Defining Truth

Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” But he didn’t give him a chance to answer. Too often we do that too. There can be various reasons that we don’t want to hear truth.

  • we are afraid of the truth
  • we don’t think truth exists
  • we have heard so many people claim to know what truth is that we are all mixed up inside
  • we just don’t want to think about it, or
  • we don’t think it matters.

I think truth does matter. So, let’s define it a little.

Truth is reality, not hypothetical. When something is always the same, we call it a fact. If it is an unchallengeable fact, we call it a law. The law of gravity would be an illustration of this. The opposite of truth in this sense is a theory; something that might be true but which we can’t prove. Often people mistake theories for truth, but there is a distinct difference between the two. For instance, during the nineteenth century scientists thought that the universe was filled with a gas they called ether. Most academics accepted that theory, even though no one ever proved it. Today we know that this theory was never true, no matter how many highly educated people believed it.

Truth is an absolute. It doesn’t change. What is truth for Amos is truth for Shirley, and for Charles. What was truth in 1465 is still truth in 2017. It was truth in 782, and will still be truth in 2045. Many people do not like absolutes. They prefer to be able to bend the “truth”. But if you can bend it, it is not truth. The opposite of this sense of truth would be situational ethics, where an action is considered right or wrong because of a given situation, rather than because of truth.

Truth has the power to set us free. (John 8:32) Ignorance of truth often results in superstition. Superstition is also an opposite of truth, and it binds us with chains of fear. We could list many superstitions, some of which are still widely believed the world over. But knowledge of the truth sets people free from superstition. You do not need to fear a black cat crossing your path. The truth is that a black cat has no power to harm you or to predict the future. Knowing this truth can set you free from the fear of black cats.

But truth can set you free from a lot more than just superstition. If you come to Jesus and accept him as the embodiment of truth, his teachings will set you free from spiritual fear and doubt and failure.

The Source of Truth

So where does truth come from? And how do we find it? Jesus listed three sources of truth, all recorded in the Gospel of John.

First, Jesus is the truth. (John 14:6). Jesus became a man so that He could tell us the truth, and show it to us. Then He died for us so that we could follow the truth He taught us. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are important sources of Jesus’ truth.

Second, The Holy Spirit is truth. (John 16:13) Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Spirit of truth to guide them into all the truth. The Holy Spirit is a channel of communication between God and mankind. The Spirit can bring us truth in many ways, such as:

  • Helping us to understand the Bible
  • Speaking through our conscience
  • Giving us premonitions
  • Using other people to give us guidance

It is important that we pay close attention when the Spirit speaks to us. However, this is also the easiest way to misunderstand truth, because sometimes our desires and fears get in the way. So it is wise to double check with other people, and the Bible when we feel that the Spirit is telling us truth.

Third, God’s word is truth. (John 17:17) In this passage, Jesus named God’s message as truth. God used the Holy Spirit to enable the apostles to remember the truth He had taught them so that they could write it down. This truth became our New Testament. The New Testament is the foundation for all spiritual truth and should be our final court of appeal when we are trying to find truth.

The Proof of Truth

You may wonder how we can know that what Jesus said was truth. Anyone can make big claims. The Pharisees felt that way about it. They came to Jesus one day and asked Him for a sign (see Matthew 12:38 – 42). Jesus had already given them many signs. He had healed the sick, he had cleansed lepers, and He had raised the dead, but they still didn’t believe. So He told them that He would give them one more sign—He would die and be buried, but after three days He would rise again. This was a very bold claim, but it happened. (He made the same prediction in Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:32 – 34.)

The apostle Paul also wrote about this (see 1 Cor 15:3-7). He stated that five hundred people had seen Jesus at one time, after His resurrection. Most of these people were still alive at that point and could easily have refuted Paul.

What is Truth?

Jack loved ideas. That got him in trouble sometimes, because most of his friends liked things like money, pretty girls and nice cars, and having fun. They didn’t want to think about life, they just wanted to enjoy life.

Jack was different. If he could find someone else who enjoyed discussing ideas, he was in his glory. But one day while he was walking in the park, he met Abe, an old friend he hadn’t seen for several years. They chatted for a few minutes, and Abe challenged Jack with a question he had never considered before.

“What is truth?” Abe looked at Jack expectantly. Jack was a little taken aback.

“Truth?” Jack looked puzzled. “The opposite of a lie, I guess. What are you getting at?”

“Well, I think that to be Truth a concept needs to be an absolute,” Abe replied. “Sort of like gravity. So, Truth—at least when you spell it with a capital T—is a set of ideas and principles that are always right and never change.”

Abe really had Jack’s attention now. “I’ve never thought of that,” he said. “It would take a pretty smart person to come up with a complete set of ideas like that and not miss any. We should try to put together a list like that, just for fun.”

“Suits me,” said Abe. “But we’d better define a bit better what we are talking about, first, so that we don’t get sidetracked. So, what does truth mean, in general terms?”

Jack pulled out his smartphone and did a Google search for the word truth. “According to this, truth is something that is true. I guess that’s pretty obvious.” He chuckled. “But it does give two other definitions. First, ‘that which is in accordance with fact or reality.’ That makes sense.” Abe nodded his agreement. “So, something like gravity is a truth, because it is reality.”

Jack grinned. “It sure seemed like it when I fell out of bed the other night!” He rubbed his head ruefully at the memory. “I hit my head a good one against my night stand.”

Abe laughed before asking “Are there any other definitions?”

“Yes, there’s another one,” said Jack. “It’s a bit tougher. It says that ‘truth is a fact or belief that is accepted as true’.”

He pondered that one a little. “So, is something a truth as long as I believe it?” He scratched his head dubiously before continuing. “My father knows this person who really believes that it is wrong for the government to make him pay income taxes. He’s quite vocal about it. He won’t pay his income taxes and they are taking him to court because of it. So, is that truth?”

Abe sat down on a park bench close by before answering, rather dryly, “Somehow, I doubt it. I think that definition is talking about facts or beliefs that are generally accepted as true. Not paying taxes doesn’t really strike me as fitting that definition.”

Jack sat beside him on the bench, as Abe continued, “I think that definition is okay, but it doesn’t go far enough. There was a time that many people believed that black people weren’t human. You wouldn’t consider that to be truth, would you?”

Jack shook his head vigorously. “For sure not. They’re just as human as you and I are!”

Abe nodded his head in agreement. “I think that for something to be Truth, it has to agree with a general principle of truth put together by an authority who understands it.”

Jack looked puzzled. “That makes sense, I suppose. But who would be able to put together a statement like that? Aristotle? Plato? Buddha?”

Abe reached into his pocket and pulled out a little red book. “You missed one person,” he said, with a smile. “When I think of truth, I usually think of the Bible,” he said, handing it to Jack.

“Only God has the authority to make a decision on anything as important as truth. And the Bible tells us about it.”

The discussion was beginning to intrigue Jack, now. “I don’t know that much about the Bible,” he said, opening it curiously. “Or God, for that matter. Does the Bible talk about truth?”

“Yes, it does,” Abe replied. He reached over and took the book back from Jack. He opened it and searched for a passage. “Here, read the first part of this,” he said, pointing to John 14:6.

Jack read the verse, then reread it. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’” He looked up, puzzled. “How can that be true? Jesus was a man, wasn’t he? How could he be the truth?” He paused to gather his thoughts, while Abe waited for him to continue. “I mean, how could he prove a statement like that? That’s a real mouthful.”

Abe nodded. “It sure is. But he said more than that. He told the Jews that he would give them a sign that he was who he said he was. He said that he was going to be killed and that he would be dead for three days and then he would come back to life.” (See Matthew 12:38-42, and Mark 10:32-34)

Jack looked at Abe as if he were going crazy. “That guy must have been a lunatic! What did he do? Pull a fast one on them?”

Abe shook his head. “No, he didn’t trick them. It happened just like he said it would. The Romans arrested him and crucified him. The Jews put some Roman guards at his tomb so that no one could steal his body and claim that he came back to life.”

Jack was looking at Abe as if he doubted his sanity. Abe grinned. “I know, it sounds incredible,” he said. “That’s how I reacted too, when I first heard about it. But I did a lot of research, and it’s historically sound.”

“The Bible says that he appeared to his followers several times after that. In fact, Paul wrote that he appeared to a group of five hundred people at once, and that most of them were still living at that point.” (See 1 Cor 15:3-7)

“So, it would have been easy for someone to come along and refute what he said,” Jack said thoughtfully. “Five hundred witnesses. Wow.” He repeated it quietly. “Wow.”

Abe handed him the Bible. “Why don’t you read the whole story, in the Gospels. There are four of them, written by four different men, so you can see it from different perspectives. Then maybe we can get together next week and talk some more about it.”

“I’ll do that,” Jack said. “This is going to be interesting. I’m warning you though. I’m sure I’ll have lots of questions. You’d better be ready for a long discussion.”