Vol. 21 New Series October, 1959 No. 5
RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH

II. TIMOTHY 2:15
For a long time I have been very dubious of and dissatisfied with the above translation. It does not seem to be reasonable. Paul did not enlighten us as to what he means by the expression. Had he meant that the Scriptures should be rightly apportioned he could have used the term found in 1. Cor. 12:11, where the King James version reads "dividing to every man severally as he will." Here the Concordant Version reads: "apportioning to each his own." In verses 4, 5, and 6 of the same chapter we find a noun related to this verb, rendered in the King James as "diversities" or "differences," but rendered in the Concordant Version as "apportionments" (diaireseis). Rotherham uses the term "distributions."

The Greek word used in 2. Tim. 2:15 is orthotomeO, to which the Concordant Version gives the standards (or root meanings) ERECT-CUT. Orthos (as in orthodoxy) is given by the Lexicons the meanings of upright, erect, straight, direct, standing, tall, right, equitable, correct.

Which of these terms could we use in connection with the idea of cutting, or with the idea of "The Word of Truth"?

An explanation is given in the C.V. Concordance of the verb orthotomeO: "cut the sacrificial victims so as to leave the organs intact, to leave each vital division of truth by itself and for its own function." The translation is then given, "correctly partition." The explanation given is the same as was given by James MacKnight, D.D., in 1835 (see also Unsearchable Riches, June, 1915).

But it is perfectly clear that Paul is not in 2. Tim. 2:15 writing about sacrifices, although the verb he uses occurs in the Greek Old Testament in connection with sacrifices.

The expression "correctly partition" has always sounded to me abhorrent and out of place. A partition is a dividing frame or wall or boundary. The C. Version note says, "all truth has its appropriate place." and "We must not transfer the truth of one eon into another, nor of one economy into another." But unfortunately, I do not think anyone now living knows just how many eons or ages there are or will be, while there is still much uncertainty regarding the economies.

There are certain considerations which so far I have never seen dealt with by any student. For example, if the statement in 2. Tim. 2:15 covers the whole of the New Testament writings, this would imply that this epistle was the final writing in the N.T. But how can anyone prove this to be true? Co1. 1:25 says that Paul had an administration of God, granted to him for the Colossians, to complete the Word of God. Yet Paul goes on to explain that this administration had to do with "the secret which has been concealed from the ages and from the generations," to wit, "Christ among you, the expectation of the glory." Thus, this completing of the Word of God had nothing to do with 2. Tim. 2:15. Paul neither says nor shews that Colossians was his final epistle, and in 2. Timothy, although he says that the period of his dissolution was near (4:6), he is by no means yet finished. If Paul did finish the Scriptures, he must have written epistles later than John wrote the Revelation, to which idea I could not object. But did Paul know that by that time all Peter's writings had been completed and given out? In a note on Co1. 1:25 the Concordant Version states that "This epistle was not by any means the last of the Greek Scriptures to be penned. The Unveiling of Jesus Christ and all of John's writings were written, we are told, long after ward. Paul completed or filled up the word of God in another sense" (just as I have stated it above).

Supposing that John's writings were very late, say after Paul's death, what right would Paul have had to cover them when he wrote 2. Timothy 2:15? In other words, why did Paul make the statement found in 2. Tim. 2:15, and not Peter, James or John? Paul was an extraordinarily sensitive man, and it would have been most unlike him to write some thing which virtually would have meant that believers ought to give most attention to his own writings, and not so much to those of these three apostles and Jude. At least, that is what "rightly dividing" has come to mean in our day. A fine example of Paul's great sensitiveness may be found in Romans 15:20. He would not build the Gospel on another man's foundation.

HOW THE TRANSLATIONS READ
The following read "rightly dividing," The King James A.V., Revised 1882 (margin), Scarlett, Sharpe, Young, Rotherham, Cunnington, Panin. The following read "handling aright," or "handling rightly," or "rightly handling," Revised Standard, New World, American Revised 1881, British Revised 1882, Charles Thomson, Dewes, Panin (margin), Rheims. The American Revised 1881 and Panin have in the margin "holding a straight course." Penn reads "rightly expounding," while Bowes has "skilfully expounding." Rotherham (5th edn.) has "skilfully handling." Darby and Lutterworth read "cutting in a straight line." The Diaglott goes back to the ancient rendering, "rightly treating," of Wiclif and the Latin Vulgate (recte tractantem, i.e., rightly handling, treating or managing). Tyndale reads "dividing justly," as the Geneva. A. S. Way paraphrases thus: "A labourer. . . who drives the ploughshare of truth in a straight furrow." Osborne, on the R.V. of 1882, is similar, "making straight furrows for the Word of God." Goodspeed has, "as workman... rightly shapes the message of truth." Fenton reads, "arranging in order the reason of the Truth."

MALTREATING THE SCRIPTURES
It was natural that in Paul's day some should maltreat the Scriptures. The Bible has always stirred up much spite, because it condemns evil. Paul mentions such people in 2. Cor. 2:17, as being (according to various versions) corrupters, peddlers, adulterating, making a trade of, or making merchandise (of the Word of God). In 2. Cor. 4:2 we find some described as handling deceitfully, tampering with, adulterating, counterfeiting, corrupting, falsifying ,(the Word of God). Peter found the same, some were twisting, wresting, perverting, or distorting Paul's epistles and the other scriptures. to their own loss (2. Peter 3:16).

The same processes continue in our time. All sects can be said to tamper with the Truth somewhere; while a trade can be made of new and very expensive Bibles, some of which are very careless and slovenly in places.

In fact, those who pervert or falsify the Scriptures are the very ones most likely to "cut the Word of Truth." That is exactly what King Jehoiakim did with a scribe's erasing knife. He cut up a roll of scripture which had been sent by Jeremiah, and burnt it (Jer. 36:23).

It might seem rather strange to some readers that while we are told to "rightly divide the Word of Truth," we are also told, in Hebrews 4:12, that it is the Word of God itself that accomplishes the cutting. "For living is the word of God, and energetic; and more cutting than any two-edged knife, and penetrating as far as a dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints also and marrow; and able to judge a heart's impulses and designs." This is how Rotherham translates. The word for "more cutting" is tomOteros, the root of which occurs in ortho-tomeO in 2. Tim. 2:15. So we are to rightly cut that Word which can cut very sharply, and penetrate to a. division of soul and spirit.

RIGHTLY CUTTING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
This term (orthotomeO) is found only twice in the O.T., at Proverbs 3:6 and 11:5. Rotherham renders the former verse thus: "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight thy paths." The other verse he renders thus: "The righteousness of the blameless shall smooth his way." The Hebrew verb is yashar, make straight, in both verses. The Greek Septuagint is translated thus; in Provo 3:6: "In all thy ways get to know her (i.e. Wisdom), that she may rightly direct (or divide) thy paths." Ch. 11:5 reads, "Righteousness rightly divides blameless paths, yet irreverence is falling into unrighteousness." Here the whole context deals with righteousness and its opposite.

Charles Thomson (1808) renders the two Greek verses thus: "that it may make thy paths straight," and "Righteousness maketh spotless ways straight."

On these two verses Moulton (Grammar of the Greek New Testament) says the verb is used of levelling or straightening a road; "cutting straight the path of truth (2. Tim. 2:15) would be an attractive meaning."

Dunbar's Lexicon explains the verb (orthotomeO) as, to divide with a straight line, to distribute fairly, to open a straight road; to think, understand, or explain correctly. The simple verb, temnO he defines as to cut or open (a way); to divide or share.

But he also explains another word which belongs to the "cut" group, namely tamias, which means a steward, butler, or dispenser, the person who "cuts the portion of meat for each guest." So 2. Tim. 2:15 might mean "correctly dispensing the Word of Truth."

We must still, however, bring forward another of the "cut" words, namely "new-cut" (kaino-tomeO), not found in the Greek Scriptures. Dunbar says this means "to cut out something new, contrive anew, to make new cuts (in mining)." The noun form is given as meaning merely "newness, innovation, change; a plotting of something new." Modern Greek dictionaries give the very same meanings. The idea of "cutting" seems to have dropped out here altogether. Etheridge's translation of the Syriac version of 2. Tim. 2:15 says "preaching rightly the word of truth," while Murdock's translation gives "who correctly announceth the word of truth." Now the Syriac was a very early translation. The sense given may be correct. Dunbar, too, may be correct, in giving the meaning to "explain correctly."

THE CONTEXT OF II. TIMOTHY 2:15
I think that here the text of verse 15 must be governed by the context of verses 14 and 16, which might throw some light on our problem. Verse 14 in Cunnington (a very reasonable and trustworthy translator) reads thus: "Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before God not to strive about words (a useless occupation) to the subverting of the hearers." In verse 16 he reads, "But shun their profane babblings; for they will proceed further in ungodliness, and their word will spread as doth a gangrene." Verse 14 in Rotherham (1872, 1st edn.) reads, "These things be thou bringing to remembrance, fully bearing witness in presence of God not to be waging word-battles—for nothing useful—to a subverting of those listening." In v. 16 he reads, "But the profane pratings shun; for they will force their way unto more ungodliness, and their word, as a cancer, will have pasture."

Incidentally, I must mention that Cunnington, in v. 15, reads "as a workman that cannot be put to shame," while Rotherham reads "a workman not to be put to shame." The Greek term here is one of those Verbal Adjectives which terminate in -tos, equivalent to our ending -able. Whatever v. 15 does mean, the workman is to be unshameable: no one can put him to shame.

If then, v. 14 tells us of word-strife, which gets nowhere and v. 16 tells of profane babblings and pratings, what is the relationship to these two verses found in v. 15? There simply must be some relation. Obviously Timothy was to endeavour to do something which would be vastly better than arousing word strifes and babbling. What I cannot see is how a "dispensational" dividing of the Truth would bring the necessary remedy. Indeed, since "Dispensational Truth" so called came into being, there has been much word-strife, and little agreement.

Does it not seem that Timothy was to endeavour to go straight ahead with the real message, the real truth, the vitally important facts, not wasting time on useless arguments and theories? He was to handle the Word of Truth, the True Word, straightforwardly, and move ahead with it. Many of us have seen, in Christian gatherings, far too much mere argument which gets nowhere, and sometimes leads only to ill-will and pride. Far too often does the argument wander far from the Scriptures. The subject which was to be discussed gradually disappears, and all sorts of useless theories and notions take its place.

There is bound to be some opposition to the above suggestions. But it will be of no use unless verse 15 of 2. Timothy 2 is logically explained in connection with its context. "Rightly dividing" might easily mean rightly apportioning or rightly dividing out, to each as he requires. When one gets questions from readers, these might be all on different subjects, and one must do his best to apportion or hand out to each enquirer the answer which would satisfy him.

A "dispensational" explanation of 2. Timothy 2:15 is utterly out of place in its context.

A.T. Last updated 24.3.2006