Two Timothy 2:15
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (King James Version). That is the text. What is the context?
Paul, the apostle shut in a Roman prison, is writing to the young man Timothy far away in Ephesus. Timothy is not only very dear to him, but he has been charged with continuing the work of spreading the gospel. Over the years he has been Paul's close assistant. These words are personally addressed to Timothy, who will face many challenges.
To encourage him, Paul has just quoted a statement about Christ:
have died with him, we shall live with him;
if we endure, then we shall reign with him;
if we disown him, he will disown us,
if we are faithless. he remains faithful
- for he cannot be untrue to himself"
This is the reality that Timothy must remind men of. On the other hand, he must not bandy arguments- "no good comes out of that, it only means the undoing of your audience." (vv.11-14 Moffatt).
Then comes our verse. The text quoted above is the AV of 1611, and a hundred years ago some took it to mean "study the Bible, and if you divide it up correctly, God will be pleased with you". This is true so far as it goes, but there is more in the text. Let us explore each word with the aid of an expository dictionary (Vine) and various twentieth century versions.
Study. Paul is not referring to academic study or Bible study, but to the desire to stand before God in a good light. The Greek word is `spoudazo' - to hasten to do a thing, exert oneself. Truly, to be able to stand not ashamed in God's presence demands all we've got. So `do our utmost', `concentrate on', `be diligent', `work hard', `earnestly seek', `do all you can'.
To shew thyself 'Paristemi' ‑ to place beside, to show oneself. `Present yourself in front of God'. `Commend yourself to God.' `Give yourself to God.' This is a personal matter for Timothy, in contrast to those who got absorbed in arguments. `Let God see that you at least are a sound workman'. `For yourself, concentrate on winning God's approval'.
Approved. `Dokimos' - a word used for coins and metals, approved coin of the realm, not a fake but the real thing. One version translates it with a phrase, `the kind of person he will accept'. Another, interestingly, puts `a man who has come through his trials' - all life's experiences leading to the stamp of God's approval of His genuine servant.
So far then - "As for you, do your utmost to stand before God as someone He approves" - by contrast with those others.
Workman. `Ergates', a labourer. Spreading the gospel meant work. Timothy had fellow-workers. So, `worker', `servant', `workman' ‑ perhaps a skilled one.
Not ashamed. This is a long word in the Greek, `anepaischuntos', but all the versions translate it in the same way, `not ashamed'. It must be tremendous to feel no hame before God when He considers our work for Him.
Rightly dividing. `Orthotomeo' - `to cut straight'. Vine states that the meaning changed from `cutting or dividing' to the sense of 'rightly dealing with a thing'. He says, `not dividing scripture from scripture, but teaching scripture accurately'. The word appears in the Septuagint for Prov.3.6, ` in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths'. Weymouth has a footnote, `cutting, or laying-out, like a new road'. One has the mental image, whether justified or not, of an apprentice tailor presenting before his master the pieces of a garment he has correctly cut out! Or of a surveyor setting out a new highway.
There is a variety of translations:
handling the word of truth accurately
handling the word of truth rightly
explaining the word of truth correctly
using the true teaching in the right way
laying out the truth plain and simple
has kept a straight course with the message of truth
straightforward dealing with the word of truth
using the word of truth to the best advantage
In the context of this verse, Timothy should avoid twisting scripture, using verses to bat his opponent over the head, insisting on viewpoints that are obviously unrealistic, logic chopping... "Avoid all that profane jargon, for it leads people still further into irreligion, and their doctrine spreads like gangrene.... but the solid foundation laid by God remains, and this is its inscription:
`The Lord cares for his own', and
`Let everyone who names the name of the Lord give up evil'. (vv.16,19)
These truths are important parts of the basic message, which is `the message of the truth'... `the true message'... `the truth'.
One further note: we for ourselves apply these words to our use of the Bible. Timothy, in his day, would have used the Jewish scriptures, and probably did not have very much at all of the writings we have come to know as the New Testament. The word of truth which he handled would have been particularly the parts of the Old Testament which pointed to Jesus, together with the whole message about Jesus and the resurrection and eternal life that he had learned in the first place from Paul.
We live amid people to whom the Bible is a closed book. The word of truth must shine in our lives as well as on our lips.
"As for you, do your utmost to stand before God as someone He approves, a workman who is not ashamed, because he has dealt with the word of truth rightly."
Versions of Scripture quoted from:
Authorised Version, 1611.
Weymouth NT, 1902.
Moffatt, 1922. RSV, 1946(NT).
New American Standard, 1960. Jerusalem Bible, 1966. NIV, 1973 (NT).
New Century Version, 1987.
The Message, 1993(NT). New Living Translation, 1996.