Vol. 8, No. 1
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It would be difficult to over emphasize the necessity of properly discerning partitions in the Bible whereby it can be correctly understood. Before I became a Christian, the Bible was an unintelligible jumble of words that I did not even know how to approach sensibly. I was barely aware that the Bible was comprised of two divisions or testaments, and I did not know which to begin reading or why. Arriving at genealogies of unfamiliar names in Genesis 5 and Matthew 1, I simply gave up in frustration. In addition to that, I had always been told that the Bible was a dead letter anyway. It also appeared upon casual inspection that the Bible was self-contradictory. It was little wonder, then, that it seemed that anyone could prove or disprove anything from the Bible.
After study, however, all of this disillusionment turned out to be self-inflicted because I did 'not rightly divide the word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). The Bible is mysterious and dark as long as one does 'not rightly divide the word of truth.' The trouble, though, lies not with God or his message to mankind, but with anyone who through ignorance or stubbornness does 'not handle aright the word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15 ASV).
First, one must rightly divide the Word of Truth by noting the respective roles of the Old Testament and the New Testament. No other single observation contributes more greatly to rightly dividing the Word of Truth than noting the respective roles of the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is not possible to practice correctly both the Old Testament and the New Testament at the same time. When people try to practice both testaments at the same time, they find the Bible contradictory. Therefore, mankind often selects items from both testaments of the Bible to meld into a religion with which he is pleased--ignoring unselected things in both testaments. Mankind has no valid concept of authority in religion or how God has communicated his will to humanity when he fails to recognize the respective roles of the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament covers two periods of time--Patriarchy and Judaism. Patriarchy began in the Garden of Eden and was replaced for the Jews at the inauguration of Judaism at Mt. Sinai (Genesis-Exodus). For Gentiles (non-Jews), Patriarchy may have continued to either the cross of Christ or until the Gospel was preached to Gentiles (Acts 10-11).
The New Testament covers one period of time from the cross of Christ through the present and until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The New Testament replaced the Old Testament--Patriarchy and Judaism (Matthew 5:17-18; Romans 7:6-7; 2 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:15). Anyone who looks to the Old Testament for religious instruction instead of looking to the New Testament is seriously misguided and spiritually jeopardized. "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4). The purpose of the Law (Old Testament) was to prepare humanity for the coming of Jesus Christ, who brought the Truth (Gospel).
But before faith [the system of faith or Gospel or New Testament] came, we were kept under the law [Old Testament or Judaism], shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:23-25)
Moses passed on to humanity what he received from God, whereas Jesus Christ as a member of the Godhead personally brought the Gospel or New Testament Truth (John 1:17).
Hence, rightly dividing the Word of Truth involves turning to the New Testament exclusively for religious instruction. That means one today cannot turn to the Old Testament (Patriarchy or Judaism) for religious instruction. However, the Old Testament is the foundation of the New Testament and contains numerous principles still useful today (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-3; 10:1-11). Further, people today are not authorized to turn to manmade creeds or doctrines for religious instruction.
Second, one must rightly divide the Word of Truth by contrasting salvation in the New Testament from all other plans of salvation. One today must turn to the New Testament exclusively for information about salvation. No one today should suppose that building an ark like Noah built will save anyone (1 Peter 3:20). Animal sacrifices characteristic of Patriarchy and Judaism cannot save anyone today (Exodus 29:36, atonement). Manmade religion cannot save anyone either, but people must obey the New Testament doctrine (Gospel). "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). "But God be thanked, that [though] ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you" (Romans 6:17).
Strictly speaking, there was no absolute salvation available under the Old Testament--Patriarchy or Judaism. Sins under the Old Testament were never absolutely forgiven, only overlooked annually (Hebrews 10:1-4). Had there been forgiveness of sin available under either Patriarchy or Judaism (the Old Testament), Jesus Christ would not have had to come to earth from heaven and die sacrificially on the cross, but Jesus died on the cross to reconcile mankind to God (Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 1:20). Our Father in heaven sent Jesus into the world to save mankind, not because mankind was already saved (John 3:17). Since sins could not be forgiven under the Old Testament, and only the sacrifice of Jesus made it possible for sins to be remitted, no plan of man can take the place of the divine plan for human redemption.
Third, one must rightly divide the Word of Truth by contrasting New Testament worship with all other ways of worshipping God. Through rightly dividing the Word of Truth, one today can know how not to worship God. Old Testament worship is not authorized for worship of God today (e.g., candles, incense, animal sacrifices, instrumental music, etc.). Manmade worship is not authorized for worship of God today (e.g., deviation from New Testament worship by excluding or adding items to worship). The apostle Paul warned Christians at Colosse that exchanging divine worship for their own preferences was "will worship" (i.e., man's will substituted for God's revealed will) (Colossians 2:23).
Today, one can know how to worship God by appealing exclusively to the New Testament. Four of the five acts of New Testament worship appear in Acts 2:42 (i.e., teaching or preaching, contribution, Lord's Supper and prayer). Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 also address New Testament worship acts of the Lord's Supper, preaching or teaching and the collection. Singing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs is a fifth act of New Testament worship; Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 provide instruction regarding divinely appointed Christian music in worship, whereas 1 Corinthians 14:15 and 26 provide a New Testament example of singing in worship. The New Testament authorizes nothing besides these five acts of worship for today.
Fourth, one must rightly divide the Word of Truth by contrasting Christian living with all other ways to live one's life. The Old Testament is not a suitable source of instruction for Christian living. For instance, polygamy that God overlooked in the Old Testament is not permissible under Christianity (Genesis 4:19; 26:34; Exodus 21:10; 1 Samuel 1:2; 2 Chronicles 24:3; Matthew 19:3-6; 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). Jesus restored God's original plan for marriage, and qualifications for elders stress monogamy rather than polygamy. In addition, the Old Testament is not a suitable source for instruction how to deal with idolaters, which was to kill them (Deuteronomy 7:1-5).
One today must turn exclusively to the New Testament for instruction in Christian living. The New Testament teaches to refuse some things in one's life and to seek virtues (Titus 2:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22; 2 Peter 1:5-9; Philippians 4:8). In the New Testament, lists of sins to avoid also teach how to properly live the Christian life (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8). The best ideas of feeble humans are not worthy to substitute for what the New Testament teaches respecting Christian living (Jude 4).
Fifth, one must rightly divide the Word of Truth by contrasting Christian service with all other ways in which someone may attempt to serve God. Service acceptable under the Old Testament does not guarantee acceptability under the New Testament. Noah was commissioned to build an ark, but no one today by turning to the Old Testament has that same commission. Moses was commissioned to build the Tabernacle, and Solomon built the Jewish Temple, but no one today by turning to the Old Testament has those responsibilities.
Christian service is authorized in the New Testament. The Lord's church has a three-fold mission of evangelism, edification and benevolence (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Corinthians 14:12, 26; Galatians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 9:13). Nothing less than or more than what the New Testament authorizes qualifies as Christian service, though the means of fulfilling the church mission may vary somewhat in methodology (e.g., various modes of transportation and communication). Christian service may be performed collectively as congregations and individually as Christians (James 1:27).
Without rightly dividing the Word of Truth, the Bible is unintelligible and appears contradictory. First, one must discern between the respective roles of the Old Testament and the New Testament. One must discern from the New Testament what is authorized for worship, Christian living and Christian service. Only by rightly dividing the Word of Truth can one know assuredly how to receive the forgiveness of sins. Unbaptized believers must be immersed in water for the remission of sins (Romans 6:3-5; Acts 22:16). Erring Christians must repent and pray (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).