True and Truth—DefinitionsBy Sigrid Fowler
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If you check a concordance, you’ll see that the word true occurs about eighty times in the Bible, truth almost three times that. Clearly biblical writers consider the concept important, and it’s probably a good idea, from time to time, for readers of the Bible to stop and think about what these words mean. Before doing a “deep dive,” as people say, into the texts and dictionaries themselves, I’ll lay out some familiar definitions—the word true qualifies something as real or actual, and truth is the real thing, permanent and unchanging. When we use the word true, we think of something or someone described as having integrity or authenticity; truth is that indisputable, lasting thing no one can question. Those are ways we use the words. When Bible translators choose them, they know we will perceive the meaning Hebrew or Greek writers intended. Now for the Bible and the dictionaries.
Some examples from Scripture: Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8: 32). In Rev. 19: 11, he is given the title, “Faithful and True.” When he states unequivocally, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), we find a suggestion of this title. He speaks as God the Son, the title his already. Moses describes the LORD in like fashion: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect / For all his ways are justice / A God of truth and without injustice / Righteous and upright is he” (Deut. 32: 4).
Dictionaries tell us a lot, the Hebrew first. The word true (emet in Hebrew) is related to another Hebrew word (aman). With one vowel change, it’s a word we know, Amen. Emet means “firmness, duration, certainty, security, faithfulness, faith, truth, honesty” (Karl Feyerabend, ed., for the Langenscheidt series). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible adds “stability, certainty, truth, trustworthiness.” Strong’s also lists “assured, establishment, faithful, right, sure, true (-ly,-th), verity.” When we look again at aman, the related Hebrew word Amen comes from, the synonyms list goes on and on: “to build up or support, to foster as a parent or nurse, to render firm or faithful, to trust or believe, to be permanent or quiet, to be true or certain,” even “to go to the right”! When used in context, the meanings become “assurance, long continuance, steadfast, sure, surely, truly, verified, nurse, trust.”
The thing that interests me in all of this is that the quality being described is something that seems to be tested by human experience. We know that something is firm because we’ve put weight on it. We know the trustworthy because we’ve relied on that thing or that person. We’ve made a test. We know when we’ve been built up or supported. We can tell when someone is faithful, true, or trustworthy, supportive and dependable. I’m also remembering the command against putting God to the test and that Jesus shuts up the adversary with his quote from Deuteronomy. However, when you go back and look, the verboten against testing God is cast in terms of tempting the LORD (Deut. 6: 16). God chides Israel for stinginess and challenges them to be generous: “Bring in the tithes . . . and try me in this, see if I won’t open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing” (Mal 3:10).That sort of test is like an invitation, similar to the psalmist’s suggestion: “Oh taste and see that the LORD is good; / Blessed is the one who trusts in him” (Ps 34: 8)—i. e., See for yourself!
Do we need anything more right now than stability, a sense of trustworthiness and faithfulness among those with power and authority over our lives? Things simply work better when dependability is a cherished value, when support can be leaned on and permanence is understood. Who do we believe in? Why do we trust this person or that? These are questions not just for 2020 but for every year. Who needs insecurity, chaos and wrong, the fraudulent and the fake, anxiety, favoritism, and destruction? Check the definitions above. The words I just wrote are antonyms, and they describe a pretty uncomfortable place.
This is my invitation. Though I’m not sure what the psalmist means by “Taste and see,” I am certain about this, that the Lord is good. You will find that his goodness lasts, a goodness you can build a life on. Truth is like that.