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; 9:3, 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 (7:16, 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 (2:8, 20). In Galatians, truth is synonymous with the gospel, which the Judaizers have perverted by requiring converts to practice law observance (2:5, 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 2:4,21). 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 3, 4, 8, 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.