The Biblical Concept of Truth Roger Nicole

The Biblical Concept of Truth

Roger Nicole

The Biblical Concept of Truth Roger Nicole

What is truth?” Pilate asked (John 18:38), perhaps not as a serious question since he did not wait to hear Jesus’ answer. Yet his question epitomizes an age-long query that arises in the human mind and has been the object of many discussions throughout the history of philosophy.

Pilate seemed in that moment to secure a kind of edge over Christ by dint of his sophistication, but perhaps he had not stopped to consider that his skeptical position would prove unstable and self-destructive, whatever answer Jesus might choose to give.

If Christ had replied with a definition, “Truth is such and such,” then Pilate would have been embarrassed in discussing it, for either he would have had to concede the definition to be true, and that would spell the collapse of his skepticism, or he would have had to declare the definition inadequate, but that would have revealed a preexisting distinction in his mind between true and false, adequate and inadequate, and so on, and that would have proved that he was not truly entitled to his skepticism: you cannot discuss a definition of truth unless you take for granted a real distinction between true and false!

If Jesus had replied, “The truth is too great to be defined,” Pilate would have been in trouble again if he had wished to disagree, for a challenge to this proposition presupposes that it is seen as false. But that presupposition once again implies the very distinction between true and false that Pilate wanted to erase.

If Jesus had replied, “You are right, Pilate; there is no such thing as truth, and no distinction between true and false,” Pilate might have been pleased to hear this flattering concession, especially right after Jesus had stated that he “was born … and came into the world to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). But what would have been the value of any concession, and indeed the significance of any statement, if there is no distinction between true and false? This would mean there is no meaning to language, and even those who would rejoice in that could find no appropriate word to express their feeling!

The same predicament applies to all who deny that, or even question whether, there is objective validity in verbal statements: They presuppose such validity at least for their denial (or question)!

As Charles Malik pointedly stated, “They tell you, there is no truth; it is all a matter of impression, or at best of probability and statistics.… This is all false. If taken absolutely, then there is something absolute, namely, that there is no truth.”1

In contrast to any such skepticism, we find the word truth used repeatedly in Scripture, and it is my purpose to analyze how it is used and what is the range and substance of meaning that it bears.


In the Old Testament (kjv) the word truth occurs some one hundred twenty times, “true” some twenty-seven times, “truly” twenty-three times, and “verily” fifteen times. In the great majority of the cases this reflects the use of the Hebrew word ʾemeṯ or some of its cognates.

The root meaning of this group appears to connote “support”2 or “stability,” and it is not difficult to see how both “faithfulness” and “truth” would develop as the implications of this rootage. Faithfulness is the quality that provides an appropriate ground for confidence, which gives support to trust on the part of those who depend on the faithful one. Truth is that firm conformity to reality that proves to be wholly reliable, so that those who accept a statement may depend on it that it will not turn out to be false or deceitful.

Thus in the Old Testament we see a twofold implementation of the concept of ʾemeṯ. We note that these two dimensions are complementary rather than mutually exclusive.


In this category of meaning truth denotes faithfulness and reliability on the part of a person who can be depended on to perform according to a promise or a principle, usually in a way that is seen as favorable to the speaker or to those addressed. The opposite of “true” in this respect is “unfaithful,” “unreliable,” or “deceitful.”

It is noteworthy that in a considerable number of cases falling within this category the NIV translates ʾemeṯ by “faithfulness” or cognates.

In Exodus 18:21, there is a kind of definition by parallelism: “… men who fear God, trustworthy men [literally, men of ʾemeṯ] who hate dishonest gain.…” (Cf. also Neh. 7:2.)

  1. In the Old Testament a strong emphasis is placed on the faithfulness of God. This is made especially apparent in the expression ḥeseḏ we̱ ʾemeṯ (“mercy and truth”), which is descriptive of God’s attitude in a number of passages (Gen. 24:27; Gen. 32:10 [cf. Ps. 108:4]; Exod. 34:6; Josh. 2:14; 2 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 25:10; 40:10, 11; 57:3, 10; 61:7; 85:10; 86:15; 89:14; 115:1; 117:2; 138:2; Mic. 7:20).3 Other passages refer to ʾemeṯ as God’s attribute:

Neh. 9:33: “You have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.”

Ps. 30:9: “your faithfulness” (cf. Ps. 54:5; 71:22; 85:11; 91:4; 146:6; Isa. 38:18, 19; 42:3).

Isa. 61:8: “In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them.”

Zech. 8:8: “I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”

What is stated of God as a person is projected also to His activity:

Ps. 69:13: “In your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation [salvation of ʾemeṯ].”

Ps. 111:7–8: “The works of his hand are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness.”

Ps. 132:11: “The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke.”

When this usage applies to God’s Word, the meaning passes naturally into that of truth and forms a connection between the two dimensions we are attempting to distinguish.

The whole concept may head up into the formulation that Yahweh is the God of truth (e.g., 2 Chron. 15:3; Ps. 31:5; Jer. 10:10), and here the implication is both that He is the only true God and that as God He sums up in Himself the fullness of faithfulness and truth.4

  1. What is said of God can also be applied to human beings, for their faithfulness may reflect the faithfulness of God.

Josh. 24:14: “Fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart.”

Ps. 145:18: “The Lord is near … to all who call on him in truth.”

Isa. 48:1: “You who take oaths … but not in truth or righteousness.”

Ezek. 18:8–9: “He … judges fairly between man and man.… He … faithfully keeps my laws.”

Hos. 4:1: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God.”

Zech. 8:16: “Render true and sound judgment.”

This meaning may develop into a description of a course of action marked by integrity, as for instance, 1 Kings 2:4; 3:6; 2 Kings 20:3; 2 Chronicles 31:20; 32:1; Isaiah 38:3; 59:14, 15.

  1. Finally, in this category we observe that the idea of faithfulness or reliability can actually be extended to objects that are not endowed with the capacity for decision:

Josh. 2:12: “a sure sign”

2 Kings 20:19: “peace and security in my lifetime” (cf. Isa. 39:8 and Jer. 33:6)

Esther 9:30: “words of goodwill and assurance

Prov. 11:18: “a sure reward”

Jer. 14:13: “lasting peace” (literally, peace of ʾemeṯ)

Jer. 32:41: “I … will assuredly plant them.”

Zech. 8:19: “Therefore love truth and peace.”


A number of the examples of the preceding category are leading in the direction of the meaning of ʾemeṯ in this section. Here the fundamental issue is that ʾemeṯ represents that which is conformed to reality in contrast to anything that would be erroneous or deceitful.

  1. Examples of this usage abound. We may start with passages like Deuteronomy 13:14; 17:4; 22:20, where the context is a legal investigation and the words “If it is true” mean “If the charge is substantiated.” In Isaiah 43:9 the context is similar and the verdict “It is true” is sought in response to the hearing of witnesses.

In a number of passages we encounter expressions like “speaking the truth” (Prov. 8:7; Jer. 9:5; Dan. 11:2; Zech. 8:16). In Psalm 15:2 this is contrasted with “slandering,” giving a false and malicious report. Passages in which someone’s words are stated to be true are closely akin to this usage (Gen. 42:16; 2 Sam. 7:28; Ps. 119:160; Prov. 22:21 [twice]; Eccl. 12:10).

Similarly we read of a true report (1 Kings 10:6), a true vision (Dan. 8:26), a true message (Dan. 10:1). Prophets are summoned to speak “nothing but the truth” (1 Kings 22:16; 2 Chron. 18:15), and others may acknowledge the genuineness of their mission by saying, “The word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24).

Scripture commends “truthful lips” (Prov. 12:19), truthful witness (Prov. 14:25; Jer. 42:5), true instruction (Mal. 2:6; literally, the law of truth).

“In truth” comes to mean “really” (Judg. 9:15, 16, 19; Isa. 10:20; Jer. 26:15; 28:9).

  1. In close connection with what has just been said, we note that ʾemeṯ may connote what is authentic, reliable, or simply “right.”

Gen. 24:48: “the right road”

Jer. 2:21: “sound and reliable stock”

Prov. 29:14: “judge with fairness” [literally “in truth”]

Neh. 9:13: “just laws” [literally “laws of truth”]

Zech. 7:9: “true justice”

Jer. 42: “swear in a truthful, just and righteous way”

This meaning also appears perhaps in the expression “truth and peace” in 2 Kings 20:19; Isaiah 39:8; Jeremiah 14:13; Zechariah 8:19, in which a period of true prosperity is contemplated.

  1. In line with what has developed thus far, and as an extension and fulfillment of it, ʾemeṯ has come to mean “truth” as the embodiment of God’s wise and merciful pattern for human life, designated by the terms law, precepts, commandments, ordinances, judgment, etc. This connotation is found especially in the Psalms but may be discovered elsewhere as well:

Ps. 25:5: “guide me in your truth”

Ps. 26:3: “I walk … in your truth.” Cf. also Ps. 86:11.

Ps. 43:3: “let them [your light and your truth] guide me”

Ps. 51:6: “you desire truth in the inner parts” (The exact connotation of “truth” here is debatable, but the passage fits well in this category.)

Ps. 119:43: “the word of truth”

Ps. 119:142: “your law is true”

Ps. 119:151: “your commands are true”

Ps. 119:160: “your words are true”

Prov. 23:23: “buy the truth and do not sell it”

Dan. 8:12: “truth was thrown to the ground”

Dan. 9:13: “giving attention to your truth”

Zechariah speaks of the “City of Truth” (Zech. 8:3) and Daniel of the “Book of Truth” (Dan. 10:21).

Thus we see two converging lines of meaning in the Old Testament. Neither is reducible to the other, yet they are not mutually conflicting. It is because truth is conformity to fact that confidence may be placed in it or in the one who asserts it, and it is because a person is faithful that he or she will be careful to make statements that are true. Meanwhile neither “factuality” nor “faithfulness” properly exhausts the meaning of ʾemeṯ.5

Negatively, ʾemeṯ stands in contrast to a number of terms variously rendered “deceit,” “error,” “falsehood,” “guile,” “lie,” “vanity,” and their cognates. These represent in the main eight different Hebrew roots occurring in the aggregate some three hundred times in the Old Testament. Almost uniformly there is condemnation of such practices, whether expressly, or in the instances in which people are presented as having recourse to lies. One notable exception is the case of Rahab, who lied in order to protect the “spies,” but we should note that it is not her lie that is praised, but rather her faith in the God of Israel, which led her to make common cause with His people rather than with hers (Heb. 11:31; James 2:25).

Occasionally God is represented as leading people into some delusions (1 Kings 22:22–23; 2 Chron. 18:21–22; Jer. 20:7; Ezek. 14:9–10). In such passages it is important to note that it is not God Himself who actually takes the deceitful course, but some evil spirit who functions under the sovereign rule of God. Thus God’s just retribution falls on those who incurred His displeasure (cf. Ps. 73:18; 81:12; Isa. 6:10; cf. in the same vein Rom. 1:26, 28; 2 Thess. 2:11).6 The suggestion that God Himself could be a deceiver or a liar is contrary to the repeated and very express affirmations of Scripture in both the Old and the New Testaments.

Num. 23:19: “God is not a man that he should lie.…”

1 Sam. 15:29: “He who is the glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind.”

Prov. 12:22: “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”

John 3:33: “God is truthful.”

Rom. 3:4: “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”

2 Tim. 3:13: “He cannot disown himself.”

Titus 1:2: “God, who does not lie.…”

Heb. 6:18: “It is impossible for God to lie.”

1 John 1:5: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

It is of course true that in many of the instances of Old Testament condemnation of lies, what is in view is some aggravated form of lying, such as lying under oath, or the spurious claims of false prophets pretending to have a message from God, or again the slanderous lies of false witnesses. Here the sins of perjury, blasphemy and grievous malice are added to that of falsehood, but the passages abound which condemn lying even without these complications (e.g., Ps. 5:7; 101:7; Prov. 6:17; 12:19, 22; Isa. 59:3). Lying is associated with some of the most glaring sins, such as robbery (Neh. 3:1), adultery (Jer. 23:14), murder (Isa. 59:3; cf. 7, 8), and pride (Ps. 119:69).

Thus the clear and insistent witness of the Old Testament in condemnation of all lies and deceit reinforces its strong commendation of ʾemeṯ as faithfulness and veracity. Notably it provides impressive evidence to disprove the view sometimes advanced that “faithfulness” is the exclusive connotation of ʾemeṯ. The combination of the positive and negative arguments appears well-nigh insuperable.


As we pass from the Old Testament to the New we observe the shift from the Semitic mindset to the Greek idiom. Vrielink has cleverly quoted the prophecy of Noah in Genesis 9:27: “May Japheth live in the tents of Shem.”7

We may note here three elements that provide a significant link between these two moments of special revelation. The first is the LXX translation that rendered ʾemeṯ by the word Alētheia and cognates in some six out of seven occurrences in the Hebrew canon. Etymologically this word has a more decidedly cognitive meaning than ʾemeṯ. It is made up of the alpha privative and the root meaning “to be hidden,” “to escape notice”; thus the etymological sense of Alētheia could be expressed as “that which receives notice,” “that which comes to be known,” presumably by a correct perception of reality. Hence the idea of conformity to fact implicit in ʾemeṯ becomes fairly naturally the key emphasis. The concept of faithfulness, on the other hand, which was a very important component of the meaning of ʾemeṯ is now primarily represented by words of the family of pistos, “faithful,” “reliable,” “trustworthy.” In a few cases words of this type actually are used by the LXX as the translation of ʾemeṯ.8

A second connection between the Old and the New Testament is the use of expressions in which truth and grace are linked together, which reminds us of ḥeseḏ we̱ ʾemeṯ as noted above on page 288.

John 1:14: “full of grace and truth”

John 1:17: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

1 Cor. 13:6: “Love … rejoices with the truth.”

2 Cor. 6:6–7: “in sincere love; in truthful speech”

Eph. 4:15: “speaking the truth in love”

Eph. 5:9: “goodness, righteousness and truth”

Col. 1:6: “God’s grace in all its truth”

2 Thess. 2:10: “They refused to love the truth [literally, they did not accept the love of the truth].”

1 Peter 5:12: “This is the true grace of God.”

1 John 3:18: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in the truth.”

2 John 1: “whom I love in the truth”

2 John 3: “Grace, mercy and peace … will be with us in truth and love.”

3 John 1: “Gaius, whom I love in truth”

A third feature that provides a tie between the Semitic idiom and the Greek of the New Testament is the use of the Hebrew word “amen”, which occurs at least 129 times in the New Testament.9 Most of these (100) are found in the words of Jesus “Amen, I say to you” (Matthew 31 times, Mark 13 times, Luke 6 times, John [a double amen] 25 times). Twenty-seven more examples are found tied to doxologies or prayer.10 The outstanding exception is Revelation 3:14, where Christ is called “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Here we are reminded of Isaiah 65:16, where Yahweh is twice called “the God of amen,” the God of truth. The maintenance of the Semitic “amen” in the midst of a text written in Greek (Τάδε λέγει ὁ ἀμήν, Rev. 3:14) manifests the impact of Hebraic concepts and language on the thought world and worship of the early church. The words hallelujah, hosanna, and maranatha and the occasions where the express words of Jesus are transcribed in the Gospels (Matt. 27:46; Mark 5:41; 7:34; 15:34) are other examples of this phenomenon.

The word truth and its cognates occur frequently in the New Testament, in fact 183 times.11 As noted above, the connotation of “faithfulness,” so common in the Old Testament, recedes into the background. In some cases the word true is actually linked with the word pistos “faithful” (Rev. 3:14; 19:11; 21:5; 22:6). The emphasis here is that the witness is speaking the truth and is worthy of confidence.


The primary New Testament emphasis is clearly on truth as conformity to reality and opposition to lies or errors. This is seen in the use of the adverb alethōs (“truly”) by which a genuine teacher, disciple, prophet, Israelite, etc., is distinguished from a spurious one, who appears under false pretense.12

Similarly the expression “in truth” contrasts what occurs in fact with what is imaginary or fallacious.13 In Acts 12:9 the contrast is between factual reality and a dream or vision; in Philippians 1:18 it is between empty pretense and appropriate motivation; in 1 John 3:18 it is between mere verbal protestations of love and real love manifested by action.

That truth is viewed as factuality is made plain through expressions that combine “true” with “witness.”14 As Proverbs states (14:5), “A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies.”

In John 5:33 and 18:37 our Lord represents Himself as a witness to the truth. To give this witness is one of the purposes of His incarnation.

Moreover, several times we encounter expressions like “speaking the truth,” “word of truth,”15 sometimes reinforced by a statement that what is spoken is no lie.16 This type of contrast is articulated in a number of ways:

John 7:18: “[He] is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

Rom. 3:7: “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness.…”

2 Cor. 6:8: “genuine, yet regarded as impostors”

Eph. 4:25: “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully.”

James 3:14: “deny the truth” (literally, lie against the truth)

1 John 1:6: “If we claim to have fellowship with him [God] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”

1 John 2:4: “The man … is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

1 John 2:21: “No lie comes from the truth.”

1 John 2:27: “real, not counterfeit”

1 John 4:6: “This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

Nowhere is this more forcefully presented than in the words of the Lord in reference to the devil: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

In sharp constrast to Satan, God is represented as true. The Father is the “true” God over against all idols or false gods (John 17:3; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 John 5:20).17

God is not only the only genuine God, he is also one who is truthful.

John 3:33: “God is truthful.”

John 7:28; 8:26: “He who sent me is true.”

Rom. 3:4: “Let God be true, and every man liar.”

Rev. 6:10: “Sovereign Lord, holy and true”

The truth is called God’s truth (Rom. 1:25; 3:7; 15:8), for He has a stake in it. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:18). God’s law is the embodiment of truth (Rom. 2:20). The gospel is the word of truth (Gal. 2:5, 14), which it is essential to know and accept in order to be saved (John 8:32; Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:13–14; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:3; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1; Heb. 10:26) so that those who refuse to love the truth will perish (2 Thess. 2:10, 12).

Not only the Father, but also the Son is related to the truth. He came to witness to the truth (John 18:37); he was full of grace and truth (John 1:14); he is called faithful (or holy) and true (Rev. 3:7, 14; 19:11); he said “I am the truth” (John 14:6). Therefore the gospel is sometimes called the truth of Christ (2 Cor. 11:10; cf. Eph. 4:21). “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Similarly the Holy Spirit is vitally interested in truth. He is called the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6). He will guide the disciples into all truth (John 16:13) and climactically He too is called “the truth” (1 John 5:6).

The close connection between Satan, darkness, and lying on one hand, and between God, light, and truth on the other hand (cf., e.g., 1 John 1:5–10) is probably the basis for a use of the word truth as connoting not merely conformity to fact, but that pattern of living that conforms to the revealed will of God.

Thus in 1 John 1:6 “to live by the truth” (literally “to do the truth”) is the opposite of “to walk in darkness.” The same contrast is found in John 3:20–21. Some passages speak of “obeying” (Gal. 5:7; 1 Peter 1:22) or “disobeying” (Rom. 2:8) the truth. James represents a wayward Christian as “wandering from the truth” (James 5:19). The “way of truth” in 2 Peter 2:2 corresponds to “walking in the truth” (2 John 4; 3 John 3–4). Perhaps the “belt of truth,” mentioned in Ephesians 6:14 as a part of the Christian equipment for spiritual struggle, also fits into this category. Here we may also mention a request in Jesus’ high-priestly prayer: “Sanctify them by the truth” (John 17:17; cf. v. 19), as well as the promise that the Spirit will guide the disciples “into the truth” (John 16:13). The immediate context may, it is true, emphasize a christological and eschatological content in this teaching, but the ethical is never far remote, and the distinction between dogmatics and ethics, while useful in the theological curriculum, is not to be pressed into a separation of doctrine and practice, which should always remain united.


A notable group of passages, especially in the writings of John, exhibits a connotation of truth that goes beyond what has been discussed so far. Here the contrast is not so much between correct and false, but rather between complete and incomplete, definitive and provisional, full-orbed and partial.

John 1:9: “the true light” (cf. 1 John 2:8)

John 6:32: “true bread from heaven”

John 6:55: “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”

John 15:1: “I am the true vine.”

Heb. 8:2: “the true tabernacle set up by the Lord”

Heb. 9:24: “a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one”

In John 1:17 we read that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This does not deny the gracious character or the truth content of the Torah but it emphasizes that the administration of grace in its complete and ultimate form is the fruit of the incarnation of the Logos, “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This category of meaning might also apply to John 4:23–24 where worshiping in “spirit and truth” is commended. This does not discredit the Old Testament worship in Jerusalem, mandated by God, but it presents this as only a foreshadowing of the full realization of worship made possible in the New Testament. Other possible examples of this usage may be found in 1 Corinthians 5:8 and 1 Peter 5:12.

The biblical view of truth (ʾemeṯ-alētheia) is that it is like a rope with several intertwined strands. It will not do to isolate the strands and deal with them separately, although they may be distinguished just as various lines in a telephone cable may be distinguished by color. The full Bible concept of truth involves factuality, faithfulness, and completeness. Those who have stressed one of these features in order to downgrade either or both of the others are falling short of the biblical pattern. Notably those who have stressed faithfulness, as if conformity to fact did not matter, are failing grievously to give proper attention to what constitutes probably a majority of the passages in which the word truth is used.

Truth, in the biblical sense, is ultimately associated with the triune God Himself as a perfection of His being. By His singular mercy truth is communicated in a finite though adequate measure to rational creatures, angelic and human, so they can distinguish between truth and error, veracity and mendacity, straightforwardness and deceptiveness. God is always on the side of what is true and right. Specifically He is always true to His word, so that faithfulness appears as a wondrous feature of His being, grounding full confidence on the part of the believers. In His faithfulness God will not stop with prefigurements and foreshadowings, but will provide to those who worship Him, true light, true bread, true life in Jesus Christ, the Savior full of grace and truth, who brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (John 1:14; 2 Tim. 2:10).


Works marked with an asterisk are deemed particularly significant.

Berkouwer, G. C. and A. S. van der Woude, eds., Wat is Waarheid? Kampen: Kok, 1973. 194 pp. An interesting group of essays dealing with truth and verification.

*Blocher, Henri. “The Biblical Concept of Truth.” Themelios 6/1 (1969): 47–61. An English translation of a French article that appeared in Themelios 4/2 (1967): 8–20; in Ichthus, and elsewhere. An excellent survey with the methodology of biblical theology with a careful delineation of the meaning of “truth” in various types of biblical literature.

Geisler, Norman L. “The Concept of Truth in the Inerrancy Debate.” Bibliotheca Sacra, 137 (1980): 327–39. A trenchant advocacy of the correspondence view of truth.

Jepsen, Alfred, “ʾaman.” In Botterweck and Ringgren, TDOT, 1:292–323. An extensive article on the Hebraic usage of all words in this category. Notable bibliography to 1970. This is a translation of the original German in TWAT.

Loretz, Oswald. The Truth of the Bible. New York: Herder, 1968. 182 pp. A well-documented volume advocating the authority and reliability of Scripture in spiritual matters only.

Maurer, J. H. Wahrheit ist Richtigkeit und sonst-nichts? Basel: n.p., 1966. A doctoral thesis for the University of Basel, with special emphasis on Anselm.

Müller, Eberhard, ed. Der Gott der Wahrheit. Berlin: Furche, 1936. 431 pp. A series of twenty-nine essays on various aspects of the subject from a variety of Protestant viewpoints.

Quell, Gottfried, Gerhard Kittel, and Rudolf Bultmann. “Alētheia.” Kittel, ed. TDNT, 1:232–51. Quell deals with the Old Testament concept (232–37), Kittel with Rabbinic Judaism (237–38) and Bultmann with the Greek, Hellenistic, and New Testament usages (238–51). This is a thorough and helpful treatment, with some bibliography, notably an important article of R. Bultmann in ZNW 27 (1928): 113–63. In the original of TWNT this is found in 1:233–51.

Scott, Jack B. “ʾaman.” In R. L. Harris, ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody, 1980. Vol. I, pp. 51–53. A brief but helpful summary.

*Thiselton, A. “Truth.” In Colin Brown, ed. NIDNTT, III:874–902. A helpful and thorough discussion from an evangelical point of view, with a valuable discussion of various modern philosophical approaches (pp. 894–901). A substantial bibliography up to 1975 is appended. This is a greatly enlarged and developed version of the 1971 original by H. G. Link in L. Coenen, ed., Theologisches Begriffslexikon zum N.T. Pp. 1343–1355.

Thornwell, James H. Discourses on Truth. New York: Carter, 1855. 328 pp. A series of chapel addresses by a prominent Presbyterian theologian of the South.

Thorson, Walter R. “The Concept of Truth in the Natural Sciences.” Themelios. Vol. 5, no. 2 (1968), pp. 27–39. An interesting discussion from a scientist’s point of view.

*Vos, Geerhardus. “ ‘True’ and ‘Truth’ in the Johannine Writings.” The Biblical Review 12 (1927): 507–20. Reprinted in Richard Gaffin, ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation. The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980. Pp. 343–51. A very insightful treatment by this penetrating exegete and theologian.

*Vrielink, J. H. Het Waarheidsbegrip. Nijkerk: Callenbach, 1956. 151 pp. A valuable thesis for the University of Utrecht.

Wildberger, H. “ʾmn.” E. Jenni and C. Westermann, Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament. Munich: Kaiser, 1971. Vol. 1, pp. 177–209. An unusually full and condensed treatment of this Hebrew root.

1 Charles Malik, “Fallacies of the Age,” Inform, vol. 58, no. 4 (July 1981), p. 1.

2 This is reflected in the word ʾomenōṯ (2 Kings 18:16), denoting the pillars supporting the door of the temple (niv, “doorposts”).

3 Perhaps as a reflection of these perfections in the Godhead, mercy and truth are also used in combination with respect to human activity (Gen. 24:49; 47:29; 2 Sam. 15:20; Prov. 3:3; 14:22; 16:6; 20:28).

4 Psalm 45:4 perhaps should be listed in this context, but the text is rather obscure and the connotation of ʾemeṯ in it not manifest.


A few lines must be devoted also to the word ʾěmûnah, a cognate of ʾemeṯ. This word appears some forty-nine times in the Old Testament and is usually rendered by words relating to the idea of faithfulness. In the LXX it is translated more than half the time by alētheia (truth) or cognates. In the KJV, while “faithfulness” preponderates as the translation, “truth” (or a cognate) is used fifteen times. In the NIV “truth” is used as the translation of ʾěmûnah eight times only. It is probably safe to say that the idea of faithfulness is the dominant connotation of this word, but that the idea of “truth,” “truthfulness,” “integrity,” being closely related to, although not identical with faithfulness, is nevertheless always close at hand.

The same may be said for the cognate ʾēmûn “faithful,” “truthful,” which appears only five times in the Old Testament (Deut. 32:20; Prov. 13:17; 14:5; 20:6; Isa. 26:2).

The Hebrew word ʾāmēn, strangely enough, occurs more often in the Greek New Testament than in the Hebrew Old Testament. There it is mostly used as the expression of emphatic religious assent, sometimes with repetition: “Amen, Amen” (“truly, truly”). One notable exception is found in Isaiah 65:16, where God is named “the God of Amen,” the God of truth, a form of language that reminds us of the expression “God of truth” (ʾemeṯ) discussed above.

6 This may perhaps provide the explanation of the apparent contradiction between 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. Satan is the one who incited David to take the census (2 Samuel) out of pride and vainglorious confidence in numbers, but God was in control and permitted this activity on Satan’s part in order to fulfill His own purposes (cf. Job 1).

7 J. H. Vrielink, Het Waarheidsbegrip (Nijkerk: Callenback, 1956), p. 6.

8 Proverbs 3:3; 14:22, 25; 16:6; Jeremiah 28:9; 32:41; 33:6.

9 An accurate count is especially difficult here because of textual variations. In the textus receptus there are 152 occurrences of amen, a number of the additional instances occurring at the end of the various books.

10 This may well be the case also for 2 Corinthians 1:20, not counted in this number.


This figure is reached as follows.

alētheia: truth, 109 times

alēthēs: true, 26 times

alēthinos: true, truthful, 28 times

alēthōs: truly, 18 times

alētheuō: speak, do the truth 2 times

The writings of John (Gospel, epistles, and Revelation) show a special emphasis here, with 93 occurrences. The recorded words of Jesus in the days of His flesh have it 45 times. To this should be added the 75 occurrences of His use of “amen.”

12 Matthew 14:33; 26:73; 27:54; Mark 14:70; 15:39; Luke 9:27; 12:44; 21:3; John 1:47; 4:42; 6:14; 7:26, 40; 8:31; 17:8; Acts 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 2:5.

13 Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14, 32; Luke 4:25; 20:21; 22:59; Acts 4:27; 10:34; 12:9; Philippians 1:18; Colossians 1:6; 1 John 3:18; 2 John 1, 3; 3 John 1.

14 John 5:31, 32, 8:13, 14, 17; 19:35; 21:24; Titus 1:13; 3 John 12; Revelation 3:14.

15 Mark 5:33; 12:32; John 4:18; 8:40, 45, 46; 10:41; 16:7; 19:35; Acts 26:25; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 7:14; 12:6; Galatians 4:16; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 2:15.

16 Romans 9:1; 1 Timothy 2:7.

17 In 1 John 5:20 it is difficult to distinguish with assurance what is said of the Father, and what applies to the Son. I have opted here to apply the statement “He is the true God” to the Father.

TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, trans. G. Bromiley, 10 vols.

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