What Did the Apostle Paul Mean by "Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth"?

Updated on August 12, 2018


The phrase “rightly dividing the word of truth” in Timothy 2:15 is unique to the King James translation. It has caused some to believe that we are to take the Word of God and somehow divide or separate passages and or books and determine who or what audience they are intended for. As a result, this verse has become a springboard for a completely different way of reading and applying scripture.

My purpose with this article is to show that this interpretation is actually a classic example of the old adage "A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text". It is a dangerous thing to take a single text from scripture and make a doctrine from it, especially if that passage has been read out of context.

Background of 2 Timothy 2

In this chapter Paul is giving instruction to Timothy on how to continue in the work of the ministry in his absence. He tells Timothy to convey the things that he has learned from him and pass them down to those whom Timothy is ministering to. He tells him to endure, to be a good soldier of Christ, not become entangled with the affairs of this life, to only concern himself with pleasing God and that he will enjoy that which he labors for.

Paul then goes on to say that even though he might be imprisoned like a criminal, that the gospel itself cannot be confined. Paul sates that he is willing to endure all things for the sake of the elect of Christ, that they might obtain salvation.

Paul then sets a wonderful tone by exclaiming the promise that we all have; that if we die to this world and are willing to endure hardships, that we would have eternal life with Christ. Even though we are unfaithful, Christ is faithful and that He cannot deny us if we live in Him.

Paul knew that this was the very essence of faith and of the gospel message, that it is a message that all believers would need to hear and comprehend. The hardships that the church was enduring and was yet to endure would test the faith and resolve of those who believed in Christ.

In verse 14 Paul pleads with Timothy to charge them with these very important aspects of the Christian faith, then Paul gets into an area that he knew would be an issue among believers; the striving and arguing with one another that does not profit or benefit the body of Christ. Paul knew very that this would lead to ruin and dissolution the the hearers of the gospel.

Just think for a moment about the impression that those who are not Christians get of us when they witness us being divisive over trivial words and things. How much pleasure Satan must get when we argue among ourselves over doctrines and words when it is the simple gospel message that the world needs to hear and by which they are saved. If we can not speak to each other with kindness and love, then our faith and testimony will appear to be hypocritical to others. We are commanded to love one another, we are not licensed to berate or be hateful to anyone.

Paul then reminds Timothy of how Hymenaeus and Philetus had strayed from the truth and were teaching falsely that the resurrection had already taken place. Paul encourages Timothy to seek only things that are pure and holy, to be patient and gentle.

Paul’s counsel to Timothy should serve as sound advise to us today as well. As the old saying goes, “it is much easier to attract flies with honey, than vinegar”. Non-believers should be attracted to Christ through our behavior and love, rarely has a person been converted to the faith by the witness of one who does not abide in the spirit of love.

Textual Analysis

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Now we get to the crux of this topic. In verse 15 the KJV has Paul telling Timothy to study that he might be approved of by God, a workman (G2040 ergatés) which is a reference back to verses 5 and 6, this word ergatés is elsewhere used as “field workers”, “laborers”, etc., who should not be ashamed, and rightly dividing (G3718 orthotomeō) the word of truth. The Greek word orthotomeō only appears once in the New Testament. The Strong’s Concordance defines it like this:

  1. to cut straight, to cut straight ways A to proceed on straight paths, hold a straight course, equiv. to doing right
  2. to make straight and smooth, to handle aright, to teach the truth directly and correctly

One can only guess why the KJV translators chose the phrase “rightly dividing” instead of “rightly teach” or “cutting straight”, I would suggest that in 1611 “rightly dividing” might have had a different meaning than how we use it today. Given the context of this verse and the surrounding text, I think that it is appropriate that we closely examine the true meaning of this phrase.

Although the word orthotomeō was not used, a similar message was given by John the Baptist when he quoted Isaiah by stating “Make straight the way of the Lord” in John 1:23. John used the word G3588 euthunó, which means:

  1. to make straight, level, plain
  2. to lead or guide straight, to keep straight or direct: A of the steersman or helmsman of a ship B of a charioteer

So, we have two people who are both giving instruction make a clear and straight path. The meanings are identical with the same intention in mind. They are in effect stating that no obstacle should be allowed to get in the way of what is truth.

I would like to attempt to point a few things concerning what is out of context:

  1. The idea of separating or parsing scripture is not in context.
  2. There is no mention of discerning what is prophetic vs what is a mystery, or discerning what is for the church vs what is for the Jews, etc.

  3. When Paul wrote this, the only scripture that could have been parsed would have been what we call the Old Testament, the gospels and epistles did not exist as collective body of work at that time.

  4. If the word orthotomeō truly meant to parse or separate, we should expect to find it, or a word of the same common root when the words divide, divided or dividing are used elsewhere in scripture.

On the fourth point I would like to expound a bit. Let’s look at where derivations of the word divide appear elsewhere in the King James and see what Greek word was used for its transliteration:


  • 1 Corinthians 12:11 - G1244 diaireó - def: I divide into parts, cut asunder, distribute. The context of this passage definitely deals with something being separated or parsed, the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the body of Christ.

  • Hebrew 4:12 - G3311 merismos - def: (a) a distributing, a distribution, (b) a parting, dividing, severance, separation. The topic of this passage also deals with separating, the two-edged sword that separates the spirit and soul, joints and marrow.


  • Luke 12:13 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. This passage involves the dividing of inheritance.

  • Luke 22:17 - G1266 diamerizó - def: I divide up into parts, break up; I distribute. The breaking of the bread at the last supper.


  • 1 Corinthians 1:13 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. This passage involves whether or not the body of Christ is divided.

  • Matthew 12:25, 26 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Refers to divided kingdoms.

  • Matthew 25:32 - G873 aphorizó - def: I rail off, separate, place apart. This deals with the separation of the sheep.

  • Mark 3:24-26 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Same as Matthew 12:25, 26

  • Mark 6:41 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Dividing of the loaves and fishes.

  • Luke 11:17, 18 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. Same as Matthew 12:25, 26

  • Luke 12:13 - G3307 merizó - def: I divide into parts, divide, part, share, distribute; mid: I share, take part in a partitioning; I distract. In regards to dividing inheritance.

  • Luke 12:53 - G1266 diamerizó - def: I divide up into parts, break up; I distribute. In regards to a house (family) that is divided within itself.

  • Luke 15:12 - G1244 diaireó - def: I divide into parts, cut asunder, distribute. The story of the prodigal son’s inheritance.

  • Acts 13:19 - G2624 katakléronomeó - def: I give as an inheritance, distribute by lot. Paul recounted the the dividing up of the promise land in the synagogue.

  • Acts 14:4 - G4977 schizó - def: I rend, divide asunder, cleave. Speaking of the people of Iconium being divided between the apostles and the Jews.

  • Acts 23:7 - G4977 schizó - def: I rend, divide asunder, cleave. The dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

  • Revelation 16:19 - G1096 ginomai - def: I come into being, am born, become, come about, happen. Talking about Babylon splitting into three parts.


  • Luke 11:22 - G1239 diadidómi - def: I offer here and there, distribute, divide, hand over. This regards the spoils taken by the stronger man.


  • Luke 12:14 - G3312 meristés - def: a divider, partitioner, distributor. In regards to dividing inheritance.

My point is this: Paul and other New Testament writers had repeatedly used words that most definitely meant to parse or separate, most commonly schizó, diamerizó and merizó or derivations of, yet Paul chose not to use any of the words that had previously been used in the Greek to demonstrate his point. Instead, Paul chose a word that is only used once in all of the New Testament, thus we must closely examine what this word means and how we should apply it to this passage.

Paul’s Intent

Paul’s instruction to Timothy was that he be a man who would be able to witness by example and that he would be wise in properly administering the gospel by being able to prove that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah. Paul wanted Timothy to be able to carry on in the work of the great commission in a responsible and effective way without getting entangled in things that would only inhibit his progress. Orthotomeō certainly seems to be a sort of engineering term used to convey a visual image to Timothy of a clear and unobstructed path, that is why he encouraged him to stay clear of useless debates over senseless things and avoiding false teachings.

The Word Of Truth Is Not Divided

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness - 2 Timothy 3:16

I find it hard to believe that if Paul had meant that scripture is to be divided, that he would have made this statement, especially within the same letter to Timothy.

If you were to search the internet for “rightly dividing the word of truth” or “2 Timothy 2:15”, you will find a plethora of websites and videos dedicated to explaining that we are to divide scripture and to know that some parts of scripture are for the Jews and others for the church. They will explain to you that since Paul’s dispensation was to the Gentiles that we are to follow only Paul’s writings and that other books such as the gospels, Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude, etc are for the Jews. Really??? The gospels don’t pertain to us gentile believers? We are not to follow Christ and His teachings? Are we not to go out into all the world and makes disciples of Christ?

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

We are not baptized in the name of Paul, but in the name of Jesus Christ. We bear the name “Christians”, not Paulites or Paulinians. Paul is stating that the Corinthians should follow his example by being followers of Christ. We are to take up the cross of Jesus and follow Him.


The Results Of This Teaching

Unfortunately, there is a very popular teaching that denies that we gentile believers are children of Abraham, and thus are not considered to be Israel in the eyes of God. But Paul had something to say that is contrary to this belief.

Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

In Paul’s mind, being called a child of Abraham had nothing to do with ethnicity, but everything to do with faith. Likewise, being called Israel was also not an issue of ethnicity, either. The children of promise that Paul spoke of was refering to those who are in Christ, and if we are in Christ, then we are Abraham’s descendants.

Paul tells us in Romans 11 that gentile believers have been grafted into the remnant of Israel that still remained in the root, which is Christ. Gentiles have been adopted into the commonwealth of the true Israel and share in the promises as heirs.

Peter expounded on this concept when writing to those who are in Christ:

1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Paul concluded Romans 11 with this thought:

Romans 11:31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

Am I promoting what some call “replacement theology”? No, not at all! I am promoting that all Jew and Gentile believers are of the same tree whose root is Christ. A child that is adopted, does not replace the natural children of the parents. There is only one body of Christ and it consists of both Jewish and Gentile believers

Paul alludes to the idea that there are two “Israels” if you will, those who were physical descendants of Jacob, and those who are Israel by faith. For example, Ruth was a Moabite and Rahab a Canaanite, yet both we counted as Israel and were in the lineage of David and Christ.


I am not attempting to say that the King James is not accurate in regards to 2 Timothy 2:15, rather that the meaning of “dividing” has transformed in its meaning over time and that some people today have made a doctrine that is not fundamentally sound based on a word which meaning has changed over the last 400 years. Just like the closing theme song of The Flintstones used to say “We’ll have a "gay" old time” had nothing to do with homosexuality, but in the 1960’s, which was just a few decades ago, meant a lighthearted and carefree time.

Additionally, I will cling to every red letter in my Bible more tightly that every other black word in the Bible combined. No one will take that away from me, nor should they you!

Thank you for reading this article and I look forward to your comments.

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© 2018 Tony Muse


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    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      27 hours ago from Texas, USA

      Hi Paula,

      Thank you for reading my hub. It is ashamed that you are not a HubPages member as I am not sure that you will read my reply to unless you checks back.

      You have gone off topic a bit, for this hub was primarily concerning the actual intent of Paul telling Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth. But, I will briefly answer your questions.

      In regards to Romans 11 and verse 26 in particular, as I have a feeling that it this verse in particular that you alluding to, I would invite you to read the rest of verse 26 and on to verse 27. If you simply stop with "and so all Israel will be saved" then you might be led to believe that in some point in time, that every Israelite alive will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, repent and be saved, but Paul never states that idea. In fact, back in verse 14 Paul says that it was his hope that "some" of them might be saved.

      The thought that Paul is setting up in verse 26 is the fulfillment of Isaiah 59:20, 21, Isaiah 27:9 and Jeremiah 31:33-34, which is also reiterated in Hebrews 8:10, 12. The Deliverer has already come from Zion, through His sacrifice He has already removed ungodliness from Jacob, the new covenant made with His blood was and is the new covenant which was offered to the Jew first, then the Greek. All Israel, those who maintained their faith in the Promise, were saved, and all those turn to Christ since have also been saved. Is God done with "finished" with the Jews? No! But neither is God finished with unbelieving Gentiles, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or even hardcore atheists. The concept of all of national Israel being saved, whether with or against their will, is completely foreign in scripture.

      As I had mentioned in my hub, in Romans 9 Paul defined the true Israel and the true descendants of Abraham as being those who maintain their faith in the Promise, which is Christ. The remainder of Romans 9-11 is built upon that foundation.

      Ask yourself this simple question: When were the books of Ezekiel, written? Ezekiel was a contemporary of Daniel and was written before the exiled Jew had returned from their Babylonian exile. God fulfilled His promise to bring them back into the land as prophesied to Jeremiah.

      I am not anti-Semitic and I have not said a single word that demeans the Jewish people. I believe that Replacement Theology is wrong and so is Dual-Covenant Theology. What I believe in and would promote is Inclusion Theology, and that is exactly what Paul was teaching in Romans 11.

      I have done my share of studying the date of the writing of Revelation and I can honestly say that all conclusions are primarily speculative. The book does not give any time references in which to pin it to so I think that we would all be best to leave it at that.

      Who are "God's chosen people"? I think that Peter answers that question in 1 Peter 2:9

      But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

      Peter had just finished talking about the stone which the builders had rejected as a contrast to those who have their faith in Christ. God's chosen people are those from every race who have placed their faith on Christ. God is not a racist and never was. He chose the Abraham to be the one from whom His Son would come from and God's preservation of the nation of Israel was predicated on His promise to Abraham.

      Even with the direct line of Christ there were two non-Israelites; Ruth - Moabite and Rahab - Canaanite. These were two foreign women who feared God and were counted as Israel because of it.

      And, what of Genesis 12:1-3?

      1 Now the Lord said to Abram,

      “Go forth from your country,

      And from your relatives

      And from your father’s house,

      To the land which I will show you;

      2 And I will make you a great nation,

      And I will bless you,

      And make your name great;

      And so you shall be a blessing;

      3 And I will bless those who bless you,

      And the one who curses you I will curse.

      And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

      This blessing was for Abraham. All of the families of the earth being blessed was because of his Seed, Christ. This passage has often been misquoted to apply to the nation of Israel, that is not the context of this passage.

      To reiterate who the children of Abraham are:

      Matthew 3:9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.

      Matthew 8:11 I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven

      Luke 13:28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.

      John 8:31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”

      34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”

      39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”


    • profile image


      29 hours ago

      Be curious how you exposit Romans 11. Also 2 Tim 2:15 is to rightly handle to Word of truth. I know we have an instruction to be as the Bereans and check what we hear and compare scripture with scripture. The covenant God gave to Abraham Gen15:18-21 was in part a physical covenant that specifically included land. In scripture there typically are two seemingly opposing doctrines like free will and election and both are true and validates by two or three “witnesses” when cross checking the scripture. We indeed are graphed in to the olive tree through faith but God is not finished with the nation of Israel and as Zechariah 12:10 says “they(the house of David) will look on me the one they have pierced and mourn Ezekiel 36:25-27 God says after He brings Israel back in the land He will sprinkle clean water on them. Replacement theology is dangerous. It set up the churches in Germany to look the other way when the Nazis came to power. Anti semitism is a stench in the nostrils of God. I’ve done a thorough study of the dating of Revelation and it was definitely written around 95AD. Reformed theology that pushes the replacement of Israel by the church is a house of cards built on sand if Revelation wasn’t written before 70AD. And responsible scholarship does not support it. Read Mark Hitchcock. He did his doctorate on this and he is a very nice man. I do not mean to be contentious but we are to earnestly content for the faith. Thinking God is done with his chosen people because we gentiles have had the grace to be grafted into his promises is error. I want to live in blessing. “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” Gen 12:3

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      5 months ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you Tamarajo. You are very correct, doing any kind of in-depth study before we had such great internet resources would have been quite cumbersome and expensive. Thank you for reading my hub!

    • Tamarajo profile image


      5 months ago

      What a privilege to have access to so many online sources that we might search the Scriptures in their original languages to see if these things are so. This is a lovely study that exhibits the beauty of that privilege that we might see His truth rightly.

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      5 months ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, Margaret. I firmly believe that textual and contextual analysis es very important when reading scripture. I hope that you have a blessed weekend in celebration of the resurrection in which we have our hope!

    • revmjm profile image

      Margaret Minnicks 

      5 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Tony from Texas, I read your article and was amazed how clearly you explained your points. Hopefully, others will find it as educational as I did! Continue writing great hubs like this one.

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      5 months ago from Texas, USA

      Hxprof - Thanks for reading my hub. Yes, interpretations can get pretty far-fetched when you are grasping at straws to affirm your exegesis.

    • profile image


      5 months ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Agree with you about the "word of truth". It's amazing to me what kinds of deception can be concocted by an incomplete view of scripture.

    • Tony Muse profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Muse 

      6 months ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks Charlie, I have been told multiple times that I am not "rightly dividing the word of truth", in every case it was in regards to the fact I stood by my belief that all scripture is beneficial for us today.

    • celafoe profile image


      6 months ago from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans

      good article, I was not aware that so many were again following these tales of apostate man


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