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The verse II Tim 2:15 from the King James Version (KJV) has been commonly (and almost solely) used to admonish people to study the scriptures. In this paper, we will see the meaning is far greater.
by David M. Augenstein
A familiar and fascinating scripture in the Bible is found at II Timothy 2:15.
2Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
This verse from the King James Version (KJV) has been commonly (and almost solely) used to admonish people to study the scriptures. This builds a mind picture of using concordances, lexicons, Greek interlinears, learning Hebrew basics, etc. so that we can study the scriptures, rightly dissect them and thus stand approved before God.
There are two problems with this interpretation:
1) It would follow if one has more intellectual knowledge of scripture than another, then this person would stand more approved unto God; and,
2) A person who does not have the mental capacity to be even an amateur “researcher” or is functionally illiterate, cannot stand approved unto God because he cannot study the scriptures.
The problem is resolved by knowing to whom this verse is addressed. It is addressed to Timothy, a leader who will inherit Paul’s ministry after Paul dies(probably executed). Timothy is being told to study the scriptures, and in context to walk the talk.
However, for general application to the church this verse means something different. A believer who has a little knowledge of the Word but applies what he knows with all his heart is going to be more blessed than one who has a brilliant and accurate knowledge of the Word but applies little of it in his life.
The primary emphasis of this scripture is on the accurate teaching, speaking and living of the Word so that we become good examples in thought, word and deed. In doing so, those who hear and believe can properly apply “the word of truth.”
In this study, we will carefully examine every key word in this verse to unlock its meaning. We will find that the word “study” is spoudazo, meaning “to be diligent” or to give your best effort. We will also find that the word for “word” is logos and not the word used for scriptures or scrolls. A brief background on II Timothy might also be helpful.1
Credit Where Credit is Due
Before we proceed, this particular study has taken about 40 hours to research, write, and edit. This included reading everything I could find on the subject verse from dozens of sources. Yet, I must give a lot of credit to my dear Mother-in-law, Gerry Janovyak, who spent 6-8 hours of final editing and double checking the Scriptures. Of course, her work has made it possible for the highest quality and accuracy of this presentation. Thanks, Gerry!
Study = Spoudazo
2Ti 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The very first word of this verse, “study”, is a poor translation in the KJV because it does not convey the full meaning. The word is spoudazo in Greek. It means to exert one’s effort with diligence with brevity of time in mind, according to Thayer’s Lexicon2. Other versions translate it “be diligent”. The New International Version has a good translation: Do your best. This consistent effort is to be effective and efficient and that implies speed, accuracy and precision—like that of a skilled craftsman, athlete or soldier. Accuracy is hitting the target; precision is the ability to consistently hit the target. The tense of this verb spoudazo is imperative—in other words, it is not a suggestion, rather it is a command.
This Greek word is used ten times in the New Testament and this is the only time it is translated “study.” It was translated “forward” (Gal. 2:10); “endeavoring” (Eph. 4:3); “endeavored” (1 Thes. 2:17); “endeavor” (2 Pet. 1:15); “do. . .diligence” (2 Tim. 4:9, 21); “diligent” (Tim. 3:12, 2 Pet 3:14); and “labour” (Heb. 4:11).
The Word of Truth
What is the “word of truth”? The word for “word” is logos and means sayings or spoken words2:
The Word (logos, the word that is spoken, preached and taught) of truth (versus false doctrines).
Had Paul, via revelation from the risen Jesus Christ, meant only the written scriptures he would have used another word such as biblion, (book, scroll, or writings) or graphe (scriptures). You can see how the “word of truth” is used in other places; it is the taught (preached, spoken) word that can be heard and believed.
Look at these usages of logos:
Eph 1:13 In whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word (logos) of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
Col 1:5 For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word (logos) of the truth of the gospel;
1Th 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word (logos) of God which ye heard of us, ye received [it] not [as] the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
Understanding that the “word of truth” in II Tim 2:15 is the spoken, taught and preached word is further substantiated by the verses immediately before and after:
BEFORE: 2Ti 2:14 Of these things put [them] in remembrance, charging [them] before the Lord that they strive not about words ( a war of words) to no profit, [but] to the subverting (katastrophe=overthrow, destruction) of the hearers.
2Ti 2:15 Study (be diligent and give your best effort) to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)
AFTER: 2Ti 2:16 But ( in contrast) shun (avoid) profane [and] vain babblings (empty discussions): for they will increase (advance) unto more ungodliness. (Just as the right teaching of the word of truth advances more godliness.)
2Ti 2:17 And their word (godless chatter=spoken and taught words of wrong doctrine) will eat as doth a canker (gangrene): of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;
2Ti 2:18 Who concerning the truth have erred (missed the mark), saying that the resurrection (of the believers) is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
2Ti 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation (system of truth) of God standeth sure (firm, steadfast, immoveable), having this seal (an official mark certifying authenticity), The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
The entire context of Chapter 2 further assures us that this verse is referring to the teaching and speaking the word of truth:
2Ti 2:1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2Ti 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
2Ti 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all [men], apt to teach, patient,
2Ti 2:25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
2Ti 2:26 And [that] they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
Also in Chapter 1, we read,
2Ti 1:13 Hold fast the form of sound (spiritually wholesome) words (logos), which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
In the early church, before they were widely copied and available to many people, the original written revelation to the church (the epistles) were taught by word of mouth. Nowadays, we have the luxury of having the New Testament in writing along with many study aids to help us teach the Word accurately. What is preached and taught today, of course, must be in alignment with the written Word of God, as originally spoken by the apostles.
Had Paul meant written scriptures in II Tim 2:15, he would have used another word such as biblion, (book, scroll, or writings) or graphe (scriptures) as in these verses:
2Ti 4:13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring [with thee], and the books (biblion), [but] especially the parchments.
Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they searched the scriptures (graphe) daily to see whether those things were true.
Jhn 5:39 Search the scriptures (graphe); for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
2Ti 3:15 -17 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures (gramma, from graphe), which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture (graphe) [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Again, II Timothy 2:15 is dealing with something much greater than the study of the Word. It is dealing with the accurately spoken Word, but the source and origin of the spoken word must be based on the written word of God. Nowadays, we can apply this Scripture to our study of the Word (i.e. Paul’s epistles), but to limit the interpretation to study only, misses the mark and real meaning. It is vitally important for all to study the Word if they can, especially if they are teachers, for we know in Acts 17:11 “they searched the scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.”
Rightly-Dividing = Orthotomeo
The action to be taken with the spoken “word of truth” is to “rightly-divide” it. “Rightly-dividing” is orthotomeo in the Greek texts, meaning “cutting straight and accurate”. This term orthotomeo is used only once in the New Testament. The prefix ortho is recognizable in English terms such as orthopedic or orthodontics.
The base tomeo means “sharply”, from tomoteros, which implies a decisive and complete sharp, single stroke (rather than repeated hacking)2. In the English terms anatomy, tracheotomy, and lobotomy, the primary meaning of cutting is retained. The Greek word “atom” means uncut or indivisible. In the Thayer’s Lexicon, the definition for rightly-dividing in this verse is “to teach the truth correctly and directly.”2
Tomoteros is also used only once and interestingly is descriptive of the Word (logos) of truth:
Hbr 4:12 For the word (logos, the spoken word) of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper (tomoteros) than any twoedged sword (distomas=probably also from tomeo, according to Strong’s), piercing (penetrating) even to the dividing asunder (division) of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
In Titus, another form of tomos is used relating to the spoken word:
Tts 1:13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply (apotomos), that they may be sound in the faith;
Although the term for rightly-dividing (orthotomeo: cutting right and exact) is used only once in the New Testament Greek, it is also found in two places in the Old Testament from the Septuagint, translated from Hebrew about 300 years before Christ:
Pro 3:6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct (make straight) thy paths.
Pro 11:5 The righteousness of the perfect shall direct (make straight) his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness.
It is God’s Word in our heart that is able to make straight our path and to help make straight the paths of others. We are to be laborers for God. The Word is our tool.
The Word of God, like the surgeon’s scalpel, when handled accurately to cut both true and straight, it can save lives. But in the hands of the unskilled, careless or deceptive, it can be hurtful, dangerous and even deadly.
According to a Grace Centered Magazine article (http://www.gcmagazine.net/cuttingstraight.html) extrabiblical usages of the word orthotomeo included references to:
A farmer who cut a straight furrow in the ground with his plow, woodcutters who would use their cutting tools to cut a straight path through the forest and stone masons who would use their tools to cut the stones straight so that they would fit in place. The whole idea is that one was familiar with one’s tools and knew how to use them to get the desired results. It did NOT mean they cut up, or divided, their own ax or plow, but rather they skillfully used those tools to “cut straight.”
The term rightly-dividing can thus be understood as “cutting straight and accurately teaching of the word of truth—properly, clearly, directly and sharply.” Another hidden attribute of this term includes the appropriateness of how the word is spoken and taught: with love and heart, with wisdom, in the right portions and strengths, which goes beyond the scope of this paper.
To wrongly-divide or mishandle the Word intentionally or deceitfully is likened to watering down good wine:
2Cr 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt (kapeleuo=adulterate, water-down merchandise for deceptive gain) the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
The word “corrupt” is only used only once in the NT and only once in the Greek translation of the OT, and according to E.W. Bullinger, refers to a huckster, tavern-keeper and later meaning wine-sellers who mixed water in with the wine:
Isaiah 1:22 Thy silver has become dross; thy wine mixed (kapeleuo) with water.
Dross is the worthless, waste slag that floats to the top in a furnace that refines metals. Some so-called “Christian” churches water down the truth in order ( and mix in the errors of tradition) to be appealing and acceptable to all kinds of lifestyles—some even celebrating them. They need money to stay in business so they peddle their version of God’s Word to suit everyone, trading truth for expediency, sacrificing right doctrine for popularity.
God does not expect perfection and 100 percent accuracy—as we are not perfect—and neither are any of the available translations. But He does expect us to do our very best with the tools we have in teaching, speaking and living His Word.
Why must we be diligent and do our best to properly and correctly handle the Word? The answer follows in the verse:
to shew thyself approved unto God
The word approved is not the best translation in the KJV, because it implies that our acceptance unto God is based on works. Are we not already approved and acceptable unto God by the finished faith of Jesus Christ in whom we are saved by faith and not of works? Absolutely.
Eph 1:6-7 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.
But, now it says we must work to be “approved”. This apparent contradiction can simply be resolved in understanding the meaning of the word translated “approved.” The word “approved” is dokimos in the Greek text, an exciting centerpiece in this study. Dokimos means proven as true or genuine by testing, examination, evidence or trial. In scientific testing, proven methods and standards must be used for the results to have credibility.
The word “dokimos” is used in the Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament:
Psa 12:6 The words of the LORD [are] pure words: [as] silver tried (dokimos) in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
When smelting metals in a crucible, the impurities rise to the top. This slag, the contaminants, is poured off. Sometimes metals go through two or three stages of smelting before the desired purity is reached. Here, the Word is compared to silver tried seven times!
An extrabiblical use of the word dokimos is that of a seal of approval. Archeologists have found the word “dokimos” on the bottom of many ancient pieces of pottery unearthed in their digs in the Middle East. “Dokimos” meant tested and approved: the particular piece of pottery had been through the furnace without cracking and was a quality piece of pottery.
Another extrabiblical use of dokimos was in the ancient world where there was no banking system, as we know it today, and no paper money. All money was made from metal, heated until liquid, poured into moulds and allowed to cool. When the coins were cooled, it was necessary to smooth off the uneven edges. The coins were comparatively soft and of course many people shaved them closely. In one century, more than eighty laws were passed in Athens, to stop the practice of shaving down the coins then in circulation. But some money changers were men of integrity, who would accept no counterfeit money. They were men of honour who put only genuine full weighted money into circulation. Such men were called “dokimos“. Donald Barnhouse
The dishonest money changers are like the ones in Isaiah 1:22 who water down the wine for deceptive gain.
Jam 1:12 Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried (dokimos, tested or proven), he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
We can learn more about dokimos, which is an adjective, by looking at the verb and noun forms. The verb from is dokimazo:
Rom 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable (dokimazo=proven to be genuine), and perfect, will of God.
When the same word (or different forms of the same word) is used adjacently it is a figure of speech (to emphasize importance). In the following verse both dokimos and adokimos are used:
2Cr 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove (dokimos) your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates (adokimos=proven to be ungenuine= phonies)?
When we properly speak and teach God’s Word and do God’s will, we present ourselves as proven and genuine unto God. For more on dokimos, see the footnote.
The next part of the verse deals with the workman:
a workman (a laborer or craftsman) who needeth not to be ashamed