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
Over the years, I have had the tendency to run from labels. Whenever I see an “ism” on the end of something, I always saw it as restrictive and close-minded. I don’t want to be boxed into my theology. The reality is, however, labels can be helpful, and even necessary when applied correctly. An “ism” can trap you into a box, or it can simply define as system that has developed. The more I study the scripture I am finding myself aligning with dispensationalism. I’m finding it not as a box to get stuck in, but a definition to help articulate the hermeneutic with which I am approaching the scriptures. One of the great systems of theology it tends to threaten is Reformed Theology. What I am finding is it answers many questions I have asked over the years.
2 Timothy 2:15 has an imperative: “study;” it has a target: “approved unto God;” it has the heart behind it: needeth not to be ashamed;” and explanation of the imperative: “a workman… rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Putting it all together we are to to work hard at studying the word of truth (the Bible) and the method we use is “rightly dividing” as this is approved by God.
The ESV translates this passage as “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.” Rightly handling is not the same as rightly dividing. If you are rightly dividing, you will be rightly handling, but not necessarily the other way around. The Greek word translated as “rightly dividing” is orthotomeo. Orthos – straight (as in orthopedics – straighten bones, or orthodontist- straighten teeth); tomo’s- to cut (tomograph- makes x-rays that cut through the body). Paul, being a tent maker by trade, used this word to describe how we should study. That seems to be a strange way to say it. God wants us to make straight cuts in the Bible? Well, yes. There are several clear divisions in the Bible where God does something so drastically different that He changes all the rules and this is a new dispensation.
What does this have to do with our theology?
Much of the confusion that comes from studying the Bible, and even the contradictions or inconsistencies pointed out by skeptics are usually a result of not understanding where those lines are. For example, why was it a sin for the children of Israel to eat pork, but we today can?
Dispensationalism is a framework that helps us place everything where it ought to be placed in our study of God and His economy. Most people agree that there is a “straight cut” division between Malachi and Matthew. We call it the Old and New Testament. There are more from there. There was a drastic change before and after the fall, when the law was given, and others. While I’m not going to go into it all in this post, and introduction to the concept is helpful.
I had in interview with Dr. Randy White on our podcast on this topic that I hope you all find intriguing. I hope to do some more posts on the topic in the near future.