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The gospel as the message of God’s salvation

Posted by on Aug 23, 2013 in scripture | 6 comments

The gospel as the message of God’s salvation

In the first post of this series, I said that I was looking at the terms Scriptures, Bible, New Testament, Gospels, and gospel. In the next post, I looked at various uses of the term “Scriptures” in the New Testament. Then, I explained how I use the terms “Scriptures,” “Bible,” “New Testament,” and “Gospels” and explained why I use the terms that way. After that, I looked at the nature(s) of the “the gospel” and began wondering how it relates to the Scriptures (or the New Testament or the Gospels).

As I said in the previous post, the term “gospel” could have several different referents in Scripture, and each occurrence should be considered in context. However, for the most part, I think the term “gospel” refers to the message of God’s salvation. Obviously, there are many, many aspects of that message, but they all refer to same message.

One passage in particular in the New Testament (which actually refers back to the Old Testament) indicates that the gospel refers to the message of God salvation.

In Romans 10, Paul is writing about salvation and the gospel. At one point, he writes:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.(Romans 10:13-17 ESV)

In the quotation, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”, the phrase “preach/proclaim the good news” is from the Greek verb εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo – “to proclaim good news”), and it is a quotation from Isaiah. The following verse in Romans (“But they have not all obeyed the gospel”) indicates that Paul is talking about “the gospel,” and he believes that Isaiah’s statement relates to “the gospel.”

Here is the passage from Isaiah:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10 ESV)

In the immediate context of this passage from Isaiah, it’s clear that the “good news” is about God’s deliverance of Jerusalem and Israel after the Jews are exiled. But, the end of the passage (and Paul’s application) indicates that it has a broader and more eternal meaning as well.

What is the point of Isaiah’s passage (a passage that Paul referred to)? It refers to a message delivered by the watchmen that God is bringing salvation to his people. That is the “good news”… the gospel.

Like I said, we see different descriptions and aspects of this message throughout the New Testament. But, the New Testament authors never identify their writings as “the gospel” themselves. (The closest is Mark, who begins his books with, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God…” and then quotes Isaiah again.)

So, there are many ways to proclaim this message, and many aspects of this message that can be described. It’s possible to focus on Jesus Christ as the one who actually bring salvation, or his death, burial, and resurrection as the means through which God’s salvation is realized. Similarly, we can talk about mystery (that has now been revealed) of how God planned to save the Gentiles. Each of these could be considered “the gospel” because they refer to the message of God’s salvation.

If the gospel is the message of God’s salvation, then it is by nature different from the Scriptures, the Bible, the New Testament, and the Gospels, all of which refer to specific writings. Those writings may contain descriptions and references to the gospel (as a message), but they are not the message themselves.

The nature(s) of the gospel

Posted by on Aug 22, 2013 in scripture | Comments Off

The nature(s) of the gospel

In the first post of this series, I said that I was looking at the terms Scriptures, Bible, New Testament, Gospels, and gospel. In the next post, I looked at various uses of the term “Scriptures” in the New Testament. Then, I explained how I use the terms “Scriptures,” “Bible,” “New Testament,” and “Gospels” and explained why I use the terms that way.

But, what about the general term “gospel” as found in the New Testament? What is the nature of that term? Does it point to the Scriptures? The New Testament? The Gospels?

Well, to begin, logistically it would be impossible for the term “gospel” to refer directly to the New Testament or the Gospels in the New Testament or the Gospels, since neither the New Testament nor the Gospels existed at that time. Of course, if we determine that the term “gospel” referred to the Scriptures that were available at that time, then it’s possible to conclude that it could refer to the New Testament and/or Gospels also by extension (if we decide that the New Testament and Gospels are Scripture).

The term “gospel” is the Old English translation of the Greek term εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion). The term means “good news.” At the time, it could refer to any kind of good news, but, of course, Christians usually refer to a specific kind of “good news” when they use the term “gospel.”

Interestingly, the Greek term εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) can also mean “the reward for good news.”

The related Greek terms εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo – “to proclaim good news”) and εὐαγγελιστής (euaggelistes – “one who proclaims good news”) should also be considered when determining the nature(s) of the term “gospel.”

I’ve seen suggestions that “gospel” always refers to Jesus Christ, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), the Scriptures, the message about Jesus, and a few other options.

I’m not convinced that the term “gospel” always refers to the same thing. Instead, I think that we must look at the context to determine (if possible) exactly what the term “gospel” refers to.

I’ll look at some examples in the next post, which should be published tomorrow.

Different terms for the Scriptures

Posted by on Aug 21, 2013 in scripture | 10 comments

Different terms for the Scriptures

In the first post of this series, I said that I was looking at the terms Scriptures, Bible, New Testament, Gospels, and gospel. In the next post, I looked at various uses of the term “Scriptures” in the New Testament.

In those passages in which the “Scriptures” are described or defined, we see that 1) the Scriptures are inspired by God, 2) they are good for teaching, correcting, etc., 3) they help prepare us for good works, and 4) they contain information about Jesus Christ. Perhaps most important are those passages that indicate that reading, studying or memorizing the Scriptures do not guarantee “knowing,” and that something more is needed to actually understand the Scriptures.

For example:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures… (Luke 24:45 ESV)

But, what writings are considered “Scriptures”?

We should admit that the Scriptures themselves never give us a list of writings that are Scripture. We can tell that certain quotations (and thus the writings that contain those quotations) are considered Scripture. Also, through the years (beginning very early) Christians have disagreed about what writings are Scripture.

Typically, a person accepts certain writings as Scripture because of the Christian tradition they are part or grew up in. In fact, almost every list of writings has strong historical basis to be considered Scripture.

I use the term “Scriptures” to refer to 66 books – 39 books of “Old Testament” and 27 books of “New Testament.” And, of course, that also explains what I mean by the term “New Testament.” All of these writings together can be called “the Bible” (which comes from a term that means “book”), but I tend to use the term “Scriptures” instead.

In the New Testament, four of the writings by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John are typically called “Gospels.” A capital “G” is used to differentiate the writings from the term “gospel.” The “titles” attached to the earliest manuscripts of these documents were “According to X” with X being the traditional author of the books. It’s possible that “Gospel” was part of these titles, as is found in later manuscripts, or it’s possible that “Gospel” was added later.

Either way, I prefer to use the capitalized term “Gospel” to refer to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

So, for me, Scriptures or Bible refers to those writings that are inspired by God and have been collected by and perceived by believers as being generally beneficial to followers of Jesus Christ. The term New Testament refers to the subset of Scriptures that were written after the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, the term Gospels refer specifically to those four books within the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).

How do you understand the terms “Scripture,” “Bible,” “New Testament,” and “Gospels”?

The Scriptures According to the Scriptures

Posted by on Aug 20, 2013 in scripture | 8 comments

The Scriptures According to the Scriptures

Or, more correctly, this post reflects what the New Testament Scriptures say about the Scriptures. But, let’s start with “Scriptures.” (This is the second post in a series that began with my post “The Scriptures, the Bible, the New Testament, the Gospels, and the gospel.”)

First, the term “Scriptures” is a transliteration of the Latin term that means “writings.” The Latin term translates the Greek term γραφή (graphe) which also means “writings.”

Historically, these “writings” (“Scriptures”) do not refer to just any writing, but to specific writings. The people of God – both before and after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – have disagreed about which writings are considered part of this special group of writings (what I’m calling “Scriptures”). These disagreements continue today among those who consider themselves followers of Jesus.

Although it is perhaps circular, in this beginning post, I’m going to start with the New Testament Scriptures (and assume – for the sake of this post – that the New Testament Scriptures consist of the 27 books beginning with Matthew and ending with Revelation). What do these books actually say about the “Scriptures”?

For the most part, the authors of the New Testament use the term “Scripture(s)” in quotations of what is commonly called the Old Testament. Here are a few examples from different authors:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42 ESV)

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38 ESV)

Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.” (Acts 8:32 ESV)

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3 ESV)

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.(James 2:8 ESV)

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6 ESV)

In a few cases, the New Testament authors write about the Scriptures being “fulfilled” without a quotation or reference given. Here are some examples:

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so? (Matthew 26:53-54 ESV)

Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled. (Mark 14:49 ESV)

In at least one instance (perhaps more) a saying is ascribe to Scripture which is not found in the Old Testament (at least, not as a quotation). Here is one example:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:5 ESV)

In at least a couple of instances, the term “Scriptures” is used to refer to writings which are now considered part of the New Testament:

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18 ESV)

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.(2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

(In the passage from 1 Timothy 5:18, while the first quotation is from the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 25:4, the second quotation is not found in the Old Testament. Instead, it is found in Luke 10:7.)

Besides these general passages, there are few places in which Scripture is not quoted, but is defined or described:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 ESV)

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:45-47 ESV)

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40 ESV)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV)

From these passages, what did the authors of the New Testament believe about the Scriptures?

The Scriptures, the Bible, the New Testament, the Gospels, and the gospel

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in scripture | 15 comments

The Scriptures, the Bible, the New Testament, the Gospels, and the gospel

Last week, during a discussion of 2 Timothy 2:15 and especially the phrase “word of truth,” I said that I did not believe that the phrase referred to “the Scriptures” or “the Bible.” Instead, based on other uses of the phrase “word of truth,” I suggested that the phrase referred to the gospel.

In response, Jim asked several questions in a comment related to my understanding of the gospel, the New Testament, the Scriptures, etc. Instead of answering the questions in a comment, I decided to put together another blog series looking into the various related (but also different) terms.

In this series, I’m going to explain my use of the terms Scriptures, Bible, the New Testament (and the Old Testament), the Gospels, and the gospel. Where possible, I’ll give examples from Scripture (the Bible) in which the terms are used in a similar manner to the way that I used them. Also, I’ll also provide some historical usage of the terms where applicable.

I think we have to be very careful when we use these terms, especially when interpreting passages of Scripture (such as 2 Timothy 2:15, but also many other passages).

Also, it’s important to recognize that the referent (what the terms refer to) for some of the terms change with time, and it’s important to recognize that through time (and even today) there was/is not always agreement among followers of Jesus Christ as to what the terms refer to.

As I begin this study, I’d love to hear how you use these terms:
1) The Scriptures
2) The Bible
3) The New Testament
4) The Gospels
5) The gospel

An addendum to my study of 2 Timothy 2:15

Posted by on Aug 17, 2013 in scripture | 6 comments

An addendum to my study of 2 Timothy 2:15

So, this week, I’ve attempted to “study” 2 Timothy 2:15 in order to show that Paul did not exhort Timothy to “study the Bible” in that passage. Of course, the very exercise that I undertook shows that I think that the study of Scripture is extremely profitable and important. My blog series was not an attempt to dissuade anyone from studying, but instead to point out that Paul had a different point in mind when he penned 2 Timothy 2:15 to his young apostolic co-worker Timothy.

I’m glad that Dave Black caught my point and wrote about it this morning on his blog (Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.). This is what he wrote:

Seems that the “study” in “Study to show yourself approved unto God” is a mistranslation. My thoughts, for what they’re worth…

The Christian faith is unapologetically intellectual. But 2 Tim. 2:15 is not the right place to go for proof of this. Not that Christians shouldn’t study. Augustine once wrote, “Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought.” In all of my publications I have tried to show the indispensability of sound logic to Christian living. Christian thinking is anchored in the Scriptures — hence the necessity of knowing the biblical languages. From the beginning of the Reformation, the church has nurtured an active intellectual life. I reference Alan’s post not simply to show how easily we are misled by translations. (We’ve all had that happen. Growing up in Hawaii I recall making sure to slurp the last drop of grape juice during communion. After all, had not the Savior commanded, “Drink ye all of it”?) My purpose is to remind us just how commonplace misunderstandings can be. The threat is a grave one. It is grave in that we sometimes have those leading our churches whose ability to deal honestly with the biblical texts is obviously in question. Again, to quote Augustine, “Treat the Scripture of God as the face of God.” The more profoundly one understands Scripture the more deeply one relates to its Author and great Subject. And vice versa.

I think that for all of us, there are those passages of Scripture that we simply know what they mean without thinking about them… they’re obvious… we’ve understood them our whole life…

And, perhaps, that is the very passage of Scripture that we should study…

But, never see study as the goal… study does not make us approved by God… study does not make us an unashamed worker… study does not indicate that we are “rightly handling/dividing the word of truth.”

Instead, while we’re studying, let’s remember Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15… no, not an exhortation to study the Bible… but an exhortation to continue living by the “word of truth,” the gospel, because we are an approved person and an unashamed worker.

By the way, one of the things that I’ve appreciated about Dave Black as I’ve known him the last few years is that he’s a great example of this… both him and his wife. Yes, they study the Scriptures relentlessly and carefully… but they also live the gospel with their students, friends, neighbors, and strangers.

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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

2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in discipleship, scripture | 14 comments

2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together

This is the final post in a blog series on 2 Timothy 2:15. I began the series recognizing that many people use this verse (and the KJV translation “study to show thyself approved unto God”) as a motto for schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and other educational programs. (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?“) Finally, I said that the phrase “rightly dividing/handling the word truth” probably meant to live according to the gospel without straying one way or the other. (See “What did Paul mean by rightly dividing the word of truth in 2 Timothy 2:15?“)

My goal in all of this is to understand what Paul meant when he wrote this verse to Timothy. How did he expect Timothy to respond? And, how does it affect us today? If Paul did not intend for this verse to encourage Timothy to study the Bible, then what did he mean?

First, here is the verse again in a few different translations:

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)

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 KJV)

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

The syntax of this verse begins with an imperative (command) with an infinitive as it’s object. The infinitive (as a verbal noun) then has three objects in apposition (in parallel):

Make every effort / Be diligent (Imperative)

      to present yourself to God (infinitive with a prepositional phrase)

          1) an approved (person) (emphasized)

          2) an unashamed worker

          3) rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)

The first object of the infinitive (“an approved ‘person'”) is a nominative adjective (an adjective with an assumed noun). It is in a position of emphasis before the infinitive in the Greek sentence. The second object (“an unashamed worker”) is a noun with an adjective. The final object of the infinitive (“rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)”) is built on a participle (“rightly dividing”) with its on object (“the word of truth”).

These three terms stand in parallel with one another.

Why is this important? Because Paul is not telling Timothy how to be “an approved person” or “an unashamed worker” or “[a person who] rightly handles the gospel.” Instead, Paul is exhorting Timothy to live that way before God. This is in contrast to the way other people are living and presenting themselves “before God.” (See 2 Timothy 2:14 for example.)

Furthermore, while “an approved [person]” is in a place of emphasis, the terms do not seem to build on each other. There is no conjunction connecting them, which tends to indicate apposition (parallel) instead of some kind of sequence.

As Paul has told Timothy several times in each of his letter, Timothy is living according to the gospel. This is an exhortation to continue in that way of life, recognizing that he is living his life before God, not for the pleasure or acceptance or approval of people.

But, the beginning imperative is important. You cannot coast into a life that is lived according to the gospel. It takes diligence… effort… concerted focus. So, the exhortation to Timothy – in the presence of those who live contrary to God’s desire – is for the young man to do whatever it takes to continue down the path of the good news of Jesus Christ. As a person approved by God, an unashamed worker, and one who is already living according to the gospel… this is exhortation to continue down the road he is already walking, without letting others tempt him into a different manner of life.

Of course, this is a good reminder for all of us. Are you approved by God in Jesus Christ? Are you an unashamed worker indwelled by and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Are you walking the straight line dictated by the good news of Jesus Christ? Then make every effort to keep walking down that same path, recognizing that you are in the presence of God… and regardless of what those around you do or how they live.

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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

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.

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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

In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by word of truth

Posted by on Aug 14, 2013 in scripture | 10 comments

In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by word of truth

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.

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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

Did Paul tell Timothy to study in 2 Timothy 2:15?

Posted by on Aug 13, 2013 in scripture | 23 comments

Did Paul tell Timothy to study in 2 Timothy 2:15?

In my post yesterday, I said that I was starting a series looking at 2 Timothy 2:15. (See my post “Study to show thyself approved unto God?“) This verse is used by many schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and other educational programs as a motto to encourage “study.” But, was this Paul’s intention when he wrote to Timothy?

To begin this “study” (ahem), we must start with the very first word in 2 Timothy 2:15. No, not the word “study”… the word σπούδασον (spoudason) which is an aorist active imperative (command) 2nd person singular form of the verb σπουδάζω (spoudazo). But, what does σπουδάζω (spoudazo) mean?

Well, to begin with, let’s remember that only the KJV translates this command as “Study” in 2 Timothy 2:15. Paul uses the verb 2 other times in 2 Timothy. This is how the KJV translators rendered the word in those instances:

Do thy diligence (σπουδάζω) to come shortly unto me. (2 Timothy 4:9 KJV)

Do thy diligence (σπουδάζω) to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren. (2 Timothy 4:21 KJV)

Paul also used the word 4 other times in other letters. This is how the KJV translates the word in those cases:

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

Endeavouring (σπουδάζω) to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3 KJV)

But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured (σπουδάζω) the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. (1 Thessalonians 2:17 KJV)

When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent (σπουδάζω) to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. (Titus 3:12 KJV)

The verb σπουδάζω (spoudazo) is found in five other places in the New Testament (one of them perhaps also written or spoken by Paul). Here are those occurrences as translated in the KJV:

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

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence (σπουδάζω) to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. (2 Peter 1:10 KJV)

Moreover I will endeavour (σπουδάζω) that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. (2 Peter 1:15 KJV)

Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent (σπουδάζω) that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. (2 Peter 3:14 KJV)

I think it’s clear that in the cases above, σπουδάζω (spoudazo) could not be translated “study,” but is more correctly translated “be diligent,” “be eager,” or “make an effort.” Of course, this is similar to how the other translators (besides the KJV) rendered the term in 2 Timothy 2:15.

But, also, we have to admit that the evidence above does not prove that σπουδάζω (spoudazo) cannot be translated “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15.

So, next, we should turn to Greek lexicons. One of the best is BDAG, which is the standard Greek lexicon on Greek text of the New Testament. The editors of this volume examine each instance of each Greek term in the New Testament and in other Greek texts of that time period. They offer the following meanings and glosses for σπουδάζω (spoudazo):

1) to proceed quickly, hurry, hasten

2) to speed up a process, expedite

3) to be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous/eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious

The editors do not mention “study” as a possible gloss or meaning. Why? Because they could not find any examples in the New Testament or in other Greek literature at the time in which σπουδάζω (spoudazo) means “study.” (By the way, I checked other lexicons as well. Some of them suggest “study” as a gloss, but offer 2 Timothy 2:15 as the ONLY place that σπουδάζω means “study” in any Greek text. If there is other evidence, I’m open to consider it as well.)

At this point, it seems pretty likely (obvious, to me) that Paul did not intend to convey the meaning “study” when he used the term σπουδάζω (spoudazo) in 2 Timothy 2:15.

In the next part, I’ll look at what σπουδάζω (spoudazo) actually means in this passage so that we can understand Paul’s (and God’s) intentions.

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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