Word Study: Truth

This post is not about modern philosophy. What does the Bible say about this rich word?

Let’s begin. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and the New Testament was written in Greek.

Old Testament

We focus on one Hebrew noun.

The noun is emet (pronounced eh-meht and is used 97 times). Its basic meaning is faithfulness as in fidelity and trustworthiness. It can mean integrity. So God’s truth is tied to his character of trustworthiness. In the song of praise God is faithful who does no wrong (Deut. 32:4). God is always just and consistent. Therefore he is truthful. His word does not shift around or is shadowy. God is faithful because he has preserved his people from total destruction, in honor of his covenant with Abraham (Lam. 3:23).

Mounce goes on to say that emet “implies absolute reliability and complete integrity. It also denotes ‘truth’ in the sense of an accurate expression of reality, especially as it is opposed to falsehood (Gen. 42”16; Deut. 13:14; 1 Kings 10:6; 17:24; Prov. 14:25; Jer. 9:5)” (p. 234). Finally, the Lord desires emet or faithfulness or trustworthiness or truth from his people in their dealings with God and with each other (Jos. 24:14; 1 Sam. 12:24; 1 Kings 3:6; 2 Kings 20:3). “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts (Ps. 51:8). God’s absolute truth and fidelity and trustworthiness must be reflected in his people, from the inside out.

New Testament

Let’s focus on the Greek noun.

It is alētheia (pronounced ah-lay-thay-ah and is used 109 times). Truth is a major theme in the Johannine literature: 45 times.

BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun in these ways:

(1).. “The quality of being in accord with what is true, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness.”

(2).. “The content of what is true, truth.”

(3).. “An actual state or event, reality.”

So truth gained from the world around us is possible. Our beliefs must correspond to the outside world (outside of you and me). But it goes deeper than just the outside world. We must depend on God’s character and his Word. That is the meaning of the first definition. God is true or truthful or dependable, or upright. Everything else flows from him.

For good measure, let’s look at some definitions from the larger ancient Greek world. It has the negation –a– as a prefix (the alpha privative), and the verb lanthanō without the prefix literally means: “to escape notice, be unknown, unseen, unnoticed … unawares, without being observed, … unknown” (Liddell and Scott). So truth, at its root, is the opposite of those terms.

Those two lexicographers then return to the noun which we focus on in this study: alētheia means I.. truth; 1.. truth as opposed to a lie; 2.. truth, reality as opposed to appearance. II.. truthfulness, sincerity, frankness, candor (Liddell and Scott). So I.2 says that truth goes more deeply than appearances. And the second definition (II) links truth with character. It is interesting, however, that frankness and candor is a synonym of truth. This fits the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Maybe we could call it boldness and fearlessness.

Scriptural application

Let’s use the outline format for clarity and conciseness.

I.. Who or what is called true or the truth?

A.. God is truth

In Ps. 31:5 the psalmist says that he delivers his spirit into the hands of his faithful (trustworthy, truthful) God, a verse quoted by Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:46).

Is. 65:15 twice calls God the one true God, during the time of restoration of Israel.

B.. Jesus is the truth.

John 1:14 says that the one and only Son is full of glory and truth.

And in John 14:6 Jesus says of himself that he is the way, the truth, and the life.

C.. The Holy Spirit

Jesus calls him the Spirit of truth (John 14:17).

John calls the Spirit the truth (1 John 5:6)

D.. The Word of God

1.. The law of God is the truth.

In Ps. 119:43 the psalmist prays that God would never take the word of truth from his mouth and in a parallel line calls the word the law.

2.. Covenant and promises are the truth.

David calls God’s covenant and promises trustworthy, a synonym of truth (2 Sam. 7:28).

Isaiah says that God has not spoken in a secret place, but he speaks the truth and declares what is right (Is. 45:14).

3.. The Father’s word is the truth.

John 17:17 says plainly that God’s word is truth, and we can be sanctified by his truth.

4.. The testimony of Jesus is the truth.

In John 8:45-46 Jesus challenges his Jewish opponents if he they can convict him of sin? No. If he is telling the truth, then why don’t they believe him?

John 18:37: “Anyone on the side of truth listens to me,” Jesus said to Pilate.

5.. The prophets speak the truth.

1 Kings 18:24 says that Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and predicted that his prayers would be answered. They were; therefore his words were true, while the others were false.

In 1 Kings 22:16 Micaiah spoke the truth when he predicted disaster for Ahab, the king of Israel. It came true.

Jeremiah proclaimed to the officials of Jerusalem that God sent him in truth to speak all the words they had heard (Jer. 26:16).

6. The gospel is the truth.

Paul says that we, the apostles did not distort the word of God nor use deception. He set forth the truth (2 Cor. 4:2).

Paul calls the gospel the gospel of truth (Gal. 2:5) and called out Peter for not acting in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14).

The Ephesians were included in Christ when they had heard the message of truth, the gospel of their salvation (Eph. 1:13).

7.. The church is the foundation of truth.

Paul boldly proclaims to Timothy that his mentee should tell the Ephesians where Timothy was sent to know how to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim. 4:15).

That’s an amazing Scripture, and let’s hope that together—not one man—can fulfill that bold (and intimidating) identification and can see it happen each day. We depend on the Spirt and the Word to guide us.

II.. What do believers do with the truth?

A.. They must know the truth.

Ps. 51:6 says that God required faithfulness (truth) even in the womb. God taught him wisdom while David was in there. Amazing verse.

1 Tim. 2:4 says that God wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

2 Tim. 2:25 says that repentance brings about the knowledge of the truth in Timothy’s opponents. So repentance is a sign that people outside the church have come to know the truth.

Titus 1:1 says that Paul’s purpose to write Titus to further the faith of God’s elect (the church) and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, So after repentance we come to know the truth, and then we can go deeper into the truth, but this truth has to lead to godliness.

Heb. 10:26 warns that if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have come to the knowledge of truth, not sacrifice for sins is left. That is, only Jesus is enough, but if keep sinning, a fearful expectation of judgment and a raging fire awaits the enemies of God. A severe warning.

B.. They must seek the truth.

Jer. 5:1 says that the prophet should go around and about the city and look for someone who seeks the truth and deals honestly. If he could have found one, God would spare the city. Seeking the truth must lead to honest dealing; they go together.

C.. They must choose the truth.

Ps. 119:30 says that the psalmist has chosen the way of faithfulness (truth or trustworthiness) and has set his heart on God’s law.

D.. They must “buy” the truth.

Prov. 23:23 says we are to buy truth and not to sell—wisdom, instruction and insight as well. Those four mental virtues go together. This means that they must spend every resource, both material and personal, to get the truth.

E.. They must believe the truth.

1 Tim. 4:3 says that that those who believe and know the truth have liberty to eat food that others abstain from.

F.. They must love the truth.

Zec. 8:19 says that during restoration, the fasts and festivals will become joyful and glad occasions for Judah. “Therefore love truth and peace.” It is good to see that truth and peace go together and not truth and strife or quarreling.

G.. They must walk (live) in the truth.

Ps. 26:3 says that David has always been mindful of God’s unfailing love and has lived in reliance on his faithfulness (truth).

In 3 John 3 John commends Gaius for being faithful and walking in the truth.

H.. They must live in it.

John 3:21 says that if we live by the truth comes into the light.

1 John 1:6 says that if we claim to have fellowship with him but walk in darkness we lie and do not live out the truth.

H.. They must obey the truth.

In Gal. 5:7 Paul asks the Galatians who knock them off the path they were running on, so they no longer obey the truth—the message and gospel and doctrine Paul taught.

I.. They must worship in it.

John 4:23-24, the Samaritan woman asks Jesus a theological question about the right place to worship, whether Mt. Gerizim in Samaria or Jerusalem. He said a day is coming when people won’t worry about that but will worship in Spirit and truth.

J.. They must speak the truth.

Ps. 15:2 says that those whose walk (life) is blameless and who does what is righteous speaks the truth from his heart. This blameless and righteous living is relative to the wicked person. It is possible to be blameless and righteous in the eyes of your neighbor, so they don’t take you to court, for example, but can testify that you are a good neighbor. “No complaints!” This righteousness and blamelessness is different from absolute perfection before the literal presence of a holy God (Is. 6). God likes social righteousness and blamelessness, for people live in peace and harmony.

Zec. 8:16 show the prophet reporting what the Lord told him. The people who live in Jerusalem are to speak the truth to each other and render just judgments in court.

Eph. 4:25 says that we are to speak the truth in love to each other.

III.. What does the truth do for believers?

A.. The truth protects believers.

In Ps. 40:11 David prays that the Lord would not withhold his mercy from him and that God’s love and faithfulness (truth and trustworthiness) would always protect him.

B.. The truth guides believers.

Ps. 43:3 says that the light and faithful (truthful, trustworthy) care would lead the psalmist.

C.. The truth sets believers free.

John 8:32 says that if we know the truth, the truth will set us free. So it is not truth that just sits there, static, but we must know it. And then it sets us free.

D.. The truth sanctifies believers.

In John 17:17, 19, Jesus is praying the high priestly prayer, in which he intercedes for his disciples back then and all disciples since then. He prays that they would be sanctified or consecrated or set apart for service. Jesus sanctified himself, so that they too would be sanctified. Sanctification means total commitment from God to us and then from us for God.

E.. The truth purifies believers.

1 Pet. 1:22 says that by obeying the truth believers have purified themselves.

IV.. What do unbelievers do with the truth?

A.. They reject the truth.

Is. 59:14-15, in a startling description of backslidden Judah, truth stumbles around in the streets; honest cannot enter. People are too wicked to figure it out.

Rom. 2:8 says that some people are self-seeking and reject the truth.

B.. They do not speak the truth.

Jer. 9:5 says that in degraded Jerusalem friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. In v. 4 Jeremiah says beware of friends.

C.. They distort the truth.

In Acts 20:30, Paul admonishes the elders in Ephesus. He predicts that men from their ranks will arise distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

D.. They suppress the truth.

In Rom. 1:18, Paul begins to describe people outside of God and the truth. The first thing they do is suppress it. Paul then says the wrath of God is revealed from heaven for those who do this. The wrath of God is judicial, not flying off the handle or an irrational outburst.  See my posts:

The Wrath of God in the New Testament

The Wrath of God in the Old Testament

Do I Really Know God? He Shows Wrath

E.. They exchange it for a lie.

In Rom. 1:25, Paul continues his sad and disturbing description of unredeemed people. They exchanged the truth for a lie and worshiped the creatures instead of the Creator.

F.. They wander from the truth

In 2 Tim. 2:18 Paul calls out misguided church goers and two men whose teachings spread like gangrene and who have departed from the truth.

In 2 Tim. 4:3-4 Paul says that there is coming a time when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead they will gather together a large number of teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

G.. They oppose the truth.

In 2 Tim. 2:18 Paul also calls out teachers who turn deceptive and show vices. They worm their way into people’s homes and those who are swayed by evil desires. They are always learning but never arriving at the knowledge of the truth. These teachers oppose the truth—Paul’s apostolic teaching.

How does this post help me grow in my knowledge of God and his truth?

Truth is summed up and found in God and his Son Jesus Christ. And his character is good and dependable and upright and faithful. Truth is a character issue, and his character is perfect and complete. Stay close to God, Jesus, and the Word delivered by the apostolic community bequeathed to us in the New Testament.

1 John 2:20 says that believers have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of them know the truth. Mature believers can sense the truth by the anointing of the Spirit in them, more readily than immature believers can. However, every believer can know the truth. What is the direction of truth? The direction is Jesus. If we misunderstand who he was, then the truth will dim in our spirits. So the answer is to know the Gospels that proclaim him. And then we need to be filled with the Spirit. Finally, if our (seeming) knowledge of the truth does not lead us to godly living, then we are not following the truth. We are following our own desires, which we mistake for the truth.

Finally, we must speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:25). If we speak the truth without love, we are not balanced and we can scare people off. We can come across as harsh. However, please don’t confuse firm speaking with harsh speech. We can be firm and not harsh. Don’t let your opponents accuse you of being harsh and unloving when you are just being firm and taking a stand. Next, if we speak words of love without truth, then we can draw them, but will change and freedom happen in their lives? Will they live godly and faithful and trustworthy lives? We got to have love and truth. Truth without love is dry. Love without truth is squishy. Love and truth together are perfect. Speak the truth in love.

SOURCES

Works Cited

At that link, look for Mounce, BDAG, and the NIV Study Bible.

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