Rightly Dividing the Word of God

The Bible is not difficult to understand. Yet, there are many people who think that it is! Perhaps, one reason some have difficulty understanding the Bible is because it is not written like a novel. The books are not a single narrative arranged in chronological order. If one did not already know this, then it certainly could be confusing. Still, there is another point that seems to stand above others when it comes to misapprehension. It is the difference between the Old and New Testaments. Numerous Bible “scholars” have exhibited a deficiency in discerning the variances. It is this lack of knowledge that has been culprit to many misguided practices and false doctrines. Being able to distinguish the differences between the two testaments is absolute key to truly sound Bible knowledge.

The apostle Paul wrote, “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 – KJV). The words, “rightly dividing” means, “to handle aright, or to teach the truth directly and correctly.” A diligent student of God’s Word should know that Scripture can be “divided” according to different methods. First of all, it is a library of discrete writings, totaling 66 books in two volumes – 39 in the first and 27 in the second. It has 1,189 chapters and 31,000 verses! Secondly, it has thematic divisions, such as, “books of law,” “history,” “poetry,” “prophecy,” and “letters.” Knowing such things helps one to handle the Scriptures more accurately by being able to locate specific teachings and properly identify the context of the writing.

By far, the most important division of Scripture is that of the two covenants, or agreements. That’s what the word “testament” means. For example, Jesus said, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” (Matthew 26:28 – KJV). Here, Jesus is saying that He is instituting a “new agreement,” or covenant between God and man (compare the renderings of this verse in different versions such as the ESV, NKJV, and CEV to see the difference in words). It is because of this verse and others such as 2 Corinthians 3:6; Colossians 2:14; and Galatians 6:2 that the Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament, called “old” because it’s no longer in effect, and the New Testament, the current, binding agreement.

Agreements, or covenants, between God and His creation can be seen throughout the Scriptures. For example, read Genesis 6:13-18. With whom did God establish a covenant? Later, in Genesis 15:18, we read where God made another covenant with someone else. What was his name? A third covenant was made with whom in Exodus 34:27? Each of these agreements were leading up to and pointing toward the covenant that Jesus would make at the Last Supper, the night before He was crucified. We might explain testament as a “new contract,” much like a will that someone puts into effect. In fact, the best explanation of what Jesus did is found in Hebrews 9:14-20. Here we see what is involved in a testament – there’s a mediator and a testator. According to Thayer’s Dictionary, a mediator is, “one who intervenes between two [parties], either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or form a compact, for ratifying a covenant.” A testator is the person who makes, or initiates the will. He is the one who decides who the beneficiaries shall be. The Bible teaches us that Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and since He is the One who gave us the new covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25), that makes Him also the Testator.

The conclusion can be summarized in this manner. There was an agreement, or covenant, that God made long ago with the Jews, through the father of their nation, Abraham. The Jews ratified and lived under this agreement through the the Law of Moses (Exodus 19:8). When Christ came into the world, He established a new agreement. When He died, this new agreement, or testament, was put into effect. This prompted the cancellation, or annulment of the first covenant. We are not Hebrews, nor can we (or anyone) use it as our law! It is the old covenant; we now have a new one. This is why we are called “New Testament Christians.” And as Christians, we must learn and know the will of God if we want to be assured of eternal life. If we don’t know how to rightly handle the word, then we can put our souls in jeopardy!

Next week, we will continue the discussion and answer the question, “Then, why do we need the Old Testament?”