This Week's Focus Passage

‘Rightly dividing the word of truth.’ (KJV)

Focus Passage: 2 Timothy 2:15

‘Rightly dividing the word of truth.’ (KJV)

The particular rendering of the Greek word, ORTHOTOMEO, in the very well-known King James Version, is also to be found in numerous other English translations of the Holy Scriptures; far however, from any majority among them. Yet, being found in perhaps the best-known translation, the rendering rightly dividing the word of truth, may understandably, be believed and considered by many to be the accepted and best translation of the Greek text. It is, confessedly, not an inaccurate translation per se. Yet, we may well think of it as an unhappy translation due to the potential ambiguity of ‘dividing’ the word of truth. Ingrained in the memory of the present writer is an occasion which took place early in his pilgrimage. After becoming, in middle age, a convert to Christianity under the teachings of the doctrines of grace in a setting far removed from his home and thus not a realistic proximity for membership, and therefore settling in a small fundamental Baptist congregation near to home where the young pastor was thought to be a four-point Calvinist, and that was thought to be safe, things went rather well until the day when this young man determined to begin a series of messages on Rightly dividing the word of truth. This series exposed his dividing the Old and the New Testaments.

Rightly dividing the word of truth has been, over many decades, embraced as a title for a number of books written to espouse the dispensational theory. The most famous of these was written by perhaps the most renowned dispensationalist author, C. I. Scofield. Were it not for his ‘Scofield Bible’ notes, surely his best known work would indeed be Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. One of his many imitators, at least with regard to the use of this title, is Clarence Larkin. Larkin’s primary claim to fame is his much touted ‘chart’ of the seven dispensations of that school of theology. There are a number of other imitators and followers of Scofield. Basically, Dallas Theological Seminary, is a fraternity of dispensational thinkers and teachers. Wikipedia describes the school, in saying that, “Dallas Theological Seminary is an evangelical theological seminary located in Dallas, Texas. It is known for popularizing the theological system known as Dispensationalism. Wikipedia goes on to say that “DTS is known as a center of modern dispensational teaching due to Dr. Chafer’s development of systematic theology which approaches the bible with a ‘premillennial, dispensational, interpretation of the Scriptures…….notable theological beliefs of the school include premillennialism, dispensationalism, and biblical inerrancy.’

Much of this teaching evolved out of a serious misunderstanding of the text which is before us. There is an incredible distance to be found between the concept of rightly dividing the word of truth and handling aright the word of truth. Many of the English translations favor the idea, in one form or another, of handling aright and completely dispense with any thought of dividing. This is crucial because the many proponents of the dispensational school of thought have based their understanding of dividing the word of truth to consist in separating the Older Testament from the Newer Testament, and separating the law from the gospel in ways that are truly not consistent with the analogy of Scripture. This teaching almost necessarily induces an unhappy and unwarranted dichotomy between the saints under the old covenant trusting in the promises of a Redeemer, and those brought under the new covenant through the testimony of the apostles who were eyewitnesses of his majesty. They would have us to believe that there is a distinction between the saints of the Older Testament and those of the New. The prevalent construction by many professing believers that posits a serious distinction even between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament may have eventuated from such thinking, or at the very least, supported it. That is, the picture of the God of the Old as a frowning, stern, and severe autocrat contrasted with the meek and lowly Jesus epitomized in the minds of many by sentimental hymns such as ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus,’ totally overlooking the pronouncement of James 2:23 that Abraham ‘was called the friend of God.’ Dispensationalists have Wrongly Divided the Word of Truth—the title of John Gerstner’s critiques of that system.

Considering the Greek word in question, ORTHOTOMEO, it seems to be without warrant to render it as, DIVIDING. This is not to say that it is not technically correct. Listen to what we read in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. “The meaning passed from the idea of cutting or dividing, to the more general sense of rightly dealing with a thing. What is intended here is not dividing Scripture from Scripture, but teaching Scripture accurately.” New Testament commentator, R. C. H. Lenski, a Lutheran himself, when after allowing that the A.V. follows Luther, said: “rightly dividing the word of truth,” which is often taken to mean properly dividing between law and gospel; the R.V. translates: “handling aright.” Lenski is admittedly stern in his further remarks directed against those that would rest their system upon this ambiguous rendering:

“Cut the Word of the truth straight when you present it to others by preaching and teaching. That is what preachers and teachers are to do. When they do not cut the Word of the truth straight and true, the result is “nothing useful, only something that upsets the hearing” (v. 14). Such preachers abuse the Word, and their hearers suffer the terrible effect.

“Oh, what maltreatment of the heavenly Word, and thus of immortal souls! And to think that such men call themselves experts, master-workmen in the Word! God’s Word they cut and slash as if it were the word of men. The eternal truth they cut up as being so many “outworn categories of thought” to be made over into something that is thought to be modern, up-to-date, as if the sin and woe in the world today were not the same old sin and woe of all ages. Cain’s murder is as modern as any murder of today’s front page.”

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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