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What did Paul mean by rightly dividing the word of truth in 2 Timothy 2:15?

Posted by on Aug 15, 2013 in scripture | 10 comments

What did Paul mean by rightly dividing the word of truth in 2 Timothy 2:15?

A few days ago, I began a series of blog posts looking into Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15. (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?“) Then, I suggested that “word of truth” more likely refers to “the gospel” instead of the Scriptures or the Bible. (See “In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by word of truth?“)

In this post, I’m going to look at the verb associated with the term “word of truth” and the phrase usually translated something like “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Here is the phrase in several different translations:

…rightly handling the word of truth. (ESV)

…rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

…accurately handling the word of truth. (NASB)

…who correctly handles the word of truth. (NIV)

The term under consideration is the participial form of the verb ὀρθοτομέω (orthomoteo) which is only used here in the New Testament. Apparently, it means (literally) “cutting in a straight line;” however, in various Greek texts, it seems the verb is often used metaphorically in the sense of “go straight.”

The verb is used twice in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX). The most familiar usage is in this passage:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight (ὀρθοτομέωorthomoteo) your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Obviously, Paul did not mean ὀρθοτομέω (orthomoteo) in the literal sense of “cutting” the word of truth (the gospel). Instead, he was using this common metaphorical form of the verb. Thus, the phrase “rightly handling/dividing the word of truth” probably means something like “going in the straight line that is the word of truth, i.e., the gospel.”

That is, this phrase points toward both understanding the gospel but also living according to the gospel. “Cutting straight” or “going straight” would indicate living according the gospel and nothing else… living according to the gospel without deviating.

In the next post, when I put this all together, I’ll talk about the remainder of this verse. But for now, we need to realize that Paul is pointing Timothy toward being the kind of person who lives his life according to the good news of Jesus Christ – with the gospel being the plumb line, the guide line, the rudder for his entire life.

In contrast, Paul is also saying that others (those described in the sentences surrounding this verse) are not living according to the gospel. Interestingly, Paul focuses on their arguments with many words… which, to Paul, apparently is not living according to the gospel.

In my final post, I’ll put this all together with the remainder of the verse.


Series on 2 Timothy 2:15

  1. Study to show thyself approved unto God?
  2. Did Paul tell Timothy to “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
  3. In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by “word of truth”?
  4. What did Paul mean by “rightly dividing the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
  5. 2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-15-2013

    Ok Alan here’s my understanding and teaching on this verse,

    The word study in the Greek in spoudason which can be elucidated and understood vividly by further research. Spoudason is a form of the word spoudazo. Using spoudazo we can trace other related Greek words to determine which are derivatives and which is the root word–the word from which all others are derived. This study demonstrates a basic principle of Biblical Greek research which can lead to greater understanding of the Word of God.
    Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.
    God told Paul to leave Jerusalem immediately. Using the slang words of today, God was actually saying, “Hotfoot it out of that place! Run like crazy, Move out!

    II Peter 3:12
    Looking for and hasting (speudo) unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

    This is the last usage of the root word speudo. Again the emphasis is on time.
    Now let us examine the usages of spoudazo, a derivative of speudo.

    Endeavouring (spoudazo) to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

    This verse is interesting to come up in the research as far as context of the church how to work together and most important your relationship with your Heavenly Father. I would like to take this time to mention the 4 basic Practical ways to get and keep the Unity in a church, or a marriage, or a couple, or a team of some sort of God.(meaning common ground) And it’s interesting our word spoudazo comes up in this section. God’s the author of the word of truth, and where He hand picked every word for it’s place in the Word has a great impact where,how,why,what,and to whom it is written to. And Ephesians is written to YOU, as a believer of Christ and the whole Church.

    *Forbearing another in Love

    Endeavour (spoudazo) to do all 4,WHY? The Goal—–To keep the Unity
    In the bond of Peace

    Can you have Meekness without Humility? NO
    Can you have Longsuffering without Humility or Meekness? NO
    Can you have Love without Hum.Meek.Long.? NO

    It’s interesting some places in the Word of God you can work a list backwards or forwards, this list can not be. First it’s Humility, then Meekness, then Longsuffering (basically you can put up with my idiosyncrasies) then Forbearing one another in Love, and wouldn’t you believe it, the Word caps these 4 with Love.

    Back to spoudazo: I Thessalonians 2:17

    But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured (spoudazo) the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.

    II Peter 1:15
    Moeover I will endeavour spoudazo that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.

    Each of the above usages of the word spoudazo show the exertion of effort. The emphasis is on the earnest attempt to achieve or accomplish some GOAL rather then on speed.

    II Tim.4:9 and 21
    Do thy diligence spoudazo to come shortly unto me.
    Do thy diligence spoudazo to before winter…
    Titus 3:12
    When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychiecus, be diligent spoudazo to come unto me to Nicipolis: for I have determined there to winter.

    Paul was asking Timothy and Titus to make an earnest attempt, to pur forth special effort, to visit him at Nicipolis.

    II Peter 1:10
    Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence spoudazo to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.

    Christians should exert every effort necessary to make their calling and election sure. Effort rather then speed is the prime concern.

    II Peter 3:14
    Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent spoudazo that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.

    As you look for this new heaven and earth, be diligent, exert an effort “that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”

    Hebrews 4:11 Let us labour spoudazo therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

    Again the word labor, spoudazo, means to exert an effort.

    Galatians 2:10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward spoudazo to do.

    Here the word spoudazo is translated “forward.” from the other usages already examined it can easily be seen that here, too, the meaning is to exert an effort.

    We have taken the spoudason and traced it as a form of spoudazo, which is a derivative of the word speudo. Following through the progression of the meanings of these words, we arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the word “study” in II Timothy 2:15. It means to “be active” and watchfully diligent.” We could translate it “to be earnest about” or “earnestly diligent.” Summing up everything, the depth of the meaning of “study” is to expend a diligent effort, remembering the brevity of time.

    In other words, “Give it everything you’ve got.” God is telling us to exert an effort earnestly and diligently, utilizing our time wisely. The emphasis is on effort, but the root speudo brings across the wise use of time.

    Applying is to the rest of the verse, we are to exert the effort to show ourselves approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. It should be obvious that the only way to rightly divide the Word of God is to study it. Hello. This we are in reality being told in II Timothy 2:15 to “study earnestly, diligently, exerting an effort, utilizing our time wisely.” Many people exert an effort, but waste too much time. Others hurry, but exert little effort. We are told to exert the effort and utilize time wisely.

    At football games I often marvel at how many touchdowns the players can make in the last two minutes of the game. Theoretically speaking, if they can make that many touchdowns during the last two minutes, they can make that many for sixty minutes if they are geared properly. There must be something the football players do during the last two minutes that they fail to do the other fifty-eight minutes. That something they do is putting forth with diligence and watchfulness extra effort because they know time is running out.

    In closing:

    This is like the word spoudason in II Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God…” How should we study? We study by putting forth the effort diligently and by utilizing our time wisely.

    God’s Here People, Teach others to take care of the Word, like I showed you, it’s not all what we think at times. What does the Word SAY, that’s what matters.

    God Bless,

  2. 8-15-2013

    Other Related Words and studying I’m doing with the Word of God

    II Corinthians 8:22
    And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent ( spoudaios, adjective ) in many things, but now much more diligent (spoudaios, the comparative of the adjective) upon the great confidence which I have in you.

    Paul said one of the brothers whom he sent with Titus had “proved diligent”; he had exerted effort for the cause, but now he had put forth even more effort. He had “put his shoulder to the wheel.” The time is not emphasized; effort is.

    Luke 7:4
    and when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly (spoudaios, adverb), saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this.

    The word “besought” is a clue to the meaning of spoudaios. They did more than just ask Jesus. They “besought” him; they put forth effort. A more accurate translation of spoudaios would be “diligently.” Compare Titus 3:13 and Philippians 2:28 to see that this derivative emphasizes effort rather than time.

    Paul was instructing Titus be bring Zenas and Apollos on their journey. He especially said to put forth some effort for their needs.

    Anyway, more soon,
    Jim Schultz

  3. 8-15-2013


    I think you meant for these comments to go on the previous post. But, either way, your evidence all points toward spoudazo meaning “be diligent” or “make every effort,” which if what I’ve found also. On the other hand, in every dictionary I’ve checked, the English term “study” means something like this: “application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge.” That’s a completely different meaning which does not fall into the range of meaning for the Greek term spoudazo.


  4. 8-16-2013

    It sounds like we are both on the same page. You are right the English word Study does not give the emphasize that God meant in II Timothy 2:15. You gave a great example of why is it so important to get to the root of The Bible by studying with the Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew.

    God Bless
    Looking forward to your next post.

  5. 8-16-2013

    “Obviously, Paul did not mean ὀρθοτομέω (orthomoteo) in the literal sense of “cutting” the word of truth (the gospel).”
    Amusingly enough, not everyone in my experience agreed with your ‘obviously’, since I remember in my old Scofield Bible that this passage was used in support of the Dispensational position! Its always dangerous to make blanket statements about other people.

  6. 8-16-2013


    I guess I misunderstood earlier. I thought you were saying that spoudazo should be translated “study.”


    I think even in the dispensational case, they are not literally “cutting” the gospel. They are still figuratively cutting it.


  7. 8-17-2013


    Study yes, BUT study HOW? Physically taking the books and educating yourself about the Greek, researching the Word in context and all those other Biblical Keys needed to be in PLAY by action, chasing words like spoudazo backwards and forwards, chasing the word for the original meaning, with great effort involved, with diligence, with the brevity of time in my mind, being aware of my time, wasting no time. Why? This is the Word of God were talking about. God set this standard I didn’t.

    What are your Biblical Keys–don’t answer that, that should be a whole different post.

    God Bless

  8. 8-17-2013


    As you can tell by this study of 2 Timothy 2:15, I think that study is good and important. We can talk about keys and plans and meanings and languages… but that’s not what this verse is about.


  9. 8-18-2013


    I agree with your point up above on (rightly-divide) “understanding the word”, but what happens to our actions in life, if were actually applying something wrong–when in return were thinking it came from the Bible?


  10. 8-18-2013


    If we are not obeying Jesus (regardless of the reason), then I believe the Holy Spirit will continue to convict us and change us until we are obeying him… if we are willing to submit to his work in our lives. All of us will find ourselves in this situation.