By Steve Sherman
Faculty, College of Theology
When we open our Bibles to the New Testament Pastoral Epistles, we find something quite different from—even opposed to—typical cultural or personal definitions of “truth” as merely “relative”: not uncommonly professed in mainstream/public academic institutions.
Radically atypical, the Pastorals indicate that “knowledge of God” ought to be understood as knowledge of “the truth”—truth that is both objective and knowable—even if personally/subjectively experienced. Christian knowledge of God is depicted as knowledge of the truth—referring to the message of the gospel (for instance, see 1 Timothy 2:3-7; 3:16-4:3; and 2 Timothy 2:25-3:15).
Openness to this truth involves “both affirmation and choice, a knowledge and an acknowledgment, at once an assent and a consent, an affair of both mind and heart” (Murray, 1964, 29). Conversely, “to oppose the gospel is to resist the truth…” (2 Timothy 3:8) (Denney, 1898, 10). Already in these first-century Scriptures “a definite doctrinal tradition is evident, and all entanglements with ‘godless and silly myths’ (1 Tim. 4:7) is forbidden” (Murray, 1964, 29).
The Pastoral Epistles present Christian knowledge with “quite clearly an intellectual, semi-dogmatic stress. The knowledge of God’s truth is of equal importance with experiential profession of the Lord, and finally pushes it into the background. Hence, conversion to the Christian faith can be described almost technically as coming to a knowledge . . . of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 3:7; cf. Heb. 10:26; 1 Tim. 5:3; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:1; 2 Peter 2:21)” (Schmitz, 1976, 405).
The frequent references to “the truth” and “the knowledge of the truth” in the Pastorals is both expected and welcomed in the face of teachers who “profess to know God,” but then “deny him by their actions” (in Titus 1:16, these teachers are also said to be “detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work”). For the truth of the gospel of God to remain clearly identifiable, it had to remain free from being associated with what various New Testament epistles view as merely human commands and regulations, profane myths and tales, the promotion of speculations, unsound doctrine, teachings of demons, wicked people and imposters and smooth talkers and flatterers (see Romans 16:17-18; Colossians 2:20; 1 Timothy 1:3-4; 4:1, 7; 2 Timothy 3:13; Titus 2:1).
Certainly, the New Testament emphasizes the salvific (saving) aspect of theological knowledge, making clear that a Person is the centerpiece of the knowledge of God—Jesus the Christ, the divine Logos and Wisdom made flesh, the image of the invisible God. The Pastoral Epistles affirm this claim in stating the knowledge of God is knowledge of the truth, which is the gospel message. May we trust the truth of this good news—today and always!
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