What Does “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” Mean?

2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to rightly divide the word of truth.

I was raised in Dispensationalism, therefore, this verse meant, “use dispensations, know that God has dealt differently with different people through the ages. Keep those divisions straight and the Bible will make sense.”

As much as I agree with this concept of Dispensations, it really has nothing to do with what Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy 2:15. Dispensations has nothing to do with the context.

The phrase “rightly divide” is only used one time in the Greek New Testament. It’s an odd word, with an unclear meaning.

The ESV says “rightly handling” the word. The NAS says “accurately handling.” The NIV has “correctly handles.”

Look it up in a variety of commentaries and you’ll find a variety of explanations.

The word literally means to “straight cut.” The word “cut” is also used in Hebrews when we are told that the word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword. “Sharper” and “cut” are from the same Greek root word.

Therefore, I think the KJV’s “rightly dividing” is the closest literal translation of all translations. But that still doesn’t help us know what Paul means by it.

Three possible interpretations are out there:

–It could be similar to a person cutting up a hunk of meat, or pie, or some sort of food, and distributing to each person their portion. The minister takes God’s Word and studies it along with the people to know what they need from it.

–It could mean to cut a straight path for the Word. Help people understand the Word so they can more easily receive it. Give them illustrations, keep it simple, get into God’s Word to get the meaning and help people understand it. John the Baptist made a straight way for Jesus Christ, preparing the people to receive Him at His coming. It could be like that except with the written Word.

–It could mean to stay on the straight path of the Word. The path that has been cut out needs to be stayed on, no veering to right or left into false teaching.

The last two interpretations both deal with the idea of a “way” or a “path.” Why?

The reason why is that the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, uses the Greek word for “rightly divide” two times:

Proverbs 3:6–in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths.

Proverbs 11:5–the righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way.

In both places the word means “making ones way.”

Then, in 2 Timothy 2:16, Paul uses the word “increase.” This word literally means to “strike forward: an image from pioneers cutting away all obstacles before an advancing army.”

Timothy is to stay away from vain babblings because those who fall into that cut a way into more ungodliness. Instead, cut a way to get people to the Word of Truth.

“Rightly dividing,” based on its use in the LXX, which gives us a notion of how Greek speaking people understood this word, and the play on words Paul uses in the context in 2:16 with the word “increase” as cutting a path to ungodliness, gives a good idea what he meant.

Cut a path with the Word of Truth, beat down a trail to help others find the truth, walk in the truth, and avoid ungodliness.

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1 thought on “What Does “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” Mean?”

  1. I was taught that it meant dividing Scripture into Law and Gospel, that all passages either spoke of our sin and this condemnation or what God has done (Gospel). Thanks for the example of how to study a difficult passage!

    Like

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