Caution Point 1: Joseph Prince (JP) misreads 2 Timothy 2.15 as a supporting passage for his teaching. He takes that passage as St. Paul asking Timothy to divide what belongs to the old covenant of law and what belongs to the new covenant of grace.
The context of JP bringing up this is in respond to someone’s suggestion that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorah is an evident that “God rains judgment to punish His people” (p.50). And the reason that someone brought that up is because he/she views September 11 terrorist attack as God’s judgment on America.
JP disagrees with that. He thinks that:
Thus JP urged that someone to learn how to “rightly divide the Word of God”.
- God’s fiery judgments take place only in the Old Testament and before Jesus’ crucifixion (p.51).
- The fact that God willing to spare Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous men means He would spare America even more, especially when now there are millions of American who are clothed with Jesus’ perfect righteousness (p.52-53). Hence JP concludes, “what happened on September 11 was not an act of judgment from God” (p.53).
That is the background.
Before we turn to discuss Caution Point 1, I need to clarify that I am not disagreeing over whether is God’s fiery judgement still applies today. Nor am I arguing that the September 11 terrorist attack is God’s judgement. All I am taking issue with is JP’s usage of 2 Timothy 2.15 that I think is a misreading.
“You need to understand how to rightly divide the Word of God. When we read the Bible, we need to follow the advice that Apostle Paul gave to his young apprentice, Timothy… Paul told him to be “diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
God wants us to be able to rightly divide the Word. He wants us to be astute in rightly dividing and clearly separating what belongs to the old covenant of law and what belongs to the new covenant of grace. He wants us to be able to distinguish what occurred before the cross from what occurred after the cross, and to understand the difference the cross made…” (Bold original, p.51)
Quoting from the KJV Bible, JP is saying that 2 Timothy 2.15 shows clearly that St. Paul was asking Timothy to divide the Word, distinguishing the difference between the old covenant which consist of judgment and the new covenant which consist no judgment.
But St. Paul was not talking about this.
See an alternative version of 2 Timothy 2.15-18:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. (Italic added, NRSV)
There is no hint that St. Paul was referring to the importance to distinguish the old covenant and the new here. If St. Paul was warning Timothy to distinguish the old covenant from the new, he would had provided a more appropriate and relevant example rather than the one about Hymenaeus and Philetus.
The fact that St. Paul quoted Hymenaeus and Philetus’ false teaching about the resurrection in verse 18 helps us to understand what was in his mind at that time. He was worried over the spreading of false teaching among the believers; and particularly the one about false resurrection.
This suggests that the issue on the difference between the old and the new covenant was not in the apostle’s mind when he wrote that passage.
On the other hand, the Greek word ορθοτομουντα (orthotomounta) does not merely means ‘dividing’ per se. St. Paul was using the imagery of a ‘workman’ (v.15) who is in the process of crafting vessels (v.20). The word ‘orthotomounta’ itself carries the literal meaning of ‘making a straight or fine cut’. That is another way of saying, “handling something rightly and with utmost care”.
Just like modern day’s phrase “cutting edge technology” does not mean a technology that is being used to cut edges.
Or “hair-splitting argument” does not mean an argument that can split hair.
These are figurative usages of language. And St. Paul applied such literary style here. This can be further observed in his depiction of empty talk being like ‘gangrene’ (v.17). I do not suppose St. Paul was suggesting that gibberish would mutate into viruses or bacteria that cause infectious skin diseases.
Hence to some extent I cannot help but sense that JP is manipulating this Bible's passage to serve his purpose rather than learning what the text really says.
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