What Is Truth?

Exodus 20: 16

James_Tissot_Jesus_Before_PilateWhen Pontius Pilate confronted Jesus at the Praetorium on the charges brought against him by the Sanhedrin, Jesus answered that “only those who are of the truth, hears His voice.” Pilate then retorted rhetorically, “What is truth?” Then turning around, he walked out, and declared Jesus’ innocence before his accusers (Jn 18:33-40). For a person who possessed judicial authority over his subjects’ life or death, it seemed incongruent that he would disparagingly question the relevance of truthfulness under the circumstances. However, his subsequently decision by giving in to mob behavior explained his position on the issue of truth.

AugustineThe 9th commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” is Yahweh’s plumb line where truth is concerned (Ex 20:16). Its language is couched in a judicial context within the covenant community; viz., you shall not testify or give a reply against a neighbour, fellow-citizen, or a companion who stands in reciprocal relationship to you as a member of the group, by lying or providing evasive evidence. The judges were to investigate thoroughly to discern the truth in cases that came before them, and the provision was for at least two witnesses to sustain a charge (Deut 19:15). The penalty for a false accusation was severe, to the extent of loosing one’s life (Deut 19:16-21), and this included refusing to divulge pertinent information, thus creating a false impression of what the facts really are (Lev 5:1). God’s principal concern was that the community’s social cohesion was not sacrificed for personal gain. He was preparing and training his people in Canaan, to bring order amid chaos, to be a holy people, and a kingdom of priests, so that by looking at them, the nations will come to know Him as the true God.

9577290The law courts, however, do not have sole responsibility for the discernment of truth telling. We, who are created in God’s image – the imago Dei, are to love truth, as believers our righteousness is characterized by this fundamental attribute of God Himself (Isa 65:16; Zech 8:19; Eph 4:15,25). Therefore, to mirror truth is to pursue it in everything that involves the people of God (Jn 4:23,24; 14:17; 16:13), to the extent of advancing it equitably and accurately even if it goes against personal or group interests. However, expressing the truth of a matter may not be welcome on some occasions, but our motivation for it (viz., a love for God and neighbour) should nevertheless guide us in our words and/or deeds, in order that graciousness is always practiced. Particularly so in these times, when the post-modern media skirts between actual news reporting and propaganda, complicating what may be just spin and the truth. But the standard that God has set for His people does not change, reinforcing their high moral ground in uprightness, consistency and faithfulness.

John 17There is an additional aspect of truth that is definitively significant and this is expressed in Jesus Christ, who is truth personified (Jn 14:6 Titus1:2). His response to Pilate indicated that He was not talking about truth abstractly nor philosophically, but about Himself as the revealed truth of God’s eternal plan in coming into this world. It is the Spirit of truth, who lives in us, that would ultimately corroborate what is error or truth (1 Jn 4:6; 5:6) as we listen to His promptings. It becomes inevitable then that the consistency of our testimony of speaking the truth in love before fellow believers in the community and pre-believers outside, would determine the credibility of our faithful witness to Truth personified.