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What is Truth?
“Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 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 guilt in Him.”
In the long series of interrogations, beatings, and torture of Jesus before His crucifixion, He is brought to the Judean Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. The Gospel of John combines two appearances into one before Pilate. Only the Romans could carry out the death sentence and Pilate appears to be perplexed by the hatred and fervor of the Jewish leaders. The Gospel of John also has this dialog between Jesus and Pilate where Jesus indicates that He has come into the world to testify to the truth and that His kingdom is not of this world. Pilate asks the famous rhetorical question “What is truth?” and pronounces to the Jewish leaders that Jesus has no guilt.
The Greek word for truth used in this question by Pilate is “aletheia”. It means what is objectively true in manners pertaining to God and the duties of humans; it is moral and religious truth in the greatest latitude and the true notions of God that are open to human reason without supernatural explanation. Pilate is cynical and only interested in what advances his power in the Roman Empire, so he embraces relativistic truth and dismisses the claims of this gentle and mysterious man who has been brought before him. By shrugging his shoulders at Jesus and His declaration of a otherworldly Kingdom, it makes it easier for Pilate to listen to the crowd and finally concede to their wishes to crucify Jesus, trading our Savior for the insurrectionist murderer Barabbas.
Relativistic “truth” is extremely pervasive in our culture today, made worse by recent philosophical theories such as deconstructionism, which denies that there is any single certainty, identity or truth and that all words are subjective (in other words, there is no single rational meaning to text or words). In the face of these societal pressures infiltrating everywhere, the believer must take at face value that Jesus IS the Way, the Truth and the Life and the only way to God (John 14:6) or the dark path of nihilism and “your truth is not my truth” will consume a person. I know that for a fact, because I traveled that dark path for many years, questioning the existence of God and my salvation and happily embracing relativistic morality and situational ethics. Fortunately, the Good Shepherd was hard at work during those lost years leading me back to the Truth by being a small voice in my head telling me that what I was reading and thinking was wrong. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently stated:
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.