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The Nature of Biblical Truth

We live in a day and age where we need to defend the very existence of biblical truth from those who would favor a more experiential approach to "knowing" (existentialism).  As Christians, we should be able to answer the following questions.
  1. How do we know that truth exists?
  2. What is the nature of truth?
  3. How does one obtain truth? (addressed later)
Being presuppositional in our approach (presuppose the Bible as true), we will answer these three questions from our only reliable source of truth, the Bible.

How Do We Know That Truth Exists:

We know that truth exists because the Bible uses the word truth.  In addition, God identifies Himself with truth (the only true God) and contrasts this truth with the lies of men.
  • Deut. 32:1 - "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."
  • Jer. 10:8-10 - "A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine."..."But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King."
  • Ps 119:160 - "The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever."
  • 1 Thes. 1:9 - "For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God"
  • John 1:17 - ..."grace and truth came through Jesus Christ"
  • John 8:44 - "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it."
  • John 14:6 - "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
  • John 17:14-17 - "I have given them Your word...Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth."
  • John 18:37 - ..."You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."
  • Rom. 1:25 - "who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen."
  • 1 John 2:21 - "I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
  • 1 John 5:6 - ..."And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth."
  • 1 John 5:20 - "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."
From these scripture passages we can see that truth exists, that truth is identified with God (more specifically with His word), and that it is contrasted with lies.  We also know from 1 John 2:21 that something can not be both a lie and the truth.  But, simply understanding that truth exists is not enough.  For many people deny the truth by redefining the nature of truth (for example, the "correspondence theory" of truth).  This leads us to our next section.

The Nature of Biblical Truth

The biblical concept of truth has the following characteristics:
  1. Propositional
  2. Univocal (having only one possible meaning) for God and Man
  3. Rational


It might be more precise to say that truthfulness is a characteristic or attribute only of propositions, instead of saying truth is propositional.  A proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence.  In contrast, interrogative (questions), imperative (commands), and exclamatory sentences do not intend to express propositions (one exception to this would be the rhetorical question, which can sometimes carry with it an implied declarative proposition).  Single words are not propositions either.  For example, "dog" is neither true nor false.  However, by adding a predicate to the noun and making it into a declarative sentence "this dog is white", we see that it takes on the characteristic of being true or false.
proposition = declarative sentence = subject + predicate(something about the subject)
propositions are either true or false

Q: What about Jesus' claim in John 14:6 "I am the way, the truth, and the life"?  Doesn't this support the idea that the truth is more than just a proposition, but a person?

Univocal for God and Man

Univocal means to have only one meaning or interpretation.  When we say that truth is univocal for God and man, we are saying that the truths of the Bible are as equally true to God as they are to man.  Some theologians within the past century have contented that man can never possess more than an analogical understanding of God's truth.  They would argue that there is a qualitative difference between how God and man understands the exact same proposition.  For example, Cornelius Van Til states
When the Christian restates the content of Scriptural revelation in the form of a "system," such a system is based upon and therefore analogous to the "existential system" that God himself possesses.  Being based upon God's revelation it is, on the one hand, fully true and, on the other hand, at no point identical with the content of the divine mind. - Cornelius Van Til, "Introduction" to The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible by Benjamin B. Warfield (Philadelphia: P&R, 1948), 33.
Gordon Clark in his book, God's Hammer: The Bible and It's Critics,(Hobbs, New Mexico, The Trinity Foundation, 1995, p. 35) gives three evidences that God's knowledge is a logical system
  1. The information God has revealed is grammatical, propositional, and logical
  2. The Old Testament talks about the wisdom of God and in the New Testament Christ is designated as the Logos in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
  3. We are made in the image of God, Christ being the light that lights every man (John 1:9)
He then goes on to explain that the burden of proof rests upon those who deny the propositional nature of truth.  To support their view of nonpropositional truth they must do the following.
  1. Give evidence for the existence of such nonpropositional truth
  2. Make clear what they mean by their words.  It may be that the phrase nonpropositional truth is a phrase without any meaning at all.
It is not irrelevant to the argument to consider the correspondence theory of truth... Suffice it to say that if the mind has something which only corresponds to reality, it does not have reality; and if it knows reality, there is no need for an extra something which corresponds to it. - Gordon Clark, God's Hammer: The Bible and It's Critics, (Hobbs, New Mexico, The Trinity Foundation, 1995) p. 35

Take for example a simple sentence in 1 Sam. 5:1 (chosen randomly) "Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod."  What are we to think about this proposition regarding the Philistines?  Are we to think God knows this proposition as true in a different sense than we know it to be true?  To be sure, God knows many more propositions about how they took the ark of God to Ashdod, all of which He has not revealed to us.  He knows how they carried it, the names of the people who carried it, how may steps they took, etc.  But does this change how God and man univocally understands the basic proposition that the Philistines took the ark of God to Ashdod?

Q:  Some would use Isaiah 55:8-9 to argue that God's thoughts and our thoughts God's thoughts do not intersect at any point.  Read the passage in context (55:3,7-11).  What is God urging them to do?  What does this passage say about the ability of man to know God's thoughts?


That truth is rational is supported by the following passages:
  • John 1:1 - In the beginning was the Logos [the logic or reason of God], and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.
  • John 1:9 - That was the true Light which gives light [rationality] to every man coming into the world.
In these passages, John coins a term for the 2nd person of the trinity, Logos.  By using this term John is expressing that logic is part of God's nature.  In fact, John is also saying that this aspect of God's nature (logical, rational) has been imparted to man when he made man in His own image.  It is important to point out that revelation depends on language, which depends on logic.  For example, if we deny the law of identify (A is A), then all communication breaks down.  Like wise, with the law of contradiction (A cannot be both A and non-A).

Systematic theology is an attempt to categorize and then harmonize Biblical passages in order to avoid attaching contradictory, and therefore false, meaning to those passages of the Bible.  The more a Christian studies the Bible the more he realizes how much it all beautifully fits together in one logically cohesive system.  When we find two seemingly conflicting passages taught within the scriptures, that is a sign to us that we have missed the intended meaning of one or both of the two passages.

But there are those who would claim that some passages of scripture can not be harmonized rationally.  They would argue that we must humbly submit to both seemingly contradictory "truths" and not attempt to resolve them.  Such theologians attach various terms to these apparent contradictions (paradox, antinomy, etc).  For example, R. B. Kuiper, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and president of Calvin Seminary says the following:
A paradox is not, as Barth thinks, two truths that are actually contradictory.  Truth is not irrational.  Nor is a paradox two truths which are difficult to reconcile but can be reconciled before the bar of human reason.  That is a seeming paradox.  But when two truths, both taught unmistakably in the infallible Word of God, cannot possibly be reconciled before the bar of human reason, then you have a paradox. - R. B. Kuiper, cited by George W. Marston, The Voice of Authority (Philadelphia: P&R, 1960), 16.
Robert Reymond lists four problems inherent with accepting paradox (or antinomies).
  1. To make such a claim that there exists truths that "cannot possibly be reconciled before the bar of human reason", a person must be omniscient.  Have these theologians polled every biblical student past present and future to find out if they have not been able to reconcile these truths?
  2. These two unreconcilable truths can not both communicate any meaning if they contradict each other.  For example, the statement "a square can be a square and not a square (a circle) in the same sense" does not give us any meaning at all.  This does not clarify anything for us about what a square is.
  3. If two truths appear as real contradictions that we can never harmonize, there is no way of distinguishing between an apparent contradiction and a real contradiction (a falsehood), thus making it impossible to discern truth.  Furthermore, If you give way for "apparent" contradictions, there is no way of ever detecting falsehood through the use of the law of contradiction, since you will not be able to discern between a real contradiction and an apparent one.
Q: Why is this important?  What happens to revelation when we throw out logic?