Friday, April 6, 2012

Thoughts on "Rightly Dividing the Word"

Alice C. Linsley

In a letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul advises the younger man to "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."  II Tim. 2:15

What does it mean to "rightly divide" the word of truth?  Paul answers that question when he tells Timothy that it requires study motivated by the desire to please God.

What was Timothy to study since the New Testament did not yet exist?  He was to study the Old Testament, which along with Saint Paul's enlightened guidance, was all he needed. Today we have the New Testament and are blessed also to have the writings of the Church Fathers.

But how are we to interpret what we read in the Bible so that we too may find favor with God?

Some insist that only a literal interpretation leads to a proper understanding of biblical truth.  They pursue the "plain sense of the word."

Others insist that cultural context should be taken into consideration. They are interested in biblical history and in the discoveries of biblical archaeology.

Still others believe that "rightly dividing the word" involves study of how the various books came to be compiled. They recognize that each book represents a different type of literature and believe that sources and traditions influence what the authors have written.

Most people who pick up the Bible probably recognize that there is value in all of these approaches. They may not be committed to any one of them.  They read the Bible because they sense the Spirit speaking to them through its pages.  They come with sorrow, desperation, hopes and needs and God meets them in the Psalms or in the writings of the Evangelists.

The main thing is to read the Bible from cover to cover to gain a picture of the scope of God's work in the world.  Don't read it only once.  Read regularly and use different versions.  Read prayerfully and trust that God's word never fails.

Most of the difficult passages of the Bible are explained in other places in the Bible and have been expounded upon by the Church Fathers.  Therefore, private interpretation is not justified.  Interpreting the Bible contrary to what the Bible and the Church Fathers say is dangerous and the opposite of "rightly dividing the word."

Some accuse me of private interpretation in what I write at Just Genesis.  I admit to some speculation based on the information that is available, but I believe that the substance of Genesis is historically accurate and what is revealed there is truly of God. I attempt to do as Saint Paul says.  I study, trusting that God speaks through Genesis and that He holds me accountable for every word I write. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I ask your prayers.

Related reading:  Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers


Anonymous said...

Happy Easter Alice! May the joy of the risen Christ fill your life.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Christ is risen indeed!

May His joyous resurrection bless your heart also.