Paul writes frequently about a concept he calls “the truth.” Often, he doesn’t bother to define it, assuming his readers are familiar enough with the term to understand his meaning. And it’s clear that he’s not speaking of any truth of any kind. Nor is he speaking of anything that Bible says that is true.
“Truth” in Romans
(Rom 1:18-19) The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
(Rom 1:25) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen.
(Rom 2:2) Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.
(Rom 2:8) But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
(Rom 2:17-21) Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?
This “truth” is a truth about God, and this truth is a reflection of God’s will, but it’s nature isn’t quite clear yet in Romans. “Truth” certainly includes —
(Rom 1:20) … God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Paul’s point, of course, is that even the Gentiles, who are without the Torah, are nonetheless sufficiently aware of God and his will to be condemned for their sins and so need a Savior.
(Rom 15:8-9) For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”
And we see that Christ came on behalf of God’s truth, in fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham to bless all nations through the Messiah. God’s truth, therefore, appears to be God’s will — that mankind will be rescued from sin and judgment by Christ’s sacrifice. God’s truth is God’s judgment against sin as well as his plan to rescue mankind, revealed in Christ.
“Truth” in 2 Corinthians
We get a different picture of Paul’s use of the word in 2 Corinthians.
(2 Cor 4:1-3) Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
Paul is speaking of his ministry of reconciliation. And “truth” is what Paul teaches to bring reconciliation — and is, of course, the gospel.
(2 Cor 6:3-10 KJV) Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: 4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; 6 By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, 7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; 9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
Paul is describing his ministry, and he associates the “word of truth” with the power of God, the Holy Spirit, and genuine love.
(2 Cor 11:4-11) For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 5 But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” 6 I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. 7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. 10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
The “truth of Christ” summarizes what Paul had just spoken of: Jesus, the spirit, the gospel (vv 4,7).
(2 Cor 12:3-6) And I know that this man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows — 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.
The “truth” is what Paul saw in heaven, the resurrected Christ.
(2 Cor 13:8) For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.
The “truth” is what Paul serves, what he dedicates his life to. The truth is the good news of the resurrected Jesus, at the Father’s right hand in heaven.
“Truth” in Galatians
(Gal 2:5) We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
(Gal 2:14) When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
(Gal 5:7) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?
In Galatians, Paul is quite plain: “truth” means the truth of the gospel — the true gospel, not the false gospel being taught by certain teachers. You see, adding commnds to the truth makes the truth a lie.
“Truth” in Ephesians
(Eph 1:13-14) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.
(Eph 4:20-24) You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians was probably a circular letter, designed to be sent to multiple churches. And in Ephesians, Paul doesn’t leave us to guess. The meaning of “truth” is plainly stated. It’s the gospel — hearing, believing, salvation, receiving the Spirit, in order to live righteously — like God.
Therefore, “speaking the truth in love” in Ephesians 4:15 is about evangelism, rather than publishing articles about which church is damned over elder re-affirmation or fellowship halls.