Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul told Timothy to rightly divide the word of truth. What did Paul mean? How can you rightly divide the word of truth in your study?
Timothy had the honor of getting personal correspondence from the apostle Paul.
Paul wrote to Timothy, a younger minister, with at least two things specifically in mind: encouragement and advice for the long haul.
But really the contents of these two fatherly epistles have application for all Christians, not just those in the ministry.
One example is found in 2 Timothy 2:15:
“Be diligent to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
What does it mean to rightly divide the word of truth? Why did Paul charge Timothy with this responsibility? What’s the harm in not following this clear instruction?
How would you respond if you were given this directive?
In this post, we’ll answer these questions and examine more closely what it means to rightly divide the word of truth.
Today’s postmodern society has virtually blacked out words like right, correct, absolute and proper from people’s mental dictionaries.
Because of the movement’s cultural impact, many now say there is no single way of life or interpretation that is definitive or authoritative. Instead, the prevailing idea is that one person’s viewpoint, opinion or personal decision is just as valid and right as anybody else’s. (To learn more about this way of thinking, read “How to Survive a Post-Truth World.”)
That mistaken worldview can make it easy to look at the Bible as some generic book with general wisdom that’s open to individual interpretation. “This verse means this to me, but that to another person,” someone can argue.
Paul is telling us we have to approach Bible study with the same skill, precision and attention to detail as Roman engineers approached their work. But was that what Almighty God had in mind when He handed us His inspired Word?
Did He want people to pick and choose which scriptures they think are relevant, dismiss others and justify misinterpreting straightforward passages by playing the “this is what this scripture means to me” card?
What Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:15 indicates that it’s not about what a person thinks the Bible says, it’s about what the Bible actually says and how it should be rightly put together and understood.
Paul is charging Timothy—along with every student and teacher of the Bible, for that matter—to not read into the Bible what he wants to see, but to try to grasp what the Author, Almighty God, is saying (2 Timothy 3:16).
Too many people, even pastors, allow personal biases to influence their interpretations of the Bible, causing them to draw false conclusions by slicing scriptures out of context or to establish doctrine by looking at only parts of the Bible instead of the whole thing.
That is an example of how to wrongly divide God’s Word—a cause of a number of different heresies.
Paul’s reminder is that, as the Literal Standard Version puts it, we straightly cut the word of truth.
The Romans of Paul’s day were renowned for their engineering prowess, and it was evident in the skill and precision with which they built straight roads—sometimes literally cutting through hills.
Paul is telling us we have to approach Bible study with the same skill, precision and attention to detail as Roman engineers approached their work.
The question is, How can we be sure to do that? Are there any general rules or guidelines to follow when studying or teaching God’s Word?
Here are three principles we should bear in mind so we can rightly divide the Scripture:
Start with the easy scriptures first.When trying to understand or establish doctrine, go to the straightforward and clear Bible verses first. These should form our premise. We can then use these scriptures as the basis for understanding the less clear scriptures we may find.
Read every verse on the subject.Avoid forming beliefs from isolated scriptures. Always consider all the verses in the Bible regarding a specific topic. The truths of God are found by putting together all the scriptures related to a topic and then interpreting what they teach as a whole.
Let the Bible interpret the Bible.Don’t let personal biases or preconceived ideas influence your understanding. Remember, God says what He means and means what He says. Look for what the Bible says, not what you want to believe.
If we follow these three rules and pray earnestly for understanding, then we will be on our way to correctly handling God’s Word.
For more information on studying the Bible, read our articles on “Bible Study.”
“The word of truth”
The Bible is not some arbitrary collection of man-made myths and fables. God Himself, who cannot lie, breathed the Bible into existence (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:16).
If the Bible were the product of men, then it would be reasonable to expect inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions. But because it’s the product of God’s mind and will, we can have complete confidence that what we read is the ultimate source of truth.
Notice how Peter clarifies the true origin of the Bible in 2 Peter 1:20-21:
“Knowing this first,” Peter told the brethren, “that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
And what did Jesus, the Son of God, have to say about the Bible? Just before His death, He prayed to the Father and said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Students and teachers of the Bible should treat the Bible with respect, recognizing it as God’s “word of truth.”
We should revere the Bible for what it claims to be—“the word of truth.”
To learn more, read “What Is Truth?”
“Present yourself approved to God”
Paul is basically telling Timothy, “Listen, if you want to be acceptable to God in this matter, treat His Word carefully.”
Was careless treatment of the Bible a problem in the first century?
Just as there is a right way to follow a recipe or drive a car, there is a right way, a correct way, to handle the Word of God. Peter gave us a glimpse into something the first-century Church encountered when he described Paul’s epistles as having “things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
Evidently, even in the presence of the original apostles, people were coming to false conclusions because they were mishandling God’s Word.
So, to avoid fitting Peter’s description, we must rightly divide the word of truth.
Just as there is a right way to follow a recipe or drive a car, there is a right way, a correct way, to handle the Word of God. When these three principles are put into practice, a person will be well on his or her way to being “a worker who does not need to be ashamed.”
There is peace and security in that.
If you would like to learn more about God’s Word and need a starting point to begin rightly dividing the Bible, why not enroll in our free Bible Study Course?
Topics Covered: Christian Living, Bible Study