The same doctrinal purpose and character of Biblical history revealed in the Old Testament is clearly seen in the historical narratives of the New Testament. It appears in the very composition of the Gospels, where it is perfectly obvious that there was no attempt to write inclusive biographies of our Lord, but only to set forth those facts and aspects of His life and ministry which would have a special meaning for the spiritual needs of the readers, and for the practical requirements of missionary endeavor. It has been recognized that perhaps the immediate primary principle which guided in the writing of the Gospels was the furnishing of the early Christian missionaries with materials concerning the life and teachings of our Lord which would be most effective for the making of converts in the various sections of the Roman Empire, and then of the world at large.
Take, for example, the omission of a record concerning the childhood and youth of Jesus; the great emphasis upon the Passion Week of our Lord, with the result that more than one third of all the Gospel material deals with that last week of His life; the prologue to the Gospel of John, which clearly sets forth its theological interest, as well as John 20:31 which says, "These signs are recorded so that You may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing may have life through His name" (Moffatt's translation); also the preface of Luke's Gospel, in which we read in verses 3 and 4, "I have decided, O Theophilus, to write them out in order for your excellency, to let you know the solid truth of what you have been taught."
The separate episodes which are narrated in the Gospels reveal very clearly the doctrinal nature of these books, for in almost every case the episode is not narrated for the sake of the story, but for the purpose of illustrating a teaching of Jesus, which is conveyed sometimes only in a brief statement in the narrative setting. This can be taken as a rule concerning all the recorded events in the life of Jesus.
Thus, for instance, the story of the raising of the daughter of Jairus was obviously preserved because of its revelation of Jesus' view of death in His words, "The maid is not dead, but sleepeth." Again, the story of the raising of Lazarus is preserved for the main purpose of giving a historical basis to the resurrection hope; for in that connection Jesus says, "I am the resurrection, and the life," and of course, he who knows the fact of Lazarus' resurrection as the response of Jesus' call, understands the meaning of Jesus' teaching concerning Himself as the resurrection.
Or take the incident of the disciples of Jesus' plucking ears of corn upon the Sabbath day, and His statement at the end of a controversy with the Pharisees over that occurrence, "The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath," and therein is clearly contained the doctrine that the Sabbath is Jesus' own institution. So, one could illustrate from the wealth of Gospel material the basic doctrines of Christianity, and when this didactic nature of the Gospels is recognized, it will also be seen at once that the four Gospels were textbooks of Bible doctrine, which the early Christian missionaries carried with them, and on the basis of which teaching they instructed their classes of baptismal candidates.
Finally, the book of Acts may be considered briefly, for it, too, is of the same type of Bible history as the other portions which have hitherto been considered. It is not so much a history as the presentation of a doctrine with its proof from history. That doctrine is, briefly stated, that the risen Christ is the head of His church and the Lord of all its affairs, and that we now live in the era of the Holy Spirit and His work.
This truth is then demonstrated in the record of the expansion of the religion of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to Rome, in accordance with the program which the Lord Himself laid down, as recorded in Acts 1:8. It is not necessary to cite the specific incidents and passages from the book of Acts to illustrate its doctrinal interest. A mere scanning of the book as a whole will show plainly that here is a clear presentation of the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ, of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, of the resurrection, of faith in Christ, the Sabbath institution, the advent hope, and similar points.
It is evident, then, that in Bible history Bible doctrine is embedded and illustrated, and is an inseparable part of Bible doctrines. A few practical and pedagogical conclusions may be drawn from this fact. First of all, we should recognize the fact that our present generation is more inclined toward historical ways of thinking than toward the logical and analytical method. It follows, then, that today, as in times past, there is no snore effective way of teaching God's truths and God's law than from the records of actual historical experiences of individual men and nations.
These facts in no way disparage the study of Bible doctrines as such. No essential distinction should be made as to the relative value of Bible history and Bible doctrines. The difference is one of pedagogical method, rather than of content and religious importance.
Bible doctrines, or, as the study is sometimes called, systematic theology, represents the logical deduction of truths from data which have been revealed historically, homiletically, or prophetically in the various books of the Bible. This synthesis into the form of a well-knit logical structure is the necessary last step in the process of Biblical education. It is possible that sometimes historical interest will weigh so heavily as to leave the intended lesson obscure in the minds of readers and students. For that reason, the learning process must be completed with a course of study which definitely isolates the lessons and sets them forth in logical sequence and form.
On the other hand, a firm structure of doctrinal understanding cannot be built up in the mind without a broad and thoroughgoing knowledge of Bible history and literature, which not only presents God's revelations in the historical way in which they came to man, but also supplies the illustrative material necessary to interpret the doctrine in terms of human experience.