49. A Biblical Hermeneutic – “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth”

Dr. John A. Looper


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

The apostle Paul (Saul), the ever vigilant Jewish apostle who was sent of the Lord to the gentiles, conveys in his prison letters to his talmid (student) Timothy, the foundational rule for true Scripturally-Hebraic hermeneutics and exegesis – “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”

Although the New Testament scriptures (B’rith HaDesha) were circulated in the lingua franca of the first-century – “Koine Greek” – the hermeneutic that governed it’s meaning and revelational application was always scripturally Hebraic. The new covenant writers simply chose within the Greek language equivalent words to convey the ideas of the Tanakh (First Testament).

The New Testament meaning of the command to “rightly divide” is found in the Greek Strong’s Help, Greek 3718, as or thot-om-eh’-o; from a compound of Greek 3717 (orthos) and the base of Greek 5114 (tomoteros); “to make a straight cut, i.e. (figurative) to dissect (expound) correctly (the divine message) :- rightly divide.” Simply stated, one is to cut a straight line in the exegesis and application of the Biblical revelation.

The apostle Peter warned the earliest Church that the divinely inspired Holy Scriptures were not open for conjecture, subjectivity, personal manipulation or interpretation, when he stated, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV);.

Another Biblical hermeneutic is stated by Paul to the Corinthian believers when he revealed that only scripture can interpret scripture – “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13 KJV);. According to Paul in Romans 7 and King David in Psalm 19, the “teachings of the Lord” (Torah) were both spiritual and perfect from the beginning. David further states that the eternal Word of God was settled forever from the beginning – “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89);. This hermeneutic is called, the “Divine Law of Immutability” (Hebrews 6:17-18; ; 13:8; ; Eccle. 1:9; ; 3:14-15; ; Malachi 3:6);. This law, God always uses to govern His own actions and promises.

If the Christian Church is to rediscover the Judeo-Christian heritage of the Bible in our generation and if it seeks to reintroduce the Judeo-Christian ethic of the Bible back into society as a part of it’s value system, then it becomes absolutely necessary for the believing and practicing Church to maintain it’s scriptural equilibrium and to understand clearly it’s New Covenant objectives and applications.

At this juncture, I would like to pose to you a few important rhetorical questions. Firstly, is the “Jewish Roots Movement” within the Christian Church seeking to make the Church culturally Jewish or Biblically observant? Secondly, what do we mean when we say “Jewish Roots,” do we mean Biblical Judaism or Rabbinic Judaism? Thirdly, when we say the goal of our Judeo-Christian heritage discovery, reformation and restoration is to celebrate these things by becoming scripturally observant, then do we mean First Testament or New Testament application? Ambiguity on these cardinal issues will confuse or continue to confuse and marginalize this Biblical movement, in my view. I propose that true Biblical hermeneutics and exegesis will rightly divide these issues and give the Church proper balance and vision.

The New Testament book of Hebrews, is a unique hermeneutical and apostolic work, which helps us to “make a straight cut” regarding the aforementioned questions facing the Church today. This book was written in the first-century to the believing Jews in Jesus the Messiah (Yeshua Ha Mashiach), who were scattered throughout the Mediterranean world of their time. The purpose of the book was to contrast through Jesus the Messiah, the Torah of God which had been manifested through two covenants and the superiority of the New Covenant application under Messiah.

Chapter nine of the book of Hebrews, is a key chapter for giving us a hermeneutical and exegetical insight into the whole of the book, when it states – “Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary … This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order (reformation)” (Hebrews 9:1;, 9-10);. In essence, the New Covenant of Messiah was to reform, restore, fulfill or perfect the order of God’s Torah relationship with man, which had been lost through the fall of the original man Adam (Matthew 5:17-18);.

When one studies the Biblical word for “new” in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, we get a better idea of the apostolic doctrine and exegesis of the term New Testament or New Covenant. These terms conveyed in the book of Hebrews and throughout the New Testament writings, were always confirmed by the First Testament prophetic promises. In Hebrew, the word for “new” found in Jeremiah 31:31 ; – “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah,” is defined in the Strong’s Help, Hebrew 2318, chadash, khaw-dash’; “as a primitive root; to be new; causative to rebuild :- renew, repair.” The New Testament equivalent of this word in Greek, to express the same idea, is – Strong’s Help, Greek 2537, kainos, kahee-nos’; “new (especially in freshness).”

In every place in the New Testament books where the term New Testament or New Covenant is used, it uses the Greek term “kainos” which means to refresh or rebuild something that already once existed. There again, the new covenant given by Christ through His death and resurrection was in essence a reestablishment of the original forever covenant between God, man and His Word, which in the beginning had been established with Adam. This is the reason the Hebrew and Greek words used for New Testament, means a “fresh” or “regenerated” covenant.

The apostolic New Testament doctrines, taken from the First Testament, of “rebirth,” “regeneration,” “reformation” and “restoration,” now become more scripturally clear.

If the Torah (Law) of God was “eternal,” “spiritual,” and “perfect” from the beginning, then God the Father faced a dilemma upon the fall of man through sin. Not only did our sins separate us from God, but man also had a fallen spiritual nature for the Lord to attempt to communicate with. Due to this condition, the reasons for the heavenly law and “heavenly things” themselves being manifested through “carnal or human ordinances” in the First Covenant, becomes obvious. The only means for God to manifest the revelation of the Torah to carnal man, until Messiah would come in “reformation,” was to use natural copies of the heavenly things, which would become themselves a “pedagogue” to teach us and to point us to Christ. If the First Testament was ever a pedagogue, it still is today! Once the inheritance comes, however, the carnal observance of the Torah becomes obsolete (Hebrews 9; Galatians 4; Jeremiah 31:31-34);.

Today, oddly enough, we find both Christianity and Judaism in need of a reformation back to the Biblical purpose and eternal revelation of God in Messiah. Just as the Hebrew writer warned the believing Hebrews around the world that they were “hung-up” on “the copy” of the heavenly things themselves and not on the reality in Messiah, that same warning can be made once again today, to both Jew and Gentile, who are wrestling with this great end-time mandate to “trim our lamps and go forth to meet the bridegroom.”

I would suggest that our New Testament exegesis and hermeneutic of the Torah of God, would be to make the Christian Church scripturally observant in its Biblical heritage – not culturally Jewish! In my view, if we do not adopt this approach to the observance of Biblical things, which can easily be adopted into the religious and cultural environments of all peoples, we will repeat the sad history of many well-meaning reform movements of the past.

I would further suggest that we affirm that we are seeking to restore the Biblical revelation alone to the Church, using other extra-Biblical resources and spiritual practices as points of reference and confirmation only. To equate extra-Biblical resources and practices with Holy Scripture will serve only to cloud the issue of what we truly mean when we espouse the Judeo-Christian restoration of the Church of Messiah.

Lastly, I suggest that the New Testament or New Covenant always be the eyeglasses or lenses through which we view the application and observance of the Torah of God in Jesus the Messiah. We must affirm that it was the incarnation work of the Father through Christ, to bring man back into a restored perfected spiritual order and relationship, both with God and His Word. The eternal spiritual order and application of the Torah of God through the New Testament of Jesus the Messiah, is far greater than the season of it’s temporal order and manifestation through the copies of heavenly things under the First Covenant.

The restoration of the Biblical hermeneutic back to the Church, is foundational to this great end-time restoration. Shalom!

(This article was first published on the Tishrei Web site “familyrestorationmagazine”)