“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV).
This verse gets used a lot to say that we need to know how to divide God’s Word into Old and New Testaments. I’ve even seen this verse used in studies in Spanish, even though the concept of “dividing” isn’t in the Spanish translations!
Paul uses a word in this verse that isn’t used anywhere else in the New Testament. It’s a Greek word: orthotomeo. It literally means to cut straight, which explains the King James translation of the term. Remember, though, that the literal translation of a word isn’t always the way it was used. That is, we talk about a man being a straight shooter, even if he’s a pacifist. We can have a workout without ever going outside.
In common Greek usage, the word came to mean to do something correctly. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says “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” [p. 327]. It often was used in reference to making a straight road; that’s the usage in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. We find orthotomeo in Proverbs 3:6 and 11:5, referring to straight paths.
Al Maxey wrote an excellent article on this verse. There he listed some of the different translations:
- King James Version — rightly dividing the word of truth.
- New King James Version — rightly dividing the word of truth.
- American Standard Version — handling aright the word of truth.
- New American Standard Bible — handling accurately the word of truth.
- New International Version — who correctly handles the word of truth.
- English Standard Version — rightly handling the word of truth.
- Holman Christian Standard Bible — correctly teaching the word of truth.
- The Message — laying out the truth plain and simple.
- Lamsa’s Translation from the Aramaic of the Peshitta — one who preaches straightforwardly the word of truth.
- New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition — following a straight course in preaching the truth.
- New English Bible — be straightforward in your proclamation of the truth.
- The New Jerusalem Bible — who keeps the message of truth on a straight path.
- Hugo McCord’s NT Translation of the Everlasting Gospel — interpreting correctly the message of truth.
- Charles B. Williams’ NT in the Language of the People — who properly presents the message of truth.
- J. B. Phillips’ NT in Modern English — who knows how to use the word of truth to the best advantage.
- Contemporary English Version — who teaches only the true message.
- New World Translation — handling the word of the truth aright.
- Revised Standard Version — rightly handling the word of truth.
- New Living Translation — who correctly explains the word of truth.
- Darby Translation — cutting in a straight line the word of truth.
- Lexham English Bible — guiding the word of truth along a straight path.
Maxey also refers to some of the resource books on the matter:
The noted Greek scholar, Dr. Marvin Vincent, wrote, “The thought is that the minister of the gospel is to present the truth rightly, not abridging it, not handling it as a charlatan, not making it a matter of wordy strife, but treating it honestly and fully, in a straightforward manner” [Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) suggests Paul is instructing Timothy to “rightfully and skillfully teach the word of truth” [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Dr. Henry Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the NT states that in 2 Tim. 2:15 this word means “to teach the truth correctly and directly” [p. 453]. “The context suggests that Paul is warning against taking the devious paths of deceiving interpretations” when teaching others God’s Truth [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 402]. Don’t wander away from Truth; stay on course with Truth; don’t take the detours of human speculation. Sophocles, a Greek writer, used this term to mean: “expound soundly” [Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 135].
We definitely need to know how to correctly handle the Word of God. We even need to know how to tell the difference between the covenant with Israel and the new covenant that Jesus established. But we don’t need to divide the Word, not if it means neglecting inspired words of God.