The Bible Must be Rightly Divided




The Bible Must be Rightly Divided

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15 KJV). Bible study can be the richest experience of one’s life, or it can prove to be extremely frustrating. One reason some have difficulty in understanding God’s message is that they fail to make the proper distinctions in Scripture. The following thoughts will help the sincere Bible student attain the knowledge he desires.

1. The Bible is a library of 66 books, written by some 40 men over a period of 1600 years. While each book must be read and studied for its own unique message, we must never neglect to note the interrelations of the books with each other. Moses wrote the first five books of our Old Testament. Genesis tells the origin of the Hebrew nation and how theygot into Egypt. Exodus tells how they became enslaved and then were delivered. Leviticus tells how their national religion came to exist. Numbers relates how they spent 40 years wandering toward Canaan, their new homeland. Deuteronomy rehearses the exodus from Egypt and the 40 years of wilderness wandering. The historical background for the various psalms can be found in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Paul’s epistles must be studied in light of the history of the Acts of the Apostles.

2. Within the Scripture are words of both inspired and uninspired men. Care must be taken to ascertain who is speaking and if he is directed bythe Holy Spirit or not. For example in Genesis 3:4-5, we read the words of Satan as he tempted Eve. Surely one would not treat these as he would the words of God or an inspired prophet. Inspiration guarantees that we have a true record of what was said. It does not guarantee that every person quoted was telling the whole truth.

3. The Bible is written in various literary styles. Books like Genesis and Joshua are history. Their message is expressed in simple prose. Psalms and Proverbs are poetic in nature and abound in figurative language. For example, David writes: “My heart is like wax; it is melted within me” (Psalms 22:14). Surely no one could view these words as literal. So it is with thousands of other expressions. A good rule to remember is “All words of Scripture are to be understood in the normal literal sense unless the context (the setting in which they are found) forbid such.” Then we look for a figurative meaning.

This lesson is extremely valuable when you study the prophets such as Ezekiel or Revelation. Another case in point is history and prophecy. Is the writer relating events past or present (history) or is he predicting things yet to come? Jeremiah relates the historical facts of Jerusalem’s capture by Babylon (Jeremiah 52:1-30). But he also predicted the overthrow and destruction of Babylon in 50:21-28 which occurred 50 years later.

4. The Bible consists of an Old and New Covenant. In Hebrews the apostle speaks of “the first covenant” and then the “second covenant.” The first covenant was the Old Testament law that God made with the Hebrew nation when he brought them out of Egypt (Hebrews 8:9). The new covenant was made by Jesus (Hebrews 8:6-8). The first covenant is now old and longer binding upon us (Hebrews 8:13). All men today are subject to the new covenant of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-19, John 12:48). Thus you do not need to build and ark, even though Noah was commanded to do so (Genesis 6:14). You need not offer a lamb for sacrifice even though the Hebrews were so obligated (Leviticus 1:10). You must, however, obey Jesus and his New Covenant if you would please God. Christ asked, “why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). 

Of what value then is the Old Testament? Much in every way.  It is the history of God’s scheme of redemption. It tells us our origin and how things came to be as they are. It is of immeasurable value as a background for our New Testament study. Paul writes that things “written aforetime were written for our learning…” (Romans 15:4). What great lessons we learn from its study. But if we wish to learn what to do to be saved, we  must look to Jesus and his New Testament (Matthew 17:3-5). The same is true for instruction about the church or worship today.

What is the practical application of all this? This concept of the two covenants, properly understood, will keep you from serious religious error. We do not observe the seventh day Sabbath (Exodus 20:8) because it is an Old Testament ordinance given to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). We worship on the first day (Sunday) because it is the day of Christ’s resurrection (John 20:1-9); the day the Holy Spirit came to begin his ministry (Acts 2:1-4, compare Leviticus 23:15-21); the day the church began (Acts 2:1-47); and the day early Christians worshipped (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:1-2). The thief on the cross could be saved by Christ without baptism because he was yet under the Old Covenant which lasted till Christ died (Hebrews 9:16-17; Colossians 2:14-16). Under Christ’s covenant we must believe and be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 10:48).

May each of us study to show ourselves approved unto God, rightly divining the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15). 

John Waddey


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