Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

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This article was written for Unsealed, link here: Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

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

“Right Division”

It breaks my heart to see these two words tearing the prophecy watching community apart. I genuinely feel a heaviness deep within my spirit. Tears spring forth to my eyes as friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, face off in literal division over this phrase. The body of Christ is being torn apart, limb by limb.

Now guys, I love theology. I love studying the bible, I love sound doctrine, I love prophecy, and I love “right division”. What I do not love is debate and conflict. Some are gifted in this area, but I am not. I try my best to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [me] for a reason for the hope that is in [me]; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15). But I am not a master with words. They do not come quickly to me; I must ponder and digest and write and edit. And often, I must apologize – as sometimes my intentions are misunderstood. There are many in this so-called “right division” debate who could beat me with their pinkie finger in a war with words. But is this what we want? A war with our brothers and sisters?

Our true battle is the one with the spiritual realm.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:12-18)

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What’s This All About?

Let me back up a few steps. In the post-Revelation12-sign-days, I have noticed a shifted focus in the prophecy watching community to what has been termed “Right Division”. Now, I would like to think that all followers of Christ try to understand the Bible correctly. It is, after all, the very Word of God. According to 2 Timothy 2, we are indeed to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

For those who study the scriptures, there are different interpretation methods. I personally believe that a literal, cultural, historical, grammatical approach produces the most reliably correct interpretation of any given verse/passage. It is the method most commonly used in conservative evangelical circles, and is the one that results in a dispensational view of prophecy. It also leads to a literal pretribulation, premillennial rapture view. An excellent summary on this Bible interpretation method can be found here – How to Interpret the Bible.

“When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.” Dr. D.L. Cooper

So far, so good, right? Noble motives, reliable methods. Well, what seems to have occurred is that there are now clusters of believers who call themselves “Right Dividers” as a label, or title. I will refer to it as the “RD Doctrine” here, to distinguish it from believers who “rightly divide” but do not agree with the conclusions of this doctrine. There are a few variations within the view, but I will highlight what I see as some of the main features that distinguish it from other denominations:

  • There are two gospels – one revealed by Jesus/Peter; another revealed by Paul. The church age is to follow “Paul’s Gospel of Grace”.
  • Repentance is a “work”, so we are not to repent, as that would be trying to add “works” to salvation.
  • Water baptism is not an ordinance for believers in the church age.
  • They are dispensational. Classical dispensationalism places the division of law/grace at Acts 2, at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. RD Doctrine disagrees with this placement of the start of the age of grace (church age). Some place the division of the church age at Acts 9 (Paul’s conversion), some at Acts 13 (Paul’s first missionary journey) – both of these views are termed Mid-Acts Dispensationalism. Some place the division of the church age at Acts 28 – this is called Post-Acts Dispensationalism, Ultradispensationalism, or Hyperdispensationalism. (I have noted they vehemently disagree with these labels, but that is what the views are called).
  • There is a strong focus on the Pauline epistles. Most suggest these are the only books of the Bible applicable to believers today.
    • The Gospels, and the Old Testament, were written for, and are applicable to, Jews only. Some concede that the gospel of Luke was written for Gentiles.
    • There is disagreement upon whether the following books were written for, and are applicable to, both Jewish and Gentile believers: Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation. All would agree they are for Jewish believers; most would state they do NOT apply to Gentiles.
    • The following books were written for, and are applicable to, the Jew first and then the Gentiles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians.
    • The following books were written for, and are applicable to, all believers: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon.

There are a few troublesome aspects of this doctrine that I wish to discuss below. One of the most alarming features is that while this doctrine focuses heavily on preaching “grace”, it is incredibly divisive and offers little to no grace towards those who dissent. Those who call themselves “Right Dividers” as a title, by definition accuse anyone who disagrees with them as a “wrong divider”. Frequently, those who disagree (including such prophecy giants as Chuck Missler, John MacArthur, Jack Kelley, Thomas Ice, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Clarence Larkin -!?!) are called “in the milk stage”, “unwilling to open their eyes”, “blindly following denominations”, and “refusing truth”. I have seen this with my own eyes and have personally been called an unbeliever and unsaved, multiple times, for suggesting there are serious concerns with this view.

I am not here to sway you with wise words or convincing speech. There are many wiser than I, more studied, more eloquent. However, I am here because this phrase – “right division” – keeps coming up again and again in our community, bringing further division within the body of Christ each time. It wrenches my heart and grieves me deeply. Thus, I am here to speak from my heart to yours on this matter, and ask only for your consideration.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

The view is indeed very divisive, but is it right?

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The Gospel of Grace

Oh, you guys. It’s all about Jesus. There is nothing on earth that can compare. He is our hope, our strength, our joy, our light, our song, our salvation. Jesus is our everything. Let’s keep Jesus at the forefront of this discussion.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17).

I hope one thing we can all agree upon is that it’s critical to get the gospel right. The first thing to ask when disagreements in doctrine come up – is this a salvation issue?

Let’s start where we agree, using Paul’s books alone:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

“But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10).

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

“…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 ESV).

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Can we agree that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, completely apart from human works, lest any man should boast? How are we saved, if not by the grace of God? How are we saved if not by the blood of the Lamb, and bearing the word of His testimony? We confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead – then we are saved.

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29).

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So what’s the big deal?

Well, as I mentioned above, I am frequently called an unbeliever for disagreeing not with right division, but with “Right Division”. Clearly, those who ascribe to this doctrine see it as a salvation issue. I cannot and will not judge anyone’s salvation – this is a heart issue between each individual and God. What I can judge is that the gospel is being divided, and this seems very serious to me indeed.

One Gospel, Not Two

In his article, A Different Gospel?, Jack Kelley addresses the two-gospel view much better than I could:

Did Peter and Paul teach the same gospel, or was the message Peter preached to Israel different from the one that Paul carried to the Gentiles?

This “Two Gospel” view, like several other opinions critical of the Bible’s authenticity, originally came from Germany through the writings of Ferdinand Baur of the Tubingen School of Theology. Mr. Baur couldn’t find very much at all to accept in the New Testament as it was written, even disputing the authorship of several of Paul’s letters, accepting only Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, and Romans as genuine. He also claimed that the Paul of Acts was a different person than the one who wrote these Epistles.

As it was explained to me in one of the eMails I received,

“the 12 taught that Jesus was the Messiah and to repent and be baptized. Everything they taught was under the law, and all of this is true (for the Jews.)

Paul, however, taught the Grace of God and revelation that the ascended Lord gave him, which says we are saved by grace through faith, not of works. If you read the bible carefully you will see that the gospels and the letters written by the 12 are written to and for Jews, not that we can’t learn from them, but our doctrine comes from the Apostle Paul (given by The Ascended Lord) to Jews & Gentiles.”

I can’t tell you how many times folks who believe differently than I do have advised me to just read the Bible carefully and I’ll embrace their position, but that’s another story.

Supporters of this view point to Peter’s message to the Jews of “repent and be baptized” while the Gentiles were never told such a thing, only that we’re saved by grace through faith. They claim that Paul received this gospel that had been hidden through out the ages by direct revelation from God, using Galatians 1:11-12 as their authority. If true, this would mean that the Jews were given a different path to salvation, one that combined faith and works, rather than the grace through faith path offered to the Gentiles.

When Baur published his opinions, in the 1830’s and 40’s, even his fellow German critics thought it was too big a departure from traditional thinking, by and large rejecting it. But it has gained popularity again in some circles partly due to Hyam Maccoby, a British scholar of Jewish background, whose book, “The Myth Maker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity”, relies heavily on Baur’s work. Surprisingly, Baur’s two-Gospel view has also been embraced by the followers of Islam, who use it to support their view that Jesus was the Messiah for the Jews only. And there is at least one TV preacher that teaches this view, basing it on an interpretation of Galatians 2:7-9 that I think is taken out of context.

But we’re interested in everything the Bible says, not just a couple of verses. Was the doctrine of Salvation by Grace a secret hidden through the ages and revealed only to Paul? Did Peter and Paul preach a different message? Did the Jews receive a different path to salvation than the Gentiles? Were the Gospels and the non-Pauline Epistles written only to them?

Was the doctrine of Grace unknown in Old Testament times? Over 1000 years before Paul began preaching, King David had this to say after sinning with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:1-2 & 16-17)

See how David made no attempt to restore himself to righteousness through his own works. According to the Law both he and Bathsheba should have immediately been put to death. David humbled himself before God, confessed his sin, asked to be forgiven, and was. (2 Samuel 12:13)

7 centuries before Christ, Micah offered two of the most eloquent descriptions of God’s Grace to be found anywhere in the Old Testament.

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)

These and dozens of other references throughout the Old Testament clearly show that the underlying message was one of God’s Grace right from the beginning. The sacrifices they offered were required as evidence of their faith in the coming redeemer, allowing God to set their sins aside until He came. Offering them in the absence of this faith was actually repulsive to God. (Isaiah 29:13-14 & 66:2-4) Once the Redeemer arrived on the scene, their sacrifices were not only not required, they were considered blasphemy. The entire letter to the Hebrews is devoted to this idea, (Hebrews 4:9-11, 10:1, 4, 14, 18) and was written, by the way, to Jews in Israel.

Speaking of the similarity of his message to that of the other Disciples, Paul had this to say, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4,11)

The confusion here lies not in the Bible, but in our misunderstanding of two words; repent and baptize.

The reason that Jews were told to repent and be baptized is that in spite of the passages I cited above, many had been taught that their salvation came from their works of righteousness. The Greek word translated repent applies to the way one thinks, not to the way one acts. It is perhaps the most misunderstood word in the Bible. When Peter told the Jews to repent and be baptized, as in Acts 2:38, he wasn’t telling them to re-double their efforts to behave more like the Law required, he was telling them to change their minds about their need for a Savior, stop relying on their efforts to keep the Law for their salvation, and receive the gift of Grace that had been extended in the Lord’s death on their behalf.

Since Gentiles didn’t have this pre-conceived notion of a works based salvation, there was no need to persuade them from it. That’s why there’s no mention of repentance for Gentiles in the Book of Acts. It certainly isn’t because they weren’t sinners in need of a Savior.

When the people asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the work that God requires?” they gave Him the clearest opportunity of His ministry to hand them a list. Here He was, a Jewish rabbi, standing in Israel speaking primarily to Jewish people who wanted to know what God required of them. He could have referred them to the 10 Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the 613 laws of the Torah. But how did He respond?

“The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Then He said that it was God’s will that everyone who looked to the Son and believed in Him would have Eternal life. (John 6:40) Their salvation was based on their belief that He had come to save them, not on their behavior. Just like ours.

The idea that the gospels were written only to the Jews and teach a faith plus works gospel won’t stand up to scrutiny. There is but one Gospel and one path to salvation.

(Source: https://gracethrufaith.com/topical-studies/tough-questions-answered/a-different-gospel/?fbclid=IwAR1u-ez0LjLJMOwIQoYI6Cljq5OqctPNLxbayBXJehiGSldscrTSUGS-4tQ)

For those desiring further study on the Sermon on the Mount and how we can only “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect” through the imputed righteousness of Christ, I highly recommend Jack Kelley’s article series:  Be Perfect, As Your Heavenly Father is Perfect Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

There’s only one gospel – one redemption plan. It’s all about Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Old Testament and the Gospels pointed forwards to the cross. The New Testament points backwards to the cross. We would do well to heed the warning given by Jesus through the apostle Paul:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10)

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Repentance

As Jack Kelley mentioned in the article quoted above, repentance is not about the way we act, but about the way we think. It’s not what we “do” (a work), it’s what we “believe” (not a work). We chose to sin and Jesus chose to be a “sin-bearer” and take God’s wrath for us. God offers an all-inclusive “forgiveness slip” to every human on earth. If we believe what God has said about us (we are totally lost and have no hope of saving ourselves), and what He has done to fix it (Jesus is the only way as a Savior), this is repentance. Seeing yourself as lost and wanting to do something about it, is called “repenting”.

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Repentance is clearly biblical, and was even mentioned by Paul. Thus I must disagree with the RD Doctrine that repentance is not for the body of Christ.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

We can ask God for Jesus’ blood payment to be applied to our account. This allows us to be declared innocent and sin-free in God’s Eyes – the debt we owed for our crimes is paid. Salvation is a change in legal standing before God – from “guilty” to “not guilty”. Jesus didn’t just pay PART of our debt, or even MOST of it, leaving some on the tab for us. He paid our ENTIRE debt. We cannot contribute in any way to our salvation (or to maintaining it). If you are not sure if you are saved, I would encourage you to read through What Must I Do to Be Saved?

The RD Doctrine seems to also teach against daily repentance, calling that a “work” as well. They teach that these verses are NOT for you and I, because they were not penned by Paul:

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16).

As followers of Christ, we are saved by grace through faith. We have a change of heart and mind (repent) about who we are (sinners) and who Christ is (a Savior). We experience a heart transformation from spiritually dead in our sins to spiritually alive in Christ, being “born again”. Because we are a new creation, we are changed. The Holy Spirit seals us and dwells within us as His temple. He comforts us, counsels us, and leads us into truth. He also convicts us and prompts us to grow in our relationship with God. For the difference between our salvation (union with God) and our sanctification (fellowship with God), I highly recommend this article: Union and Fellowship.

Dispensations

With the gospel discussed, let’s move on to the topic of dispensations. Once again, let’s start with points of agreement.

I believe that dispensationalism is the closest representative way to understand God’s dynamic revelation to, and dealings with, humanity. As a human construct it’s not going to be perfect, but it helps us grasp how God has progressively revealed Himself and His redemption plan to humanity.

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Dispensationalism is the most common method of Bible prophecy interpretation in conservative evangelical circles. It is the major view which explains the literal rebirth of modern-day Israel and the aliyah, or regathering, of Jews that we can observe and track. It explains the prophetic line up of nations and wars we watch in the headlines. It explains the current social and political climate. It sees the Church and Israel as distinct entities, and understands that God has separate plans for each. It is the prophecy interpretation method most consistent with a literal, cultural, historical, contextual study of scripture.

Many of you are likely familiar with this view, and it’s not my purpose to discuss it fully here. Suffice it to say, I consider dispensationalism to be as close to “rightly dividing the Word of truth” as human interpretations get. The details of how many dispensations, how they overlap, and how rigid their division should be is where there is room for discussion. (I remind you that it is a man-made model, and as such must be continually tested against scripture). What is agreed upon by all, is that we are currently in the Age of Grace, or the “Church Age”.

Where the controversy has come in with RD doctrine, is where to draw dispensational lines, and how thick and black to draw them.

Clarence Larkin is highly regarded as the father of dispensationalism. His work “Dispensational Truth” in 1918 is foundational teaching for this interpretation method, as is the Scofield Reference Bible (published in 1909). Interestingly, Larkin’s dispensation overview chart is entitled “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth”. (The whole of this amazing work is available for free online here: Dispensational Truth.)

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Where does Clarence Larkin place “right division”? If you zoom in, and look at his other charts, he clearly places “right division” at Acts 2:1-4, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

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I understand that we must examine all teachings of man with the scriptures, to see if these things are so. Is an Acts 2 division appropriate, or should the line be drawn somewhere else?

Dispensations, Wrongly Divided

While we all easily agree on dispensationalism and the distinction between Israel and the Church, self-proclaimed “Right Dividers” reject Classical Dispensationalism in favor of either a Mid-Acts or Post-Acts view. The Mid-Acts view places a dividing line at Acts 9 or 13, instead of at Acts 2. The Post-Acts, Ultra-Dispensational, Hyper-Dispensational view, places a dividing line at Acts 28, instead of at Acts 2. How much does this matter, or does it matter? I’m going to draw upon GotQuestions as a resource here:

Mid-Acts Dispensationalism:

According to mid-Acts dispensationalism or the Grace Movement, the apostles Peter, James, John, and the rest were still operating under the Old Covenant in Acts 1—8. They were still dutifully keeping the Law and still meeting as a Jewish body in Jerusalem. Peter and the other apostles preached repentance to Israel, but there was no church until Paul. It was Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), to whom the doctrine of the church—and the doctrine of grace—was revealed. It was only after Paul began to minister that the church actually began. Thus, the only parts of the New Testament that are applicable to believers today are the Pauline Epistles. The rest of the Bible was written for Israel.

There are some other problems with mid-Acts dispensationalism. In particular, its views on salvation, water baptism, and the church’s origin are based on misunderstandings of some points of Scripture. Here are some of the difficulties inherent in the teaching that the church began with Paul:

To Paul were revealed the details of the church, which had been a “mystery” in the Old Testament (Colossians 1:25–27). Mid-Acts dispensationalism wrongly assumes that Paul’s revelation about the church equals the beginning of the church itself.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism misinterprets Galatians 2:7, “I [Paul] had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised.” The mid-Acts dispensationalist makes a distinction between a “gospel of circumcision,” taught by Peter, and a “gospel of uncircumcision,” taught by Paul. In reality, Paul is referring to different audiences, not different gospels. The Jews whom Peter ministered to were saved by grace through faith, just as the Gentiles to whom Paul ministered.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism or the Grace Movement denies the need for water baptism for believers, thus ignoring Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19. They exclude water baptism on the basis that the baptism of the Spirit, which occurs at salvation, has replaced water baptism.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism overlooks the fact that Gentiles were part of the early church before Paul was converted. Acts 2:10–11 makes it clear that the crowd listening to Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost included Gentile proselytes to Judaism. And Acts 8 shows how Samaritans and an Ethiopian were baptized into Christ before Paul ever started preaching the doctrine of the church or of grace. Thus there was a joint church body of Jews and Gentiles before Paul began his ministry.

Most importantly, mid-Acts dispensationalism or the Grace Movement claims there are “different gospels,” one taught by Peter and one taught by Paul. But the Old Testament (and the first part of the New Testament) does not teach salvation by works; the Jews in Galilee were not saved a different way from the Gentiles in Achaia.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism is opposed to several elements of orthodoxy. Its downplaying of half of the New Testament, its unwarranted exclusion of early Jewish believers from the body of Christ, its disregard of water baptism, and its allowance for a faith-plus-works gospel make the Grace Movement an unbiblical view.

(Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/mid-Acts-dispensationalism.html)

Ultra-Dispensationalism:

Ultra-dispensationalism, also known as hyper-dispensationalism/hyperdispensationalism (although some theologians draw fine distinctions between these terms), is the teaching that Paul’s message was unique from the other apostles’ and that the church did not begin until Acts 28 or later. For this reason, ultra-dispensationalism is sometimes called “post-Acts dispensationalism.”

Instead of recognizing that the church began in Acts 2 when the disciples received the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the ultra-dispensationalist inserts another dispensation and holds that the church did not begin until Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Specifically, the seed of the church is found in Acts 28:28 when Paul says to the Jews in Rome who rejected the gospel, “I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” This was the view of one of the first ultra-dispensationalists, Ethelbert W. Bullinger of the Church of England.

Because ultra-dispensationalists believe in a late start to the church, they view the church in Acts as a “Hebrew” or “Jewish” church, separate from the “mystery” church to which Paul wrote his Prison Epistles. They believe that the books of Peter, James, Jude, Hebrews, and the epistles of John are all addressed to the Hebrew church, which is different from the “body of Christ.” This Jewish church, which was built on Kingdom promises, will be reestablished during the millennium and will worship at the rebuilt temple with atoning sacrifices.

According to ultra-dispensationalism, the four Gospels are for Jews only and have no bearing on the church. The book of Acts deals with a different “church” and not the body of Christ. Only the Prison Epistles of Paul are directed to the body of Christ or “mystery” church. Not even the book of Revelation addresses the church—the letters to the seven churches are written to the “Jewish” church of the tribulation. Also, most ultra-dispensationalists reject the ordinances of the church: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper were for the “Hebrew” church.

The greatest problem with ultra-dispensationalism is not its teaching about when the church began but the many other errors that come from its approach to Scripture. For example, at the heart of most forms of ultra-dispensationalism is the belief that Paul preached a different gospel from what the other apostles taught. Other false doctrines common in some forms of ultra-dispensationalism include soul sleep and annihilationism. Still others proclaim a brand of universalism that grants salvation even to Satan himself. Without a doubt, whatever name ultra-dispensationalism goes by, it is a dangerous error that almost always leads to other, even worse errors.

H. A. Ironside, a strong dispensationalist himself, wrote a good booklet outlining some of the dangers of ultra-dispensationalism. In it he says that he has “no hesitancy in saying that [ultra-dispensationalism’s] fruits are evil. It has produced a tremendous crop of heresies throughout the length and breadth of this and other lands; it has divided Christians and wrecked churches and assemblies without number; it has lifted up its votaries in intellectual and spiritual pride to an appalling extent, so that they look with supreme contempt upon Christians who do not accept their peculiar views; and in most instances where it has been long tolerated, it has absolutely throttled Gospel effort at home and sown discord on missionary fields abroad. So true are these things of this system that I have no hesitancy in saying it is an absolutely Satanic perversion of the truth” (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, chapter 1, Loizeaux Brothers, 1938).

(Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/ultra-dispensationalism.html)

I hope you can see that where the dividing line for the age of grace is positioned affects more than just a flexible start point. It affects the gospel itself.

The Mystery Revealed

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:24-27)

The article from GotQuestions above introduced the concept of the mystery of God which has now been revealed.  Is this mystery a new gospel, revealed by Paul?

Paul M. Elliott writes in his article on dispensationalism:

The Greek word is musterion, from which we obviously get our English word “mystery.” Paul speaks of “the mystery that was hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.”

What is a “mystery” in Scripture? A mystery, according to the Word of God, is some aspect of God’s plan that was hidden at one point in time, but is later revealed. And what is the mystery of which Paul is speaking here? Some commentators try to say that the mystery is that the Gentiles would partake of salvation along with Israel. But that was no mystery. That was never anything hidden. God told Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 that in the Messiah who would come through Abraham’s descendants, “all the nations of the earth will be blessed” – not just Israel. And in Isaiah 49 verse 6, God says of the coming Messiah, through Him I will restore the preserved ones of Israel, and, “I will also give Messiah as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” And although most of God’s Old Testament saints were Jews, we read in the Old Testament record of many occasions of individual Gentiles, and even whole Gentile cities, like Nineveh, repenting and turning to the Redeemer.

So the salvation of the Gentiles itself is not the mystery spoken of here. What, then, is the mystery? We have the answer at the end of verse 27: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The mystery of God’s plan that has now been revealed is that the Messiah not only would come to earth, not only would die, not only would be buried, not only would rise from the dead – the Messiah would actually live in each member of His redeemed people under the New Covenant. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

We find this confirmed in other passages. In John 14:23 Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” In Galatians 2:20 Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

“Christ in you, the hope of glory” – or to translate it more directly, “Christ in you, the guaranteed expectation of glory.” That is the mystery that was hidden and is now revealed. In times past, under the Old Covenant, Christ did not dwell within believers. The Holy Spirit did not dwell within believers in the Old Testament, except in specific cases for specific purposes. That is why David prayed in Psalm 51, after his great sin, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” That is a prayer that no believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Jew or Gentile, needs to pray under the New Covenant. Paul says in Ephesians chapter one that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the down-payment, or guarantee, of our final redemption – when we will not only have Christ living within these mortal, sinful bodies, but we will be like Christ forever, when we will have glorified bodies like His for eternity. That is the “hope of glory.”

(Source: http://www.teachingtheword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=66756&columnid=6211)

The mystery of God revealed in the church age, is the indwelling Holy Spirit – Christ in us.  When did the Holy Spirit come down to indwell believers?  On Pentecost, in Acts 2.  In its fullest sense, the “mystery of God” is God’s complete redemption plan through Jesus Christ.  (For more on this please see: What is the Mystery of God Referred to in the Bible? and Paul’s Mystery)

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)

Is that not mind-blowing?????!!!!!! Only God could write hundreds of thousands of words that could carry such pregnant meaning. Not until the revelation after His ascension could they be fully comprehended. What mystery! What majesty!

Pauline Epistles VERSUS Whole Word

If you remember what we talked about above, the RD Denomination has a strong focus on the Pauline epistles. Most would suggest that these are the only books of the Bible applicable to believers today. Let’s review:

  • The Gospels, and the Old Testament, were written for, and are applicable to, Jews only.  Some concede that the gospel of Luke was written for Gentiles.
  • There is disagreement upon whether the following books were written for, and are applicable to, both Jewish and Gentile believers: Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation. All would agree they are for Jewish believers; most would state they do NOT apply to Gentiles.
  • The following books were written for, and are applicable to, the Jew first and then the Gentiles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians.
  • The following books were written for, and are applicable to, all believers: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon.

While I agree that Paul’s letters are very applicable to the church today, I wholeheartedly disagree that other passages in the Bible do not apply to us. Why?

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

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I can personally testify that the Word of God is living and active. Not all scripture was written to me, but all scripture was written for me and is profitable for me to study and apply to my life.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'”. (Matthew 4:4)

Do we believe this? We live by EVERY world that proceeds from the mouth of God? Why is there so much resistance to the words in red versus the words in black? Do not the words in red pierce you to your very soul? Do you remember WHO the Word of God is?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5,9-14)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Here I am in tears again. In this season (despite the fact that Jesus was born in either spring or fall, I know, I know…), we are celebrating Jesus, the Word, becoming flesh and dwelling among us. What greater love than to leave His heavenly home of perfection to come and be persecuted and suffer down here with His groaning creation???? It is unfathomable to me, the love of Christ. To all who receive Him, who believe in His Name, He gives the right to become children of God. This passage is for you, for me.

Children of God. US. Whoever believes in Him. Who can truly comprehend this?!?

We cannot divide the Word, for the Word is God. God’s Word is one cohesive whole, because it was divinely authored from start to finish by one Spirit. The scarlet thread of God’s redemption plan runs from Genesis through Revelation.  A mystery, now revealed.

“…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

God is not man, that he should lie,

or a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Has he said, and will he not do it?

Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

(Numbers 23:19)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

What, Then, is “Right Division”?

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I want us to look again at the verse which contains the phrase “right division”. Let us look at it in context of the entire passage:

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene…. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:14-17,22-26)

The interlinear of 2 Timothy 2:15 reads:

“Hasten yourself approved to present to God a workman not ashamed accurately handling the word of truth.”

“Hasten yourself”

Σπούδασον – Strong’s #4704 – to make haste, hence to give diligence. Usage includes “I hasten, am eager, am zealous”.

“approved”

δόκιμον – Strong’s #1384 – approved, acceptable, tried. Helps word studies states that dokimos is an adjective that carries the meaning “to receive, welcome properly, what passes the necessary test (scrutiny); hence acceptable because genuine (validated, verified). Dokimos was used for proving (testing) of coins, i.e. confirming they were genuine (not counterfeit, corrupted).”

“not ashamed”

ἀνεπαίσχυντος, ον – Strong’s #422 – not to be put to shame; having no cause to be ashamed

“accurately handling”

ὀρθοτομέω – Strong’s #3718 – to cut straight; handle correctly; teach rightly

As believers, we are clearly to handle the Word of God rightly. We are to be eager and zealous, in both presenting ourselves to God as proven and tried, and in our handling the Word of Truth. We are to show ourselves as tested and tried, confirmed to be genuine, in our handling of God’s word. Not only are we to handle it correctly, we are to teach the truth rightly.

Paul M. Elliott looks into the original language of 2 Timothy 2:15:

We find that the word that is translated “rightly dividing” in the Old and New King James Bibles, and in several others, is a single word in the Greek. It is a form of the Greek verb orthotomeo. This is a very interesting word.

In New Testament times, orthotomeo was primarily a civil engineering term. It was used, for example, as a road building term. The idea of the word was “to cut straight,” or “to guide on a straight path.” The idea was to cut a roadway in such a manner that people who would travel over that road would arrive at their destination directly, without deviation. Orthotomeo was also used as a mining term. It meant to drill a straight mine shaft so that the miners could get quickly and safely to the “mother lode.”

There is another word in Greek, katatomeo, which means “to cut into sections.” But that is not the word that the Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration, uses in 2nd Timothy 2:15. Paul is not talking about “rightly dividing” in terms of dissecting the Word of God, or cutting it into sections based on Jew and Gentile, or Israel and Church, or any other criterion. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul does use that other word – katatomeo, cutting up – in Philippians 3:2, where he says, literally, “beware of those who would divide you up” – in other words, beware of those who would try to make a difference among believers between Jews and Gentiles.

What, then, is the proper meaning of orthotomeo – “rightly dividing” the Word of truth? What is intended is not the arbitrary dissection of Scripture, but reading, teaching, and preaching Scripture accurately, without being turned aside by false teaching or man-made agendas. This, indeed, is the context of 2 Timothy 2:15. In the verses preceding, Paul emphasizes the unity of all believers, and instructs Timothy to solemnly warn the church “not to strive about words to no profit”.

(Source: http://www.teachingtheword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=66757&columnid=6211)

What “Rightly Dividing” is NOT

“Rightly dividing the word of truth” does not mean dissecting God’s Word like a cadaver. It does not mean butchering it apart, casting aside anything not written by the apostle Paul. It does not mean tearing apart the body of Christ into the “right dividers” and the “wrong dividers”. Rightly dividing is not proclaiming a “second” gospel. How do we know? Let’s examine the words of Paul himself:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ”. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:4-11)

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-10)

One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:5-6)

Paul follows Jesus. We are to follow Jesus, as he does. Not just “heavenly Jesus” or “spiritual Jesus”, but the Word of God Himself, who Was, and Is, and Is to Come. The unchanging One.

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Remember, brothers and sisters, it’s all about Jesus.

Conclusion

I hope I have done some justice to this very complicated discussion, and have not introduced further controversy or division. It is my heart to bring peace to the watching community I have grown to love so dearly. This is not a personal attack against any particular individual, nor am I questioning anyone’s salvation or intentions.

I understand that with prophecy we see dimly, as in a cloudy mirror. There are things we can agree to disagree on. Some details we just aren’t going to know on this side of the rapture, and that’s ok. We just can’t compromise on the gospel. We can’t allow an ultra-division of scripture. It is the enemy who seeks to divide and conquer the body of Christ. He knows his time has just about come to an end, and he is getting desperate.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25-26)

As Gary wrote in his article This is War,

We spend so much time focusing on ourselves and our shortcomings and wallowing in our self-doubt that we effectively remove ourselves from the fight. That is exactly what the enemy wants. Once you realize that Christ has completely eliminated the penalty for your sin and all you must do is believe then you are freed and empowered to help others. Those stuck in works-righteousness can never see the forest for the trees because they still don’t understand that the Gospel has decisively solved the sin problem. We are free. And now that we are free we can engage in the broader war and help our brothers and sisters in this bloody fight while we try to snatch more from the fire.

God’s grace is found in the fullness of Christ.

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

I love all you watching brothers and sisters in Christ dearly. I understand it’s exhausting waiting for Jesus to call us home. I’m tired, too. But we must remember to keep our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We must press on, occupying until He comes.

He will come.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come”.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:22-24)

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

 


Further Resources:

Main Menu – Bible Prophecy Lessons

How to Interpret the Bible – Grace Thru Faith

Why is Sound Doctrine so Important?  – Gotquestions

Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt?  Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape?  If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.

What I post here is my best understanding from Scripture, but it is a human understanding, and thus will be flawed in some points.  I am continually pleading with God for truth and clarity, and will update posts as my understanding improves.  I urge you to search the Scripture for yourself to see if these things are so, praying for wisdom and understanding!

One thought on “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

  1. I can appreciate that you have gone back behind the English to the Greek, but we also, to be true hermeneutists, must peel back the veneer of 2000 years of Western thinking, layers of the onion of meaning and connotations about words.

    For one example, when the word “law” was used, it was something that was immutable, unchangeable. Science still uses this: The Law of Gravity, the laws of Thermodynamics–they don’t change, they just are immutable characteristics that have been discovered. Later it has become associated with juris prudence to imply a restriction, a burden, behaviors for which there were penalties–often extreme ones.

    You have written a huge post here and I’m not going to comment on much, but this: The same Paul who said to rightly divide (“Make a straight cut” in Greek) said that ALL Scripture was profitable. When he wrote this to young Timothy, THERE WAS NO “New Testament.” They understood Scripture as being the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.

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