ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The True Meaning of 2 Timothy 2:15

Updated on June 4, 2018
Source

Introduction

The phrase “rightly dividing the word of truth” in Timothy 2:15 is unique to the King James translation. It has caused some to believe that we are to take the Word of God and somehow divide or separate passages and or books and determine who or what audience they are intended for. As a result, this verse has become a springboard for a completely different way of reading and applying scripture.

My purpose with this article is to show that this interpretation is actually a classic example of the old adage "A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text". It is a dangerous thing to take a single text from scripture and make a doctrine from it, especially if that passage has been read out of context.

Background of 2 Timothy 2

In this chapter Paul is giving instruction to Timothy on how to continue in the work of the ministry in his absence. He tells Timothy to convey the things that he has learned from him and pass them down to those whom Timothy is ministering to. He tells him to endure, to be a good soldier of Christ, not become entangled with the affairs of this life, to only concern himself with pleasing God and that he will enjoy that which he labors for.

Paul then goes on to say that even though he might be imprisoned like a criminal, that the gospel itself cannot be confined. Paul sates that he is willing to endure all things for the sake of the elect of Christ, that they might obtain salvation.

Paul then sets a wonderful tone by exclaiming the promise that we all have; that if we die to this world and are willing to endure hardships, that we would have eternal life with Christ. Even though we are unfaithful, Christ is faithful and that He cannot deny us if we live in Him.

Paul knew that this was the very essence of faith and of the gospel message, that it is a message that all believers would need to hear and comprehend. The hardships that the church was enduring and was yet to endure would test the faith and resolve of those who believed in Christ.

In verse 14 Paul pleads with Timothy to charge them with these very important aspects of the Christian faith, then Paul gets into an area that he knew would be an issue among believers; the striving and arguing with one another that does not profit or benefit the body of Christ. Paul knew very that this would lead to ruin and dissolution the the hearers of the gospel.

Just think for a moment about the impression that those who are not Christians get of us when they witness us being divisive over trivial words and things. How much pleasure Satan must get when we argue among ourselves over doctrines and words when it is the simple gospel message that the world needs to hear and by which they are saved. If we can not speak to each other with kindness and love, then our faith and testimony will appear to be hypocritical to others. We are commanded to love one another, we are not licensed to berate or be hateful to anyone.

Paul then reminds Timothy of how Hymenaeus and Philetus had strayed from the truth and were teaching falsely that the resurrection had already taken place. Paul encourages Timothy to seek only things that are pure and holy, to be patient and gentle.

Paul’s counsel to Timothy should serve as sound advise to us today as well. As the old saying goes, “it is much easier to attract flies with honey, than vinegar”. Non-believers should be attracted to Christ through our behavior and love, rarely has a person been converted to the faith by the witness of one who does not abide in the spirit of love.

Textual Analysis

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Now we get to the crux of this topic. In verse 15 the KJV has Paul telling Timothy to study that he might be approved of by God, a workman (G2040 ergatés) which is a reference back to verses 5 and 6, this word ergatés is elsewhere used as “field workers”, “laborers”, etc., who should not be ashamed, and rightly dividing (G3718 orthotomeō) the word of truth. The Greek word orthotomeō only appears once in the New Testament. The Strong’s Concordance defines it like this:

  1. to cut straight, to cut straight ways A to proceed on straight paths, hold a straight course, equiv. to doing right
  2. to make straight and smooth, to handle aright, to teach the truth directly and correctly

One can only guess why the KJV translators chose the phrase “rightly dividing” instead of “rightly teach” or “cutting straight”, I would suggest that in 1611 “rightly dividing” might have had a different meaning than how we use it today. Given the context of this verse and the surrounding text, I think that it is appropriate that we closely examine the true meaning of this phrase.

Although the word orthotomeō was not used, a similar message was given by John the Baptist when he quoted Isaiah by stating “Make straight the way of the Lord” in John 1:23. John used the word G3588 euthunó, which means:

  1. to make straight, level, plain
  2. to lead or guide straight, to keep straight or direct: A of the steersman or helmsman of a ship B of a charioteer

So, we have two people who are both giving instruction make a clear and straight path. The meanings are identical with the same intention in mind. They are in effect stating that no obstacle should be allowed to get in the way of what is truth.

I would like to attempt to point a few things concerning what is out of context:

  1. The idea of separating or parsing scripture is not in context.
  2. There is no mention of discerning what is prophetic vs what is a mystery, or discerning what is for the church vs what is for the Jews, etc.

  3. When Paul wrote this, the only scripture that could have been parsed would have been what we call the Old Testament, the gospels and epistles did not exist as collective body of work at that time.

  4. If the word orthotomeō truly meant to parse or separate, we should expect to find it, or a word of the same common root when the words divide, divided or dividing are used elsewhere in scripture.

On the fourth point I would like to expound a bit. Let’s look at where derivations of the word divide appear elsewhere in the King James and see what Greek word was used for its transliteration:

Dividing

  • 1 Corinthians 12:11 - G1244 diaireó - def: I divide into parts, cut asunder, distribute. The context of this passage definitely deals with something being separated or parsed, the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the body of Christ.

  • Hebrew 4:12 - G3311 merismos - def: (a) a distributing, a distribution, (b) a parting, dividing, severance, separation. The topic of this passage also deals with separating, the two-edged sword that separates the spirit and soul, joints and marrow.

Divide

  • Luke 12:13 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. This passage involves the dividing of inheritance.

  • Luke 22:17 - G1266 diamerizó - def: I divide up into parts, break up; I distribute. The breaking of the bread at the last supper.

Divided

  • 1 Corinthians 1:13 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. This passage involves whether or not the body of Christ is divided.

  • Matthew 12:25, 26 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Refers to divided kingdoms.

  • Matthew 25:32 - G873 aphorizó - def: I rail off, separate, place apart. This deals with the separation of the sheep.

  • Mark 3:24-26 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Same as Matthew 12:25, 26

  • Mark 6:41 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Dividing of the loaves and fishes.

  • Luke 11:17, 18 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Same as Matthew 12:25, 26

  • Luke 12:13 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. In regards to dividing inheritance.

  • Luke 12:53 - G1266 diamerizó - def: I divide up into parts, break up; I distribute. In regards to a house (family) that is divided within itself.

  • Luke 15:12 - G1244 diaireó - def: I divide into parts, cut asunder, distribute. The story of the prodigal son’s inheritance.

  • Acts 13:19 - G2624 katakléronomeó - def: I give as an inheritance, distribute by lot. Paul recounted the the dividing up of the promise land in the synagogue.

  • Acts 14:4 - G4977 schizó - def: I rend, divide asunder, cleave. Speaking of the people of Iconium being divided between the apostles and the Jews.

  • Acts 23:7 - G4977 schizó - def: I rend, divide asunder, cleave. The dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

  • Revelation 16:19 - G1096 ginomai - def: I come into being, am born, become, come about, happen. Talking about Babylon splitting into three parts.

Divideth

  • Luke 11:22 - G1239 diadidómi - def: I offer here and there, distribute, divide, hand over. This regards the spoils taken by the stronger man.

Divider

  • Luke 12:14 - G3312 meristés - def: a divider, partitioner, distributor. In regards to dividing inheritance.

My point is this: Paul and other New Testament writers had repeatedly used words that most definitely meant to parse or separate, most commonly schizó, diamerizó and merizó or derivations of, yet Paul chose not to use any of the words that had previously been used in the Greek to demonstrate his point. Instead, Paul chose a word that is only used once in all of the New Testament, thus we must closely examine what this word means and how we should apply it to this passage.


Paul’s Intent

Paul’s instruction to Timothy was that he be a man who would be able to witness by example and that he would be wise in properly administering the gospel by being able to prove that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah. Paul wanted Timothy to be able to carry on in the work of the great commission in a responsible and effective way without getting entangled in things that would only inhibit his progress. Orthotomeō certainly seems to be a sort of engineering term used to convey a visual image to Timothy of a clear and unobstructed path, that is why he encouraged him to stay clear of useless debates over senseless things and avoiding false teachings.

The Word Of Truth Is Not Divided

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness - 2 Timothy 3:16

I find it hard to believe that if Paul had meant that scripture is to be divided, that he would have made this statement, especially within the same letter to Timothy.

If you were to search the internet for “rightly dividing the word of truth” or “2 Timothy 2:15”, you will find a plethora of websites and videos dedicated to explaining that we are to divide scripture and to know that some parts of scripture are for the Jews and others for the church. They will explain to you that since Paul’s dispensation was to the Gentiles that we are to follow only Paul’s writings and that other books such as the gospels, Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude, etc are for the Jews. Really??? The gospels don’t pertain to us gentile believers? We are not to follow Christ and His teachings? Are we not to go out into all the world and makes disciples of Christ?

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

We are not baptized in the name of Paul, but in the name of Jesus Christ. We bear the name “Christians”, not Paulites or Paulinians. Paul is stating that the Corinthians should follow his example by being followers of Christ. We are to take up the cross of Jesus and follow Him.

Source

The Results Of This Teaching

Unfortunately, there is a very popular teaching that denies that we gentile believers are children of Abraham, and thus are not considered to be Israel in the eyes of God. But Paul had something to say that is contrary to this belief.

Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

In Paul’s mind, being called a child of Abraham had nothing to do with ethnicity, but everything to do with faith. Likewise, being called Israel was also not an issue of ethnicity, either. The children of promise that Paul spoke of was refering to those who are in Christ, and if we are in Christ, then we are Abraham’s descendants.

Paul tells us in Romans 11 that gentile believers have been grafted into the remnant of Israel that still remained in the root, which is Christ. Gentiles have been adopted into the commonwealth of the true Israel and share in the promises as heirs.

Peter expounded on this concept when writing to those who are in Christ:

1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Paul concluded Romans 11 with this thought:

Romans 11:31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

Am I promoting what some call “replacement theology”? No, not at all! I am promoting that all Jew and Gentile believers are of the same tree whose root is Christ. A child that is adopted, does not replace the natural children of the parents. There is only one body of Christ and it consists of both Jewish and Gentile believers

Paul alludes to the idea that there are two “Israels” if you will, those who were physical descendants of Jacob, and those who are Israel by faith. For example, Ruth was a Moabite and Rahab a Canaanite, yet both we counted as Israel and were in the lineage of David and Christ.

Conclusion

I am not attempting to say that the King James is not accurate in regards to 2 Timothy 2:15, rather that the meaning of “dividing” has transformed in its meaning over time and that some people today have made a doctrine that is not fundamentally sound based on a word which meaning has changed over the last 400 years. Just like the closing theme song of The Flintstones used to say “We’ll have a "gay" old time” had nothing to do with homosexuality, but in the 1960’s, which was just a few decades ago, meant a lighthearted and carefree time.

Additionally, I will cling to every red letter in my Bible more tightly that every other black word in the Bible combined. No one will take that away from me, nor should they you!

Thank you for reading this article and I look forward to your comments.

Poll on this topic.

Do you believe that Paul instructed Timothy to divide or separate the word of truth?

See results

© 2018 Tony Muse

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      3 months ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you Tamarajo. You are very correct, doing any kind of in-depth study before we had such great internet resources would have been quite cumbersome and expensive. Thank you for reading my hub!

    • Tamarajo profile image

      Tamarajo 

      3 months ago

      What a privilege to have access to so many online sources that we might search the Scriptures in their original languages to see if these things are so. This is a lovely study that exhibits the beauty of that privilege that we might see His truth rightly.

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      3 months ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, Margaret. I firmly believe that textual and contextual analysis es very important when reading scripture. I hope that you have a blessed weekend in celebration of the resurrection in which we have our hope!

    • revmjm profile image

      Margaret Minnicks 

      3 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Tony from Texas, I read your article and was amazed how clearly you explained your points. Hopefully, others will find it as educational as I did! Continue writing great hubs like this one.

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      3 months ago from Texas, USA

      Hxprof - Thanks for reading my hub. Yes, interpretations can get pretty far-fetched when you are grasping at straws to affirm your exegesis.

    • profile image

      Hxprof 

      3 months ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Agree with you about the "word of truth". It's amazing to me what kinds of deception can be concocted by an incomplete view of scripture.

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      3 months ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks Charlie, I have been told multiple times that I am not "rightly dividing the word of truth", in every case it was in regards to the fact I stood by my belief that all scripture is beneficial for us today.

    • celafoe profile image

      charlie 

      3 months ago from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans

      good article, I was not aware that so many were again following these tales of apostate man

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)