What is Truth?

Written by Sam Duregger : January 28, 2008

jesusandpilate.jpgHere is something for you to ponder (I’m already pondering it…).

What is truth? It is a question that has spanned the centuries and circumnavigated the globe. It is a question everyone has asked and many have tried to answer. It has spurred countless expositions and propositions from religious behemoths, philosophers, and psychologists.

A recent Barna Research Group survey on what Americans believe asked the question, “Is there absolute Truth?” Sixty-six percent of adults responded that they believe that “there is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct.” Seventy-two percent of those aged 18 to 25 expressed this belief.

One side argues that there is no such thing as truth and the other side screams, “This is Truth!” This dissonance spurs me to look at Jesus’ words and his reaction to the question, “What is Truth?”

Looking at the Gospels I want focus on Jesus’ interaction with Pilate before the crucifixion (Matthew 27:11-26; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:1-40; John 18:28-40).

Rewind 2000 years. Jesus has come to the end of his 3-year ministry, He stands before Pilate (a governor, three levels below Caesar of Rome, ruler of the most expansive and powerful empire in the world). We will look at John’s account of the dialogue below, with my paraphrase in italics:

Pilate: Are you the King of the Jews?

Are you asserting yourself as King, in effect challenging the Empire above you?

Jesus: Are you asking of your own accord or did others say it to you about me?

Do you really want to know?

Pilate: Am I a Jew? Your own nation and chief priests has delivered you over to me… What have you done?

You’ve really ticked people off… What exactly have you done?

Jesus: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world.

Pilate: So you are a King?

Jesus: You say that I am a King. For this purpose I have come into this world - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.

Pilate: What is truth?

Jesus: [nothing… silence]

The story does not report any further dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, just that Pilate announced that he found no guilt in Jesus, at which point the Jews ask for Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be crucified. This silence made me curious, so I looked at the other Gospels account of this event… and they were silent as well. In fact the other accounts just recorded a small portion of this discussion… mostly that Pilate asked if Jesus was King, and Jesus either responding, “You have said so” or being silent.

So what does Jesus define as Truth? While he did not answer Pilate’s question directly, we can see in his previous comment a reflection of Truth. Though Jesus’ definition is not what Pilate or most of us Westernized Christians want to hear.

You have probably heard from the pulpit a definition of truth, some of these definitions may have sounded like this:

  • Truth has set you free! Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and if you believe in Him you will have everlasting life!
  • Truth is the word of God, the Gospels and the Epistles, and one must believe in them to have eternal life.
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and only through accepting Him as your personal Saviour and Lord can you be promised eternal life in Paradise. This is Truth!

While most of these statements are true (pun intended)… they lack integrity.

Pilate was looking for a definition to absolute truth, a truth he could understand and turn to for comfort and peace…. truth as he knew it to be is the unquenchable power of the Roman Empire. His definition of truth is elastic, the authority of truth was given to the man with the most power, the man who could elicit the most fear, and the man who could control his destiny, namely Caesar.

In these two definitions we have identified the inefficiency of the church and the fallacy of Caesar’s “Truth is Power.” mindset. The church and Caesar have used the banner of truth to wage wars, to force doctrines, beliefs and practices on the savages, the natives, the barbarians and the marginalized. This is a truth wrought with fear and delivered in condemnation and judgment.

This is not the Truth of Jesus. His is a more radical definition than the authoritative and power-filled propositions of yesterday and today. His Truth embodies another way that is not of this world. A definition that is much more subversive, counter cultural and permanent. A kingdom of servants who listen to and follow The Way of their King, not because they have to, but because they want to. His Truth is a God who was made man, who loved the marginalized and scattered the rich and the self-righteous. A Truth that made a way for the poor, the prostitute, the widow, the Gentile, the Jew, the marginalized and the rich.

Truth then died on a cross, Truth was raised from death, Truth bore witness for 40 days, and Truth then ascended into the heavens. Truth left behind a witness, a perpetrator of Truth that resides in the hearts of His followers. Truth lived, lives, and leads. Truth is Jesus. Absolutely.

Author Bio:: Sam is an entrepreneur, writer, blogger, speaker, and entirely overeducated and under qualified… He works in Oklahoma City, and believes that life is rather endless in its possibilities. He blogs at

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7 Responses to “What is Truth?”

  1. Mark Van Steenwyk on January 28th, 2008 8:16 pm

    Popular consensus of what is “true” is often determined by the Powers that Be. Most conservatives in the US, for example, see truth through the lens of the American Dream. Most liberals tend to see it through the highest ideals of the Enlightenment.

  2. Luke on January 28th, 2008 9:57 pm

    I’m often frustrated a bit when I hear or read pastors and Christian thinkers speak on the subject of absolute truth. Usually they do so in a condemning tone as though they perceive most Christians as compromisers because they are unwilling to thump the Bible over the heads of their neighbors whether foreign or domestic.
    In this line of thinking, the Bible and the Christian narrative should be believed because it is true. The problem with this, I think, is that people live inside of different narratives. There is a Muslim story, there is a secular story, there is an American story, and there are many other narratives inside of which people live and think. What is perceived as truth within a particular story are those facts which support that story. Facts or “truths” which challenge that story are generally regarded as not true and to be avoided. So I think we need to get to the point where we realize that back of all truth is not only an ethereal or positivist type “absolute truth” which people either reject or accept, but more importantly, a story which itself provides the parameters of the truths that people actually believe.
    So what I think we as Christians then want people to accept is not the abstract idea of absolute truth, but the ongoing story of Jesus as King as of the world. Regardless of 2000 years of vain philosophy and a hundred years of secular attacks on an admittedly often wayward Church, many people still find that when they hear the story of Jesus, they tend to believe it. So, like Jesus when he kept his silence, I don’t think we can bear witness to absolute truth by talking about absolute truth, though that may have been where Pilate wanted Him to go. But we can and do bear witness to “the truth” by living lives and telling stories like Jesus did in His own life, which strike at the root and thus challenge the narratives of people like Pontius Pilate.

  3. Mark Van Steenwyk on January 28th, 2008 10:01 pm

    Well said Luke. Amen.

  4. sam on January 29th, 2008 7:14 am

    Great addition Luke. I like your point about “bear witness to the truth by living our lives” it is the incarnational living that Jesus taught and lived. Of which His church was supposed to take the baton and continue, but sadly we have fumbled around during the handoff and we stutter and stumble trying to define truth before we live it out. Hence doctrinal dissonance and man-made propositions of truth, that always fall short of the true gospel message. Namely, “bearing witness to the truth by living our lives.”

  5. Michael Cline on January 29th, 2008 9:08 am

    I’d like to pose a question. Let’s assume we are going to go with this “narrative” approach to truth, where there are several “stories” out there for each community (and individual perhaps). In this lens, the gospels present another representation, or story, of God revealed is Jesus the Messiah. Now, when applied to the other “stories,” can we say that the story of Scripture, the story of Jesus (however you want to phrase it) encompasses all other stories? The story we find in the Bible somehow acts as an umbrella of all other expressions of truth found in the world’s stories?

    Basically, I’m asking the metanarrative question…does the “truth” found in scripture (and lived out in our lives incarnationally–good emphasis) act as a metanarrative for all our stories?

  6. Luke on January 29th, 2008 11:51 am

    In a couple of important senses, I think the Christian narrative is behind all other stories. For one, the bible gives an account of unbelief and the rise of competing narratives like Cain’s city, and the tower babel and the rise of the pagan nations, so unbelief or competing belief systems do not pose an intellectual difficulty for the Christian. Also, as Cornelius Van Til argued pretty well, there is a sense in which the Chrisian story may be behind all other stories providing the preconditions for the intelligibility of universal human experience.
    But in an equally important sense, the Christian narrative does stand over against all competing narratives, allegiances, religions, and solidarities. Isn’t that what this website is all about? It does not I think encompass other narratives in the sense that it validates them.
    Not sure if I’m answering your question or not…

  7. Michael Cline on January 31st, 2008 7:33 am

    No, you answered it quite well! I just think sometimes in our haste to run into the arms of postmodernity, we forget about this aspect. Postmodernity as defined by Francois Lyotard is the “incredulity towards metanarratives.” Lately, someone (can’t come up with the name) has argued that Christianity is a metnarrative, but it does not contain a meganarrative. Personally, I think this is a bit of fancy rhetoric that means hardly anything.

    Good thoughts all

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