International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Aspects of Truth
2. Standards of Truth
3. Special Features in Biblical Writings
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 (Psalm 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 (Proverbs 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 , 1 John 2:21 .
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 Ephesians 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
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 Acts 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; Luke 9:27 ).
(3) In Paul the sense of divine faithfulness, as in the Old Testament, is occasionally met (Romans 3:3 , Romans 3:7; Romans 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; Galatians 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 (1 John 3:18; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1 ) and emphatic reality (John 8:46; John 16:7 ). In Revelation we have "true" in the sense of trustworthy, because ultimately real or in accord with ultimate reality (Revelation 3:7 , Revelation 3:14; Revelation 6:10; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 19:9 , Revelation 19:11 , 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; John 8:32; John 17:19; John 18:37 f; 1 John 2:21; 1 John 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 (
(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; James 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:
(1) Truth is presented in Scripture as a chief element in the nature of God (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16 ). (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; Psalm 100:5; Psalm 146:6; James 1:17 ); especially a ground of confidence in His promises (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 91:4; Psalm 146:6 ); of right dealing with men without reference to any explicit pledges (Psalm 85:11; Psalm 89:14 ); a basis of security in the correctness of His teachings (Nehemiah 9:13; Psalm 119:142; Isaiah 25:1 ); of assurance within His covenant relations (Psalm 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 (Psalm 25:10; Psalm 31:5; Psalm 61:7; Psalm 85:10; Psalm 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; Psalm 96:13; Romans 2:2 , Romans 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 (Psalm 15:2; Psalm 119:30; Proverbs 12:19; Proverbs 23:23; Isaiah 59:4 , Isaiah 59:14 , Isaiah 59:15; Jeremiah 7:28; Jeremiah 9:3; Hosea 4:1; Romans 1:18 , Romans 1:25; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:10 , 2 Thessalonians 2:12 ).
(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 ff; Philippians 3:10 ff). See in general, Psalm 51:6; Isaiah 25:1; John 3:21; John 8:32; John 16:13; John 17:19; John 18:37; Ephesians 4:21 , Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 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 43,44 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; John 8:32 ).
These files are public domain and were generously provided by the folks at WordSearch Software.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Truth'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/t/truth.html. 1915.