A word represents a thought, but what different thoughts we may obtain from the same word! This is what often produces a problem in Bible translation. If one word may represent different ideas in the same language, how much more may this phenomenon appear when a word is translated from one language to another. This is further amplified when it involves an ancient language put into modern words. Ancient customs were different from ours today, and customs affect language and the choice of words or the shade of meaning of a certain expression. This is why a study of ancient customs and the contemporary language of the Bible is so necessary for anyone who would enrich his Biblical concepts.
Too often our ministry does not fully realize this when reading and preaching the Word. As a result they put the English-language slant on it, with a resulting distortion of the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit. The translation may be as nearly correct as is possible to make it from one language to another, yet our concept of the English word may give a different direction to our interpretation of the idea expressed. Therefore, if we wish to know what the writer actually had in mind, the study of the original language in which the Scriptures were written is essential. It is also very rewarding, even though it requires real effort. As ministers we should endeavor to understand and know all that the Holy Spirit intended as He moved men to write. Should we use less effort in obtaining exactness in studying God's truth than a lawyer would in understanding the law of the land, or as would a scientist in the laboratory? Or is the ministry the only profession where exactness in thought and reading is not a virtue? Unfortunately, there are still some who give that impression, perhaps unintentionally, if we are to judge by the remarks sometimes made about studying Greek or Hebrew, the languages in which the Bible was originally written.
Further, it is not only a matter of perhaps misunderstanding the meaning of a word or thought as it came from the hand of the original writer, but it is a matter of richness of thought in grasping the great fundamental concept of even a word, a concept that would add depth to our understanding and richness of thought to our presentation. How rewarding are the depths of His Word! No wonder Paul remarked, "0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Rom. 11:33). One word can challenge the deepest mind.
One of these words is the topic of this article, namely "truth." We speak of "the truth" and "present truth." Or we say, "Is he in the truth?" or "We have the truth." What do we mean by such expressions? Do they mean more than a sound to us? Pilate once asked Jesus, "What is truth?" The word from which "truth" is translated as given by the New Testament writers is aletheia. This is invariably translated "truth." What was the basic significance of this word in the koine Greek of the New Testament times? From what did it originate? The only way one can get the full understanding of a word in any language is to know its etymology, i.e., how it originated, how it developed. Take, for instance, the English word understanding, which is made up of two words, "under" and "standing." In other words, its basic meaning is "that which stands under," or that which supports an idea. When you have understanding of something, you have examined its foundations, that which lies back of the idea or gives support to it. This is the basic concept of the word. Just so with this word "truth." It is made up of two original ideas or words, the combination of which lends color to the full meaning of the word. This first part is the negative, or privative, alpha, as it is designated in grammar. This is similar to our un- before a word, which by reason of euphony becomes ii-, in-, ir-, et cetera.
The second part is a noun formation coming from the verb (see PDF) whose aorist (past tense) stem is MO, which is also the verbal stem and perhaps the root. An obsolete form of the verb is (see PDF), the stem 20 being also the stem of the noun under discussion. Now what does(see PDF) or (See PDF) mean? With this before us we will have an "understanding" of the noun that is translated "truth." In Liddell and Scott's lexicon, as well as in Arndt and Gingrich, the primary meaning of (see PDF) is "to escape notice." This is varied by such definitions as "without being observed," "unseen," or "be hidden." From this it would be clear that the noun form would be "that which is hidden or unseen." Putting now the two parts together, that is, the privative alpha (the negative) with the noun derived from (See PDF), as above explained, we have the result—"that which is not hidden," or putting it positively, "that which is out in the open." What a wonderful thought (which can enrich our sermons) has now developed from this simple word! Truth is that which is out in the open.
This is in harmony with one of the definitions for (see PDF) given by Arndt and Gingrich, i.e., "reality as opposed to mere appearance." W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says of this word that it "is used (a) objectively, signifying 'the reality lying at the basis of an appearance; the manifested, veritable essence of the matter' (Cremer), e.g., Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 11:10." The Hebrew word for "truth" is emeth, which also has the meaning of "reality" in the sense of trustworthiness, genuineness.
How significant this idea is as we think of Christ's admonition: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). This is truth, that is, the light shining in our lives. Again, "Ye are the light of the world." Our life shining forth is the truth. Nothing is under cover. Do we really have the truth if we keep what we have hidden?
John 3:21 confirms this idea for truth where Jesus says, "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they wrought in God." Also Paul in Ephesians 5:9 says, "(For the fruit of the Spirit [here the best MSS. read "Light."—note context of preceding verse] is in all goodness and righteousness and truth)." Thus the fruit of light is truth. John in his First Epistle, chapter 1, verse 6, confirms this further: "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth."
In Philippians 1:18 truth is contrasted with pretense. Now, pretense is covering over the real with something synthetic, whereas truth is a revelation of the genuine. In other words, it is the opposite to a lie or deceit.
In a number of texts, the Bible contrasts truth with the word(see PDF); or related words, which are translated "lie" or "deceit." In other words, a lie is something that includes a hiding of the real, the genuine. Anything done under cover is not truth. This a true Christian has renounced. He cannot use Scripture to support error or works of darkness. He must live in the open before men and before God. Does not Paul say, "But [we] have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2)? Yes, everything is in the open. This is truth.
This must be manifested in the life. Thus truth is contrasted with a living lie. Note the words of John: "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4).
There can be only one end to those who practice deceit and live a lie and not the truth. How careful we should be that we do not cover our real life and manifest the unreal! Anyone doing so does not have "the truth." After speaking of Satan's lying wonders Paul says, "And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10).
Yes, we preachers need to beware lest we lose the love of the truth—that which is out in the open and not concealed. Do we do or say deceitful things concerning facts that we want to keep hidden? Do we withhold the light from shining? Should we not ask ourselves the question, "Am I truth or do I just have the truth without manifesting it in my life?" If I truly have it I am not concealing my conduct, nor am I holding truth back from others. Paul says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [literally, "hold down"] the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). An unrighteous life holds down the truth and does not reveal it.
As we read the Bible and find this word "truth" may we ever remember its basic meaning and apply it to our life and keep it as our possession, thus revealing Christ who is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).