The phrase “rightly dividing” may or may not be a familiar phrase to you. It means to ‘handle aright’. What the apostle Paul was telling the young preacher Timothy then was that proper application of the texts of the Bible must be made. Remember, that the preaching of the apostles consisted of showing how that Jesus had fulfilled all prophecies concerning the promised Messiah. We likewise must make proper application of Bible prophecies. Those prophecies must be understood/applied in line with God’s eternal promise of eternal life in His Son (Titus 1:2), and of the church (Eph. 3:9-11). We are told in 1 Peter 1:10-12 that the prophets of the Old Testament era desired earnestly to understand of this salvation that was to be in the Messiah, but were told that they were not serving themselves in the things that they prophesied. Even the angels desired to know of this. However, it was not until the preaching of the apostles that the ‘mystery’ was clarified.
“Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.”
A misapplication of passages in the bible results in teaching something which the author did not teach. This is most often seen when something that was written to a Christian or a church originally, is applied to an alien sinner and is usually done on the subject of prayer. There are rules of interpretation that must be followed in order to ‘rightly divide’ God’s word. Proper interpretation of the Bible is of utmost importance because the salvation of man hinges upon understanding God’s eternal purpose of salvation thru Christ and of how the establishing of His church is the fulfillment of that promise. All of this information is confined to a book we know as the Holy Bible. If you and I are to understand how we can be saved in Christ, we will only learn of it from this book. Such will be the focus of this study.
What thoughts come to your mind when you see the word ‘Bible’-----God’s mind; God’s will; God’s word? Perhaps the thought of ‘where did it come from’, comes to mind. While it is a book indeed, just what kind of a book is it? It is a book containing information about man – his beginning, his purpose, and his destiny – but within this information of man’s existence, there is also information about the source of man’s existence – a being known as GOD. But how does the Bible teach or reveal this information to us? It may seem strange, but do you realize that the Bible, being a book containing words and phrases and sentences, teaches (or imparts information) just like any textbook?
To illustrate, think of a math book – how does it ‘teach’ you to add, subtract, multiply, divide, etc.? Would you agree that it does so by way of ‘EXAMPLE’? Symbols such as (+), (-), (x), and (-:-); represent rules of math. Examples will then be provided to show the student how to solve equations as follows: [1+1=2] [10-:-2=5] [7-3=4] [2x3=6]
These symbols direct the student to add, subtract, multiply, or divide by way of example. Please observe: following these rules correctly not only provides the correct answer, but also provides the proof of why a certain answer would be wrong.
Another way that a textbook teaches is by means of instruction through ‘COMMANDS’ that are to be followed or obeyed. For example: a spelling book gives the following rule – “to make words plural that end with “y”, change the “y” to an “i”, and add “es”) – (city/cities); and thus if this rule is followed, the correct answer will follow. Notice again, that the student is provided at the same time, with proof of why a certain answer would be wrong. Such rules must be recognized by all as the ‘norm’ or ‘standard’.
But notice further, textbooks also teach by means of a ‘STATEMENT OF FACT’, which must be accepted or believed as true. For example, a health book may contain the following statement: ‘HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED’, regarding proper use of a certain substance. If such a statement is believed and obeyed, safe health will follow; however, if not, consequences follow. Do you see how this method differs from an example or a command? Yet teaching or instruction is still given. Don’t loose sight of the fact that if one died as a result of swallowing a harmful substance, proof could be determined that the statement of warning had not been believed and heeded.
There is yet another method in which books teach or impart knowledge. This method is known as ‘NECESSARY IMPLICATOIN OR INFERENCE’. This method simply means that a certain conclusion is drawn as the ONLY possible conclusion based upon the information given. For example, a story is read by a class from a book, and then a question is asked about the story to determine if the students comprehended what they read as follows:
‘When the children came into the house, they took off their shoes, coats, and mittens. Where had they been playing: a) sandbox, b) swimming pool, or c) snow’?
How was the answer obtained? It was through necessary inference. Based upon the facts presented there is only one conclusion.
So we see how books teach don’t we? Statements of fact, which must be believed, commands that must be followed, approved examples, and necessary implication based upon the facts provided. Do you realize that the Bible teaches in this very same manner? Let us examine each – STATEMENTS OF FACTS Matt. 10:37 – “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Here is a statement of fact, which must be believed, or consequences will follow. Compare Matt. 7:21 for another example of a statement which must believed.
COMMANDS Mark 16:15 – “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature…”. This is an example of a command, which must be heeded or obeyed.”
APPROVED EXAMPLES 1 Cor. 11:1 – “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”.
Philippians 4:9 – “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
Hebrews 6:12 – “That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
The example of first century Christians assembling upon the first day of the week for worship is seen from Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 16:1-2. That the first day and the sabbath day are separate days is clear from Matt. 28:1. Christians are commanded in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake their assembling together for worshipping God.
NECESSARY INFERENCE Genesis 13:1 – “And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him…”. Nowhere in scripture are we told that Lot went down into Egypt with Abram. How may we conclude that he did? We necessarily infer it from the language of this verse. If Lot came up out of Egypt with Abram, he necessarily went down at some earlier time.
By use of these methods, the Bible gives instruction. Proper use of these methods also enable us to determine whether or not we are “…approved unto GOD, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”
Truth may thus be distinguished from error. Notice how this enabled Timothy to make the distinction as Paul instructed him in 2 Timothy 2:14, 16 - “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before that Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers…but shun profane and vain babblings for they will increase to more ungodliness.”
How to be forgiven of our sins and to live faithful to the Lord thereafter, can thus be known. But more than that, the correct way can be determined to the excluding of all inaccurate ways.