“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB)
In this verse, Paul employs the metaphor of a craftsman. He speaks of a "workman" who accurately handles his materials, making straight cuts, so that what is produced does not bring shame upon the workman but rather results in the approval of the boss. Paul, as a tentmaker, understood the importance of craftsmanship, of correctly handling materials and making straight cuts. Paul uses the picture of careful craftsmanship as a metaphor for how we are to handle the Word of God.
"Accurately handling the word of truth" means that we are to read and interpret the Bible correctly. It means that there are right ways to handle the text and that there are wrong ways to handle the text. In an effort to help us all make "straight cuts" I want to share with you the following basic principles that can help us to accurately handle the word of truth. These four principles have helped to guide me as a pastor and teacher, as I seek to be an approved workman, accurately handling the word of truth.
Prayerfully place yourself under God’s authority and let Him speak through His Word.
Lay aside your pre-understandings and pre-allegiances and simply let God’s word speak. Carefully avoid reading into the text what you would like it to mean and instead, let it speak for itself. Come before the text with a humble, teachable spirit. Be like the psalmist who prayed "open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (Psalm 119:18). In this way you will be "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
Understand both the broader and immediate context of the verse you are studying and let that context inform, guide, and govern your interpretation.
Remember, the three most important rules of sound interpretation are context, context, context! As Dr. Don Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School likes to say, quoting his father who was a pastor in Canada, "A text without a context is a pretext for prooftext."
Seek to understand the author’s true intent.
What was the author trying to communicate? How would the first readers of this letter have understood this? What did the author intend for me to understand? This means that we will try to first rightly understand what the text means before moving on to what it means to me. A correct interpretation will always precede a correct application. Since the authors of Scripture used normal human language, we should always prefer the plain and obvious meaning of a passage over the creative and innovative interpretation.
Let Scripture interpret Scripture.
Let the clear parts of Scripture shed light upon the unclear. Keep in mind that since God is the author of Scripture and since He is a God of truth, any text, rightly interpreted, will never actually contradict any other text.
Employing these four simple Bible study habits will save us from making a lot of crooked cuts and help us to be approved workmen who are not ashamed.
If you would like to learn more about how to interpret the Bible correctly and avoid making crooked cuts, listen to the sermon I preached on 2 Timothy 2:15. Below are links to some of my favorite books on the subject of Bible study and Bible interpretation.