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Did Paul tell Timothy to study in 2 Timothy 2:15?

Posted by on Aug 13, 2013 in scripture | 23 comments

In my post yesterday, I said that I was starting a series looking at 2 Timothy 2:15. (See my post “Study to show thyself approved unto God?“) This verse is used by many schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and other educational programs as a motto to encourage “study.” But, was this Paul’s intention when he wrote to Timothy?

To begin this “study” (ahem), we must start with the very first word in 2 Timothy 2:15. No, not the word “study”… the word σπούδασον (spoudason) which is an aorist active imperative (command) 2nd person singular form of the verb σπουδάζω (spoudazo). But, what does σπουδάζω (spoudazo) mean?

Well, to begin with, let’s remember that only the KJV translates this command as “Study” in 2 Timothy 2:15. Paul uses the verb 2 other times in 2 Timothy. This is how the KJV translators rendered the word in those instances:

Do thy diligence (σπουδάζω) to come shortly unto me. (2 Timothy 4:9 KJV)

Do thy diligence (σπουδάζω) to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren. (2 Timothy 4:21 KJV)

Paul also used the word 4 other times in other letters. This is how the KJV translates the word in those cases:

Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward (σπουδάζω) to do. (Galatians 2:10 KJV)

Endeavouring (σπουδάζω) to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3 KJV)

But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured (σπουδάζω) the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. (1 Thessalonians 2:17 KJV)

When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent (σπουδάζω) to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. (Titus 3:12 KJV)

The verb σπουδάζω (spoudazo) is found in five other places in the New Testament (one of them perhaps also written or spoken by Paul). Here are those occurrences as translated in the KJV:

Let us labour (σπουδάζω) therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4:11 KJV)

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence (σπουδάζω) to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. (2 Peter 1:10 KJV)

Moreover I will endeavour (σπουδάζω) that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. (2 Peter 1:15 KJV)

Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent (σπουδάζω) that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. (2 Peter 3:14 KJV)

I think it’s clear that in the cases above, σπουδάζω (spoudazo) could not be translated “study,” but is more correctly translated “be diligent,” “be eager,” or “make an effort.” Of course, this is similar to how the other translators (besides the KJV) rendered the term in 2 Timothy 2:15.

But, also, we have to admit that the evidence above does not prove that σπουδάζω (spoudazo) cannot be translated “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15.

So, next, we should turn to Greek lexicons. One of the best is BDAG, which is the standard Greek lexicon on Greek text of the New Testament. The editors of this volume examine each instance of each Greek term in the New Testament and in other Greek texts of that time period. They offer the following meanings and glosses for σπουδάζω (spoudazo):

1) to proceed quickly, hurry, hasten

2) to speed up a process, expedite

3) to be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous/eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious

The editors do not mention “study” as a possible gloss or meaning. Why? Because they could not find any examples in the New Testament or in other Greek literature at the time in which σπουδάζω (spoudazo) means “study.” (By the way, I checked other lexicons as well. Some of them suggest “study” as a gloss, but offer 2 Timothy 2:15 as the ONLY place that σπουδάζω means “study” in any Greek text. If there is other evidence, I’m open to consider it as well.)

At this point, it seems pretty likely (obvious, to me) that Paul did not intend to convey the meaning “study” when he used the term σπουδάζω (spoudazo) in 2 Timothy 2:15.

In the next part, I’ll look at what σπουδάζω (spoudazo) actually means in this passage so that we can understand Paul’s (and God’s) intentions.


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. 8-13-2013

    It is interesting that the KJV version is used so often for this passage, perhaps an example of “version shopping” to get one that meets with a predetermined meaning?

  2. 8-13-2013

    “Endeavor to…” excellent!
    Now if we might, under the mercies of our God, cease from assuming Greek imperatives as if alway command.

  3. 8-13-2013

    Wow. Groundbreaking. That verse as “study to show yourself…” was pounded into me almost from birth.

  4. 8-13-2013

    I love these words studies that can so often change our understanding of the Scriptures. Thank you.

  5. 8-13-2013


    I can only speak for myself, but I learned that verse from the KJV, so I always assumed that Paul used a term that meant “study”…


    There are many uses for the imperative, although the most common is “command” or “prohibition.” How do you think Paul is using the imperative in this verse?


    I don’t think is really that groundbreaking, but I don’t think it’s that common either.


    I always find it beneficial to study what terms are actually used in Scripture before I begin to interpret it… 🙂


  6. 8-13-2013

    Paul uses the imperative much as we also do among the brethren and in the ekklesia today, and as he describes context for our speaking to one another in the verse just prior… II Timothy 2:14 “…reminding them these things through/in your testifying fully before the Lord…”

    It remains “imperative” that you and I recognize how Paul is not above his brothers in Christ.
    [note: above sentence is not a command.]

  7. 8-13-2013

    Hi Alan,

    Excellent work here! I like your approach (observing every place in scrip0ture where a particular word is used to see how the Holy Spirit used it in all of its contexts) That is what I call letting the scrip-ture be its own dictionary.

    That is a far better and far more helpful way than going to commentaries and letting the commentators tells us, “The scripture says this but it really means that!”

    Bruce Woodford
    Norwich, Ontario

  8. 8-13-2013


    I don’t really understand your answer. “Imperative” is a grammatical form that’s not related to whether or not Paul sees himself as above his brothers/sisters in Christ. Imperatives are often used in cases where there is no hierarchical relationship. An imperative/command even does not indicate that one person is above another.


    Thank you for the feedback. My desire is to understand the original intent as much as possible. Interpretation and application has to come after that.


  9. 8-13-2013

    Much of scholarship has assumed a hierarchical relationship for the koine imperative form in New Testament context, just as you have written, “…which is an aorist active imperative (command) 2nd person singular form of the verb…”

    When the reader (or translator) understands Paul to not be speaking across a hierarchical relationship, the contextual imperative forms ought be handled accordingly… similar as how we understand and use imperative forms in English grammar. If you or I use an imperative with another brother, it will not be a “command” UNLESS we specify that I am giving a command (or, more correctly, a charge; something being required on account). There are rare examples of command/charge by Paul, found at I Thessalonians 4:11 (refering to a command/charge he had early presented), I Corinthians 11:17,23-29, II Thessalonians 3:10.

  10. 8-13-2013


    A grammatical command is not the same thing as a hierarchical command. So, when I said, “[W]hich is an aorist active imperative (command) 2nd person singular form of the verb…,” there is no hierarchy intended. Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from the difference between the grammatical term “command” and the popular usage of the term “command.”


  11. 8-13-2013

    Thanks Alan,

    This is what I can up with in studying spoudazo,

    “study” = spoudazo–to expend a diligent effort with the brevity of time in mind.

    Trying to keep things simple-

    For example with this meaning spoudazo, understanding this word like I do, why is it wrong, to have this word “study” in the back of my mind? Therefore, having the understanding and using the word study, helps me and others around me, when I teach.

    When I teach the Word of God, like this word spoudazo, I put heart behind it all and by the time I’m done teaching, they walk away, knowing God wants you to “study” His Word, so you know His Word. And of course with the definition in the heart sharing.

    Now what’s wrong with that? Not saying your saying something is wrong, but rhetorical.

    I always look forward to your comment back,

    Jim Schultz

  12. 8-13-2013


    I think you’re looking at this the wrong way. You’re asking, “Is it wrong to study the Bible?” That has nothing to do with the question that I’m asking. I’m asking, “What did Paul mean when he wrote 2 Timothy 2:15? Did he intend to communicate the importance of studying the Bible to Timothy?”

    For example, if my evidence is correct, then “spoudazo” could not mean “study,” which means that was not Paul’s intention in this verse.

    Regardless of the answer to my question, it is still good to study the Bible. However, if that was not Paul’s intention in 2 Timothy 2:15, then we need to try to understand what Paul meant. Otherwise, we are missing Paul’s intention and (in my understanding of Scripture) God’s intention.


  13. 8-14-2013

    What irony! Although the passage in question does not teach us to “study” the Bible, that is what we’re doing. Rightly understanding this passage as something other than study will not keep us from studying.

  14. 8-14-2013


    That’s exactly right! And, if this passage doesn’t mean that Timothy (or us) should study the Bible, then what does it mean and how does it affect us?


  15. 8-15-2013

    On the next post, I’ll examine the scriptures and expound on the scriptures to explain myself whole heartily about “study”.



  16. 8-15-2013


    I saw your other comments first. I think they probably fit best on this post, but I responded over there.


  17. 8-18-2013

    Alan sorry about posting my study on the other post, so I cut and pasted it to this post, I apologize.

    Ok Alan here’s my understanding and teaching on this verse,

    The word study in the Greek in spoudason which can be elucidated and understood vividly by further research. Spoudason is a form of the word spoudazo. Using spoudazo we can trace other related Greek words to determine which are derivatives and which is the root word–the word from which all others are derived. This study demonstrates a basic principle of Biblical Greek research which can lead to greater understanding of the Word of God.
    Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.
    God told Paul to leave Jerusalem immediately. Using the slang words of today, God was actually saying, “Hotfoot it out of that place! Run like crazy, Move out!

    II Peter 3:12
    Looking for and hasting (speudo) unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

    This is the last usage of the root word speudo. Again the emphasis is on time.
    Now let us examine the usages of spoudazo, a derivative of speudo.

    Endeavouring (spoudazo) to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

    This verse is interesting to come up in the research as far as context of the church how to work together and most important your relationship with your Heavenly Father. I would like to take this time to mention the 4 basic Practical ways to get and keep the Unity in a church, or a marriage, or a couple, or a team of some sort of God.(meaning common ground) And it’s interesting our word spoudazo comes up in this section. God’s the author of the word of truth, and where He hand picked every word for it’s place in the Word has a great impact where,how,why,what,and to whom it is written to. And Ephesians is written to YOU, as a believer of Christ and the whole Church.

    *Forbearing another in Love

    Endeavour (spoudazo) to do all 4,WHY? The Goal—–To keep the Unity
    In the bond of Peace

    Can you have Meekness without Humility? NO
    Can you have Longsuffering without Humility or Meekness? NO
    Can you have Love without Hum.Meek.Long.? NO

    It’s interesting some places in the Word of God you can work a list backwards or forwards, this list can not be. First it’s Humility, then Meekness, then Longsuffering (basically you can put up with my idiosyncrasies) then Forbearing one another in Love, and wouldn’t you believe it, the Word caps these 4 with Love.

    Back to spoudazo: I Thessalonians 2:17

    But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured (spoudazo) the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.

    II Peter 1:15
    Moeover I will endeavour spoudazo that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.

    Each of the above usages of the word spoudazo show the exertion of effort. The emphasis is on the earnest attempt to achieve or accomplish some GOAL rather then on speed.

    II Tim.4:9 and 21
    Do thy diligence spoudazo to come shortly unto me.
    Do thy diligence spoudazo to before winter…
    Titus 3:12
    When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychiecus, be diligent spoudazo to come unto me to Nicipolis: for I have determined there to winter.

    Paul was asking Timothy and Titus to make an earnest attempt, to pur forth special effort, to visit him at Nicipolis.

    II Peter 1:10
    Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence spoudazo to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.

    Christians should exert every effort necessary to make their calling and election sure. Effort rather then speed is the prime concern.

    II Peter 3:14
    Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent spoudazo that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.

    As you look for this new heaven and earth, be diligent, exert an effort “that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”

    Hebrews 4:11 Let us labour spoudazo therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

    Again the word labor, spoudazo, means to exert an effort.

    Galatians 2:10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward spoudazo to do.

    Here the word spoudazo is translated “forward.” from the other usages already examined it can easily be seen that here, too, the meaning is to exert an effort.

    We have taken the spoudason and traced it as a form of spoudazo, which is a derivative of the word speudo. Following through the progression of the meanings of these words, we arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the word “study” in II Timothy 2:15. It means to “be active” and watchfully diligent.” We could translate it “to be earnest about” or “earnestly diligent.” Summing up everything, the depth of the meaning of “study” is to expend a diligent effort, remembering the brevity of time.

    In other words, “Give it everything you’ve got.” God is telling us to exert an effort earnestly and diligently, utilizing our time wisely. The emphasis is on effort, but the root speudo brings across the wise use of time.

    Applying is to the rest of the verse, we are to exert the effort to show ourselves approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. It should be obvious that the only way to rightly divide the Word of God is to study it. Hello. This we are in reality being told in II Timothy 2:15 to “study earnestly, diligently, exerting an effort, utilizing our time wisely.” Many people exert an effort, but waste too much time. Others hurry, but exert little effort. We are told to exert the effort and utilize time wisely.

    At football games I often marvel at how many touchdowns the players can make in the last two minutes of the game. Theoretically speaking, if they can make that many touchdowns during the last two minutes, they can make that many for sixty minutes if they are geared properly. There must be something the football players do during the last two minutes that they fail to do the other fifty-eight minutes. That something they do is putting forth with diligence and watchfulness extra effort because they know time is running out.

    In closing:

    This is like the word spoudason in II Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God…” How should we study? We study by putting forth the effort diligently and by utilizing our time wisely.

    God’s Here People, Teach others to take care of the Word, like I showed you, it’s not all what we think at times. What does the Word SAY, that’s what matters.


  18. 8-18-2013

    I apologize in advance for rambling, but I see the NEWNESS of your approach somewhat leaving much to be desired.

    I give you Strong’s Bible Dictionary (1890): G4710: σπουδή
    From G4692; “speed”, that is, (by implication) despatch, eagerness, earnestness: – business, (earnest) care (-fulness), diligence forwardness, haste.

    King James Concordance: (1769)
    Total KJV Occurrences: 14
    diligence, 6
    Rom_12:8, 2Co_8:7, Heb_6:11, 2Pe_1:5, 2Pe_1:10, Jud_1:3
    care, 2
    2Co_7:12, 2Co_8:16
    haste, 2
    Mar_6:25, Luk_1:39
    business, 1
    carefulness, 1
    earnest, 1
    forwardness, 1
    Again: Strong’s:
    From G4710; to use speed, that is, to make effort, be prompt or earnest: – do (give) diligence, be diligent (forward), endeavour, labour, study.
    Total KJV Occurrences: 12
    diligence, 2
    2Ti_4:9, 2Ti_4:21
    diligent, 2
    Tit_3:12, 2Pe_3:14
    do, 2
    2Ti_4:9, 2Ti_4:21
    endeavour, 1
    endeavoured, 1
    endeavouring, 1
    forward, 1
    labour, 1
    Heb_4:10-11 (2)
    study, 1
    Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
    “Study to show thyself approved unto God, 2Ti_2:15. Observe, The care of ministers must be to approve themselves unto God, to be accepted of him, and to show that they are so approved unto God. In order thereunto, there must be constant care and industry: Study to show thyself such a one, a workman that needs not be ashamed. Ministers must be workmen; they have work to do, and they must take pains in it. Workmen that are unskilful, or unfaithful, or lazy, have need to be ashamed; but those who mind their business, and keep to their work, are workmen that need not be ashamed. And what is their work? It is rightly to divide the word of truth. Not to invent a new gospel, but rightly to divide the gospel that is committed to their trust. To speak terror to those to whom terror belongs, comfort to whom comfort; to give every one his portion in due season, Mat_24:45. Observe here, 1. The word which ministers preach is the word of truth, for the author of it is the God of truth. 2. It requires great wisdom, study, and care, to divide this word of truth rightly; Timothy must study in order to do this well.”

  19. 8-18-2013


    While my translation of spoudazo as “make every effort/be diligent” may be unfamiliar to you, it is not new. In fact it is the translation used in every other occurrence of the term in the KJV and other translations.

    I noticed in you evidence from Strongs and Henry’s Commentary that they only provide 2 Tim 2:15 as an example of translating spoudazo as “study.” Do you know of any other examples?


  20. 8-23-2013

    Alan, when I first read your reply “…Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from the difference between the grammatical term ‘command’ and the popular usage of the term ‘command.'”, it did not come to me what you might be suggesting here. Unsure, I presumed incorrectly. Please forgive me.

    Since then and at our Father’s urging, I should clarify that the absence of “hierarchical” setting (i.e., Paul with the ekklesia) is only part in considering the author’s use of imperative language, but not the whole matter. Gramatical imperative need not always deliver “command” grammar/language. Paul’s overall apologetic style is in tune with how he so often employs imperative mood as “permissive” or “respectful request” such as we might regularly use English imperatives among ourselves; he/we use imperatives to insert ‘possibility’ with those we ought consider as ‘better than ourselves’. In other contexts, similar imperatives may come to be ‘volitional’ with those who are depending upon us (our children, employees, etc).

    Are the ekklesias depending in Paul or Timothy, or in Christ alone? Has God in Christ written upon the hearts of every member His way and what He is requiring, or do the members depend upon certain apostles for obedience to Christ? How we understand Christ in His members will tend to inform us for how Paul & Timothy are communicating with saints, and (correspondingly) how copies of the letters then exchanged are to be understood then & today.

  21. 8-23-2013


    I agree with you about the different uses of the “imperative/command.” Again, I include the term “command” with “imperative” because it is the more common term. In the same way, if I were to write about “indicatives,” I would include the term “statement,” even though some “indicatives” are not pure statements. The same could be said for the terms “interrogative” and “question.” I’m using these are grammatical terms, not practical or applicable terms.

    Thus, a grammatical “command” (imperative) does not necessarily indicate a true command nor does it indicate a positional hierarchy between the speak/writer and audience.


  22. 10-23-2013

    Do you think that at the time when the KJV was written that the word “study” could have been defined as “diligently endeavor” or “concentrate wholeheartedly”? If so, then perhaps there is no conflict between the intended meaning of the KJV and the Greek, and it is only our understanding of past and current English that needs to be considered. Many times the KJV is misunderstood because our current rendering of English is not consistent with past usage.

  23. 10-25-2013


    It is certainly possible that the term “studie” (in the KJV) meant something other than our term “study.” I’ve seen that suggested many times by interpreters who recognize that the Greek term does not mean “study.” However, I have not seen any linguistic or semantic evidence or examples from that time period. If you know of any evidence, please share it with me.



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