By Joe R. Price
Scripture says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
To “rightly divide” means to cut a straight course or “cut along a straight path” (BDAG, 722), “to make straight and smooth” (Thayer, 453). Like taking a road that goes straight to its destination without a detour, we must avoid striving “about words to no profit” that ruins the hearers (2 Tim. 2:14, 16). Instead, we are to be diligent workers of God who properly use His word so that it carries us, without shame, straight to our destination of God’s approval.
The way we choose to handle the Bible is exactly the way we choose to treat God. After all, in these last days God speaks to us “in His Son” through His apostles and prophets who were inspired by the Holy Spirit (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1-4; Jno. 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). We go to the inspired Scripture to hear, believe, and obey God (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
Here are some practical ways to “cut a straight course” when we use God’s word.
1. Do not read into the Scriptures what you have already decided to believe and do. That is, do not come to the Bible with your mind already made up. Handling the Bible this way is called eisegesis, “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas” (Merriam-Webster). It is twisting God’s word to say what we want it to say. Doing this results in our destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). We can do this in any number of ways. We can force definitions upon words that are incorrect (like forcing the instrument of music into the word “psallo”). We can discount and exclude additional passages of Scripture because they fail to sustain our predisposed view (like minimizing James 2:24 and the role of “works” in justification). If we intend to let the Bible guide us to God’s approval, then we must follow its truth wherever it takes us, not the other way around. And, that may mean giving up a false view and practice.
2. Take everything Scripture says on a topic to have a full understanding of God’s will. Picking and choosing some passages while refusing others that address the same subject is not rightly dividing the word of truth. All truth must be considered in order to know and abide in the truth that frees us from sin (Jno. 8:31-32). Careful, deliberate Bible study avoids rash conclusions while considering all God’s word has to say (Psa. 119:160). We can properly claim to declare the “whole counsel of God” only when we allow all of it to inform and shape our faith, and therefore, what we declare (Acts 20:27).
3. Be ready to accept correction from the Scriptures. When a map shows we are off course we will never get to where we want to go unless we change course. So it is with our study and use of the Bible. We must accept its corrections so we will arrive at our intended destination – God’s approval. We must study the Bible for our own spiritual growth and improvement. When we do that, change will be in order. We must be ready to radically change ourselves and our lives when the Scriptures show we are off course (2 Tim. 3:16). If we will not do so, then we have abandoned any real expectation of God’s approval for the sake of personal vindication. “Let God be true and every man a liar” persuades us that God’s word is always right, and nothing else will satisfy us (Rom. 3:4). Why? Because our goal is heaven. To get there, we must handle God’s word correctly (2 Tim. 2:15).