In the introduction post to this series, I said that I was planning to investigate 2 Timothy 2:15 to figure out whether or not Paul intended for Timothy to “study,” and if not, what did Paul mean in that verse? (See “Study to show thyself approved unto God?“) In the next post, I showed that it is very unlikely that the initial command in 2 Timothy 2:15 meant “study.” (See “Did Paul tell Timothy to study in 2 Timothy 2:15?“)
As a reminder, here is 2 Timothy 2:15 in both the KJV and the ESV translations:
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.(2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)
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)
At this point, I’d like to jump to the very end of the verse and look at the phrase “word of truth.” This phrase is often interpreted to mean “Scriptures” – either the Old Testament, or the Old Testament and New Testament by extension. But, if Paul did not intend for the phrase “word of truth” to refer to the Scriptures, then we are misunderstanding him we we make that reference.
The term translated “word” is very common and familiar – λόγος (logos) – which has a wide range of meaning from “word, message, or speech” to “thing or matter.” “Word” is used to refer to many things in the New Testament, and at times it does appear to refer to the Scriptures.
The term translated “truth” is also a common word in Scripture and is almost always translated as “truth.”
Believe it or not, the phrase “word of truth” (the Greek phrase) is only found 3 times in the New Testament, in 2 Timothy 2:15 and in these 2 verses:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit… (Ephesians 1:13 ESV)
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18 ESV)
Since Paul spells it out directly, it’s clear that the phrase “word of truth” refers to “the gospel” in Ephesians 1:13. In James 1:18, it seems likely that the phrase “word of truth” also refers to the gospel.
But, what about in 2 Timothy 2:15? Is there any indications (other than the evidence from the other uses of the phrase in the New Testament) that Paul intended “the word of truth” to refer to “the gospel”?
In fact, there is. In the context leading up to this verse, Paul refers to the gospel and the importance of focusing on the gospel:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of these things… (2 Timothy 2:8-14 ESV)
Notice also that in this context of discussing the gospel, Paul uses a related phrase “word of God.” Paul talks about proclaiming the gospel and being placed in chains. He then exclaims, “But the ‘word of God’ is not bound!” Again, the phrase ‘word of God’ here most likely refers back to “the gospel” from Paul’s previous statement.
So, not only is Paul talking about the gospel and the importance of the gospel leading up to this verse, he also uses a related phrase (“word of God”) to refer to the gospel.
Because of this evidence – both from other uses of the phrase in the New Testament and the focus on the gospel in the context leading up to this verse – it is most likely that when Paul used the phrase “word of truth,” he was not referring to the Scripture. Instead, he was referring to the gospel.
Series on 2 Timothy 2:15
- Study to show thyself approved unto God?
- Did Paul tell Timothy to “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
- In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by “word of truth”?
- What did Paul mean by “rightly dividing the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
- 2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together