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 (ὀρθοτομέω – orthomoteo) 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
- 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