What is Truth?

Just before I left for Summit Oxford, I had purchased a set of devotionals that were written by various scholars and edited by RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries). I had set them aside until I arrived back home from, what I originally intended to be, a single term abroad. After arriving home, getting back into the swing of things, and moving to a new home, I decided it was time to crack open the case and begin a blog series based entirely on them.

Questioning the truthHowever, with traveling back and forth from college, loads of assignments, and such, I had decided that while I postponed writing the series, I would begin reading and annotating them into future outlines. On one occasion, I had brought along with me the one entitled What is Truth? I was sitting on a park bench at my university, going through a passage from Joshua when a friend stopped by. He cocked his head side-ways, read the title aloud, “What is Truth?” and said, “Man, that’s real deep,” I laughed and simply responded that it’s interesting topic. So he asked, “What is the most interesting thing you have ever heard?”

I responded with the very first thought that came to mind, “Leibniz’s Monadology and philosophical idealism.” This lead our conversation down a winding path from Pavlov’s dogs, physical determinism, and ending with that humourous, self-inflicting,  philosophical question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one hear it, does it make a sound?” But as I look back on that conversation, I realize the most interesting thing I have heard wasn’t a theory, or some fact, it was a question, or, perhaps, a conversation that lead to a question.

In John 18:33-38 (ESV) we read,

33 Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?

34 Jesus answered, Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee concerning me?

35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?

36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find no crime in him.

I’ve always have been struck with the oddity of this conversation. Pilate begins his questioning in verse 33 with, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds, “Is this your idea or did someone else tell you that I am the king of the Jews?” Pilate denies the title is from himself by saying, “I am not a Jew, the Jewish people are charging you with a crime. What is it?” Christ then responds that he has a kingdom but that this kingdom is not of this world, and if it were, he would not have been delivered to the Jews. And so Pilate, taking what appears to be a hint says, “So, it is true? You are a king?” To which Jesus reiterates the point, “You say I’m a king, but I came into the world to bear witness to the truth, and all who are in the truth will hear my voice.” Pilate responds, “What is truth?”, then departs and tells the Jewish people that he finds no crime in him.

Did you notice it? So often, even today, we begin a conversation and right when the real question is finally asked, we walk out of the room without hearing the answer. From the onset, Christ divides Pilate’s answer by its source – did you come to that conclusion yourself or did someone else tell you? Christ claimed that he has come into the world to bear witness to the truth and those who are of the truth will hear Christ’s voice – it is as much as an objective truth as it is a subjective truth. But what does that mean?

In John 19:17 we find out the crime which Christ is facing,

The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.

The answer to Pilate’s question appears to consist in at least three things: kingship (for his kingdom is not of this world), being the Son of God (a title so blasphemous that men who took that title warranted death under Jewish law), and a relationship with ‘those who reside in truth’ (As truth is not merely a fact but also a state of being, a relationship that persons bear relations with).

In this series I would like to explore the implications and a few aspects of the answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” through different topics. Below are the six topic-questions with the relevant passages we’ll be covering and a quick explanation of how they are relevant to the general topic:

1) Does Relativism Work? (Joshua 24:14-28) – Is truth something that is relative to the individual or does it exist independently of our dispositions?

2) Is Sincerity Enough? (Acts 26:1-29) – What is the role of our subjective emotions in relationship to truth? Can we define truth in terms of our emotional dispositions?

3) Are Judgments Inevitable? (1 Corinthians 5) – If truth exists, does that require us to make not only judgments concerning what is truth, but also exclusive claims concerning what is false?

4) Can We Have Moral Values Without God? (Romans 1:16-20, 28-32; 2:1-4) – Is the existence of God somehow fundamentally tied with our notions of truth and truth’s existential well-being concerning moral values?

5) Why Should We Be Good? (Luke 6:27-36) – Does the truth impart, what has been coined, “binding force”? If the truth is objective, able to be known at a subjective level, requires a form of discrimination, is conjoined with the existence of a personal God, then are we required to respond in a particular way?

6) Who is the Lord? (Psalm 25:1-14) – If this is all true, then how does Jesus Christ incorporate all of these requirements concerning truth?

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The study guide can be purchased here.

The editors of this guide are Paul Copan and Mark Linville.

Paul Copan is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He has written several books, including Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical and Scientific Exploration, Is God a Moral Monster, and Did God Really Command Genocide?

Mark Linville is a professor of philosophy at Atlanta Christian College.

Note: All of these topics are more vast than our seven seas. The way in which I’ll engage with each of these questions will be in two parts. First, I will present information on these topics in the structural confines of these study guides. And second, I may extend beyond the material of these study guides, but only briefly. I’ll try to incorporate citations and recommendations so that further study can be pursued.