Rightly Dividing The Word
Elder Keith Ellis
"Study to shew thy self approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15
This text has become one I have looked at many times over the years. There are several aspects to this text. It is not my intention to deal with only a few of them, but rather to convey the basics of Bible interpretation.
There is a simple principle that will not guide you astray. I do not care what anyone may say about it. It is as sure as the word of God itself. It has nothing to do with my experience or yours, or anyone else's for that matter. It is not a complicated system that will confuse you, nor do you have to possess a seminary degree to figure it out.
As you become better acquainted with God's word you will find that the Bible harmoniously comes together. It complements itself at every turning of a page. It does not contradict itself, though there may appear to the unlearned Bible reader, what amounts to "seeming contradictions."
Therefore I believe the safest, simplest and surest method for keeping us away from false interpretations is to allow:
"SCRIPTURE TO INTERPRET SCRIPTURE".
The answer for every verse you read will find its support or its answer somewhere in the makeup of God's word. The answer verses that you need are not always right next to each other. Most of the time it takes a lot of searching to find your answer. It may be you will search and find a text you think answers your query. You have to be careful you do not become guilty of removing any verse from its context to try and make it fit where it does not belong. More on this in the next chapter. There can be no contradictions and you must remain consistent with the entire Bible. You must place the scripture in its proper context.
This is what is under consideration in the text in 2 Timothy. There is a necessity to divide the word, scripture from scripture, but God tells us that it must be done rightly.
As was mentioned in an earlier chapter, we should be holding to the Bible alone as our authority to rule our faith and practice, though you will find many people in this day and age do not. They claim to believe the Bible, but at the same time will claim that
the so-called "writings of the church fathers" or the "catechism" or some other writing like the book of Mormon, should be held on the same level with the Bible. This is where the problems arise. These other writings are not inspired of God and are simply the writings of men. Any time we bring in other writings and incorporate them into the church doctrine, we get into trouble. A thorough search of the Bible will show you this practice is displeasing to God. The same would be true for articles of faith if we use them to rule our faith and practice rather than as a simple profession to others of what we believe.
So it is the word of God that we will need to rightly divide, not the writings of men. And this being the case, it is necessary to look at some simple principles that will help us to rightly divide the word.
Again it is necessary to remind you that we should not take any word or phrase for granted. It may carry a different meaning in our culture. And instead of attempting to change God's word and risk doing it damage, we will use our concordance and its Hebrew or Greek dictionaries. When approaching a verse you will want to make sure that you have read enough of the surrounding verses to make sure you know what is being spoken about, so you do not become guilty of taking a verse out of its context. As an example of seeing people do this all the time, I will use the words "saved" or "salvation." The majority of people I know have been taught something entirely different than
what the Bible teaches about these words. Most think that everywhere these words appear they automatically mean "saved for heaven."
At first thought you may even think the same thing. Remember that the Bible does not contradict itself anywhere. It is only our inability to place it in its proper context that creates the illusion it contradicts. Here are some examples where the words are used:
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that NOT OF YOURSELVES: it is the gift of God: NOT OF WORKS lest any man should boast." (caps mine) Ephesians 2:8-9
"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling." (caps mine)Phillippians 2:12
"And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, SAVE YOURSELVES from this untoward generation." (caps mine) Acts 2:40
Now before we look further into these verses we need to understand something about the word we are looking at. It basically means "to deliver" or "deliverance." There have been several times since I have been a Christian that I have needed to call upon
the Lord to "save" or "deliver" me. Not for heaven, because I know that the issue of eternal life was settled long ago in my Christian life. But I have needed God to save or deliver me from my circumstances. I suppose that I will have to call upon the Lord again at some future time.
So above, we have the word used in three different texts. They seem to contradict one another at first look. They do if you want to make their application to mean eternal salvation. It is evident they all cannot be true to mean eternal salvation.
Look at this one:
"Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." Acts 27:31
Now in this text it is evident Paul is saying that unless everyone stayed in the ship they would be drowned in the sea. So the salvation under consideration in this text is deliverance from drowning.
Let's look at one more:
"And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be SAVED in CHILDBEARING, IF THEY CONTINUE IN THE FAITH AND CHARITY AND HOLINESS WITH SOBRIETY." (caps mine) 1 Timothy 2:14-15
So is it necessary to have a baby in order to be saved for heaven? Of course the answer is no.
With all the texts I have used here, they must be rightly divided to fit in their proper place. If Ephesians 2:8-9 tells me I am saved apart from any works on my part, and due to the fact I know other verses that will confirm it, I know the salvation under consideration is "eternal," for remember it says, "and that not of yourselves." Also I can see the faith is the faith of Christ and not that of the individual Christian. If it is of grace as the text says then it necessarily excludes any conditions required on my part. This is eternal salvation.
Yet at the same time I know that the Bible teaches that God requires obedience of His children. And as the text in Phillippians mentions, we are saved or delivered from many things in this world by being obedient to the commands and precepts of God. This "saving" is enjoyed here and now, on this side of eternity.
Again when the text in 1 Timothy says women will be saved in childbearing if they continue in the faith and charity and holiness, it has to be talking about deliverance in obedience. For how can someone "continue" in faith or charity, or holiness if they are not doing these things to begin with? And they certainly cannot be doing these things unless they already have the graces of eternal life.
Peter in Acts 2 talks about being saved from "this untoward generation." He is not talking about being saved from hell, but from the impending doom that was to befall that generation of Jews who crucified the Lord Jesus Christ.
So anywhere we read the words "saved" or "salvation" and there are conditions or works attached for us to do, it has to do with gospel obedience or deliverance from temporal circumstances in the church or the world on this side of glory, and not eternal life. By my obedience I can be assured I will save myself from the chastening rod of God. I have the blessed "assurance of eternal life." The theme of temporal or timely deliverance from God's punishment for sin is central to the Bible. It is so sad many cannot see this.
Anywhere it tells us that we are saved not according to our works or conditions it is referring to eternal salvation that Jesus came to secure for us. He did the works that you and I could not do, for He was sinless. Remember, if we could have done it ourselves, then why did Jesus even come?
So we can see unless we look at a verse carefully, we will wind up confused like most of the religious world is. Most folks will end up totally ignoring a set or group of scripture because it contradicts the ones their church mainly teaches. This is not good for the children of God, nor is it pleasing to our heavenly Master. For He requires us to declare all the counsel of God. ( see Acts 20:27).
Even though some may not like what we may have to say, we are obligated to the Lord to declare His truths.
The title text tells us we must be a "workman" that needeth not be ashamed. It will take much hard work and diligent prayerful study to be able to rightly divide the word in every case. But God says that we are to study that we be not ashamed. Our approval comes from God, not from men. In other words, if we are seeking the approval of men, more than likely we will be far from where we need to be in the area of rightly dividing the word.
Before I move on to the next subject I want to offer another example of words or phrases that will present themselves as seeming contradictions. The word "all" is one of them. Look at this text which refers to the birth of Christ:
"And the angel said unto them, fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tiding of great joy which shall be TO ALL PEOPLE." (caps mine) Luke 2:10
Now look at this one which tells us of Herod's reaction when the wise men told him about the birth of Christ:
"When Herod the king heard these things, HE WAS TROUBLED AND ALL JERUSALEM WITH HIM" (caps mine). Matthew 2:3
Luke tells us that the news of Jesus' birth would be glad tiding of great joy to ALL people. It certainly was not good news to Herod. He was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.
So what gives here? The news of Christ is not good news to someone who is not born of the Spirit. Christ and what He stands for is a threat to their way of life, just as Herod thought Christ was a threat to his throne.
To those of us who have seen we are sinners in the sight of God, who have been born again, Christ is indeed good news.
So everywhere we see the word "all" we should not take it for granted that it always means "all the race of Adam." In some places it does, but in many places it refers to "all under consideration."
Just like when the train conductor shouts "ALL ABOARD", he is not shouting it to all the race of Adam, but to those within the sound of his voice who are holding train tickets. If we fail to learn this lesson then we have some rough road ahead.
So we see there are some verses in which the word "all" does not refer to every human on the face of the earth. Sometimes we can look at it like this:
The phrase "all men" may refer to all kinds of men. Rich or poor, tall or short, black or white, educated or uneducated, men or women. Or rather "all classes of men."
So as some verses must be looked at in comparison with other verses, there are some which themselves must be carefully considered.
An example of this is using the word "all" as it appears in Romans 5:18.
"Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Romans 5:18
Now if we think both the words "all" as used in this text refers to the entire race of Adam, we quickly will run into serious problems being consistent with the entirety of God's word. The first "all" may be taken in the sense that the entire race of Adam is under the curse of the sin of Adam, being born into this world a sinner, separated from God, standing in need of being born again. Because of the sin of Adam, we are "all" born into this world as dead in trespasses and sins (see Ephesians 2:1).
The second "all" as used in Romans 5:18 cannot refer to the entire race of Adam. If it were the case, you would have the entire race of Adam justified. If they are justified then God cannot punish a single one in Hell. If all are justified then the parts of the Bible that teach that there is a Hell must be incorrect. The Bible is not wrong. Man and his inability to rightly divide the word of truth has begun so many false doctrines. And that is one of the reasons there are so many denominations in the world today.
The fact of the matter is that all the race of Adam are not justified, and there are some who will have Hell as their eternal abode. So the second "all" are the children of God.
So we will have to learn to rightly divide the word of God in a consistent manner, and without contradiction, regardless whether or not it is popular with the world. Seek to please God, not man. Not just in matters concerning the doctrines of salvation, but in all the doctrines of the word of God, we must be able to handle them without twisting the word or forcing the text to fit our preconceived ideas. This is the only way we can stand without shame in the presence of God. Even though the world has its popular opinions about certain things, we must listen to what God's word says regardless of popular opinion.
The word "every" is another one you need to look out for, as well as the phrase "kingdom of heaven." The Bible as a whole is addressed to God's children and not to the world. So when the words "all" or "every" appear they sometimes must be confined to God's children. Like the popular text in Deuteronomy that is often quoted as God giving us a choice between good and evil. This text is generally thought to be addressed to the unregenerate. In context it is addressed to the children of Israel, who are already children of God. The consequence of the choice is not eternal life, but rather temporal deliverance from the chastening rod of God, and prolonging their days "in the land."