What is Truth?

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Nearly 2000 years ago that question was asked of a man by a Roman governor in Jerusalem. That man was Jesus. He was on trial for His life. The governor was Pontius Pilate. The Bible takes up the story in John 18:37-38 “‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate....” (NIV)

“What is truth” was an important question then and it still is. It’s very interesting to look at the meanings of the word ‘truth’ in the Bible. The verses above are from the New Testament which was originally written in Greek. The word ‘truth’ in Greek means just that. But in the Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, the word ‘truth’ means much more. To a Jew to say 

‘truth’ refers to truth, certainty, a sure foundation and directly refers to God who is regarded as the source of absolute truth.

Have you heard the terms ‘relative truth’ and ‘absolute truth’? Greek philosophy, which would have been the source of Pilate’s education, understood ‘truth’ interestingly enough in much the same way as most of our society does. It isn’t absolute but can be adjusted to the circumstances. So, one person’s ‘truth’ may not be the same as another’s. Moral relativism describes and is arguably connected with the same thing but refers to morals. In this situation it isn’t possible for there to be any ‘absolute truth’. Truth is therefore very flexible in our society leading inevitably to flexible ethics.

Back to Pilate. No wonder he retorted the way he did. He simply didn’t understand the concept of absolute truth let alone how Jesus could ‘testify to the truth’. But Jesus was a Jew and though the conversation is recorded in Greek His understanding of ‘truth’ was from the Hebrew. He was connected intimately with absolute truth because He was God’s son.

We’d all be better off if we lived by God’s values rather than our own variable and flexible sets of ethics. Relative truth or absolute truth? I prefer the absolute. It means I can believe in God’s Truth and all that it offers us if we want to apply it in our lives. I want to be ‘on the side of truth’. God has given me that choice just as He has all humankind. The information we need is in His book, the Bible. 

David G