From the time that we are very small we are taught that lying is wrong. To tell the truth is right. Truthfulness, likewise is part of every ethical system. It is vital to the sane-functioning society, essential to any education system, and it is vital to all family life.
A problem in our present reality is: Is truth truth? This may sound strange, but in our present society relativism has caused a change in the concept of truth. This has ramifications at the level of epistemology, metaphysics and morals. Hegel’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis reasoning caused a subtle revolution in the concept of truth. Right and wrong and absolute truth were slowly moved off the stage and the dialectic of Hegelian philosophy assumed the predominance. Thus truth became relative in terms of many thing: the time, the situation and numerous other factors. Truth as truth became less absolute. We are now at the point where there is a denial of absolute truth—indeed there is no such thing as falsehood, just varying degrees of “truth.”
There are numerous questions associated with this new concept of what maybe true—is it ever wrong to tell the truth? Is refusing to tell the truth a lie? Is lying ever right? What are the biblical principles of truth-telling? What do they have to do with lying? What might total honesty be?
There are certain biblical principles that deal with truth-telling. A word study reveals some amazing things. The Old Testament word for truth means that which is firm, solid or binding, faithful—a thing that can be counted on as true. To distinguish this from the quasi-truth of today Francis Schaeffer calls it “true truth.” This is what the Bible means by “that which is firm, solid.” It is that which is factually real—verifiably true. Truth is an accurate portrayal of authentic facts. It is that which is proved. The Old Testament word for truth is translated by three New Testament words—faith, righteousness, and truth.
The Greek word for truth means that which is seen or not hidden—that which is manifest openly. Thus truth is things as they really are. Among the Greeks, therefore, each thing has its truth. This led men to question: If there are many truths, where is final truth? What is the standard by which truth is measured? The Greek philosopher Plato sought to answer this with his “world of the absolutes” or “world of ideas.” John gave his idea that final truth is embodied in Christ as the Word of God. When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), he was voicing the desire of all men since then who have asked, “What is true?”
It is certain that the New Testament presents a variety of things in this term truth. Truth is that which is certain; all that has validity; that which is reliable, upright, sincere, honest. Truth is that which is real, right, authoritative. It has meaning.
In the context of today’s rationalistic and humanistic epistemology truth means nothing. Thus there is no absolute truth. Humanism means that man is the center and that there is nothing outside his experience or expression that can be true. Existentialism narrows this to the present experience, the now. Rationalism is man beginning with himself and trying to build “truth” on this base without receiving any assistance, most especially a revelation from God. Thus there is a denial of absolute truth. All modern man has is a string of unrelated and often utterly meaningless particulars, no universals or absolutes at all. Absolutes are dead and man lives in a maze of particulars. In an over used phrase: man has derived the forest while living in the midst of the trees. Hence, his confusion and cussedness.
The Bible in this circumstance exhorts us to tell the truth. In the Old Testament this is stated in the Ten Commandments in a negative way: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This is very interesting: (1) it is negative; (2) it is person-oriented. Thus truth has a very important part to play in our social relationships, not just our family but our community as well. Without truth and truth-telling you cannot build a sane, safe society.
The New Testament requires that we speak the truth. It pronounces severe judgment without qualifications upon lying. “All liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). Paul to Titus discusses those that “turn from the truth” (Titus 1:14). “Their mind and conscience is defiled” (Titus 1:15). A terrifying passage is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12: “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). Could anything be more terrible than to believe a lie to be the truth?
Our “community conversation” must deal with this idea of truth-telling. We need to discuss what is involved in finding moral truth and right behavior. How we see things in reality is very important socially, civilly, spiritually and personally. Learning what offends God is vitally important. I would like to know what you think about these things. I would like to encourage you to join in this “community conversation,” sharing what you think and learn; speaking your thoughts and ideas for others, acting jointly to make significant changes in our community, and in our churches. As I have said before, our study together, thinking and conversing together can bring right and good to our lives in our community. I look forward to hearing from you and learning from your good gracious responses. You can send your thoughts to me by email@example.com or by “snail mail” at P. O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671. I will gladly listen to, or read, your comments and in time respond if necessary and appropriate. Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian and retired university professor