Word of the Week
March 26, 2022
Alētheia: Packaging Reality
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
“What are you going to name the baby?” people would ask. Our firstborn was due soon, and we were looking for ideas. A girl from Colombia named Alicia was attending our Bible college at the time, and we thought, “That’s a pretty name.” We particularly liked the Latin pronunciation “ah-lee-see-ah.”
Unfortunately, we learned in her first days of life that our daughter would be correcting that pronunciation for the rest of her life, so we switched to the more typical “ah-lee-shah.”
We also liked that name because of its meaning. It comes from the Greek word for “truth,” and we hoped that truth would be a core element in her life.
Pontius Pilate asked the classic question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) and people have been asking it ever since. What could be more valuable than a look at what the New Testament says about truth?
The Greek word for truth is alētheia (ah-LAY-thay-ah), which occurs over 100 times.
A shorthand definition would be “that which matches reality.”
- Alētheia can refer to a statement or a thought. What you say corresponds to what actually exists.
You might say, “The moon is made out of green cheese,” but mice would starve on the moon.
The apostle Paul once claimed, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying” (Romans 9:1). His words were an accurate description of his attitudes.
- Alētheia might describe the reality that you are describing.
Jesus claimed that He had come into the world “to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). More than just defending a set of propositions, He had arrived in the world to communicate what God and His plan were really like.
It is hard to overemphasize the importance of knowing the difference between reality and our statements about it. My pastor once opened a message by showing us a box and asking “What do you think I’ve put in the box?” There were various guesses, but he pointed out that all of our opinions were nothing more than guesses until you opened the book and actually saw what was there. (I think it was an old Bible.)
- Alētheia can also be a person. In the New Testament, this is one of the unique features of the word.
God the Father is truth – Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
Jesus Christ is truth – Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
The Holy Spirit is truth – “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13 – see also John 14:17; 15:26).
- Alētheia becomes a description of the gospel, the central core of the Christian message.
Paul resisted false teachers “so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Galatians 2:5). Ephesians 1:13 mentions “the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”
- Finally, alētheia should be a description of our character. We know what is true because God has told us what is “in the box.” He has opened the lid and allowed us to see a glimpse of the reality of His person and His plan. Therefore, we can speak the truth about Him.
We are children of the God who cannot lie, and his intent is to make us like Jesus Christ. If Christ is the truth, then we should be people of truth. There should be no reason to doubt our word or question our sincerity.
“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Paul told his friend Titus that the Corinthians would respond well to his ministry, and the reality matched his words. “As we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth” (2 Corinthians 7:14).
We are always delighted when our daughter lives up to her name, and God our Father is pleased when His children demonstrate their commitment to truth in our words and actions. Speak the truth and live up to the truth you speak!
The word alētheia is worth studying in depth. I recommend that you use your concordance or Bible software to find a list of all the 100+ places where it appears. Go through the list slowly and write notes of what you observe. You can expand your project by looking at the other words built from the same base:
Alēthōs – “truly” (adverb) – 21 times
Alētheuō – “speak truth” (verb) – 2 times
Alēthēs – “true” (adjective) – 25 times
Alēthinos – “true” (adjective) – 27 times
Q: Someone has said that Jesus never bore His own cross. When I quoted John 19:17, his response was that this verse is inconclusive because of the pronouns, and it has to be interpreted through the lens of the other gospels.
We all know Simon of Cyrene did carry the cross, but this person is adamant that Simon carried it directly from the Praetorium all the way to Golgotha.
Can you address the language in John 19:17? Is there anything there to make it possible that John is NOT saying: Jesus came bearing His own cross?
A: I just looked at the other three Gospels, and all three of those accounts mention Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross. In each case, the writer says that they brought Jesus out, and then it says that they drafted Simon to carry the cross. I assume that’s what your friend means by “interpreting through the lens of the other Gospels.” At the same time, I don’t see anything in John 19:17 that connects any pronouns to someone other than Jesus. There is no mention of Simon, so a pronoun could hardly refer back to him.
The only odd thing about the pronouns is that the word “His” or “His own” is in the dative case, rather than the genitive that I would have expected. Grammar scholars would probably call this a dative of possession, which is a legitimate usage. I would paraphrase it something like, “He went out, carrying the cross for Himself.”
When we put all four Gospels together, I think it’s quite possible that Jesus only carried the cross at the beginning of the trek and it was transferred to Simon before He got very far. He at least started out with the cross. I can’t prove whether He gave it up just past the threshold or a hundred yards down the road. But John 19:17 seems pretty clear to me.
When we describe emotions, we say that we feel something “from the heart.” First century Greeks had a different mental picture of emotions and anatomy. We’ll explore this alternate view next week.
©Ezra Project 2022