Decades ago, when I was saved, I started studying the Bible with a heartfelt desire to understand God’s Word. But as I progressed, I found several passages that seemed to contradict.
Everything in the Old Testament harmonized as it pertains to Israel. But the New Testament was a different story. While the gospels seemed to mirror the Old Testament (with Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, the priesthood and feast days), the epistles of Paul (Romans thru Philemon) seemed to be out of sync with the rest of the Bible. The New Testament’s Paul emphasized grace, where the Old Testament encouraged works and the keeping of the commandments.
I was told, as you probably were too, that the Old Testament was for the Jews and the New Testament for us, the Church. If that’s true, then why was I having so many issues?
Why were most New Testament writers stressing the coming kingdom and the last days? This didn’t make sense. Didn’t they know there was a long church age coming and the last days were 2000 years away? I couldn’t rationalize these inconsistencies and paradoxical passages.
The serious student of the Bible cannot help but notice that Jesus and His disciples frequently stress keeping the commandments of the Law of Moses. Here are some familiar examples.
“And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” – Matthew 19:17 KJV
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” – John 14:15 KJV
“Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” – Revelation 14:12 KJV
Many more passages stress the keeping of the commandments. But Paul teaches we are saved by grace through faith and not of works. That by works (keeping the commandments) shall no man be justified. The contradiction is clear.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” – Gal 2:16 KJV
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” – Rom 4:5 KJV
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Eph 2:8-9 KJV
The book of James declares “works” to be part of the process of justification. From James’ point of view, salvation is by faith plus works. This is contradictory to Paul’s salvation by grace through faith and not works.
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? … Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” – Jas 2:20, 24 KJV
I labored with this and several other issues churning in the back of my mind for many years. Pastors and teachers would do their best to harmonize Paul’s doctrine of grace with James’ doctrine of works. Frequently I was amazed and entertained at the lengths they would go to force harmony between Paul and James. I finally found the answer to the conundrum.
Paul commanded Timothy to rightly divide the word of Truth.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2Ti 2:15 KJV
By rightly dividing the word of truth, all the troubling issues disappeared. Right division is the process of determining the correct audience for each book of the Bible. The Bible is all truth, but it is not all our truth. God dealt with Israel before the Church began and will deal with Israel after the dispensation of Grace ends with the Rapture. They have their truth and we have ours.
Right division is truly a liberating study. Finally, we can put the entire word of God into proper perspective. We know exactly what writings apply directly to us, the Body of Christ, and what books apply to Israel. The reason we have so many denominations and teachings in the church is that pastors, teachers, professors, Bible colleges and seminaries do not teach right division. If they taught right division, there would be true unity of doctrine and truth in the Body of Christ.
There are three basic questions of right division we must answer for each section or book of the Bible. Only then can we grasp the intended meaning and proper application of the passage.
- Who is speaking?
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the timeframe or setting?
Answering these questions when studying the Bible is critical. The most important question being Who is the intended audience? When we know the intended audience of a passage, chapter or book of the Bible, we can then correctly apply the passage. In other words, when Jesus speaks to Israel, He’s not speaking to the Body of Christ, He’s speaking to Israel. When Peter condemns Israel for crucifying their Messiah Jesus in Acts chapter 2, he’s not speaking to the Body of Christ, he’s speaking to Israel.
Once you determine the intended audience of any passage of scripture, your understanding of the Bible will be greatly enhanced. You will know what books apply to Israel and what books apply to the Body of Christ. Previous areas of confusion or contradiction will disappear. That is my desire, to help you make that determination.