Titus: Living at Large (4)

How ironic if, in teaching others how to study the Bible, we misinterpret our foundational text. I’m referring to the often-cited verse: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15, KJV). It’s easy to see how this verse became a favorite for promoting Bible study. The very first word is “study.” “The word of truth,” seems to refer to the Bible, and “rightly dividing” suggests the need to do it right. And there you have it: “study the Bible rightly,” with chapter and verse to support – except the verse is not about Bible study!

As for the word “study,” you will know it simply means “be diligent,” and has no connotation of long hours at a desk piled high with reference works. What about “the word [logos] of truth”? Is the logos of truth a reference to the Bible?

This series is mostly concerned with the book of Titus, not 2 Timothy. Earlier, we learned an elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word [logos]” (Titus 1:9, ESV). But what is this word?

Our English translations render logos with everything from “saying” and “sentence,” to “question” and “book,” revealing something of its range of meaning. The word’s most common and basic meaning is “an expression of the content of thought” and shows up mostly as “word” in our English NT.

Closely related to what a word means is what, in a given instance, the word refers to. Looking up each usage of logos, we see a handful of cases where it may refer to the Bible. In Mark 7:9-13, for example, Jesus quotes two commandments from Exodus which the Pharisees and scribes were setting aside in favor of their own traditions. In doing so, says our Lord, they are “making void the Word [logos] of God by [their] tradition” (7:13, ESV). Here, “the Word of God” refers at least to the two verses cited from Exodus, and, given the way the Lord refers to “the commandment of God” in the singular (vv8-9), He may in fact be referring to the OT Scriptures as a whole. The logos of God in this case would be the Bible.[1]

In the majority of instances, however, logos cannot refer to the Scriptures. Mark records, “with many such parables He spoke the word to them” (4:33, ESV). Here “the word” is not a written book but a spoken message. We use this meaning of “word” when we shake hands with a speaker and say, “I enjoyed your word today.” Now we are ready to see a dominant way in which the NT uses the word logos to refer to the spoken gospel message.

“In Him you also,” Paul writes to the Ephesians, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13, ESV). This is one of the clearest texts linking the logos with the gospel message the Ephesians heard. Again, in Colossians 1:5-6 (ESV), “the Word of truth” is “the gospel” message which the Colossians “heard.” He wrote to the Corinthians, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor 1:18, ESV). Later in the same letter, Paul reminds them of the gospel he preached (literally, “gospeled”) to them (15:1, ESV). In the next verse, he calls the gospel “the word” he “gospeled” to them (15:2, ESV), which he then summarizes in terms of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

In Titus 1:9, is the trustworthy word which elders are to hold firm the Bible, or the gospel? The verb “hold firm” suggests the latter. It was the gospel which the false teachers were opposing, and thus Paul says in order for a man to be an elder, he must “hold firm” to the gospel. The use of logos in 1:3 and 2:5 (ESV) confirms this.

The same is true of 2 Timothy 2:15. We have already seen the NT define “the word of truth” in two instances as being the gospel. Let’s look at a third passage in 2 Corinthians 4:2-3 (ESV). Paul writes, “We refuse … to tamper with God’s word [logos], but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves … in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled.” Notice again how Paul links “the word,” “the open statement of the truth,” and the “gospel.” All three terms refer to the same saving message. Thus, in 2 Timothy 2:15, it is not careful dispensational study of the Bible which Paul is exhorting Timothy to, but the accurate handling and expounding of the gospel.

None of this devalues Bible study, of course. In the next chapter, Paul reminds Timothy of the importance of the Scriptures; they alone can equip “the man of God … for every good work” (2Tim 3:17, ESV). As for the future elders in Crete, they are to hold firm to “the according-to-the-teaching trustworthy word” (literal translation). That is, the gospel is trustworthy as it accords with the apostolic teaching written for us in the inspired pages of the NT. So “the trustworthy word” is the gospel, not the Bible, and yet we today get the gospel from the Bible. So, is it important to distinguish them at all?

Does it Matter?

Yes, first, for its implications for reaching the lost. Godly evangelists have taught us to quote the Bible in evangelism. We display verses on signs, and quote them in preaching and in conversations. This is a rich, biblical legacy. It is the Scriptures, after all, “which are able to make you wise for salvation” (2Tim 3:15, ESV). “The Word of God” refers to the gospel message in the NT, implying a second thing we must remember in evangelism. Peter tells us we “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word [logos] of God” (1Peter 1:23, ESV). He then leaves no doubt this “living word of God” is the gospel. “This word is the good news that was preached to you” (v25, ESV).[2] If 2 Timothy 3:15 teaches it is the Scriptures which make one wise for salvation, 1 Peter 1:23-25 teaches us the gospel message is the imperishable seed that brings it about. My point is simple. In employing the Bible in evangelism, let’s never forget to preach Christ. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35, ESV).

Second, if “the word” refers to the gospel message, there are implications for the way we minister to fellow Christians. Would a comparison of our ministry with our gospel conclude that we believe the gospel is important for the unsaved, but of little relevance to believers? The book of Acts is structured around the growth and spread of “the word,” a term Luke consistently uses in reference to the gospel. Yet, it is to elders, not novice believers, that Paul says “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32, ESV). If elders need the gospel, how much more do the Christians they shepherd? The gospel provides the pattern (1Peter 2:21), motivation (2Cor 8:9), and power (Titus 2:11-14) for Christian living. Norman Crawford described the letters to the Galatians and the Romans as “the gospel to Christians.”[3] Paul says that, in all our teaching, the message about Christ is to reside permanently among us, not superficially, but “richly” (Col 3:16, ESV). Let us follow the New Testament pattern and make the gospel not only our central offer to the unbeliever, but the central resource for believers as well. To say it another way, let’s preach Christ, Who is the Logos, every time we preach.

[1] For other possible uses of logos to refer to the Bible, see Matthew 15:6, John 10:35, John 12:38, and Hebrews 4:12. But R. T. France, in his commentary on Mark, allows only the last reference as a possibility.

[2] Peter’s switch from logos to rhēma in 1:25 is due to his quoting the Greek translation of Isaiah 40:6, 8 and doesn’t overturn our point that logos references the gospel. Similarly, see Romans 10:5-17.

[3] Preaching the Gospel, p11.