by Charles H. Welch
1. THE DECLARATION.
- We believe all Scripture to be inspired and profitable, but we also realise that while all Scripture is written for our learning, all has not been written to or about us.
- We see the need to distinguish between dispensations, to avoid confusing law and gospel, kingdom and church.
- In other words, we believe it fundamental to all true interpretation of Scripture to put into practice the injunction of 2 Timothy 2:15, viz., to rightly divide the Word of truth.
2. SCRIPTURAL GROUNDS.
‘Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2:15).
‘And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent (margin – that ye may try the things that differ)’ (Phil. 1:9,10).
3. AN EXPANSION AND APPLICATION OF THIS IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE OF INTERPRETATION.
While we believe that the Scriptures are nothing short of miraculous in their origin, we do not believe that laziness, indifference or misdirected zeal in the reader are thereby encouraged. Throughout the record we find continual exhortation to meditate, ponder, learn, read, study and compare, remembering always that we are dealing with holy things, and that spiritual matters cannot be handled with carnal instruments. We believe the principle enjoined in 2 Timothy 2:15 to be fundamental to all true interpretation.
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
The word translated ‘rightly dividing’ was in use before Paul wrote his epistle to Timothy, for it is found in the LXX (Greek Version of the Old Testament compiled long before Christ) of Proverbs 3:6, where it is used for ‘rightly dividing’ a path – A.V. ‘Direct thy paths’. While, as we have said, all Scripture is written for us, it was not all addressed to us or written about us, and before we consider the meaning of words or the grammatical construction of sentences, we must see to it that we do not confuse ‘things that differ’.
Let us once more turn to the example of Him whom we call Master and Lord. In Luke 4:18,19 we have a quotation from Isaiah 61, but if the reader will compare these two passages he will find that the Lord shut the book half-way through a verse. He closed His quotation with ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’, for He was about to add: ‘This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears’ (Luke 4:21). Such a statement could not have been made, had the quotation been complete, for Isaiah goes on to speak of a day of vengeance. This day of vengeance is future, and between the two statements in Isaiah lies the bulk of Luke’s Gospel. We do not meet with these days until the prophecy on the Mount is given: ‘For these be the days of vengeance’ (Luke 21:22).
Here, therefore, the Lord ‘rightly divided’ Isaiah’s prophecy, allotting one portion to the days of His first advent, and the other to His second coming.
The ways of God with men are differentiated into dispensations. This word, used by Paul of the present dispensation of the grace of God to Gentiles (Eph. 3:1,2) means ‘the administration of a household’ or, as it is translated in Luke 16:2, ‘stewardship’. The church at Jerusalem was compelled to recognise the distinctive ‘stewardships’ or ‘dispensations’ given to Peter and Paul (Gal. 2:6-10), and saw that the distinction involved not only ‘apostleship’ but ‘gospel’. There are some, prompted we do not doubt by a zeal for the glory of God, who quote Galatians 1:8 against any who dare to suggest that there is more than one gospel in the Scriptures. They fail to see that they would need to quote this verse against the Council of the Church at Jerusalem. Let us see the passages together:
‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ (Gal. 1:8).
‘ … Fourteen years after … I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them THAT Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles’ (Gal. 2:1,2).
‘ … When they saw that the gospel OF (not merely “to”) the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel OF the circumcision was unto Peter … they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen (Gentiles), and they unto the circumcision’ (Gal. 2:7,9).
Paul’s anathema is against any who preach to the Gentile Galatians any other gospel than that of the uncircumcision, for ‘certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved’ (Acts 15:1).
The gospel of the circumcision differs from the gospel of the uncircumcision in many particulars. What would Paul’s gospel be without justification by faith, and reconciliation? Yet neither of these basic doctrines finds expression in Peter’s ministry.
When a letter is delivered to our door by the postman, we usually look at the envelope before we open it and read the letter, for it may be addressed to another member of the family. When we open the Bible, we should also look at the envelope, for, though all the redeemed are one family, they have different spheres, different callings, different destinies. Some are to ‘inherit the earth’, others are to be ‘seated together in heavenly places’ and instructions sent to guide the one may not always fit the other.
Isaiah’s prophecy is wonderfully evangelical, yet it is wise to note the inspired ‘address’ – ‘Concerning Judah and Jerusalem’ (Isa. 1:1).
Peter’s epistles contain much precious truth, yet the believer called during the present dispensation of grace to the Gentiles would be wise to note that Peter does not transgress the bounds of his administration; he still ministers to the circumcision and addresses himself to ‘the dispersion’ – the people of Israel scattered among the nations. If this is noted, the Gentile reader may be saved from misappropriating the exclusively Jewish calling of a ‘kingdom of priests’. ‘A royal priesthood, a holy nation’ does not describe the character of the church of the One Body.
The epistle of James is addressed to ‘the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad’ – (Jas. 1:1), and we therefore consider that no Gentile assembly or Gentile minister can find scriptural warrant from James 5:14 for anointing the sick with oil.
Other divisions of truth that are vital to its true understanding are:
- The distinction between LAW and GRACE.
- The difference between STANDING and STATE.
- The distinction between SALVATION and SERVICE.
- The difference between KINGDOM and CHURCH.
And there are many others which the earnest student will recognize as he pursues the truth through the Word.
Once again we must remember that our object here is to make a ‘declaration’, the explanation and defence being subsidiary. Each heading would demand a volume to itself if we would present it in any measure of completeness. We therefore must leave the matter here, with the declaration that we most sincerely believe that to attain unto the truth of the Word of God, that Word must be divided rightly, especially with reference to its varied ‘dispensations’.
‘Distinguish the dispensations, and discrepancies disappear’.
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The above article by Charles Welch was originally published as part of “Things Surely Believed” (Chapter 3 – The Right Division of Scripture). There, the author recommends the reading of another of his works, ‘United Yet Divided’, to aid in the understanding of right division.