The Study to Show Yourself Approved Misinterpretation by Steve Crosby


Study to Show Yourself ApprovedYou Can’t “Study” to be an “Approved and Unashamed” Workman! Have you ever met someone who was a walking-talking Bible encyclopedia, yet unlike Christ in very pronounced ways, lacking the aroma of Christ? It is all too common among fundamentalists and evangelicals, who erroneously believe that “studying the Bible” is how one is “approved unto God” based on 2 Tim 2:15.

A basic premise of “studying the Bible” is originality: that is, sorting out what the original author meant and what the original hearers understood, before we try to apply anything to ourselves. This is not high-scholastic liberalism. This is basic, conservative, “hermeneutics.” Projecting our reality onto the scriptures, thinking “this is what it means,” or “this is the way it should be,” based on our view of the world, our culture and its values, is a good way to end up believing and teaching nonsense.

The way 2 Tim. 2:15 is usually presented conjures up images of first century believers with Bibles under their arms doing their daily devotions from scripture, reading, and studying the scripture, “rightly dividing it,” like good Christians in the apostolic tradition should and as should we! Entire denominations have this perspective as their foundational belief system. One of the biggest evangelical fundamentalist children’s ministries in the world uses this passage as their slogan!

Although this perspective is passionately believed, it is sadly an anachronistic mythology: it’s the reading of our reality into Paul’s world. It is a mishandling of the very scriptures to which devotion is being urged.

Study to Show Yourself Approved ?

What are the facts?

1. Paul attended the “Harvard” of his day. Being highly educated would have put Paul in the top 1% of his society: aristocratic by status and honor if not money. He counted it all excrement for the excellency of knowing Messiah in resurrection. That is something to think about!

2Paul’s letters were read in public for a reason! Literacy rates in Roman Judea and Asia Minor (Ephesus, Corinth, Greece, Rome, etc.) at the time of Jesus and Paul were roughly 1.5-3% of the population! That includes among Jews! It would be lower among women. Some post-captivity rabbis taught that teaching a woman to read the Torah was a waste of time and a dishonor to the community, it being better to burn the Torah than let a woman read it! Early converts to Christianity were mostly women, children, and slaves from the lower classes!  The literacy rates were likely slightly higher among the aristocracy, perhaps reaching 5% of the population, but still nothing near our rates today in the West! In a village or early faith community, it would not have been unusual if there was only one elder who could read. That is why Paul’s (and others) letters were often addressed “to the elder” –elders were likely the only literate ones there!

3. At the time Second Timothy was written, there was no “Bible,” as we know it. If a faith community had one Torah scroll or a few codices and copies of apostolic letters, that would have been quite exceptional. Scrolls and codices were costly luxuries for the wealthy. When Paul speaks of “committing” the message of Messiah in resurrection to faithful men, there is good reason for it! There was no mass literacy! Apostolic transmission, “succession” if you will, was a practical and necessary reality.

4. It is offensive to our modern sensibilities, but the “democratization” of the scriptures (equal availability to all) is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. Jews believed that Holy Scripture should only be handled by holy/anointed people: prophets, priests, kings, and later, rabbis. The idea that everyone would, or should have, access to the scripture would have been foreign to them and seemed inappropriate to them. Our modern “normal” would have been their inappropriate. They would have been morally and spiritually offended by our egalitarianism.

5. The Bible, though in print for centuries after Gutenberg, was not affordable to the middle and the lower classes until the mid-nineteenth century! The emergence of the various Bible Societies in Great Britain, Europe, and eventually North America was due to the passion to affordably get the scriptures into the hands of everyone. This is a wonderful, but MODERN era phenomenon! It simply did not exist at the time of Jesus and Paul.

So . . . we are supposed to believe that Paul is exhorting illiterate believers to “study” something that didn’t exist, which if it did, they could not have  read nor afforded it, in order to be “approved” unto God, a workman not ashamed?

I don’t think so.

So what did Paul (I’m not interested in engaging in authorship debates.) have in mind when he wrote 2 Timothy 2:15?  The KJV isn’t a help here.

The word translated as “study” does not mean hit the books or go to the library! There were no “town libraries!” There were no “study guide resources!” The library in Alexandria was so unique and rare that it was considered a wonder of the ancient world. Besides, as I have said, the population was illiterate! No, “study” does not mean what that word has come to mean in our day. The idea is one of diligence, earnestness, eagerness, to make every best effort.

OK, be diligent for what?

The KJV “show yourself approved” is unfortunate. The word “show” means to “stand” or to present one’s self as for inspection. The word for approved means to come through fire like a metal. The image is a metallurgical one. The heat treating and tempering of metal through fire makes it fit for use. The metal is “approved” because it has successfully passed through the fires that have changed its characteristics.

The image is for a believer to stand up under the fires of adversity–to come through fire like a metal that has been refined. The passage is exhorting believers to be diligent to not fold under pressure. It has NOTHING TO DO WITH STUDYING THE BIBLE! We are to be diligent to stand in adversity as if “proven through fire” as the “real deal.”

Well, how are we to stand?  By cutting straight (KJV: rightly divide) the “word of truth!”

The cutting straight image is like holding a steady line when cutting through leather–don’t waver all over.  The image emphasis is not the “cutting,” it is the steadiness, straightness– “hold the line.” It does not mean cook up schemes of interpretation of a book that didn’t even exist at the time! That would have been incomprehensible to Paul and his hearers. It is about not getting sidetracked in fruitless metaphysical and spiritual debates–an epidemic condition in social media these days!

Since there was no Bible, and the masses could not read the Torah and the letters that might have been available, what “word of truth” is Paul talking about cutting straight through? “Hold the line” to what? He is talking about the basics of the apostle’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah, resurrected from the dead. That is the “word of truth” as compared to all the other nonsensical doctrines and philosophies that abounded in the day.

How do we know this?

The verse before and the verse after verse 15 (context! context! context! always context!) are dealing with what Paul calls, in very uncomplimentary terms, “useless babblings” (likely referring to either Jewish mystic fables or Gnosticism, or both). Verse 18 ties it all together by specifically referring to erroneous teachings about the resurrection that Paul had to deal with in the churches he related to.

“Cutting straight” the word of truth means to hold fast to the apostolic proclamation regarding Christ in resurrection, and to not wilt under the adversity one will experience for doing so. This passage is about endurance, not “study” as we know it. The acquisition of mountains of Bible knowledge, without that knowledge transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ, is the deceit, and the offense, of popular evangelicalism.

I have written elsewhere (as recently as my previous two blog posts) that having the scriptures as we do is a blessing with responsibility that leaves us without excuse! Being diligent in them is honorable! But that does not mean we worship them!

My approval as a workman does not depend on my library and how much “study and devotional time” I put in. It depends on my faithfulness in endurance, and more specifically, my fidelity in relationship to the Faithful One who is in me, and has been in every person who has ever put their relational trust (faith) in the message of a despised and crucified Jewish prophet, who was raised from the dead and proclaimed . . . the Son of God.



Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact

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  1. Thanks, Jose. Interesting follow-up to this piece. A friend of mine wanted to translate this into Russian. So, his Russian translator was working through it and came to a problem. She was trying to translate the word “study” as it is in the English (KJV, etc.), trying to communicate what I was saying in this piece, and found should couldn’t because, all the Russian translations got it right by not using the Russian equivalent for the English “study”! The Russian Bibles all had persevere, endure, etc . . . . just like my article says it means, and how it should be translated. So, my premise is confirmed from another language and another culture! Pretty interesting.

    • Thank God for this article I wouldn’t have known to look at that scripture differently started to show myself approved now I have a better understanding of what Paul meant praise God for writing this article. And thanks brother Jose for posting it.

      • This is an interesting comment, for the simple fact, that if this person or anyone can convince you that one part of scripture is incorrect, then how can you be sure that any of it is correct, maybe there is more that is wrong. And if one cannot study, then how does one learn? My Bible tells me that God will lead us into all truth. And also the scriptures is from God written by holy men of God, as he moved them. So if Paul could not correctly write that scripture, then how is any to be believed. Just a very sure sign of the blind leading the blind.

        • Tresa,
          It was not Steve’s intention to show that scripture is incorrect. Just that we have incorrectly used it as the Lord intended it. If You think KJV is always correct maybe you should return and speak to the 1611 Anglican translators and ask them if they have any motives.

          • Hi, Jose
            Thank you for clearing this up. It is not that it is incorrect, but we have been incorrectly using it as the Lord intended. Am I correct in my reading of your statement? Because you see this is where I am on the subject, there is a lot of false teaching, the blind leading the blind and yes wolves in sheep’s clothing that have many motives for deciding. And if we can not study to show ourselves approved. Then the statement Steve is making would not be accurate as well because this would mean he does not study to show himself and he is not rightly dividing the word. As so many others. I would love to speak to the translators. I would like to know what makes them an expert? Or you or Steve or any other that talks about the Holy
            Scriptures?. And please do not try and impress me with your academic degrees. God will lead us into all truth. Not the so-called scholars. We would see it eye to eye. God is not the author of confusion.

          • Hi Tresa,
            I am with you that studying is good but the Church lived daily and walked with God without bibles for the first 1500 years of its existance.
            Much love,

  2. Very well done, Steve. I am married. I have the paper license to prove it. But I NEVER use that paper to prove I’m married. I live a life filled with the love of and for my spouse. My actions prove I’m married. While some may not be faithful in their married lives, even they do not turn to their paperwork to prove their relationship is real. My marriage to my wife is approved by her because of my diligence, earnestness, and eagerness to make every best effort to love her and demonstrate that love with corresponding actions. You, Steve, have nailed it when you say it is our diligence, earnestness, and eagerness to make every best effort to love God and demonstrate that love in our lives that proves we are Christ-followers approved by God.

    • Hi Jose
      And much love back to you.
      You say that they walked with God for the first 1500 years without bibles.
      I would like to point out that in Acts, Which is the time the first churches were being formed after the resurrection,
      Would you agree with that?
      Because in Acts 17;11 Says and they searched the scriptures daily. To see if those things which Paul taught were so.
      I would also like to point out, that even though the did not have the book as we have it. Did have the letters from Paul, Peter, James. John, get my point? And the thing is yes they walked with God, and they were in agreement because they were lead by the Holy Spirit.
      And the same as then so it would be now, if we walk with God and are lead by his spirit, we would see it eye to eye. Because God will not tell us something different, because one he would be a liar, and two one of us would be wrong. Only one truth. God’s truth. And you did not answer the question, how is it you are an expert?

      • Hi Tresa,
        They were Jews searching old testament scripture which does not pertain to us in the new covenant. The other issue the church today overlooks is that for those same 1500 years 97% of humanity could not read or write. My point is most Christians idea of hearing God speak today is reading the bible not so with the first christians. They had Rhema they talked to God daily they were much deeper than hearing sermons. As for expert I am not. My gift points me to the original foundation “CHRIST” and it my joy to uncover the religious systems bull.
        Much love,

  3. Thanks for the challenging web site. I have to concede the Bible did not die for my sin, neither does it raise me up from deadness to God.We should never ever discount the evidence that people are intimately guided and led by the Spirit without chapter and verse to back them up. It would be insane to say otherwise. Particulary in matters of guidance and mission.

    However, I will say that there is a standard that all things are governed by in the last analysis. Because by Gods mercies He has so moved upon men to record the things that can make the above possible and known.Thus we have our collection of writings we call the Bible. We would not know that God sometimes guides us by his Spirit directly if we didnt have the book of Acts as a referrence.
    We all know that what John said at the end of in his gospel; “These things are written than you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believeing you may have life in His Name”

    The real message and intent of the Scriptures becomes the Rheama word when some one by Gods Grace, comes to Jesus and He gives them his own Spirit to enlighten and enable them in their walk with him . There is objective truth in the scriptures, but it is hidden by fallen man, and only regeneration can overcome this. This forms part of the “Life” that John says is the result of believing. It is in direct opposition to the legalistic tradition of the teachers of his day. Of course it has its parallels today. To have such a standing before God and have experience of his leading and illumination is priceless. I can safely say this is not the exclusive portion of the elite who may have been able to go to seminary. Otherwise we would all have to go to such. It is right in certain cases and proper for people to have special training but it is not the the basis of knowing God. However, there are doctrinal systems and reference points we all need. Topics such as “Justification” ect must be understood by believers. This means that some formal study must be undertaken whatever the Church culture may be. We can’t just run our Christian live on expectations of immediate guidance etc. There has to be a grounding, without which we will be lost in subjectivity and expectation of the spectacular and will be immature. I believe there is a balance. Thats what God wants to lead us into.

    Without the writings of the apostles and those who went before we would have no focus or progressive view of Gods programme. There are those who have been especially privilaged to have received direct revealation from God Himself. We have the benifit of this written down as a Divine legacy.

    History has shown that we are the poorer with out it(written revelation) being available. Whatever the faults and weakness of the reformers might be, we owe them and those who were martyred amoungst them a debt of gratitude. It might be worth asking why the reformation happened at all, if the Church could rely soley on the rhema word to sustain it? Given that the scriptures where not freely availble and heard in free context in the established Christiian church at that time. Why was it, then that the early groups of protestants were possesors of scriptures and based their understanding on them- with the help of the Holy Spirit? We need both. The reformation was a major move of God without which none of us would really know Salvation in Christ.

    This is what they were persecuted for.(claiming authority of the scriptures above Church doctrine and claimed revelation) Once more in their thousands condermned as heretics. In the meanwhile the existing Roman Church claimed its appointed leader could speak ex cathreda? ie apart from the scriptures and be above contradiction?

    Does it not (at least worth consideration) appear that, maybe God has preserved the scriptures, and in providence particular certain apostolic letters- across the ages? By the same token He by the same, decreed the erradication of iliteracy to a great extent along with providing millions of copies of the Bible?

    We except that the Spirit of God is omnipresent and omniscient, yet has in relation to man uses the message and content of this book(The Bible) to bring our hearts and minds to knowledge of Christ and the result of which is seen and read by everybody. I dont think God ever intended for us to be without an objective source of revelation of himself.

    In the apostolic era, it is sensible to assume that some of the church leaders would have access to and could read the OT. They would then certainly have spent time with their congregations passing on the benifit of this. Else, why would Paul quote from the OT in his letters. Why would he exhort Timothy to recall his knowledge of the scriptures and see them as being able to make him “wise in salvation in Christ Jesus” Alongside this it is clear, that the letters were copied and preserved down the ages.

    The Rhema word , is the message and teaching of the apostles in Christ, brought to the mind and heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit. It may have been through what was heard or actually read- but it amounts to the same for the NT believer. Nothing else can or should take its place in normal Christian experience generally. As said before we should not discount an immediate and personal guidance from God. I dont believe they are common everyday occurances though.

    The same abuses of Gods revelation(In respect of Biblical revelation) can appear today as at any time past. We have promotion of a dry and systematic version of Christianity. We have by the same token extreme subjectivity that gives rise to all kinds of execess and spritual ruin. Neither has place in Gods people. All would cite the Bible as their souce of authority though. There is wisdom in what Paul said in Romans 3;2-5
    “2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

    3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

    4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

    5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? [Is] God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)”

    My point is, that God can reveal himself and his councel, even though fallen man responds negativley to it. The Bible is not the problem rather its the response to it that is. I can make the problem -for one; by becoming smug and self righteous and content in my Biblical knowedge as a means of and an end of itself. This may get peer recognition and affirmation- and I have had my reward all ready. Or by chasing phemomenon and experiences rather than my putting a simple trust in God-likewise I have had my reward. What I will concede is that in the later a return to simple meditation, listening to others and study of NT has bought me back to order in some areas. I still have a way to go…