• johned@aibi.ph

What Is Truth?

Why I Believe That There Is Such a Thing As Absolute Truth.

(Acts 26:25 NKJV) But he said, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.

(John 18:37-38 NKJV) Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. 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." {38} Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all.

(John 1:14-18 NKJV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. {15} John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'" {16} And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. {17} For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. {18} No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

(John 4:23-24 NKJV) "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. {24} "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

(John 14:6 NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

(2 Corinthians 6:7 NKJV) by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,

What Is Truth?

You hear many people say "You have your truth and I have mine." Yet the same people will insist that two plus two equals four and that the earth goes around the sun and not vice-versa. Thank God that people are inconsistent! A more sophisticated version of this is that all truth has been "socially constructed" and must be "deconstructed" if we are to find its meaning for us today. The notion of "absolute truth" has taken a battering and many philosophers have declared the notion of truth to be dead.

One of the last believers in absolute truth was Winston Churchill who said "The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may distort it, but there it is." (Sir Winston Churchill, "A Churchill Reader" ed. Colin R. Coote). Such a view of truth is seldom heard today . Neitzsche cries "So do all believers; therefore all belief is of so little account" (Thus Spake Zarathustra). Believing in anything is hard and unpopular work. Besides why believe when everything changes? So now we are a culture of a thousand opinions and three facts - and no-one has any idea where the three facts have got to.

Sincerity is no substitute for factuality. It just doesn't do to tell the policeman "I sincerely believed I was not speeding..." the judge will not fine you less. Sincerely believing that you can fly an airplane upside down or handle venomous snakes does not diminish the astonishing risk. Do we take the "snake-handlers" approach to Reality and sincerely believe that the snake won't bite ? Is wistfulness a good antidote to poison? Henry Ward Beecher addresses this when he said "It is often said it is no matter what a man believes if he only is sincere. But let a man sincerely believe that seed planted without ploughing is as good with; that January is as favorable for seed sowing as April; and that cockle seed will produce as good harvest as wheat, and is it so? "

Most people are not that foolish. Most people do hold some things to be absolutely true and don't plant wheat in the snow. Most people are prepared to say it is absolutely true that the world is round and that two plus two equals four. We have to have some absolute truth. They then create another category called "true for some people". Why something should be true for one person and not for another is a bit of a mystery. But I think it comes from a misuse of the word "truth" to mean "workable". Such and such works for you but it does not work for me. An alcoholic cannot take a drink without becoming addicted all over again. Someone else can drink always in moderation. What is a pleasant social sip for one person is a moral catastrophe for the other.

Certainly we need to allow for individual differences but individual differences do not demolish the whole concept of absolute truth. To return to the drinking example the truth is that alcohol is a CNS depressant that is tolerated in varying amounts by different people. The chemical nature of alcohol is a constant. What muddies the waters is that our bodies and constitutions are invisibly and subtly different. We do not all react the same way to the same amount of alcohol. However for all people alcohol will act as a CNS depressant. All the individual differences in the world cannot alter these facts. Even though there may be differences in "workability" (alcohol works for you but it doesn't for me) there is still, underlying it all, a core of True Truth, unalterable and sure.

Five Levels of Truth

Whatever definition of truth you come up with someone is sure to quibble with it and say "What about this..is this not also true!". So instead of one definition I will have five, that together cover most of the ground, and then I will arrange them in a hierarchy of sorts.

1. Truth is whatever I believe to be true.

Lewis Carroll parodied this with his line "What I tell you three times is true." (The Hunting of the Snark) . This was one of his favorite themes and in Alice Through The Looking Glass he has the Unicorn saying "If you believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain? And Humpty Dumpty's approach to semantics is to say "When I use a word, it means just what I want it to mean, nothing more and nothing less". Alice replies that a word cannot mean so many different things. Humpty's counter ends it all " The question is, which is to be master that's all". This is the truth of despots, lunatics, and imaginary friends. It is the idiosyncratic truth that believes you are being spied upon by the TV set. Such truth is not just humorous, it is dangerous, it can take over a group. This group mentality says "Its true if we all believe its true" or "We will vote on the Truth". If everyone believes the world to be flat surely it must level out. This is not amusing. People are killed because people believe that "she must be a witch" or " all Communists deserve to die".

2. Truth is just the facts; nothing more and nothing less.

This level is the level of mere information. Who won last weekends football match is is just as much a "truth" as the General Theory of Relativity. "In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled" writes Paul Eldridge while Samuel Crothers complains that "The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them." Many of us sense that this level of truth is somehow deficient, that there is more to life than the accumulation of information and more to Truth than can be found in an almanac. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr puts it well when he says "You must see the infinite i.e., the universal in your particular or it is only gossip".

3. Truth organized around some governing principle or law.

Scientific, moral and legal truth. Here the particulars have been assembled under general rubrics, predictions can be made and conclusions can be drawn. These truths can be tested in a laboratory or debated in a Parliament and are capable of some level of testing and verification. However they are also capable of being refined and improved. The principles and laws are not necessarily static but are modified over time. Even proverbs and moral maxims can be polished, added to or restated in better ways. "Science is organized knowledge" says Spencer while T. H. Huxley avers that "Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense....". Many good things and satisfying conclusions come from this level of truth and it has great social utility. However it is not "absolute truth" , it changes, it is "generally useful" truth. Good but not permanent.

4. Philosophical truth.

Philosophy goes behind the laws, principles and maxims and constructs general interpretive frameworks. The scientific method is really a philosophy, the results of the scientific method are laws, principles and hypotheses. Democracy is a philosophy, the outworking of democracy is governments, parliaments, laws, elections and constitutions. Unlike general scientific laws, which are often sterile anonymous principles, philosophical truth is generally associated with the mind of a particular person - a Plato, Hobbes or Darwin. Yet it is not fully personal in its qualities, and can still be effectively communicated by means of words on paper.

Philosophical truth borders on the spiritual and may in fact enter into it. However it falls short. It may bring wisdom, but it never brings salvation Romeo cries out "Hang up Philosophy! Unless Philosophy can make a Juliet." Philosophy fails because it cannot "make a Juliet", it cannot produce love and the personal qualities of existence. It is valuable, necessary and good to study philosophy as long as you study enough of it. Francis Bacon once said "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."

5. "Incarnate/Personal" Truth.

Think of someone you know who is a person of exceptional integrity and truthfulness, a person you respect utterly. Such a person is sometimes called "an embodiment of the Truth". They represent the Truth in themselves to a remarkable extent and have transformed it from a collection of ideas and principles into a living lifestyle. Many people know the Truth - these people live it. You can believe in such people - because they are True and what they say and do is True. Jesus is the ultimate example of this.

Truth can be transformed from book knowledge to a living flesh. It is at the level of living flesh (like Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King etc) that truth reaches its most powerful form. This level of Truth is much higher than the mere accumulation of facts or the organization of principles into systems or any of the other levels of Truth. A million librarians do not make one Christ. There is only one Christ - Jesus. However there are many who follow Him and seek to make their lives also "embodiments" of the Truth and to live lives of utter integrity. Some don't. Some just want Christian respectability without the effort of self-transformation. But the gospel is all about being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ and becoming as full of Truth, living Truth totally, as He did.

Truth is not just something we apprehend - it is something we incarnate. Truth is not just a mental quality of cognitive coherence, it is a spiritual and personal quality of Being True. People live the truth in how they relate to their wife/ husband and children , how they give to the poor or care for the sick or listen to the lonely. They do not live the false doctrines of accumulation of tinsel-trapped wealth. As Jesus said " a man's life is not in his possessions ". True people are not hustlers, liars, frauds, they are not yuppies or mere consumers. They live with a vision of integrity, kindness, and liberty. They are not trapped in the system or enslaved to Mammon. They are free to explore creative alternatives and live alternate lifestyles, without being vain or precious. True people are free from falseness and anchored in eternity, truth and a life beyond themselves. They can despise the dollar and love the Lord. Selfish ambition, the corporate ladder and envy's lash are absent. They are content transformers spiritually empowered to turn the world upside down. And they do.

Jesus could say of Himself...

(John 14:6 NKJV) "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

By this He meant that He is the total and unique representation of what it means to have access to God, to be true, and to be fully alive. Jesus is the Truth and the Truth is Jesus. Not "the concept Jesus" but the Person Jesus. Not dry dusty sentences about Jesus. Not paintings of someone with a beard and sandals, but Him, Jesus Himself the Person - that is Truth. The Truth is a person not an idea. The Truth is someone who walked and talked and ate and who cried out in pain on a cross. The Truth is a Person full of love even for the unlovely, the broken and the ignorant.

This level of Truth, the level of incarnate Truth means we must meet the person if we are to know the Truth. You can't turn Martin Luther King into an abstraction, you must watch him on old newsreels, read his books, hear his recorded sermons, then you will know the Truth he was, not just the Truth he was communicating. Sure Martin Luther King is not in the same league as Jesus - and he never would have said he was. I am using him as an illustration. The truth that lives in a person of integrity can only be fully known by meeting that person - not by abstracting and analyzing their sayings'. Jesus has been abstracted and analyzed to death. We defend ourselves from meeting Him by dissecting Him.

Once we know Christ then Christology is a wonderful study. Theology has its place and is one of the great loves of my life. But Christology without knowing Christ is a disaster, I would go so far as to say that it lies. It represents Christ as a concept. He is no more a concept than you or I are concepts. We are people. We eat, we sleep, we cry. Jesus ate, Jesus slept, Jesus wept, Jesus lives. He is a Person, He is God, He is the Truth.

The Bible's Narrow View of The Truth

(Romans 10:1-3 NKJV) Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. {2} For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. {3} For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

The Jews were not saved. They had the right God", they had " a zeal for God" but sincerity and religious fervor were not enough. They needed Truth, not doctrine, they needed the forgiveness of God not the tacky respectability of religion. Paul goes on to say:

(Romans 10:4-5 NKJV) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. {5} For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, "The man who does those things shall live by them."

That is Christ is the end of trying to get into heaven through spiritual achievement. Its impossible, under the Law we suffer the consequences of our behavior and as someone once said "There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life." (Montaigne, Essays) What then replaces this ethic of spiritual achievement and earned self-righteousness ? Paul goes on to speak of a "righteousness of faith".

(Romans 10:6-10 NKJV) But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' " (that is, to bring Christ down from above) {7} or, " 'Who will descend into the abyss?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). {8} But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): {9} that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. {10} For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

The locus of being right with God has shifted from obedience to a set of rules to faith in a forgiving God. The center of salvation is the believing heart. Its outward expression is the mouth that declares that Jesus is Lord in the face of an empire demanding allegiance to Caesar as Lord. A heart that believes and a life that is loyal to Jesus Christ is a life lived in the True Truth. This is salvation.

(Romans 10:11-13 NKJV) For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." {12} For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. {13} For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."

Salvation is open to all but confined to the Truth. It is as open as "whoever" and as constricted as "calls upon the name of the Lord". All those who call upon the name of the Lord are saved but it is only those who call upon the name of the Lord that are saved:

(Acts 4:12 NKJV) "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Salvation is confined to Jesus, for only He is The Truth.

(Luke 13:23-30 NKJV) Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, {24} "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. {25} "When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' {26} "then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' {27} "But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.' {28} "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. {29} "They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. {30} "And indeed there are last who will be first , and there are first who will be last."

'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' These people knew about Jesus. He was a familiar figure to them but they took no notice of Him. They did not follow Him they just knew Him as one might know the grocer. Knowledge does not save. Allegiance does. Truth is not passive, it is not something we can know from a book and regurgitate on an exam paper. Truth is active and living and sharper than any two-edged sword. It cuts into the life, penetrates our secret places and demands allegiance to the Living God.

Jesus calls allegiance to Him "the narrow gate". It is narrow because few find it. Many are those who eat and drink with Jesus and never make real contact with Him. Many are those who have a little bit of religion but no heart encounter with God. There are even some who have powerful spiritual experiences - but never get to know Jesus person to person, face to face, life to life.

(Matthew 7:13-23 NKJV) . {13} "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. {14} "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. {15} "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. {16} "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? {17} "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} "Therefore by their fruits you will know them. {21} "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. {22} "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' {23} "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

On Judgment Day there will be many people who sincerely think that they have found the Truth. They will sincerely believe that the miraculous and the magical is sufficient. That Power and Truth are the same thing. However Jesus calls us to discern between good spiritual power such as the power that He and the apostles wielded and the false spiritual power of charlatans , magicians and frauds. The test Jesus employs is to look not at the quantity of the results or their power to astound but at their essence, their nature. Spiritual power properly wielded brings forth wisdom, goodness, peace, love etc. False spirituality brings forth envy, disorder and selfish ambition.

(James 3:12-18 NIV) My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. {13} Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. {14} But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. {15} Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. {16} For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. {17} But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. {18} Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Truth bears fruit and we can tell if it is the True Truth because it will bear good fruit. False Truth bears plastic fruit - shiny but lifeless and without any place in the Kingdom. So the Bible's view of truth is narrow indeed. Truth is a lifestyle not a concept. Truth is a lifestyle of commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Truth involves personally meeting and following the Lord Jesus, face to face, heart to heart, life to life. Truth involves obedience to this lifestyle. A conscious doing of good and bearing of good fruit.

Living In The Truth

(John 8:31-32 NKJV) Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. {32} "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

(John 14:15-18 NKJV) "If you love Me, keep My commandments. {16} "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever; {17} "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. {18} "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

(John 17:17 NKJV) "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

(1 John 3:16-19 NKJV) By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. {17} But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? {18} My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. {19} And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

(Ephesians 4:20-25 NKJV) But you have not so learned Christ, {21} if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: {22} that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, {23} and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, {24} and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. {25} Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another.

Once we have the True Truth and have felt its call upon us then we must live by it. This is impossible in one sense but extremely easy in another. Once we become Christians God gives us "the Spirit of Truth" to remind us of the things of God and lead us into all truth, disclosing to us the very things of God. The Truth comes to dwell in us. I do not mean, for the faintest second, that "the truth is in you, just look". That is a hopeless task. All I see in me is ignorance, good intentions never carried out, half-thought out things, self-deception and misery. There is precious little truth in "the natural me". Paul says "in my flesh dwells no good thing..." . I agree. He calls this decaying package "the old man" - the person we were before God invaded us. He says it is opposed to the truth and in love with corruption and deceit

(Eph 4:22) "the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts."

(Galatians 5:16-17 NIV) So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. {17} For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

But that changes when we take Christ into our lives. He is the Truth and he comes to dwell in us, not as a "spook" but as an animating power giving life to our very being and imparting Truth to our thoughts and actions. Falseness and Christ cannot comfortably co-exist. This new life invades us...

(a) through God's Word which is truth. (John 17:17 NIV) Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

(b) Which we must obey and "abide in" (John 8:31-32 NKJV) Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. {32} "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

(c) And which calls us to live true lives of practical obedience to God in word [(Ephesians 4:25 NIV) Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ] and in deed (1 John 3:18 NIV) Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

We cannot choose what we shall and shall not obey. We cannot say to God, "Lord You have Your truth and I have mine..." . Jesus calls His instructions "commandments". They are orders. Nothing more, nothing less. We must obey them because they come from the Truth and are the Truth. Neither can worship or affection substitute for obedience. Jesus plain instruction to us is (John 14:15 NIV) "If you love me, you will obey what I command.


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.