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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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1. In OT ( ’ĕmeth, ’ĕmûnâh ). Firmness or stability is the fundamental idea of the root, and to this radical thought most of the uses of the Heb. nouns may be traced. Often they signify truth in the common meaning of the word, the correspondence, viz., between speech and fact ( Deuteronomy 13:14 , Proverbs 12:17 ). At first the standards of veracity were low ( Genesis 12:11 ff; Genesis 20:2 ff; Genesis 26:7 ff; Genesis 27:18 ff. etc.); but truthfulness in witness-bearing is a commandment of the Decalogue ( Exodus 20:18 ), and from the prophetic age onwards falsehood of every kind is recognized as a grave sin ( Hosea 4:2 , Psalms 59:12 , Proverbs 12:22 ). See, further, Lie. Sometimes ‘truth’ denotes justice as administered by a ruler or a judge ( Exodus 18:21 , Proverbs 20:28 ), and, in particular, by the Messianic King ( Psalms 45:4 , Isaiah 42:3 ). Frequently it denotes faithfulness, especially the faithfulness of a man to God ( 2 Kings 20:3 ) and of God to men ( Genesis 32:10 ). When God is described as a ‘God of truth,’ His faithfulness to His promises may be especially in view ( Psalms 31:5 ). But not far away is the sense of ‘living reality’ in distinction from the ‘lying vanities’ in which those trust to whom Jahweh is unknown ( Psalms 31:6 ; cf. Deuteronomy 32:4 ). In some later canonical writings there appears a use of ‘truth’ or ‘the truth’ as equivalent to Divine revelation ( Daniel 8:12 ; Daniel 9:13 ), or as a synonym for the ‘wisdom’ in which the true philosophy of life consists ( Proverbs 23:23 ). In the Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] books this use becomes frequent ( 1Es 4:33 ff., Wis 3:9 , Sir 4:28 etc.).

2. In NT ( alçtheia ). The Gr. word (which is employed in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] to render both ’ĕmeth and ’ĕmûnâh ) has the fundamental meaning of reality , as opposed to mere appearance or false pretence. From this the sense of veracity comes quite naturally; and veracity finds a high place among the NT virtues. The OT law forbade the bearing of false witness against one’s neighbour; the law of Christ enjoins truth-speaking in all social intercourse ( Ephesians 4:25 ), and further demands that this truth-speaking shall be animated by love ( Ephesians 4:15 ; cf. Ephesians 4:25 ‘for we are members one of another’).

Special attention must be paid to some distinctive employments of the word. ( a ) In the Pauline writings there is a constant use of ‘the truth’ to describe God’s will as revealed primarily to the reason and conscience of the natural man ( Romans 1:18 ; Romans 1:25 ), but especially in the gospel of Jesus Christ ( 2 Corinthians 4:2 , Galatians 3:1 etc.). ‘The truth’ thus becomes synonymous with ‘the gospel’ ( Ephesians 1:13 ; cf. Galatians 2:5 ; Galatians 2:14 etc., where ‘the truth of the gospel’ evidently means the truth declared in the gospel). In the Pastoral Epistles the gospel as ‘the truth’ or ‘the word of truth’ appears to be passing into the sense of a settled body of Christian doctrine ( 1 Timothy 3:15 , 2 Timothy 2:16 etc.). It is to be noted that, though the above usages are most characteristic of the Pauline cycle of writings, they are occasionally to be found elsewhere, e.g . Hebrews 10:26 , James 1:18 , 1Pe 1:22 , 2 Peter 1:12 .

( b ) In the Johannine books (with the exception of Rev.) alçtheia is a leading and significant term in a sense that is quite distinctive (cf. ‘light’ and ‘life’). To Pilate’s question, ‘What is truth?’ ( John 18:38 ), Jesus gave no answer. But He had just declared that He came into the world to bear witness unto the truth ( John 18:37 ), and the Fourth Gospel might be described as an elaborate exposition of the nature of the truth as revealed by Jesus, and of the way in which He revealed it. In John ‘the truth’ stands for the absolute Divine reality as distinguished from all existence that is false or merely seeming (cf. John 8:40 ff., where Jesus contrasts His Father, from whom He had heard the truth, with ‘your father the devil,’ who ‘stood not in the truth, because there is no truth in him’). Jesus came from the bosom of the Father ( John 1:18 ), and truth came by Him ( John 1:17 ) because as the Word of God He was full of it ( John 1:14 ). The truth is incarnated and personalized in Jesus, and so He is Himself the Truth ( John 14:6 ). The truth which resides in His own Person He imparts to His disciples ( John 8:31 f.); and on His departure He bestows the Spirit of truth to abide with them and be in them for ever ( John 14:17 ). Hence the truth is in the Christian as the very groundwork and essence of his spiritual being ( 1 John 1:8 ; 1 John 2:4 , 2 John 1:2 ). It is there both as a moral and as an intellectual quality standing midway, as it were, between ‘life’ and ‘light,’ two other ruling Johannine ideas with which it is closely associated. Primarily it is a moral power. It makes Christ’s disciples free ( John 8:32 ) free i.e. , as the context shows, from the bondage of sin ( John 8:33 ff.). It has a sanctifying force ( John 17:17-19 ); it ensures the keeping of the commandments ( 1 John 2:4 ) and the life of Christian love ( 1 John 3:18 f.). And, while subjectively it is a moral influence, objectively it is a moral vocation something not only to be known ( John 8:32 ) and believed ( John 8:45 f.), but requiring to be done ( John 3:21 , 1 John 1:6 ). From this moral quality of the truth, however, there springs a power of spiritual Illumination. The truth that is life passes into the truth that is light ( John 3:21 ). Every one that is of the truth heareth Christ’s voice ( John 18:37 ); if any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine ( John 7:17 ); the Spirit of truth, when He is come, shall guide the disciples into all the truth ( John 16:13 ).

J. C. Lambert.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Truth'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
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