In her amusing book Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss bemoans the problem of poor punctuation in today’s world. To illustrate, she tells the funny story of a panda who enters a café, orders a sandwich, eats it, and then pulls out a gun and starts shooting. When a waiter asks him to explain his behavior, the panda hands him a poorly punctuated wildlife guide and asks him to look up the description of a panda. It reads: “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Having a comma after the word eats is an error that changes the whole meaning of the last sentence. The words shoots and leaves become actions, instead of plants to eat.

This idea of being careful with language is important in Bible study as well. Paul described this process as “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The phrase translated “rightly dividing” was used of a skilled craftsman cutting something straight. In the context of Bible study, it means taking the time for diligent and careful study, while prayerfully asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It means teaching the truth directly and correctly. Accurately discerning and passing on God’s truth must be the priority of every conscientious believer.