If we try to make God’s word say what we want it to say rather than what His word means, we alter God’s word, which Scripture warns us not to do.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15, ESV
From the very beginning of mankind's fall, the word of God was twisted to fit the wants of Adam and Eve. Since then, God’s word has been taken out of context or misinterpreted countless times; sometimes in ignorance by well-meaning people and sometimes not. Peter describes how Paul wrote from the wisdom that God gave him and that “his letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, NIV).
In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul is instructing Timothy to rightly divide the word of God. The "word divided" is the Greek word orthotomeō and the Greek English Lexicon defines this word as “guide the word of truth along a straight path, teach the word aright, expound (it) soundly, shape rightly.” Bill Mounce defines it as to handle correctly, to set forth truthfully.
Have you ever had someone misquote you? It can be frustrating to be misunderstood, but people misquote Scripture all the time. If we try to make God’s word say what we want it to say rather than what His word means, we alter God’s word, which Scripture warns us not to do. God invites us to study His word, but we might struggle to know how. Below are some Do’s and Don’ts to handling Scripture rightly:
Do Search for Truth
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 ESV
We live in an age of consumerism where people want to be fed truth without diligently studying it on their own. Or they choose to believe their own truth rather than searching for truth in God’s word. We need to be like the Bereans who tested what they heard. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, NIV).
There are great resources available today that can help us better examine Scripture. Tools like concordances and commentaries provide context, background, and interpretation. Finding a Bible Study on the book or chapter your verse or passage is in can also help to rightly divide the word of truth.
Don’t Cherry Pick
“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” Proverbs 30:5-6 ESV
Like a game of Bible Roulette, in which we flip open the Bible and hyper spiritually proclaim God is speaking to us, cherry-picking is when we isolate a verse out of context and hunt for Scriptures to say what we want the word of God to say. If we are honest, we can all be guilty of this. We live in the day of Google, which is a great way to search for Scriptures when we need to look up Scriptures on a specific topic. The problem with a topic search, though, is that we need to be careful to place verses in their proper context.
This might mean reading what a commentary has to say about the book the verse comes from. There are even videos by the Bible Project that are 2-3 minutes long that can provide a quick glimpse into what was going on behind the scenes of the verse we are studying.
Do Take from the Word of God
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
Rightly dividing the word of God is seeking to understand what God’s word is saying to us. This is what Bible scholars call “exegesis”. Exegesis means “to lead out of” or to take from. So, when we study God’s word, we want to seek to understand the background and what the original author was trying to communicate to the audience.
This includes understanding the context as well as studying the words used, which might mean something very different to us today than when the words were first spoken. Word studies are a great way to take from the word of God the meaning of verses. We don’t have to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar to do word studies, either. Websites like www.blueletterbible.com or www.biblehub.com offer resources like an interlinear Bible where you can see an English word on top of the Greek or Hebrew word and click on the word to find the meaning according to the Strong’s concordance dictionary. There are also free apps available like www.logos.com which provide an interlinear Bible and lexicons with additional information about the function of the words in the sentence.
Don’t Read into the Word of God
“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.” 2 Peter 1:20, ESV=
The opposite of exegesis is “eisegesis”, and it means “to lead into”. Eisegesis is the process of interpreting text by reading into the text our own presuppositions, agendas, or biases rather than taking out of the text (exegesis). Eisegesis is a mishandling of the Scripture that leads to misinterpretation. There are many different translations today that are excellent interpretations of the word of God, but verses can still be misunderstood. Laying down our preunderstandings takes honesty and integrity in handling Scripture. Those who rightly divide the word of God don’t add what isn’t in Scripture.
Do Pray as You Study
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16 ESV
One of the keys to rightly dividing the word of God is prayer. Ask God to teach you. Ask the Holy Spirit to illumine God’s word to you. We bring nothing to the table—all we have is what God reveals to us. But when we pray, the Holy Spirit leads us to a right understanding. The word of God will never contradict itself in truth. There might be differing details in different books of the Bible, but the Holy Spirit inspired the word of God, so we can trust God’s word. And we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth as we also are diligent to apply ourselves to understanding.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NIV).
Do Take Time and Be Consistent
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 ESV
In today’s culture, it can be easy to rush through our devotion time and tack it onto our day, but when we take time consistently to be a student of God’s word, we are more apt to rightly divide His word. Seek him while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6). Get alone with Jesus and bring a journal to write down the thoughts that He gives to you. Check your findings in Scripture with other Scriptures. Go deep into God’s word. When we do, we find that His word is a delight to our souls.
“Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” Psalm 119:111 ESV
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