If you have read or memorized this verse as a child from the King James Version, you may remember that it uses the phrase “rightly dividing.” In the Greek it’s actually one word that literally means cutting straight. That’s a graphic picture, isn’t it?
W. E. Vine writes that, “the meaning passed from cutting or dividing, to the more general sense of rightly dealing with a thing.” When you look at the Greek word, ὀρθοτομέω (orthotomeo) you can see its relationship to the meaning of some of our English words, such as orthopedic, because orthos means straight.
When we accurately handle the Word of God, we don’t distort it; we don’t twist it out of context; we don’t read our own meaning into it; we cut it straight. Biblical hermeneutics consists of the rules and guidelines for interpreting the Bible.
Why is it important for Christians to understand how to accurately handle God’s Word? First of all, because it is God’s Word. Out of reverence and love for Him, we should be diligent to carefully interpret His Word.
It’s also important because in John 17:17, Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Through His Word God changes us and matures us as believers. We are sanctified—set apart—as His holy people.
God calls some men to be pastors, and other people within the church to be teachers. He gives them spiritual gifts of preaching and teaching to use in serving other Christians; however, all Christians are responsible for doing the best they can to understand the Bible because if we are to know, love and obey God, we need to know who He is and what He has said.
In a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, John MacArthur outlines another reason:
“I’m sure Satan knew we Christian evangelicals would not buy the theology of liberalism so he sold us the hermeneutics. What do you mean by that? Satan knew we wouldn’t buy their theology so he sold us their principles of interpretation so sooner or later we would arrive at their theology…a kind of Christianity where doctrine and conviction are scorned.”
We are not all called to be experts in biblical interpretation, but we need to understand some basics and grow in wisdom in recognizing sound teaching. Many Christians will, for their profession or hobby or parenting, read numerous books and get training to improve their skills; as Christians we should be even more diligent to learn how to accurately handle God’s Word.
Thus says the LORD,
“Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?
For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit,
and who trembles at My word.”
Cut it straight.
Folio from Papyrus 46, containing 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9: Public Domain via Wikipedia.
W. E. Vine, Old Testament Edited by F. F. Bruce, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words, 1981, Vol. 1, p. 327: Divide.
John MacArthur, Grace To You: A Call for Discernment, Part 1.