What Is Truth?

In 2016, citing a turbulent election cycle and a dramatic exponential increase in usage, the Oxford Dictionary chose “post-truth” as the word of the year. They defined it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford Dictionary, 2016).

Their choice has become more interesting with each year since 2016. Our nation has become more and more concerned with truth. The news anchors, journalists, and our neighbors tell us that there is a tidal wave of misinformation and “fake news” flooding our country. (Which just a cursory glance of Twitter or Facebook would confirm that claim as accurate). Interestingly, in the same breath, our nation also says, truth is what you make it, what is true for you is not for me, or that there is no such thing as objective truth.

In many ways, we are living our lives in the moment that Jesus and Pilate had in John 18, where Jesus said that He came to testify of the truth. To which Pilate responded with, “what is truth?” (John 18:38).

What Is Truth?

In John 18:37-38, we read Pilate and Jesus’s exchange.

          37     Therefore, Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

          38     Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?”

And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and *said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.”

Jesus says that He came to testify to The truth. Not a truth, not truth for Christians, but THE truth. Universal and objective. That truth was and is Himself as Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” Implicit in Jesus’ statement in John 18:37, “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” is an invitation. An invitation to all those who desire truth to listen to the very embodiment of truth.

Pilate then answers, “what is truth?” (John 18:38). Now I do not believe Pilate asks this scornfully or even out of conceit. Perhaps, Pilate asks this question from a place of ambivalence. He is holding to two contradictory ideas. He questions if Truth even exists but then makes a declaration that depends upon truth existing. Note the remainder of John 18:38, “…I find no guilt in Him.” Which was a true statement because Jesus was actually innocent.

Pilate’s answer about the innocence of Christ gives us our definition of truth. Pilate made a statement that corresponded to reality. The fact of Christ’s innocence was true, independently of Pilate or the Jewish mob saying otherwise. So, for a person to say something true, their statement must match reality. But why is that?

Truth Is Inextricably Tied to God

The reason why truth can only be that which corresponds to reality is that truth itself is inseparably tied to God. God being the creator of all things (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-5), is the author of reality.

  • God is the author of reality (i.e., this universe and all in it). Romans 11:36; Psalm 19:1-6
  • Creation points to its author and thus to the truth. Romans 1:20
  • God has revealed truth additionally through His word                                       (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3)
  • and in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).

This is why I think I’ve always kind of cringe when I hear the phrase “God’s truth.” I know what people mean by it. But there is no truth but God’s truth! All truth is God’s because He is the author of all things. What is true in mathematics is true because God created it that way. What is true in physics is true because of God. Biology, history, astrophysics, computer science, etc. Whatever is truly true in all things is only true because God has authored and ordered the universe.

Consequently, when we humans deviate from the truth, God has revealed there is no stop-gap for us. Once we reject God, we have rejected the very Being by which we can sense our universe. This is why so often in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the writers say, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

Jesus and Truth

If truth is that which corresponds to reality and God is the author of all reality, then we ought to pay close attention to anything that God reveals. So, when we read that Jesus is God’s final revelation to mankind (Hebrews 1:1-3), we ought to pay close attention to Him and what He taught.

Jesus came “into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). He came to make fully known truth the mankind (John 1:14, 17-18) and by us coming to know the truth that we would be set free from darkness and sin (John 8:31-32). Jesus was very clear that what He taught was an enduring message for all time. He said in Matthew 24:35 that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”

What I find to be refreshing about Jesus’ teachings is that they are solid and sure. This is what people in the first century also found so refreshing because He taught “them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). I like how one writer expressed this thought about Jesus and truth. He said, “How wonderful to know that real truth actually does exist, and I can have access to it” (Dunagan, Jesus and Truth).

Our Duty to Truth

  1. Know it – Jesus said in John 8:31-32 said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Truth does us no good whatsoever if we do not personally know it. There may be the cure for a horrible disease that I am afflicted with, but if I do not search for such a cure, I’ll never find it.
  2. Believe it – If something is true, then it is worth believing, fully trusting in. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 that if Christianity is not true, then it is not worth believing in.
  3. Obey it – If something is true, we ought to live by it, believe it, and obey it. Why would a person be willing to live and build their lives around something false? Note the natural digression a person goes down when they reject God as the ultimate source of truth in Romans 1:18-23; 2:8.
  4. Love it – Solomon in Proverbs 23:23 said, “buy the truth and sell it not. To which Jesus illustrated this pearl of wisdom in the parable of the great treasure (Matthew 13:44), where a man sold all he had so that he could own the field that had this magnificent treasure buried in it. These two sections of Scripture should match our attitude to the truth.
  5. Defend it – Jude in Jude 3 admonished his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”  As believers, we have a duty to defend the truth of the Gospel no matter the personal cost to us.
    1. “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition of every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefields besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point” (Martin Luther).

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