Right Division is the key that unlocks the dispensations and should govern our entire approach to the Scriptures. The Scripture that enjoins the practice of this principle is 2 Timothy 2:15, "study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth".
This verse divides naturally into three parts:
(1) The approval of God.
(2) The unashamed workman.
(3) The essential principle of interpretation.
In chapter one of 2 Timothy there is an anticipation of the great principle of
right division, for the Apostle emphasizes "the testimony of the Lord and of me
His prisoner". He refers to that calling that goes back "before age times" but
is manifest "now" that he is a prisoner. He draws attention to his own special
ministry to the Gentiles and the "GOOD DEPOSIT" entrusted to him and afterwards
committed to Timothy, when he urged upon him the importance of having a pattern
of sound words which he had heard of him, and in chapter two he exhorts Timothy
to commit to faithful men "the things he had heard of him". What is all this but
the application of right division? Here a distinction between the Apostle's
earlier ministry and his "prison ministry" is intimated. Here is a recognition
of the distinctive calling of Ephesians one, "before the foundation of the
world". Here is the claim that the apostle, preacher and teacher of the
Gentiles, is Paul, and here the distinction is made between "that good deposit"
and other parts of God's purposes.
If Timothy is to be unashamed of his work he must know and appreciate these
otherwise (by occupying himself with service that belongs to other callings
and dispensations, and so not being engaged in "God's building"), his work, being revealed by fire, will be
found worthless. While Timothy might be expected to perceive the necessity
of right division, Paul is anxious that he should not be left to his own
inferences. How then shall the Apostle best put the principle that is vaguely
seen at work right through chapter one? Shall he once more go back in mind to
the child Timothy at his mother's knee? Shall he visualize the teaching of those
holy Scriptures that had made Timothy wise unto salvation? Does he remember that
a Jewish mother would most certainly teach her boy some of the Proverbs? and
that Timothy's father, being a Greek, and living in Galatia, would most
certainly have read the Greek version of the O.T., known as the Septuagint? We
cannot tell, but this we do know, that Timothy needed no explanation of the term
"right division". We can dismiss all attempts by commentators to discredit this
fact and feel perfectly safe in doing so, because we shall be "comparing
spiritual things with spiritual". In the Bible used by Timothy occurs the
Pasais hodois sou gnorize auten, hina orthotome tas hodous sou
"In all thy ways acquaint thyself with it (fem. ref. to sophia wisdom, in verse
5) m order that it snag rightly divide thy paths" (Prov. 3:6).
We find the same word in Proverbs 11:5, where it is again used of a "way". These
are the only occurrences in the LXX. We are not now concerned with the
differences here observable between the A.V. and the L but are desirous that all
shall see that the words used by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:15 and known by Timothy are
Orthotomeo, "To rightly divide".
Tempo, "to cut", does not occur in the N.T. but several combinations of the word
"Sharper", Tomoteros. "Sharper than a two-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12).
"Sharply", Apotomos. "Rebuke them sharply" (Tit. 1:13).
Peritemno and peritome refer to circumcision, and there is no need to stress the
literal meaning of either the Greek or the English. The word finds its place in
our own language, and in such surgical expressions as anatomy, tracheotomy, and
phlebotomy, the primary meaning of cutting is retained unaltered.
With this evidence before him, the reader will need no refutation of the many
suggestions put forward as translations, such as "handling aright the Word of
Truth". Again, there is no possibility of mistaking what was to be rightly
divided. It was not the believer's conduct or service or anything to do with
himself, but the "Word of Truth". Just as Timothy was subsequently exhorted to
"preach" the Word, so is he. here commanded to "divide" the Word aright. What
this principle involves when put into operation cannot be detailed here. Besides
a number of volumes and smaller booklets, thirty-seven volumes of The Berean
Expositor have been published, and they all have been subject to this one great
principle. Right division distinguishes dispensations.
It does not confound Kingdom with Church, Gentile with Jew, Mystery with
Gospel, Earth with Heaven. It is beyond us, however, to attempt even a
summary of its bearings, for there is no item of Scriptural teaching to which
the principle does not apply.
Moreover, let us repeat that what is here to be "rightly divided" is, and
remains, the Word of Truth. No "higher critical" cutting up of the Scriptures is
countenanced by this Word, and indeed we have only to read on to find in 2
Timothy 3:16 one of the most emphatic statements concerning the inspiration of
the Scriptures that the New Testament contains. We can, however, easily rob the
Word of its "truth" if we fail to "rightly divide" it. We can confound law and
grace, to our undoing; we can preach Moses where we ought to preach Christ. We
can be concerned with "earthly things", to our loss, if our calling is
associated with "things above where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God". If
we attempt to spiritualize the promises made to the fathers, we rob the attempt
rd of promise of its truth. If we misinterpret Israel as of the Church; if we
confound the Bride with the Body; if we preach the gospel of the circumcision to
the Gentile to-day; if we do any of these things, we rob the Word of its Truth.
One glorious result of "rightly dividing the word of truth" is that every
statement of God may be taken without alteration. For instance, in the case of
the promise, "the meek shall inherit the earth", a rightly divided word has no
need to substitute "heaven" for "earth".
"Let us heed this word of exhortation. If we are not occupied with that part of
God's purpose which has a present application, we shall most certainly be
ashamed of our work. In other words, whether found in Genesis, Romans, Ephesians
or the Revelation, 'Dispensational Truth' is all the truth there is:"
Happy is the workman who, though suffering under the disapproval of tradition,
is approved unto God; that workman who will have no need to be ashamed of his
work, because he has obeyed the great all-covering principle of interpretation
"Rightly dividing the Word of Truth."
Passing from the meaning of "Right Division" let us take an illustration of the
application of this principle from the ministry of the Lord Himself. In Luke
4:16-21 we read that the Saviour upon returning from Galilee to Nazareth,
entered the synagogue and stood up for to read. He was given the book of the
prophet Isaiah and He found the place where it was written:
"The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the
gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach
deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at
liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord---2'
According to Moses Maimonedes, a public reading of the Scriptures should consist
of some twenty to twenty-five verses, and had the Saviour read the whole of,
Isaiah chapter sixty-one, even though it contained but eleven verses,, no one
would have been surprised. What He did, however; was something extraordinary. He
read one verse, and one sentence of the second verse, stopped, shut the book,
and sat down. The second verse of Isaiah sixty-one reads:
"To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our
God: to comfort all that mourn."
but had He continued His reading so as to include the reference to the day of
vengeance, He could not have said, as He did, THIS DAY 1s THIS SCRIPTURE
fulfilled in your ears, for the day of vengeance, even after nineteen hundred
years, has not yet come. There is but a comma, in our English version, between
the two periods, yet that comma represents a gap of nearly two thousand years.
In the original Hebrew or the Greek from which the Saviour read, there would
have been no punctuation mark at all. The Lord by no means set aside the
dreadful fact of future judgment, He simply kept both references in their true
dispensational place. This dame gospel, at chapter twenty-one speaks of that
future day, saying: "For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which
are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:22). The relations between these two
passages may be set out thus:
The The Acceptable
4<-----------------------------------------> 21 The Day
year of the Lord
(over nineteen hundred years)
Vengeance of our God.
fulfilled at first advent
Fulfilled at 2nd advent
at 2nd advent
The books of the Bible were all originally addressed to some particular hearer
or company, and before we take all that is written in the Scriptures as truth
for ourselves, we should observe several things which in reality will be but the
application of "Right Division". If we hold the faith that is common to
evangelical protestants we shall strenuously maintain the great doctrine of
Justification by faith apart from works of the law, and by so doing we of
necessity "divide" the Word of truth, for the law of Moses is equally as
inspired Scripture as is the epistle to the Romans. And so the principle of
right division enables us to say:
"While the Word of God is written FOR all persons, and FOR all time, yet it
is true that not every part of it is addressed To all persons or ABOUT all
persons IN all time". (How to Enjoy the Bible, Dr. E. W. Bullinger).
Hence, we can say that the Scriptures refer to three companies or classes, "Jew,
Gentile and Church of God", or we can say that the Scriptures relate to three
spheres of blessing, "The Earth, The Heavenly Jerusalem and Far above all". Yet
again, the Scriptures are concerned with
The Kingdom of Israel, The Bride of the Lamb and the
Church which is His Body. Some of the epistles are specifically addressed to
"To the twelve tribes
which are scattered abroad, greeting" (Jas. 1:1).
"To the strangers scattered through Pontius . . . Bithynia" (1 Pet. 1:1).
To which should be added the epistle to the Hebrews, for Peter, writing to the
Dispersion said, "our beloved brother Paul . . . hath written UNTO You" (2 Pet.
3:15). The question of the authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews, together
with its distinctive teaching, is discussed in the article entitled HEBREWS.
This principle of interpretation "right division" observes the "sundry times"
and "diverse manners" in which God has spoken, and these different "times" are
called for convenience "dispensations". We will not enlarge upon this here, as
the subject is treated with some degree of fullness in the article entitled
DISPENSATION. The Ages too have their differences, and the article AGES deals
with this aspect of truth. Dr. Bullinger devotes seventy-five pages of the book
How to Enjoy the Bible to the unfolding of what he has called "the one great
requirement", the reading of which is illuminative. We give the subdivision of
the theme as set out in the Index, but can give no quotations owing to
limitation of space.
THE GREAT REQUIREMENT
(4) As to the DISPENSATIONAL TRUTH and TEACHING.
(1) One part of the PAST not necessarily to be read into another part of the
PAST. (a) Matt. 10:5,6 and 28:19,20. (b) Luke 9:3 and 22:35,36.
(2) The PAST not to be read into the PRESENT. (a) Law and Grace. (b) Imprecatory
Psalms. c) The Sabbath. ((d) The Kingdom. (e) The Gospels. (f) The Sermon on the
Mount. (g) The Lord's Prayer. (h) The Priesthood. (i) Baptisms. (k) The prophecy
of Amos. Amos 9:11,12, Acts 15:14-18. (1) The title "Son of Man".
(3) The PRESENT not to be read into the PAST. (a) The Mystery. (b) "Sons of
God". (c) The "Church".
(4) The FUTURE not to be read into the PRESENT. (a) The Great Tribulation. The
144,000. (c) Sundry Prophecies. Psa. 2, Isa. 2, Isa. 40. (d) The Day of the
(5) One part of the FUTURE not necessarily to be read into another part of the
(a) The Advents. (b) The Resurrection.
(c) The Judgments. 2 Cor. 5:10, Matt. 25:31-36, Rev. 20:11-15.
(6) The truth and teaching of the CANONCIAL ORDER to be distinguished from the
CHRONOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ORDER.
(a) The Tabernacle.
(b) The Great Offerings. (c) The Four Gospels.
(d) 1 Samuel 16-18.
(e) The book of Jeremiah. (f) The Pauline Epistles.
The reader may not agree with every interpretation. and every conclusion arrived
at by the Doctor under these heads, but the very contemplation of these
subdivisions is of itself suggestive and provocative of individual Berean-like
For the chronological order of the epistles, and the chronology of the Acts the
reader is referred to the article bearing the title CHRONOLOGY, ACTS AND
The expansion of this principle of right division is only limited by the limits
of Scripture itself, and this Analysis, under whatever subdivisions it may fall,
is from first to last but an exhibition and exposition of this great principle.
Having given the term an examination and the application of the principle an
illustration we must leave its full unfolding to the separate articles as they
appear in the alphabetical order of their occurrence.