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In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by word of truth

Posted by on Aug 14, 2013 in scripture | 10 comments

In the introduction post to this series, I said that I was planning to investigate 2 Timothy 2:15 to figure out whether or not Paul intended for Timothy to “study,” and if not, what did Paul mean in that verse? (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?“)

As a reminder, here is 2 Timothy 2:15 in both the KJV and the ESV translations:

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

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)

At this point, I’d like to jump to the very end of the verse and look at the phrase “word of truth.” This phrase is often interpreted to mean “Scriptures” – either the Old Testament, or the Old Testament and New Testament by extension. But, if Paul did not intend for the phrase “word of truth” to refer to the Scriptures, then we are misunderstanding him we we make that reference.

The term translated “word” is very common and familiar – λόγος (logos) – which has a wide range of meaning from “word, message, or speech” to “thing or matter.” “Word” is used to refer to many things in the New Testament, and at times it does appear to refer to the Scriptures.

The term translated “truth” is also a common word in Scripture and is almost always translated as “truth.”

Believe it or not, the phrase “word of truth” (the Greek phrase) is only found 3 times in the New Testament, in 2 Timothy 2:15 and in these 2 verses:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit… (Ephesians 1:13 ESV)

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18 ESV)

Since Paul spells it out directly, it’s clear that the phrase “word of truth” refers to “the gospel” in Ephesians 1:13. In James 1:18, it seems likely that the phrase “word of truth” also refers to the gospel.

But, what about in 2 Timothy 2:15? Is there any indications (other than the evidence from the other uses of the phrase in the New Testament) that Paul intended “the word of truth” to refer to “the gospel”?

In fact, there is. In the context leading up to this verse, Paul refers to the gospel and the importance of focusing on the gospel:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things… (2 Timothy 2:8-14 ESV)

Notice also that in this context of discussing the gospel, Paul uses a related phrase “word of God.” Paul talks about proclaiming the gospel and being placed in chains. He then exclaims, “But the ‘word of God’ is not bound!” Again, the phrase ‘word of God’ here most likely refers back to “the gospel” from Paul’s previous statement.

So, not only is Paul talking about the gospel and the importance of the gospel leading up to this verse, he also uses a related phrase (“word of God”) to refer to the gospel.

Because of this evidence – both from other uses of the phrase in the New Testament and the focus on the gospel in the context leading up to this verse – it is most likely that when Paul used the phrase “word of truth,” he was not referring to the Scripture. Instead, he was referring to the gospel.


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. 8-14-2013

    What is it can be shown that “gospel” and “scripture” are synonymous? What it the gospel’s veracity could only be drawn from scripture? Can gospel exist apart from scripture?

    In Acts 15. Peter, speaking to some others regarding a developing problem in the church says, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.” One phrase leaps out at me here:

    “The Word (Logos) of the Gospel.”

    Ultimately it goes to purpose. Where are we going to go to study the gospel? It’s a rhetorical question.

  2. 8-14-2013


    I don’t think that “gospel” and “Scripture” are synonymous. Scripture contains and describes the gospel, but Scripture is not the gospel. Many people had “the gospel” long before they had “the Scriptures.” Right?

    Well, I don’t think Paul was telling Timothy to “study the gospel,” because the word spoudazo doesn’t mean “study.”


  3. 8-14-2013

    Were you to draw a Venn Diagram with scripture in one circle and the gospel in another, would you not expect them to largely overlap?

  4. 8-14-2013


    I don’t think you could do a Venn diagram of the Scriptures and the gospel. They are different types of things. Like I said above, the Scriptures definitely talk about, describe, respond to, and at time partially define the gospel. So, you can definitely learn about the gospel in the Scriptures. Many times though (in Scripture throughout history) people learned about the gospel without the Scriptures. The gospel exists even when the Scriptures do (or did) not.


  5. 8-14-2013

    Bingo! I have long thought that “word of truth” was a reference to the gospel and not the Bible.

    Not to digress from the topic too much, but what do you think Paul is referring to in Ephesians 6:14 when he says believers should put on the “belt of truth”? Is this also the gospel or something else?

  6. 8-15-2013

    Setting aside the ‘study’ question, your analysis makes great sense since I would suppose that AT THAT TIME ‘Scripture’ referred to what we call the Old Testament…Paul was instead talking about the good news–the Gospel. It had been revealed in Jesus Christ, and our knowledge of it comes from what is NOW called the New Testament. And our command is to ‘rightly handle’ it.

  7. 8-15-2013


    I haven’t thought much about “belt of truth” in Ephesians 6:14.


    I agree that we can learn about the gospel from the New Testament Scriptures. Of course, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul also said that his readers could learn about the gospel from the Old Testament Scriptures as well.


  8. 8-15-2013

    In the much wider scope, I am sure Paul is inferring or including the gospel of the Kingdom or the Kingdom of God. An often overlooked perspective in the church is the Kingdom of God.

  9. 8-15-2013

    God Bless,


    Question, just so I’m clear on your understanding.

    What books are gospel?
    What books are the new testament?
    What books are scripture?
    What books are dealing with the Kingdom of God-I’m assuming all, but please clarify so I can respond with respect.

    I can respond with an answer, because of the confusion between scripture, gospel, new testament and the kingdom of God?

    And I’ve read some of your other views on this matter, not sure I agree but anyway,


  10. 8-15-2013


    Yes, I think that the gospel is definitely related to the kingdom of God.


    I’ve given short answers to those questions in these comments already. I’ve considered giving longer and more complete answers in the comment here, but I’ve decided to provide answers in separate blog posts next week.