Wednesday, December 2, 2015

From the Peanut Gallery - "You're not Rightly Dividing. You're Compartmental Partitioning!"

I get a lot of feedback from people about my online efforts. In fact, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the level of correspondence and inquiry that I encounter on a daily basis from the Internet. Those interactions often raise issues that I believe are likely raised in the minds of many who read and participate in theological discussions. As a result I've decided to begin sharing some excerpts from these interactions. In so doing I hope to provide more clarity on some of the nuances, objections, and accusations that come my way.

I recently encountered the following accusation from the peanut gallery:

"Your deep analysis that you feel to be 'rightly dividing' is actually compartmentalizing and partitioning for consideration in splendid isolation." (Peanut Gallery)

Well, yes, it is. Because there is essentially no difference between the concept of "right division" and "compartmental partitioning" apart from the latter having a pejorative timbre in the common ear. If we do not make "compartmental" distinctions regarding the context and terminology we find in the word of God, the bible becomes an irreconcilable hodge-podge of contradictions and nonsense. Consider the following.

Justification: A Prime Example

On the topic of justification for example, the bible says we're "justified by works" (James 2:25) and also that we are "not justified by the works of the law" (Galatians 2:16). Apart from rightly dividing, or compartmentally partitioning those statements, they represent an enormous logical contradiction in clear violation to the Lord's statement that the scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). Once we rightly divide those two statements we are able to see that James's "justification" is in reference to the "showing" of our faith via works (v18) in a visible, public demonstration of what we believe through our actions. It is justification in the eyes of those who observe our lives, not justification before the throne of divine justice to which Paul so often alludes (Romans 4, Galatians 2). The essential need for right division as a result of the varied use of terms and the varied contexts in which such statements are made, crops up time and again in the bible, very often in reference to the topic of salvation. It is for this reason that Paul admonishes us to study so that we can rightly divide the word of truth - and that exercise most certainly involves topical and contextual compartmentalization - undeniably so. When done properly, right division allows us to avoid the shame associated with attempting to present logical contradictions as gospel truth. (II Timothy 2:15)

"This is a violation of the summation principle in Psalms 119:160 'the sum is truth', where parts alone may be too incomplete to represent truth." (Peanut Gallery)
Let's take a look at that passage. "Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever." (Psalm 119:160) There is absolutely nothing in this verse that suggests that the word of God does not have to be rightly divided to be properly understood, and there is most certainly testimony in Paul's second letter to Timothy that suggests that it does, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (II Timothy 2:15) Moreover, if the sum of the bible is truth, then its constituent components must likewise be truth, else you are asserting that the truth of God is composed of some portion of untruth.

All that said, there are times when the rightly divided truth of a particular passage is not clearly seen until it is informed by another passage found elsewhere in scripture.  Consider the following:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:" (Malachi 4:5)
Taken in its immediate context, I would suggest that there is very little reason to assume that this passage means anything other than that the literal Old Testament prophet Elijah was coming back to earth. We see that this is how many in Jesus's day interpreted this "end times" passage from the book of Malachi - which was, in their time, essentially akin to our book of Revelation. We see all through Jesus ministry references to Elijah which was in no small part based on this very prophecy. Some thought John the Baptist was Elijah (John 1:21), others thought that Jesus was Elijah (Matthew 16:14), and still others thought that when Jesus cried "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" that he was calling out to Elijah (Matthew 27:47). But then we come across another passage of scripture that must shape our understanding of what is meant by the prophet Malachi...
"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come." (Matthew 11:12-14)

Only when we pull the testimony of Matthew 11:12-14 alongside Malachi 4:5 do we begin to see and understand the rightly divided truth of that OT prophecy. In so doing we come to see that Malachi's prophecy was not speaking in a strictly literal sense, but was speaking of one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah - John the Baptist (Luke 1:17). By using these other passages of scritpture to shape and inform our understanding of Malachi's revelation to us we are able to place his words into the category of a metaphorical reference. Is that compartmentalizing the words of Malachi? Absolutely, it is using scripture to properly place this reference into the compartmental domain of metaphor, apart from which one's interpretation of the passage is false. Isn't that regarding Malachi's words in "splendid isolation." Well, yes. It is certainly a thing of splendor to behold the the rightly divided truth of Malachi's statement when it is properly isolated from all of the things it does NOT mean.

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