Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

John 18:37-38

This evening we had a fascinating study at church after watching one of the “Truth Project” videos. We went through the first session which was an introduction to the series, looking at what truth is and why it is important that we know and believe the truth.

While I agreed with almost everything that was said in the video, I have one or two concerns about its approach. Is “truth” a valid hermeneutic with which to read the Bible? I think it is, but I also think that we need to be very careful in what we mean by truth, and aware of any subtle differences between the meaning of “truth” in our culture compared to that which Jesus and the biblical authors had in mind.

Modern post-enlightenment culture has a very binary view of truth. Everything is either right or wrong, true or false. Truth in modern culture is then very often the collection of every “true” statement. Believing the truth becomes “agreeing with every true statement”, or at least all the true statements that we think are important. In practice we see this illustrated in the doctrinal statements that churches and faith organisations encourage members to agree with. While these are generally good things, I’m wondering whether this is actually what truth is, or if truth is something much more profound.

The question I’m pondering is, when I read about truth and believing the truth in the Bible, to what extent am I anachronistically projecting my cultural view of truth back onto what the biblical authors are saying? What does Jesus mean by truth, and what do the biblical authors mean when they talking about believing the truth?

My hunch is that in the Jewish worldview in particular (probably less so in Greek thought), truth is thought of less as abstract statements and more as an attribute of God. Truth is God himself – his righteousness, his faithfulness, his loyalty and steadfastness. It is defined in terms of how he relates to humanity, as well as being an intrinsic part of his nature. Believing in truth is then putting faith and trust in God to be faithful to himself and faithful to his people.

In this light, when Jesus talks about truth and claims to be the truth, I don’t think he is saying that he has all the right answers to the questions of the universe (although he does), I think he is saying that he is God himself, who is in his very nature faithful, righteous and true. When Jesus calls on people to believe in him, he is not calling them to tick all the right boxes on a doctrinal statement about him, but rather to put all their faith and trust in him, following him with their whole lives because he is trustworthy.

In saying this I don’t want to deny that it is important to believe the right “things”, as well as believing in the right person. As was pointed out in our discussion tonight, the two very much go hand in hand – we can’t believe in Jesus if we don’t know about him. But I’m just concerned that we don’t dwell so much on believing all the right things that we miss what it really means to believe in Jesus himself, who is the way, the truth and the life.

It is important that we believe the right things about Jesus, and about life in general, which is one reason why we take the Bible seriously. But when the thief on the cross believed in Jesus, he didn’t understand exactly what would happen or how his sins would be forgiven, and I very much doubt whether he knew that Jesus would be bodily resurrected in three days. Rather, he believed (at least to some degree) and put his trust in Jesus as the Truth – the one who is God and therefore is faithful and trustworthy to fulfill his promise to raise him from the dead.

I think truth is vitally important. My hope is that we don’t get so caught up in our cultural definition of truth as facts that we finish this course knowing more true things but missing out on the real Truth that is God himself, revealed through Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection.

What are your thoughts?

Cross and Sun

  1. Ruth M says:

    Great post, Mark. I’m pointed again to the One who is trustworthy, reliable, sure and true. I’m reminded again of our limited faculties, also – we may find seasons in life confuse us or cause us to doubt, or even that we lose our mental capacity somewhat in old age. But thank God that our salvation does not depend on our ability to explain, define or understand truth. Knowing God as trustworthy and true is so much more than mere mental assent, it’s a lifelong relationship.

  2. Stephen Brown says:

    Hey Mark, you make some great points here. I didn’t get to sit in on the Truth Project last night, but I’ve thought the same things after listening to Christian apologists in the past.

    It does seem to me that the Jewish idea of truth would be more personable, and carry with it the idea of trustworthiness. But that’s just my guess. It would be interesting to do some research and see if it holds any water.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah I agree with you – that’s the impression that I get from reading the Bible. For example there are times when God does apparently change his mind (not destroying Ninevah as he told Jonah he would) and even apparently contradict himself to some degree (Jesus went above and beyond the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye), but God is not accountable to some abstract notion of “truth” – he himself is truth. I agree with you that in this light the Jewish idea of truth is more personable and less abstract. God demonstrated his truthful nature to the people of Ninevah – not by carrying out judgment (and thereby showing the “truth” of his statement that he would destroy the city) but rather by showing compassion as they repented.

      Like you I haven’t looked into this much, but would be fascinated to think more about it…

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