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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The use of aletheia in the Gospel of John

This is a summary of the use of alehteia in the Gospel of John. The method is exegetical, but with an eye on the philosophical concerns. As such I see it as bridging the gap between exegetical and philosophical studies on truth.

There are many good and worthy contributions that assist us in understanding the use of alētheia in the Gospel of John. Among these are the commentaries of Johannine scholars who contribute to our understanding of alētheia by placing them in their textual and cultural contexts. Also, there is the study by Anthony Thiselton, which is perhaps the landmark study of alētheia. In light of the alēthic biblical scholarship to date the present study does not claim to add a great deal of original exegetical insight. Rather, the goal is to build on the exegetical work of previous scholars, particularly Thiselton, to provide a summary of categories that would be useful to the current philosophical and theological discussion on truth. So, while there are many profound resources currently available on a biblical study of alētheia we are seeking, in the present analysis, to build a bridge between the biblical world of exegetical studies on alētheia and the philosophical world of truth-talk.

The reason for the selection of the Gospel of John is that for John alētheia is a critical part of the theological development of the Gospel and shows up in the midst of key passages. In the Christological theology that is arguably the book’s dominant theme we find that the Christ is the self-proclaimed “way and the truth (alētheia) and the life.” (14:6) When the Christ speaks of the Spirit we find that alētheia is used to describe the “Spirit of truth” (14:17, 15:26, 16:13). Alētheia is also a useful apparatus in the dualism that is so often commented upon: When Christ says to Pilate “everyone who is on the side of truth hears my voice” this continues the dualistic motif that separates those who embrace the Christ as coming from God from those who reject him.[2] Of all the portions of Scripture that utilize “truth” the development in the Fourth Gospel seems to be, by far, the most extensive, and the development that has the most philosophical ramifications. For this reason the Gospel of John is an important starting point for anyone interested in developing thoughts on truth in the context of Christianity...[3]
[1] Anthony C. Thiselton, “Truth,” New International Dictionary of NT Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978).
[2] Crf. 1:10-12 in the important prologue and 8:42-47. The chapter 8 passage will be developed later in this paper.
[3] Morris comments on the importance of alētheia in John and also recounts the frequency of its usage concuding, “Plainly, this concept matters to John.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1971), 294. For more on the significance of alētheia in the Gospel of John also see S. Aalen, “Truth, a Key Word in St. John’s Gospel,” in Studia Evangelica (ed. F.L. Cross; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964), 3-24. In reading Aalen’s essay it becomes clear that the alētheia concept is a “highly developed one” and critical part of John’s Gospel and Johannine theology.

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