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Divisions in Scripture

An excerpt from the newly published book, Foundational Truths.

The Bible is the greatest book ever written! When properly studied, it can enable a sincere believer to “grow” spiritually (1 Pet. 2:2), be grounded in the faith (Rom. 16:25), gain victory over sin (Psa. 119:11), and be thoroughly “furnished” with all that is needed to become “perfect” (or spiritually complete and mature) in our daily walk (2 Tim. 3:16,17). No other book in the world can legitimately make such a claim or produce these results. Unfortunately, many believers do NOT know how to study the Bible in a way that will reap these kinds of blessings. The key that unlocks the truths of God’s Word is in understanding a consistent method of Bible study that God Himself emphasizes in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, RIGHTLY DIVIDING the Word of truth.” In this lesson, we will explore together the proof, importance, location, and identification of these divisions in Scripture.

Understanding Divisions Exist in Scripture

Recognizing divisions in Scripture is the key to understanding the Bible. The Bible is “The Word of Truth;” but unless it is rightly divided, we will not get accurate “truth” from its pages, and we will only get “truth” in direct proportion to how well we rightly divide it.

“Dividing” means to cut straight. To cut something naturally divides or separates it from what it was attached to. We can picture cutting a loaf of bread into several sections. What we divided off was certainly part of the whole loaf, but it can best serve the one who uses it if it is divided into various sizes and sections.

So it is with Scripture. God emphasizes the need to divide Scripture in 2 Timothy 2:15 if it is to best serve the purpose that He intends. So doing does NOT make any portion of Scripture less a part of the whole Bible, it simply makes it more useful. Since God is the one telling us to divide Scripture, He does not intend for us to use it as a whole, without divisions. God never intended for us to attempt to use His Word as one uninterrupted set of instructions for man without recognizing how divisions in His Word affect His instructions. The Scriptures are not a hodge-podge of stories, or information randomly put together. Nor is it like a novel with one continuous flow about the same people. Instead, God’s Word is divided into sections about different people, under different programs of divine instruction, at different times.

There is great order in God’s Word if we recognize key divisions. Those who fail to recognize these divisions cannot help being inconsistent in what they choose to obey and confused about what God expects of them. As we’ll see, each division in Scripture has important distinctions from the rest, which greatly affect our understanding and application. As H. I. Brown illustrated, recognizing these divisions is “like the multiplication tables; once learned, you use them daily” in your understanding of God’s Word.

However, as described in 2 Timothy 2:15, if we fail to rightly divide God’s Word, we’ll have reason to be ashamed. We’ll be “ashamed” before Him for our ignorance, wrong application, foolish practices, wasted efforts, stubbornness, and perhaps much more. Our goal as students of Scripture must be to be found “approved” of Him in how we handle this precious Book He’s entrusted to our care. To please God in this way will require each of us to become a “workman” (one who expends some effort to understand God’s Word) and to “study” (or be diligent and consistent in this approach) “to show [ourselves] approved unto God.”

The Bible gives these divisions a unique name; they’re called “dispensations.” Our English Bible uses the word “dispensation” four times: 1 Corinthians 9:17, Ephesians 1:10 and 3:2, and Colossians 1:25. Elsewhere in our New Testament, the same basic Greek word is translated “steward” in the Authorized King James Version. Literally the word “dispensation” means house management, an administration, or a steward, describing the way one would direct the affairs of his house. The word “steward” refers to a manager or administrator who was responsible for a household (i.e. Joseph in Genesis).

In our modern experience, we can comprehend the idea of a hospital administrator being responsible for how the hospital will be operated. We can also relate to a pharmacy dispensing or giving out prescriptions to different individuals. The pharmacy dispenses only as directed by the doctor, and it is governed by clear and ever updated regulations. Those receiving the prescriptions specifically intended for them are expected to carefully follow their directions without attempting to combine them with what was intended for someone else.

God has a very similar meaning for these words (dispensation and steward) as He uses them in Scripture. They reveal how God has managed the household of mankind in different ways throughout history, based on the specific instructions He dispensed to specific individuals or groups. 2 Timothy 2:15 is emphasizing that we’ll not need to be ashamed before God when we’re able to discern these divisions and instructions in His Word.

To be continued in Pastor Fredericksen’s newly published book, Foundational Truths

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.