The Trustworthiness of God

by Herman Bavinck

Among God’s intellectual attributes, finally, is his trustworthiness. The Hebrew word אמת (adj.: אמן) derives from the verb אמן (to make firm, to build, to undergird; intransitive: to be firm; Hiphil: to hang onto, to trust in, to be sure of). It denotes, subjectively, the act of hanging onto something, faith (Greek: πιστις), and, objectively, the firmness, trustworthiness, and truth of the person or cause in which a person has put his or her trust. In line with this twofold meaning of the Hebrew, the Septuagint sometimes renders these words by ἀληθεια, ἐν ἀληθεια, and at other times by πιστευω, πιστις, and πιστος. English translations, accordingly, have “true,” “faithful,” and “faithfulness.” In ordinary Greek, hence also in the Septuagint and the New Testament, the term ἀληθεια had a meaning too specific to adequately convey the Hebrew words and therefore had to be augmented by the word πιστος, and so forth. That is the reason why the trustworthiness of God is not only an attribute of the intellect but also of the will and therefore should, in strict accuracy, have to be treated again later. Veracity and truth, trustworthiness and faithfulness, are too closely associated, however, for us to split them apart. The name yhwh as such already expresses that he remains who he is. He is a God of faithfulness and without deceit (Deut. 32:4; Jer. 10:10; Ps. 31:6; 2 Chron. 15:3). It implies (1) that he is the real, the true God in contrast to false gods, the idols, which are “vanities” (Deut. 32:21; etc.); and (2) that as such he will always stand by his words and promises and prove them true, so that he will be seen as completely trustworthy. He is not a human that he should lie or change his mind (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29). All that proceeds from him bears the stamp of truthfulness. 

Over and over there is mention of God’s kindness (חֶסֶד) and faithfulness (cf. Gen. 24:49; 47:29; Josh. 2:14; 2 Sam. 2:6; 15:20; Ps. 40:11), of his steadfast love (חֶסֶד) and truth (Gen. 24:27; Exod. 34:6; Ps. 57:3; 61:7; 89:14; etc.).119 All his words, ordinances, paths, works, commandments, and laws are pure truth (2 Sam. 7:28; Ps. 19:9; 25:10; 33:4; 111:7; 119:86, 142, 151; Dan. 4:37). His truth and faithfulness are so abundantly and gloriously manifest on earth that they reach up into the clouds (Ps. 36:5; Exod. 34:6). He repeatedly confirms his word by swearing an oath by himself (Gen. 22:16; etc.; Heb. 6:13). He is therefore frequently called “the Rock,” who by his unshakable firmness offers support to his people (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30–31, 37); this word occurs also in many proper names [rock = zur] (Num. 1:5–6, 10; 2:12; 3:35; 7:36, 41; 10:19; further in 2 Sam. 22:3, 32; Ps. 18:2, 31; 19:14; 28:1; 31:2–3; 71:3; 144:1–2; Isa. 26:4). As such a God of truth and faithfulness, he keeps covenant (Deut. 4:31; 7:9; Ps. 40:11; Hos. 11:1; etc.) and is a completely trustworthy refuge for all his people (Ps. 31:5–6; 36:5ff.; 43:2; 54:7; 57:3; 71:22; 96:13; 143:1; 146:6; etc.). 

Similarly, in the New Testament he is called the true God; that is, only he is the real and true God who revealed himself in Christ (John 17:3; 1 John 5:20). All he reveals is pure truth. He is a true God (θεος ἀληθης), in contrast to all human beings (John 3:33; Rom. 3:4). His word is the truth, his gospel is truth, Christ is the truth (John 14:6; 17:17; Eph. 1:13). Even now he is what he has always been. The New Testament is the fulfillment and confirmation of the promises he made in the days of the Old Testament. He has remembered his holy covenant and the oath he swore to Abraham (Luke 1:68–73). His faithfulness comes out in that he is and remains the God of the covenant and completely grants salvation (1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 1 Thess. 5:24; 2 Thess. 3:3; Heb. 10:23; 11:11; 1 John 1:9). He cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13). In Christ all his promises are “Yes” and “Amen” (2 Cor. 1:18, 20). Christ is the “faithful witness” (ὁ μαρτυς ὁ πιστος) (Rev. 1:5; 3:14; 19:11); for that reason he is and can be the unchanging object of our faith (πιστις).120 

Scripture, accordingly, uses the word “truth” in more than one sense. And philosophy, too, as a rule distinguishes between three concepts of truth: truth or veracity in essence (in things); truth or veracity in expression (in words); truth or veracity in knowing (in the intellect); in other words, metaphysical, ethical, and logical truth or veracity.121 Metaphysical or ontological truth consists in an object, person, or cause being all that belongs to its nature. In that sense gold that is gold not only in appearance but also in reality is true gold. The antonyms of truth in that sense are falsehood, spuriousness, vanity, nonbeing. In this sense truth is a property of all being; it is identical with substance. Especially Augustine often spoke of truth in that sense. All being or essence as such is true and beautiful and good. Granted, there is immense diversity in degrees of creaturely being; yet all things have received from God a unique being of their own and as such participate in the divine being.122 From the consideration of this creaturely being Augustine moves to the consideration of God. In Scripture God is called the true God in distinction from idols, which are vanities. Thus, in Augustine, God is the true, unique, simple, immutable, and eternal being. By comparison to his being, creatural being is to be considered nonbeing. God is the “supreme being, the supreme truth, and the supreme good.” He is pure being. He does not possess but is the truth. “O Truth, which you truly are!”123 

In addition, God is also the truth in the second sense, that is, the ethical sense. By ethical truth we mean the correspondence between a person’s being and a person’s self-revelation in word or deed. Those who say one thing but think another are untrue; they are liars. The antonym of truth in this sense is the lie. Now in the case of God, there is complete correspondence between his being and his revelation (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). It is impossible for God to lie or deny himself. 

Finally, God is also the truth in a logical sense. This truth consists in correspondence between thought and reality, the conformity or adequation of the intellect to the [real] thing. Our concepts are true when they bear the exact imprint of reality. In this sense truth is opposed to error. Now God is the truth also in that he knows all things as they really are. His knowing is correct, unchangeable, fully adequate. Indeed, in his knowing he is the truth itself, just as in his being he is the ontological truth. God’s knowledge is dynamic, absolute, fully correspondent truth. It is not acquired by research and reflection but is inherent in the divine being (essential) and precedes the existence of things. It is of one piece with God’s very nature and, therefore, substantial truth. God’s word, law, and gospel, accordingly, are pure truth. They are all as they should be.

Now though these three meanings of the term “truth” are distinct, they are also one. This unity arises from the fact that truth in all three senses consists in correspondence between thought and being, between the ideal and the real. God is truth in a metaphysical sense, for he is the unity of thought and being. He is completely self-conscious. He is truly God, fully answering to the idea of God that is present within himself. God is truth in an ethical sense, for he reveals himself, speaks, acts, and appears as he truly is and thinks. And he is the truth in a logical sense, for he conceives things as they are; rather, things are as he conceives them to be. He is the truth in its absolute fullness. He, therefore, is the primary, the original truth, the source of all truth, the truth in all truth. He is the ground of the truth—of the true being—of all things, of their knowability and conceivability, the ideal and archetype of all truth, of all ethical being, of all the rules and laws, in light of which the nature and manifestation of all things should be judged and on which they should be modeled. God is the source and origin of the knowledge of truth in all areas of life; the light in which alone we can see light, the sun of all spirits. “You I invoke, O God, the truth in, by, and through whom all truths are true.”124 


119 Ed. note: The English translation of חֶסֶד as “kindness” and “steadfast love” reflects the Dutch distinction between weldadigheid and goedertierenheid. 

120 H. H. Wendt, “Der Gebrauch der Wörter ἀληθεια, ἀληθης, und ἀληθινος im Neuen Testamente,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 56/3 (1883): 511–47; H. Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, 109–26. 

121 M. Liberatore, Institutiones philosophicae, 8th ed. (1855), I, 70ff.; F. Schmid, “Der Begriff des ‘Wahren,’ ” Philosophisches Jahrbuch 6 (1893): 35–48, 140–50; P. van Mastricht, Theologia, II, 14, 5; B. de Moor, Comm. in Marckii Comp., I, 676. 

122 Cf., e.g., Augustine, City of God, XI, 23; idem, Concerning the Nature of the Good, against the Manichaeans, ch. 19. 

123 Augustine, Confessions, X, 41; VII, 10; XII, 25. 

124 Augustine, Soliloquies, I, 1; cf., T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 16, 17; I, 2, qu. 3, art. 7; idem, Summa contra gentiles, I, chs. 59–62; III, ch. 51; Bonaventure, Sent., I, dist. 8, art. 1; M. J. Scheeben, Handbuch der katholischen Dogmatik, I, 578ff., 663ff. Ed. note: For ET, see p. 206 n. 115. J. Gerhard, Loci theol., II, c. 8, sect. 16; A. Polanus, Syn. theol., II, ch. 27; J. Zanchi(us), Op. theol., II, cols. 226–42; L. Meijer, Verhandelingen over de goddelyke eigenschappen, 4 vols. (Groningen: Jacob Bolt, 1783), IV, 1–88. 



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