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Really, there is no way to “walk in the truth” without fully understanding what the Bible says about the truth. Pepper in this article on what the Bible says about the truth are several other relative articles on the truth.
In the OT
Term Hebrew ʾĕmeṯ occurs about 126 times in the OT. It basically denotes a reality that is firm, stable, valid, and binding. Hence ʾĕmeṯ is “what is true.” The concept has two main developments, the first in the legal sphere and the second in the theological.
Legal Sense In the legal sense ʾĕmeṯ denotes the actual truth of a cause, the authentic facts (cf. Dt. 22:20), or an authentic guarantee (Josh. 2:12). More generally, it then describes reality or authenticity, e.g., of the revelation in Dnl. 10:1; from this develops the broad sense of the genuine as opposed to the false. Already, however, “truth” also moves toward the ethical concept of veracity, for a person who tells the truth is a person of truth (cf. Gen. 42:16). For the most part, the context shows rather plainly whether the reference is to true facts or to inward truthfulness (cf. 1 K. 17:24; Jer. 23:28). Another extension is to reality in general, i.e., the normal and valid which correspond to divine and human order. Along these lines, the term can bear the more abstract sense of validity, of truth as a normative concept.
Theological Sense In the theological sense ʾĕmeṯ is used for the truthfulness of God and has a close approximation to “faithfulness.” God is rich in love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6). He swears “a sure oath,” i.e., irrevocably (Ps. 132:11). He will never depart from truth or change it (111:7f.). Yet ʾĕmeṯ also has a strong implication of righteousness, for God’s “ordinances” are true (19:9). They are so in a double sense. What God demands is right; He establishes and guarantees a righteous norm. But God also judges human conduct in a way that corresponds to reality.
A further implication is that God is the true God as distinct from false gods. That God is truthful in this rich and varied sense means that truth is also required of human beings. This demand may be for inward truthfulness or integrity (Ps. 51:6 [MT 8]), for truth as distinct from deceit (Mal. 2:6), for uprightness expressed in conduct (walking in the truth, Ps. 25:5), or for justice (“true justice,” Ezk. 18:8).
Two subsidiary developments are also to be noted. In Dnl. 8:12 the truth seems to be true doctrine or the true religion (corresponding to the true God). In Ps. 119:160 God’s word is true, probably in the sense that the written word (cf. Dnl. 10:21) is a true record of God and His revelation.
In the NT
Term Greek alé̄theia has behind it not only Hebrew ʾĕmeṯ, which it renders, but also a rich Greek and Hellenistic usage, especially in philosophical and theosophical application. One secular sense that finds fruitful employment in the NT is that of nonconcealment, of the disclosure of a thing as it is. But NT usage is determined by the OT more than by secular development. In particular, the abstract philosophical sense found in secular literature is not among the six main connotations in the NT (see TDNT, I, 241–45).
Validity In the NT the truth is, first, that which has certainty and force, whether as a valid norm (Eph. 4:21; Gal. 2:14), as judicial righteousness (cf. the adjective), or more generally as uprightness, i.e., practicing the truth. In all these developments the main emphasis is on truth as normative, with perhaps a hint of the Greek sense of “genuine” or “proper.”
Reliability A second and closely related use is truth as that on which one can rely. This use may involve the more objective sense of reliability (Rom. 3:4, 7, truth as faithfulness), or it may involve the more subjective sense of sincerity or honesty (2 Cor. 7:14). Either way, one can count on what is said or done. Truth is itself to be relied on, and so is the one who says or does it.
Reality Also closely related is the sense of the real state of affairs as revealed or made known (Rom. 1:18, 25). This is the meaning in words like “rightly” (2:2) and “in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). The Hebrew and Greek senses overlap at this point, although the idea of disclosure is more clearly suggested by the Greek.
Veracity The idea of the real state of affairs combines with the further sense of accuracy of statement, especially in phrases like “in truth, I tell you” (Lk. 4:25) and “truly teach” (Mk. 12:14). The phrases “certainly,” “in truth,” and “truly” (cf. Lk. 22:59; Acts 4:27; even Lk. 4:25; 9:27) also carry this implication, though they can, of course, become rather sterotyped. The Pharisees’ words in Mt. 22:16 certainly do not ring very true. Yet, they did, in fact, state the truth when they declared that Jesus taught “the way of God truthfully.”
True Teaching The truth which is taught is not just true information, and hence arises the further sense of true teaching or belief. This seems to be the sense in 2 Cor. 13:8; Gal. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:22. The preaching of the gospel is “truthful speech” (2 Cor. 6:7), and to become a Christian is to come to “the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). In 2 Thess. 2:9–13 the truth is the Christian revelation, in 1 Tim. 3:15 the Church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth,” and in 2 Pet. 1:12 Christianity is the truth.
Revelation Finally, the truth is divine reality, or revelation. This usage is particularly prevalent in John’s writings, where it seems to have a formal similarity to the usage of Hellenistic dualism. One should note, however, that John is in no way speculative, for his concept of truth as reality is controlled by the Logos as the living incarnate Word in whom obedient believers find and know the truth. Moreover, all the other meanings are caught up in John, so that his usage shows a rich and constructive ambiguity.
Thus, in 1 John, the truth of God in a person is both true reality and truth as distinct from lying. Again, when Jesus speaks the truth, He certainly says what is true, but He also brings the revelation of God. As revelation, the truth is to be known (Jn. 8:32; 1 Jn. 2:21). But this is more than formal knowledge of factual or theoretical truth. It is knowledge of Jesus Himself as the truth. He brings the truth in Himself (Jn. 14:6), and to know Him is to know the One who is full of grace and truth (1:14). This knowledge is by faith and thus by the Holy Spirit. Hence John closely links the Holy Spirit and truth. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and He guides into all truth (15:26; 16:13). His anointing is true (1 Jn. 2:27), and His witness is true, for, like Jesus, the Spirit is truth (5:6). To worship in the Spirit is thus to worship in truth (Jn. 4:23f.). This means supremely not worshiping in spirituality or with pure ideas, but worshiping in conformity with the reality of God revealed in Jesus by the Spirit. Yet, one should not forget that truth in this revelatory sense also implies right doctrine (1 Jn. 2:21) and right conduct (3 Jn. 3).
Practice The human practice of truth must take the form of a response to God. Practicing the truth is not restricted to truthful speaking, though this is obviously included (cf. Eph. 4:15). Rather, it implies a whole life and walk in truth. Thus all facets of meaning are reflected in the Christian practice of truth. This practice is according to valid norms. It has inner consistency and integrity on the basis of the divine faithfulness, so that it is reliable. It conforms to the reality of life in Jesus Christ and seeks truthfulness of utterance and action. It derives from and proclaims both true fact and true doctrine. It is rooted in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit, and it is thus an outworking in life of the knowledge of the living Truth (Jesus Christ) by the living Truth (the Holy Spirit).
And Philosophy. The truth as presented in the Bible is not to be confused with the so-called absolute truth or eternal truths of philosophical abstraction. Without the knowledge of God, human beings can evolve only approximate ideas of truth. To the extent that these ideas are based on the factual data of the created world, they do, of course, contain real elements of truth. To the degree that there is an original revelation of God in creation and in the heart, they may even say some true things about the being and nature of God. But the obscuring of God’s original self-revelation by human sin means that a person alone and unaided has no true and reliable data concerning God. Regarding truth in the ultimate sense, i.e., the truth not only of humanity and the world but of humanity and the world in relation to God, human beings can only build insecurely on such fragments as they have; even if they put them together in a fairly coherent scheme, they are dealing only with an abstract construction, not with the true and living God.
One’s limited grasp of the truth has wide implications for both thought and action. In the sphere of thought, even the true data and ideas that are available do not make real sense apart from knowledge of God; and because of the lack of true objectivity, relativism holds sway. In the sphere of thought, no genuine ethical absolute is possible apart from that knowledge of human beings, and of God’s will for them, which is enclosed in true knowledge of God. Thus humanity is condemned to relativism, to the rule of human law, and at worst to anarchy. Philosophical truth undoubtedly carries with it true ideas and some approximation to truth. But it is neither a substitute for, nor even a real introduction to, the truth as it is in Jesus.
And Science The truth as presented in Scripture is also not to be confused with the truth of science, or empirical truth, although the two kinds of truth do sometimes overlap. The Bible contains some information about the creaturely world, and it presents many historical facts that are obviously open to empirical investigation. But the data of the Bible relate to God and the world, not just to the world. The reality that is the Bible’s theme is total, supreme, and genuinely true reality, the reality of God. What God reveals in the Bible is Himself. The facts are not just empirical facts; they are facts about God. The truth may be equated with data and beliefs, but it is finally to be equated with God, with Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit.
In contrast, empirical or scientific truth is necessarily and intrinsically restricted to a narrower field. Its proper sphere is the study of creation, for it has no means by which to apprehend the Creator. To the extent that it is descriptive, it is true. Two and two are seen to make four, and they do make four. Such statements can even be seen as axiomatic truths. Certain causes produce certain effects. Regular patterns may be seen and demonstrated, and even general scientific or logical principles can be discerned. Within the sphere of strict creaturely investigation, these principles are justifiable and valid. Scientific truth ceases to be truth, however, when it advances beyond its proper sphere of observation and reporting to the sphere of attempted ultimate explanation. Science as science cannot deal with any reality except the creaturely. But to explain the creaturely in terms of itself is to be guilty both of making a conclusion out of one’s presupposition and also of ignoring a whole body of self-revealed reality, i.e., the reality of God.
Theological truth has no quarrel with the method or the strictly empirical findings of science. It adopts the same method and advances its own empirical findings in its own sphere. Its own sphere, however, is that of the reality of God in His self-revelation, and it cannot allow reality to be ultimately restricted to the creaturely. Theological truth cannot allow this because it knows that such a restriction is false. The real truth of creation—in all the senses of “truth”—cannot be known apart from or beyond the self-revealed truth of the Creator.
And Dogma The truth as presented in the Bible is not even to be equated absolutely with the truth codified in dogmatics or ecclesiastical confessions. But this distinction is much less sharp than that between biblical and scientific truth. Ecclesiastical truth is a coherent presentation of biblical truth, dealing with the same theme and drawing on the same statements. It obviously embodies theological truth. Yet two points are to be noted.
(1) A human element of rearrangement and restatement is necessarily and legitimately added. But this process involves the risk of deviating from the one authentic norm of truth, i.e., Scripture itself. Since the Church has to state biblical truth to its own age, the risk must be taken. The task of dogmatics in every age is to prevent or reduce the deviation in ecclesiastical statement and proclamation. Heresy is deviation to the point of error. But even apart from heresy the dogmatic statement cannot be equated absolutely with the biblical truth.
(2) Ecclesiastical truth cannot claim ipso facto to be a presentation in which Jesus Christ, the incarnate Truth, is known by the Spirit of truth. It tends rather to take the form of a body of facts or beliefs for acceptance. There is nothing wrong in this, for the truth does include true fact and true teaching. But the truth is more than a body of beliefs, which can be accepted without any real knowledge of the truth. The truth of God cannot finally be reduced to an intellectualized dogmatic confession which can be handed down by ordinary processes of communication. For this truth is God Himself, and God is always the subject of knowledge as well as the object.
Theological Truth Theological truth is, of course, very close to orthodox ecclesiastical truth. Indeed, a primary concern of a sensitive dogmatics is to safeguard genuine truth both on the objective and also on the subjective side. It does this on the objective side by remembering that the theme of theology is God Himself in His self-revelation, that the self-revelation of God is Jesus Christ, and that the authentic record of Christ is the prophetic and apostolic testimony inspired by the Holy Spirit. It does it on the subjective side by insisting that knowledge of God, even that imparted in true fact and doctrine, is always induced by the Holy Spirit in His true testimony to Jesus Christ. Thus the communication of truth, even in factual or dogmatic instruction, can ultimately take place only with prayer to the Holy Spirit and with a view of the glory of God. The mind, the will, and the emotions are all engaged, and all must be enlightened and moved by the Holy Spirit. God is known as He made Himself known in Christ and as He makes Himself known by the Spirit. God is the subject of truth both as its theme and as its active Subject, controlling its impartation and apprehension. Truth is more than information about God. God Himself is truth.
By G. W. Bromiley
Bibliography.—BDTh; CD, I/1; II/2; TDNT, I, s.v. ἀλήθεια κτλ. (Quell, Kittel, Bultmann); TDOT, I, s.v. “ʾāman” (Jepsen); H. Thielicke, Evangelical Faith (3 vols., Eng. tr. 1974–1982). G. W. Bromiley, “Truth,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 926–928.