So far we’ve seen that God is compassionate, and gracious, and slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness. Now we find that God is “abounding in truth” (KJV NASB) or “abounding in faithfulness” (ESV NIV).
Let me insert a little sidebar observation on what we’ve stumbled into.
The English versions differ substantively in what they say here. Truth and faithfulness are related in meaning, but they can be distinguished: truth is a state, and faithfulness is a character quality. Usually when translations have differences like this, there is one of two things going on—
- The Hebrew or Greek word, like pretty much all words, has multiple meanings, or nuances, or dictionary definitions, and in this context more than one of them would make sense—so the translators chose the one they thought was more likely. In other words, the meaning is ambiguous in the original language. This is a translation issue.
- There are two or more different Hebrew or Greek words in the manuscript copies we have, and the textual critics whom the translators are consulting disagree on which reading is more likely. This is a technical matter of textual criticism.
Now, most people don’t know the original languages and don’t have the expertise to make a judgment about translating a given word or choosing a given textual reading. But you’ve just seen that by comparing several English translations, we did notice that something was up—that there’s a question about the meaning of the phrase. (In this case it’s the former option—a translation issue—which we’ll get to in a minute.) And we didn’t need to know any Hebrew or Greek to recognize that there’s a question. Now we know to consult a commentary to find more information.
Do you see the value of using multiple translations? You get access to training and technical expertise that you yourself don’t have. So don’t ask which is the “best” translation. Use them all. (Yeah, except the heretical ones like that Jehovah’s Witness monstrosity.) Compare them. Think.
End of sidebar.
As I’ve implied already, the word truth here has a broad range of meaning. At its most literal, it speaks of firmness and consequently permanence, what we might call “long-lastingness” (e.g. Jer 14.13). More abstractly, it speaks of faithfulness—of sticking to a task or a promise or a commitment (Gen 47.29; Neh 7.2; Is 16.5), or of being genuine (Is 10.20; Jer 2.21; 28.9). And since a person’s promises are true if he keeps them, it means “correctness” (Gen 24.48; Pr 22.21) or more commonly “truth” (Gen 42.16; Dt 13.14; Pr 29.14; Is 43.9).
God abounds in this. Most simply, he speaks the truth; he cannot lie (Ti 1.2), and so his Word—the incarnate Christ (Jn 1.1) and the resulting inerrant record about him (Jn 16.13)—cannot be broken (Jn 10.35). Any statement you find in the Word—assuming you’re reading it as the Spirit intended*—you can take to the bank.
But God’s character, and the words describing it, are deeper and richer than that. He speaks the truth, yes, but more to the point here, he keeps his promises. He persists in the loyalties that he has established. We’ve developed that concept already in the previous phrase.
God has a relationship with you. And he will persist in that relationship to the end of time and eternally beyond, because that’s the kind of person he is.
And that means that to be like him, we’re going to have to tell the truth too. We’re going to have to regard our word as our bond, to keep our promises. When we sing of the grace “that saved a wretch like me,” we’re going to have to mean it, and we’re going to have to be gracious to other wretches, even when they’re still deep in their wretchedness, as we were when God found us.
I haven’t said yet what the actual Hebrew word is. It’s ‘emeth, which is related to the word ‘emunah, “faithfulness,” which is where we get our word “Amen”—“May it be so.”
* I suppose that calls for a series here on hermeneutics, doesn’t it?