In Scripture, truth is characterized by both qualitative and quantitative aspects. In the historical narratives of the Old Testament, truth is identified with personal veracity and historical factuality. Before identifying himself to his brothers, Joseph desires to test them by commanding them to send one of their brothers as a prisoner, to see if there is truth in them ( Gen 42:16 ). Both Joseph's brothers and Achan claim to be speaking the truth when they confess their respective sins ( Gen 42:21 ; Joshua 7:20 ).
Truth is also a quality used to describe utterances that are from the Lord. When Elijah intervenes for the son of the widow of Zarephath, bringing the boy back to life, the boy's mother remarks that now she knows that Elijah is a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in his mouth is truth. Ahab becomes angry with Micaiah, his personal incarcerated prophet, because the latter has given a sarcastic favorable forecast for battle. Ahab responds by saying, "How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?" ( 1 Kings 22:16 ; 2 Chron 18:15 ).
The Psalter describes truth as a fundamental characteristic of God, a characteristic that the psalmist desires to share. The wicked do not speak truth ( 5:9 ), whereas the blameless one speaks truth from the heart ( 15:2 ). The psalmists often depict truth as a quality separate from God, and which God serves by virtue of his nature. In many instances, truth appears to be personified. The psalmist tells God to "guide me in your truth" ( 25:5 ); the psalmist asks God to "send forth your light and your truth" to lead him ( 43:3 ); the psalmist asks the Lord to "ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth" ( 45:4 ). The psalmist desires to walk in God's truth ( 86:11 ). Indeed, the sum of God's word is truth.
Proverbs seldom speaks of truth, but when it does it defines it as a virtue that the person of God should practice. Truth is to proceed from one's mouth, and wickedness is an abomination to the lips ( 8:7 ); the one who speaks the truth gives honest evidence ( 12:17 ); truth is described as a commodity that one should purchase, along with wisdom, instruction, and understanding ( 23:23 ).
Jeremiah bemoans the fact that in Judah truth is absent. He tells the people that if they can find a man in Jerusalem who does justice and speaks truth, God will pardon the entire city ( 5:1 ). The Lord looks for truth ( 5:3 ), but it is notoriously absent from Judah ( 7:28 ; Jeremiah 9:3 Jeremiah 9:5 ). In Daniel, truth is an eschatological virtue related to the interpretations of the visions that God shows to Daniel. Daniel inquires of the truth of the vision of the four beasts ( Daniel 7:16 Daniel 7:19 ). The casting down of truth allows the little horn to act and prosper ( 8:12 ); the future dealings of the kings of Persia are referred to as the truth ( 10:21 ; 11:2 ). Zechariah commands his readers to speak the truth ( 8:16 ), and to love truth and peace ( 8:19 ).
The Synoptic Gospels scarcely use the word truth at all, while in John it is an extremely significant term referring to Jesus and his ministry. Jesus, as the Word become flesh, is full of grace and truth ( 1:14 ), and is the source of grace and truth ( 1:17 ). In contrast to the woman at the well, who felt geographic location of worship was important, Jesus states that the issue is not whether one should worship God in Moriah or Gerizim, but rather one should worship in spirit and in truth. For John, truth is ultimately identified with, and is personified in the person of, Jesus Christ. The ministry of John the Baptist is to bear witness to the truth ( 5:33 ). Jesus speaks the truth, and for this the Jews seek to kill him ( 8:40 ). This is because the Jews who contended with Jesus were ultimately of their father the devil, who has no truth in him whatsoever ( 8:44-46 ).
Jesus describes himself as the way, the truth, and the life, and as such he is the only means to the Father ( 14:6 ). Even when Jesus departs, the ministry of truth will continue because the Comforter, who is the Spirit of truth ( 14:17 ), will be active both in the church as well as in the world.
For Paul, truth is the message of God that all of humanity has repressed ( Rom 1:18 ) and exchanged ( 1:25 ) for lie, in that they have directed their worship not to the Creator, but to the creation. All unbelievers ultimately do not obey the truth, which is embodied in the law ( Romans 2:8 Romans 2:20 ). In Galatians, truth is synonymous with the gospel, which the Judaizers have perverted by requiring converts to practice law observance ( Galatians 2:5 Galatians 2:14 ; 4:16 ; 5:7 ; cf. Eph 1:13 ; Col 1:5-6 ).
In addition, Paul also uses truth to speak practically of the believer's deportment in following the Lord. Believers are to speak the truth to one another in a loving manner, as we grow up into submission to our head, namely Christ ( Eph 4:15 ). The importance of speaking the truth to one another is underscored by the fact that we are members of one another ( Eph 4:25 ).
In 2 Thessalonians Paul equates the truth with the believers' salvation. Those who perish do so because they are under a wicked deception, and so refuse to love the truth and be saved ( 2:10 ). Such people are condemned because they did not believe the truth, but instead had pleasure in unrighteousness ( 2:12 ). God's choosing of the Thessalonian believers for salvation came about by means of sanctification by the Spirit as well as belief in the truth. Interestingly, the term "truth" does not appear in 1 Thessalonians.
In the Pastoral Epistles, truth takes on the characteristics of a repository, or official body of beliefs, of which the church is the faithful steward and guardian. Salvation includes, and is likely synonymous with, knowledge of the truth ( 1 Tim 2:4 ). The church of the living God is both the pillar and ground of the truth. Knowledge of and belief in the truth prevents one from becoming entangled in erroneous doctrines, such as the belief that marriage is to be avoided, abstinence from certain foods is to be enjoined, and that godliness is a means of gain ( 1 Tim 4:3 ; 6:5 ), as well as the belief that the resurrection is past ( 2 Tim 2:18 ). Paul further encourages Timothy to guard the truth, which the Holy Spirit has entrusted to him ( 2 Tim 1:14 ). The Scriptures are themselves the word of truth ( 2 Tim 2:15 ). Individuals who oppose God and naively listen to others (i.e., Jannes and Jambres, Pharaoh's two magicians) never arrive at the truth, and, in fact, actually oppose it ( 2 Tim 3:7-8 ). Paul informs Titus that the knowledge of the truth goes along with the furtherance of faith and with godliness ( Titus 1:1 ). Paul informs both Timothy and Titus that the only alternative to the truth is to believe in myths ( 2 Tim 4:4 ; Titus 1:14 ).
While the term "truth" appears only sporadically in most of the General Epistles, it appears repeatedly throughout the Johannine epistles. To claim to have fellowship with God, and to walk in darkness, is not to live according to the truth ( 1 John 1:6 ). To claim sinlessness for the believer is to practice self-deceit and thus be void of truth ( 1 John 1:8 ). The basic message of Christianity is termed "the truth, " and believers know the truth, and can discern that no lie is of the truth ( 1 John 2:4 1 John 2:21 ). Believers are to love in both deed and in truth (i.e., "truly" 1 John 3:18 ). Believers are of the truth, which no doubt means that they belong to Jesus, who is the truth ( 1 John 3:19 ). Likewise, the fact that we are of God allows us to know the spirit (Holy Spirit?) of truth, and to discern it from the spirit of error ( 1 John 4:6 ). The truth abides with us forever ( 2 John 2 ), and the Elder rejoices because the elect lady's children follow the truth ( 2 John 4 ; cf. also 3 John 4 ). Further references in 3 John indicate that the Elder refers to Jesus Christ as "the truth" ( 3 John 1:3 3 John 1:4 3 John 1:8 3 John 1:12 ). Interestingly, the term "truth" does not occur in Revelation.
Andrew L. Smith
Bibliography. S. Aalen, Studia Evangelica2 (1964): 3-24; J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language; R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to St. John; I. Jepsen, TDOT, 1:292-323; L. J. Kuyper, Interp18 (1964): 3-19; E. T. Ramsdell, JPOS31 (1951): 264-73; V. H. Stanton, Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, 4:816-20; D. J. Theron, Ev Q26 (1954): 3-18.
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Used in various senses in Scripture. In Proverbs 12:17 Proverbs 12:19 , it denotes that which is opposed to falsehood. In Isaiah 59:14 Isaiah 59:15 , Jeremiah 7:28 , it means fidelity or truthfulness. The doctrine of Christ is called "the truth of the gospel" ( Galatians 2:5 ), "the truth" ( 2 Timothy 3:7 ; 4:4 ). Our Lord says of himself, "I am the way, and the truth" ( John 14:6 ).
trooth (`emeth, emunah, primary idea of "firmness," "stability" (compare Exodus 17:12), hence "constancy," "faithfulness," etc.; the Septuagint's Apocrypha and the New Testament, aletheia (Romans 3:7), pistis (Romans 3:3); in adjectival and adverbial sense, "in truth," "of a truth," "faithful," etc.; alethos (Luke 21:3; John 6:14; 7:40; 1 Thessalonians 2:13); alethinos (John 17:3); ontos (1 Corinthians 14:25); pistos (1 Timothy 3:1); in the King James Version; the Revised Version (British and American), the American Standard Revised Version, as generally, "faithful"; Anglo-Saxon:
treow, tryw with Teutonic stem, trau-, "to believe," "to keep faith"):
II. GENERAL VIEW
1. Aspects of Truth
2. Standards of Truth
3. Special Features in Biblical Writings
III. ANALYTICAL SUMMARY
1. Truth in God
2. Truth in Man
3. Truth in Religion
The English word has developed and maintained the broadest, most general and varied usage, going beyond both Hebrew and Greek, which were already extended in connotation. It is possible to analyze and classify the special applications of the term almost indefinitely, using other terms to indicate specific meanings in special connections, e.g. loyalty (Judges 9:15); honesty (Exodus 18:21); fidelity (Deuteronomy 32:4); justice (Romans 2:2); uprightness (Isaiah 38:3); faith (Isaiah 26:2); righteousness (Psalms 85:10); reality (John 17:19); veracity (Genesis 42:16). It is unfortunate that translators have generally adhered to single terms to represent the original words. On the other hand, they have sometimes introduced words not represented in the original, and thus unduly limited the meaning. An example is Ephesians 4:15, where the original meaning "being true," i.e. in all respects, is narrowed to "speaking the truth."
II. General View.
No term is more familiar and none more difficult of definition.
With applications in every phase of life and thought the word has varying general senses which may be classified as:
1. Aspects of Truth:
Ontological truth, i.e. accurate and adequate idea of existence as ultimate reality. In this sense it is a term of metaphysics, and will be differently defined according to the type of philosophical theory accepted. This aspect of truth is never primary in Scripture unless in the question of Pilate (John 18:38). He had so far missed the profound ethical sense in which Jesus used the word that Jesus did not at all answer him, nor, indeed, does Pilate seem to have expected any reply to what was probably only the contemptuous thrust of a skeptical attitude. In Proverbs where, if at all, we might look for the abstract idea, we find rather the practical apprehension of the true meaning and method of life (23:23). Ontological reality and possible ideas of reality apprehending it are obviously presupposed in all Scripture. There is objective reality on which subjective ideas depend for their validity; and all knowing is knowledge of reality. There is also in the whole of Scripture a subjective idea, the product of revelation or inspiration in some form of working, that constitutes an ideal to be realized objectively. The Kingdom of God, for example, is the formative idea of Scripture teaching. In a definite sense the kingdom exists and still it is to be created. It must be kept in mind, however, that only vaguely and indirectly does truth have abstract, meta-physical meaning to the Biblical writers. For John it approaches this, but the primary interest is always concrete.
Logical truth is expressive of the relation between the knower and that which is known, and depends upon the arrangement of ideas with reference to a central or composite idea. Truth in this sense involves the correspondence of concepts with facts. While this meaning of truth is involved in Scripture, it is not the primary meaning anywhere, save in a practical religious application, as in Ephesians 4:21; 1 John 2:4,21.
Moral truth is correspondence of expression with inner conception. Taken in its full meaning of correspondence of idea with fact, of expression with thought and with intention, of concrete reality with ideal type, this is the characteristic sense of the word in the Scriptures. Here the aim of religion is to relate man to God in accordance with truth. In apprehension man is to know God and His order as they are in fact and in idea. In achievement, man is to make true in his own experience the idea of God that is given to him. Truth is thus partly to be apprehended and partly to be produced. The emphatically characteristic teaching of Christianity is that the will to produce truth, to do the will of God, is the requisite attitude for apprehending the truth. This teaching of Jesus in John 7:17 is in accord with the entire teaching of the Bible. Ephesians 1:18 suggests the importance of right attitude for learning, while 4:18 shows the effect of a wrong attitude in ignorance of vital truth.
Religious truth is a term frequently met in modern literature, but it has no sound basis in reason and it has none at all in the Bible. All truth is ultimately religious and only in a superficial way can religious truth be spoken of as an independent conception. Least of all can religious truth and scientific truth be at variance.
2. Standards of Truth:
Philosophy has continuously tried to find tests for truth, and so has wrought out theories of knowledge--epistemologies, Not to go back into the Greek philosophy, we have in modern times such theories as (1) the Kantian, (2) the scholastic, (3) the Hegelian, (4) the pragmatic, (5) that of the "new realism"; and these include only such as may be defined with some clearness, for the tendencies of current thought have been toward confusion concerning all standards of truth and reality, and so toward widespread agnosticism and skepticism. This temper has, naturally, reacted on thinking in practical ethics and upon the sanctions of religion. There is thus in religion and morals a tendency to obscure the distinction between what is and what ought to be.
See AUTHORITY; ETHICS; PHILOSOPHY; RIGHT; SIN.
In the Bible, the known will of God is final for man as a standard of truth, not as arbitrary, but as expressive of God's nature. God's nature is all-comprehensive of fact and goodness, and so is, all and in all, the source, support and objective of all concrete being. The will of God thus reveals, persuades to and achieves the ideals and ends of complete existence. The term "truth" is sometimes, therefore, nearly equivalent to the revealed will of God.
3. Special Features in Biblical Writings:
(1) The Old Testament uses the term "truth" primarily of God and applies the principle to man. The practical objective is ever prominent.
(2) The Synoptic Gospels and Ac use the term chiefly in popular idiomatic phrases "of a truth," "in truth," "surely" (compare Luke 22:59; Acts 4:27). In Matthew 22:16 there is a more serious and comprehensive application, but it is in the flattering words of Pharisaic hypocrisy (compare Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21). To be sure, we are to understand that even in the phrases of common speech Jesus employed the term in all seriousness (Luke 4:25; 9:27).
(3) In Paul the sense of divine faithfulness, as in the Old Testament, is occasionally met (Romans 3:3,7; 15:8). Again the term emphasizes sincerity (1 Corinthians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 7:14). Generally it has direct or clearly implied reference to God's revelation in Jesus Christ with a view to redeeming men. In a general way the term is thus equivalent to the gospel, but there is never identification of the two terms (see Romans 2:8; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:15). In Galatians 2:5; 5:7, "the truth of the gospel" is its content in the purpose of God, in contrast with misconceptions of it:
the true gospel as against false representations of the gospel.
(4) In the Johannine writings we find occasionally the emphatic phrase of genuineness (1John 3:18; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1) and emphatic reality (John 8:46; 16:7). In Revelation we have "true" in the sense of trustworthy, because ultimately real or in accord with ultimate reality (3:7,14; 6:10; 15:3; 19:9,11, etc.). Generally, as in the Gospel, we approach more nearly than elsewhere in Scripture a metaphysical use, yet always with the practical religious end dominant. Truth is reality in relation to the vital interests of the soul. It is primarily something to be realized and done, rather than something to be learned or known. In the largest aspect it is God's nature finding expression in His creation, in revelation, in Jesus Christ in whom "grace and truth came" (John 1:17), and finally in man apprehending, accepting and practically realizing the essential values of life, which are the will of God (John 1:14; 8:32; 17:19; 18:37; 1 John 2:21; 3:19). Truth is personalized in Jesus Christ. He truly expresses God, presents the true ideal of man, in Himself summarizes the harmony of existence and becomes the agent for unifying the disordered world. Hence, He is the Truth (John 14:6), the true expression (Logos, John 1:1) of God. See the same idea without the terminology in Paul (Colossians 1:14; 2:9). Similarly, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth because His function is to guide into all truth (John 16:13; 1 John 2:27; 5:7).
(5) It is understood by many that in James, Peter, Hebrews, and possibly the Pastoral Epistles, the term connotes "the body of Christian teaching" (compare James 1:18; 3:14; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 10:26; 1 Timothy 3:15). The use of the article here cannot be conclusive, and instead of "the body of Christian teaching," it seems more correct to understand the reality of life values as represented in the gospel plan of salvation and of living. In a general way this would include "the body of Christian teaching," but the reference would be less concrete. James is too early a writing to employ the term in this so specific a sense.
III. Analytical Summary.
1. Truth in God:
(2) But this quality is never given as an abstract teaching, but only as qualifying God in His relations and activities. So it is a guaranty of constancy (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 100:5; 146:6; James 1:17); especially a ground of confidence in His promises (Exodus 34:6; Psalms 91:4; 146:6); of right dealing with men without reference to any explicit pledges (Psalms 85:11; 89:14); a basis of security in the correctness of His teachings (Nehemiah 9:13; Psalms 119:142; Isaiah 25:1); of assurance within His covenant relations (Psalms 89:5; Isaiah 55:3).
(3) God's truth is especially noteworthy as a guaranty of merciful consideration of men. This is an important element in theology of the Old Testament, as it is a point guarded also in the New Testament (Psalms 25:10; 31:5; 61:7; 85:10; 98:3; John 3:16; Romans 3:23-26).
(4) Equally is the truth of God an assurance to men of righteous judgment in condemnation of sin and sinners (1 Samuel 15:29; Psalms 96:13; Romans 2:2,8). In general the truth of God stands for the consistency of His nature and guarantees His full response in all the relations of a universe of which He is the Maker, Preserver, and End.
2. Truth in Man:
As related to God in origin and obligation, man is bound morally to see and respond to all the demands of his relations to God and to the order in which he lives under God.
(1) Truthfulness in speech, and also in the complete response of his nature to the demand upon it, is urged as a quality to be found in man and is commended where found, as its lack is condemned. It is essential to true manhood. Here, as in the case of truth in God, truth is regarded as revealed in social relations and responsibilities. Truth is not merely in utterance, nor is it only response to a specific command or word, but lies in the response of the will and life to the essential obligations of one's being (Psalms 15:2; 119:30; Proverbs 12:19; 23:23; Isaiah 59:4,14,15; Jeremiah 7:28; 9:3; Hosea 4:1; Romans 1:18,25; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:10,12).
(2) Truth in man is in response to truth in God, and is to be acquired on the basis of a gift from God. This gift comes by way of teaching and also by way of the working of the Divine Spirit in the life of man. Highest truth in correspondence to ideal is possible only by the working of "the God of truth" in the spirit of the man. Man's freedom to realize his being is dependent upon his receptive attitude toward the Son of God. Hence salvation in its fullest idea is stated in terms of truth (John 11:3; Philippians 3:10). See in general, Psalms 51:6; Isaiah 25:1; John 3:21; 8:32; 16:13; 17:19; 18:37; Ephesians 4:21,24; 5:9; Hebrews 10:26; 1 John 2:27.
3. Truth in Religion:
The modern study of religion on an evolutionary hypothesis and the comparative study of religions have contributed to an extensive questioning whether there is any absolute truth in religion, or at least any standards by which truth in religion may be known. Isaiah 43 and 44 and Paul in Acts 17 and Galatians 3 accord with modern findings that there is an element of truth in religions generally, and that God's faithfulness pledges Him to bring the light of fuller truth to all men. This He does through the religion and the testimony of them to whom He has already come with this fuller light. This light is contained in the revealed word of the Old Testament prophets and of the New Testament witnesses to Jesus. In a definite way the Scriptures preserve these standards of religious truth. But always the attitude of the individual, as also of the group, determines the measure of apprehension of the truth and the certainty with which it is held. It is always important to keep in mind that truth in religion is not primarily an intellectualistic affair, to be cognized, but is essentially a voluntaristic experience and a duty to be done for the glory of God in the realization of the complete truth of God. Jesus Christ as the truth of God becomes the standard and test for truth in the religion of men. And this not in any objective and formal way of a series of propositions, to be accepted and contended for, but in the subjective way of experience, in a series of ideals to be realized and propagated. If anyone wishes to do God's will, he shall be able to decide the truth of religious teaching, and the Son who is true will give the freedom of truth (John 7:17; 8:32).
William Owen Carver
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