Rightly Dividing Vs. Wrongly Dividing

Rightly Dividing Vs. Wrongly Dividing

Sir Francis Bacon made a very insightful comment concerning books and reading. He said, “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some to be chewed and digested.” The Bible is clearly a book to be chewed and digested. It takes prayer, preparation of time, heart and persistence of effort. The Bible needs not only to be read, re-read and read again, but then diligently studied and finally meditated on or chewed and digested. To view it as light snatches of readings pressed together in a hurried way will not only spiritually impoverish the reader but will do dishonor to the author, our great God and Savior.

The Bible is complete, wonderful book whose pages show harmony and consistency. It is God-breathed.

To rightly divide, we quote the exhortation of Paul and Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

The Bible is an orderly book and there are certain rules or principles to keep in mind when studying and then its order and comprehensive whole will be realized for our benefit. The word “dividing” (Greek: orthotomeo) means to make a straight cut (handling a right R. V.) as in road-making or ploughing. It is used here metaphorically and it is found only here in the N.T. If the metaphor is drawn from cutting a straight furrow as in ploughing, the verb would express a careful cultivation. In a farmer’s cultivation, a crooked row stands out and is impossible to correct. So it is in the spiritual realm. A crooked row of misinterpretation will result in wrongly dividing the Word of Truth.

As believers, we need to be like a skilled workman or artisan rightly dividing the Word. When the Word is wrongly divided, Satan seizes the opportunity to present his most subtle deceptions. And he uses scripture to do it, as he did to the Lord in the wilderness. Scripture misinterpreted can be more dangerous than out and out denial. The real danger in teaching an incorrect interpretation lies not only in the one who may be teaching it, he could be easily corrected, and often is he is willing to learn, but note (Satan is quick to seize the opportunity) that those who are being taught accept it and teach it to others. It thereby spreads like a cancer until it becomes a “doctrine” and those who hold it resent any correction by someone who may give the matter most careful thought.

Serious harm then results when unskilled workmen try to practice rightly dividing the word. You can see what havoc can come about by a wrong dividing of the Word of Truth. Law and grace have been jumbled together, Israel robbed of her promises, and the church impoverished on account of it. Confusion is produced.

Taking a verse out of context is one of the most serious errors. So a good rule to remember would be, do not interpret a passage independently of its context. Certainly no passage of Scripture can have two or more interpretations, which would conflict the one with the other. It has been said and well worth noting that there are three ways to study the Bible: context, context and context. Taking something out of context is pretext. An example of taking verses out of context is in Philippians 2:12 “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” To say salvation is by works would be a serious error. What about the context? What the passage is saying, God works in you and then you work it out. The salvation spoken is not of the soul, but deliverance from difficulties or contentions, the Philippians were facing. Also while there may be only one interpretation to a portion of God’s Word, there may be many applications, but keep in mind not any application.

An example of an application is in 2 Samuel chapter nine. The interpretation is the kindness shown by David to Mephiboseth and his faithfulness to his covenant with Jonathan. The application is a beautiful picture of salvation by Christ.

Interpretation must be determined by the context. But the application may be at the will of the writer or speaker. In interpretations, we deal with the truth presented by scripture; in an application we deal rather with the truth illustrated by Scripture. And it is always best to make it clear to the reader or the listener that it is an application, lest some young believer be stumbled, and indeed, if he be studying the Word, find another scripture which would be contradictory. Scripture does not contradict itself. But everything falls beautifully into place if care is taken to keep all scripture within its context.

It is always best to keep in mind that there can only be one interpretation, but many applications. Or as someone has said so well, “If two disagree as to an interpretation, one could be right, the other wrong, or they both could be wrong, but they could never both be right.”

In speaking to rightly divide the Word of Truth, keep in mind some of the following principles or rules to help guide you:

1. Ascertain what the passage actually says. This may seem elementary, but it needs to be said. In order to get the right interpretation, we should read our doctrines out of scripture and not read into it.

2. A passage should be interpreted in the light of the general purpose of the book in which it occurs.

3. Paralleled to the above statement, a passage should be interpreted in the light of scripture as a whole.

4. Be true to the Word of God. Too many speakers prepare a message and then hunt a text to fit it. This is not a text it is a pre-text.

5. To truly understand scripture, there is only one way to explain the Bible and that is with the Bible. Since God is the Author of the Bible it would be folly to try to explain it by the things of man. The Direct Statement Principle is that principle under which God says what He means and means what He says. This is an important principle because of the attempts of many to spiritualize the Word of God and to make it a mystical book.

There are more principles that could be written to guide us, these mentioned will hopefully help you and your understanding of the Word and your love for the Truth expanded.

In conclusion, it may be of profit to quote from the Golden Rule of Interpretation by John Wycliffe, a man of God who lived many years ago and one who could perhaps convey thoughts of more value than we can today: “It shall greatly help thee to understand scripture if thou mark, not only what is spoken or written, but of whom, and to whom, with what words, at what time, where and to what intent, under what circumstances, considering what goeth before and what followeth.”

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