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Cutting Straight the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2)

Biblical Interpretation an Urgent Priority

In contrast to the false teachers, Timothy must make every effort (spoudazō, cf. 2 Tim 4:9, 21; Titus 3:12; Gal 2:10; 1 Thess 2:17; Eph 4:3) to present himself (paristēmi—an allusion to OT ritual? cf. Rom 6:13; 12:1; see also 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:27; Col 1:22, 28) to God as one tested and approved (dokimos; cf. Rom 14:18; 16:10; 1 Cor 11:19; 2 Cor 10:18; 13:7; the opposite adokimos in 2 Tim 3:8; Titus 1:16; cf. 1 Cor 9:27). The heretics twist the Scriptures to fit their own theology; Timothy ought to model a proper use of God’s word. Paul employs three further images. The first is that of a workman (ergatēs; cf. Matt 9:37–38 par.; 1 Tim 5:19 cf. Luke 10:7) who has no need to be ashamed (anepaischyntos; cf. Josephus, Ant. 18.243) but correctly handles the “word of truth,” that is, the apostolic (Pauline) exposition of the saving message of the gospel.

Paul previously told Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel (e.g., 2 Tim 1:8). Here, shame is a result (ultimately at God’s judgment, 1 John 2:28), not of fear of being identified with Christ, but of lack of proper training and skill in handling God’s word. Analogously, there may be those today who are willing to identify openly with Christ and preach his word, but who owing to inadequate training fail to handle God’s word properly and thus ought to be ashamed. Those people need not more courage or commitment but proper training in understanding and communicating the scriptural message (cf. 2 Tim 3:16–17). Just as a workman takes pride in a job well done, proper preaching of God’s word requires training and skill.

The Need for Proper Interpretation

The expression “handle correctly” (orthotomeō) conveys the notion of “cutting straight” (as opposed to crooked) with possible reference to the cutting of a road to make a straight path (cf. Prov 3:6; 11:5 LXX; most Fathers interpret the term as plowing). In an age where Roman roads were masterful examples of skilled engineering, this metaphor would have communicated well. Whatever the setting, the point here is that a workman’s job must be performed with skill. There is no room for incompetence or shortcuts, and an untrained workman may do more harm than good. Jesus noted that “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Paul was “thoroughly trained” under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and Jesus’ disciples were recognized as having “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). The key is to handle God’s word in keeping with its intended purpose and to communicate its meaning properly (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; contrast Acts 13:10).

As a properly trained workman, Timothy must not only stay on the straight path himself but also ensure that those under his care likewise are shown the paths of God’s truth. There is no substitute for thorough training in the Scriptures, even in a day where modern technology has made learning the biblical languages easier and where the internet has opened new avenues of theological education. Moreover, the primary subject of training for the Christian minister must be “the word of truth” (i.e., the word that is true, an epexegetic genitive), not various derivative subjects. In Timothy’s case, his training had come largely as a result of his long-term association with Paul in ministry (2 Tim 3:10–11; cf. Acts 16:1–5). If ministerial training today is to be effective, there must be similar mentoring or internship opportunities for young aspiring pastors and Christian workers. Conversely, cults regularly distort the teaching of the Scriptures, with disastrous results for their members and converts.

Note: The above reflections are excerpted from Andreas J. Köstenberger, “1–2 Timothy, Titus,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12: Ephesians ~ Philemon (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 580–81.

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