2 Tim. 2:15: Orthotomeo
While copying out 2 Timothy in January, I was using the time as a personal devotional study as I went along. After a few bumps in the road, I eventually got the idea that I would translate this book for myself. Most others on this blog are translators. Although I trained as a translator, for a variety of reasons I have never been involved in a translation project in more than a passing way. So this time I thought that I would work towards a finished product.
The verse that has proved the most ambiguous so far has been 2 Timothy 2:15. In particular the word 'orthotomeo' 'ορθοτομεω'. I have decided to write about my investigation of this word in two parts. First, I will follow how the word has been translated and suggest some reasons for the different versions; and then I will trace backwords the possible origins of the word. I will try to talk a little about the tools that I am using as I go along.
Let me clarify that I have been working on the entire epistle but I will only discuss this one phrase for now. I am not looking at the verse out of context but I can only write about so much at a time. Here is the verse which I have copied from the online Greek Bible . I prefer to use this rather than the Zhubert site for now, since I find the mouse over dictionary on Zhubert quite distracting.
- σπούδασον σεαυτὸν δόκιμον παραστῆσαι τῷ θεῷ, ἐργάτην ἀνεπαίσχυντον, ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας
I also looked at the more extensive entry in the BAGD. I don't think this is available online anywhere. The first meaning in BAGD is 'cut a path in a straight direction.' with a reference to Proverbs 3:6 and 11:5. There is also mention of a synonymous expression οδους ευθειας τεμνω found in Thucydides and a few other places. This means to 'cut a road across country in a straight direction.' More about this later.
BAGD continues, "For such other meanings as 'teach the word aright, expound it soundly, shape rightly, and preach fearlessly see M-M." Apparently in M-M, which I found an oblique reference to somewhere, ορθοτομεω is compared by analogy to καινοτομεω, which means 'cut anew', but can also mean 'to innovate'. My overall impression of BAGD is that 'cut a straight path' is the preferred meaning for ορθοτομεω.
In any case, ορθοτομεω is only found elsewhere in Greek literature in Proverbs, as far as I can tell.
The most recognized and still occasionally quoted translation for ορθοτομεω is 'rightly dividing the word of truth' KJV. Using Studylight.org and Bible Gateway, I looked first at the major English translations for this verse and then a handful of other languages. Here is the list.
- 'rightly dividing the word of truth' KJV
'dividynge the worde of trueth iustly' Tyndale
'accurately handling the word of truth' NAS
'who correctly handles the word of truth' NIV
'correctly explains the word of truth' NLT
'who teaches only the true message' CEV
'rightly handling the word of truth' ESV, RSV
'rightly explaining the word of truth' NRSV
'laying out the truth plain and simple' The Message
'cut a direct path for the truthful word' The Source
'deals straightforwardly with the Word of the Truth' Jewish Bible
'cutting in a straight line the word of truth' Darby
'rytli tretinge the word of treuthe' Wycliffe
'recte tractantem (handle) verbum veritatis' Vulgate
'recht teile das Wort der Wahrheit' Luther
'dispense droitement la parole de la vérité' Louis Segond
Luther translates ορθοτομεω with 'teilen', which means 'share, apportion, split, divide'. It has occured to me that Tyndale may have misunderstood Luther's term. Possibly Luther meant 'share the word of truth', and Tyndale thought that he meant 'divide' the word of truth. The reason that I think Luther meant 'share' is that the French translation says 'dispense' the word of truth. However, Luther's choice of word is ambiguous. One problem with this is that I am not quite certain of the chronology of Luther and Tyndale's work. I was wondering if they shared some of their work before the published dates, but I don't know enough about it.
So there are four clusters of meaning, 'divide', 'share', 'handle', and 'cut a path for'. The Gothic translation, uses 'present' which will be clumped with 'share' for the purposes of this study.
Ann Nyland's The Source uses 'cut a direct path for the truthful word'. This is the only translation that uses the interpretation favoured by the BAGD, and it is one which directly mirrors Proverbs 3:6 in the KJV, 'he shall direct thy paths'. If this NT translation were intended to be read with the OT in the KJV then this would be, hands down, the only correct translation for this phrase.
At this point I decided to eliminate the meaning 'divide' as an aberration and share/dispense as unlikely and examine more closely 'cut a straight/direct path for.' Personally I rather liked 'rightly divide'. I thought that it meant 'parse correctly'. However, over time, I came to see that Paul probably would have considered such an understanding as one of those 'childish ways.' Much as I like it, it is time to move on.
There is nothing wrong with the translation 'handle correctly' other than the fact that it doesn't reflect the use of the term in Proverbs. Surely that is what Paul was thinking of and the translation should represent that if possible. I will write more about this later.