Orthotomeo (aka rightly dividing)

Orthotomeo (aka rightly dividing)

The Greek word for “rightly divide” only appears once in scripture, so it is difficult to say with absolute certainty what it means. But there’s also no reason to doubt the most obvious meaning. Interestingly, the word (orthotomeo) is compound. The first part is the word “upright,” used in context here (Acts 14):

“And a certain man in Lystra, impotent in the feet, was sitting, being lame from the womb of his mother – who never had walked, this one was hearing Paul speaking, who, having stedfastly beheld him, and having seen that he hath faith to be saved, said with a loud voice, `Stand up on thy feet upright;’ and he was springing and walking, and the multitudes having seen what Paul did, did lift up their voice, in the speech of Lycaonia, saying, `The gods, having become like men, did come down unto us…'”

and the word “straight” here (Hebrews 12):

“Then, indeed, fathers of our flesh we have had, chastising [us], and we were reverencing [them]; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of the spirits, and live? for they, indeed, for a few days, according to what seemed good to them, were chastening, but He for profit, to be partakers of His separation; and all chastening for the present, indeed, doth not seem to be of joy, but of sorrow, yet afterward the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those exercised through it – it doth yield. Wherefore, the hanging-down hands and the loosened knees set ye up; and straight paths make for your feet, that that which is lame may not be turned aside, but rather be healed; peace pursue with all, and the separation, apart from which no one shall see the Lord, looking diligently over lest any one be failing of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up may give trouble, and through this many may be defiled…”

The second part is the word “tomeo,” and it is used 16 times of circumcision.

The picture I see is one of a healing knowledge (the word “ortho” is a prefix for many types of sciences to this day) in the heart that is circumcised (displays the mark of the new covenant) by Christ. 

Paul compares circumcision with its opposite “look to the concision; for we are the circumcision” in Philippians 3, with “concision” being all of his religious qualifications and so-called righteous behavior and “circumcision” being “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus,” that is “through faith OF Christ,” and “OF God by the faith” and “to know him, and the power of his rising again, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death…” for this purpose: that Jesus Christ “shall transform the body of our humiliation to its becoming conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working of his power, even to subject to himself the all things.”

And this is a very wordy way of saying that maybe in addition to being concerned with:
“you aren’t rightly dividing, I am…”

“no you aren’t, I am…”

“I am so, it’s you who isn’t…”

…ad infinitum ad nauseum, we should look to Him who does the rightly dividing in us to see whether we can describe the knowledge of Christ Jesus as “excellency”, if we attribute/credit the faith we have as NOT being a self-generated faith, but an OF Christ faith. We should ask ourselves whether we have conformed to His death or participated in His sufferings. What does that look like?

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 5)

Read about who gave Jesus a hard time and why. Jesus wasn’t persecuted by heathens for being a religious asshole, he was persecuted by religious “orthodox-approved” people who had a problem with how He broke their rules and openly rejected their oppressive traditions, and He did it with the authority of One sent from God. Read about who gave the prophets a hard time and why. Everyone wanted the POWER of God to be something that changed their earthly circumstances instead of wanting the power of God to be something that changed them. If we look into these things, we see what it looks like to rightly divide the word of truth.

“Stand up on thy feet upright… straight paths make for your feet, that that which is lame may not be turned aside, but rather be healed… according to the working of his power, even to subject to himself the all things.”
  • John Dean September 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Here are my thoughts on this? Orthotomeo was primarily a civil engineering term. It was used in reference to building roads. The idea is to cut a roadway in a straight direct path. That way people can take a direct route from one place to another without derivation. I believe “rightly dividing” the Word of truth is not dividing or cutting up the Scriptures, but teahing Scripture accurately as a single unified whole without being turned aside by false teaching or man-made agendas or programs.

    • admin September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm

      That’s a good definition.

  • Stephen Helbig September 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    At this time I would like to share a testimony that is befitting for the subject at hand, ~ (RIGHTLY DIVIDING). Today I am familiar with the verse that states He “Jesus came to seek and save that (those) which was lost”. And I also can relate to “ALL WE (myself included) like sheep have gone astray”. At the age of 26 I was the black sheep of the family, ~ truly lost ~ floundering and in need of HELP. I decided it was time to enquire about some of the answers to the great questions in my life. I had now come to realize that many of my journeys were vanity, and I wanted some answers to a meaningful (better) Life. As one has so aptly stated, “I needed salvation”. In this quest for something better I turned to God, and said IF there is a God I need you. So with this frame of mind my pursuits began. I wished now to Rightly Divide, and so I turned to things such as the bible, and church people with much total fervor, seeking answers. Now this next part gets quite humorous, but I ask you to think, and ponder on it anyway. I was about one week old in the Lord, and I was acquiring as much information as possible. I had just learned that the bible was available in many translation and I thought I’d get as many as possible for my studies; This particular day I was in a used book store to see if there might be a different translation,(one I didn’t already have). So here I am looking in the religious section and low and behold there one was, a NEW (used) ~ Different Translation. I quickly thumbed through it opening it up to examine the condition, and it just landed and stuck there at ~ 1 Cor. 11, and the only verse in the whole bible that was highlighted, ( Yellow Highlighter Pen), was verse 14 which states ~ “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” Now here I stand with Long Hair (half way down my back/but), and I am totally blown away thinking to myself ~ WAIT A MINUTE ~ JESUS HAD LONG HAIR. So I read the chapter before and after thinking surly something must be wrong with this translation. So I just said to myself Lord I don’t understand? What does this mean? I DON”T KNOW about this, Every picture I’ve seen of you HAD LONG HAIR. ~ And within the very next seconds several thoughts flooded into my mind and pieced my heart. The thoughts were these, ~ Most of my life, with my long hair, my Dad would ask me consistantly, pleading, ~ “Stephen when are you going to cut your Hair.” ~ My Dad was a corporate officer and had many conservative friends, even though he was somewhat liberal in his politics I now knew in the bottom of my heart he wished my hair wasn’t so long. And I also knew, in this particular moment of hearing, that my long hair was an embarrassment and shame to him before his friends in times past and was and is still today. He wished my hair to be shorter, but loved me anyway. The words that penetrated my heart now were these, ~ Stephen if you want to show your Dad my Love in you and your love for your Dad get your hair cut! So, I bought this new (used) bible and walked outside the store and immediately went to a barber shop. As I opened the door and approached the barber and told him I wanted a hair cut, he informed me he didn’t do hair like mine, perplexed I said ~ “I want to look like Him”, pointing to an older man with short hair. The barber was stunned but finally yielded to my request. After some apprehension on my part and the barbers we proceeded with my hair cut. ~ I totally looked way different, and shortly after leaving the barber shop called my Dad and told him the following, ~ “Dad, Today I finally got my hair cut, and I did it for you. I know that it was a shame to you sometimes and I’m sorry, I really do love you.” With ear to phone I heard a long pause and a little quiver in my Dad voice as the conversation continued. The way different look was so extreme that my boss didn’t recognize me the next day. Today I know this scripture means much more and deals with coverings and authority; but the point is, ~ one must let that still small voice help us to decide what we need to know concerning His WORD. I know beyond any shadow of doubt that The Lord spoke to me through 1Cor.11: 14 in perfect harmony for His will in My life that day, even with that crude interpretation of verse 14. It was totally unique for my day. I actually took it literally, and it worked for me and my little faith.

    • admin September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      God is good like that. He meets us where we are in our understanding and goes from there. In your case, He took legalism/law (your understanding at the time) and showed you how you can demonstrate selfless love to someone else. That’s a good story!

      • Stephen Helbig September 19, 2012 at 12:39 am

        Notice this Greek word “Orthotomeo” ~ (AKA rightly dividing) is used in The Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which begun in the late 3rd century BC ~ written for Greek-speaking Jews: ~ And in Proverbs 3:6, we find this same Greek word;

        “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct (ORTHOTOMEO) thy paths.”

  • Mary Vanderplas September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    I like what you say by way of discussing the meanings of the two parts of the word. I think, though, that the most likely meaning of the Greek word in its context in 2 Timothy 2:15 – whence comes “rightly dividing the word of truth,” or “rightly explaining the word of truth” – is something like “guiding along a straight path,” i.e., presenting the message clearly and accurately without getting caught up in endless unproductive debates (verse 14).

    I like what you say about the Philippians text and about being conformed to the death of Christ as the path of the Christian disciple. I’m not sure, though, that I understand what you mean when you say that [Christ] “does the rightly dividing in us.” I agree that, when Christ-followers live the life of God’s reign, a life that is, in the words of Luke Timothy Johnson, “based in God’s gift of grace more than in competitive hostility and self-seeking offered by contemporary culture,” they/we will be opposed, even as Jesus was. As Johnson puts it, “The more the church is authentically prophetic, in short, the more it can expect to experience suffering and persecution. Popularity and success are the marks of false prophecy; when the church truly lives in God’s kingdom, the more it can expect rejection from the kingdoms of this world.” (See his immensely insightful study of Luke-Acts entitled Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church.) And yes, as you imply, the bulk of the opposition will come from those in the institution (though I would include here secular institutions and not just ecclesiastical ones) for whom the realization of God’s vision costs the most in terms of loss or worldly status and power.

    While I don’t disagree that looking at Jesus and the opposition he incurred is a good idea for understanding what it means to be his disciple, I don’t think that our focus should be on whether or not we are undergoing suffering for the gospel’s sake. In the stories of the earliest Christians in the book of Acts, those who courageously spoke truth to power, and were opposed by the authorities, did so, remarkably, quite un-self-consciously (e.g., Acts 7:51-60). It seems that they were simply committed to living the life of the reign of God, unconcerned about the dangers to their physical well-being that went along with such commitment. So should be our stance, I think: embodying and enacting in our life together and in the world God’s life, without regard to the inevitable consequence of such behavior.

    • admin September 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      In response to your comment: “I’m not sure, though, that I understand what you mean when you say that [Christ] ‘does the rightly dividing in us.’”

      I’m talking about circumcision of the heart. The Word (Logos) is a double-edged sword, a living tool of the Spirit to demonstrate to us the difference between the appearance of righteous and actual righteousness, the pretense of good motives and actual good motives, what seems to be of God and what actually is of God, etc.

      And in response to: “I don’t think that our focus should be on whether or not we are undergoing suffering for the gospel’s sake.”

      I agree. I tend to lean in that direction because I have spent so much time with believers who I know are disciples of Christ, but stumped in their growth for fear of participating in the suffering of Christ. But you are right that that is not the focus, or at least, not the only way to define discipleship. Discipleship can be understood in many different ways. The consequences (or benefits) of discipleship are mostly personal and private but sometimes manifest in an obvious way – one of these ways is identifying with Christ instead of _____ (fill in the blank with whatever is antichrist).

      “embodying and enacting in our life together and in the world God’s life, without regard to the inevitable consequence of such behavior” YES!

      • Mary Vanderplas September 19, 2012 at 8:22 pm

        I like what you say about the Word “rightly dividing” us in the sense of discerning and judging our hearts – for the purpose of enabling our following in the way of Christ.

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