Hebrew and Greek are very descriptive languages.  They provide for subtle differences of meaning, which are not easily translated into English, for example, with single words or even simple sentences.  Words like agape and phileo, which are simply translated into English as love although their true meanings differ, are good examples.  The same can be said of the words truth and knowledge and it makes finding a simple definition of such a word difficult.  Because these two terms are of specific importance, however, it is necessary to distinguish between certain subtle differences as well as we can, without becoming too technical in the process.

Truth is used in two broad senses in the Old Testament

On the one hand it refers to the intellectual or factual truth that can be tested.  It is used more times, though, to refer to a person's attributes, which reflect his reliability.  Joseph's brothers were detained in prison to test whether the truth was in them, for example (Gen. 42:16).  This attribute of truth is also the basis of God's demand on people for all their interpersonal relationships, e.g. Exodus 20:16: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour." 

  • The Scriptures continually refer to God in this specific sense of reliability. Examples are Psalm 31:6; Jeremiah 10:10 and Psalm 108:5. 
  • God's Word is described as the truth in the sense that it is permanently valid: "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" [1].

The Greek usage of the New Testament often makes it difficult to distinguish the nuance that predominates.  Nevertheless, it transpires that there are three broad contexts that are simply translated as "truth" in English [2].

Firstly, it is used in the Hebrew sense of reliability of character (alethes).  Although this does not occur often, the thought of a God who can be trusted to keep his word is nevertheless implicit throughout the New Testament.

Secondly the word aletheia is used to refer in absolute terms to that which is real and complete, as opposed to that which is false and wanting.  In John 14:6 Jesus declares himself to be the personification of this absolute truth.  He brings the truth (John 1:17) and the Holy Spirit leads people into it (John 16:13), in order that Jesus' disciples may know it (John 8:32); obey and do it (John 3:21); abide in it (John 8:44); and know that their rebirth rests upon it (Jas 1:18).  This truth is not merely a formula for a confession of faith; it is God’s Word that must be obeyed:

  • "But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger" (Rom 2:8).
  • "You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" (Gal 5:7).

Thirdly the word alethinos is used to refer to something real as opposed to something false, or a copy.  John 17:3 and Revelation 6:10, for example, declare that God fulfils the meaning of his Name.  He is the trustworthy God who has no lie in Him (John 3:33).  In this way Christ is the minister of the true tabernacle (Heb 8:2); He is the true bread (John 6:32); and the true vine (John 15:1).  In other words, Jesus Christ is the eternal reality symbolised by the bread and the wine.

There may be Hebrew and Greek linguistic purists who would demand that each possible consequence of the truth concept in the Bible be discussed.  It is not feasible for the purpose of this post and also not a necessity.  The description provided is sufficient demonstration of

  • God's demands of the truth, and
  • the fact that Jesus Christ embodies the full truth.  This truth can and may not be changed.  Scripture shows throughout that those who wilfully do this, will be accountable before the Lord God (cf. Revelation 22:18, 19).

This concept of truth is in itself an accusation against those who try to dilute the unchangeable Word of God and propose all sorts of modern interpretations to suit contemporary philosophical developments.  The time has come for the church once again to teach the unadulterated and unpolluted Word of God.  If they would do this, their people would not become distracted by debates such as whether Job and Jonah were in fact real people.  They would rather read and understand, for example, what God is clearly saying in Job 1:8:

"Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no-one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.'"

Billy Graham summarized this situation well: "Truth is timeless.  Truth does not differ from one age to another, from one people to another, from one geographical location to another.  Men's ideas may differ, men's customs may change, men's moral codes may vary, but the great all-prevailing Truth stands for time and eternity.

The message of Jesus Christ, our Savior, is the story of the Bible – it is the story of salvation.  Profound students of the Bible have traced the story of Jesus Christ from the beginning of the Old Testament, for He is the true theme of the Old as well as the New Testament.

The fact of Jesus Christ is the eternal message of the Bible.  It is the story of life, peace, eternity, and heaven.  The Bible has no need for special interpretation.  It has a single, clear, bold message for every living being – the message of Christ and His offer of peace with God" [3].

In the next post we look at the biblical concept of knowledge.

Gerrie Malan

  1. WOOD D.R.W. (Revision Editor). 1996. 3rd ed. New Bible Dictionary. Leicester, England: Inter-varsity Press. p1213.
  2. WOOD D.R.W. (Revision Editor). 1996. 3rd ed. New Bible Dictionary. Leicester, England: Inter-varsity Press. P1213.
  3. GRAHAM, B. (revised & expanded). 1984. Peace With God. Maitland, South Africa: Struik.

Truth Signpost ( and Cartoon ( used by permission.

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