That which is reliable and can be trusted. The Bible uses truth in the general “factual” sense. Truth may designate the actual fact over against appearance, pretense, or assertion. In
Zechariah 8:16 (NRSV) the Lord of hosts declared: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.” When Jesus asked, “Who touched my garments?” the woman who had been healed through touching Jesus' garments “fell down before him, and told him all the truth” (Mark 5:32-33). In 1 and 2 Timothy, truth is correct knowledge or doctrine. Certain individuals had departed from proper doctrine. Some “forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3 NRSV.) Some have “swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place (2 Timothy 2:18 NRSV.)
God and the Biblical Use of Truth The essential idea of truth in the Bible is not conformity to some external standard but faithfulness or reliability. In the case of God, of course, faithfulness or reliability is not measured by any external standard. God is the standard. God's truth (faithfulness or reliability) is the truth that is basic for all other truth, (Deuteronomy 7:9-10). He maintains covenant and steadfast love. When God is spoken of as the true God or the God of truth (Deuteronomy 32:4;
2 Chronicles 15:3;
Jeremiah 10:10) the idea is that God is reliable. God “keepth truth for ever” (Psalms 146:6).
The “truth” of God's commandments grows out of the fact of God and His truth (faithfulness or reliability). The Word of God and His law are not true simply in the sense that they are in accord with science, human nature, or some abstract ethical principle. The great confession given by Ezra after the Jews returned from bondage in Babylon emphasized God's nature as truth (faithfulness) in what He did in creation, election, redemption, and the giving of the law: “You came down also upon Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments, and you made known your holy sabbath to them and gave them commandments and statutes and a law through your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 9:13-14 NRSV).
The truth of God is reflected not only in His commandments; it is to be reflected in human life generally. “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).
Important New Testament Concepts of Truth The most important uses of the word truth are to be found in Paul and writings of John. Paul's acceptance of the Old Testament concept of truth is seen in
Romans 3:1-7. The truth of God is described in the words “faithfulness” (Romans 3:3) and “justice” (Romans 3:5). In
Romans 3:4, Paul declared, “Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true” (NRSV).
In Paul's discussion of the relationship of Christians to truth, we find the same Old Testament emphasis: “Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8 NRSV). Truth and sincerity are associated, and both are opposed to malice and evil. Truth is not simply a matter of propositional accuracy. Paul spoke of truth as something that is to be obeyed (Romans 2:8;
Galatians 5:7). Paul spoke of the truth of God as being revealed not so much in the law as in Christ (Romans 15:8-9). In Christ, God's kingdom has become manifested (Romans 1:1-6;
2 Corinthians 4:6). The truth and the gospel are related in the phrase “the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:5,Galatians 2:14). One hears and believes the truth and is in Christ (Ephesians 1:13).
The Johannine writings identify Christ with the truth: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known” (John 1:17-18 NRSV). In testimony before Pilate, Jesus declared: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 NRSV). God is the truth; and since Christ shares in the truth of God, He is full of grace and truth. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); He is the true Light and the true Vine (John 1:9;
John 15:1). In the Gospel of John, the activity of the Holy Spirit is associated with the activity of Jesus in so far as truth is concerned. When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27 NRSV).
John emphasized the appropriation of the truth by disciples. In Jesus' high priestly prayer, He prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:17-19 NRSV). Followers of Christ are of “the truth” (John 18:37 NRSV). This knowledge of truth is not simply “head knowledge.” It is a matter of receiving Christ (John 1:11-13). This acceptance of Jesus and receiving of the truth is accompanied by walking in the truth or in the light (2 John 1:4;
3 John 1:3-4;
1 John 1:7). It is in light of this understanding of truth that John can speak of doing the truth (John 3:21;
1 John 1:6).
Edgar V. McKnight