What is Truth?

The answer to this question must go beyond the dictionary definition given below. The etymology or history of a word must be taken into consideration because it sheds light on the underlying concept of the word. This determined the way it was used in the past and, although the spelling may have changed, this linguistic legacy is still reflected in the core meaning when we use it today.

truth n. pl truths
[ME trewthe, treuthe, fr. OE treowth, trewth, akin to OHG getruwida fidelity, ON tryggth, faith, trustiness; derivative fr. the root of E true]

1aarchaic : the quality or state of being faithful. b: sincerity in character, action and speech: genuineness in expressing feeling or belief.

2 : something that is true or held to be true, a: the real state of affairs; something that is the case. b: a true relation or account

3a : relationship, conformity or agreement with fact or reality or among true facts or propositions.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged

Sub-division 1a above lists as archaic the oldest definition of the word as speakers of modern English have used it. At the time that the King James Version of the bible was written, this usage was still current. It is only because of our present perception of the meaning of 'truth' that the original intent of that translation is veiled.

Psalm 51:6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

It is faithfulness that God desires in us, or it could be said that He desires that we be faithful to the truth that is in us.

"…what is often missed is an insight that the speakers of Middle English under-stood a millennium ago: that truth comes from trust. At least, this is the etymological origin of the word. During the Middle English period [12th to 15th centuries], speakers of English adapted the Old English [7th century to about 1100 AD] word treowth, meaning 'faithful,' to speak for the concept we now refer to as 'truth.'Treowth itself came from the Old Norse word trÓa, meaning 'faith' and 'trust' and closely related to the Old Norse word traust, which meant only 'trust,' from which the word 'trust' arrived in English along with the first Scandinavian invasions of Great Britain in the Sixth Century AD.

This historical relationship between the words 'truth' and 'trust' may have an accidental dimension to it. (Romance languages, for example, do not show the same close association.) But if accident it was, we argue that there was wisdom in it nonetheless. That truth comes from trust, and that trust in turn comes from truth, is the central theoretical position of this paper…"

Truth We Trust Michael Carolan and Michael Bell, Dept. of Sociology, Iowa State Univ.

Another English word derived from treowth that is not well known or understood is that word used almost exclusively in wedding vows: troth. Webster's defines it as 'pledged faithfulness.' When two people have pledged their faithfulness in a marriage vow they are then betrothed and are to be true to one another.

Faithful, in its root meaning is 'full of faith' or a 'readiness and willingness to believe.' In present usage it means to be unwavering in allegiance, affection or in upholding a standard. This is not the way we define 'truth' in modern English. Treowth has evolved to mean faithful to the original as in 2a above; the real state of affairs, something that is the case. Truth is not to be equated with fact. Truth deals with what is real and fact deals with what is thought to be so.

The ultimate point on which a translation is judged is its faithfulness to the original intent. When that intent is preserved it is 'truth.' To determine to what extent any translation is faithful to the original, an examination of the original languages used must confirm that the intended meaning of words remains unchanged. In this case the word used overwhelmingly in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word 'emeth.

The Brown, Driver and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon defines this word:

emeth n.f.
firmness, faithfulness, truth 1 : reliability, sureness. 2 : stability, continuance. , 3 : faithfulness,reliableness: (a) of men. (b) , an attribute of God. 4truth (a) as spoken. , (b)of testimony and judgment. (c) of divine , instruction. (d) truth as a body of ethical or , religious knowledge. 5adv. in truth, truly.

The New Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies has this entry for the root meaning:

amen m. faithful, faithfulness, fidelity, as implied in the word Amen.

And this for the specific meaning of 'emeth, a form of amen:

ή'emeth f. firmness, stability, perpetuity; faithfulness, fidelity, truth, i. e. firmness and constancy in oneself in keeping and executing one's promise, &c., so to do or show truth. . . Truth as opposed to falsehood; ascribed to the word of God, to prophesies, to the servant of God. . .

This entry continues with this first example of its usage:

Genesis 32:10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.

Thus the Hebrew and the English can be seen to have the same root meaning and we may therefore continue to regard 'truth' and 'faithfulness' to be interchangeable qualities of God's Word. Examples of this equality of fidelity with truth can be seen in the following verses where truth is faithfulness.

Psalm 132:11 Jehovah hath sworn truth to David, He turneth not back from it: Of the fruit of thy body, I set on the throne for thee.

Micah 7:20 Thou givest truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham, That thou hast sworn to our fathers, from the days of antiquity!

both, Young's Literal Translation

There is a defining verse that shows that the words spoken by God are both the truth and are to be trusted as faithful. The Hebrew word 'emeth, translated here as 'truth' can also be translated 'faithful' with equal force and comprehension.

Psalm 119:151 Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth.

Rightly, anything that is the Word of God is to be trusted whether it be a promise, prophecy or words of knowledge or wisdom. The words of men may be true but without the absolute certainty of God's faithfulness to bring it to pass, the best any man can say of his own utterances should be qualified with words such as: 'The truth of the matter, as best as I can determine . . .' or 'This is true to the best of my knowledge.'

So then, if someone is to speak the 'truth' they must of necessity be speaking the Word of God and must then be faithful to duplicate exactly both the original intent and meaning of that word.

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

In Greek mythology a man named Aeneas visits his dead father in the Elysian Fields, the place where those who had led a good life while living, dwelt in the Underworld. When he is ready to return to the world of the living, Anchises, his father, shows him the souls of those who are about to be reincarnated. They must first take 'a draught of long oblivion' from the River of Forgetfulness so that they have no memory of what in former lives they had experienced and suffered. The name of the river is Lethe.

It takes its name from a very old Greek verb that is translated: to forget, to escape notice, to remain concealed. It is the word [lethō]. There is a device used in Greek grammar that is called a privative that allows a word to be turned into its antonym. This is done by adding an alpha [our a] to the word. It exists in English also in such words as amoral, asymmetrical, etc. The resulting antonym for the noun form is [ aleethee], which is translated: unconcealed, manifest, being in reality what it appears to be. This is the root of the Greek word for 'truth' that appears in 2Timothy 2:15 above and is defined in the koiné Greek in which the New Testament was written as follows:

[aleetheia](1) of what has certainty and validity, [opposite- planee, error, deceit] truth (Eph 4:21); of the real state of affairs, esp. as divinely disclosed truth (Rom 1:18); of the concept of the Gospel message as being absolute truth (2Th 2:12); (4) of true to fact statements, [opp. pseudo, false] truth, fact (Luk 4:25); (5) of what is characterized by love of truth, [opp.adikia, unrighteousness] truthfulness, uprightness, fidelity (1Co 5:8, 13:6); (6) of reality as opposed to pretense or mere appearance, [opp. prophasis, pretense] truth, sincerity (Phi 1:18);

Friberg's Greek Lexicon

It can be seen that given enough time for a language to evolve, that the universal meaning of truth becomes that which is real as opposed to what is false or imagined; that which can be trusted rather than selected as the better of uncertain choices. Where the Old Testament believers held truth as the faithful word of God, which was revealed to them, the church was given truth as the revealed word of God, which is faithful.

Ephesians 3:4-5 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery {that which had been concealed} of Christ ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

Consider the word 'truth' in the following verses with this added depth of meaning as the revealed and faithful Word of God.

Romans 2:2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.

Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

1 Timothy 2:7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.

2 Timothy 2:18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

3 John 1:4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

We can get to the point exhorted in Proverbs where we can 'trust in the lord with all our heart' when we believe and apply the following:

John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, [the revealed and faithful word of God]

and the truth [that same revealed and faithful Word of God]

shall make you free. [of worry, doubt and fear; free to believe]

All Writings © Phillip Varady Sr.

All Writings © Phillip Varady Sr.