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2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in discipleship, scripture | 14 comments

This is the final post in a blog series on 2 Timothy 2:15. I began the series recognizing that many people use this verse (and the KJV translation “study to show thyself approved unto God”) as a motto for schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and other educational programs. (See “Study to show thyself approved unto God?“) In the next post, I showed that it is very unlikely that the initial command in 2 Timothy 2:15 meant “study.” (See “Did Paul tell Timothy to study in 2 Timothy 2:15?“) Then, I suggested that “word of truth” more likely refers to “the gospel” instead of the Scriptures or the Bible. (See “In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by word of truth?“) Finally, I said that the phrase “rightly dividing/handling the word truth” probably meant to live according to the gospel without straying one way or the other. (See “What did Paul mean by rightly dividing the word of truth in 2 Timothy 2:15?“)

My goal in all of this is to understand what Paul meant when he wrote this verse to Timothy. How did he expect Timothy to respond? And, how does it affect us today? If Paul did not intend for this verse to encourage Timothy to study the Bible, then what did he mean?

First, here is the verse again in a few different translations:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

The syntax of this verse begins with an imperative (command) with an infinitive as it’s object. The infinitive (as a verbal noun) then has three objects in apposition (in parallel):

Make every effort / Be diligent (Imperative)

      to present yourself to God (infinitive with a prepositional phrase)

          1) an approved (person) (emphasized)

          2) an unashamed worker

          3) rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)

The first object of the infinitive (“an approved ‘person'”) is a nominative adjective (an adjective with an assumed noun). It is in a position of emphasis before the infinitive in the Greek sentence. The second object (“an unashamed worker”) is a noun with an adjective. The final object of the infinitive (“rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)”) is built on a participle (“rightly dividing”) with its on object (“the word of truth”).

These three terms stand in parallel with one another.

Why is this important? Because Paul is not telling Timothy how to be “an approved person” or “an unashamed worker” or “[a person who] rightly handles the gospel.” Instead, Paul is exhorting Timothy to live that way before God. This is in contrast to the way other people are living and presenting themselves “before God.” (See 2 Timothy 2:14 for example.)

Furthermore, while “an approved [person]” is in a place of emphasis, the terms do not seem to build on each other. There is no conjunction connecting them, which tends to indicate apposition (parallel) instead of some kind of sequence.

As Paul has told Timothy several times in each of his letter, Timothy is living according to the gospel. This is an exhortation to continue in that way of life, recognizing that he is living his life before God, not for the pleasure or acceptance or approval of people.

But, the beginning imperative is important. You cannot coast into a life that is lived according to the gospel. It takes diligence… effort… concerted focus. So, the exhortation to Timothy – in the presence of those who live contrary to God’s desire – is for the young man to do whatever it takes to continue down the path of the good news of Jesus Christ. As a person approved by God, an unashamed worker, and one who is already living according to the gospel… this is exhortation to continue down the road he is already walking, without letting others tempt him into a different manner of life.

Of course, this is a good reminder for all of us. Are you approved by God in Jesus Christ? Are you an unashamed worker indwelled by and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Are you walking the straight line dictated by the good news of Jesus Christ? Then make every effort to keep walking down that same path, recognizing that you are in the presence of God… and regardless of what those around you do or how they live.


Series on 2 Timothy 2:15

  1. Study to show thyself approved unto God?
  2. Did Paul tell Timothy to “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
  3. In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by “word of truth”?
  4. What did Paul mean by “rightly dividing the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
  5. 2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-16-2013

    Great series, Alan. This verse used to be an inspiration to me (or maybe an excuse?) to spend lots of time studying the Bible. But now it is an inspiration in another direction. Thank you!

  2. 8-16-2013

    Maybe, Alan.

    But here are the unanswered questions:

    What is the gospel? Good news, for sure, but good news of what?

    Thus, what is the “truth” as to which Timothy is to live?

    And, how did he – and now us – know it?

    Lot’s of epistemological stuff to ponder… 😉

  3. 8-16-2013


    Thanks for the kind words. “Study” may certainly be a part of what it takes to live according to the gospel, but if so, it is a small part.


    I agree that those are important questions. Based on a comment from yesterday, I’m putting together a series of posts on Scripture and gospel.


  4. 8-16-2013


    Timothy was young was he not?

    Context in being in a leadership roll, Paul also was exhorting him to not be tricked by the wrongly divided Word. Youth could have been a stumbling block with Timothy, but with Paul’s teachings to him and others reading the love letter, (reading with Believing) would be warren-ed as well.


  5. 8-16-2013

    Great post, Alan. I appreciate how you broke the whole passage down and addressed it in context. I made a similar point in a post at Knowable Word – that Paul wants Timothy to present himself to God as one already approved. He doesn’t want Timothy to present himself to gain God’s approval. Thanks for your helpful interaction with the text.

  6. 8-17-2013

    I’m not sure all of this means that Timothy is NOT supposed to study the Bible, though, either. I think based on your exposition of the verse, which I agree with, study would absolutely be necessary to “rightly divide” the truth. Of course Timothy would have to live by the truth, as well. I have also heard people argue (I find myself agreeing more and more) that the gospel cannot be defined and characterized simply by a “salvation passage” or exhortation, or even a teaching from one of the gospels themselves. Rather, I think all of scripture ends up being about one person — Christ. The message of the Bible, in it’s entirety, is a unified narrative for and about Jesus Christ. And to me, I can’t rightly divide very well without reading and studying it.

  7. 8-17-2013


    Well at least your honest about it, and yes we all need to learn how to “study”, lean keys to rightly-divide the Word of Truth. We don’t jump in a pool of water with out learning how to swim do we? Well, some people may say, “ya have to learn sometime don’t cha?” My response would be, “Yes, but let me help you, encase you get in trouble”, that would be the more loving thing to do now wouldn’t it. And you as the helper, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Your taking on a sort a small way, ((( a leadership role ))). Why? for their protection.

    When it comes to the Word of God, yes your the helper, for their protection, but the Word of God doesn’t need protection, believe me, it WILL stand on it’s own. The goal is to get to the integrity of God’s original Word of God. Why should we study? Evidently in a certain manner, according to II Timothy 2:15, were suppose to study it the way God wants us to study it. HEY, I or you didn’t set up this standard of studying, God Did, so why argue with it, logically saying, if you do argue, “would you be arguing with God?”


    After this series, it would make more sense to teach on how to study. Why? Because your blog has everyone fired up about the Word of God and all those great points you made on this verse with Studying. The question comes to everyone’s mind sooner or latter, if not right now.

    “What are the Biblical Keys on Studying the Word of God, so We can get to the Greatness of God’s Word, so we can get to the Integrity of God’s Word. So we can take these study tools and Utilize them and teach others as well. Why? Because your a leader and teacher of God’s Word and so are we. It’s only logical to go right into it.

    I’m willing to Share my Biblical Keys to everyone, it’s taken YEARS to come up with these Keys to rightly divide the Word. YEARS, wouldn’t you want to now them? Believe me, If I was learning how to swim, I would be vary thankful for that helper right there to help, so I don’t do it wrong. What’s the problem doing it wrong? mmmm You may drowned.

    God Bless

    Jim Schultz
    “Your the Best”

  8. 8-17-2013


    Yes, those who have a “wrongly divided Word” are those who are not living according to the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul was exhorting Timothy to not let their example steer him away from living according to the gospel.

    We can talk about what it means to study, keys, languages, etc… but, again, that’s not the point of Paul exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15.


    Yes, Timothy – and all of us who are in Jesus Christ – are already approved.


    Throughout this series, I’ve never said that Timothy (or we) should NOT study the Scriptures – although that would have meant something different to Timothy than to us. Instead, I’m saying that’s not the point of this exhortation to Timothy.


  9. 8-17-2013

    Ok thank you,

    I’m sure others would love to see that post on “Biblical Keys on Researching the Word of God”


    But what about those people who think their on the right-path? O so “Sincerity isn’t necessarily the truth” mmmm Just because someone is 100% sincere about the Word of God,(by their example), does that make them right in there own mind? Yes in there own mind, he or she is right, but not according to the Word of God. Sorry, So there must be people out there that need to be taught how to do it right, so they get it right, right to what? God’s standard.

    I would have Loved to know Paul as a personal teacher, instructor of the Word, he wouldn’t have put up with any of my sincerity now would he? (that was off the word of course)

    Jim Schultz

  10. 8-17-2013


    There are many exhortations in Scripture to teach, admonish, correct, exhort, etc. Those are certainly important as we help one another follow Jesus Christ (i.e., be his disciples). But, remember, this series was about 2 Timothy 2:15. I’m focusing on the meaning of THAT verse.

    By the way, there are many people (both of us included) who are sincere but who stray from the “right path.” All of us fail to reach God’s standard in our life. Thanks be to God that we are indwelled by his Spirit and are made righteous by Jesus Christ. While we help one another follow Jesus Christ (even through teaching, admonishing, correcting, etc.), it’s always good to offer the same grace, forgiveness, and acceptance that God has offered us in Jesus Christ. (But, then again, even this is not Paul’s point in 2 Timothy 2:15.)


  11. 8-17-2013

    OK thanks,

    Now what do you think these people were trying to get O Young Timothy to do?

    What areas were they trying to guide him that wasn’t the best?

    What do we know so far about II Timothy 2:15?

    In II Timothy 2:15, what’s God correcting or is He correcting, maybe not correcting, but setting a standard How to look at His Word.

    Via by Paul’s love letter to Timothy, (in context–others around him) what areas did God warren Timothy?

    Who would be around Timothy at this point in his life? Was he refurring to the Household around him, people in the world, family members?

    Whoever it was, by II Timothy 2:15, God wanted to protect His Word, otherwise “rightly dividing” would not have come up at this point, but it did. So therefore, who WAS around him at this point in his life?


  12. 8-17-2013


    Paul was interested in correctly understanding the gospel (the word of truth) and correctly living according to the gospel long before he wrote 2 Timothy. I think that was the main point of Galatians, which many believe was the first letter that Paul wrote (at least, the first extant letter). In Galatians (as in 2 Timothy 2:15), Paul warns against teaching and living according to a “different” gospel.


  13. 8-17-2013

    Paul via God must have saw a need in the church to mention this subject about (correctly understanding the gospel(the word of truth), wouldn’t you say?

    What do you think should have been the correction? Correction in what area? Because handling the Word in a certain way–will show up in your actions, right?

    Timothy especially being in a leadership role, what’s your take on that?


  14. 8-17-2013


    I think Paul via God always saw a need to encourage people to stay true to the gospel, and he used many different terms and illustrations in that exhortation throughout his letters. I think God via Paul would want Timothy (as a fellow apostle, but more as a follower of Jesus Christ) to encourage the same thing.



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