Rightly Dividing the Word

The apostle Paul wrote fourteen books in the New Testament. Peter referred to them as “the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16), and so commended them as the divinely inspired Word of God.

In so doing, Peter was not contending only for the inspiration of the Scriptures, though he did so dogmatically in the first chapter of second Peter, but he was also concerned with interpretation. He knew it was not enough to fight the battle for God’s truth on the hill of divine inspiration. The war for God’s truth continues to rage in the pulpit every time a preacher proclaims the Word of God.

Every pastor has a duty to warn his people against false teachers. Peter warned of false teachers that would arise within the church, and “wrest” (2 Peter 3:16) the Scriptures to suit their errors. So, the preacher should continually advise his people about the right method of Bible interpretation through a faithful and consistent exegesis of the Word of God in his preaching.

Exegesis establishes the meaning of Scripture, drawing out its truth. The opposite is eisegesis, which is adding one’s own opinion or agenda into the Bible, reading into it what is not there. Unscrupulous men will choose the latter, injecting their own ideas into a text, and causing people to err. When faced with the invincibility of the Bible, godless men treat Biblical interpretation like some sort of childish game, and twist the truth of God. But the godly man will tremble when interpreting the Word because the fear of God rules his heart. He fears to divide the Word of God wrongly or unadvisedly.

So how should God-fearing men interpret the Lord’s holy Word? This question highlights the fact that every preacher needs to be a diligent student of the book. Paul urged Timothy to diligently “shew [him]self approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). You will note from this command that the work of interpretation is not for the lazy man, nor for the dishonest man, lest he becomes the heretical man.

Before medical doctors begin to practise medicine, they must take the Hippocratic oath in order to promise to uphold certain ethical standards and provide proper treatment for their patients. Preachers likewise have a solemn responsibility before God to treat His Word honourably, otherwise they should leave it alone. As Solomon said, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23). It is a fearful thing to handle the Word of God carelessly, inaccurately, or deceitfully.

When interpreting the inspired, inerrant Word of God, the text matters, the words matter, grammar matters, context matters, consistency matters, and looking for Christ in all the Scriptures matters. We may deal with some of these important features in future issues of the Current, but in this brief article, we will focus on how the text of Scripture matters.

We talk about the text of the Bible, but we need to understand how the word of God was transmitted from the writer in the original languages to the present-day reader through many copies. We are indebted to the Jews who lived in Old Testament times for their “superstitiously” meticulous work when copying the Old Testament Scriptures. Among existing copies of the Hebrew text of Scripture the agreement is astounding. They are wonderfully accurate when compared with each other.

The same applies to the original New Testament Greek text. The reason for its strong preservation is the explosion of Christianity in the first century that demanded multiplied copies of the written Word of God, which were consistently in use. Think of converts going back to various countries after Pentecost. Even while the apostles were alive, the Word of God was copied many times, and that process of hand-copying continued through the centuries right up to the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century.

When collating copies of the Word of God, we hold to the Majority Text method. Erasmus of Rotterdam championed this work of collating when he produced his first edition of the Greek text in 1516. He produced his second edition in 1519 which Luther used for his German translation.

He also prepared a third edition in 1522 which William Tyndale used to translate his English translation. It is upon this method of majority textual comparison that the Authorized Version of the Bible is based. The majority method is sound, and it is sure. God preserved so many faithful copies of Scripture and the tried and tested science of comparing all the available copies of His Word is the firm foundation for the text of Scripture.

Readers of the Bible should never be swayed by comments in the footnotes which claim that scholars agree that the “oldest manuscripts omit” this or that portion of Scripture. The Majority Text contains all of the verses. The King James Version contains all of these verses, as do a select few other versions like the New King James Version or the Modern KJV. But most English versions do not. They follow the “oldest is best” theory, and rely on the Minority Text or Critical Text taken from a few select copies that are over-weighted, or over-emphasized against the others.

The thing to note is that, notwithstanding the critics and the minority theory of textual criticism, the foundation of the Bible stands sure. The Bible is like the Irish man’s wall that was built two feet high and three feet thick so that it could not fall. The apostle Peter stated that we are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1Peter 1:23—25).

Rev. Ian Goligher is the Minister of Cloverdale FPC and editor of Current.

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