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#3. HOW TO RIGHTLY DIVIDE THE WORD OF TRUTH

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Introduction 3

Imagine a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, every piece being the same shape, so that every piece would fit perfectly with every other piece, even though the picture did not match. Imagine also that the puzzle has been put together with almost every piece in the wrong place. Although the pieces fit together, the picture does not match, and no matter how long we look at the puzzle, we are not able to discern the picture. We have no original picture to look at, so in order to find out what the actual picture is like, we would have to take the puzzle apart, little by little, and rearrange it in the correct manner. First we would probably gather together all the pieces of one particular colour, then lay them out and examine them. Every piece would have to be studied very carefully in order to ensure that the match was perfect before it was fitted to another piece, because mistakes could easily be made, and they would not be detected by the shape of the pieces. If one piece is wrongly fitted, it means that others will also be incorrect, because the piece that should have been fitted into that place will now be wrongly fitted elsewhere. To add to the difficulty, we have never done the jigsaw puzzle before, and we have an enemy whose sole aim is to get us to put the pieces in the wrong place. If the puzzle has been presented to us, and we have been asked to determine what the true picture is like, how would we go about doing it?
Firstly, in order to ensure that pieces are not put together incorrectly, as an unskilled person in this type of work, we would need to have some basic principles to guide us. For example:

(1) Different colored pieces cannot be put together. i.e. red cannot be fitted next to blue.
(2) When lines cross from one piece to another they must all butt together perfectly.
(3) Lines cannot end at the joint between two pieces, except in exceptional circumstances.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but simple rules like these would be a helpful guide, which would enable different people to put the puzzle together in the same manner, and resolve any differences on a common basis.
Secondly, it would also help if we had someone who knew exactly what the original picture looked like, who could help us and guide us when we made mistakes, or contravened the rules that had been laid down. In such a situation, we would probably be prepared to attempt to rearrange the puzzle correctly, with some confidence of success.
If we make an analogy with the word of God, the whole bible is like the jigsaw puzzle, the whole truth is like the picture, and the pieces are like individual scriptures. The different colors are like different teachings (e.g. faith, healing, baptism, etc.), our enemy is like the Devil, and the one to help us and guide us is like the Holy Spirit (See #2.6). The rules are like the principles of how to rightly divide the word of God, which we are about to examine in this section, and how to interpret it (See #4, #5, and #6). Do we have a scriptural basis for making such an analogy? Certainly we do. We have an Old Testament type for rightly dividing the word of God, which is the dividing up of the animal sacrifices.
Abraham took "an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, ... and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another:" (Genesis 15:9-10).
During the consecration of the priests under the law of Moses, God commanded, "you shall slay the ram ... And you shall cut the ram in pieces, and wash the inwards of him, and his legs, and put them to his pieces, and to his head." (Exodus 29:16-17).
We also have the divided hoof of the animals which were clean meat (Leviticus 11:1-13; Deuteronomy 14:3-8; See #2.41; #2.42; #2.43 and #2.44).
What we need to do then, is to take the scriptures apart, and collect together scriptures of the same teaching; collect all faith scriptures together, collect all healing scriptures together, and collect all baptism scriptures together etc.. Then we need to examine them very carefully, meditate upon them, put them back together in the correct order, observing carefully the principles of interpretation, and being guided by the Holy Spirit at all times (See #2.6). If the whole Christian community would agree on such a common basis for interpreting the word of God, we would soon see a coming together of those who truly reverence God’s word, and a casting aside of many false teachings, which the Devil has used to cause division in the body of Christ. Surely this coming together will happen before Jesus returns, because he prayed for it (John 17:20-24).

#3.1 PRINCIPLE 1: DON’T DIMINISH FROM THE WORD OF GOD

DEUTERONOMY 4:2 (Moses)
2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

DEUTERONOMY 12:32 (Moses)
32 Whatever thing I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add to it, nor diminish from it.

REVELATION 22:19
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Note: Diminishing from what God has said must be one of the most common errors of those who study the bible. Not only did Moses command the Israelites not to do it, but the penalty for those who take away from God’s word, for the book of Revelation at least (although some attribute this verse to the whole bible) is loss of salvation. Our Old Testament type for rightly dividing the word of God was the dividing up of the animal sacrifices (Genesis 15:9-10; Exodus 29:16-18; Leviticus 1:1-13; Leviticus 8:20-21), and it should be noted that none of the pieces of the animal were left out when they were put back together, but they were burnt whole on the altar in the latter four cases, as "an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour to the LORD". Jesus is our sacrifice in the New Testament, and he is the word (Gr. λόγος, Gtr. logos) of God (John 1:1 with John 1:14 and Revelation 19:13). So when we rightly divide the word of God, we are fulfilling the Old Testament type of dividing up the sacrifice, which confirms the validity of applying these scriptures to rightly dividing the word of God. The sort of errors that can result from failing to adhere to this principle are best illustrated by examples.

#3.11 Example: Who accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub the chief of demons?

MATTHEW 12:24
24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This man does not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of demons.

MARK 3:22
22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He has Beelzebub, and by the prince of demons he casts out demons.

LUKE 11:14-15
14 And he was casting out a demon, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the demon was gone out, the dumb man spoke; and the people wondered.
15 But some of them said, He casts out demons through Beelzebub the chief of demons.

Note: We have three separate accounts of who accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub, "the Pharisees" (Matthew 12:24), "the scribes" (Mark 3:22), and "the people ... some of them" (Luke 11:14-15). Again, these scriptures are meant to be supplementary rather than contradictory, and leaving any one of them out fails to indicate fully who Jesus was referring to when he told them that blaspheming the Holy Spirit was an unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10). He was speaking to all of them.

#3.12 Example: Where were the herd of swine?

MATTHEW 8:30
30 And there was a good way off from them a herd of many swine feeding.

MARK 5:11
11 Now there was near to the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.

LUKE 8:32
32 And there was a herd of many swine feeding on the mountain:

Note: When Jesus cast a "legion" of demons out of the man from the Gadarenes, they entered into a herd of swine which ran down a steep slope and died in the sea. Where the herd of swine were before the demons entered into them is not important, but the point that it illustrates is very important. These are the only three scriptures in the whole bible which refer to this particular incident, and although each account gives a different version of where the swine were, these are meant to be supplementary rather than contradictory. All of the swine were "a good way off" (Matthew 8:30), but as two thousand swine (Mark 5:13) would spread over quite a large area, some would be "on the mountain:" (Luke 8:32) and some "near to the mountains" (Mark 5:11). Taking all three scriptures together establishes this truth clearly, but missing out any one of them fails to give the whole truth!

#3.13 Example: What was written on the cross?

MATTHEW 27:37
37 And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

MARK 15:26
26 And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

LUKE 23:38
38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

JOHN 19:19
19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Note: When we come to examine examine the inscription that was placed on the cross when Jesus was crucified, we see that each writer gave a slightly different version:

Inscription on the cross
As we can see, each writer missed out some part of the inscription that was supplied by another: "For we know in part," (1 Corinthians 13:9), but when the whole is put together, we get:

THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS

No single writer gave the whole inscription correctly, and this shows how easy it is to fall into error when any doctrine is based on one scripture only, without being rightly divided.

#3.2 PRINCIPLE 2: DON’T ADD TO THE WORD OF GOD

DEUTERONOMY 4:2 (Moses)
2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

DEUTERONOMY 12:32
32 Whatever thing I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add to it, nor diminish from it.

PROVERBS 30:5-6 (Solomon)
5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield to those who put their trust in him.
6 Do not add to his words, lest he reproves you, and you are found a liar.

REVELATION 22:18
18 For I testify to every man who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book:

Note 1: Moses made it clear to the children of Israel, "You shall not add to the word which I command you," (Deuteronomy 4:2), "you shall not add to it," (Deuteronomy 12:32), and Agur confirmed this principle when he wrote "Every word of God is Pure: ... Do not add to his words, lest he reproves you, and you are found a liar." (Proverbs 30:5-6). When the Old Testament sacrifices (See #3.1 Note) were put back on the altar, after being divided up, pieces from elsewhere were not added to them, showing that we should add nothing to the word of God if it is to be rightly divided. Jesus taught, "I am the vine, you are the branches:" (John 15:5), and as all food for the branches must come through the vine, it indicates that all of our spiritual food should come from Jesus, who is the word of God (John 1:1 with 1:14; Revelation 19:13). If we abide in the vine, then none of our spiritual food will come from any other source, showing that it is correct not to feed ourselves with food that is not inspired by God. Paul also compared us as branches being grafted into an olive tree (Romans 9:16-27), confirming the point just made. When the Israelites were told, "you shall not sow your field with mingled seed:" (Leviticus 19:19), it also had a spiritual meaning. The seed refers to the words we hear (Mark 4:14; Luke 8:11), and the field being our hearts (Luke 8:15). If we add to God’s word, we are sowing mingled seed in the hearts of others as well as our own.

Note 2: The penalty for adding to God’s word (for the book of Revelation at least), is that "God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book:" (Revelation 22:18). We have been commanded, "Do not add to his words, lest he reproves you, and you are found a liar." (Proverbs 30:6), and if we ignore that command then we could determine our own destiny; "all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8). Is it worth the risk?

#3.21 Example: The serpent adds "not" and a reason

GENESIS 2:16-17
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:
17 But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

GENESIS 3:2-5
2 And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.
4 And the serpent said to the woman, You shall surely not die:
5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Note: Some have said that Eve added to God’s word when she said, "neither shall you touch it," (Genesis 3:3), but this cannot be so. This was said before the fall of man, before she knew the knowledge of evil (Genesis 3:7), before sin entered into the world (Romans 5:12), and so it was impossible for Eve to lie at this time. There are several occasions where people spoke about things which had been said before, but not recorded in the scripture:

(1 Kings 13:9) "For so was it charged me by the word of the LORD, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that you came."
(Jonah 4:2) "I pray you, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country?"
(Hebrews 12:21) "And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:"
(Jude 14-15) "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints,

To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

None of the above sayings are recorded, when the person actually said them, but they were said because they are recorded here. In the same way, Eve was repeating what God had said, although it is not recorded elsewhere that God actually said it. On the other hand, when God said, "you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:17), and the serpent said, "You shall surely not die:" (Genesis 3:4), he added the word "not" to what God had said, and completely changed the meaning. This was a lie, of which the Devil is the father (John 8:44). Notice also that he went on to explain why God did not want them to obtain the knowledge of good and evil; making it sound like a good thing to have, when all the time it was the one thing that would ensure all men to sin (Jeremiah 4:22; Romans 5:12).

#3.22 Example: The Devil adds "lest at any time"

PSALMS 91:11-12
11 For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

MATTHEW 4:5-6
5 Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,
6 And says to him, If you are the son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.

Note: When the Devil was tempting Jesus in the wilderness, he tried to persuade him to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. He quoted Psalms 91:11-12 at him, implying that the angels of God would protect him, but subtly adding the words "at any time". His words now become a lie, because while it is true that the angels of God will protect us when we are walking right before God, it is not true that they will do it "at any time". When we are in sin, for example, or tempting God as Jesus would have been here, we have no such guarantee. Thus we can see that adding to God’s word is the direct work of the Devil himself, and those who he uses to do his work.

#3.23 Example: The elders added tradition to the word of God

MATTHEW 15:1-9
1 Then scribes and Pharisees who were of Jerusalem, came to Jesus, saying,
2 Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.
3 But he answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandments of God by your tradition?
4 For God commanded, saying, Honour your father and mother: and, He who curses father or mother, let him die the death.
5 But you say, Whoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me;
6 And does not honour his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.
7 You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,
8 This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honours me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9 But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Note: Here we have an example of adding tradition to the law which God commanded. The gift referred to (v5) was called "Corban" (Mark 7:11), and meant in effect that the man had dedicated to God that which would have relieved the need of his father and mother. Thus the Pharisees excused the man from helping his parents, and breaking the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). Many other things they also did (Mark 7:3-4; 7:13), which made the word of God of no effect (Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:13), and caused their worship to be in vain (Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7). When Jesus said, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." (Matthew 16:6), he was referring to their doctrine (Matthew 16:12), in particular those teachings which were added to the law. Leaven is an additive which puffs up the bread and makes it appear much bigger than it really is. It also symbolises hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), and malice and wickedness (1 Corinthians 5:8), where it is contrasted with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, which is the word of God (Psalm 119:151; John 17:17).

#3.3 PRINCIPLE 3: DON’T WRONGLY DIVIDE THE WORD OF GOD

#3.31 Example: Was Paul an evil man seeking rebellion?

PROVERBS 17:11 (Solomon)
11 An evil man seeks only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.

2 CORINTHIANS 12:7 (Paul)
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Note: We cannot say that two scriptures cannot be put together like this to make a point, but like the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle (See Intro 3) they must put together with a perfect match. Would it be right to say that because Paul had a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him (2 Corinthians 12:7), that we could conclude that he was an evil man seeking only rebellion (Proverbs 17:11)? No, because many other scriptures show how dedicated and faithful he was to serve the Lord, and how much he suffered for the sake of Jesus and others (2 Corinthians 1:5-6;  11:23-25; Galatians 6:17; Colossians 1:24). This just makes the point that it is possible to wrongly put scriptures together, when we do it without spiritual discernment, and without considering all other relevant scriptures (See #3.1).

#3.32 Example: Did Jesus please God?

PROVERBS 16:7 (Solomon)
7 When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

JOHN 19:1-3
1 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.
2 And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,
3 And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.

Note: Before Jesus died on the cross, he was beaten during his trial (Matthew 26:67; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64; John 18:22), he was scourged (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1), he had a crown of thorns put on his head (Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2), John 20:24-28), and he was crucified (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:23). Could we put these scriptures with Proverbs 16:7, and say that because his enemies were not at peace with him, Jesus did not please God? If we consider Jesus own statement, "I do always those things that please him." (John 8:29), and the Father’s own testimony about Jesus, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17), then we certainly could not. In the prophecy of Jesus’ death it says, "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him;" (Isaiah 53:10), so even when he was dying Jesus was pleasing God. This shows again that we cannot join any two scriptures together and assume that they give us the truth.

#3.33 Example: Was Job a wicked man?

PROVERBS 10:24 (Solomon)
24 The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him: but the desire of the righteous shall be granted.

JOB 3:25 (Job)
25 For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of has come to me.

Note: Could we say by comparing these two scriptures, that because Job’s fear came upon him, that he was a wicked man? In view of the fact that twice God said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" (Job 1:8; 2:3), then we certainly could not. Job was the most godly man alive on the earth at that time by God’s own words, so putting these two verses together is an excellent example of how easy it is to wrongly divide the scripture.

#3.4 PRINCIPLE 4: REFINE AS SILVER AND GOLD IS REFINED

PSALMS 12:6 (David)
6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

Note: Is it likely that when we begin to rightly divide the scriptures, that we will do it right first time? The answer is no, because God has said that his wisdom and the understanding of his word will come to us gradually:

(Deuteronomy 32:2) "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, as the showers upon the grass:"
(Isaiah 28:9-10) "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? those who are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little."

Therefore as we begin to collect scriptures, which we believe go together, we must meditate upon them, and continually refine them as more truth is revealed to us. New scriptures will be added as God reveals them to us, some may be replaced by others, and some taken away as our understanding grows. This process of refining is to remove error, ambiguity, and to replace any carnal interpretation with a spiritual one. The process should continue as long as the person who is dividing the scriptures is still maturing spiritually, or until the study, if relatively small, has been exhaustively completed.

#3.5 PRINCIPLE 5: EXPLAIN "CONTRARY" SCRIPTURES

PROVERBS 8:8-9 (Wisdom)
8 All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing twisted or perverse in them.
9 They are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge.

Note: It is obvious when anyone reads the bible, that there are many scriptures that appear to be contrary. However, when the correct understanding is obtained, the way in which these scriptures fit together can be explained. As long as there are scriptures contradicting a teaching that cannot be explained, then the full understanding has not yet been obtained. Therefore, when any teaching is set out, an attempt should be made to answer questions concerning scriptures that may appear to be contrary.

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