A Syntactical Study of 2 Timothy 2:15
by Benjie Casido
A Microscopic look at the verbs used
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Verbs are the motive power of a sentence. They serve as soul to the sentence just as vowels to the word. Indeed, verbs are the soul of expression. You cant form a sentence just by using nouns or pronouns or its variety of combination but single verb will do for a sentence, such as the sentence command, Dance! In expression, whether verbal, written, or even in action (action conveys ideas and ideas are normally composed of words) verbs are the very things that we cant do without.
In the exegetical task, a syntactical of the verbs is of prime importance. This holds true for any form of document under investigation and is no less true for a microscopic look at Scripture. In the case of Scripture its students are in a way fortunate that this particular document was Divinely designed to be written in the most expressive language known to man called Koine or common Greek. The highly inflected nature of the Greek verb made it a marvelous implement in the expression of ideas.
Lets now apply and test this information and see what it can prove in the passage before us. Dr. Bullinger suggests this literal translation of 2 Timothy 2:15, Give diligence to present thyself approved to God, a workman having no need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. This particular verse has three verbs in it in the Greek text: two verbs are in the aorist tense and one is in the present participle. The first verb in the aorist tense is spoudason, which, literally translated, is be diligent (KJV study). The second verb, which is really an infinitive (verbal noun), is parastesai and may be translated as to present. The last verb, which is really a participle (verbal noun) is orthotomountha, which is commonly translated rightly dividing.
This study will in no way touch on the usage and meaning of these verbs; rather it will limit itself to the syntax, i.e. the proper arrangement, mutual relation and functions of the verbs in this particular verse. Each verb will be studied separately and applications shall be spelled out.
1. SPOUDASON (be diligent)
Second person singular, aorist imperative
(a) The voice and number (second person, singular) refers to Timothy, the primary recipient of the epistle.
(b) This verb is in the imperative mood. Mood relates the verbal idea to the speakers attitude or purported attitude. It presents something either as a fact or a possibility. There are four classifications of mood. The first is the Indicative, which is the mood of assertion; second is the Subjunctive, which is the mood of probability; third is the Operative, which is the mood of possibility and the last is the Imperative mood, which is the mood of intention.
This particular verb is in the Imperative mood making it a command. There are four basic uses of the Imperative mood, namely: the Cohortative, which makes a positive and direct command; the Prohibitive, which makes a negative command; the Entreaty, which expresses request rather than a direct command and the Permissive, which is the use of the third person imperative and needs the English auxiliary verb let to make its meaning clear. Spoudason can be safely classified as Cohortative as this strongly suggests and expresses a positive and direct command.
(c) The tense of this particular verb is aorist. Aorist tense, basically, is indefinite as to time; when conveying abstract ideas, they express timeless truth. This peculiar tense to the Greek grammar was found to correspond closely to the English form often called simple-present, which is really an English aorist, or indefinite form referring to a timeless fact or principle. Some authorities suggest that there are about eight kinds of the aorist tense, such as the Ingressive, Constantive, Gnomic, Epistolary, etc (too involved to be discussed here). Spoudason is of the Gnomic kind, which states a general timeless fact or principle.
(a) This particular verb expresses both a direct command and a timeless general principle. As a direct command it must be binding on all Bible students as any other command in Scripture. As a general principle it should be observed as any other Bible principle.
(b) All principles carry with them an implied command and demand of observance; and although not all commands are necessarily based on sound principles, nevertheless a command in itself demands obedience. Therefore, a command which is in itself a also a principle (and in turn, is a principle that is being directly commanded) is doubly binding.
(c) The idea of Gnomic aorist suggests a general principle. Here in this verse is a general and also a guiding principle. Having found a general principle we can now safely establish a base from where we can study the Scriptures deductively, i.e. to reason from the general to the particulars. Right here is a door where we can enter in and study the Scriptures.
2. PARASTASAI (to present)
First aorist infinitive
(a) An Infinitive is a verbal noun. As a verb its purpose is to express the goal of the verb to which it stands related. In this case it expresses the goal of the main verb Spoudason (give diligence). This infinitive is epexegetical (i.e. it clarifies and completes the thought of the main verb). This infinitive answers the question, be diligent to what?
(b) The aorist tense reinforces the idea of it being epexegetical. Being a qualifier and modifier of the main verb this word must therefore agree with the tense of the main verb, hence the aorist tense.
(a) If Christians are to be diligent about something , it must be in the realm of making themselves approved before God. Any practice that does not contribute to this intent must, by all means, be dismissed.
(b) To make ourselves approved to God is not a once-only task; it must be an earnest and continued effort.
3. ORTHOTOMOUNTA (rightly dividing)
Accusative masculine, present participle.
Its case and gender will not be discussed here.
(a) Present Participle A participle is a verbal adjective. Its verbal function is to participate in the action of the main verb. Being in the present tense it indicates action, which is contemporary with the action of the main verb. Remember the main verb in this verse is Spoudason (be diligent) and Orthotomounta (rightly dividing) is the participle. Hence, the idea being brought out is: as we diligently seek to be approved of God we must rightly divide the Word of Truth. And the more we seek diligently Gods approval the more we must be occupied in or with the rightly divided Truth.
(a) In the issue of finding Gods approval there is no substitute for the rightly dividing of the Word. No amount of Christian practice will gain Gods approval apart from the right dividing of the Word of Truth. Hence, any practice whatever or however sincere and faithful it may be will only result in Gods disapproval if not based on the principle of right division.
(b) To be approved of God may possible require several and different ways and means but what is most interesting in this passage is that all of the conceivable ways and means only one is mentioned, namely: the right dividing of the Word of Truth. The reason seems obvious our Christian practices or works are only the result of our knowledge of the Word. In other words, we are no better than our theology. Hence, a knowledge based on the Word not rightly divided will surely result in wrong practice. Not wrong in the sense of sinful or evil but wrong in the sense of misapplication.
One may sincerely, seriously and faithfully live according to a certain command in the Scriptures; but if that particular command was exclusively given to believers of other dispensations (and in no way applies to him in this present dispensation) then that in no way will help him gain a bit of Gods approval. In turn, all it will afford him is frustration, disillusionment and worst, Gods disapproval. One may be the best, say, basketball player but if in his playing he is following the rules of the volleyball game he only proves nothing but absurdity. The illustration is surely absurd but so are the actions of those who are living and who will continue to live their Christian lives on the rules and programmes of the old dispensation.
(c) To be a workman not needing to be ashamed is the result of the right division of the Word of Truth.
Here in this verse is a guiding principle for every endeavour to understand the Scriptures as a whole and be a workman approved before God. One will do well in his pursuit of Gods approval if he seriously heeds this principle and its implications. One who embarks to study the Scriptures without this principle as his guide is no different to a man on uncharted seas without a compass. Disaster will surely be the destiny.
This verse which contains the principle of right division is quite familiar among many Bible students and teachers the verse has even become trite in their quoting. But it seems as if their understanding of this verse has never gone beyond the wording and that they have miserably failed to grasp its implications.
The implication of this verse could prove revolutionary to the popular methods of interpretation. The command to rightly divide the Word of Truth would tell us so much if we would only stop, think and rid our minds of traditions. The direct command to rightly divide the Scriptures implies that the Scriptures as we have them are not yet rightly divided, but need to be so. The Bible not being rightly divided is in a sense tantamount to it being incorrectly divided. The implication may seem poignant, but Scripture not rightly divided is Scripture wrongly divided.