II Timothy 2:15
Don’t you think that the expression “rightly dividing the word of truth” in II Timothy 2:15 might be a poor translation, if not a mistaken translation, of what Paul is saying? After all Timothy didn’t have the whole Bible to “divide.” I think maybe the new translations have it correct, because I just don’t see where the idea of “dividing” could come from. <the answer>
First of all, I disagree with the notion that Timothy did not have a completed Bible, or enough of a completed Bible. I am persuaded that he did. It is evident to me from Paul’s epistles that the various churches of the Gentiles not only had copies of what we commonly call the Old Testament Scriptures, but in particular as Paul’s epistles were written they were copied and distributed to them. And this occurred naturally enough also with the Scriptures of the circumcision apostles to the remnant of Israel. So that by the time Paul’s ministry was coming to its conclusion, (as indicated with the writing of II Timothy), a completed Bible was understood and appreciated for what it was. And as such “all scripture” was described by Paul as in existence, what it was, its role, etc. So, as I understand it, Timothy had a completed Bible and knew it. He had “the word of truth” in its entirety.
Now with regards to the legitimacy and accuracy of the expression “rightly dividing the word of truth,” I understand that in view of God having two distinct and different programs recorded on the pages of His word, a clear cut division is exactly what needs to be made in “the word of truth.” And with this being the case, this is where the issue of “rightly dividing” comes from, and is exactly what Paul had in mind and said.
Briefly put, the legitimacy of us needing to make a real division in the Bible is something that we should well understand from what God’s word teaches long before we ever come to the things Paul sets forth and teaches in II Timothy. Paul’s previous epistles, (along with Genesis through Acts preceding them), have made it abundantly clear that God has two distinct and different programs in His overall plan and purpose. The first being God’s covenanted program with this earth and His nation Israel, which He has both spoken about and has been engaged in the outworking of since the world began. The other program, however, pertains to the heavenly places and the revelation of “the mystery of Christ,” which was “kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest” by means of God revealing it to the apostle Paul. It involves God’s “new creature,” the church the body of Christ, that He is forming now in this present dispensation of His grace.
Now right from Romans, (with its opening declaration concerning Paul’s distinctive apostleship and message to the nations; and then especially in chapters 9-11 where it teaches us about God temporarily suspending His program with Israel in connection with bringing in this unprophesied dispensation of His grace to us Gentiles), Paul makes the reality of these two distinct and different programs plain and clear. He makes sure we understand that in connection with his apostleship, gospel, and doctrine, (and the incorporation of it into God’s written word; “the word of truth”), there is an outright ‘division’ that now exists in the Bible. A ‘division’ in accordance with the portion of God’s word that pertains to His program and dealings with Israel, and the portion that pertains to God’s program and dealings in this present dispensation of His grace.
Furthermore, long before we doctrinally arrive at II Timothy 2:15, Paul also teaches us right from Romans about Satan’s policy of evil in this present dispensation of grace. He teaches us in detail how that this policy of evil works to produce doctrinal confusion, uncertainty, and corruption in Christians’ minds by fervently working to blur in their thinking (if not obliterate) the distinction that exists between God’s program with Israel and His program today with us, His “new creature.” Paul teaches us how that this policy of evil works to homogenize, so to speak, God’s two programs. In so doing the Adversary works to get it so that Christians fail to clearly understand and appreciate the distinctive nature of this present dispensation of grace. He works to make it so that Christians walk foolishly by endeavoring to operate upon a combination of instructions, doctrines, promises, provisions, and the like, that come from both God’s program with Israel and His program in this present dispensation. And, as Paul teaches, Satan must do this in order to succeed with the objectives that he wants to achieve in his policy of evil against God and us in this dispensation. Indeed, Satan himself has a very clear understanding of the importance and the need that there is for us to be “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Hence the vigorous activities of his policy of evil to prevent Christians from doing so. In fact, unfortunately Satan has a clearer understanding of how needful it is to be “rightly dividing the word of truth” than most Christians have.
Again, doctrinally speaking, in view of the fact that from Romans on Paul sets forth the clear distinction between God’s program with Israel and His program with us in this present dispensation of grace; and in view of the clear cut distinction that exists between the portions of God’s word pertaining to each; and in view of Paul’s teaching on the working of Satan’s policy of evil to blur, obliterate, or deny, any such distinction; in view of all this, by the time we doctrinally arrive at II Timothy we are well aware of the fact that a clear cut division needs to be made in the Bible. And if it is not made, it plays right into the hands of Satan’s policy of evil.
Therefore, if we have been accomplishing our “godly edifying which is in faith” that has been provided for us from Romans 1:1 right up until II Timothy, by the time we arrive at II Timothy we already know the need to be “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Doctrinally speaking, the concept is not only already an undeniably clear reality to us, but also an absolute necessity as well.
Moreover, with I Timothy having doctrinally just set forth in detail what to expect from the operational tactics of Satan’s policy of evil in a local church, (especially the forceful attack upon the truth of Paul’s distinctive apostleship, doctrine, and example; along with the intimidating issue of the reproach and shame that will be brought to bear upon any and all Christians and churches that stand for it), it is all the more expected that when we begin to deal with II Timothy that Paul will underscore in no uncertain terms the need to make the clear cut division in the Bible that needs to be made in order to thwart the success of the policy of evil against us. And this is just what Paul does when in the context of dealing with the power of the policy of evil, he says to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Therefore, doctrinally speaking, the legitimacy and truthfulness of the expression “rightly dividing the word of truth” is clearly established by God long before we arrive at II Timothy. The need for it is an inescapable reality in view of God’s two distinct programs, and doing it is an absolute necessity, if one is to avoid cooperating with the policy of evil.
– K.R. Blades