the weblog of Alan Knox

Study to show thyself approved unto God?

Posted by on Aug 12, 2013 in scripture | 15 comments

During this time of year, many people’s thoughts are turning back to school and education, from preschool and elementary school all the way up to college and university… even seminary.

And, many Christians’ thoughts turn to 2 Timothy 2:15 – you know, that verse in which Paul tells his co-worker Timothy to get a good Christian education… right?

This is the verse that I’m talking about (in the KJV translation):

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)

In fact many schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and educational programs have adopted this verse as their motto because of the clear command to “study” along with the promise that those who study are “approved unto God” and do not need to be “ashamed” and now know how to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

But, is that really what Paul told Timothy? If so, then we need to understand how to study. But, if that’s not what Paul told Timothy, then we need to understand what he actually said, because it may help us in our own walk with the Lord.

By the way, here is the verse in context in the KJV and two other translations:

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show 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… (2 Timothy 2:14-17a KJV)

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 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. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Timothy 2:14-17a ESV)

Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Timothy 2:14-17a NASB)

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 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. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. (2 Timothy 2:14-17a NIV)

So, if the ESV, NASB, and NIV translators are correct, then Paul does not actually tell Timothy to “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15. But, what does Paul intend by that exhortation?

For the next several days, I’m going to be examining this passage and trying to understand what Paul intended by this command to Timothy and how it applies to us today.

For now… what do you think Paul meant by 2 Timothy 2:15? Do you think it has anything to do with “study” in the modern sense of the term?


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. 8-12-2013

    The term study here is a bit of a misnomer. The verb spoudazo means to hurry, hasten, be eager/zealous, make every effort. I think the KJV translators were linking the verb with correctly handling the Scripture, which of course, study and meditation would be a component, but certainly did not fully capture the sense of the word. In the fuller context, Timothy is being exhorted to contend for the faith against false teachers and subversive parties. The letter has a whole carries that theme throughout as Paul writes from his prison cell awaiting execution to his younger disciple to carry on the fight as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

    Spoudazo certainly doesn’t carry over to our ideas of the modern concept of studying, but more so contending.

  2. 8-12-2013

    I also posted on this topics last week from a slightly different angle.

    I am convinced every believe should be exploring their faith from many directions.

  3. 8-12-2013

    I don’t think it necessarily means study as we would understand it now with the abundant availability of “study” tools, “study” Bibles, etc… we now have. However, that may definitely be included in the practical application of that verse now that we have such abundant “study” tools available to us. However, If it is relegated to that alone then we are missing the main point.

  4. 8-12-2013

    Hi Allen,

    At first reading it appears that these 3 verses are one exhortation from Paul to Timothy re what Timothy should exhort those he is meeting with. Vs 15 then appears to be a positive direction to guide people to, interjected between 2 negative directions to avoid.

    Look forward to your take on this.

    David H. Lucas
    Merritt Island, Fl.

  5. 8-12-2013

    Well God Bless everyone here, man o man.

    I’ve studied this verse up and down, backwards and forwards with every term in this verse and the word “study” is vary positive here and the KJV is using it right. I even went to the Greek books on how they “used” these terms back in the day 1611. Why? to gain understanding about the words and how they used them, very interesting how they used them and I’ll share some with you.

    * first of all–The book of Timothy–written to whom? To the Leadership, this is a Leadership epistle for our learning. Just that alone is a great truth here, think about it–for all those Leaders in charge of churches should be setting the example. What if your not a leader? Can you learn from this verse, absolutely with no doubt. Think about all the other things mentioned here in the context like Alan mentioned, leaders you have a responsibility to TEACH the right Word, the rightly-divided Word of Truth. Notice it says …the Word of TRUTH. Think about this a little and it doesn’t take a lot to do. TRUTH not our own brains conclusions, not what man thinks, not what “I”, “I” think it (the Word) says.

    * 2ndly — The Word interpretes itself, sorry but it’s true, How do we know this is true or not. You break down this verse far enough and you’ll see it and understand it. Most people don’t like that, because it contradicts what “they” think a given verse means, it’s not what “we” “think” what a given verse means, “it’s what God ment for that verse to mean. This is why we need to rightly-divide the Word of truth so NOT ashamed.

    Let me ask and show you some pure logic on this verse for starters.

    Study to show thyself approved onto God… notice in didn’t say approved onto man.

    …a workman (you) that (the purpose) needeth not to be ashamed… notice it must be available to be ashamed or not ashamed, so what keeps us from not being ashamed, it’s available–otherwise God would not have mentioned it.

    …rightly-dividing…notice here God’s encouraging us to rightly-divide and not wrongly-divide, so it’s logical to say, it’s available to wrongly-divide isn’t it, otherwise God wouldn’t have encouraged us to rightly-divide. By now, YOU maybe saying, “well how do you rightly-divide then?” Well I’m not getting into that quite yet, that isn’t an issue at this time. But what a great question isn’t it?

    Sometimes people want to have this “studying” easy and that’s why most people love to just think what they want that given verse to mean, sorry, but when it comes to the Word of God it’s got to be serious, man o man, this isn’t a news paper and a magazine were talking about, God magnified this above His name, just think about that a little, above His Name.

    So what am I saying so far before we get into the word “study”?

    The Bible, the Word of God in its originally-revealed form, is the Word of Truth. But when it is wrongly divided, the true Word does not exist. We have the Word of Truth only to the extent that the Word of God is rightly divided. Everybody at one time or another divided the Word. The question is not whether we divide the Word; the question is whether we rightly divide it.

    For example, Anyone can take the Word of God and make it mean exactly what he wants by taking it our of its context or by adding to it or by deleting certain words. The story goes that a man once said that he could prove form the Bible that there is no God. He quoted from Psalm 14:1. “there is no God.”
    Psalms 14:1 — The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God…

    Does that verse say that there is no God? Yes, it does. It says, “there is no God.” So one can go to the Bible and prove just what the man said. He just forgot to include the first part of the verse. Wow

    A person can prove anything form the Word by isolating a text or by changing it around. Anyone can substantiate a theological viewpoint by manipulating Scripture.

    You leaders note this–Teaching that many people give — that as long as you are sincere everything is wonderful — is not the teaching of the Word. Now do you understand why we have splits, denominations and sects in so called Christianity? They stem from the wrong dividing of the Word.

    So anyway, “study” what’s it mean?

    The very first thing a person must do to rightly divide the Word is study. He is not told to study commentaries or secular writers; he must study the Word. If we are ever going to rightly divide the Word, we have to study the Word and not what people say about it.

    Why do we study? Because God expects us as workmen to know what His Word says. For example, again a singular usage in the Word of God shows that the expression is uniquely and dynamcally signifecant. The English words rightly dividing are the Greek word orthotomounta. Orthos means “perfectly right” or “perfectly straight.” Temno means “to cut”. Putting these two words together in the word orthotomounta, translated “rightly dividing” in the King Jimmy, Lterally means ” perfectly right cutting.” Its intricate nuance of meaning is that there is only one way to rightly cut the Word; all other ways are wrong cutting.

    It’s interesting to see and understand how the Greeks used this word in Greek books. They MOST of the time used it, explaining how to cut a diamond, what happens when you cut a diamond wrong? It doesn’t shine correctly, it doesn’t show it brilliance right. What about the Word of God? What happens when we wrong cut the Word, YOU, YOU don’t shine. This is what Paul is talking about, teaching Timothy–to help the leadership how its important to do so.

    Ok this is enough for now,

    God Bless,
    Jim Schultz

  6. 8-12-2013


    I think you make a good point about “study” being a component (perhaps) but not the extent of Paul’s meaning.


    As a person with several degrees, including a theological degree, I’m not against formal education.


    I think your response is very similar to Clint’s above. I wonder if there’s a danger is seeing “study” as the extent of Paul’s meaning here…


    I like that you’re considering vs 15 in context. Isn’t it interesting that both vs 14 and vs 16 talk about “words”…


    You’ve obviously given this verse alot of thought. I’ve also looked at the “Greek books” and considered relevant and relate Scripture passages. I look forward to your input on the detailed parts of this series.


  7. 8-12-2013

    Alan thanks I’m as well,

    I love this verse, this verse was my vary first verse working it back and forth in great detail.

    “study” = spoudazo–to expend a diligent effort with the brevity of time in mind. Now when you really get down into these Greek words, they pretty much tell a story, don’t they?

    And I can’t say it enough, “approved unto God” What am I talking about?

    Biblical Key (Scripture Build up)

    I Thessalonians 2:4

    “we were allowed of God”–It was a privilege to them.
    “to be put in trust”–entrusted
    “the gospel”–good news; the truth of the Word
    “not as pleasing men, but God”–Their heart was to please Him.
    “trieth”–proves. God proves because He set the standard, the doctrine.

    Psalms 138:2
    “magnified thy word”–To magnify the Word is to make it great, enlarge it, enhance it.
    “above all thy name”–God underwrites, puts His endorsement to, every detail of His Word. As magnificent as God’s creation is, including the stars and planets, God magnified His Word above all His name.

    Man o Man when are we going to see how BIG His Word is, it’s a big deal guys, it’s a big deal. So when are we going to stop hacking up the Word and just studying it for what it is? I’m saying your doing this, but this is what Paul is communicating here, were leaders when it comes to God’s Word and God’s people, were the one’s teaching people how to go to the Word of God by our own examples. Sorry this was on my heart to speak up.

    More Scriptural Build up (Biblical Key)

    Psalms 119:89
    “thy word is settled”–It stands firm and fixed and it is and I mean IS set.

    Acts 17:11
    “readiness of mind”–willingness, eagerness
    “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”–They searched the Word to get convinced of the truth.

    Why search the Truth? Why Study the Truth? To be convinced of What? Why?

    Isn’t the Truth, the Truth that you APPLY, APPLY, APPLY set you FREE? What sets you free? the Truth, How? It’s God’s Word man, don’t you see it Bigger then ever? It’s quick, Powerful and sharper….

    This is cool stuff,

    Thanks Alan the releasing, I study a lot and when you study a lot, we need to release, I call it the 3 R’s.

    * Receive the Word
    * Retain the Word
    * Release the Word

    For this to make more since, think of it physically, what happens when someone drinks 2 gals. of water and keeps it in? The Word of God is the same, you just can’t keep it to yourself, so you share it all.

    God Bless and thanks again,
    Looking forward to it as well,
    Jim Schultz

  8. 8-13-2013


    While you offer alot of thoughts on this verse (and topic), I didn’t see much information about the actual meaning of the term “spoudazo” which is translated “study” by the KJV translators. Perhaps you can comment on that on my post on that topic which will be published around noon (eastern time).


  9. 8-13-2013


    I believe that the key to understanding v.15 lies in vv. 2:1-14. Rearranging v.2 a bit, Paul tells Timothy to “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses.” I am assuming that Paul is referring to the truth about Jesus Christ that includes his death, burial, and resurrection. I believe he is referring to the gospel. My assumption is based on v.8 when he says, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound in chains as a criminal.” He goes on to say, “But the word of God is not bound!” The phrase “word of God” is coming right on the heels of what he refers to as “my gospel.” Paul then encourages Timothy in v.14 to “remind them of these things.” What things? I believe that he is referring to the gospel he presented in v.8 as well as the words of vv.11-13 which are a continuation of that gospel.

    Now here is the critical part. In v.14, Paul begins talking about words, specifically that Timothy should “not quarrel” about them, because in doing so it “ruins the hearers.” This leads us straight into v.15 where Paul tells him to rightly handle the word of truth. I think that “word of truth” here is simply another way of saying “word of God,” which Paul has already defined in v.8 as the gospel. Therefore, Timothy is to present himself to God “as one approved” (i.e. one who seeks after God and his word/truth), “a worker who has no need to be ashamed,” (i.e. ashamed before God because he has quarreled over words and brought others to ruin), and “rightly handling the word of truth” (i.e. the one true gospel that he has heard from Paul in the presence of many witnesses (v.1)). This is confirmed in v.16 when Paul tells Timothy to “avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” That “babble” is not the truth. It is not the gospel. Paul even gives examples of those who are not speaking the truth/word/gospel of God, Hymenaeus and Philetus.

    In short, I do not believe this verse has anything to do with studying Scripture or correctly interpreting the Bible in the strictest sense. It is about truly understanding the gospel and carefully/truthfully entrusting it to others. Notice that in v.1 Paul didn’t say, “Go read and study the Scriptures in order to know the gospel” (even though he knew that the Scriptures were beneficial/useful). He told Timothy to entrust to others, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses.”


  10. 8-13-2013

    We have too much of a Western mind-set to understanding scriptures. To us, everything is intellect and academic. To the Jew, faith and study was more than academic. Do not get me wrong, sound theology is important and needful. And academics plays a vital role in that! However, you learn by doing. You do not learn by information or textbook. As an example, to know that we must love one another means nothing biblically. To preach and “study” the command to love one another in the New Testament means I know the name of the person sitting next to me during worship, I have been in their home, I have have been broken with their trial or difficulty they are facing, I have cried and prayed with them and I have put my arms around them. Christ was never interested in us knowing we must love one another only, the assumed understanding is participation… “doing” it. Christ modeled everything He taught.

    I find it amazing that almost everything Christ did, we do just the opposite. Take the recruiting of people for ministry in the church. We like the Pharisees wait until someone comes and wants us to mentor them or is ready to volunteer. Christ does the opposite. He goes and finds people whom He can mentor. He identifies those with those giftings.

    The idea carries more with it than study… in the sense of academic. Again for me, academics is vital due to need for Apologetics these days. In another thought. Do we pursue Christian education for a just a degree? Do we consider the curriculum regardless of our own bias? Do we choose our education based on our background (eg. pentecostal, baptist, methodist, etc)? Do we listen, take up or read from other scholars that do not fit our practice, understanding, or theology? Of course, we want to be safe and balanced, but just some thoughts.

  11. 8-13-2013


    That’s a great explanation in context. I’m going to talk about several of those phrases in this series.


    I agree with this statement: “You do not learn by information or textbook.” You can definitely knowledge in that way (data, if you will), but learning and understanding come about in a different way. But, was Paul even concerned about “studying” or “learning” in this passage?


  12. 8-13-2013

    thanks Alan,

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

    This is what I researched for the word spoudazo, I’m sure you can see all the connections how it came to be this.

    Jim Schultz

  13. 8-13-2013


    I agree that “spoudazo” can mean “to expend a diligent effort with the brevity of time in mind”, i.e., “to make every effort,” “to be diligent.” I don’t see any evidence either in the NT or other Greek texts that “spoudazo” can mean “study.” Do you know of another instance in which “spoudazo” is translated “study”?

    By the way, I published my own study on the word “spoudazo” today, including an extensive look at the scriptural evidence.


  14. 10-26-2013

    I am late in getting in on this discussion but sometimes I wonder if we make this scripture too difficult…maybe God is simply saying ‘study to show yourself [that you are] approved by me [because of Christ]. We have all been taught, originally, from the law side of scripture…but now in the grace era maybe God is simply saying ‘if you study you will see that I approve of you.’ Just a thot.

  15. 11-9-2013


    One of the points of this series is that the verb that is sometimes translated “Study” does not actually mean “study.”