“Rightly Divide the Word of Truth”
By Pastor F. M. Riley
Revised August 18, 2014
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15.
I make no claim to being the final authority on “How to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15. I make no claim to being “infallible” on this subject. I am sure there are some readers who, after reading this study, will be able to add something to the subject that I will have failed to mention.
Nevertheless, after 60 years in the Lord’s ministry, I am personally convinced that one of the greatest lacks among those claiming to be “God’s people” today is their lack of knowledge about how to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” It appears that most today simply assume that any true believer reading the Bible can understand what they are reading because, after all, they have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. What such an assumption amounts to is that all the rules and standards of intelligent communication can be abandoned and yet the person reading the Bible will still understand it perfectly. Such an assumption is “ignorance gone to seed!” And it shows!
I do not know of a single Seminary today which teaches a course to their ministerial students on how to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” yet this express command to preachers and pastors is clearly set forth in God’s inspired Word. Then why aren’t the Seminaries teaching such a course to these men they are turning out to serve as pastors?
It is glaringly obvious today that most preachers and pastors have no clue about how to “rightly divide the Word of truth.” This is why the churches and the ranks of Christianity today are filled with confusion, debate, and outright heresy, and why there is a great “falling away” occurring. Only when “professing Christians” turn back to the inspired Word of God as their final authority on all questions of morality and spirituality will the truth finally prevail. Take heed!
The Bible is a book! Yes, it is an inspired book, spiritual and supernatural [John 6:63], but it is still a book. Therefore the unwritten, common sense, rules of sound reasoning and logic apply to the Bible just as they do to any other book or piece of literature on the face of the earth. Hello! Are you listening?
Now here is what is amazing….. When reading any other book or piece of literature on earth, people will consciously or subconsciously apply the rules of common sense and sound reasoning and logic as they read. This is the ONLY way one can make any sense out of any book or piece of literature. But when it comes to the Bible, the inspired Word of Almighty God, the most sacred and holy book ever bestowed upon mankind by the love, grace, and mercy of God, many people throw out all the rules of sound reasoning and logic and approach the Bible as if they have lost their minds. This sometimes causes me to wonder if such people ever had a mind? Hey! Don’t take offense! If the shoe fits then be honest enough to wear it!
In this study I propose to set forth once again the unwritten, common sense, rules of
sound reasoning and logic for the benefit of my readers, for both those who are true believers and those lost people who are sincerely seeking to know the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ explicitly stated, “…..Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” Matthew 4:4. In Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” It should then be obvious to every reader that no person can truly be saved unless they hear and believe the Word of God. Read John 5:24, 5:45-47, and 12:47-48. HOW one reads the Bible then becomes of the utmost importance. Read Luke 10:25-26. Let’s proceed…..
The Five Rules of Comprehension
1. WHO is speaking?
2. WHO is being spoken to?
3. WHAT is the subject being spoken about in the context?
4. WHAT is the “time element” set forth in the statement or context?
5. WHAT additional Scriptures relate to and shed light upon the same subject?
WHO is speaking?
This is the very first rule which must be observed when reading any book or piece of literature, if one wants to correctly understand what they are reading. If one doesn’t determine WHO is speaking, then how is it possible to know that what is being said is reliable and is the truth? So the very first thing one does in reading the Bible is to determine WHO is speaking. The speaker must be identified!
 Is it the Lord God who is speaking? If so, pay careful attention.
 Is it Satan who is speaking? If so, be aware that Satan is the father of lies and liars, John 8:44. Satan’s word simply cannot be trusted on any subject.
 Does the speaker hold to or represent a particular position, such as God, Satan, an angel, a true believer, a prophet, a priest, an Apostle, a pastor, a king, a governor, a Pharisee, a Sadducee, etc.? The position occupied by the speaker DOES make a difference.
 Is it a man [or woman] who is speaking?
 Is the person speaking a Jew or a Gentile?
 Is the speaker an individual representing only himself or herself, or is the speaker one who is speaking as a representative of some other individual, group, or organization?
 Is the speaker a true believer, or a person lost in their sin?
If one wants to “rightly divide the Word of truth” then it is absolutely necessary to correctly determine who is speaking.
WHO is being spoken to?
This is the second rule which must be observed in order to correctly understand any book or piece of literature. The Word of God gives specific laws and commands to specific people. It DOES NOT give the same commands or laws to everyone, therefore it is important to determine WHO is being spoken to in any particular Scripture or context.
 Is the one speaking addressing an individual, or are they addressing a group, an organization, or even a nation?
 Is the message being spoken directed to the Jewish people, the Gentile people, or to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? See 1 Corinthians 10:32.
 Are the person or persons being addressed true believers, or are those being spoken to lost unbelievers?
 Is the one being spoken to a man or a woman?
 Is the one being spoken to a preacher or a layman?
Again, if one wants to “rightly divide the Word of truth” then it is absolutely necessary to determine who is being spoken to.
WHAT is the subject being spoken about?
This is the third rule that must be paid attention to when reading any book or piece of literature if one wants to correctly understand what they are reading. No book being read or even a conversation being carried on makes any sense if the subject being discussed is ignored and a half dozen other subjects are all mixed in together with the subject under discussion. Under such circumstances it would be mass confusion, 1 Corinthians 14:33.
 The subject context MUST always be determined.
 The context must NEVER be ignored or violated.
 No Scripture can ever be rightly understood or applied if it is lifted out of its context.
 Principles may be set forth in a Scripture which would be applicable to many other varied situations, but this still does not permit one to jerk a Scripture out of its context and use it in a manner which violates the immediate context.
If one wants to “rightly divide the Word of truth” then the subject matter or context being spoken about must be determined and respected.
WHAT is the “time element”?
This is the fourth rule which must be observed if one is to make sense out of any book or piece of literature they choose to read. If one doesn’t determine the “time element” in whatever book or literature is being read, then how is it possible to know what period of time is even being referred to in what one is reading?
 Is the “time element” in the context in the past tense, the present tense, or the future tense? This is one of the common mistakes made by many who read and attempt to apply God’s Word. The words, “Then,” “at that time,” “and it came to pass,” “after,” “afterwards,” “after many days,” “it shall come to pass,” are words that indicate “time markers” in God’s Word, and they are not placed there to fill up space. They need to be paid attention to by any serious Bible student.
 Does the “time element” refer to events before the Dispensation of Law, during the Dispensation of Law, or after the Dispensation of Law?
There are at least seven different dispensations or “time periods” set forth in God’s Word, Acts 17:26. The Lord God deals with humanity differently in each dispensation. Therefore determining which dispensation is under consideration in the context is highly important.
 Is the “time element” speaking of events which occurred before the personal ministry and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, or events which occurred during the time of His personal ministry, or events which have occurred since His resurrection and ascension back to His Father, or events which are yet to occur in the future? This is highly important, for the death and resurrection of Christ marked the end of the Dispensation of Law and the beginning of the Dispensation of Grace for the Gentiles and the Lord’s church, Colossians 2:14.
 Is the “time element” speaking of events prior to, during, or after the Apostolic period of Christian history? This is also very important, for the Apostles were expressly given gifts and powers during their ministries, which ended with their ministries and are not in force today, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.
 Is the “time element” referring to events to occur during [a] this present Dispensation of Grace, or [b] events which will occur during the Tribulation period
which follows this present dispensation, or [c] to the Millennial Kingdom which will follow the Tribulation period, or [d] to the Eternal Age which will follow the Millennial Kingdom?
If one truly wants to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” then it is absolutely necessary to determine the time element being spoken about in the context.
WHAT additional Scriptures relate to the same subject?
This is the fifth rule which must be observed if sense is to be made out of any book or piece of literature one reads. How much more then when reading the inspired Word of God!
 God’s Word is a perfect harmony of holy revelation, therefore any doctrine or teaching based on Scripture must perfectly harmonize with the whole revelation of God’s Word. There are no contradictions in God’s Word, and anyone taking a position on the Scriptures which causes a contradiction, or pits Scripture against Scripture, IS NOT “rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”
 People cannot “pick and choose” those Scriptures which they want to believe and discard, change, or ignore all other Scriptures dealing with the same subject. Every Scripture dealing with a given subject, regardless of where it occurs in God’s Word, must be studied in order to arrive at a correct conclusion.
 Every genuine Scriptural truth will be set forth in at least two different places in God’s Word, and often repeatedly set forth. The Lord Himself explicitly commanded, “…..In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established,” 2 Corinthians 13:1. See also Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15, Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19, and Hebrews 10:28. In giving us His Word the Lord practiced what He preaches. If one wants to “rightly divide the Word of truth” then they must also find the other two or three Scriptural witnesses to back up what one is teaching as Biblical truth!
 God’s people are explicitly commanded to compare “spiritual things with spiritual,” 1 Corinthians 2:13. Human reasoning, ideas, opinions, theories, philosophies, fantasies, so called “scholarship” and “theology,” and even so-called “interpretations” have no part to play in “rightly dividing the Word of truth.” Read Proverbs 3:5-8. The serious Bible student will find that most of the Bible DOES NOT NEED to be “interpreted.” Most of the Bible is written in plain direct statements which any person of average intelligence can understand. This does not mean that the average person will believe what is being said, for spiritual truth is spiritually discerned.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself explicitly stated, “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God….,” John 6:45. In John 16:12-15 the Lord explicitly stated, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come.” This truth is verified again in 1 Corinthians 2:11-12 where the Scripture explicitly states, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we [true believers] have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
Therefore if one wants to “rightly divide the Word of truth” they must depend upon the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit rather than upon the flesh, and all of the Scriptures on a given subject must be studied in order to reach the right conclusion.
Some “professing Christians” today simply need to learn how to use the English
language into which our English Bibles have been translated. Some words in the Bible are nouns, some pronouns, some verbs, some adverbs, some adjectives, and some prepositions. Recognizing and respecting each of these words as they occur in the Scriptures is important to any right division of the Word of God.
 Noun…..the name of a person, place, or thing, usually capitalized, such as God, Christ, Satan, John, Peter, Paul, etc. .
 Pronoun…..A word used in place of a noun, such as I, you, he, she, we, they, it, etc.
 Verb…..A word always denoting “action.” For example, the word “love” throughout the New Testament is always in the verb tense. In other words, simply saying that one loves someone is not sufficient. True love for God or for one’s fellow man is always displayed by action.
 Adverb…..A word used to modify a verb; adjective, or even another adverb, such as expressing time, place, manner, degree, etc.
 Adjective…..A descriptive word, such as good, beautiful, nice, ugly, evil, etc.
 Preposition…..A word that connects other words together in order to construct a sensible sentence or statement, such as in, by, for, to, with, etc. This highly important word is often ignored in the Scriptures by those wanting to promote some theory or personal opinion, but there is no way to ignore the prepositions which connect the context together into a unit, and still “rightly divide the Word of truth.”
The depth of meaning is often lost in translating from one language to another. There are words in the Bible that the serious Bible student needs to look up to learn what the Hebrew or Greek word actually and literally means, before simply accepting the English translation as the final authority on meaning. When there is any doubt on the meaning of a particular word, take your Concordance or Lexicon and look up the definition of the Hebrew or Greek word from which the English word was translated.
“Too much trouble!” “I don’t read Hebrew or Greek!” No, and one will never learn anything about those languages, or even much about your Bible, by sitting on your behind and making excuses. The Lord God DID NOT inspired His Word in the English language, regardless of what some claim today. The Old Testament was inspired in Hebrew, and the New Testament was inspired in Greek. A serious Bible student can determine the meanings of the various words by using a Concordance or Lexicon, OR THEY CAN STAY IGNORANT. Those are the choices one has! What will it be? Do our readers want to “rightly divide the Word of Truth,” or be led by the nose by the many “false teachers” and Scripture corrupters in the ranks of Christianity today? Well??
It should be easy for any person of average intelligence to discern between past, present, and future tenses in the inspired statements of God’s Word. The “willful” ignoring or overlooking of these tenses is the cause of much confusion and “false teaching” today. Always determine whether the statement being made in the Scriptures has to do with the present, the past, or the future. This is highly important if one truly wants to “rightly divide the Word of truth.”
There are other important tenses in the various Scriptures which are not set forth in most translations of the English Bible. These other tenses are rhen not easily discerned by the average Bible reader. I have in mind the “masculine and feminine” tenses assigned to the Scriptures, and even to certain words in the Scriptures, in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. Most [or perhaps all] of the
Scriptures in God’s Word are set forth in either the masculine or feminine tense. In normal Bible reading, this may not be very important, but in cases of really serious Bible study the masculine or feminine tense could determine how the statement being made in a Scripture is actually meant to be understood. Reference books can be purchased by the serious Bible student which set forth the masculine or feminine tense in every Scripture in the Bible. Check with your local Christian bookstore, or online at Amazon.com.
If our readers really want to “rightly divide the Word of Truth,” then they are going to have to make a decision about what English translation of the Bible they are going to use in studying God’s Word. All English translations ARE NOT THE SAME, and those who claim that they are, are lying to the people. In my entire 60 years in the Lord’s ministry, I have never used but one translation of the English Bible. My choice has been to stay with the 1611 King James Version of the English Bible. I am well aware that many in the ranks of Christianity today have discarded the King James Bible in preference for a translation written in “modern English,” because, according to them, “it is so much easier to understand.” Sic! It never seems to register on many “professing Christians” today, that no one can understand the spiritual truths of God’s Word IN ANY VERSION unless they have been truly saved by the grace of God and are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:14. No one!
Many of these “modern” translations of the Bible on the market today are not translations at all. Rather, they are “interpretations.” Some man or group of men in a particular denomination, or of a particular doctrinal persuasion, decided they wanted a Bible which supports WHAT THEY WANT TO BELIEVE, so they wrote and published a Bible which upholds their own brand of religiosity. When a reader gets hold of such a Bible, they ARE NOT receiving the truth of God’s Word in that Bible, but rather what the publishers WANT THEM TO BELIEVE.
I have spent 60 years comparing various editions of the Bible with copies of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Therefore I KNOW that many of these so-called “better” translations are as phony as the proverbial four dollar bill.
For instance, the New International Version of the Bible, which was so highly touted by the Southern Baptist Convention, is one of the sorriest and most deceitful Bibles on the market today. It actually omits [leaves out] a number of Scriptures contained in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts from which it claims to have been translated. And it changes some Scriptures so that they read totally different from what is stated in the Hebrew and Greek texts, or in the KJV.. Yes, I most certainly am prepared to back up my statements against this corrupt Bible with visible proof for any reader wanting to see it for themselves.
I can say the same thing for a number of other so-called “modern translations.” God’s people need to be very careful about what edition of the Bible they use, if they really want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of God’s Word.
Folks, I was defending the King James Version of the Bible long before it even became “popular” to defend it. Why? Since I study in both the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible, I knew many years ago that the tried, tested, and true King James Version of the Bible was the closest translation to what the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts actually and literally say of any English Bible available today. I have had no reason to change my mind in all of these past 60 years in the Lord’s ministry.
When I was a boy growing up, my Daddy taught me, “Son, if it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” I have never found another edition of the Bible that improved on, or is superior to, the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, so why change Bibles?
This may give some readers the impression that I am a “King James fanatic.” No so!
I AM NOT a “King James fanatic,” for I realized many years ago that when fallible men translate from one language to another, they ALWAYS lose something in the translation process. One simply cannot translate from one language to another and get exactly to the same degree every shade and depth of meaning that is in the language from which they are translating. PERIOD! I have earnestly defended the 1611 King James Version Bible without apology to anyone, to the extent that I have been asked many times if I believe it to be “inerrant and infallible?” Folks, does anything that men with a fallen “sin nature” [yes, you too], ever turn out to be absolutely perfect, totally “inerrent,” and “infallible?” Well…..??
Nevertheless, the 1611 King James Version Bible is the nearest to the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible of any edition of the Bible available to men today. The 1611 King James Version of the Bible has now been setting forth the gospel of Christ Jesus, the way of salvation, and the way for the saved to live for the Lord for the past 400 years, and it is still the best translation of the Bible in the English language available to modern man. So why settle for anything less?
If any reader has problems understanding some of the archaic English terms in the KJV, then purchase a Strong’s Concordance and a good Hebrew and Greek Lexicon and
devote yourself to prayer and SERIOUS study of the Word. The 1611 King James Version of the Bible is not that hard to understand, for those willing to devote themselves to serious Bible STUDY.
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By God’s GRACE I have set before our readers the rules of common sense and logic that must be applied if one wants to make sense out of and understand any book or piece of literature. These are just plain common sense rules of sound reasoning and logic enabling one to understand anything that is written. Since these rules obviously apply to any book or piece of literature one reads, then how much more carefully they should be applied when reading and studying the inspired Word of God. I would remind our readers that the Lord God Himself explicitly stated, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” Isaiah 1:18.
These rules DID NOT originate with me, so no reader should falsely claim that they are just “Riley’s rules.” These rules have been applied to books and literature since mankind began writing and reading at the dawn of human history. Rather, by the grace of God I learned these rules and the value of them shortly after I gave my life to the Lord to minister His Word, and I have sought to follow them throughout these now 60 years of ministering the Word of the Lord. I thank God for the Lord’s mercy in revealing them to me when I was still young in the ministry. By faithfully applying them when studying the Word of God, while also seeking the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit in prayer, the truth of passage after passage in the Bible has been opened up to my understanding in ways I never thought possible when I was a young minister.
It is precisely because that so many today in the ranks of Christianity are ignoring these common sense rules of sound reasoning, logic, and understanding, that every kind of silly theory and false teaching one can think of or even imagine is being passed off today disguised as “Biblical Truth.” Sic! God have mercy! Apostasy is abounding!
If any of our readers have not applied these rules in the past when studying the Word of God, I encourage you to put them into application immediately in your Bible study. When you do, you will then find the Scriptures beginning to open up to you unlike anything you have ever previously experienced. The Lord wants you to know and understand His Word!
May God bless every reader abundantly with great Bible study is my prayer. In the love of Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord for your soul,
Pastor F. M. Riley
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Permission is granted to any true believer or Bible believing Christian ministry to reproduce this study to share with others, or to quote from it in context as written.
This ministry is financed solely by the voluntary freewill offerings of those who feel led of the Lord to help us send forth God’s wonderful Word.
Please address all comments, questions, and correspondence to: Pastor F. M. Riley,
184 County Road 108, . I can also be contacted via email at: Harrisburg, Missouri 65256
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