Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Quid est Veritas"

“’You are a king then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered…’for this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’…” John 18:37a-38a

It is striking to note that this question Pontius Pilate posed rhetorically to the battered and bloody man standing before him, Jesus called the Christ, was left unanswered. All other human definitions since have presupposed to answer it.

The word ‘truth’ has been defined as “a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality… [In] Christian Science: God”[1]. In Scripture, the Greek word translated ‘truth’ is aletheia, which means “the unveiled reality lying at the basis of and agreeing with an appearance; the manifested, the veritable essence of matter”[2]. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “all credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses”[3]. Some people may find their answer within one of these statements but none of them is yet to be accepted as the ‘truest’ of meanings. So, what is truth?

In today’s world the very concept of ‘truth’ itself is being dismissed by many who are caught up in ‘post-modern’ thinking. This is the mindset that holds ‘truth’ as being only a construction created by one’s culture or the individual so that, what may be true for one is not true for another. Thus, truth is relative. This means that words are not fixed but a function of interpretation, so that each person can construct his own meanings. Therefore, our fundamental commitment to what we hold as constituting reality is malleable, an outlook otherwise unprecedented in human history.

The answer to the question [‘a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!’] may be two-fold: doctrinal and practical, or propositional and relational. The man, Jesus, gives both sides of the answer by stating that “your word is truth” (John 17:17) and “I am the truth” (John 14:6). In him is revealed a God who has designed truth to first be grasped by the human mind through the Holy Scriptures. But God desires that it go deeper than that, and be held in the human heart, as per Psalm 51:6.

But some point to the fact that this is part of one’s personal, religious belief, something equated to the oftentimes alien concept of religious "faith". James Sire notes that “religious belief…has nothing to do with matters of truth and falsity”[4] . This ‘post-modern’ view is one of extreme tolerance exercised as ‘political correctness’. Aristotle’s concept that the sum of all knowledge is dependent on one’s understanding of the physical world has permeated this outlook. This may be the result of 2 successive World Wars that not only changed worldview as we know it (both externally and ‘internally’) but whose scars have left deep divisions in the way we define, teach and interpret what is ‘true to us’. This is indicative of the personal truth within, as evidenced by one’s words and deeds.

Eph 4:15 is perhaps God’s most poignant plea as to how He wants us to relate to the truth, where the expression "speaking the truth in love" is awkwardly translated from the Greek alētheúontes, meaning to endeavor to express the truth in a loving manner. In Gal 4:16, it means not only speaking the truth but presenting an action as the truth and not counterfeit. Again, God’s goal is that we live the truth.

Scripture does make it clear that the option of truth is a personal choice. Some people “refuse to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10); some “distort the truth” (Acts 20:30); and some “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). But it nonetheless makes it clear that “we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:8).

Jesus contrasted truth with “tradition”. Replying to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders who criticized his disciples for failing to adhere to one of the many extraneous requirements they had added to God’s Word, he said:
“Thus you nullify [do away with] the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Mat 15:6)
What originates from the minds of men and contradicts truth “nullifies” the Word of God. That means that believing error does not bring one the benefits of believing truth, and may well bring consequences instead. We can deduce the same thing from the best known biblical expression in John 8:31-32:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
What is the converse to this? Wouldn’t it be that believing error puts you in bondage to some degree? Yes, and that is how “tradition” nullifies truth. Truth works in life, traditions don’t.

But if truth, as defined by scripture, is something not to be denied yet something we can choose, does this make our concept of a ‘post-modern’ truth valid in any way? Does this uphold the existentialist concept of man alone existing since his “Being is distinguished by the open-standing standing”[5]?

Søren Kierkegaard, ‘the father of Existentialism’ and a stout Christian himself, wrote that “a man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him”

Thus, truth is a snare: you cannot attain it in its fullest meaning without catching you. It is relative in this ‘post-modern’ respect since whatever we may learn from hearing will always be an opinion, not a fact, and everything we might see a perspective and not a truth. In its biblical implications it is a claim to certainty, since all religions in the world, while they may differ in some respects, unitedly proclaim that nothing lives in this world but truth alone.
“The truth is so completely lost through faulty translation and the debris of human tradition that only by appealing to the internal evidences of the Word in its purity do we hope to establish this revelation of God in the hearts of His people.” Adlai Loudy, God’s Eonian Purpose, (Santa Clarita, Concordant Publishing Concern, First edition, 1929, Second Printing, 1991) pp. 101-103.


[1] Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

[2] The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary.

[4] The Discipleship of the Mind: Knowing and Doing; pg. 101.

[5] Existentialism: Blind alley Beliefs; pg. 56.

[6] Excerpt from Either/Or (Enten - Eller); 1843.

No comments: