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Seven Precepts to Understanding the Bible

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Rightly Divide

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God,…" the first thing we should take notice of is that to study is a command, an injunction, not a request nor a suggestion; we are to study. In so doing, we receive the approval of God while failing to do so will bring us shame before him. We are given a goal, a purpose for this studying, and that is that we might rightly divide God's word. The obvious conclusion that must be drawn from this injunction is that in order to comprehend the Scriptures their proper divisions must be recognized and maintained; failing to do so leads to misunderstanding and incorrect doctrinal teachings.

A correct understanding is not obtained easily, but through diligent study, labor in the word and doctrine.

1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine

1 Corinthians 3:8 …and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

The precept of rightly dividing will be found to be one of the major places where men fail in their efforts to correctly understand and interpret the Scriptures, and where the body of Christ wrongly divides the word of truth; it divides itself.

One division that must be made is determining who is being spoken to or about, the Jew, the Gentiles or the Church.

1 Corinthians 10:32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

There are several books written on the topic of rightly dividing which cover it in great detail, two such works are; "Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth," C.I. Scofield, "Rightly Dividing The Word," Clarence Larkin. In this study, we are just pointing out the necessity of understanding it.

The following examples will demonstrate the necessity for and complexity of rightly dividing the word of truth.

Example one:

Isaiah 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Micah 4:3 And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.


Joel 3:9-10 Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 10Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.

Here within the Scriptures, we have two passages advocating diametrically opposing commands; you could be holding a plowshare when you need a sword or vice versa. In such a case it must either be accepted that the Bible contradicts itself or there is a definite need to rightly divide the word of truth. During the millennial reign of Christ there will be no need of swords and spears, but until then there shall be wars and rumors of wars and the war at the end of it.

Example two:

Luke 4:16-21 This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

The Lord in this passage is quoting Isaiah 61:1-3, but he stops halfway through, at a comma, and states that this prophecy is fulfilled by him at that time. Here is the whole passage separated where the Lord made the division:

Isaiah 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,

and then the prophecy continues:

and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

The division is between the first and second coming of our Lord. His first coming to proclaim salvation; his second when he returns to bring judgment upon the earth.

Notice that the division does not come at a verse break. The verse numbering system aids in finding and memorizing passages of Scripture but has no grammatical significance, it does not affect meaning in any way. The Bible needs to be studied sentence by sentence. Remember, the smallest unit with definite meaning in grammar is the sentence. Errors are made simply due to breaking sentences at verses and not maintaining the sentence structure. Dividing at verse numbers is wrongly dividing.

It should be clear from these two examples that divisions must be made along the historical timeline; where in history do the components of prophecies properly belong. Many people in conversation have expressed that they are awaiting the great Gog and Magog battle setting the scene for this by describing current world events. They become quite flabbergasted when informed they have at least a thousand years to wait according to the Bible.

Revelation 20: 7-8 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.

The great Gog/Magog battle does not take place until the end of the thousand year reign of Christ.

Probably the most notable schism maker caused by not rightly dividing is the controversy between faith without works and faith and works as typified by the book of Romans vs. James.

Romans 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

The mistake is in applying these two verses as speaking of the same thing, they are not. The caused for this is simply not diligently studying the passages. Divisions must be made, the word of God must be rightly divided. There are other divisions that must be made such as who is speaking and to whom, to the Jew as opposed to the Gentiles, the Church as opposed to the lost. Not all Scripture is directly applicable to the Church. One must at all times be careful of context when making divisions; as has been aptly stated, a text without a context is a pretext. In Romans, it is speaking of a persons salvation, in James his judgment as a saved man.

Wrongly Dividing the Scriptures is probably the cause of more errors in formulating incorrect doctrines than any other. Rightly dividing the Scriptures is impossible to do without diligent study, neither adding nor diminishing from the words, meaning and context of its passages and having a proper believing attitude toward God's word. It cannot be emphasized enough that all Scripture must fit your doctrinal schemes or you have something wrong.

The last point in regards to this precept concerns the need to understand English grammar or the grammar of whatever language Bible you use. Many false teachings being taught today are based solely upon errors in reading caused by not understanding or applying basic grammar. When the Bible states, "Study…rightly dividing the word of truth," it does not limit that study to the word of truth only but anything you have to study to be able to rightly divide it; grammar is one of those things you have to study. There is not room here to expand on this topic, but it is hoped that this will be considered when studying. You do not have to be an English major, just know and use the fundamentals.

The sixth precept to understanding the Bible is:

The word of truth
must be Rightly Divided
The word of God will stand a thousand readings; and he who has gone over it most frequently is the surest of finding new wonders there.

James Hamilton
English Clergy-1814-67

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