Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

This letter to Jesus is about “rightly dividing the Word of truth” and what that means for some Christians.

Dear Jesus,

Too often Kathy and I are concerned—sometimes alarmed—about things we hear in church.

Maybe it’s good the two of us don’t just accept everything we hear without testing its truthfulness by the Bible.  You heard all about it on our walk up the road this afternoon.  She and I were surprised to find we both had thoughts about walking out during the sermon!  If it’s any consolation: we got a good laugh out of that!

Rightly dividing the Word of truth?

This morning we were told, among other things, (1) there are no promises in the book of Proverbs, (2) we should not do word studies in Psalms, and (3) Acts is a book of stories—a historical narrative; so it’s not meant to teach doctrine.  I know you have thoughts about this.  And I think I know what they are.

(1) Here are two of the most quoted verses in the Bible: Proverbs 3:5 and 6.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  If this is not a promise, what in the Bible is a promise?

(2) You did a word study in Psalm 110:1.  Why would it be wrong for us to do the same?  You asked the Pharisees: “What do you think of Christ?  Whose son is He?”  When they answered, “David’s,” you said, “How then does David in Spirit call Him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool’?” (Matt. 22:41-45)  By closely examining the meaning of one word, you brought to light the divine nature and pre-existence of the Son of David.  This was obviously a delight to you and those who heard you (Mk. 12:37).  It may have even brought a smile to your face.

Some pastors, thinking they are rightly dividing the word of truth, separate the Psalms from books that are not “poetic” and treat them in a different way than they do other Scriptures.  This affects the way they interpret them.  But they don’t stop there.  They also draw divisions between books of Law, Proverbs (“wisdom literature”), prophets, historical narratives, epistles, and apocalyptic literature.

We all understand the books of the Bible are written or given to us in different ways.  But don’t you think we make too much of this?  The differences are not always clearly defined.  Nor do they always fall conveniently along lines human ingenuity has drawn for them.

Psalmists Asaph and David were prophets (Matt. 13:35; Acts 2:30).  Psalm 22 is no less prophetic than Isaiah 53.  On the other hand, it’s not that uncommon for prophets to use poetic language similar to the Psalms and Song of Solomon.

You called the Psalms Law (John 10:34; 15:25).  Moses, who wrote the books of Law, was a prophet (Deut. 18:15).  He is also the author of a Psalm (Psalm 90).  And he sang a song that has the nature of a Psalm: a song you are fond of—one all the victorious will sing (Ex. 15; Ps. 106:7-12; Rev. 15:2-4).

Psalms like 105 and 106 are comprised largely of historical narrative as are some passages in the prophets.  Epistles, which are highly prized for their doctrinal content, contain the Law, Psalms, Proverbs, prophets, and historical narratives, as do the Gospels and Acts.  Historical narratives are woven so intricately into the epistles that at times they may be hard to distinguish (I Cor. 11:23-25; 15:3-8,32; II Cor. 11:22-12:4; Gal. 1:11-2:14; I Thess. 2:14-18; II Tim. 1:15-18; 3:10,11; 4:9-17).

(3) An estimated 75 percent of the Bible is in story form.  If what we were taught is true, then only 25 percent of the Bible is doctrinal.  But Paul wrote in II Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine.”  Some think they are “rightly dividing the word of truth” by dividing Scripture from its God-given authority to teach doctrine.

The consequences are far-reaching for anyone who claims Acts is not meant to teach doctrine.  We all know Acts is a book of history: a book of “stories.”  But anyone who reads their Bible knows the person who wrote the book of Acts also wrote the book of Luke.  They are a two-volume history that flows from one divinely-inspired pen.  Theophilus was very happy to discover them in his “mailbox.”

As a matter of fact, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts are all written in a similar historical manner.  Can what is said of one not be said of them all?  What then becomes of our primary source of your teachings in the Gospels?  Is their doctrinal value lost?   And if for some reason Acts is different, is what you said in Acts 1:4-8 less authoritative as doctrine than what you said in Luke 24:36-49?

Needless to say, you are quoted many other times beyond chapter one of Acts, as you are in the Gospels.  Acts also contains many sermons and teachings of Peter, Stephen, Paul, and James that were meant to instruct your people.  These writings are in fact encapsulated epistles.  The writer of Acts says Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8) and Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55) when they spoke.  How is that so different for these early Church leaders than the “holy men of God” who “spoke as they were moved by the Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21) in other Scripture?

Kathy and I have one other concern to share with you.  Psalm 150:6 is a magnificent doxology; a fitting end to the Psalms.  It says: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  But, as I understand it, because the Psalms are poetic literature, their interpretation cannot be straight-forward or “literal” as it might be in other parts of the Bible.  (That’s why “word studies” are supposedly pointless.)  And so, it shouldn’t have surprised us this morning when we were told the word “everything” in this verse is only a “poetic expression” which means nothing more or less than human beings.  After all, animals cannot praise God.  That’s what we were told.  This was rather disquieting, to say the least.

First of all, for some reason, after we were told not to do word studies, one was slipped under our noses!  Furthermore, if this sort of “word study” method is the standard in the Psalms, interpretations are up for grabs!  For, according to what we were taught, no one can be sure of the meaning of a poetic word.

How can “everything” mean anything less than everything?  And who says animals cannot praise God?  They know who you are (Mark 11:2,7).  It is illuminating and instructive to see the Psalms and NT apocalyptic literature extending the right hand of fellowship to one another across a thousand years when John writes, “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that is in them, I heard saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13).  “Everything that has breath” does praise you and your Father!

This is our brother, Lord Jesus, whom we love.  He is also your child whom you love.  We do not mean to speak evil of him.  But our concern for the truth is real.  And, as I think he may be tired of hearing from me, I’m writing this letter to you.

You are a kind and wonderful Savior.  One day our brother and Kathy and I will all cast our crowns at your feet and be thrilled at the wonder of you!  Today we cast our cares upon you.

(A personal letter written in February 2013.)

Learn more:

Are We Listening to You?


© James Unruh 2016 and beyond

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