According to Bob Dylan, “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.”1
Is it really that depressing? Is there no hope of finding any certainty?
Most people are a little more optimistic in their outlook. Nevertheless, many today would doubt the idea of absolute truth, and would share the views of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde when he wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”2
Children are growing up in a very uncertain world. Their questions are often met with confusing or vague replies.
Is there a God?
Where did everything come from?
—The Big Bang triggered everything—before that we can’t say for sure.
How do I know what’s right and what’s wrong?
—There’s no absolute morality, so just do what feels good to you.
What happens when I die?
—Probably that’s the end, but no one knows for sure.
It seems that truth has become a somewhat dirty word, or at least a corrupted one. In its place we are left with a whole lot of uncertainty.
In steps Jesus!
Jesus came into the world to “bear witness to the truth.”
Jesus tells Pontius Pilate that He has come into the world to “bear witness to the truth ἀλήθεια (alḗtheia)]”3 (John 18:37). Notice that He says, “the truth,” not any old truth. Jesus adds, “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Again, notice it’s “the truth,” something definite—not vague. Jesus has come to proclaim and confirm the truth to those who are seeking for the truth.
Pilate responds with the famous rhetorical words, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This time, the Greek is indefinite.4 So, there we go again, off into the realms of obscurity.
But thankfully, there are answers to Pilate’s question—definite, enduring, trustworthy answers.
The concept of truth is referenced more in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, even though it constitutes just one quarter of the Bible.5 This should not come as too much of a surprise to us, since the New Testament is primarily about Jesus, who:
The Bible identifies truth as a quality intrinsic to the very nature of God.
Of course, this does not mean that the Old Testament is not concerned with truth—merely that the New Testament has a special emphasis on the truth of Jesus. We can see right at the outset that the Bible identifies truth not simply as the absence of lies but as a quality intrinsic to the very nature of God, as was fully manifested in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus not only spoke true words—He was, and is, the ultimate expression of truth.
The Oxford Dictionary of English contains the following definitions:
- true: adjective
- in accordance with fact or reality: a true story . . .
- accurate or exact: it was a true depiction . . .
- loyal or faithful: he was a true friend . . .
ORIGIN: Old English trēowe, trȳwe ‘steadfast, loyal’ . . .
- truth: noun
the quality or state of being true: . . .
- that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality . . .
ORIGIN: Old English trīewth, trēowth ‘faithfulness, constancy.’
Notice that the Old English meaning of true was “steadfast, loyal,” and truth meant “faithfulness, constancy.”6 The concept of loyalty and faithfulness is still preserved in expressions such as “a true friend” or “being true to” something (e.g., oneself; or one’s word, promise, or convictions).7
“Hebr[ew] has no independent word for ‘truth’” (Wildberger 1997, in TLOT, p. 153).
This statement from the late Dr. Hans Wildberger,8 former professor of Old Testament at the University of Zurich, may at first seem shocking, especially if taken in isolation. After all, doesn’t the Bible—the Old Testament of which was written primarily in Hebrew—claim to be truth?
Wildberger reassures us: “This phenomenon does not mean that Hebr[ew] does not have a concept of truth, but that its concept of truth is indissolubly joined with the notion of dependability” (ibid).
Certainly, as Figure 1 demonstrates (particularly the NIV 2011),9 the clear evidence from 127 occurrences of the Hebrew term אֱמֶת (ʾěmeṯ) in the Old Testament is that it meant both
It’s quite common for a Hebrew term to carry more than one shade of meaning like this. Perhaps the nearest English word that might act as an umbrella term for both “faithfulness” and “truth” would be “dependableness,” where faithfulness is dependableness of character in general, and truth is more specifically dependableness of word, speech, or information.
Truth is that which is constant and unchangeable.
So rest assured. The Bible is indeed truth. But it’s important to understand how it defines “truth.” The late Dr. Alfred Jepsen,12 former professor of Old Testament at the University of Greisfwald, puts it this way: “Truth is that which is constant and unchangeable . . . something on which someone can rely, which will prove to be true in the future” (Jepsen 1977, in TDOT, p. 310). So we can add “unchangeableness” and “reliableness” (or “reliability”)13 to “faithfulness,” “constancy,” and “dependableness” (or “dependability”),14 as words that convey the core meaning of biblical truth.
If you stop to ponder for a moment, this definition actually strengthens what truth means. You see, many people today understand “truth” simply as “something declared to be a fact by science.” The problem with this is that scientists can be wrong.15 There are many instances of scientific “truths” or beliefs published as “fact” in papers, journals, books, classroom textbooks, and the media, that later prove to be partially or completely erroneous. For example, prior to the famous discovery in 1938 of a living Coelacanth fish, scientists had previously thought and asserted that it had been extinct for millions of years.16 But there are plenty of other recent examples. The New York Times Sunday Review ran an opinion piece in 2011 entitled, “It’s Science, but Not Necessarily Right.”17 More recently still, the LiveScience website reported that “an increasing number of scientific studies are just plain wrong and are ultimately retracted . . . most involving no blatant malfeasance, but others are due to cooked data.”18,19 On the other hand, honest scientists who publish tentative, non-dogmatic findings, can sometimes have their conclusions inflated to the level of proven “facts” in the media, accompanied by sensationalist headlines.
The Bible has a better and higher standard. It defines truth as being utterly reliable and enduring. The reason is simple: authentic, biblical truth is inextricably linked to the dependable, unchanging character of God. You can trust everything He says; He never lies; He always keeps His Word; He’s faithful to all His promises.
King David calls the Lord, “God of truth” (Psalm 31:520). And He most certainly is the source of “truth” in the modern sense of the word, since He cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Romans 3:4; Titus 1:2). But more than this, and the very reason for His truthfulness, is that He’s completely faithful and reliable in all He does and says. It’s not simply because God is truthful, but because God is faithful and trustworthy in very nature that David is able to say with confidence:
Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth (Psalm 31:521).
Faithfulness and integrity are, sadly, in rapid decline.
The British government claimed that re-defining marriage to include same-sex couples would help ensure the ongoing relevance and vibrancy of the age-old institution.24 Indeed, when the bill was being debated, the Prime Minister’s “three most senior lieutenants”25 boldly urged colleagues not to oppose it, arguing,
Marriage has evolved over time. We believe that opening it up to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, the institution.26
The falsity of this claim was made abundantly clear from comments made by Baroness Stowell, as The Telegraph newspaper reported:
Baroness Stowell, who speaks for the Conservatives in the Lords on equalities issues, said it was “open to each couple” to decide whether or not it was necessary to be faithful to each other . . . . She insisted that it was not up to the law to enforce marital fidelity and that people should decide “within their own relationship” whether or not cheating matters.27
So there you have it! The UK government has officially abandoned the 7th Commandment (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:1828). Instead of God’s definition of truth and faithfulness, they prefer to let man decide whether fidelity and integrity matter, opening a Pandora’s box of social disintegration.29
The world, in self-deception, thinks itself the new master of “truth,” recklessly reforming moral standards according to humanistic and hedonistic philosophy, and calling it “good”; while all along hypocritically abandoning genuine biblical truth and faithfulness, as if they were bad or inferior.
Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice (Isaiah 59:14–15).30
Disturbingly, some of the strongest revisionists are church leaders.31 But their stance cannot be supported by Scripture.32 Jesus, whom even many non-Believers admit was a great teacher, taught on the sanctity of marriage between a man and his wife (Matthew 19:5–6). He would certainly not endorse same-sex marriage.
T.F. Torrance, described as “the most significant theologian of the late-twentieth century,”33 maintained,
It is the steadfastness of God which is the ground of all truth. Primarily, truth is God’s being true to Himself, His faithfulness or consistency (1957, p. 112).34
The faithfulness of God is the foundation of all truth.
Jepsen explained, “Yahweh is the God in whose word and work one can place complete confidence” (1977, in TDOT, p. 313). Ken Ham (2008, pp. 114–115, “Debate Terms”) reasons, therefore, that Christians should never abandon the Bible in an attempt to engage non-Christians in a debate on “neutral” ground about “objective” facts.35 To do so would be a bit like attempting to examine some visual evidence in a dark room, without flicking the light-switch. God’s Word “is a lamp . . . and a light” (Psalm 119:105), which provides understanding to those who seek it (Psalm 119:169). In contrast, those who shun His revelations flounder and stumble in darkness (Psalm 82:5). The “Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33), who is the “God of truth” (Psalm 31:5), is the only completely reliable source and effective reference point for true enlightenment, knowledge and wisdom.
Science, when properly defined as knowledge,36 or the quest for knowledge, is based on the biblical premise of the existence of absolute, unalterable truths. As we’ve already heard, “Truth is that which is constant and unchangeable . . . something on which someone can rely, which will prove to be true in the future” (Jepsen 1977, in TDOT, p. 310). This definition of truth, upon which all good science is founded, ought to engender humility, as we acknowledge that only time will tell if our fallible understanding and hypotheses are correct. Indeed it’s a great irony that the discipline of science—which so many people view as the ultimate standard-bearer of truth—is in fact in a perpetual quest for yet more understanding, and a constant state of not-yet-knowing-everything.37
In Part 2 we will get to grips with biblical truth, as we examine Scriptures in light of the underlying Hebrew and Greek words.
The exact ratio of the length of the Old Testament compared to the length of the New Testament depends upon two major factors:
In addition, there are other considerations, such as whether to count Hebrew conjunctions, prepositions, definite articles, and pronominal suffixes as separate words in a word-count; and whether to include spaces as characters in a character-count.
According to the Accordance 10 Bible Software program (Version 10.4.3.2), in the 1977 Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia text of the Hebrew Old Testament there are 23, 213 verses, comprising 425, 185 words (counting conjunctions, prepositions, and definite articles, as separate words; but excluding pronominal suffixes); and in the 2012 Nestle-Aland, 28th Revised Edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece there are 7,968 verses, comprising 138, 212 words. According to these statistics, the ratios of Old Testament to New Testament are 74.4%:25.6% (counting verses) and 75.5%:24.5% (counting words). By either reckoning, therefore, the New Testament makes up almost exactly one quarter of the content of the Bible in its original languages (Hebrew and Greek).
This emphasis continued in Middle English. In Middle English the word troth (a variant of truth) meant primarily “faith or loyalty when pledged in a solemn agreement or undertaking.” Consequently, to pledge (or plight) one’s troth meant to “make a solemn pledge of commitment or loyalty, especially in marriage.” This sense is still retained in the word betroth (in Middle English, betreuthe), which means to “formally engage (someone) to be married.” (The definitions of troth, “pledge (or plight) one’s troth,” and betroth are all taken from the Oxford Dictionary of English.)
Indeed, it was not until around 1200 that “true” was first recorded as having the modern sense of “consistent with fact.” (See Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymology of “true” retrieved July 19, 2013, from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=true.) The full shift in emphasis appears to have taken a further three-and-a-half centuries, as it wasn’t until the 1560s that the meaning of “truth” became primarily “accuracy, correctness.” (See Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymology of “truth” retrieved July 19, 2013 from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=truth.)
In his book The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis uses the expression “as true as steel” to describe the dependableness and faithfulness of the girl Aravis:
She was proud and could be hard enough but she was as true as steel and would never have deserted a companion, whether she liked him or not (p. 76, Harmondsworth, United Kingdom: Penguin Books).
In collating the data for this chart, the 1769 Blaney Edition of the 1611 King James Version of the English Bible was used.
The dates of the Bible versions are included not to suggest a tight correlation with how אֱמֶת (ʾěmeṯ) is rendered in English, but simply to draw attention to the overall change between much older versions, such as the KJV, and contemporary versions, such as the NIV.
Aside from “truth/true/truthful/truly” and “faithfulness/faithful/faithfully,” the “other” renderings of אֱמֶת (ʾěmeṯ) are as follows:
Barr (1961, p. 187, 199) states that “‘[t]ruth’ is already the right translation [of the Ugaritic equivalent of אֱמֶת (ʾěmeṯ)] as early as the only occurrence in Ugaritic literature . . . in the second millennium B.C.,” citing Driver (1956, p. 103). To be precise, Driver uses the word truly in his translation of The Myth of Baal:
Lo! truly, truly I have wasted (my) life,
truly I eat mud (grasping it)
with both my hands. . . . (tablet B I*, lines 18–20).
“Truly” may indeed be the correct sense here (though perhaps another possibility would be “constantly”), but given that it is apparently the only attested passage in which the Ugaritic equivalent of אֱמֶת (ʾěmeṯ) occurs, it is insufficient for drawing any major semantic conclusions.
Kitty Ferguson, author of Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work (2011. London, United Kingdom: Bantam Press), touched on this issue in a tribute to the famous English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author, on the occasion of his 70th birthday:
So many people among non-scientists see science as an unassailable monolith of truth, and it’s not (Kitty Ferguson, in a dispatch by A. Jha entitled “Stephen Hawking at 70: Fellow scientists pay tribute,” The Guardian, January 6, 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/jan/06/stephen-hawking-70-fellow-scientists).
She praised Hawking for
the fact that he’s been willing, all through his career, to pull the rug out from under his discoveries. He’s done this again and again—he’s discovered something, then he’s discovered the opposite. He’s always flipping around. It’s the willingness to do that that is very impressive. He wants the general public to know that scientists change their minds, that scientists can admit they’re wrong. It’s very important. . . . It's an ongoing self-correcting process and that’s the way he does it and that’s the way he presents it. That’s tremendously valuable, especially to young people who are thinking of going into science or anyone who is thinking of basing their religious or philosophical beliefs on science. And that is an important legacy he has taught and continues to live out (ibid).
If only all scientists had the level of honesty being described here! Then the study of origins could be discussed fairly; objections to the theory of evolution could be heard respectfully; and no one—whether researchers, teachers, or students—need fear being silenced, ridiculed, or disciplined as a result of their doubts about Darwinism. Sadly, the current reality is far from this ideal.
Dr David Menton comments,
[I]n 1938 a fishing trawler netted a fish in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar that was identified as a crossopterygian fish, previously known only from the fossil record as the coelacanth. Since then, dozens of living coelacanths have been discovered. This came as a huge shock to evolutionists who assumed that the reason the coelacanth disappeared from the fossil record was because they evolved into land-dwelling tetrapods; yet, here they were very much alive—and swimming! At the very least, evolutionists expected to observe some hint of walking behavior in the coelacanth, but nothing of the kind has ever been observed. Coelacanths have been observed swimming backward, upside–down, and even standing on their head but they have never been observed to walk on land or in the sea (David Menton, “Tiktaalik and the Fishy Story of Walking Fish,” March 7, 2007, https://answersingenesis.org/extinct-animals/tiktaalik-and-the-fishy-story-of-walking-fish/).
Also, see for example:
The true, dire impact of this change can already be seen in part, for instance, in Spain, where same-sex marriage was introduced in 2005. The UK-based Family Education Trust reports that prior to this,
marriage rates in Spain had been reasonably steady compared to other countries at 5.9 per 1,000 population in 1980, 5.7 in 1990 and 5.4 in 2000. However, with the redefinition of marriage the very slight decline witnessed over previous decades accelerated dramatically. Official figures from the European Commission statistical agency, Eurostat, show that by 2009, marriage rates were as low as 3.8 per 1,000 and that they have continued to decline (3.6 in 2010 and 3.4 in 2011) (Family Education Trust, “Case Study: Spain,” Bulletin 151: June 2013, http://www.famyouth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=194:bulletin-151-june-2013&catid=116:bulletins-2013&Itemid=73).
In the same Bulletin, see also, “What happens to marriage and families where the law recognises ‘same-sex marriage’?”
Two prominent examples representing different branches of the church are Jeffrey John (an Anglican), and Steve Chalke (a Baptist):
A number of Scriptures touch upon the issue of homosexuality as sin. This is not the place to reproduce the material available elsewhere in numerous articles on the topic. Suffice to say, that despite attempts by pro-gay revisionists to re-interpret the Bible’s clear message on this subject, Professor Robert A.J. Gagnon (2001) is able to state confidently in the introduction to his seminal book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (commended by the late Professor James Barr as “a brilliant, original, and highly important work, displaying meticulous biblical scholarship”):
First, there is clear, strong, and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin. Second, there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments, derived from either general principles of biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience, for overriding the Bible’s authority on this matter. In sum, the Bible presents the anatomical, sexual, and procreative complementarity of male and female as clear and convincing proof of God’s will for sexual unions. . . . Thus same-sex intercourse constitutes an inexcusable rebellion against the intentional design of the created order (p. 37).
Given, therefore, the biblical position that homosexuality per se is a form of sexual immorality, it is striking that, along with references condemning such activity from various points in Scripture, the very last book of the Bible contains the following stark message from “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2):
The Revelation of Jesus Christ . . . the Faithful and True Witness . . .
I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught . . . to commit sexual immorality. . . . [And] because you allow that woman Jezebel . . . to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality” (Revelation 1:1, 2:14, 2:20, 3:14).
Christian leaders who take the words of Jesus seriously, therefore, ought to be emphatically dissuaded from teaching that God approves of same-sex marriage.
Lesslie Newbigin observes,
If God really exists, is there not something ridiculous about one of God’s creatures taking a stance that, in effect, says to God: “I can demonstrate your existence without relying on what you tell me about yourself”? (1996, p. 6).
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary 3rd Edition (2010. New York: Oxford University Press) the archaic meaning of science is “knowledge of any kind.” Its etymology is summarized thus:
ORIGIN Middle English (denoting knowledge): from Old French, from Latin scientia, from scire ‘know’.
Its modern sense is defined, in the first instance, as
the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.