).

Isaiah depicts wayward Israel as a sick and diseased body:

Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him. Where will you be stricken again as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil (Isa. 1:4-6).

Through Micah the prophet, God called His people to exemplify “sound wisdom,” but they foolishly pursued a path of self-destructive wickedness (Micah 6:9-13, esp. v. 9).

New Testament Usage

The Greek verb hugiainō, derived from the noun hugiēs (sound, whole, healthy), means “to be sound, healthy” (Thomas, 5198).

It occurs twelve times in twelve New Testament verses (Luke 5:31; 7:10; 15:27; 1 Tim 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:1, 2; 3 John 2), and is rendered “good health” (2x), “safe and sound” (1x), “sound” (8x), “well” (1x) in the NASB.

Bauer offers the following distinctive meanings: “(1) to be in good physical health, be healthy, literally; (2) to be sound or free from error, be correct, figuratively, in the Pastoral Epistles with reference to Christian teaching. Thus, in accord with prevailing usage, Christian teaching is designated as correct instruction, since it is reasonable and appeals to sound intelligence” (BDAG, 1023).

In considering these occurrences, we draw two conclusions: (1) This word is descriptive of physical health and spiritual truth; and, (2) While the former is desirable, the latter is demanded.

Application to Physical Health

As noted in the aforementioned definitions, this word communicates the concept of physical well-being. It occurs three times in the third gospel, which (unsurprisingly) was written by Luke, the beloved physician (Col. 4:2). In explaining why He associated with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:29-32, esp. v. 31). When Jesus came to Capernaum, friends of a Roman centurion asked the Lord to heal one of his slaves, who was sick and about to die. Impressed with the centurion’s understanding of authority, Jesus said, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health (Luke 7:1-10, esp. v. 10).

Consider also the Parable of the Prodigal, as recorded in Luke 15. After repenting and returning to his father, a joyful celebration was held because he had come back “safe and sound” (Luke 15:27). Could he be so described while wasting his substance with riotous living? No. Safe and sound describes not only his physical return from a foreign country, but also his spiritual journey from the desert of sorrow and sin. John, the beloved disciple, echoes this dual usage, in addressing Gaius: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).

Application to Spiritual Truth

Recalling the previously discussed definition of hugiainō, let us remember that Bauer says that, in addition to its literal meaning (i.e., to be in good physical health), the word also means “to be sound or free from error, be correct, figuratively, in the Pastoral Epistles (i.e., the letters to Timothy and Titus) with reference to Christian teaching.” The abridged version Theological Dictionary of the New Testament offers this comment on “sound teaching:”

In 1 Timothy 1:10; 6:3; and Titus 2:8, we find the idea of “sound” teaching or words. The reference is to true teaching, not to teaching that makes whole. This teaching, validated by the apostles, is concerned, not with speculation, but with true, rational, and proper life in the world. Being “sound in faith” (Titus 1:13) goes hand in hand with being temperate, serious, and sensible (2:2) (Kittel, 1202-1203).

Let us consider Paul’s discussion of “soundness” (hugiainō) in his letters to Timothy and Titus—two young preachers who were charged with the task of helping local churches set things in order and conform to the divine pattern (1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13; Titus 2:1, 2).

In these epistles, the apostle Paul repeatedly emphasizes the importance of “sound doctrine/teaching.” This suggests two essentials: (1) to fulfill this mandate, we must advocate sound doctrine/teaching, and (2) we must be sound in faith. For one who identifies as a gospel preacher to come along and suggest that soundness is not connected with how brethren conduct their worship, or use their funds, or perform their collective work is simply erroneous.

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus address a variety of issues involving individual and collective responsibilities. Considerable attention is given to the role of women in the assembly (1 Tim. 2:12), the qualification of elders who shepherd local churches (1 Tim. 3:1ff), and deacons who serve local churches (1 Tim. 3:8ff). Paul also emphasizes Timothy’s responsibility (as an evangelist) of conducting himself properly in the house/church of God (1 Tim. 3:14ff). In chapter 5, the inspired apostle distinguishes between individual and congregational responsibilities in the realm of benevolence. He urges brethren to support elders who rule well (1 Tim. 5:17ff) and provides guidelines on how to handle accusations made against elders, and the necessity of confronting elders who sin (1 Tim. 5:19ff). Each of these specifics is connected with sound doctrine.

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 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 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted (1 Tim. 1:3-11, esp. v. 10).

According to the apostle Paul, sound teaching stands in opposition to all expressions of immorality (1 Tim. 1:3-11, esp. v 10). In this context, Paul contrasts strange doctrines with sound teaching (v. 3, 10). Unlike those who make ignorant assertions about God’s law, the apostle affirms the proper role of divine revelation: “Law is good if one use it lawfully.” This principle is inclusive of inspired revelation in both the Old and New Covenants. Yes, the Law of Moses had been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, but it served a good and noble purpose: revealing the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. In like manner, the Law of Christ serves a good and noble purpose: revealing God’s plan, purpose and precepts in the Christian dispensation. If Timothy wished to further the administration of God which is by faith and fulfill the goal of the instruction (i.e., cultivating love from a pure heart, maintaining a good conscience, and developing a sincere faith), he must make proper application of divine law, his teaching must be sound on issues relating to morality, and he must faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. From the aforementioned context, faithfully teaching on moral issues would equate to sound teaching. Would not the same principle apply to the work, worship, and organization of the church? If not, why not?

Please note that after identifying various moral transgressions, Paul adds, “and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching [that is] according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” Although specifics are included, this is not an exhaustive list. The apostolic addendum would include any deviation from divine truth.

In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:6-8, esp. v. 6).

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain (1 Tim. 6:3-5, esp. v. 3).

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you (2 Tim. 1:13-14).

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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 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, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5, esp. v. 3).

Paul left Titus on the island of Crete, so that he might “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). The qualifications of an overseer include the following: “For the overseer must. . . [hold] 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” (Titus 1:7-9, esp. v. 9). Because the inhabitants of Crete shared common spiritual deficiencies (dishonesty, moral degeneration and sloth), Paul said, "For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:12-13).

The inspired apostle begins the second chapter of Titus by saying, “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Sound doctrine includes instruction that is applicable to older men (v. 2), older women (v. 3), younger women (vv. 4-5), young men (v. 6), evangelists (vv. 7-8), bondservants (vv. 9-10), along with the saints in general (vv. 11-14). The inspired apostle concludes this chapter by saying, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). Obviously, sound doctrine includes the totality of the gospel message.


What about us? What about our homes and families? What about our local congregations? Are we sound, or are we sickly? As mentioned at the start of our lesson, a well-known preacher among us recently suggested that the soundness of a local church is not connected with how brethren conduct their worship, or use their funds, or perform their collective work. The faulty reasoning he employed is the same as overt false teachers used to avoid the force of 2 John 9-11.

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 9-11).

Brethren in the past who pursued a path of compromise in order to broaden the bonds of fellowship (like Ketcherside, Garrett, Fudge, etc.) restricted the application of 2 John 9 to the gnostic heresy, i.e., those who denied the bodily incarnation of Jesus Christ. While “the doctrine of Christ” does, indeed, include who Jesus is (i.e., He is both the Son of Man [fully human] and the Son of God [fully divine]), it also includes what Jesus taught. Jesus warned the disciples, “Watch out and beware of the leaven (i.e., the teaching) of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6-12, esp. v. 6 & 12). He was not merely concerned with who they were, but with what they taught! In like manner, “the doctrine/teaching of Christ” is inclusive of the whole New Testament.

In summary, recall the variety of topics discussed in the letters to Timothy and Titus: the proper use of divine law. . . the nature of the gospel message. . . the danger of false teachers like Hymenaeus and Alexander. . . the need for personal holiness and modesty. . . the role of women, and restrictions in the area of teaching or exercising authority over a man. . . the qualification and function of elders and deacons. . . admonitions on how an evangelist ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God. . . the danger of apostasy, evidenced by subverting God’s word through the use of unauthorized additions and subtractions. . . the importance of giving proper attention to the public reading of Scripture, coupled with exhortation and teaching. . . the distinct responsibilities of the home and the church in the area of benevolence. . . the importance of preaching/teaching sound words, and the danger of advocating a different doctrine. . . the danger of covetousness and the need for contentment. . . And this is only a partial summary of topics discussed in 1 Timothy! These admonitions, which involve both individual and collective responsibility, are an expression of sound doctrine. In reality, the concept of sound doctrine applies not only to the entire message of the Pastoral Epistles but also to the remainder of the New Testament.

If we retain the standard of sound words by continuing to heed the gospel message that was revealed, confirmed and preserved through the agency of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 1:13-14), then we will be sound in faith (Titus 1:10-14).

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you (2 Tim. 1:13-14).

For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth (Titus 1:10-14).


Bauer, Walter, Frederick W. Danker, William Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG). Third Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985

Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.

Mark Mayberry serves as Editor of Truth Magazine. He has labored with the Adoue Street church of Christ in Alvin, TX, since 1998, where he serves as the evangelist and an elder. The church website is here. His website is here. He can be reached here.