WHAT IS “THE WORD OF TRUTH” IN 2 TIMOTHY 2:15? Is IT THE GOSPEL, OR THE BIBLE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Some years ago, I was amazed to learn that, within the grace community, there is confusion regarding 2 Timothy 2:15 (of all verses). Strangely, some who claim to “rightly divide the word of truth” really have no solid understanding of what “the word of truth” even is in the context of the verse they claim to be following (2 Timothy 2:15). Is “the word of truth” the Gospel, or is it the Bible? As always, context is key to understanding Bible verses!
The Bible uses the term “word of truth” five times (with two additional forms). We will look at these instances now (we will analyze 2 Timothy 2:15 later). It will be demonstrated that this term, “the word of truth,” does not always carry the same meaning in each of the verses it appears.
- THE BIBLE: The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:43: “And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.” This “word of truth” is not the Gospel, for all of Psalm 119 is focused on God’s Word as a whole, not a gospel message. According to the context, the “word of truth” in Psalm 119:43 is all of God’s Word, the entire Bible (which was just the Old Testament at that time).
- THE BIBLE: The angel Gabriel told the Prophet in Daniel 10:21: “But I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.” Here, “the scripture of truth” is the Bible. We have no reason to believe that “the scripture of truth” is not another way of saying, “the word of truth.”
- THE GOSPEL OF GRACE: In Colossians 1:5, the Apostle Paul wrote about, “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel.” Here, the “word of truth” in this verse is the Gospel of the Grace of God.
- THE GOSPEL OF GRACE: “The word of truth” is also the Gospel of Grace in Ephesians 1:13: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.”
- EITHER THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM, OR THE BIBLE: When James wrote in James 1:18, “Of [God’s] own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures,” this “word of truth” is at least the Gospel of the Kingdom (the Gospel of the Circumcision, Jesus Christ is Israel’s King [Matthew 3:2] and all of the world will be blessed in and through Israel’s kingdom; Galatians 2:7-9), but in light of 1 Peter 1:23-25, it may be a general reference to the Bible.
- EITHER THE GOSPEL OF GRACE, OR THE BIBLE: The context of 2 Corinthians 6:7 does make it apparent whether “the word of truth” in this verse is the Gospel of Grace or the Bible: “By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” The context does not seem to restrict it to one or the other.
As we can see, the “word of truth” is not necessarily the Gospel of Grace, the Gospel of the Kingdom, or the Bible, in every instance. The context demonstrates what shade of meaning this term carries in that particular passage. Just as we looked at the context in those verses, we need to look at the context of 2 Timothy 2:15 to determine what shade of meaning “the word of the truth” conveys in that verse. What a concept!
I find it quite strange and equally fascinating that some who claim to be mid-Acts (or Pauline) dispensationalists really do not grasp one of the key verses that teach dispensational Bible study. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Oddly, some will say that this “word of truth” is “the gospel” (as in, we have to “rightly divide the Gospel of Grace,” but exactly how we are to “rightly divide” the gospel, Paul never delineates, so this notion seems unlikely to be Paul’s instruction). While “the word of truth” in Colossians 1:5 and Ephesians 1:13 is most certainly the Gospel of the Grace of God (we saw that these verses clearly say it is), that does not force “the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15 to also be the Gospel of the Grace of God. Recall that we already saw the Bible also uses “the word of truth” to refer to itself, not to a gospel message.
The Gospel of Grace does not belong to everyone in the Bible (one can simply read Galatians 2:7 and Acts 20:24 to see that). Galatians 2:7: “But contrariwise, when they [James, Cephas/Peter, and John] saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me [Paul], as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;” and note what Paul said in Acts 20:24: “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” In fact, the heart of the Gospel of the Grace of God (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as sufficient payment for our sins; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4) was not even revealed by God until we come to Paul’s ministry (Romans 2:16; Romans 16:25; Galatians 2:7; Ephesians 3:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 2:8). Israel’s 12 apostles were not preaching the Gospel of the Grace of God, for they did not even know Jesus was going to die, let alone resurrect (Luke 18:31-34; John 20:8)! We cannot “rightly divide” (?) the Gospel of Grace among the various dispensations as some teach, for those dispensations have their own sets of good news from God. However, we can certainly “rightly divide” the individual passages scattered throughout the Bible and leave them with their audience (that is, not force those verses on ourselves). It for this reason that “the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15 cannot be a reference to any gospel message in Scripture (the Gospel of Grace, the Gospel of the Kingdom, et cetera). We need to let the context determine the meaning.
Let us read 2 Timothy 2:15-18: “ Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;  Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”
Pay very close attention to the flow of thought here. Paul wrote that if we want to avoid “profane and vain babblings” (empty, worthless chatter), we must “study to shew [ourselves] approved unto God… rightly dividing the word of truth.” This cannot be restricted to the Gospel of Grace, for there is more to the Bible than just gospel messages. Plenty of people today promote “profane and vain babblings” that do not involve gospel messages, but do relate to other Bible verses. Thus, “the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15 must be a noun of wide application: that is, more than a gospel message is involved in this verse. Also note that, unlike in Colossians 1:5 and Ephesians 1:13, Paul did not write in 2 Timothy 2:15, “the word of truth of the gospel” or “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation,” he simply wrote, “the word of truth.” This should catch our attention!
Verses 17 and 18 of 2 Timothy chapter 2 speak of false teachers, people who do not “rightly divide the word of truth,” whose names are Hymenaeus and Philetus, and they teach that “the resurrection is past already” and “overthrow the faith of some.” This really has nothing to do with the Gospel, this has to with the failure to place this “resurrection” on the proper place of the Bible timeline. They are not denying the resurrection, just getting its timing wrong. We must go to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 for insight: “ Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,  That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;….”
What is going on in Thessalonica is evidently what is occurring in 2 Timothy 2:18. There are false teachers (or, in the case of Thessalonica, at least one forged, or counterfeit, Bible manuscript) circulating the idea that the rapture (the resurrection of Christians for this Dispensation of Grace; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) has already happened. The implication is, if the rapture has already happened, then Israel’s prophetic program has resumed, and that would mean that people who thought they would be saved from God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9) are now experiencing it in the seven-year Tribulation! Notice how this troubled the Christians at Thessalonica: “ That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first,” (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3). Even today, people teach strange doctrines about a “mid-Trib” rapture, a “post-Trib” rapture, a “pre-wrath” rapture, or no rapture at all—people are still confusing the simple doctrine of the rapture.
Jesus Christ prayed to His Heavenly Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” All of the Bible is true, but certain portions are not true for everyone. All of the Bible is true, but it is not all true today. That is, one set of Bible directions is true for one group of people, but it is not true for another group of people (these people have a set of directions that are true for them). For instance, is a global flood threatening us today, such as in the days of Noah? No, but that was true in Noah’s day!
So, when 2 Timothy 2:15-18 says, “ Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;  Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some,” the only sensible answer as to what the word of truth is, is that it is referring to all of the Bible (specifically, how we are divide our mystery program, the Dispensation of Grace, from Israel’s prophetic program, lest we confuse ourselves and think we are in the prophetic program). The “word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15 can only be the Bible, not a gospel message, for the context does not allow any gospel message to be involved.
» What is “rightly dividing the word of truth?” (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)
» Is dispensational Bible study heresy? (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)
» If dispensational Bible study is true, how come few people believe it? (LINK TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE)