Understanding the Truth

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

John 17:17 (KJV)

Truth – This is the classic example of Greek vs. Hebrew thought. What is truth? Or more importantly what is Yeshua’s implication when He declares that God’s word is truth? We’ll quickly recognize the differences as we break down the word truth in both the Greek and then into Hebrew.

Our first move is to look up this word in the Greek, and then using the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), we’ll find out how this word was used in the culture during that time period. The word is alētheia and while the Strong’s Concordance gives a brief explanation, it’s quite insufficient regarding the usage of that word.

The first two ways we’ll explore in which this word was used are the Hellenistic/Greek, otherwise known as the common, non-religious language and worldview, and the early Christian view. We’ll see a relation between the two as many early Christians were founded in Greek philosophy prior to their conversions. The non-biblical usage of this word pertained to truth in law, real events in history, or being in philosophy, and denoted etymologically those things which were not concealed. Basically, those things which were obvious, were true. The early Christian view linked to this and established truth as being “that which has certainty and force” (TDNT, p. 38) So truth to the Hellenized Christian was based on certainty.

Now let’s take a look at the Hebrew perspective. The TDNT gives us some insight on how this word was used in the LXX. “It denotes a reality that is firm, solid, binding, and hence true. With reference to persons it characterizes their action, speech, or thought, and suggests integrity.” (TDNT p.37) The word alētheia often translates the Hebrew word emeth in the LXX. And emeth is the Hebrew word for truth based on reliability. In Psalm 31:5 we read that David trusts in God because God is reliable. Everything God does, or says will come to pass. His laws are truth according to Psalm 19:9. YHWH guarantees His moral and legal standards. He is reliable, and that’s what makes Him true.

Do you see the difference? While the Greek worldview wants to use systematic theology to place everything in nicely organized boxes of certainty (this is where apologetics comes from), the Hebrew worldview is much more fluid. In Hebrew, YHWH’s word isn’t true because it’s certain and perfect. It’s true because it’s reliable. Have you ever counted how many tribes surrounded the Tabernacle in the wilderness? There were 4 tribes on each of the four sides of the Tabernacle which makes 12 tribes, right? But notice the Levites aren’t counted among them. The Levites resided inside the Tabernacle. Ah, now there’s 13 tribes?! But isn’t there only 12? Have you ever tried adding up the chronology of Yeshua’s death and resurrection using all four Gospels? Things don’t line up perfectly. Did you know Atheists can point to over 250 contradictions in Scripture? This is because they’re reading Scripture with a Greek worldview. When we look at His words as true based on reliability, we’re secure that what it says will be, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s true.

While the Greek mind is concerned with being perfect, making sure everything lines up chronologically, counting every number and measuring it for accuracy, the Hebrew mind is about sharing the experience, or the event. The focus is very different from the Greek. So if you’re struggling with what might appear to be a contradiction in Scripture, or you can’t quite make the square peg fit in the circular hole, just let go of your Greek-based foundation, and embrace the Hebraic understanding. And when you get to verses like Matthew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” you’ll realize that it’s not a call to be perfect, it’s a call to be holy – to be set apart in truth based on reliability.

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