Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” -John 18:37-38
I’m very glad you asked Pilate, because that is exactly what I’d like to talk about today. In the first post of this blog I talked about Philippians 4:8 where I draw the name from, and what this blog is all about. Now I’d like to start going through that verse piece by piece and do a series of posts on each virtue individually. For each one I’ll try to pull together some of the primary scriptures that will help us to understand them in Biblical terms. Alright, now to the question at hand.
What is truth? Jesus didn’t speak ambiguously here. He states plainly that He came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Pilate then asks a very important question, however, if you keep reading on in John 18, it doesn’t sound like he waited for the answer. Even though Pilate stopped the conversation short, I’d like to answer the question. I hope you’ll wait for the answer. There are so many scriptures that refer to truth, and it’s been extremely helpful to read and re-read many of them in considering this post. As I’ve been preparing I’ve broken it into three main sections.
1. Truth is Essential
The next section will cover a lot more of the substance of what truth is. But first, I think it will be helpful to understand how important truth is. According to the Bible, truth is absolutely necessary to our salvation.
“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” -2 Thessalonians 2:8-13
This is kind of a lengthy passage to quote, but there are many interesting points here as it relates to truth. First, we’re told about some of the activity of Satan, which is power and false signs and wonders, and wicked deception. Satan being a fallen angel, has more power than human beings. He has the power to perform false miracles. This is why when it comes to the working of the Holy Spirit, truth should rank higher than miracles. John 14-16 is three solid chapters of Jesus teaching at the last supper. He’s explaining how He will be going away, and how the Holy Spirit will be sent. There is a verse in each chapter where He calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. John 14:17, 15:26, and 16:13. When we are contributing something to the Holy Spirit, I think we should test it by two primary factors. Does it guide us to truth? For Christ says, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth”. And does it glorify Jesus? For He also says right after, “He will glorify Me”. If anyone claims that someone or something is of the Holy Spirit, but it is devoid of truth and glorifying Christ, then I’d strongly argue that it’s not the Holy Spirit. Satan can deceive with false signs and wonders, however he never tells the truth, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Secondly, in this one passage truth is linked to salvation three times. Let’s pull them out and list them together. Paul says for those who are perishing it is because they refused to love the truth. Next, those who are condemned are those who did not believe the truth. And finally, we are saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. The point here is the sharp contrast between condemnation for unbelief, and salvation for belief in the truth.
Thirdly, something I find very interesting is that the word “love” is used in verse 10, and then the word “believe” is used in verse 12. Why the change? Why not say believe both times, since belief is used again in the last verse? I think it clues us in to an important aspect of believing. Christianity is more than just gathering a list of true statements and saying, “Yeah, I believe that”. Belief of the truth in your head is important, but there should also be affection for the truth in your heart. True belief is loving the very truths you say you believe. Before we look at the next section, here are a few more verses that link the truth with salvation:
Jesus prays, “For their sake I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” – John 17:19
In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit – Ephesians 1:13
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. – James 1:18
2. Truth is Exclusive
If truth is to have any ultimate meaning, it must be objective. If you want to hold to the idea that truth is relative, that’s your prerogative. However, if you say truth is relative, then your assertions don’t really carry any weight, or have any foundation. Since truth is objective, I say that a truth claim is by nature exclusive, because it forbids the possibility that what contradicts it is true. The Bible is full of truth claims. They are either true or false, there is no middle ground. Martin Luther said, “Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity.” The apostles and early Christians did not live and die because Christianity was their opinion. We, like them, should live and die like Christianity is the absolute truth of reality.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6
This claim begins to form the answer to the initial question. Jesus says that He is the truth, and His claim is pretty exclusive, in that He is the only way to the Father. All other ways are excluded. A few verses later Jesus says that, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Jesus Christ is truth incarnate. Paul extols Christ in Colossians 1 saying, “He is the image of the invisible God”, and “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”. Then a little later, after Jesus has declared that He is the truth, He prays:
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. – John 17:17
When you pull the two verses above out of context and put them by each other, it almost sounds contradictory at first. Jesus says He is the truth, and then He prays and says that the Father’s word is truth. But it all goes hand in hand, since in the mystery that is the Trinity, the Father and Son are one. They are distinguished, but they are one. Consider these verses:
Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. – John 14:24
For I have given them the words that You gave Me… – John 17:8
These are only a couple examples but it is enough to see that as the Father and Son are one, so are their words one. The Father and the Son are also shown as one in sending the Spirit:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. – John 14:26
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. – John 15:26
The first verse says that the Father will send the Spirit, and the second says that Jesus will send the Spirit. This is the mystery of the Trinity. I really encourage you to read straight through John 14-17, and then maybe even read it again. It is just plump full of truth straight from the lips of Christ about the unity and purpose of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We know that Jesus is the truth, and that God speaks to us by Christ, for “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.” That’s the opening to the book of Hebrews, where the author also affirms that God’s word came through the Old Testament prophets. Paul agrees when he says “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” And Peter as well when he says that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” And adding to that, Ephesians 2:20 says that with Christ as the chief cornerstone, God’s household is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. I believe that if you take all this together it means that the new covenant church is built on the teaching of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ, and the New Testament apostles. This is why we call the entire Bible the word of God. And this truth is exclusive, for it is the measure and standard that all claims and statements should be compared against. While the Bible doesn’t teach everything about every subject, it provides sufficient revelation as a guide for discerning in all of life.
3. Truth is Eternal
Finally, and briefly, truth is Eternal. This pretty much follows necessarily. If God is truth, and God is eternal, then obviously truth is eternal, but it’s interesting to look at the verses in the Bible that specifically say God’s word will last forever as opposed to other things in this life. Here are a few:
The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous rules endures forever. – Psalm 119:160
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. – Isaiah 40:8
…the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever. – 2 John 1:2
These verses are encouraging because they remind me that seeking after truth, and searching out God’s word is never a waste of time. Truth will never go out of style, and it will never be irrelevant. Entire generations and cultures have and will continue to come and go on the face of the earth, but the word of God will always remain constant. I believe learning more of the Lord will be a never ending occupation of the saints in heaven. It’s been said that the only thing you can take to heaven with you is people, and I really like that statement. However, when you go to heaven, your mind goes with you, and all the truth you’ve learned along with it, and there it will continue to grow. The truth will be with us forever.
May we always abide in God’s word, so that He could say of us with His apostle John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”