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Quarreling or Edifying? -- How to Discern the Difference
Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

The Point of Quarreling

In medieval England the crossbow dart, or bolt, used to kill or wound the enemy soldier was called a "quarrel". When, in the course of warfare, these deadly darts were exchanged back and forth across the battlefield with mortal intent, the enemy soldiers could be said to be "quarreling".

Quarreling, then as now, had no better goal than to destroy the opponent. The objective was not to educate, inform, edify, or otherwise assist the opposition to achieve a better understanding of righteousness. Destruction and ruination were the willful and purposeful end points.

This is why the New Testament use of the word "quarrel" in James 4:2 is the Greek word "to wage warfare", as in "to engage in combat by sword or arrow". It is the same word as used in Hebrews 11:34, Revelation 12:7, 17:14, 19:19.

Likewise, in 2Timothy 2:23 the word "quarrels" is from the root word "to fight". This word is also used in Acts 7:26 concerning the incident where Moses attempted to stop two Israelites from injuring each other during a fight (quarrel). Fighting (quarreling) is the activity where two people are attempting with purpose and will to injure one another, not for the good of the other, but for his ruination.

Therefore, when the Scriptures state, "But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels" (2Timothy 2:23), the quarrels that such "ignorant speculations" about God or His Word causes are warfare designed to injure the believer, not to edify.

How can the believer be inured with words? Those words that cause the hearer to replace good doctrine from the Bible with silly speculations about God, or foolish philosophies of life that are not explicitly commanded within Godís Word are injurious "quarrels". Those things that usurp Godís Word and cause the Christian to believe manís precepts over Godís commands are the most serious ways in which Godís disciples can be inured. The goal of verbal quarreling is not the edification, the building up, of the Christian toward godliness and holiness, but the tearing down of the opponent in an attempt to ruin their faith.

Are Disagreements the Same as Quarrels?

"I will not discuss my beliefs with you, nor will I permit you to talk to me about my beliefs, because we disagree and therefore, it would just be quarreling which is forbidden by 2Timothy 2:24." This would be the perfect mechanism to avoid ever having your doctrine corrected by another believer or to avoid ever being rebuked for your unsound teaching, that is, it would be perfect if 2Timothy 2:24 actually did mean disagreements were quarrels.

Such a faulty interpretation of Scripture makes anyone a superman, removed beyond legitimate rebuke or confrontation. A person could continue on in their errors removed from all challenges, and even able to level charges of "quarreler" at any sincere Christian who attempts to invoke Matthew 18. In this way, the sinner becomes invincible and unapproachable. May God prevent us from abusing His Word in this unholy manner.

2Timothy 2:14-26 is often cited by those who wish to avoid discussions about difficult passages of Scripture, or more to the point, erroneous opinions they endorse concerning spiritual matters. They simply wish to label as "wrangling" or "quarrels" all rebukes, debates, Matthew 18 confrontations, or meaningful discussions which take issue with their unsound doctrine.

Oddly, when they invoke 2Timothy 2 they fail to notice some important instructions and critical definitions regarding who is truly the quarreler.

Wrangle About Words v.14

The phrase "Wrangle about Words" is not a statement about debating the meaning of scriptures. No word of genuine scripture is without meaning, and no verse is useless--all verses of Scripture are profitable for teaching and instruction. The Word builds up and edifies. Therefore, the phrase "wrangle about words" only refers to "fighting over the precepts of men and extra-biblical texts".

"Wrangling about Words" is called "useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers". Since no Word of God leads to the ruin of the hearers we know for a certainty that the expression "wrangling about words" means to "fight about extra-biblical manmade precepts". Embracing, and even arguing in favor of manmade doctrines, does indeed lead to the ruin of the hearers and is indeed useless for true spiritual growth.

Be diligentÖaccurately handling the word of truth v. 15

We are not to wrangle about manmade words or precepts, but we are commanded to be diligent to study and to be accurate in handling Godís truth.

Avoid worldly and empty chatter v. 16, 17

Here Paul once again contrasts the difference between studying Godís Word and endorsing manmade precepts (which he calls quarreling and word wrangling). In verses 16 and 17 Paul calls "word wrangling" the same as "worldly and empty chatter". No devout Christian would dare to call a discussion about biblical interpretation "worldly" or "empty chatter". Again, the use of this phrase proves that Paul is equating "quarrels" and "word wrangling" with human ideas and worldly philosophies. This phrase (wrangling) is reserved for extra-biblical arguments about manmade books and the precepts of men.

Wrangling over extra-biblical words will cause these useless and empty doctrines to spread like gangrene throughout the church.

Gone astray from the truth v.18

Word wranglers are now defined as those "men who have gone astray from the truth". Not only is word wrangling a fight over extra-biblical concepts, but those extra-biblical concepts are defined by Paul as being "astray from the truth".

To summarize 2Timothy 2:14-18, "wrangling about words":

Caution must be exercised by anyone accusing another brother or sister of "wrangling about words". You may be falsely accusing your sibling in Christ of spreading worldly doctrines, imposing on others the precepts of men, causing the faith of other Christians to be ruined, and of having strayed from the truth of Godís Word. These are serious charges and should not be used just to avoid legitimate discussions about the Scriptures.

Similarly, 2 Timothy 2:22-26 provides additional insight.

Pursue Righteousness v.22

Instead of pursuing manís philosophies, we are commanded by Paul to pursue righteousness. This includes faith, love, and peace.

Refuse Speculations v.23

In contrast to pursuing righteousness, Paul commands us to "refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels." Notice that Paul does not say to avoid difficult discussions about hard to understand Bible passages. Paul calls us to avoid "foolish and ignorant speculations". These are extra-biblical speculations. These are precepts of men based on human philosophies or human creeds which speculate on things not revealed in Godís Word. In other words, stop guessing about the character and attributes of God and start relying on the Word itself. For the precepts and speculations of men lead to injurious conflicts, the ruin of the hearers, in short--to quarrels.

Teach and Correct Those Who Oppose v.24,25

Far from running away and hiding from confrontation, Paul tells us that the remedy to silence "quarrelers" (those who teach untruthful doctrine) is to correct those who oppose the truth. By implementing Matthew 18 confrontation, and by directly showing those who have strayed from the truth the errors of their manmade doctrines, then God may grant that these sinners repent because you have helped lead them to the knowledge of truth.

Coming to Their Senses v.26

After the quarrelers have been confronted by the righteous, and after the word wranglers who preach the precepts of men have been corrected with Godís Word, then "they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."

To summarize 2Timothy 2:22-26, regarding "quarrelers":

After studying 2 Timothy 2:14-26 it should become clear that the quarreler is the one who having embraced foolish and ignorant extra-biblical precepts of men is arguing with those of the faith trying to convince them to leave the truth to follow the lie, to the ruin of the those who believe their lie. These men are not in their right senses and are doing the will of the devil.

It is the obligation of all righteous Christians to refute and rebuke these quarrelers, correcting their doctrines with the Word of God. Challenge them to leave their lies and come to their senses, leaving behind their unbiblical arguments and to escape the snare of the devil.

And to those who would cast upon another believer the title "quarreler" just to avoid being corrected by that believer, be fearful of leveling false accusations against your brother. Remember, the context of 2 Timothy 2:14-26 is found also in 2 Timothy 3:1-17; in the last days disobedient men (quarrelers) will come who are lovers of self and pleasure, who always seek to learn but are unable to find the truth, and who progress from bad to worse. Lean not on manmade precepts and books but instead immerse yourself in Scripture, which is inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.

Identifying Quarrelers

One simple means of identifying whether something is a "foolish and ignorant speculation" that leads to quarrels (injurious warfare) is to ascertain whether the speculative doctrine is associated with a master/teacher who founded the philosophy. In such cases the name of the master/teacher is almost inseparable from the name of the "new doctrine". This is because the "new" teaching does not originate from a Bible passage, but from the mind of the teachingís founder.

When pressed for a biblical proof text regarding the speculative (and therefore foolish and ignorant) teaching of the master/teacher a disciple rarely quotes Bible verses that do actually show the philosophy to be true. More often, the disciple of "foolish and ignorant" speculative doctrines will state, "Read this manís book, it explains the teaching better than I ever could." Appeals to the founderís writings over appeals to correctly applied scripture should be a warning siren for all Christians. Contrast that approach to the study of legitimate doctrine, such as the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, where the only appeal a teacher can make is to the Scriptures in order to confirm the legitimacy of the teaching.

Genuine Disagreements and Edification

Edification, the building up and strengthening of each otherís faith, is the keystone of corporate worship according to 1 Corinthians 14. It is also the keystone of the reasons for spiritual gifts having been given to the church (see Ephesians 4:11-15).

Can we have disagreements and still attain to edification? Biblically the answer is, "yes". Indeed, edification comes in part because, as Proverbs 27:17 states, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." In other words, as two men wrestle together over the meaning of Bible passages, they learn from each other, even though this sharpening process can be painful.

Just as "quarreling" means to conduct combative warfare with the goal of destroying the opponent, edification carries the meaning of carefully adding to the other person for their benefit. Edification can take the form of a rebuke, a refute, an encouragement, an exhortation, an instruction, or a well chosen Bible verse. Even in rebuking someone, causing them sorrow to the point of repenting and casting off sin, edification is still a "building up" process in terms of adding to that personís righteousness; again, for the benefit of the hearer.

Quarreling is focused on the ruination of the opponent. And it is that very definition which helps us to understand that quarreling is not the same thing as refuting, as in refuting poor doctrine (Titus 1:9). For the act of refuting poor doctrine is driven by the motivation of edifying the hearer and the church body.

In the same way, quarreling is not the same word as "debating"--as in the elders and apostles gathered in Jerusalem and debated whether the Law of Moses was valid for the Gentiles (Acts 15:2,7). Debating is a healthy way to bring together thought provoking evaluations of the Scripture in order to identify the truth and unify the church body.

Quarreling is not the same as "silencing"--as in silencing rebellious men, empty talkers, deceivers, and Judaizers (Titus 1:11). Silencing men who rebel against sound doctrine is a kindness both to the men (in the hope that they will repent) and is an edification to the entire body of Christ.

All these things: rebuking sinners, witnessing to the unsaved, refuting poor theology, debating issues of whether to obey certain laws, and silencing those who deceive true believers are all legitimate activities endorsed by Godís word. Quarreling (literally "fighting and warfare with words") is wrong because the focus is on ruining the opponent with the weapon of impure doctrine, causing injury by means of unbiblical precepts, and is not focused on edification.

Fighting and warfare with words are ways of stating that at least one participant has stopped trying to legitimately persuade the other of a truth for the good of the other (if that was ever their intent at all) and that he is seeking his own good at the expense of the injury of the other (such as a stronger place of leadership within the church, to have a building named after him, or perhaps just to have his own preference satisfied in determining the carpet color of the sanctuary). In warfare, there is no regard for helping the other person escape sin, become stronger in the faith, or drawing them closer to yourself and others. The entire point of warfare and quarrels is to divide and injure.

Paulís Example: Frequently Disagreeing, Never Quarreling

Many years ago a popular Christian seminar speaker inflicted upon the modern church an unfortunate doctrinal error called "not giving an evil report". Sadly, this seminar speaker found the expression "evil report" in the scriptures and made an unfounded leap of logic that in his mind equated "evil report" with "finding doctrinal errors". Convinced that finding fault in any way with any Christian was "giving an evil report", this speaker persuaded an entire generation of Christians that pointing out errors of doctrine or exposing sinful behavior was itself sinful. The aftermath of this poor instruction continues on in the church today where those who would expose sin and error are wrongly labeled "quarrelers".

Note: "evil reports" in the scripture are "false accusations", and are not the activity of righteously and diligently pointing out actual errors of doctrine or sinful conduct which indeed should be exposed.

Paul was not hog-tied by such misunderstandings of Godís Word. Paul freely rebuked many men in person, by letter, in public, and even during church services. Paul rebuked entire nationalities. Paul rebuked individuals. Paul rebuked the doctrine and conduct of church congregations. Paul was not shy about challenging the religious beliefs of a city in its own public square.

In all this disagreeing, debating, and arguing, Paul was not a quarreler. How is that possible? How could Paul not be labeled a quarreler when in every letter he wrote (except Philemon) he challenged and corrected the doctrines of the churches, at one point even calling a church "foolish" and "bewitched"?

Paul was not a quarreler because he was using the Word of God accurately. Oh yes, Paul rebuked doctrinal errors in public. And most certainly he named names in public and in writing. But in all of this, his arguments were always based on the Word, not on manmade precepts. In all of this he never set up human creeds over Godís scriptures. Paul did not argue against the truth, he argued for the truth for the benefit and edification of the hearers.

Paul calls us to be imitators of him as he imitated Christ. Christ did indeed debate with the Pharisees and scribes, even insulting them. Was Christ a quarreler? No, because He delivered the life saving truth, even at the expense of insulting men and offending their feelings.

Conclusion

When the truth is delivered with love, that is, with the intent to edify, restore, and save the hearers, then the one who delivers that truth is no quarreler, nor is he delivering an evil report. Once this reality is understood the church can finally begin once again implementing Romans 15:14, "And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another."

Let us imitate Paul and Christ. Let the church admonish one another, correcting each other in love. Rebuking as needed to restore one another to pure doctrine and righteous conduct. Stop wrongly accusing the brethren of "quarreling", a word reserved for those who are the servants of Satan having strayed from the truth of Scripture and are teaching foolish extra-biblical speculations, ignorant of the Scriptures.

Insisting that Christians adhere to the precepts of men and to unsound doctrine that is based not on concrete Scripture passages but is founded on speculations is the essence of "quarreling". Quarreling ruins the hearers because it tears down their faith. Edification builds up the body of Christ. Let us reprove, rebuke, and correct the quarrelers so that they may come to their senses and return to the truth, for their benefit and for the good of the body of Christ.



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