Sunday, January 31, 2010


This morning I heard a sermon about "What is truth?"

Biblical Hebrew has no word for truth. Instead there are four concepts:
  1. Reliable and faithful (emet)
  2. Straight, in other words it "lines up" (yashar)
  3. Righteous and having integrity (tzaddik)
  4. Set apart by God's ways (kadosh)

The ancient Hebrew mindset was very concerned with if an event taught valuable lessons about how to relate to God or other people, and less concerned about historical accuracy. This is why we have four gospels that do cannot be completely harmonized along a historical timeline.

Those four concepts are what the Hebrew mindset uses to determine if someone is true ("true" in a manner that the writers of scripture cared about).

For example, consider the Exodus from Egypt. It teaches us many things about what God is like and how people develop from a slave mentality to properly serving God: useful, reliable lessons about God's faithfulness and our blessings, responsibilities, and common mistakes. It "lines up" as an ancient and integral part of the Jewish identity. It calls us to a higher standard for how we treat people and devote ourselves to God. It has a track record for making people more giving, welcoming, and selfless.

Is the Exodus story true? I have heard esteemed archaeologists argue both yes and no based on evidence. But that approach misses the point. The story is reliable, faithful, straight, righteous, and holy--and helps us to acquire these virtues.

Those four qualities also are useful to gently debunk falsehoods.

Consider a man making an excuse for a habit of pornography. "It does not hurt anyone and is a release," he says. In reply we can ask, "Does it really reliably help you relax or be faithful in relationships, or does it also cause worry and negative feelings? Does your belief that it does no harm line up with what has happened in other people's lives? Does it help you be a person of goodness and integrity? Does it aid your spiritual growth?"

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