On the day that I write this, I was briefly a visitor in a Bible study where I was neither known nor looked toward for who I am and what I do as a pastor and teacher. A discussion arose about Bible versions and translations. A lady made a point about a particular translation of a passage, saying that any Bible version that does not explicitly use the term to exactly describe a certain biblical character’s status, well, that is a translation to throw out! Having a background in Hebrew and Greek, while appreciating the lady’s enthusiasm for the biblical character to be precisely what that person accurately needs to be theologically, I do know that the translation of the actual words from the original languages cannot in every case be forced to specify what the lady wanted to see.
So, would the long discussion to explain original texts / translations / Bible versions / word roots and definitions, etc. be a meaningless arguing over words, or is it a helpful and worthy explanation and parsing of biblical truth? Some might see it either way.
In our passage today, Paul tells Timothy to not get bogged down in arguments over words, yet he also tells him to be very precise and accurate in teaching. Here’s the passage …
2 Timothy 2:14 – Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”
Apparently the false teachers of the time were known to take certain words and run with them toward the end that the product was nothing like what was originally intended. It might be something like taking the idea that God has a desire for you to prosper, and then using that word and concept to promote the accumulation of material goods, along with a teaching to work toward such goals while essentially ignoring faith in God. In this illustration, a general idea was worked and re-worked to contain specifics not intended.
However, there is value in understanding the Scriptures in an accurate way, down to the individual words. It was in yesterday’s passage that the theological concept of verbal plenary inspiration is best stated. Verbal = the words, plenary = all, and inspiration = sourced in the Spirit of God. So all the words of the Bible – down to each word itself – have been the inspiration of God who breathed out those words through the pens of the original authors. So, to understand words exactly and accurately is a valuable exercise and not a waste of time.
And there are some great words in this passage!
For example, where it says that the false teachers’ wrongful arguments about words “ruins” those who get involved, that term in Greek is what we get the English word “catastrophe” from. Now there’s a picture!
And the idea of “correctly handling” Scripture is from a term that literally means “to cut straight.” The word in Greek was used in a number of contexts and industries, all related to the work of a skilled laborer (the illustration Paul is using). It might be a road surveyor laying out a straight path, or even more commonly of a farmer plowing a straight furrow across a field. So being accurate with words is helpful, not argumentative.
But false teachings would inevitably spread rapidly by such as by two known characters to both Paul and Timothy, men who were using words wrongly to teach a variant gospel that the resurrection of the dead had already taken place.
So how are you at understanding the meanings of Scripture more and more? There is no shortcut for studying; and you may recall that old King James Version says of this passage to “study to show yourself approved of God.” Again, back to words, the idea of studying is not precisely in the meaning of the word; rather it is the idea of presenting oneself as a good worker through diligent labor. But in any event, it involves work, effort, diligence and an interest in precision and accuracy. That takes time and valuing the Scriptures. Doing things like reading devotionals of the sort we provide!! Now aren’t you glad you read this?