Archive for January 17th, 2009

“What Is Truth?”



When Jesus was on trial before His death on the cross, Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea was questioning Him in order to discover why He was being accused.  Jesus gave Pilate answers and silence that must have seemed irrelevant to the accusations.  The apparent lack of correlation between accusations and answers pushed Pilate to frustration1 since he was trying to spoil the accusers’ design and release Jesus.  In the midst of the growing tension Jesus and Pilate have a verbal exchange of which the following is a small part:  “Jesus answered, ‘…for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’  Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’  And when he had said this he went out…” (John 18:37-38).  There is no evidence that he either waited for an answer or wanted one.

          There is a similar lack of commitment to discover the answer today so that we need to know it all the more.  “What is truth?”  The question is not simple and I believe it can be expanded into three questions.  How do we define the concept truth?  Does truth exist and can we objectively know it?  Assuming truth does exist, which set or sets of truth claims are true? 

          Several different dictionaries I referenced record that truth is “conformity to fact or reality.”  In other words, in order for something to be true it must be the original item or line up in visual (and 4 other senses) and verbal description with the original.  Josh McDowell points out that, for instance, lying is wrong not because my parents, my church, or the Bible teach it was wrong.  These sources report that it is true that lying is wrong, but they are not why it is wrong.  Neither is it wrong because it is illegal, it hurts someone, or feels wrong.  These perspectives are consequences of the truth that lying is wrong, but they are not why it is wrong.  McDowell’s concludes, “Lying is wrong because it is contrary to the nature and person and character of God,” which is “…God is true” (John 3:33).  He IS the original.  “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17) because it aligns with and accurately reports who He is.  Your parents, church, the law, your feelings, and their pain report truth when what they communicate corresponds to who God is.

          Answering the second question about whether truth exists and can we know it proceeds directly from whether or not the original exists and we can know it.  Jesus said, “I am…the truth” (John 14:6).  McDowell paraphrases this verse, “I have fidelity to the original”, which is effectively what Jesus said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  To Philip’s request Jesus said, “…He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘show us the Father?’” (John 14:9)  Jesus has complete fidelity to the original.

          But which truth claim or claims are true?  First of all, we can eliminate the plural because two opposing claims cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense (law of non-contradiction) in that the truth of one requires the falsehood of the other. If you do not accept this law of logic you have no truth claim, being self-contradictory.  As to which claim is truth, my best effort is to agree with all the believers past and present that “He who receives His (Jesus’) testimony has set His seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:33).

          The reason we know that Pilate did not want his question answered is because, if he had, the answer was standing right in front of him.  In a song by Michael W. Smith the refrain begins, “Ancient words ever true, changing me, changing you…”  And why do they bring change?  It is because, “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  This truth is not meant to merely be some awesome monument which at first sight is admired and afterwards ignored.  Being “living and active”, it either penetrates the pores (“and marrow”) of your being purifying everything it touches or it work hardens your exterior by relentless pounding until you are brittle and break.  The truth exists. You can know it.  You should pursue it.


1In order to see this frustration building it is helpful to look at all four accounts:  Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:1-15, Luke 23:1-5, John 18:28-19:16

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