by A.E. Knoch

A PATTERN of sound words is enjoined upon us by the spirit of God (2 Tim.1:13). Most of us have been taught to despise uniformity, especially in dealing with God's truth. We do not wish a merely mechanical knowledge, nor do we take kindly to stencils which repeat the same thing. But we will never have a truly spiritual and intelligent understanding of God's Word until we acquire a vocabulary of sound words which seek to conform to the patterns given us in the inspired original. The lack of these is clearly seen in the cloudy, confused and incorrect conceptions of God's truth. The crosswiring of our translations is in direct disobedience to the apostle's command.

We do not intend to force our friends to rack their brains over every difficult word in the Scriptures, but it would be a distinct gain to them if they would patiently follow us in studying a single one, and consider all the evidence and the method of dealing with it, as well as some hints which may prevent them from going astray on such an expedition. We have chosen one which, because of its importance, warrants extraordinary efforts, and possesses unusual interest. More and more the saints are beginning to realize the value of "rightly dividing," or "correctly partitioning" the Word of truth. What is the exact meaning of this phrase? How can we fix its force?

Most words in the original occur with sufficient frequency for a pattern word to be formed and tested by fitting it into all of the contexts, and by comparing it with the whole vocabulary, so as to keep it distinct from every other. But the word we have chosen to study occurs only once, so the matter is not so simple as that.

We can, however, study the elements of which it is composed. This, though never decisive, is usually helpful, especially when it is composed of an adverb and a verb, as in this case. ERECTLY-CUT may mean just that. ERECT must be figurative, so we will give a list of these passages.

Mark 7:35 his tongue was loosed and he spoke correctly
Luke 7:43 He said to him, "You decide correctly."
10:28 He said to him, "You answered correctly."
20:21 you are saying and teaching correctly

This sense prevails in several other compounds as orthopodeoo, correct attitude (Gal.2:14), epideorthooo, amend (Titus 1:5), epanorthoosis, correction (2 Tim.3:16), diorthoosis, reform (Acts 24:2).

Concerning CUT there is no question. It is used in circumcise, etc., often, as well as tomooteron, keener (Heb.4:12), and in the FROM combinations, denoting severe (2 Cor.13:10; Titus 1:13; Rom.11:22). It is evident that the elements stand for correctly-cut. But this may be greatly changed in actual usage.


The first aid to be called on in such a case is the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures. But this is not inspired, and is by no means concordantly translated, so that much care and considerable experience are required to make wise use of its evidence. Had it used the same Greek word for each Hebrew word throughout, the matter would be simple indeed, and a merely mechanical comparison would lead us to the proper Hebrew word, which in turn might furnish us with many contexts by means of which to establish its exact meaning. There was a version like that, made for the Jews by AQUILA. It was very poor Greek, but would be of immense use to us today - far more than the better versions - if we possessed more than a few fragments of it.

The word we wish to study, orthotomeoo, ERECT-CUT, usually translated "rightly dividing" in 2 Timothy 2:15, occurs there only; but is in Proverbs 3:6 and 11:5 in the Septuagint. In both cases it represents the Hebrew word ishr, BE-STRAIGHT, in the so-called Piel future, that is, the factitive incomplete (IS or WILL-BE-STRAIGHTENING). The passages may be rendered from the Hebrew:

In all your ways know Him,
And He will be straightening your paths.

The righteousness of the sincere shall be straightening his path,
And the wicked shall be falling by his wickedness.

The Septuagint reads:

In all your ways make it (fem.) known,
In order that it (fem.) may be erectly-cutting your paths.
(Symmachus has may be making straight).
The righteousness of the flawless is erectly cutting paths,
Yet irreverence shall be falling by injustice.
(Aquila and Symmachus have "the irreverent." They and Theodosian have "in his irreverence").

A comparison of the Septuagint with the Hebrew will show that they differ. Besides this, the various Greek translations of the Hebrew vary among themselves. We copy these facts from our special apparatus, which is being made for us by a valued assistant for use in establishing the Hebrew text, in order that our readers may have some idea of the looseness of the Septuagint. It is evident that it must be used with much caution, paying due regard in each case to the character of the evidence. When we study a Greek word in the LXX we should always ask, Is this the best rendering into Greek of this Hebrew word, or is it a special case, due to a different reading or an idiomatic turn of the context? We cannot simply say, The Hebrew denotes straighten, therefore we must translate, "STRAIGHTENING the word of truth" (2 Tim.2:15), for it has no need of such a process.


The Hebrew word ishr, BE-STRAIGHT, occurs about twenty-five times, and on only two occasions is it rendered by orthotomeoo, ERECT-CUT. And in one case this has been corrected by a reviser to STRAIGHTEN, which exactly corresponds to the Hebrew. Hence it is evident that the rendering of the Greek here is not exact, and does not correspond with the Hebrew. On the other hand, the Greek compound eu-thu, meaning BE-STRAIGHT, is used eleven times. This shows that the two passages with the word we are studying are not close renderings, hence should not be taken as direct evidence for its meaning.

Perhaps we can discover why it is that ERECT-CUT is used here in place of euthunoo, STRAIGHTEN. In both cases roads are in question. This, we suggest, gives us the reason. In Palestine there are very few places where a road can be made straight, without cutting, because the surface is so uneven. In Jerusalem they are making some streets fairly straight. King George the Fifth Avenue is an example. In order to grade it and make it straight they had to do quite a little cutting away of earth and rock. I used to watch them doing this to the approaching streets. It is not difficult to see why the translators tried to improve on the Hebrew by using CORRECTLY-CUT in place of the usual STRAIGHTEN. If this is the reason, then we have discovered the literal meaning of this word, which conforms exactly to the meaning of its parts, that is, correctly cut.

How impossible it is to go about such a matter mechanically may be shown by this example. We could say that the Hebrew word means STRAIGHTEN, hence the Greek word has this meaning, and so we are charged to straighten the Word of Truth! Alas! that is what too many are trying to do! But it needs no straightening. There is nothing crooked about it. But there must be a sense in which we are to cut it.

It is evident that this cannot be done literally, for the Word is not a landscape. It cannot be actually cut. Let us notice that it is the Word of Truth which is before us. It is this aspect of the Word which we are bidden to cut. Some truth belongs here and some there, some to the past and some to the future. This very context gives us an excellent example. Hymeneus and Philetus claimed that the resurrection was past already. The resurrection is a part of the truth. It was incorrectly cut and so misplaced in regard to time. To have the truth of the resurrection is a fine thing, much better than denying it as was done in Corinth. But that is not enough. It must be correctly cut into at least three sections. Our Lord's resurrection is past. Ours is still future. The world's will be more than a thousand years later still.

Some suggest that we should say, a straight cut. But this Greek element is not literally straight, but erect (Acts 14:10), upright (Heb.12:13). Yet it is more frequently used of what is correct, as correctly (Mark 7:35; Luke 7:43; 10:28; 20:21). In this very epistle the noun is correction (2 Tim.3:16). So we need not emphasize the straightness of our cutting, for this has little sense. The true thought is correctly cutting. Every one "cuts" the truth. Hymeneus and Philetus cut it in the wrong place. That "cutting" which refers to our resurrection is not for the present but the future.

However much we may shrink from the idea of cutting the Word, all of us cut the truth. Cutting is an act of separating, or dividing, or partitioning. The latter word commends itself as it suggests the care and thought which correctly inculcates. But it may be better to stay with the inspired figure, until use has made it bearable. After all, there is no vital difference between it and dividing, or partitioning. Hitherto we have avoided the word "cut" because it seems to convey the idea of injuring, abusing, etc., in English. But the word correctly ought to guard it from this tendency. All other expressions lack that sharp, incisive sense which is so much needed in connection with the truth. Sharp cutting is decried as though it were denounced instead of commanded.

References to the Septuagint have hitherto been comparatively unfruitful and confusing, partly because the exact sense of Hebrew words had never been established by the concordant and vocabulary methods, but mainly because it has been taken for granted that the Greek word was an accurate literal translation in each case, notwithstanding the fact that the Hebrew word was used figuratively and rendered by a variety of Greek words. In this example the word ishr literally means BE-STRAIGHT, as in Isaiah 40:3:

Straighten, in the gorge, a highway for our God!

though its figurative usage is right or upright, as in Proverbs 15:21:

And a man of understanding walks uprightly.

To further emphasize the fact that we cannot simply take any Septuagint rendering of a Hebrew word as its exact meaning, we will give to most of the Greek words which translate it their meaning in the following list. The Hebrew ishr, BE-STRAIGHT, STRAIGHTEN, etc., is rendered:

areskoo, PLEASE (Num.23:27; Judges 14:3,7; 1 Kings 9:12; 2
Chron.30:4; Jer.18:4).
archee, ORIGIN, sovereignty (Job 37:3).
euthus, WELL-PLACED, straight (Isa.40:3; 45:13).
euthunoo, WELL-PLACE, be straight (1 Sam.18:20,26).
kateuthunoo, DOWN-WELL-PLACE, direct (1 Sam.6:12; 2 Chron.32:30;
Psa.5:8; Prov.9:15; 15:21).
katagoo, DOWN-LEAD (1 Kings 6:35).
katarthooo, DOWN-ERECT (Psa.119:128).
orthotomeoo, ERECT-CUT (Prov.3:6; 11:5).

A close study of these occurrences will show that, taken as a whole, the Septuagint renderings confirm the fact that ishr means literally STRAIGHT. This had been settled before by a study of the Hebrew family to which it belongs.

By the usual procedure we could prove that please, sovereignty, direct, etc., all mean STRAIGHT, literally, whereas, in carefully considering their divine contexts and usage in inspired writings we can establish their meanings as given. We give this to show that we cannot merely take the word orthotomeoo, ERECT-CUT, and fix its meaning by its two occurrences in the Septuagint. In that case several other words must have practically the same meaning also. It is a mistake to suppose that this mechanical method is concordant. The concordant method demands that both the Hebrew and its Greek representative be rendered uniformly (when literal) and consistently (when otherwise) throughout. Only then can we take the meaning of one and transfer it to the other. Then, however, it can be done. In this case the Hebrew ishr and the Greek euthu, etc. both mean straight. The passages in Proverbs should have been rendered straighten, not correctly cut. Let us not allow this mistranslation to mislead us.

Should we take this as fixing the meaning, then we must translate 2 Timothy 2:15, "straightening the Word of truth," which is absurd on the face of it. Moreover, this discards one part of the compound, cut, entirely. It changes the other from ERECT to STRAIGHT. When we consider the two contexts in which it occurs we see why the Septuagint translated so freely, and are able to restore the true meaning to correctly cut. This example shows how much evidence must he taken into consideration before a Septuagint tendering can be taken as determining the meaning of a word in the divine vocabulary. Even more care than this is necessary if we appeal to the language outside the Scriptures altogether, as in the papyri and inscriptions. In their figurative usage the Hebrew word and the first part of the Greek word agree. They both denote what is right. The Hebrew takes this from the literal STRAIGHT, the Greek from the literal ERECT. We have the same in English. A right road and a correct road come to the same thing. It is this connection between the Hebrew and Greek words STRAIGHT and ERECT-CUT, which made it possible to slip from one to the other.

Another mistake to be avoided in an investigation like this is the importation of the context from one passage into the other. Because the word is used of roads in the Hebrew does not warrant our injecting the thought of roads into Timothy. Let us leave roads out of our cutting of the truth. Their injection will only confuse the picture. Cutting roads does not produce truth and cutting truth does not make roads. The fact that the word white is first used of Laban's cattle (Gen.30:35) does not prove that "the white" in Zechariah 6:6 are cattle. They are horses (Zech.6:3). There may be white snow, or clothing also. This extreme example should show us that the common practice of making the context of a word a part of its meaning is not according to the spirit of a sound mind.

In view of the facts set forth we have practically decided to translate literally "correctly cutting the word of truth." This is as close as we can come to the actual words, and the illustration from the Septuagint seems to confirm this sense. Used of the truth it must be a figure, whether it is divided, partitioned, or cut. Besides, it answers the criticism that those who partition the Word cut it to pieces. The only objection is that cut is usually used in a bad sense, while partition is good, and agrees with "correctly." But this will adjust itself in time. So important a matter should rest directly upon the bedrock of the divine vocabulary. We will make it "cutting" as in the CONCORDANT VERSION sublinear.

Only by such means can we clarify our cloudy thoughts and come into the bright glorious sunshine where God's Word is no misty shadow but is clear and convincing. And only thus can we understand that, though no knife is used, the truth must be clearly and sharply severed into its parts. God used the word cut, and we will do well to let its significance sink into our hearts. May it help us to make sharp divisions, correct cuttings in dealing with divine truth!

For those who are weary of their own ideas and wish to get God's thoughts without human intervention, the concordant method is a delightful relief. But to those who hold fast to the "faith once for all delivered" to them in their religious training it is a stumbling block; for it has no mercy on friend or foe, and throws its searching beams on many a venerable "truth" which turns out to be error. So do not be discouraged if it is evil spoken of. So were the believers on Christ in the early days. Darkness does not like the light, and never will, and let us not be frightened by expressions such as "mechanical," "stencil," etc., for they are simply disreputable synonyms of the word "pattern" and God demands that our words be according to pattern, or they may not be sound.

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