I don’t think that there is a more valuable phrase that I have learned than this: “The palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity.” While I have a love/hate relationship with the idea express, I, nonetheless, know it is true.

There are two key words here: “palatability” and “determine.” Palatability refers to appeal, tastefulness, and emotional response to something. “Determine” according to the dictionary means, “to settle or decide (a dispute, question, etc.) by an authoritative or conclusive decision.” This does not mean that palatability has no say whatsoever, but it is not determinative by any means. I will explain more later.

Doctrine, truth, and the way we understand who God is and what He has done, cannot be determined by how much we like it or how much it appeals to our present disposition toward things. I know that there are often times when people decide what they will believe in the same way they go through a smörgåsbord and decide what they will eat. “These potatoes look good, I will have some of them. Raw carrots? I will pass. But that German chocolate cake will do, as will this crescent roll. I will pass on the rye bread though-leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.” Put to theology, “God’s love? Oh yes, give me two helpings of that. God’s wrath? Pass. I don’t have enough room and it does not sound good. God’s grace will be great, but I will have to skip the atonement—too bloody and odd. Predestination? Sovereign election? No way!”

Obviously, when pictured at Lubbies, this is funny, but the reality is that many of us decide upon doctrine this way.  While the reverse of this principle is true, “The inpalitability of a doctrine does not determine that it is true,” we must understand that our authority does not lie in what we would like to be true. Doctrine is not influenced by how you would do things if you were God. In fact, it does not even ask you for your opinion on how it tastes. When there is clear revelation from God’s word, we must submit to it as the final authority, no matter how bad, bitter, spicy, or bland it might taste. 

On the other hand, palatability may have a say when things are not clear. In other words, when doctrine is not clear within Scripture, such is the case with the destiny of the mentally unable and children who die in the womb or at an early age, then we look toward our emotional reaction for guidance, even if this guidance is fallible. If the Scriptures did say that infants who die before they are born go to hell, you and I would be repulsed by such an idea. This would not be palatable by any means. We would seek every recourse to find an alternative interpretation. Why? Because it is so repugnant to our thoughts of justice and innocence. As I said, it is inpalatable. But if the Scriptures were clear concerning this, we would eventually have to submit to God’s final authority to do as He wills with his creation. However, since the Scriptures do not speak to the matter with any clarity, and other doctrines do not give us a definitive answer, we look to our thoughts on the matter and are justified in believing that our emotions give us a justifiable reason to believe that God will save the unborn. Why? Because we believe that we are created in the image of God. Theologians call this the imago dei. Being in the image of God creates what we call an analogia entis (analogy of being). The analogia entis is the correspondence that we have to God in our being and includes emotions and desires. The simple statement “God loves” only has meaning to us because we believe that our understanding of what it means to love corresponds to God’s. This creates an analogy of language that makes communication possible. I could go on with this for some time explaining the rich history behind it all, but this is a simple blog. All of this to say that our understanding of God and truth is aided by our palatability, though not determined by it.

Therefore, the statement “the palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity” must not only be understood profoundly, but held to deeply. For the most part, I find the Christianity very palatable. Grace, love, righteousness, our future hope, the restoration of all things, etc. are all doctrines that I would gladly take from a smörgåsbord. But when it comes to things that are not quite so palatable and lovely, I must take them too as my final authority is not that which is reasonable to my taste buds, but that which God has revealed in His word.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    11 replies to "The Palatability of a Doctrine Does not Determine its Veracity"

    • Alex Jordan

      Hi Michael–

      I understand your point when you write “the palability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity” but wonder, does anyone embrace the actual truth of a doctrine by its palability?

      In the quest for truth, it seems to me that as soon as the question becomes, “Do I like this doctrine that I encounter in Scripture– does it suit my subjective tastes and fancies?”, then the search for its objective truth has already been abandoned. If one embraces only those doctrines one finds palatable then one only seeks to confirm one’s own subjectivity. Whether one likes or dislikes a doctrine is of course irrelevant to whether or not it is true. In our fallenness our natural tendency it seems would be skewed towards believing that which is not true, or a distortion of the truth.

      By the way, the opposite of palability is unpalability, not inpalability! Inpalability would be an ugly word– if indeed it was a word. 🙂

    • Jeffrey

      In general, I would agree, of course. But there is an exception to the rule. Palatability usually determines the veracity of claims about palatability. For instance:

      “O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” – Psalm 34:8

      If Christianity is unpalatable, then the Bible is not true in all that it affirms.

    • phil_style

      “The Palatability of a Doctrine Does not Determine its Veracity”, unless of course palatability means “consistent with a loving, just and merciful God”, in which case it’s palatability might be a very strong determinant of veracity, at least for the Christian anyway.

      If we describe a God who is unjust, arbitrary and unmerciful, yet we claim he is merciful, loving ang just, then either A) we need to change our vocabulary or B) we’ve got some serious contradictions that need to be sorted out.

    • ScottL

      Michael –

      So does this mean you are moving more towards continuationism, though it is unpalatable? 😉

    • Ed Kratz


      At this point in my life, continuationism is much more palatable than cessationism!

    • ScottL

      CMP –

      Kind of bitter-sweet in this present age, isn’t it? We know it to be true but don’t always taste of it, thus leaving us longing for the age to come when all things are made new.

      Well, unless we take the somewhat off-base view that the ‘supernatural sign-gifts’ (wording you have used) were performed at will by the apostles. If that were true, continuationism is false no matter how palatable it is.

      [Note: I wasn’t getting at you, just making difficult observations about such theological concepts.]

    • rusty leonard

      Michael I would be interested to learn more about the analogy of being you mention in relation to the imago dei. Could you recommend a starting point?

      I like your imagery of a smorgasbord. One thing about putting something into our mouths is that once swallowed we are committed to the effects of whatever it was. 😉

      Revelation 10:8-10
      Psalm 19:10
      Psalm 119:103
      Ezekiel 3:1-3
      Jeremiah 15:16

    • Alexander M Jordan

      Hi Michael,

      To follow up, I think your summary statement is excellent, especially the last part—that final authority rests in God’s word and not in one’s “taste buds”.

      I probably did not word my previous comment very well. What I meant to say is that it is easy to see that people reject doctrines that seem unpalatable (e.g., hell, or reprobation), but on the flip side, do people tend to embrace as true doctrines that strike them as palatable? I’m not so sure.

      From a reformed view, even palatable Christian doctrines strike people as unpalatable if their hearts have not been first opened by God to accept them as true.

      Of course if we are deciding truth of a doctrine based on palability or unpalability, we’ve set up ourselves as the final authority, not Scripture.

      I think your argument that palatability may have a say when things are not clear, using the example of infant salvation, is good. But I would caution that we ought to be very careful about establishing any doctrine that at bottom is not clearly supported by Scripture, or which leans too much on the subjectiveness of palability.

    • Butters

      Random thought to throw out there –

      What if the term ‘unpalatable’ is actually an understatement with certain doctrines? For example, it could be said that the doctrine of eternal torture in hell is not simply unpalatable but completely abhorrent in a way that believing it would make worship and love of God almost impossible. Kind of like the difference between eating old broccoli (not very pleasant) and drinking poison (lethal).

    • phil_style

      Butters has it!

      The “you find it unpalatable” argument is ineffective against doctrines that seem to be contrary to a loving, caring and just God.

      Most unpalatable doctrines are so, because people have already embraced embrace doctrines that ARE palatable, such as a loving God.

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