The Proper Division of the Word

Ron Cosby

Studious preachers of old taught their listeners to rightly divide God’s word—a conviction that came from the Bible itself: “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). “Rightly dividing” implies that students may improperly segment Holy Writ. Experience demonstrates that this is done too often. However, the faithful disciple will avoid appealing to the wrong portion of Scripture for his spiritual guidance. Recognize that there is an Old Testament and a New Testament. Today, those seeking to be right before the throne of God live according to New Testament statutes, not Old Testament.

What is the proper use of the Old Testament? Old Testament law has never been, nor will it ever be, God’s law for the Christian. It was abrogated, annulled, or abolished as law about 2,000 years ago by the cross and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 7:1-6; Eph. 2:12-15). It was law only for the Israelites (Exo. 20:1-5), though provision was made for Gentiles who sought to live under its precepts. It served its purpose, fully and completely (Gal. 3:19-28; Heb. 10:1-4; 9:1).

Upon hearing these Scriptures, some falsely conclude that there is no value in seeking out of, or knowing, the Old Testament. However, great benefits may be gained from its precepts, as long as one properly divides Holy Writ. New Testament writers enumerate several advantages of its use. Paul tells us that the Law was, “…written for our learning, that through patience and comfort of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). He also taught that it serves as an example to warn us: “These things happened unto them by way of example; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). And, the Old Testament aids in making us, “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). From these, we, therefore, learn to seek out of the things “written aforetime,” but not as law and statutes for right doing for those of us who live this side of the cross.

What is the proper use of the New Testament? It is the law of God for those seeking to be righteous today (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 6:2; Jas. 1:25). As law, its truth guides the sinner unto the remission of his sins (Luke 24:47; Matt. 26:28). When James calls it the “perfect law of liberty,” he indicates that it is the only law that sets one free from sin. It liberates instead of placing the penitent transgressor in bondage.

Our Lord’s new law requires the sinner to believe (John 8:24; Mark 16:16). In the new law, Christ also requires the sinner to repent (Luke 13:3; 2 Pet. 3:9). Furthermore, He requires the sinner to confess Him as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Tim. 6:12-13). Lastly, He requires the sinner to be immersed in water unto the remission of his sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Being “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered” makes one “free from sin” (Rom. 6:17-18). On the other hand, rejection or neglect of any of these injunctions is a rejection of God, costing one his soul (Luke 7:29-30; 2 Thess 1:7-9). Go not to the Law of Moses for instructions on remission of sins, but to the Law of Christ (Gal. 5:4).

As law, the New Testament guides the Christian in proper worship (John 4:24). Christians who were converted out of Judaism followed the apostles’ doctrine given by Christ, not the statutes of Moses, in worship, as they gave of their means, partook of the Lord’s Supper, prayed, studied, and praised God in song (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Heb. 2:12; Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16-17). Likewise, Gentiles who were converted out of idolatry followed the apostles’ statutes. They gave of their means upon the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2), partook of the Communion (1 Cor. 11:17-34), prayed (1 Cor. 14:15), studied (1 Cor. 14:26), and praised God in song (1 Cor. 14:26). Go not to the Law of Moses for instructions on how to worship, but to the Law of Christ (John 4:24).

As law, the New Testament guides the Christian in godly living (Titus 2:11-12). Following the Spirit-guided writers of it will produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:20-24), and the virtues of the faith (2 Pet. 1:5-11). No doubt students ought to use the Old Testament as an example of obedience, but not as law on right living, else we would avoid working on Saturday (Exo. 20:7-11).

As law, the New Testament guides the Christian in zealous service (Titus 2:14; Eph. 2:10; Rom. 2:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:18). In their service to God, priests of the Law of Moses offered animal sacrifices daily. Not so with the Christian. He presents his body and soul as a daily offering (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 6:20).

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are inspired of God and their proper use produces rich rewards for those seeking to do heaven’s will (John 7:17). However, seeking to “be justified by the law” of Moses justifies no one, and such endeavors to justify the Christian severs the child of God from Christ (Gal. 5:4).

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Author: Editor

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