Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 6, 1962
NUMBER 31, PAGE 1,12-13

Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth

H. Osby Weaver

In 2 Timothy 2:15, we read, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Since we have the admonition to "rightly divide the word of truth," there is certainly the possibility of wrongly dividing it. If it cannot be wrongly divided, then the warning to "rightly divide" it was useless But in order to rightly divide it and properly handle it, we must be familiar with it. This entails a diligent study of it. It goes without saying that today men are familiar with almost everything but the Bible.

Within the realm of a proper consideration of the Bible, lies one of the most subtle errors to be found among religious people, and their errors are legion. Many seemingly have no conception about how to "rightly divide the word of truth." Some make no distinction even between what we call the Old Testament and the New Testament. One who respects the Bible as the word of God, but knows not how to rightly divide it, will be found applying certain parts of it to people today, when it may not be applicable to them at all. It is a case of mis-application. Such a one reasons this way: "Did not God say this?" The answer is, "Yes, if the Bible records God as having said it, He did." Then he comes back and says, "Well, if God said it, it must be so, therefore it applies to me." Certainly, if God said it, it is so, but that it applies to one today does not necessarily follow. A study of the Bible will reveal this fact when one rightly divides it.

John 1:17 says "the law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Now this does not mean that the law given by Moses contained no grace or truth, for it contained both, but it does emphasize that the "grace and truth" that came through Jesus Christ is something different from the law of Moses. It is up to us to study to learn what each is and to know the place each occupied in God's dealings with man.

When God called Abraham from among his people and sent him into a strange land, certain promises were made to him (Genesis 12:1-3), among which was that his seed would bless all nations. Four hundred and thirty years after this promise was made to Abraham, God called the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage via the leadership of Moses and brought them to the foot of Mt. Sinai. Here he called Moses upon the mount and delivered into his hands two tables of stone upon which was inscribed on either side the ten commandments, along with all the ordinances of the law. This law "did not disannul, so as to make the promise (to Abraham) of none effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise." (Galatians 3:17, 18)

There are three questions with which we are confronted at this point in our consideration of this law which was given by Jehovah through Moses. (1) To whom was it given? (2) Why was it given? (3) How long was it to last?

To Whom Was It Given?

In spite of almost a universal conception to the contrary, the Bible is specific in its statements that the law of Moses, embracing the ten commandments, was given to the descendants of Abraham and to no other people. In Exodus 34:27, 28, we read "And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water, And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments." You will note that the thing specifically mentioned as constituting the covenant that God made with Moses and Israel was the ten commandments. With whom did God make this covenant? God said he made it with Moses and Israel. Now Israel were those people who descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those are the ones to whom God gave the law. Years later, Moses called Israel's attention to the law that God had made with them in Horeb and said, "Jehovah made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day." (Deuteronomy 5:3) That pin-points the ones to whom God gave the law. Now, unless someone can find in the Divine record is some unless someone can find in the Divine record in some one has the right to declare that He did. In calling attention to the law which God had made with those who were alive there that day, Moses repeated the ten commandments. In verse 15, he said: "And thou shalt remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm: therefore Jehovah thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day." In view of the fact that they were servants in Egypt and that God redeemed them, they were to keep the sabbath day as a monument or memorial in memory of this redemption. Hence the sabbath was bound upon them and their descendants, but it has no more meaning for a Gentile than the fourth of July does for a Russian. To attempt to bind the sabbath day observance upon people today is to fail to "rightly divide the word of truth."

One of the New Testament writers corroborates the fact that the law was given to Israel when he said, "If that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt." (Hebrews 8:7-9) Whom did God take by the hand and lead out of Egypt? The descendants of Abraham — Israel. Then these are the ones with whom he made this first covenant.

It might be argued that the ones with whom he made this first covenant are the same ones with whom he promised to make the second, that is, the house of Israel and the house of Judah. True enough, but He did not limit the second covenant to them as is evidenced by the promise to Abraham that through his seed all families of the earth should be blessed and as was demonstrated in the commission which Christ gave to "go ye therefore and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19) and "go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15) If someone can find such statements as to the application of the law of Moses, then we would conclude that it was given to all, but in the absence of such information, plus the specific affirmation that it was given to Israel, in order to rightly divide the word of truth, we must insist that it was given to them and to no one else.

Why Was The Law Given?

Galatians 3:17,18, declares that the inheritance came by promise and not by law, and the law was not given until four hundred thirty years after the promise was made. Now this would no doubt provoke the question regarding the purpose of the law; why was it given? Anticipating such a question, the writer of the epistle to the Galatians asked that very question (Galatians 3:19) then proceeded to answer it: "It (the law) was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made." God had a purpose which was to be accomplished by these descendants of Abraham, and in order to bring it about their transgressions which would have hindered the fulfillment of the promise, necessitated the giving of the law which circumscribed them, held them in check, and prepared them for the coming Messiah. The law was not against the promises of God, "for if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law. But the scripture (the law) shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." (Galatians 3:21, 22)

"Before faith (the gospel) came, we (the Israelites) were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our (the Jews) schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." (Galatians 3:23-25) Here is an enlargement of the purpose of the law. It served as a schoolmaster to bring Israel to Christ, that they might be justified, not by the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. He was that seed of Abraham that came to bless all nations. Now, "all (both Jews and Gentiles) are sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26) Where are we now sons of God? In Christ Jesus. By what are we the sons of God? By faith. Why are we sons of God in Christ by faith? "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ." (verse 27) The reason one is a son of God in Christ through faith is that he has been baptized into Christ. Those who have not been baptized into Christ are not therefore sons of God. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise," (verses 28, 29) God no longer accounts Abraham's seed according to the flesh, but it is now a spiritual relationship. If one is not Christ's, he is not Abraham's, seed and therefore not an heir to the promise.

How Long Was The Law To Last?

When we suggest that the law given by Moses was provisional and temporary, we would not leave the impression that God was merely an experimenter trying first one thing then another, and taking out of the way that which was proved to be inadequate or unfit, but that the law served the purposes of God and expired by divine limitation. Galatians 3:19 says the law was added "till the seed should come." The word "till" is an adverb of time and places a limitation on how long the law was binding after it was added. How long? "Till the seed should come." But Galatians 3:16 tells us that this "seed" is Christ. Therefore, the law was to last till Christ came, and when Christ came and fulfilled those things spoken of him by the prophets, the law was taken out of the way. Verses 23-25 says that the "law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ....but now that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." If the law was the schoolmaster, and those to whom the law was given are no longer under the schoolmaster, then they are no longer under the law. Language could hardly say it plainer than that. We have already shown that the law was given to none but the Israelites (and to their proselytes), but even they are no longer under it or amenable to it. "They are no longer under the schoolmaster."

In Romans 7 the writer was affirming this very point while introducing another matter with which his readers were familiar, in order to establish by analogy the fact that the law was no longer binding upon them. He said, "For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then, if, while the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man." Marriage was not the primary consideration here, but it was introduced to help them see another like relationship. Now, look at the conclusion reached: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God." As long as they were alive to husband No. 1 — the law — they could not be married to husband No. 2 — Christ — without being spiritual adulteresses. And unless they were married to Christ, they could not bring forth fruit unto God. Bringing forth fruit unto God was becoming and being Christians. Unless they were dead to the law, they could not be married to Christ. Unless they were married to Christ, they could not be Christians; therefore, they had to be dead to the law before they could be Christians. If the law is still in force, then there could be no such thing as Christianity for those to whom the law was given. They would be helplessly and hopelessly lost, for they are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise only if they are Christ's. Those who insist that the law is still binding upon people would eliminate Christianity.

How were these made dead to the law? The scriptures say, "Through the body of Christ." That is, by means of his body being offered on the cross, his physical death, the law was taken out of the way. Colossians 2:14 states it this way: "Having blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." The law with all of its attendant ordinances was cancelled by means of the death of Christ on the cross.

At this point, some insist that only the ceremonies of the law were done away and the ten commandments remain binding upon us. Look at Colossians 2:16. After saying that the handwriting of ordinances was done away, the writer further says, "Let no man therefore judge (condemn) you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day." The sabbath law was one of the ten commandments, yet this scripture says that we are to let no man condemn us for not keeping the sabbath day? Why? Because it has been taken out of the way, along with all the ordinances of the law, and nailed to the cross. Going back to Romans 7, we learn that the record is specific as to what law was taken out of the way and to which the people became dead. Verse 6 says, "But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held...." Which law were they discharged from and to which had they died? Notice verse 7: "Is the law sin? God forbid. Howbeit, I had not known sin, except through the law: for I had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." What law said, "Thou shalt not covet"? Why, the ten commandment law said that. "Thou shalt not covet" is one of the ten commandments. This specifically then is the law which they had been discharged from to which they had died.

Some are ready to say, "Well, if the ten commandments are not binding upon us today, then we can steal, kill, commit adultery, etc." No, this conclusion does not follow. Why may we not do these things if the ten commandments are no longer binding? Because the law of Christ forbids them "and they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:21)

— Dallas, Texas