Meaning of 2 Timothy 2:15

A stonemason and his tools

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The verse states: ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (NKJV).

1. ‘Rightly dividing’

What is its meaning? The Greek, orthotomounta (from orthotomew), who is “rightly handling” (found only here in NT), is a metaphor that means “holding a straight course” in the word of truth. Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon refers us to the only other places where the word appears (the LXX of Prov. 3:6; 11:5) and is used to mean “cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction”

Robertson makes a moving observation:

Theodoret explains it to mean ploughing a straight furrow. Parry argues that the metaphor is the stone mason cutting the stones straight since temnw and orthos are so used. Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor? Certainly plenty of exegesis is crooked enough (crazy-quilt patterns) to call for careful cutting to get it straight (Robertson 1930:619-620). 

2. ‘The word of truth’

So, “rightly dividing the word of truth” means to guide the word of truth along a straight path – like a road that goes straight to its goal without being sidetracked by wordy debates and ungodly talk.

Paul’s context (to 2 Tim. 2:15) suggests that he is warning against the side-tracks of deceiving interpretations in the teaching of Scripture and the proclamation of the Gospel.

“Thus Paul is not urging that Timothy correctly interpret Scripture but that he truly preach and teach the gospel, the word of truth, in contrast to the ‘word battles’ (v. 14) and ‘godless chatter’ (v. 16) of the others” (Fee 1988: 255). 

3. Conclusion

The NIV gives a reasonable translation for the meaning of the verse, ‘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’.

‘Correctly handles’ means to refuse to be side-tracked by deceiving interpretations in the teaching of Scripture and proclamation of the Gospel.

4.  Works consulted

Bauer, W; Arndt, W F; & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Fee, G D 1988. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrikson Publishers.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 January 2020.

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