By Morris W. R. Bailey
In writing to Timothy, Paul gave this instruction: “Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). That is the rendering of the American Revised Version. The King James Version renders it, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
While the two versions differ some what in their rendering of this important passage, the meaning is the same. To present one’s self approved unto God requires a knowledge of His will, which comes only through diligent study. To rightly divide the word of truth is to handle it aright. To handle aright the word of truth requires that it be rightly divided.
To speak of rightly dividing the word of truth, suggests that it is susceptible of a wrong division. To speak of handling aright the word of truth implies that it can be handled improperly. The fact is that much of the confusion and division in the religious world of today stems from just such an improper handling or division of the Bible. With many, the Bible is just a convenient book by which to prove men’s preconceived ideas. Consequently, positions are taken and doctrines espoused, and then .the Bible is brought into use to prove them. The result is that passages of scripture are often taken out of their context and quoted indiscriminately, without any regard as to who wrote them, to whom they were addressed, the time of writing, or the circumstances under which they were written.
Such would be a gross mishandling of any book, or library. No competent physician, treating a case of typhoid fever, would go to his library and take down some book at random and begin reading just where it happened to fall open. No competent lawyer, dealing with a matter involving real estate would attempt to prepare his case by consulting at random just any book on law.
Yet that is the way that the Bible is often read. Many begin to read just where it happens to fall open, and without any regard for the division between the Old and New Testaments, and without any consideration as to who is speaking, or to whom it is spoken, they apply it to present day conditions and problems. Such is an indiscriminate handling of the Bible and inevitably leads to confusion and ridiculous conclusions. Most of us have heard of the man who claimed that he could prove from the Bible that it was right for a man to hang himself. First he went to Matthew 27:5 which tells us that Judas went out and hanged himself. Then he went to Luke 10:37 where Jesus is recorded as saying, “Go, and do thou likewise.” Now, who could deny his conclusion? It was in the Bible, was it not? But of course, we know that it was an indiscriminate use of these two passages of scripture that led him to a ridiculous conclusion. Yet it was no more ridiculous than some other conclusions to which others have come as a result of a haphazard scrambling of unrelated scriptures.
The Word Of Truth
At this point someone asks, “Is not the Bible all true? And if so, does it not all apply to us?” This raises the question, What do we mean by the expression, “The word of truth?” And, “What do we mean when we say that the Bible is true, when it records things that were said that were obviously not true?” As an example, the third chapter of Genesis records some words that were spoken by Satan. He preached a lie to mother Eve. We know the sad story. God had said concerning the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But Satan said to Eve, “Thou shalt not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Obviously what he said was a lie. Yet it is recorded in the Bible and we say that the Bible is true. The point is, the Bible is historically true in recording what the devil said, even though what he said was a lie. Or, to express it another way, what the devil said was a lie, but it is true that he said it.
Another example may be found in Romans 3:8, where we find the words, “Let us do evil that good may come?” Is this true? Is it right to do that which is evil if one believes that good will result? That is the basis upon which some try to justify unscriptural practices. They say, Look at the good we are doing. But when we examine the words of the above scripture in their context we learn that Paul is not stating it as a command, but rather quoting a slanderous report that was being circulated concerning what he taught. What the verse says is, “(. . . as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say) let us do evil that good may come.” This allegation Paul denied. So the point is that while Paul repudiated the concept of doing evil that good may come, the Bible is true in recording the fact that some had accused Paul of saying it.
So the truth of the Bible has to do with its authenticity. By that we mean that it gives an authentic record of things done, without condoning evil deeds that it records. It also gives a true quotation of things that were said, even though that which was said may have been false. To this we may add that the Bible gives a true record of commands that God gave at various times in history. Some of these commands were addressed to individuals, and some to a particular nation, and therefore not of universal obligation or application. Of this we shall write in another article.
Recognizing Proper Distinctions
Handling aright the word of truth involves the recognition of certain distinctions in divine revelation. That the Bible itself makes such distinctions is obvious from a reading of Hebrews 1:1,2): “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these. last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (King James Version).
Please notice that three important distinctions are made in this passage of scripture:
1. There is a distinction between what God spoke “of old time,” and what He has spoken “in these last days.” The expression, “of old time,” refers to the Old Testament dispensation. The expression, “these last days,” refers to the Christian dispensation that began with Pentecost, 33 A.D. and will continue until the end of time. True, in both ages God has spoken. But it makes a lot of difference to us as to whether what God said was spoken “of old time,” or spoken “in these last days.”
2. A second distinction that must be recognized concerns the medium through whom God has spoken. The writer of Hebrews said that when God spoke of old time he spoke through the prophets. These were the Old Testament prophets, Moses, Samuel and them that followed after (Acts 3:22-24). In these last days, however, God has spoken to us through His Son. So while it is God who speaks to us in the Bible, it is essential that we make the proper distinction as to what He spoke through the Old Testament prophets, and what he has spoken through His Son.
3. A third distinction is seen in the fact that when God spoke of old time through the prophets, He was speaking to the fathers. By that the writer means those who lived during the Old Testament dispensation. Today, however, when he speaks through Christ, he speaks to us. This is a most important distinction. It is a gross mishandling of the word of truth to regard that which God spoke through the prophets to the fathers, as being addressed to us.
It is a failure to recognize and honor these distinctions that is responsible for many of the errors of Protestantism, especially the Judaistic doctrines of Seventh Day Adventism and the speculative theories of millennialism. Much of the teaching of these cults is based on a mixture of what God spoke of old time through the prophets to the fathers, and what He has spoken to us today through his Son.
In a number of articles to follow, we shall discuss several distinctions that must be recognized in order to handle aright the word of truth.
Truth Magazine XXI: 33, pp. 523-525
August 25, 1977