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What is Truth?



By David Kowalski

what is truth?“’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.’”  Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18: 37-38).1

Pilate’s question is one that has been debated among philosophers since the 7th century B. C. with no final resolution.  While rival truth claims have been debated through the centuries, the issue of truth itself has remained a controversial one. Though most people have lived comfortably in the world of common sense realism, philosophers have failed to discover indisputable, basic ideas upon which they can construct others, and postmodern philosophers have declared no such foundation exists (ironically, they have no foundation for this declaration -- according to their own declaration).

In other words, in spite of centuries of searching, those who study epistemology (the examination of what we know and how we know it) have found no solid foundation for truth. Plato's quest for "justified true belief" seems an ethereal mirage to most, contemporary thinkers.

Philosophers also have trouble finding a way to objectively verify truth since we cannot get outside of ourselves to validate the accuracy of our perceptions. With no foundation for truth and no way to verify it, the world is an intellectual wasteland the Bible refers to as darkness (see John 12:46; Acts 26:18; Romans 2:19, 13:12; 2 Corinthians 4:6, 6:14; Ephesians 5:8, 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9, 2:11).

We need not despair, though. The other party to this conversation with Pilate is the God-Man who has entered our time-space world and speaks truth from heaven. Jesus says, “I have come into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37).

The Greek word for truth that both Pilate and Jesus used, aletheia, was used to denote more than opinion. The sense of absolute realism conveyed by the word is what prompted Pilate's question about its nature.  Aletheia is combined from two parts: the negative prefix a ("no," "not"), and lanthano, meaning "hidden" or "secret."

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, says aletheia refers to “absolute truth” that “can be communicated by a clear statement of truth,” “taught,” and “recognized.”2 The article on aletheia in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the following:

"It denotes a reality that is firm, binding, and hence true…An extension of this usage is to more general facts which demand recognition by all people as reality, as the normal state corresponding to divine and human order…Truth can also be set in opposition to deceit (cf. Mal. 2:6; Prov. 11:8; 12:19)…Along similar lines God is said to be the true (i.e., the only) God in 2 Chr. 15:3...God does truth (Neh. 9:33), gives true laws (Neh. 9:13), gives valid commands (Ps. 111:7), swears truth (Ps. 132:11), and keeps the norm of truthfulness forever (Ps. 146:6). The element of trust, based on God’s character, finds pregnant expression in 2 Sam. 7:28: “Thou art God and thy words are true.”3

The objectively independent, omniscient One, absolutely testifies of the truth that has as its foundation the One who sits upon the throne (see Matthewt 5:34; Acts 7:49: Revelation 4:2, 5:1,7:10,19:4-5, 20:11-12, 21:3-5, 22:1-3). This truth is as universal as His sovereignty, as timeless as His eternity, as objective as His reality, and as absolute as the One who speaks it. God then, is the source and foundation of truth that exists regardless of who does or does not know or believe it. Any system of thought which seeks to build on another foundation is doomed to structural failure. Only in Christ can we know the truth that makes us free (John 8:32).

Light has shined in the world’s darkness.

“The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light” (Matthew 4:16).

“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness” (John12:46).

The logos (word) of God (John 1:1) who is the truth (John 14:6), as well as the unifying principle in which all truth coheres (Colossians 1:16-17), can be known (John 10:14), and is “full of truth (John 1:14),” as “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in Him (Colossians 2:2-4). The One who is truth is the foundation for words of truth that He speaks:

“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure." (John 3:31-34).

We thus have, in Christ and in His words, objective, absolute Truth which has a sure foundation and by which we can test all truth claims.

arrow For additional information on truth as "true truth" and "propositional truth," see my article, "Will the Real Truth Please Stand Up?"

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

Written by David Kowalski

Notes:

  1. All Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
  2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 35-36.
  3. Rudolf Bultmann, “Aletheia,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. ed. Gerhard Kittel [abridged in one volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley] (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 37-38.

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This post was last updated: Mar. 12, 2013