What Does the Bible Really Teach or Say About “Truth”?

REASONABLE FAITH FEARLESS-1

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What do the Hebrew and Greek terms that are rendered truth mean exactly? Is there a distinction between Greek and Hebrew conceptions of truth? In what sense is the Father “the God of truth.” What is the meaning of the statement that Jesus Christ is himself “the truth”?  How are we to under the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of the truth”? How is it that God’s Word is truth? How is the creation of all things a testimony to the truth? What does it mean to ‘walking in the truth’?

Past biblical scholars often overgeneralized about distinctions between Greek and Hebrew conceptions of truth, claiming Greek philosophical tradition understood truth to be static, timeless, and theoretical, in contrast to the Hebrew view of truth as practical and experiential. They maintain that, though Hebrew understanding predominates in the Bible, the contrasting Greek view is represented in the NT, especially in Johannine literature.

The tide has turned against this idea (see A. Thiselton, “Truth” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology). Increasingly, scholars now recognize that major biblical words translated “truth” (Hb. emet; Gk. aletheia) have a wide range of meaning, as propositional, personal, moral, and historical truth. Emet frequently does mean “faithfulness,” OT writers using it to describe God’s word and deeds. His word can be trusted because He is faithful and because it is true. The genius of biblical teaching is that all truth is unified and grounded in the faithful and true God.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Truth as Truth-Telling The most common meaning of biblical words refers to statements accurately reflecting facts, such as accurate and trustworthy witnesses (Prov. 12:17; cp. 1 John 2:21). Lying is the opposite of truth (Jer. 9:3; cp. Gen. 42:16). The people of God are to speak truth to one another (Zech. 8:16; Eph. 4:25). Jesus stresses the authority and certainty of His message in saying, “I tell you the truth” (Luke 9:27 HCSB; cp. Luke 4:24; John 16:7). John stresses he is telling the truth about Jesus (John 19:35), and Paul emphasizes he is not lying (Rom. 9:1; cp. 2 Cor. 7:14; 1 Tim. 2:7; Acts 26:25).

For Moses the covenant God abounds in truth (Exod. 34:6). His truth is eternal (Ps. 117:2). Human testimony can swear to truth by nothing higher than God (1 Kings 22:16; Isa. 65:16). Since God is true, so is His word (Ps. 119:160; cp. John 17:17; 2 Sam. 7:28; Pss. 43:3; 119:142, 151). Scripture is this very word of truth and thus should be handled carefully (2 Tim. 2:15). The gospel is equated with the truth (Gal. 2:5, 14; Eph. 1:13), and the truth is equated with the gospel (Gal. 5:7).

is-the-quran-the-word-of-god UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND TERRORISM THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM.png

Other Uses of “Truth” Because God’s word is truth, it is ultimately real and not ephemeral, as opposed to all else, and liberates men (John 8:32). Satan and men lie (John 8:44; Rom. 1:25) and enslave. Jesus is Savior because He is Truth incarnate (John 14:6; cp. 1:14, 17; Eph. 4:21). Now the Holy Spirit indwells believers, guiding them into all truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; cp. 1 John 5:6).

Yet people resist truth. Jesus implied this, “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:46 HCSB). The Bible teaches that believing truth is not a mechanical psychological function but is related to the human will. People choose the lie rather than God’s truth (Rom. 1:25; 2 Tim. 3:8; 4:4; Titus 1:14).

More than half the uses of aletheia and cognates occur in Johannine writings (John 16:7; 1 John 2:4, 21, 27). John uses it to refer to reality in contrast to falsehood or appearance but does not reject OT teaching on truth. Nor does John have a Greek mind-set. In fact, John 1:14 describes Jesus in His incarnation as “full of grace and truth,” a reference to the OT concept of covenant loyalty/faithfulness (chesed), now seen firsthand in the Logos as the genuine reality of God. In John 14:6 Jesus describes Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” combining a number of concepts. Jesus is the true way leading to life, and men should not come to Him seeking truth but, because He is the end of the search, the revealed reality of God.[1]

THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Ted Cabal

The Bible does not provide a systematic account of the nature of truth in either its theological or philosophical dimensions. Nevertheless, great prominence is given to the idea of truth in Scripture because God is the God of truth (Pss 31:5; 108:4; 146:6) who speaks and judges truly (Pss 57:3; 96:13). God is the God of all truth because he is the Creator, and it is impossible for him to lie (Heb 6:18).

All things exist because of his will (Eph 1:11). His will is the ultimate truth of every proposition or fact. Because of God’s will the stars continue in their orbits (Ps 147:4) and Paul and his fellow voyagers arrive safely (Acts 27:24), even though God could have willed otherwise.

Whether God’s creative power also extends to the truths of logic and mathematics has been the subject of controversy in Christian theology, some (e.g., Descartes and possibly Luther) claiming that two and two equals four only because God wills it, while the mainstream of Christian theology maintains that such a view is either speculative or incoherent.

While a general account of truth may be inferred from biblical data, the focus of Scripture is upon soteriology, the revealed truth in the gospel of God’s redeeming grace through Christ. This is the truth which Christ and the apostles proclaimed (Jn 8:44–46; 18:37; Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 4:2), which was foreshadowed in the OT (1 Pt 1:10–12), and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13). God’s revelation in Christ may be true in contrast to the OT teaching, not because the OT teaching is false, but because it is shadowy and incomplete in comparison with the NT. So Christ brings the truth (Jn 1:17) and the Holy Spirit leads into all truth (Jn 16:13).

The Christian gospel does not have a spiritual truth of its own, but contains truth-conditions familiar from other areas of human interest and inquiry, and embraces not only historical matters of fact, but metaphysical (Jn 1:14) and moral (Mk 1:15; Lk 13:3) truths. To restrict the scope of biblical truth or to contrast moral or spiritual truth with scientific or historical truth is a mistake. All truth is God’s truth, and a moral truth (e.g., adultery is wrong) stands in the same objective sense as the historical fact that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. The popular idea that there is a characteristically Hebraic mode of truth, expressed particularly in the OT, which is contrasted with Greek ideas in Christian theology, should also be resisted. The difference between Hebrew and Greek thought forms lies not in the idea of truth but in the conflicting ideas of God, of human need, and of the way of salvation found in the two cultures. When Paul’s hearers at Athens heard him say that what one of their poets had said was true (Acts 17:28), they were using the same idea of truth, even though they may not have fully understood the implications.

If there is a contrast at all between Hebrew and Greek thought, it is one of emphasis. Hebrew and biblical thought emphasize the personal source of truth (God and faithful men), while Greek thought emphasizes the truth of what is assented to or uttered. But even this difference must not be pressed too far since the NT frequently employs Greek words for truth without any modification.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

While the truth of God, backed by his authority, calls for a response (Rom 9:1) and is utterly trustworthy, defining truth in terms of reliability is a mistake. God’s Word is true, therefore it is trustworthy.

By extension from these basic ideas about scriptural truth, Christ spoke of himself as the truth. Scripture elsewhere calls upon people to “do the truth” (Jn 14:6; Gal 3:1). Christ is the truth because, being God, his words carry divine authority. They are truth and life (Jn 6:63). In addition, the life of Christ epitomized truthfulness and utter reliability. When people live in obedience to the truth, they are true and reliable.[2]

By Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel

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[1] Ted Cabal, “Truth,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1631.

[2] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Truth,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2108.

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