Concepts, Nuances, and the Holy Bible:
On this site, we try to
condense discussions for the benefit of the reader.
However, some subjects, such as truth and law, require that
certain basics be covered, and those basics in themselves are
Brief overview of
the following discussion: Coherence; meaning of words (philology and
etymology); Biblical meaning; Jesus as Truth; subjective and
objective truth; the “whole truth”; a Biblical study of truth;
human and Biblical truth; playing God; the truth of Genesis
1-11; failure to study the Bible; telling the truth and not
lying; the relevance of faith to truth; epistemology and truth;
starting with assumptions (presuppositions); pragmatic value of
functional truth; logic and truth; an
enemy of God and His justice has no right to the truth.
A Lament and a
John 3:16 Is Enough
“What Is Truth?”
Truth, truth, and the
Adding Complexity for
Clarity: An Actual Study of “Truth” in the Bible
“Playing God,” “All
truth is God’s truth,” and Genesis 1-11
There Is More News and
It Is Worse!
God’s Word Needs to be
Is “Telling the Truth”
and “Not Lying” the Same Thing?
Back to the Bible
Definitions of Truth;
Working Away from
Little “t” Truth
The Relevance of Faith
Everyone Starts with
Exceptions to “Thou
Shalt Not Bear False Witness”
Sola Scriptura Is Not
Enough to Apply God’s Truth
Further Reading and
The following are
summaries of the discussion that follows. These statements
involve nuances that are more fully discussed in the text.
Please do not try to understand or draw conclusions from these
positions, as “stand alones.”
1. The concept of
truth (and many Biblical concepts) is not well understood
today because of a lack of attention to definitions that is
found generally among pastors, teachers, and laymen alike.
throughout all history have sought for an objective standard
for truth. Getting away from subjectivity in truth has
always been the great dilemma. But,
God has solved that
problem for Christians: they have an objective source - the
2. Every Bible
verse, for example, John 3:16, is fully pregnant with
meaning, if a more complete understanding of the words is
3. Truth is a
Person or Persons (Trinity) who knows everything in the
universe and its relationship to everything else.
Again, one of the
great issues of truth throughout history has been the
relationship of the subjective with the objective. In
Christianity, we have that beautifully joined. God is fully
objective (totally impartial in His understanding) while
being a Person (subjective).
4. Truth is the 66
books of the Protestant Bible. Any claim that God has spoken
truth to mankind in any other way or by additional content
is heresy (Revelation 22:18-19).
5. “Telling the
truth” by an individual person is fraught with difficulties
that include unintentional mistakes, limited knowledge,
finite senses (eyesight, hearing, etc.), and intentional
deceit. No one can tell the whole truth except God.
6. The large
emphasis of the Bible is on truth from God, spoken as “Thus
saith the Lord” in historical context and written by the Old
Testament prophets or otherwise recorded as God-breathed
through the writers of Scripture.
7. Man can know the
truth of the Bible. It is truth, not analogy.
8. All man’s best
efforts at truth are relative because he is finite.
9. “All truth is
God’s truth,” as it is often used by psychologists, is
heresy. "All truth" is indeed "God’s truth," but any claim to
truth must always survive the test of a thoroughgoing
10. In every way
that the Bible has been tested honestly and fairly, for
example, archeology and evolutionary science, the Bible has
been shown to be true.
11. Christians deny
the Word of God and its power by their actions. While God
promises that the Bible has everything for life and
godliness in every area of knowledge, too many Christians
virtually ignore its knowledge outside of personal
12. “Telling the
truth” and “not lying” are the same from the subjective
center of one person. They are the same for God.
13. Man’s “truth”
is always relative in that man’s knowledge is limited to the
factors listed in #5 (above).
testimony, even in the “trivial” things of life, like giving
directions to get to a certain destination, is important to
prevent harm to the other person, as well as to preserve his
own character and reputation. In matters of truth and
Scripture, he must give even more diligence, since these
matters involve issues of eternity.
15. Man’s “truth,”
including the theories and empiricism of science, has great
pragmatic (functional) value, in spite of its extreme
limitations as truth. However, a Biblical worldview is
the most pragmatic system possible for mankind.
The Pragmatic Test of
16. Virtually all
Christians need to wrestle with the concept of truth,
relative to the Bible and to a determination of truth
outside the Bible. Certainly, the concept of truth should be
discussed more in churches with practical application.
17. There needs to
be a distinction between man’s “truth” and God’s truth. The
words to use are subject to debate, but efforts at this
nomenclature is imperative to giving the Bible the authority
that Christians and the world needs.
18. A definition of
truth is “what is” or “everything that is to be known about
an object and its relationship to every other object in the
universe.” "What is" exists regardless of what we think of
any part or whole in the universe. Thus, only God can know truth. But, man can know
God’s truth that He has revealed in His Word.
19. Faith has
several definitions, and therefore, is misunderstood by most
Christians. What an individual will accept as true is
determined by his faith, not by “facts” or “proof.”
20. Epistemology or
“how I know what I know” is just another name for trying to
arrive at truth.
21. A corollary of
#19 is that what one will accept as true is pre-determined
by what one is willing to accept as true. This is subjective
or personal truth. The only objective truth is the
22. “Logic is the
study of methods by which the conclusion is proved beyond
all doubt.” Logic, rightly applied, allows the extension of
the truth of Scripture beyond its actual words.
nothing to say about the truth of the propositions that
are reasoned from, only the process by which conclusions
are reached. Conclusions reasoned logically from truth
are truth, also. But, propositions of falsehood which
follow logical reasoning are still falsehoods.
23. An enemy of God
and His justice has no right to the truth from those who
represent God and oppose this enemy.
24. The fullness of
Biblical application and understanding requires methods that
lie outside of “sola Scriptura.”
Lament and a Challenge
In general, I am
greatly disappointed in theologians, preachers, and virtually
all Christians who speak and write about epistemology and truth.
By most standards relative to such things, I am a layman. As a
layman, I wish to have things simplified. As a scholar, I wish
to have things coherent. That is, I wish that all parts are
consistent with the whole.
systematization. Coherency requires knowing and using precise
Now, certainly, I find
great thoughts from the many Christian thinkers that I have
read. For example, R. C. Sproul in his book, Knowing
Scripture, states as a rule of interpretation of Scripture,
“Determine carefully the meaning of words… with multiple
meanings” (p. 79, 82). Wow! I marvel at the influence that
Christianity might have in the culture of ideas on this one
principle alone. Christians eschew definitions! Virtually all
Christians! From the renowned Bible teachers and preachers to
the professionals (physicians, Ph.D.s, lawyers, etc.) and the
(formally) uneducated in the pew. (For more, see
Appalling! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
“In (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge.” Paul said, “The weapons of our warfare are
not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself
against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into
captivity to the obedience of Christ.” And, these verses can be
Appalling! Christians means “Christ-ones.“ Christ, as the truth.
Christ, as the sum total of knowledge. Christ, as the omniscient
One that He is. Surely, as Christ is all these things, His
people ought to be diligent students of words and language, not
We have much to
say about this, but it is hard to explain because you
are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you
ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the
elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need
milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being
still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching
about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature,
who by constant use have trained themselves to
distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14, NKJV).
Oh, we know the Bible.
Seminaries and libraries have thousands of volumes written by
theologians from all ages from Augustine of Hippo to John Calvin
to J. I. Packer. There is some great teaching there. Teaching
from which I have benefited greatly.
But, in every age and
among almost all theologians, there is a lack of definitions,
especially precise and coherent definitions.
Do you know that there
are at least four different uses of the word faith in the New
Testament? Do you know that there are at least six different
uses of the “will of God” in the Bible? Do you know that there
are at least a dozen different uses of the word “law” in the
Bible? Do you know that there are at least a dozen synonyms of
the word “law” in the Bible? Do you know a Biblical definition
of love? Do you know a Biblical definition of peace? For our
purposes here, do you know both a biblical and secular
definition of truth?
Christianity is in the
ghetto in the United States, intellectually. If we do not rise
to the occasion, Christians may be in the ghetto literally. And,
that occasion, in my opinion, is one that requires a precise
understanding of both philosophical and Biblical knowledge.
3:16 Is Enough for Me!
“Ah, you say. Don’t
bother me with complexity. I simply want John 3:16 for myself
and to present it to the unsaved.”
May I ask you to pause
a moment. How does one understand John 3:16? “For God…” Who is
God? How many gods are worshipped on this planet? For the true
God, there are hundreds of names and characteristics of God
throughout the Bible. “… so loved…” What is love? What is
Biblical love? Do you know that you cannot know the love of God
in its fullness, if you do not know the Law of God (Romans 13:8,
10; Galatians 5:14).
“… the world…” This
word separates Christians of all times into those who believe in
“free will” and those who believe in “election and
predestination.” “… that He gave…,“ a fairly simple verb. But,
it does raise the question, “What is a gift?” Does something
that is a “gift,” have a contribution by the recipient? Is a
gift that I help purchase or assist in its giving, truly a gift.
If my son, Ben, gives me $5.00 to help buy his bicycle that
costs $50.00, does he see the bicycle as a gift or something to
which he contributed? With this example, we are back to the
debate between “free will” and “predestination,” for a person
with truly free will contributes his $5.00 towards the purchase
of his salvation.
“… His only Begotten
Son…” Son denotes a Father. “Begotten” complicates the
relationship. “Only” complicates it further. For several
centuries after Christ, theologians debated the issues of the
Trinity, resulting in the Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian,
Chalcedon, and other creeds crafted with thousands of hours of
research and debate.
believes…” “… not perish…” “… everlasting life…” I could pose
similar complexities for these words, as well. John 3:16,
simple? I think not.
I hear the argument
coming, “One does not have to know everything about John 3:16 to
believe it and be saved!” Well, I agree wholeheartedly, but will
say three things about your proposal. 1) In spite of this long
introduction, the issue before us is truth. Truth is the most
important issue (below) that individual man or mankind itself
faces. If truth does not exist, nothing else matters. If
truth does not exist, anyone can do whatever they want and never
be criticized by anyone else. If truth does not exist, it does
not matter whether “God is love” and John 3:16, because one
cannot know that they are true.
2) If one does not have
to know everything about John 3:16 to be saved, exactly
what does one have to know to be saved? I would have you make a
list from 1-5 or 1-10 or 1-100 or however long your list is, but
I challenge you to make a list. As you do so, you will find that
it is not so simple after all. What did the thief on the cross
know? For surely, he was with Christ that day in heaven.
3) Why will one person
to whom you present John 3:16 accept it and another reject it?
Why will the humanist vigorously deny it and work to persecute
Christians? Perhaps, there is no way to make John 3:16
realistically simple. Perhaps, one might understand the Trinity
and the cataclysmic destruction that resulted from sin with a
little more contemplation of the words of John 3:16 from their
fuller development throughout Scripture.
(I will not deny that
hundreds of thousands have been saved through this simple verse
and through a simple gospel. But, I will deny that any Christian
can worship God with any fullness and reality [that is,
according to Christ‘s directive, to worship God “in spirit and
in truth”] without beginning to grasp the immensity of the
verse’s meaning. And, that no Christian can understand John 3:16
without understanding many of the other verses that give a
fuller meaning to the verse. And, finally, how can a Christian
ever be satisfied with a stagnant knowledge of God and His
On the issue of truth,
many Christians and many non-Christians like to start with the
question posed by Pilate to Jesus, “What is truth?” So, I might
as well begin there. Some dilettantes deny that Jesus ever
answered this question because He did not answer Pilate when he
posed the question. However, Jesus answered it on many other
occasions. I have cited one above. Another is, “If you abide in
My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the
truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). “When
He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all
truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but
whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to
come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and
declare it to you (John 16:13-14). All true Christians
believe that Jesus is the truth.
how do we understand and apply Jesus or the Trinity as the
truth? Just this, truth becomes a Person or Persons - the
Trinity. They embody truth. They cannot lie. So, our first
principle of truth is that truth is ultimately subjective --
that it is determined by a Person or Persons.
(The Trinity also
answers another ethical dilemma, the problem of the one, the
few, and the many. Righteousness for one requires righteousness
for all. Or, what is right for one person is right for all
people. Or, what is right for the individual is right for the
family is right for a group is right for a city is right for a
nation is right for the world.! But, that issue is for another
time and place.)
Truth, then, is what
God knows of an object or person. Truth is "reality" or Reality. But, we are not God, so what
can we know of His mind.
It is amazing to me
that otherwise great teachers, usually Christians, in many ages
have erred on this problem. The Pietists, like the Gnostics,
have sought for a “deeper” life and deeper relationship with
God. The Scholastics attempted to integrate Greek philosophy
with Scripture. Quakers sought the “inner light.” Many Scots
held to “natural common sense.” Thomas Jefferson and the modern
Neo-orthodox tried to determine what is and is not God’s Word in
The only truth that we
know of God is the 66 books of the Protestant Bible.
For that reason, it is called Revelation. God revealing His mind
to us. If God is truth, His Word is truth. And the only Word
from God that we have is the Bible. The Bible, then, is the only
truth that we can know.
“Ah,” you challenge me,
“I know from nature that God is infinitely creative to the
extent that the best minds with the best technology that modern
science can devise cannot comprehend, understand, or explain all
its intricate details.” Yes, but that only adds to your Biblical
understanding that determined who the Creator is. So,
Scripture always controls and directs our understanding of
nature. And, that would be so of any other knowledge of God in
And, these 66 books
of the Bible answer the greatest dilemma that searchers for
truth encounter: objectivity. As we will see later, truth on
a human level is quite conditional to human frailties and intent
to tell the truth. But, God has given us an extensive message
that is totally external to ourselves to study, and He has
prevented any addition to it. So, we have in its pages all that
He intends to give us and our source of truth.
truth, and the “Whole Truth”
“Raise your right hand
and tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Everyone in the United States (with maybe the exception of a few
atheists) who has ever testified in a court of law has said
these words. But, can our testimony be truth?
Yes and no. And,
herein, is the crux if the problem of truth, philosophically and
practically, especially for the Bible-believing Christian.
Can man’s truth be
equated with God’s truth? Obviously, not. Not only is man
subject to lying, he is subject to unintended inaccuracy,
illusion, mistake, and insufficient investigation. Yet, we are
called to truth. “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let
each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’
for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
There seems to be a
dilemma here. If man’s truth cannot be equated with God’s truth,
then how can God call on man to tell the truth? How can our
courts require of us “to tell the truth…?”
A friend of mine once
wrote to me on this issue, using Truth and truth (upper and
lower case t’s), to designate man‘s truth and God’s truth. He
also used the qualifier, “empirical truth.” Francis Schaeffer
wrote about “truth” and “true truth.” Many Christians who are
psychologists and some others say that “All truth is God’s
truth.” (See below.)
Who do we get around or
through this dilemma? Can the knowledge of man be called truth?
First, as we reviewed
earlier, the same word can have different definitions and uses.
There is the truth of God and the truth of man. God cannot lie
and always tells the truth. Man may try with all his effort to
“tell the truth,” but will always be subject to considerable
error, depending upon the situation, the strength of his senses,
his intelligence, his memory, and other factors. No two people
will tell the same “truth,” as witnessed by thousands of court
testimonies. If God were “in the dock,” His testimony would
always be the same. The testimony of the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit would always be the same.
Complexity for Clarity: An Actual Study of “Truth” in the Bible
I am going to go out on
a limb, defensible, I think. But, I will also make a demand to
the minds of all thinking Christians, especially those in the
role of pastors, teacher, and leaders.
My limb is a discussion
of truth and falsehood as it is recorded in the Bible. You will
need a concordance. This exercise can be done easily at a
website where you can search the Bible in many different
versions. Find all the verses
in the Bible that contain the word “truth.”
The first thing to
notice, consistent (coherent) with the Ninth Commandment, is
that the large majority of commands to individuals (apart from
communicating Scripture to others) is “not to lie” (“bear false
witness,” “deal falsely,” “lying to his neighbor,” “does not
lie,” “falsehood,” “deceitful tongue,” etc.), rather than to
tell the truth.
At Biblegateway.com, a
search of “truth” in the New King James Version showed 228
verses where the word occurred. A rough count reveals that only
20 referred to the truth of man (for example, Genesis 42:16,
Proverbs 12:17, and Mark 5:33). Another 26 could be interpreted
as referring to the truth of God (including His Word as
Scripture) or the word of man (for example, Psalm 15:2, Proverbs
12:17, John 1:14, and Ephesians 4:25). Our exercise, then,
leaves 182 that refer to the Word of God, as God actually
speaking or His Word recorded in Scripture, (for example, Psalm
25:5, Isaiah 65:16, Matthew 5:18, and Romans 15:8).
This study is not
precise. Anyone who does it will likely come up with different
numbers. Indeed, as I go back over the list another time, I can
see where I might change my mind. But the precision of the study
is not the issue. The issue is the overwhelming emphasis that
truth, as God discusses it, belongs primarily to Himself.
I believe that God is
illustrating man’s truth over against His truth in the Bible.
Now, I will yield to all the criticisms thrown at me
hermeneutically, because only one verse is necessary to
establish it as God’s word to man. But, there is a philosophical
issue that cannot be so easily avoided. That issue is that by
no standard conceivable is man’s truth comparable to God’s truth.
Let me answer one
objection immediately. Man can know truth. Some have
argued that man can only know truth analogically. But, I deny
that statement. Man can know truth because he can understand
what God says in the Bible. When Jesus says, “I am the way, the
truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me,” I
know that as the truth. I do not know the fullness of that
statement as God does, but I can learn a great deal from the
whole of Scripture about what it means. I can learn enough to
rest in my salvation and expect the growth of my sanctification
and eventual glorification.
But, apart from the
Bible man does not know truth the way that God knows truth.
Apart from Scripture, I do not know anything as God knows it.
There is the story of the blind men who were brought to feel the
elephant. One felt his trunk and thought that the elephant might
be like a giant snake. One felt his hide and thought that he
might be a large, living building. Another felt his ears and
thought that he might have wings like a bird.
There are many, many
other characteristics of the elephant. The trunk would have two
holes at the end, it would taper, it would have different
textures on the top and bottom, the tusks would be encountered
at the junction to the head, etc., etc. The same variety would
exist for all parts of the elephant. Then, beyond the senses of
the blind men, there are the cells of all the different organs
of the elephant. There are the sub-cellular elements, even
genetic components of the cells themselves. On the macroscopic
side, there is the elephant in relation to his habitat, in zoos,
and how he might even influence the universe. What is the truth
of the elephant?
The truth of the
elephant and any object in the universe is everything of which
it consists and its relationship to everything else in the
Anything else is “partial truth.” Truth with a little “t.”
“Empirical truth.” Not “true truth.”
A simpler definition is
that truth is what is. When Moses asked God whom should
he tell the Egyptians that sent him, God said, tell them, “I
am.” God has no other referent other than himself. To tell all
that He is can be told only by Himself. And, even if God were
willing to tell all of Himself, man’s finite mind could not
contain the infinite mind of God. Man would have to be God to
know all that He knows. Omniscience, omnipresence, and
omnipotence cannot exist independently of each other.
But, I digress. Can we
call any knowledge within man, apart from the Bible, to be
“truth?” We need the Bible’s proportion here. Overwhelmingly,
truth exists in God and His Word. Overwhelmingly, that truth is
important. Overwhelmingly, that truth must be known.
Overwhelmingly, that truth must be applied into every area of
knowledge. Overwhelmingly, that is the only infallible, at all
times and in all ways, truth known to man.
I do not like the term,
“playing God.” It usually refers to man’s use of technology. For
example, genetic engineering in humans might one day be used to
produce certain desired characteristics. Used in this way, man
is not “playing God,” because he cannot even conceive of what it
would be to mimic God. This term misses the real issue, man
violating God’s commandments by setting his own ethical
standards. The “playing God” is not the power of technology, but
the thinking that I know better than God.
When someone, usually a
psychologist, says “All truth is God’s truth,” they are truly
“playing God.” What these psychologists mean, and actually say,
is that man’s theoretical and empirical knowledge are on the
same level as the word of God. They use the word, “integration.”
Integration means the merging of equal authorities. There is not
authority equal to Scripture, as we have been reviewing.
(Other scientists use
“all truth is God’s truth” besides psychologists, but in my
experience they do so far more commonly than anyone else.)
Now, I move from
preaching to meddling. I am going to step on a lot of toes. Preachers, theologians, and Christian leaders have subtly
adopted “all truth is God’s truth” when they allow the “science”
of evolution to govern their theology.
I contend that there is
no other reason than evolution to posit “theistic evolution,”
“the gap theory,” “a pre-Adamic race,” “intelligent design,“ and
other notions. There is no other reason than to attempt to gain
intellectual credence with the avante garde and
The major point is the authority and truth of Scripture as
the very Word of God. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.”
The unity of Scripture stands or falls as a unit. If the
testimony of Scripture is not true on Creation and the Flood,
how can it be defended as true on everything else?
I do not accept the
argument that we did not know all that the Institute of Creation
Research and other such scientists had developed until recently.
First, there are still large numbers of supposed Bible-believers
who still hedge on the Biblical account of creation. Second,
from my reading of history, there has always been substantial
scientific evidence to counter evolution, since Darwin coined
One example is
archeology. In the 19th century and later, historians
tried to use sources outside the Bible to disprove its
historical dating and description of events. Some pastors and
theologians hedged with “The Bible is true in all that it says
regarding salvation and morals.” Archeology has eventually, and
virtually always, eventually cohered to the historicity of the
Another example is the
discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These documents demonstrated
unequivocally that the Bible of today is the Bible that has
always been. The minor differences in the prior texts of those
found are inconsequential.
Praise God that He
gives us such evidences! But, is not “Thus saith the Lord”
sufficient? What is this continuing nonsense that “the Bible is
true in all that it says regarding salvation and morals,” but
not history, science, or other areas.
If Christians deny the
Word of God, why should we expect non-Christians to think it
more than the collective writings of men?
(See References at the
end here for more discussion of “all truth is God’s truth.”)
Is More... and It Is Worse!
Christians deny the
Word of God and its power by their actions.
In seminary, students receive a considerable education. From my
perspective, with a few exceptions, it is quite adequate, if not
thorough. Yet, it is rarely descends to the pew. And, with a
global accusation that may not be entirely fair, I point the
finger at these post-seminarians for not educating their
congregants. I am not sure why this situation exists. Certainly,
the new preacher in a pulpit cannot begin by spouting Greek, Hebrew, and
systematic theology. But, why cannot an education of his
listeners be built over
time? Why cannot he impart virtually all that he knows and
learns to his people—at least his officers and those willing to
It is amazing to me
that of all the organizations in the United States, possibly
the only group that does not expect or require a definitive
education is the Church. And, what is more amazing is that
such an education is the most important of any other
organization! At minimum, American children get twelve years of
primary and secondary education. Maybe college. Maybe
professional graduate school. By contrast, what do they get in
church? Some Bible stories and some moralizing, and not much
There are at least
three failures. 1) The fervent study of the Bible. In general,
Christians learn is the jargon of their church or group. That
will frequently be all that they learn. That is about all that
they will hear in Sunday School or from the pulpit That is about
all that they will read. That is about all of the Bible that
they will study.
2) They will not read
books that expand their biblical understanding, systematize
Biblical knowledge, or expand their range of ethical
application. The current movement of “worldview” is a hope that
Christians are expanding their range of thinking. But, even here
they must be careful that it is balanced and that is biblical.
3) There is an easy
entrance into churches and an easy residence there. Little is
expected in the way of getting a Biblical education. Again, why
does God’s own institution have no educational expectation of
its members? This situation is severely deficient in an educated
society and in the face of needed social and government
direction today. The situation is literally damnable in its
allegiance to God and His work for His people.
Word Needs to be God’s Word
We are not to worship
the Bible, but we should be consistent with in our practice with
what it is. Why cannot the majority of Christians know some
basic elements of systematic theology? Why cannot they know and
apply Biblical ethics to their own profession, and to a lesser
extent the professions of others? Why cannot they know how the
Bible gives principles for civil government, the basics upon
which the pinnacle of God-ordained civilization for a nation was
established for the United States of America? Why should not
every child by the time they graduate from college have a
Biblical and theological education that has addressed every area
at an appropriate lesser level that a seminary does for the
pastor and theologian? Why not?
“Telling the Truth” and “Not Lying” the Same Thing?
The Ninth Commandment
is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Let’s do the easy thing first. Who is my neighbor? According to
the Parable of the Good Samaritan, my neighbor is anyone with
whom I come in contact who has need. According to the Great
Commission, my neighbor is “all nations.” So, I am not to bear
false witness against anyone on earth and to present the truth
of salvation in Jesus Christ to all peoples.
I contend that the
command “not to lie” is both the same and different than the
command “to tell the truth.” The issue turns on a definition of
the truth. I would define truth as “what is” or “everything that
can be known about every object in the universe in relation to
all other objects.” "What is" exists regardless of our belief or
interpretation of it. We could call this objective truth. With
this definition, no man or woman can know truth. Yet, because
God knows truth, we can know truth because He said it, and we
can understand it because we are made in His image. (See prior
discussion above... man
can know truth.) So, the only truth that we can know
or speak is that which is His own words. “The Lord is great
and greatly to be praised.” The only sure way to
praise God is to praise Him with His own words or “by good and
necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” (See
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Section 6 at Link
Truth is Personal, as
we have already seen (above). For men and women, then, truth is
an individual’s best effort to tell as accurately and as
detailed as the situation demands (“what is”). Notice the
relativity here. It is limited to one person. His effort should
be “best,” not casual. “Be accurate”, that is, tell in needed
detail. The truth is dependent upon the situation. For example,
giving directions to a person who is going somewhere in a car is
not as significant as giving testimony in a court of law… but it
I recall a person,
either by directions given to them or devised on their own from
reading a map, who ended on a dead end street in a gang infested
neighborhood where he was shot and killed. Or, wrong directions
could get someone going the wrong way on a one-way street and
place their lives in danger or cause them to get a traffic
These situations bring
me to ask, “Is there such a thing as casual testimony?” 1)
Certainly not in the sense of the credibility of the person who
gave it. If the person to whom information was given believes
that they were deliberately deceived, then the
giver-of-the-information has given evidence of his character.
This conclusion will stick with the recipient of the
information, even if his mistake was accidental or from
2) Most, if not all
information given by one person to another, has serious
consequences. We have looked at directions by automobile. What
about simply answering a husband’s question, “Where is my book
that I was reading.” Casually, his wife may say, “It is on the
couch where you left it?” But, if she was wrong, and he spends
15 minutes looking for it in other places, bumps his head, or
strains his back looking under it, their relationship is not
enhanced by her causal remark. (There are many other possible
results but examples should be kept simple!)
What if I give wrong
instructions to my grandson about putting together a toy train?
He may shock himself trying to put the electrical plug into the
socket. He may pinch himself trying to put the track together.
With enough mistakes, he may begin to think that granddaddy does
not really now how to put a train together, and later, that he
does not know anything at all that is worthwhile.
(Just in the writing of
this section, I have come to appreciate greatly the consequences
for both the giver and the receiver of requested information. It
seems there is really no personal testimony or advice that is
But, back to our
original question, whether “not lying” is the same as “telling
the truth.“ There is a level at which we cannot we cannot equate
our personal truth with the truth of God. The fact that we have
to resort to “true truth” or truth with lower case “truth”
instead of an upper case “Truth” gives evidence of this
This issue may be the
most important one for Bible-believing Christians today. That
psychologists and others can claim “all truth is God’s truth,”
and not be labeled as being heretical in the way that they mean
it, indicates an environment in which the concept of truth is
little understood. Worse, it indicates an environment in which
the authoritative truth of the Bible is weakly understood and
There should be greater
efforts at every level of teaching, preaching, and writing to
distinguish the truth that man can know on his own and the truth
revealed by God in His Revelation.
The most remarkable
characteristic of man’s limited ability to know and communicate
truth is its great pragmatic value. Most conversations between
two or more people are clearly understood. I am to write this
article and communicate some of my thoughts to you. But, this
pragmatic value should not cloud the difference between man’s
communication and understanding of truth and God’s communication
and understanding of truth.
Indeed, one of the
traditional tests of truth is its pragmatic value. Thus,
revelational truth is the most pragmatic knowledge available.
The Bible is not often talked about in terms of its pragmatic
value. But, surely, as God’s truth, it is the supreme example of
pragmatism. To elevate an old proverb to its highest
application, “Father knows best!” (See discussion of pragmatism
and science below.)
So, I would contend
that as far as truth is personal, “telling the truth” and “not
lying” are the same. However, in the larger picture of objective
truth that only God can know, these two directives are not the
same. Our “truth” with the best intentions and the best skills
that we can muster, falls woefully short of “what is.” “Best”
efforts and honest intentions can harm and even cause people’s
“Not lying” is a
command that I can clearly fulfill. I know when I cross the
threshold of information that 1) is uncertain in my own mind or
a 2) a deliberate fabrication of what I know.
In “telling the truth,”
I am limited to my own knowledge and capacities. What I can tell
is a limited truth. I am not able to tell “the whole truth.” One
only has to hear two or more witnesses in a court of law or just
in causal conversation, the description of “what happened” in a
particular incident to see the error or anyone reporting
“nothing but the truth.” When I have worked in emergency rooms,
the information that I have heard first hand from accident
victims is barely recognizable in the paper the next day.
Surely, whatever is reported is “subjective truth,” but nothing
about one’s testimony totally and completely true.
And, is not man’s
limitation, by his fallibility and finitude, the underscore of
the Biblical commands relative to one’s testimony. ‘By the mouth
of two or three witnesses every word may be established”
(Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Matthew 18:16). Throughout the Law of
Moses, witnesses are required. And, if a witness is found to
lie, he is subject to the same sanction as the one who was
accused would have been, had he been found guilty (Deuteronomy
17:19). And, if one has needed testimony and does not give it,
he incurs guilt (Leviticus 5:1). Further, in capital punishment
cases, the witnesses are to initiate the death penalty
(Deuteronomy 17:7). Our witnessing is important!
The emphasis of this
discussion is the infinite chasm between the truth that God
knows and the truth that he has revealed and man’s ability to
know truth. My purpose is not to minimize the force of the
command “not to bear false witness.” Indeed, it should
strengthen one’s resolve for “honesty, and nothing but honesty,”
in any testimony. I would hope that the reader would sense the
importance of his testimony in everything in life. A careless or
thoughtless testimony can be the ruin or oneself or that of
1) There needs to be
more discussion of what is and is not truth at all levels of
discourse among Christians; distinctions between truth as God
sees it and how man sees it. The chasm that exists must be
emphasized and explored. Such statements as “all truth is God’s
truth” must be condemned where necessary (and in my estimation,
that is most of the time that it is used).
2) By corollary, the
Protestant Scriptures must be held as the highest, purest, and
most authoritative form of truth known to man. For the most
part, I do not believe that at a practical level this
declaration is active among “Bible-believers.” Examples have
already been given. We do not study it in our churches at this
level. We have no real expectations that Christians learn the
Bible at more than a superficial and conversant degree. We have
allowed empirical and theoretical science to supersede the Bible
as authority in a number of areas, particularly evolutionary
science and psychology. We have failed even to understand, much
less apply, the broad range of ethics and law that the Bible
provides (as our American and Reformed fathers did).
Historically, when the
word, “science,” came to be limited to the natural and “precise”
sciences only, a major step was taken away from the Scriptures
as its own rightful authority as the Very Word of God. Theology
was once called “The Queen of the Sciences.” Few would
understand that phrase today. So, that position of Scripture and
theology must be regained and taught to all Christians. When
properly understood, the “science” of today should have no more
effect than BB guns on lions. No wonder the influence of
Christians today is nil. They have no Word from God for the
general culture and the legal system!
3) The Bible, sound
theology, and the broad range of Biblical ethics must be taught
in homes, churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges, and
seminaries. Our college students should be able to defeat
soundly any anti-Christian professor whom they encounter in a
fair debate. (Granted, they are usually not fair. The professor
assuming, and being given, an authority that is unmerited fairly
or philosophically.) Such ethics are the essence of a Biblical
The question for
Christians is, “Can we subject the Bible to the same tests of
truth, as other forms of truth?” Well -- no. One reason is that
there is no agreed upon definition of truth. And, even those
that are given are inadequate. For example, here is one
“Truth is the
faithful adherence of our judgments and ideas to the facts
of experience or to the world as it is; but since we cannot
always compare our judgments with the actual situations, we
test them by their consistency with other judgments that we
believe are valid and true, or we test them by their
usefulness and practical consequences.” (Titus, Smith, and
Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy, D. Nostran Company, New
York, p. 209, 1979.)
This definition is full
of subjective factors. How does one determine “faithful
adherence?” Is there a more loaded term than “judgment?” What is
a “fact of experience?” How does one determine “consistency?”
What about: “world as it is,” “we cannot always compare,”
“actual situation,” “believe,” “valid,” “usefulness and
practical consequences?” And, is not one rule of definitions
that the world being defined is not used it the definition
(“true“ is used here)?
Surely, few would
differ with the simple definition of truth as “reality” or “what
is.” The great problem is how to measure or understand “what
is.” For example, the leaves on a tree are green? I look at a
tree and we all agree that it is green. However, with
rose-colored glasses, it is not green any longer. For the
color-blind or blind person, it is not green at all. So, the
truth of green leaves has many variables. It is relative to
certain conditions of the observer, yet the human race has
always functioned quite well with green leaves and all the other
color of objects.
Perhaps, the most
deceptive aspect of an understanding of truth is a confusion of
the pragmatic with what is indeed truth. The place of modern
science is the best and most important illustration. Modern
science has developed the internet, sent men to the moon and
back, placed communication satellites in orbit, invented the
plastic straw, placed electricity and other utilities in
virtually all homes in the civilized world, etc., etc. Yet,
science by definition never determines truth because its results
are always limited to the parameters of its design. ( See
Science and Technology.)
For example, the speed
of a falling object is determined by the formula, S=1/2gt2.
Yet, if a person jumps out of an airplane, his body will not
continually accelerate, but reach a terminal velocity at about
120 mph. Why does he not continually accelerate, as the formula
suggest. Because the formula exists only under experimental
conditions that include objects falling in a vacuum at sea
level. The formula is quite useful (pragmatic), but its “truth”
exists nowhere except in the laboratory.
This awareness should
encourage great boldness among Christians. If no one can agree
on how truth is determined, then at a minimum the Bible starts
on a par with any other claims to truth. But, based upon our
faith, the Bible becomes the greatest and only truth that we
have. Instead of starting with man’s truth, we start with God’s
truth and determine every other claim to truth by that standard.
Away from Little “t” Truth
Christians need to work
towards a vocabulary that allows distinction from the truth of
Scripture to other claims of truth. Words that I have come up
with are: fact, functional knowledge, pragmatic value, and
empirical or practical truth. Henry Stob has suggested "natural
truths" vs. "supernatural truths."
I readily admit that I
do not know what would be the best term. But, there is a serious
need for discussions and papers on what is and is not truth, and
how the Bible fits into those discussions. The Bible is
unique and supremely authoritative, and it must be given its
rightful place in the area of truth. Theology should be
re-established as the “queen of the sciences.”
Central to the issue of
truth is the concept of faith. Now, most Christians do not seem
to understand that “faith” has an application that is far
broader than the way that we use it in our Christian jargon.
“Faith,” in its generic sense, is involved in every decision from the moment that we
“believe” that we are able to get out of bed, that our car will
start, that we will be able to get to work safely, that we will
have a job when we get there, that every appliance that we use
will work, etc., etc. Faith is simply action based upon
knowledge with an expected outcome. In the examples given, we
act on prior knowledge towards an intended result.
But, that result is not
guaranteed. Sometimes, with a back problem, we are not able to
get out of bed; our cars don’t start when we need them; we have an accident on our
way to work, or we are fired when we get to work; and an appliance
does not work when its on button is pushed. Yet, on a daily basis we act on our faith that
those things will not happen, as they have in the past.
Faith in the realm of
truth and religion is functions in the exact same manner, as
generic faith. We act on knowledge towards
an expected outcome. Reality (truth) determines whether that
outcome indeed occurs. Reality determines whether our faith is
true! (See Definitions of Truth, above.)
Among Christians, faith
has too much of a mysterious, ethereal quality, when it is in
reality quite concrete. One of the confusions is two phases of
faith. There is “justifying faith,” in which the Christian
accepts that Jesus Christ died for his sins and expects all the
hope and promises that that God gives with that status.
Subsequently, there is
“sanctifying faith,” in which the Christian lives his life,
implementing more and more of his understanding of what God
would have him to do. Now, obviously both these terms are
included in "saving faith." Yet, the application of
"saving faith" to conversion (initial confession and interest in
the things of God), and its application to the life of faith
(sanctification) are decidedly different. "Saving faith"
alone is insufficient to be applied to both areas without better
understanding than most Christians seem to have.
Those two kinds of
faith are quite concrete and focus on specific knowledge in each
segment which Christians are to act upon.
The confusion about
what faith is, and is not, is another of the major reasons that
Christians are so weak and irrelevant today. They think that
somehow they have to conjure up some sort of energy to motivate
them to learn and to do rightly. That is really magical thinking
and has nothing to do with Christianity. Brothers and sisters,
you simply act upon what you know to do. If you act, it
is faith. If you don’t act, then you only have knowledge, not
faith. In saying “simply,” I do not mean that it is easy. But,
you already know what to do, so act on that knowledge and
your faith will grow. (I have written a whole book on faith,
which will eventually be placed online - Link.)
Epistemology is also
central to these discussions. Epistemology is simply, “how does
one know what one knows.” And, that simple definition assumes
that one can know. If one can know, then one has some element of
Rene Descartes said, “I
think, therefore I am.” For a simple phrase, it has profound
assumptions. The thinker assumes that his own mind is
trustworthy. He assumes that his senses (seeing, hearing,
touching, etc.) give him reliable information. He is assuming
his existence. When you are dreaming, do you think that it is
real? Then, you wake up! How can you prove that you will not
wake up from this “dream” of life?
It is not until you
embrace the Bible that you know that your assumptions are true,
or at least trustworthy. Albert Camus once said that the only
logical conclusion in contemplation of any purpose of life is
suicide. He was reasoning correctly from his presuppositions.
Only when God says in His Book that what a person reads is true
and understandable have your assumptions been proven, and you
have arrived at truth.
Everyone Starts with Assumptions
Everyone starts with
assumptions. Synonyms for assumptions include axioms, first
principles, presuppositions, and premises. There are many words
for such beginning principles, and the student new to this area,
should see how many of these he can learn from the dictionary.
Else, he will be hopelessly lost in trying to understand how one
arrives at knowledge that is trustworthy and/or true.
Modern science, as we
generally understand those words, starts with the assumption
that the supernatural does not exist. Therefore, creation by
God, the Flood, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, the Virgin
Birth, and other Biblical miracles are simply not “true” because
of that assumption. There is no need for “proof,” for proof
itself is based upon assumptions. Therefore, it is fruitless to
argue among people with different assumptions. Before they will
accept your proof, you have to get them to accept your
Again, the Christian
should gain boldness when he realizes that everyone starts with
assumptions. Then, from the beginning he is on equal footing
with any other knowledge that differs from Biblical knowledge.
When he includes all the empirical evidences for the Bible and
for Christianity, then he is powerfully armed for his own faith
in God and to take on all others who would challenge this
“Logic is the study of
the methods by which the conclusion is proved beyond all doubt”
(Gordon Clark, Logic, Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity
Foundation: 1985), p. 1).
“The whole counsel of
God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's
salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in
Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced
from Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I:6).
This definition of
logic and the statement of the Westminster fathers demonstrate
how the Scriptures can be infallibly applied beyond its own
words. For example, the word, “Trinity,” nowhere appears in
Scripture. Yet, there are numerous Biblical texts that “prove
beyond all doubt” that God is a Trinity.
We are briefly
surveying areas related to truth, so we cannot go into much
detail about logic. But we can make some brief statements. 1)
Logic starts with premises (assumptions, above). The process of
logic has nothing to say about the truth of these premises. 2)
If one’s premises are true, and one reasons logically, then
one’s conclusions are always true, infallibly.
We are not discussing
“rational thinking,” which is a loose term to describe any
number of processes by which conclusions may be drawn.
(“Reasonable” is a synonym.) Logic refers to a formal system,
which in many parts and process, is agreed upon by both believer
It is important for us
to review logic here because Scripture has principles that by
logic extend “all things necessary” to areas not named by
Scripture. For example, the Bible nowhere mentions the word
“abortion” in an ethical sense. Yet, if the Bible states that
the taking of all human life with the exceptions of
self-defense, capital punishment, and just war, is murder; that
human life begins at conception; then, abortion is murder.
If the premise from
Scripture is true, and the conclusion is reasoned logically,
then the conclusion is true, and therefore as authoritative as
*Note: Here, and
everywhere on this site I am consciously using "logic" in the
academic, formal sense. However, "logic" may be used in in
this way (#1) and in three others in various communications.
There “are four senses (definitions) in which the word logic is
used: (1) at the theoretical and symbolic level is a
comprehensive term that refers to sets of axiomatic
relationships, ‘an analysis and evaluation of the ways of using
evidence to derive correct (true) conclusions,’ (2) in common
speech at a nontechnical level is a synonym for words such as
‘workable,’ ‘reasonable,’ and the like¾a logical plan may be a
workable plan, an illogical step may be a rash step; (3) (in) a
formal presentation of an argument: that is, people engage in
‘logical argument,’ whether or not there are fallacies in the
steps (that) they take; and (4) in common speech may refer to a
set of propositions or even an outlook which may or may not be
‘logical’ in the first sense.” (D. A. Carson, Exegetical
Fallacies, Baker Academic. 2nd edition, pp. 87-88—very
slightly modified by Ed for readibility).
I remember in the 1970s
when the story of Corrie ten Boom became popular among
Christians. On the one hand, there was great rejoicing from her
testimony. On the other hand, her story caused great angst among
Christians, including myself. The dilemma was this. “How does
one not reveal that he is hiding Jews (on anyone else) when the
Germans knock on your door and ask, ‘Are you hiding any Jews?’”
But, if we had been
Biblically knowledgeable, this situation poses no dilemma at
all. The Hebrew midwives lied to Pharoah’s inquirers about how
their babies were able to be born alive (Exodus 1:19-20). Rahab
was honored for her hiding of the Hebrew spies which
necessitated lying to the King’s officials so that they could
report back to Joshua (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). God directed
Joshua to deceive the men of Ai, in order to defeat them (Joshua
8). God directed Samuel to lie to Saul (I Samuel 16:2).
The principle that is
derived from these examples where God directs lying to His
people is that the enemies of God and His justice have no
right to the truth. Where life is threatened immorally and
for unbiblical reasons, those who threatened have no right to
Now, one must be very
careful how this exception is applied. For example, once an
enemy is captured or his threat is otherwise completely and
finally thwarted, he becomes “your neighbor,” and he has every
right to the truth that is due to him.
One does not always
have to reveal everything to one’s neighbor.
That is, being truthful does not mean revealing everything that
one is thinking or that one knows. If several dishes of a meal
are just unpalatable, one can always compliment the hostess for
the “delicious dessert” or whatever portion was good.
We cannot deal with all
the nuances here, but again God’s wisdom in our fallen state is
revealed in “thou shall not bear false witness against they
neighbor,” instead of “thou must tell the truth and the whole
truth to everyone.”
Scriptura Is Not Enough to Apply God’s Truth
One of the five
“sola’s” of the Protestant Reformation was “sola Scriptura.” I
believe that in our day, that principle has been carried to an
extreme that has actually reduced the authority of Scripture.
Now, before I explain,
the reader should remember all that I have said above. The only
truth that man can know is Biblical truth. That is sola
Scriptura. The Bible is infallible, inerrant, authoritative as
the very Word of God, and fully sufficient for everything that
we need for salvation and righteousness. So, what to I mean,
“Sola Scriptura is not enough?”
Just this, in studying
and applying the Bible, Christians need to understand
hermeneutics, logic vs. rational thinking, theories of truth,
the empiricism of science, principles of epistemology,
languages, and other areas of knowledge that bring out the
breadth and depth of Scripture that will remain hidden without
Perhaps, the Reformers
assumed these other applications to Scripture. Surely, Martin
Luther, John Calvin, and others knew these areas with
considerable competence. And, many seminaries train men for the
pastorate and other vocations with many of them. Yet, there is a
failure somewhere. The Bible is just not being taught with
the fullness that changes people, societies, and nations.
I believe that sola
scriptura, that the Bible is sufficient within itself, is the
major problem with Christian influence today.
The Bible is more than
adequate as instruction for any and all problems of mankind, but
not without application of all the “extras” that allow for its
fullest expression and application.
Sola Scriptura rightly
limits truth to God’s Word only. But, sola Scriptura must be
accompanied by methods and knowledge outside of itself for all
of its wonderful message to be known and implemented for
pragmatic test of truth is “what works.” That is, whatever
theory or practice has the best outcome is true.
But, “best outcome” is
loaded with ethical (moral) value. Who determines that an
outcome is “good?” Is the easy-divorce of today’s permissible
society and agreeing laws “good?” Or, is the Biblical design
marriage “good?” Are easily and legally obtained abortions
“good?” Or, is abortion some form of murder where the “good” is
punishment by the state of those who practice it? Is imprisonment of
criminals, regardless of the crime, a “good” thing? Or, should
restitution, a clear Biblical principle, be applied in cases of
A Biblical worldview is
the most pragmatic system that can ever be devised. Moreover, it
is the only system in which there is not conflict between the
individual, the family, society, the church, the state (at all
levels), the world, and God Himself, when rightly understood and applied!
See Davis and Van Til below.
There is no question
that modern science and technology have great usefulness. Yet,
neither determines what will be developed nor what will be
applied in what situations! See
Science and Technology.
Reading and References
Word searches are easy
Westminster Confession of Faith
John Frame on
Biblicism has a
discussion of similar issues that are addressed here.
Order Gordon Clark's
Logic. You can order all
his books there and read some of his shorter works from the
Trinity Review, as well.
"All truth is God’s
A great little book is Jay Adams'
All Truth is God's Truth. It may be found at
In Psychology and
Christianity: 4 Views (edited by Eric Johnson and Stanton L.
Jones, published by InterVarsity Press), Gary Collins has the
chapter on “integration” (the application of “all truth is God’s
truth), but he never defines the principles to know what is and
is not “truth” in psychology, and therefore, never defines the method by which integration can take place. When one
deals with truth and God’s Word, all things in play must be
carefully and seriously defined and delineated!
Arthur F. Holmes has a
great little book entitled, All Truth Is God’s Truth
(InterVarsity Press) in which he discusses what in involved in
the issues of truth. My only reservation about this book is that
Holmes seems to fall short of a traditional understanding of the
Bible as infallible, inerrant, and divinely authoritative.
Davis, John Jefferson.
Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today.
(Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1993, pages 5-9.
See Our Bookstore.
Theological Reflections, (Eerdmans, 1981), page 39.
Van Til, Cornelius.
In Defense of the Faith: Christian Theistic Ethics.
(Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), page 58.