Reading the Bible Yourself – Part 3

APPLYING THE BIBLE TO OURSELVES

We have already seen how the context of a passage (who, why, when, etc.) affects our understanding of Bible passages. We should now consider an aspect of interpretation known as “rightly dividing”, which will help us correctly apply the Scriptures to ourselves.

2 Timothy 2:15 says “Do your best to present yourself to God as one [who is] approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

The King James Version of this verse uses the term “rightly dividing” where the NIV has used “correctly handles”. Regardless of which version of the Bible you read, however, it is always helpful to refer back to the original Greek text for a deeper understanding of Biblical terms – the whole of the New Testament was originally written in Greek.

The Greek text gives us only one word from which “rightly dividing” is translated. The word used in this verse is orthotomounta and is derived from its root word orthotomeo – (in the same way that the word “Biblical” is derived from the word “Bible” – i.e. it is in a different grammatical case or tense but still retains its essential meaning).

This Greek word orthotomeo is constructed from two shorter words:

ortho – meaning “right” or “correct”. (An orthodontist is one who “corrects” teeth);

tomeo – meaning “to cut”. (Scientists named a very small particle ‘the atom’, because they thought it could not be divided or “cut”; an appendectomy is when you have your appendix “cut” out, etc.)

Hence the meaning of the term “rightly dividing” as found in 2 Timothy 2:15 is to “cut correctly”.

Even though “cutting up” the Word of God seems a rather dangerous action to take, it is quite likely that you already do this! Consider the following passage:

“When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering … he is to offer a male without defect.” (Leviticus 1:2-3)

If we believe that all of the writings in the Bible apply directly to us (present-day believers), then we quickly strike difficulties. Take the above verses, for example. Do you bring burnt offerings to the Lord?

Well, if you don’t, you needn’t worry; for we are told specifically to whom the above passage of God’s Word was addressed:

“Speak to the Israelites and say to them …” (Leviticus 1:2)

We know, therefore, that these laws about offerings do not apply to us because:

“whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law” [i.e. Israelites at that time.] (Romans 3:19)

and that …

“Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” (Hebrews 9:28)

In other words, the commandments and the Law were given to Israel, and it was only after the death of Christ on the cross that the offering of burnt sacrifices became unnecessary.

With this example it can be seen what is really meant by the term “rightly dividing”. It means looking at a verse or passage from the Bible and making decisions about a number of questions:

1) To whom is this verse written?

2) About whom is this verse written?

3) Does this verse apply today?

4) Does this verse apply to me?

Consider the example once again:

“When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering … he is to offer a male without defect.” (Leviticus 1:2-3)

Question 1       To whom is this verse written?
Answer       Israelites – Leviticus 1:2.

Question 2       About whom is this verse written?
Answer       Israelites – Leviticus 1:2.

Question 3       Does this verse apply today?
Answer       No, because Christ was sacrificed once to take away the
sins of many people. (Hebrews 9:28)

Question 4      Does this verse apply to me?
Answer       No, because Christians have been made holy through the sacrifice of
the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

Again, it will help us to remember that:

All Scripture is given for us but not all Scripture is about us

Rightly dividing shows us that God deals with different people in different ways at different times. There are no contradictions in the Bible. However, different instructions are given to different people at different times, as we have seen with the example of burnt offerings stated previously.

When two different groups of people (such as the Israelites under the Law and the church of today) are living under different conditions as set by God, we say that they are living under different dispensations.

The differences between one dispensation and another may be compared to the changes that take place as the result of an election.

After a new political party is voted into office, they will often change some of the conditions under which people live. New laws may be introduced in the areas of health care and education, for example. However, many of the conditions will not change. Cars will still drive on the same side of the road as before, and stealing will continue to be against the law. The dispensational approach to the Bible may be viewed in a similar way.

When we compare the different dispensations in the Bible with each other we will notice some similarities and some differences. In all dispensations, we’ll see that:

God always loves man

Mankind always falls short of God’s standards

God always offers mankind a way of meeting His standards.

However we’ll also find that in some dispensations:

Jews and non-Jews may be treated differently in one dispensation, and treated equally in another

believers in one dispensation may be required to offer up sacrifices, whilst other dispensations do not require sacrificial offerings

the performing of miracles and speaking in tongues may play an integral part in one dispensation, and not be as important in another.

It becomes fairly important, then, to understand which portions of Scripture are specifically addressed to believers today. This is the subject of chapter 3.

 

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