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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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In the apostolic documents the simplest meaning given to ‘truth’ is that of sincerity. St. Paul, writing of the different motives that had impelled people to make known the gospel of Christ, declared that he rejoiced that Christ was proclaimed ‘whether in pretence or in truth’ (Philippians 1:16). The same Apostle called upon the Corinthian Christians to banish all insincerity from their holiest religious ceremonies. ‘Let us keep the feast not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Corinthians 5:8). Even in passages like these it is evident that ‘truth’ tended to acquire a deeper and wider meaning, passing from mere sincerity to conformity with the highest ethical claims. The standard of ethical truth was embodied in Jesus, who was set forth as the example to which Christians should conform. Thus St. Paul warned his readers against a life of lasciviousness by recalling the way in which they had learned Christ, ‘if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus’ (Ephesians 4:21). (This passage is sometimes taken as asserting the identity of Jesus and the Christ, but the old reading and interpretation seem preferable.) For the most part, however, the apostles speak of truth as equivalent to truth κατʼ ἐξοχήν, the revelation of God that reaches its fullness in the gospel of Christ. St. Paul made it synonymous with ‘the gospel of your salvation’ (Ephesians 1:13), and, writing to the Thessalonians, he described the Divine and human sides of conversion as ‘sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declared that for those who sinned wilfully after they had gained a full knowledge of the truth there could be no further sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:26). In the Pastoral Epistles this use is specially prevalent-e.g. 1 Timothy 2:4, ‘God willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth’; 1 Timothy 3:15, where the Church of the living God is described as ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’; 2 Timothy 2:15, ‘a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.’ While these various aspects of truth are suggested in the apostolic writings, it would be a mistake to suppose that the apostles regarded truth as consisting of separate entities; rather they regarded it as a unity embodied in Jesus Christ, so that intellectual sincerity, ethical purity, doctrinal enlightenment, and spiritual experience were all manifestations of the one living and true God. This unity of truth seems to be the thought underlying the general principle set forth by St. Paul that ‘we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth’ (2 Corinthians 13:8). No one has power against truth, for all truth and all kinds of truth are one in God: the only power is given to those who seek to act in the service of truth. Wherefore it is the denial of God to endeavour to advance truth by any means that fails to yield to truth in every department of human thought and life.

Truth was fully embodied and expressed in Jesus Christ, but before His coming there had been partial revelations of truth ‘by divers portions and in divers manners’ (Hebrews 1:1), and St. Paul felt free to acknowledge that the Jew might claim that he had in the law ‘the form (μόρφωσιν) of knowledge and of the truth’ (Romans 2:20). This outward form was determined by the inner truth of which it was the outline or expression, but it was at the best only partial and imperfect. The apostles further taught that the truth of God outlined in the Law and embodied in Christ was brought home to the heart and mind of men by many various methods, but that all these methods received their virtue through the vitalizing influence of the Holy Spirit. The Day of Pentecost left its mark not only on the life but also on the teaching of the Apostolic Church, and St. Paul in his special experience learned on the way to Damascus and in the solitude of the desert that the gospel came to him through no human means but through revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). Hence there was constant insistence on the agency of the Holy Spirit as the real source of enlightenment in the truth of God. At the same time it was recognized that there was great diversity in the Spirit’s working, for there was no dead uniformity in His operations. St. John offers the chief example of the revelation of truth being given by direct vision, and in his Apocalypse he shows how he received in this way the knowledge of things present and future when he was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day. St. Paul claimed that he also was indebted to visions for knowledge that he had received, and for the hearing of ‘unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter’ (2 Corinthians 12:4). But such experiences were acknowledged by him to be unusual, so that he indulged in some modest boasting on account of the exceptional privilege granted to him. The more usual method of illumination was by the Spirit’s interpreting the life of Jesus Christ to the needs of human experience, and making the Scriptures of the OT radiate a new meaning in the light of the sacrifice and work of the Saviour. Thus the Suffering Servant of Jahweh of Deutero-Isaiah led to a better understanding of the Crucified Lord (Acts 8:35), and prophets as well as private Christians learned the truth better through examination of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

One source of progressive knowledge was found by the apostles in the facts of their experience, an experience that covered not only their fellowship with Christ in the days of His flesh, but also the mighty working that followed His ascension to the right hand of God. This may be illustrated by the advance in truth that followed the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon Gentiles who believed in Jesus as the Redeemer. To St. Paul especially this fact of experience brought the assurance of God’s readiness to save and bless all men through faith in Jesus Christ without the necessity of their submitting to any rite of Jewish origin. Thus there was heralded forth by him the free grace of God in Christ to all sinners. But in order that the truth of God might be received it was necessary, according to the apostles, that it should be not only understood but also obeyed (Galatians 5:7). The heart and will were as powerful as the mind in influencing the attitude to the truth in Christ. This not only was asserted positively, but may be inferred also from the reasons assigned by the apostles for some people not receiving the truth. Stephen in his defence charged those who denied Jesus Christ and His gospel with the crime of resisting the Holy Ghost as their fathers had been guilty likewise in persecuting the prophets (Acts 7:51-52), while St. Paul impressed upon his unbelieving hearers the fact that they might see and hear the truth, and yet be so hardened in their hearts that they would not believe (Acts 28:26). Indeed in his contrast of ψυχικός and πνευματικός St. Paul asserted that the spiritual truths could not be discerned by the natural man even with his highest intellectual capacity but only by the spiritual man in whom the Divine Spirit is living and working (1 Corinthians 2:14; cf. Romans 8:5, 1 John 4:5). But the apostles never exalted mere ‘spirituality’ at the expense of the moral side of life, for they insisted that nothing hindered the reception of truth more than a low ethical life. St. Paul foretold a time when men would be guilty of all excesses, loving pleasure more than God, and, led away by divers lusts, would be ‘ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (2 Timothy 3:1-7), and the same Apostle ascribed the lack of the free expansion of truth in some people to the fact that they kept it down by their unrighteous lives (Romans 1:18). St. James, as might be expected, associated knowledge of truth with moral qualities such as the grace of meekness, and the absence of bitter envy and rivalry (James 3:13-14). St. Peter was marked with the same spirit, for he traced the golden cycle of Christian experience as leading from purity of soul by obedience to the truth onwards inevitably to the love of the brethren (1 Peter 1:22). Thus the beginning and the ending of the Christian reception of truth were indissolubly linked to purity and love.

Literature.-F. J. A. Hort, The Way, the Truth, the Life, Cambridge, 1893, p. 41 ff.; W. P. DuBose, Soteriology of the NT, London, 1892, p. 299; H. J. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der NT Theologie, Freiburg i. B., 1896-97, ii. 375 f.; R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays4, London, 1895, p. 19 ff.

D. Macrae Tod.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Truth'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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