The Eighteen Principles of Divine Revelation

Principle No. 4 The Right Division Principle

By Clifton L. Fowler

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


The principle which comes before us in this study is the Right Division Principle. When rightly understood and rightly used, this principle is one of the most important of all the Eighteen Principles. When wrongly applied, this principle can become most dangerous. This is true, however, of every good and worthy blessing. Fire, kept within its proper bounds, brings warmth and comfort, but fire, outside those proper bounds, brings destruction, chaos and death. The Right Division Principle has been wrongly used by a few teachers and has, consequently, been evil spoken of. This is most unjust. Why should we blame the principle which God placed in His Book for the extreme positions and extravagances of some men? Rather, let us frankly blame the men who have wrongly applied the principle. Shall I curse food because some men die of indigestion? Shall I refuse to drink because a friend of mine was drowned? Shall I reject the Right Division Principle because some men have perverted it and become faddists?

In one way or another, Satan attacks practically all of the principles of Divine revelation. His attack upon the Direct Statement Principle, which principle was discussed in "Grace and Truth" last month, is made through modernists, but his attack upon the Right Division Principle is being made by those who are otherwise apparently sound in their lives and testimonies. This is most sad and becomes the occasion of stumbling among those who are just coming into truth.

The importance of a correct observance of the Right Division Principle in the study of God's inspired Word can scarcely be over stated. To recognize this principle and employ it in meeting the problems of Bible study, means that the Bible becomes a gloriously open Book; means that difficulties which previously had disturbed the soul are dissipated like mist before the noon-day sun; means that the child of God is lifted from perplexity to understanding. To close the door of the mind to the Right Division Principle is to doom the soul to darkness. To open the door of the mind to the Right Division Principle is to let in God's own light upon the Bible which He has given.
The definition of the Right Division Principle is:


(a) Under which God distinguishes between things which differ.

The Right Division Principle is Simon-pure common sense. It is not theory. It is fact. The Right Division Principle is the Bible's demonstration of the common sense of God. That distinguishing between things that differ is nothing more nor less than common sense is declared by the Holy Spirit in Phil. 1:9-10. The Authorized Version is not faithful to the original Greek. The correct translation follows:

"And this I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all SENSE, that ye may distinguish THE THINGS THAT DIFFER."

The accuracy of this translation is endorsed by no less an authority than Dean Alford. In his notes, he gives a translation which he says is "more literal" than the authorized version. The Dean renders the important clause in the first part of verse lO, — "With a view to your distinguishing things that are different." This makes the teaching of the passage most clear. It is the business of the teacher of God's Word to "abound yet more and more in KNOWLEDGE and SENSE." The result of this "abounding more and more" or growth in common sense will be that the child of God shall be able to "distinguish the things that differ." The goal that the Holy Spirit sets before us in this passage is expressed in the simple words, — "distinguish the things that differ." Alas, how much of the so-called Bible teaching of today is only a futile effort to deny the God-established differences in the truths of the Bible. Some men deny the difference in the judgments, teaching a general judgment. Others repudiate the distinction which God makes between the resurrections, teaching a general resurrection. While others seek to tear down dispensational truth, that bulwark of the God-revealed ages, that heaven-given key to many of the Bible's most difficult problems. These enemies of the Right Division Principle may be able to muster some lofty names to their colors, but their teaching is none the less both destructive and subversive of truth. They call faithful followers of the Saviour modernistic, while they themselves practice the tactics of modernism. The inquiring child of God must needs go slow; prove all things and hold fast to that which agrees with the Bible.

As was shown under the Direct Statement Principle, God places somewhere in Scripture a summarization of the doctrines of outstanding importance. Eph. 2:8-9 summarizes the truth about grace; John 7:17 summarizes the truth about the Willingness Principle; II Tim. 3:16-17 summarizes the truth about the plenary inspiration of the Bible; and as we enter the study of this exceedingly important principle of Bible study, we find that God has not neglected this subject but has placed in His Word a summarizing statement of great clarity and perspicuity. It is II Tim. 2:15:

"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH."

This valuable passage is correctly translated in the Authorized Version, but the enemies of the Right Division Principle have allowed themselves to be most bitter, rabid, and unchristian in their denunciation of those who seek to humbly obey God's clear command to "rightly divide." Some have gone so far as to offer a substitute translation. One writer says:

"There has arisen a misunderstanding of II Tim. 2:15, 'Rightly dividing the Word of truth,' whereas the rendering, 'Handling the Word of truth aright' may better give a true idea of what the apostle meant — i. e., using it honestly, intelligently and reverently, allowing it to speak for itself."

The Greek word under fire is "ORTHOTOMEO." Its primary meaning is "rightly dividing" or "cutting straight" or "dissecting correctly." The writer just quoted insists that the secondary meaning of this word is the only one which will give a "true idea of what the apostle meant. But there is no ground on which this gratuitous claim can be demonstrated. The primary meaning of the word is "RIGHTLY DIVIDING." The primary meaning must be employed in translation unless some unusually strong grammatical, scriptural, or logical reason can be advanced to force us to resort to the secondary, or derived meaning of the word. NO SUCH REASON EXISTS! This man asks us to accept his spurious translation simply because his view happens to disagree with the correct translation. This method of dealing with the passage is so typically modernistic that we cannot forget that the same author has fiercely declared that believers in dispensational truth are "modernists."

It is passing strange indeed, that the enemies of this' important principle should furiously denounce those who accept the Right Division Principle as modernisits, and should then be forced to resort to modernistic make-shifts in order to support their positions.

But some one may say, is "rightly dividing," or "cutting straight," or "dissecting correctly," the primary meaning of this word? To this we must reply by citing the Greek authorities. Their testimony follows:

Young: To cut straight or right.

Strong: To make a straight cut, to dissect correctly.

Weymouth: Literally, "cutting" or "laying out," like a new road.

Worrell: Rightly dividing. Wilson: Cutting straight.

Thayer: Primary meaning, to cut straight. Secondary meaning, to make straight and smooth, to handle aright.

There the evidence stands. The correct and primary meaning of the Greek word "ORTHOTOMEO" is "rightly dividing." Our authorized version is accurately translated and the summarizing statement which God has given for the Right Division Principle remains unhurt by the attacks of its enemies.

Whe the simple beauty and rationality of the teaching of II Tim. 2:15 is considered, it is surprising indeed that any one has ever listened to those who would undermine its teaching. The command to "rightly divide," is but the behest of the Holy Spirit to "distinguish between those things which differ." Why object to so sensible and so scriptural a law? Men are not opposed to distinguishing between elephants and cats! Why should they object to our distinguishing between the resurrection of life and the resurrection of the damned? In recognizing the difference we are simply observing the Right Division Principle and distinguishing between the things which differ. Men do not protest when we decline to neglect distinguishing between the ordinary things of life. Why should they grow perturbed when the same careful and sensible distinguishing between the things which differ is carried into the study of God's Word? But whether they object or no, since God commands to "rightly divide," that we must do.

It needs scarcely be said that if we divide the Bible RIGHTLY, it must be divided according to its own clearly defined statements, for the Bible is self-interpreting! We must not seek unto men in order to discover the right divisions.

Here then, is a principle which is plainly revealed to be in the Bible; a principle which must be observed in order to be an unashamed workman; and a principle which has come in for special antipathy from the adversary because when properly understood, it causes the Word of God to open up to the seeking soul with ever increasing helpfulness, clarity, and blessing. We turn to some illustrations of this principle.

The Right Division Principle Illustrated by the Bible Teaching Concerning the Judgments

The truth about the judgments has been obscured to the confusion of those who have failed to rightly divide the Word. The Word of God classifies the judgments so that perplexity, uncertainty, and doubt need no longer annoy the mind of God's child. The Word of God deals with six kinds of judgments:

1. There are seven Dispensational Judgments.

2. There is one National Judgment.

3. There are five Individual Judgments.

4. There are two Judgments of the Spirit Beings.

5. There are two Earth Judgments.

6. There is one Universal Judgment.

If the passages concerning these judgments are mixed the most inconsistent and absurd teaching may be adduced. It is an unfortunate fact that in most of the Bible teaching of today passages relating to the Individual Judgments are confused with the passages concerning Dispensational Judgments, with the result that violent contradictions are produced. Young men just entering into the truth of (^od's Word, having minds that are quick and alert, readily detect these inconsistencies. They naturally assume that their teachers know their business. The effect upon their minds is almost inevitable. Their confidence in the inerrancy of the Word is undermined and their faith soon wrecked. Bible teaching which ignores the Right Division Principle does not commend itself to men who think nor to men of faith.


The Dispensational Judgments are so familiar that they do not call for a lengthy exposition. They are:

1. The Expulsion of the Race from the Garden.

2. The Flood of Waters.

3. The Confusion of Tongues.

4. The Dispersion of Israel.

5. The Confusion of Religions.

6. The Flood of Blood.

7. The Expulsion of the Unbelieving of the Race from the Earth.

These arc the terrific judgments with which God marks the ends of the dispensations.

It is the first dispensation, the Dispensation of Innocence, which is terminated by the Expulsion,— the mandate of God under which the original man is cast forth from the Garden of Eden. (Gen. 3:23.)

The Dispensation of Conscience starts man with a clean page and the knowledge of good and evil. Within a millennium and a half the appalling fact is recorded that man was only evil continually, and God terminates the second dispensation by the Flood of Waters. (Gen. 6:5; Gen. 7 and 8.)

The third principle, or dispensation, under which God tests man, is Human Authority. Within a very few hundred years man's perfidy and sin is revealed and God places His hand of judgment upon man in the Confusion of Tongues. (Gen. 11:7.)

The fourth dispensation is a national dispensation. In it God chooses a family which He develops into the Nation of Israel. This nation. His chosen people, are called upon to walk in His commandments, but they are a wretched failure. The judgment which manifests God's disapproval upon them is their Dispersion brought about first, through the fall of Samaria, and then the fall of Jerusalem. (Ezek. 34:6; Jer. 50:7.)

The fifth dispensation is the dispensation of the Body of Christ. This is the dispensation in which we of today live, and is called by the Apostle Paul "the dispensation of grace." The appalling judgment which is prophesied as marking the latter end of this dispensation is the great apostasy, or the Confusion of Religions. This judgment is stalking in our midst at the present hour. (I Tim. 4:1-4; II Tim. 3:1-7; 11 Tim. 4:3-4.)

The sixth dispensation is spoken of by our Saviour and specifically named the Great Tribulation. The judgment which terminates this dispensation is the Flood of Blood which occurs in connection with the second coming of our Lord in the destruction of Anti-Christ's hosts. (Rev. 14:14-20.)

The seventh and last dispensation, is the Millennium, — the personal reign of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, upon the earth, — the Kingdom. This dispensation shall be indeed, the reign of peace. But man shall yield unto the Saviour who sit-s upon the Throne of David, in many instances, only feigned allegiance, so that the reappearance of the devil at the end of the thousand years shall be but the signal for a general rebellion, and an army like the sands of the sea shall be formed. God's judgment upon the wickedness of man at the end of this age is the Expulsion of the Unbelieving of the Entire Race from the Earth. (Rev. 20:7-9; Rev. 21:8.)

That these dispensational judgments should be carefully distinguished from the other judgments which the Scripture records, should go without saying, but alas, many men follow an unbridled freedom in utterly disregarding the definite teaching of God's Word to "distinguish the things that differ," and to "rightly divide the word of truth."


There is but one judgment which falls under the next classification. We have called it the National Judgment. It is a judgment which does not take place at the terminus of a dispensation but which occurs at the beginning of a dispensation, — the beginning of the Kingdom. This judgment is a great assize in which our Lord Jesus decides which nations may participate in the Kingdom and which are excluded from the Kingdom. His decision being based upon the dealing of the nations with Israel. The full description of this remarkable judgment occurs in Matt. 25:31-46. A recognition of the national character of this judgment is the solution of the many questions which have been raised concerning this passage. The proof of the national character is to be found in the symbols employed by the Holy Spirit, — "sheep" standing for Israel, and "goats" standing for the Gentile nations.


The Individual Judgments make up the third group in the study of this subject as set forth in the Word of God. These judgments are of various characters involving different beings and occuring at different times. They have one characteristic in common. They are all judgments on the ground of works. They are as follows:

1. The Judgment Seat of Christ.

2. The Judgment of the Believing Dead of the Non-Church Ages.

3. The Judgment at the Great White Throne.

4. The Judgment of the Believer by Chastening:

5. The Judgment of Self by the Believer.

The Judgment Seat of Christ occurs at the end of the Dispensation of the Body. It is there that our Lord Jesus gives out the rewards for service. (I Cor. 3:i 1-15; I Cor. 5:10.)

The Judgment of the Believing Dead of the Non-Church Ages occurs at the end of the Great Tribulation and is also a judgment in which rewards on the basis of works are given forth. (Rev. 20:4; Dan. 12:1-2.)

The Judgment at the Great White Throne is a judgment in which only unbelievers come before the tribunal. It occurs at the end of the Kingdom age. It also, is a works judgment. It differs from the judgments of the believing dead in that in the former judgments God has designated the heavenly degrees which have been attained by His people, whereas, in the latter. He is consigning those who have rejected the Lord Jesus to that degree in hell which their works merit. The Bible teaches degrees in both heaven and hell. (Rev. 20:11.)

The Judgment of the Believer by Chastening is a judgment in which our Lord is as much the Judge as in the Judgment Seat of Christ, or the Judgment of the Believing Dead of the Non-Church Ages, or the Judgment at the Great White Throne. But in the Judgment of the Believer by Chastening, the Lord does not wait for a dispensational climax in which to manifest Himself. Instead He enters into the very event-s of the present hour in the believer's life, and in His love, brings to pass those testings, chastenings, and disappointments which He knows will bring His child to a closer walk with Him, increase patience, augment tenderness, and produce unselfishness and sympathy in the heart that has been self-centered and utterly destitute of the finer sensibilities and appreciations. (I Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:5-11.)

The Judgment of Self by the Believer, like the four preceding Individual Judgments, is a judgment of works, but differs from the others in this, — the judge is the believer himself instead of the Lord. God calls every child of His to rightly estimate himself, to see his own sins and shortcomings, and as Paul puts it, "judge himself that he might not be condemned with the world." (I Cor. 11:31; I Jno. 1:9.)

What a pity that there is so little adequate recognition of the distinction existing between the works judgments of the Scripture! It takes but little study to reveal what hopeless confusion would be produced by applying any of these passages to the wrong judgment. God Himself, has warned us of the danger in commanding us to "rightly divide the word of truth."


There are two of these Judgments indicated in the Scripture and the details concerning them are exceedingly meager. One is the judgment of the angels mentioned in I Cor. 6:1-3, and the other is the judgment of the demons implied in Matt. 8:29.


The Earth Judgments occur at the beginning and ending of the history of man as connected with the dispensations. In the first verse of Genesis we find the earth after having been created perfect, plunged by God completely out of sight in the waters. This is the first of the Earth Judgments. The second shall occur at the end of the Kingdom and the instrument employed by God shall be fire. Both of these judgments are set before us in II Pet. 3:5-7.


Only one judgment occurs under the last classification. The Universal Judgment is the Grace Judgment which God hath wrought at Calvary. This judgment is the mystery of the ages. This judgment is a vicarious judgment in which He gathered together all of the sins of the world and caused them to light upon the innocent head of His only Son, and then the judgment fell! Judgment upon the Innocent! Judgment upon the Guiltless! A judgment in which He cries out, "All of thy waves and thy billows have passed over me." A judgment so terrible that Jesus finds Himself hanging upon Calvary forsaken by the Father. Alas, alas, how few have entered into the mystery, the joy, and the blessings of this sacred judgment. Man's rebellious heart to the present hour opposes faith in this judgment. There is scarcely a text book on modernism but that somewhere within its pages a disparaging thing will be said concerning the actuality and efficacy of this, — the climacteric judgment of the ages. Have you, dear reader, placed faith in this judgment which God hath wrought in the person of His Son in order that you might live with Him forever? We call this the Universal Judgment because at Calvary we find Jesus "tasting death for every man." (I Pet. 3:18; Heb. 2:9.)

It takes little more than a casual study of this tremendous subject of the judgments in the Word of God to cause the student to recognize instantly the vital value, yea, the imperative necessity of this principle of which the judgments furnish so remarkable an example. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

The Right Division Principle Illustrated by the Bible Teaching Concerning Salvation and Rewards

This is one of the most important truths in God's Book. A failure to rightly divide between the passages which relate to salvation and the passages which relate to rewards, can but have the most deadly effect upon the Christian life. The difference between the two lines of thought is so radical that to allow the least mixing of the passages relating to the two lines of thought is but to fling wide the door to heresy and skepticism. Four simple. Scriptural facts concerning these two themes will instantly demonstrate the presence of the Right Division Principle in the Word of the living God:

1. Salvation is provided for ALL the world. 1. Reward is designed for ALL the saved
Jno. 3:16. Heb. 2:9. Isa. 53:6. I Cor. 3:8-9.
2. Salvation is a present possession of the believer. 2. Reward is a future attainment.
Jno. 3:36. Jno. 5:24. Eph. 1:3. I Jno. 5:13. Rev. 22:12.
3. Salvation is not of works, — it is a GIFT. 3. Reward is not a gift, but depends upon works.
Eph, 2:8-9. Rom. 6:23. Titus 3:5. Rev. 22:12.
4. Salvation cannot be lost. 4. Reward may be lost.
Jno. 10:28. Jno. 5:24. I Jno. 5:17.
Phil. 1:6. Rom. 8:38-39.II Tim. 2:13. 
II Jno. 8

The failure to apprehend the right division between these two lines of thought has produced in the life of many a Christian heart-breaking unhappiness. Some earnest soul discovers that in spite of prayer and earnest effort to walk with the Lord, some hated temptation is gaining an evil grip upon the life. Instantly that soul leaps to the conclusion that it has lost its salvation. This unhappy decision with all its attendant despondency and discouragement, could have been avoided if only the Bible had been rightly divided to that Christian in the early days of his experience. If at that time he had been clearly shown that it was indeed possible for him to lose something, but that something which he could lose was not his salvation. It was the reward which was to be his in the future and the present joy of walking with the Lord. Salvation is eternal. Salvation has no end. Salvation cannot be lost.

Failure to "rightly divide" between salvation and rewards is fatal. Because of this failure to "rightly divide" some have interpreted reward passages to mean salvation and have, consequently, taught that salvation was a future attainment, that it depended upon works, and might be lost.

"But," someone may say, "what is the value of this principle in the personal life of the Christian? It may have a practical value from the Bible standpoint, but has it a practical value in drawing the soul nearer to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us?" The answer to this inquiry is, the Right Division Principle not only illuminates the Word of Ciod but it strengthens Christians, builds them up in the most holy faith, leads them forth into a larger confidence in God and in His revelation than they have ever had before, and fills them with the spirit of evangelism.

A young man whose soul had been poisoned by the kind of Bible teaching which ignores the right divisions of the Word, was led by the Spirit, into contact with Scriptural teaching. He writes as follows:

"Thank God, for the simplicity, accuracy, and beauty of the Bible when rightly divided. I was plunged into that which was the equivalent of insanity by the seeming contradictions of the Bible until I saw the Right Division Principle, particularly the dispensational application of the Principle. The failure to rightly divide the Word of Truth by those who had been my teachers had left me without a God upon whom I could depend, without a reliable Christ, without a Bible, and utterly devoid of faith. The Right Division Principle has given me a thinkable conception of God, a gloriously reliable and dependable Saviour, a flawless Bible, and a faith that knows no bounds. Hallelujah!"

Copyright 1923, Clifton L. Fowler