Monday, December 21, 2009

Truth in the Bible

Biblical logic, to the consternation of Western minds, is not linear but circumferential. That is, a biblical “argument” does not proceed in linear fashion, by the exclusion of illogical alternatives, to the point where a single final “truth” emerges. Instead, biblical logic surrounds a subject with arguments from various angles until there remains nothing further to be said, and the matter is dropped in favor of the next topic. (See the study Biblical Logic and Interpretation on our ministry web site, from which this material is excerpted.) This consideration has implications for the understanding of “truth” in Scripture.

This circumferential character of biblical logic stems from a basic presupposition of the biblical world view, the understanding that all truth inheres in the will of God. Truths — we might speak of them today as “facts” or insights — have no force apart from the intention and activity of the Creator. As Proverbs puts it, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). This must be the perspective behind Jesus’ prayer, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). No factoid, principle or “law of physics” can have independent reality apart from the work of Yahweh — or, in the case of the New Testament, apart from Christ who is the incarnation of the Word of the Lord, in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) and who is “upholding the universe by his word of power” (Hebrews 1:3).

The Hebrew word ’emet, often translated as “truth,” does not denote abstract factuality independent of the operation of God’s purpose. Instead, biblical truth is reliability or faithfulness, in particular faithfulness to God and his will as revealed in the purposes of his covenant with Israel. The New Testament writers understand these purposes to be fulfilled, or renewed, in the ministry, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ. Truth, then, consists in faithfulness to God’s covenant, and in submitting to his purpose for human life as revealed in the event of Christ.

But the divine purpose is not confined to the sphere of religion, nor even to the realm of human culture; it encompasses all that the Creator has brought into being. Hence the apostolic witness views the appearance of Christ, especially his resurrection from the dead, as a window into the renewal of the entire created order. When humanity, as “the sons of God,” comes to participate in the life of the risen Christ, then “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). For Paul, indeed, there need be no “waiting period” since the Christian believer, incorporated into Christ through baptism (Romans 6:3-5), already shares the life of Christ’s resurrection (Colossians 3:1). If anyone is “in Christ,” incorporated into the body of the resurrection, that person belongs to the renewed creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The writings of the apostle John present the same essential perspective — if stated in different terms — based on the understanding that the coming of Jesus Christ brings to human incarnation the very creative purpose which underlies the existence of all things (John 1:1-3, 14).

God, then, has written two “books” as the revelation of his truth, or his purpose for the universe and life within it. The first book is the Holy Scripture, with its testimony to the living Word in Jesus Christ. But the second “book” is the universe itself, which also testifies to the Creator’s activity and intent. Paul states the matter clearly in Romans 1:19-20: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”

Since truth inheres in faithfulness to the divine purpose, and both “books” testify to that purpose, they cannot be played off against one another in a supposed search for “objective truth” according to the Western pattern of logic. The two “books” must remain in dialogue, consistent with the circumferentiality of biblical logic. The findings of science, or cosmology, regarding the structures and operations of the physical universe cannot be marshaled in an attack upon the perspective of Scripture, nor can the teaching of the Bible be made to contravene the results of scientific inquiry and experimentation. Truth is commitment to the Creator’s intention, and each witness to that intention must be heard in its integrity, since God is the author of both.