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The Right Division of Scripture...

We believe the Lord deals with different people at different times in different ways. Right Division is taking care to keep these differences in mind when we read the Bible.

Considering the context of a Bible passage (to whom it was written, when it was written, etc) is so important to our understanding of Bible passages - and the aspect of interpretation known as "rightly dividing" is part of keeping Bible passages in context.

2 Timothy 2:15 says: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, RIGHTLY DIVIDING the word of truth"

Where the King James Version of this verse uses the term "rightly dividing", the NIV has used "correctly handles". Regardless of which version of the Bible you read, however, it is always helpful to refer back to the original Greek text for a deeper understanding of Biblical terms (the whole of the New Testament was originally written in Greek).

The Greek text gives us only one word from which "rightly dividing" is translated. The word used in this verse is orthotomounta and is derived from its root word orthotomeo (in the same way that the word "Biblical" is derived from the word "Bible" - ie, it is in a different grammatical case or tense but still retains its essential meaning).

This Greek word orthotomeo is constructed from two shorter words:

ortho - meaning "right" or "correct" (an orthodontist is one who "corrects" teeth)

tomeo - meaning "to cut" (scientists named a very small particle 'the atom', because they thought it could not be divided or "cut"; an appendectomy is when you have your appendix cut out, etc)

Hence the meaning of the term "rightly dividing" as found in 2 Timothy 2:15 is to "cut correctly".

Even though "cutting up" the Word of God seems a rather dangerous action to take, it is quite likely that you already do this! Consider the following passage:

"When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering...he is to offer a male without defect" (Leviticus 1:2,3)

If we believe that all of the writings in the Bible apply directly to us (present-day believers), then we quickly strike difficulties. Take the above verses, for example. Do you bring burnt offerings to the Lord?

Well, if you don't, you needn't worry; for we are told specifically to whom the above passage of God's Word was addressed:
"Speak to the Israelites and say to them..." (Leviticus 1:2)

We know, therefore, that these laws about offerings do not apply to us because... "...whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law" [ie: Israelites at that time]; (Romans 3:19), and that... "...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people". (Hebrews 9:28)

In other words, the commandments and the Law were given to Israel, and it was only after the death of Christ on the cross that the offering of burnt sacrifices became unnecessary.

With this example it can be seen what is really meant by the term "rightly dividing". It means looking at a verse or passage from the Bible and making decisions about a number of questions:

  • Who is this verse written to?
  • Who is this verse written about?
  • Does this verse apply today?
  • Does this verse apply to me?

Consider the example once again :

"When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering...he is to offer a male without defect" (Leviticus 1:2,3)

(Q) Who is this verse written to?
(A) Israelites - Leviticus 1:2.

(Q) Who is this verse written about?
(A) Israelites - Leviticus 1:2.

(Q) Does this verse apply today?
(A) No, because Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people - Hebrews 9:28.

(Q) Does this verse apply to me?
(A) No, because Christians have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all - Hebrews 10:10.

Again, it will help us to remember that:

All Scripture is given for us
but not all Scripture is about us

Rightly dividing shows us that God deals with different people in different ways at different times. There are no contradictions in the Bible. However, different instructions are given to different people at different times, as we have seen with the example of burnt offerings stated previously.

When two different groups of people (such as the Israelites under the Law and the church of today) are living under different conditions as set by God, we say that they are living under different dispensations.

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