The nature of truth is often questioned. At times, people consider truth to be something absolute, and at other times it is considered something that needs to be searched for. The standards that people use to define truth can have a large impact on their life decisions. The Bible has a strong opinion on what truth really is, and of what the consequences are of denying or accepting it.
2. Searching for Truth
After the betrayal of Jesus, he was taken before the priests, and then eventually before Pontius Pilate to get Roman approval for the death penalty. The accusers though, were not really clear on the charge:
John 18:9.: Pilate then went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?" 30. They answered and said to him, "If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you." NKJV
A period of questioning followed, where Jesus was called on to explain his position. Jesus revealed to Pilate his purpose on the earth, and how he was to bear witness to “the truth”.
John 18:36.: Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." 37. 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. 39. NKJV
In reading the statement, “What is Truth”, it feels significant and meaningful. It is like someone searching for something in a quest of high ideals. By asking what truth actually is, it brings into question the basis that all our values are built on.
After looking at the issues involved, Pilate could not reconcile his position with the evidence and opinions in front of him. The pharisees claimed truth, as did Jesus, and he also had his own feeling of justice.
Jesus had left Pilate in a difficult position in aligning himself with the “truth”. He claimed that “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” In some ways, the Roman civilisation was philosophically similar to ours in considering the aspect of truth. They would have felt wise and enlightened.
The Romans were willing to accept that different people would have different views of the world, and worship different Gods. So far as the Romans were concerned, the difficulty with the followers of Christ was not in their belief of a God, but rather that they emphasised that it was the only true God.
John 18:37.: 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." NKJV
It appears that Pilate viewed Jesus' statement in a similar context to the current enlightened generation. In the current context, it is a bold claim to consider one religion to be superior or more correct than another. All ideologies are considered equal unless they violate the generally accepted set of humanist values.
Jesus here, though was claiming to be of “the truth”. Not “a truth”, or an “aspect” of the truth, but “the truth”. Both then and now, it is a bold claim to say that you are right, and the rest are wrong.
Pilate was able to sympathise with Jesus, but he was not ready to believe that Jesus was the holder of the real truth. At the same time, he didn't want to deny the possibility either. No doubt, then just as now, people were “searching for truth” from their own viewpoint. Pilate had been left with the question “What is truth?”
In a way it was a bitter, cynical statement suggesting that truth was something that couldn't be found - or perhaps didn't exist. Pilate was struggling to find by what standard of truth to judge Jesus.
Pilate had had a hard time of the situation. He did not see the guilt in Jesus when considering it under his own values. Yet, the Jewish rulers were claiming a different truth which should have Jesus crucified. Jesus himself then claimed to be the custodian of yet another truth. The Matthew record shows that even Pilate's wife had a view on the matter.
Matthew 27:19.: While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him." NKJV
Ultimately, Pilate gave in to the wishes of the crowd, even though it didn't agree with his sense of justice,
Matthew 27:24.: When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it." 25. And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children." NKJV
History has indeed shown that his blood was on them.
What then, is the answer to Pilate's question of what truth is? The Bible does have an answer for it;
John 17:17.: "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. NKJV
This simply states that God's word is truth. This is as if God is the definer of truth itself. This is perhaps not surprising when it is considered that God is the creator. This view is shown in Psalm 100.
Psalm 100:1.: A Psalm of Thanksgiving. Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2. Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. 3. Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. NKJV
One of the differences between Pilate and the Pharisees was in their view of the truth. Pilate asked “what is truth”, whereas the pharisees effectively said “we know the truth”. This suggests that there are at least two ways that people can fail to find the truth.
- Still searching...
- Believing a lie.
Both of these attributes appear in the views of society. There are people who are always searching, and unwilling to build a strong faith in anything, and there are other who are confident in the values of their own way of life.
2 Timothy 3 lists a series of attributes of people that “resist the truth”. Amongst this list, both of these attributes are visible.
2 Timothy 3:1.: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3. unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4. traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5. having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6. For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7. always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; NKJV
These attributes are all seen in our society today. Some show faith in faithlessness, such as “7. always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” These are the people who are afraid to say what truth is. They still have a truth though, and that truth is that they should be uncertain and uncommitted.
This attitude can lead to another of the attributes mentioned in that passage. It is said that people would have “5 ... a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” The belief in unbelief among many churches has led them to dilute views about God and the Bible. The understanding of facts has turned to opinions and lifestyle choices. As a result, the form of godliness remains, but the power is removed. If the words of the Bible can't be decisive, neither can the power of God.
Other aspects shown in 2 Timothy point to people simply believing in a lie. People who are “lovers of themselves” set themselves up as a god, and the primary source of motivation. Similarly a love of money points to seeing possession and wealth as source of truth. If something can increase wealth, it is a “good thing”, or if the decreases wealth, it is a “bad thing”. If the wealth here is expanded from just money and possessions to other pleasures (such as the “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”) then it covers many aspects of motivation in human society. It comes down to the principles a person uses for motivation. Is it for wealth? Is it for pleasure? Is it for God?
A False Truth
While the people mentioned in 2 Timothy resist the truth, this is rarely their intention. If they believed that it was the real truth they would honour it. Instead their truth comes from within themselves. For example, the Pharisees showed their opinion of Jesus in John 9. In this chapter, Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. The confrontation occurred when the Pharisees saw that this had occurred on the sabbath day. They viewed this as being contractictory to the laws they knew and upheld.
Later, when speaking to the man who had been healed, the Pharisees spoke of their faith, as compared to the credentials of Jesus.
John 9:29.: "We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from." NKJV
Basically, they trusted in the systems of laws that they had established, and saw these as the truth. Seeing as these were based on the Law of Moses, they could justify it --- both in their own minds and as argument to others. This is a warning that it is easy to build up structures and ideals as truths. Particularly over a period of generations, the view of truth can change.
This had happened in the case of the Pharisees. They had their origins in the Levitical priesthood, and could trace their belief and culture for many generations. They had a strong framework of law, and passionately saw that this law was followed. As a result, they felt that they were right.
They judged themselves based on their own environment, rather than on God and God's word. This is quite natural behaviour for humans, because we learn from our surroundings. The actions, values and truths that are seen in society affect the standards of an individual. The Pharisees allowed themselves to fit in with their society rather than searching out the truth of God.
Jesus touched on this subject further as he spoke to the blind man he had healed. In this case he extended the concept of blindness from the literal to the metaphorical.
John 9:39.: And Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind." 40. Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, "Are we blind also?" 41. Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains. NKJV
Now this shows that the Pharisees' claim that they had the truth was to be to their detriment. They had a sense of pride that placed the image of the god they had created over the true God. It was to be this pride that would get in the way of forgiveness.
The consequences of pride are illustrated in many places in the Bible, but one of these is in Daniel. In chapter 5, the Babylonian king Belshazzar saw writing appear on a wall, and called Daniel to interpret it. This was literally to be the case that “the writing was on the wall” for Belshazzar.
Unlike the Babylonian magicians and wise men, Daniel was able to make an interpretation. He first referred back to Nebuchadnezzar for background to the meaning.
Daniel 5:18.: "O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. 19. "And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. NKJV
In having such a privelged position, Nebuchadnezzar was in danger of letting his pride get the better of him, and this did become a problem to him.
Daniel 5:20.: "But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. 21. "Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses. NKJV
In that case, he lifted his heart up to be above God, and he was given a lesson to show his true position. At the end of that time, Nebuchadnezzar had learnt where truth came from,
Daniel 4:37.: Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. NKJV
Nebuchadnezzar admitted that the works of God were truth. Being humbled had been sufficient for him to understand this concept. Belshazzar, on the other hand, had not learnt the lesson.
Daniel 5:22.: "But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. 23. "And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. NKJV
The result of this was that Belshazzar was to lose his kingdom and his life. In this case, and others, it is pride that causes people to see truth in their own thinking, rather than the truth of God. Furthermore, this pride is offensive to God, because it gives glory to the creature rather than the creator.
Another aspect of the Pharisees' belief is brought out in John 12. This seems to indicate another reason for neglecting to glorify God. On this occasion, Jesus was talking about his future death and resurrection.
John 12:23.: But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25. "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. NKJV
John then goes on to show, however, that many of the rulers loved their present life too much.
John 12:42.: Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43. for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. NKJV
It seems strange that they could believe, but yet not have the faith to reveal this belief. In this case, their sense of truth was primarily to themselves. They could see how Jesus fitted into their own logical framework, but that was as far as it went. They still looked inwardly for their values, rather than from God. The praise of men was something that they enjoyed and didn't want to lose, yet this is not something to be valued in God's truth.
This view has never been limited to the rulers of Jesus day, however. Right through history there have been believers who have withheld their belief from others, and failed to give glory to God. Even the apostle Peter denied Jesus at the trial.
John 18:17.: Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, "You are not also one of this Man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." NKJV
If even Peter was susceptible to doing this, it is something that every believer is in danger of doing.
Completely God's - Asa
There are many examples of people lacking in faith throughout the Bible. One of these was in the dedication of King Asa, who reigned over Judah at about 900BC. Asa implemented reforms, and is shown as one of the better kings of Judah, but his faith wavered toward the end of his reign. This occurred as a result of the conflict with the breakaway northern 10 tribes.
2 Chronicles 16:1.: In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. NKJV
There had been civil war, and Asa wanted this to stop.
2 Chronicles 16:2.: Then Asa brought silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the LORD and of the king's house, and sent to Ben-Hadad king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying, 3. "Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. Here, I have sent you silver and gold; come, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me." NKJV
By forging a treaty with Syria, he was able to intimidate the other tribes into peace. This appeared to be successful, but there was a price. A messenger came to Asa to tell him of his error,
2 Chronicles 16:7.: And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him: "Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. NKJV
In this case, Asa had doubted the power of God, and had instead relied on the power of Syria. God showed that while this gave a pleasing result in the short term, it fell well short of the victory that would have been possible with God. The messenger showed that the past victories should have given the foundation for a greater faith,
2 Chronicles 16:8.: "Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. 9. "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars." NKJV
People can say that there is no reward in trusting in humans, but this was not the case here. By striking the alliance, Asa had succeeded in achieving at a small scale - albeit at a cost. Human wisdom will reap rewards, but seeking the truth of God will have much greater rewards. “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”
3. Wisdom: God vs the World
When people are seeking truth, they are often seeking out a form of wisdom. It becomes a matter of choosing the basis of their faith, and this may mean looking at different philosophies and choosing the one that appears to speak truth.
The book of Ecclesiastes is a search for truth and meaning. In this case, the writer sought the truth in many areas. In chapter 2, this included pleasure and possessions.
Ecclesiastes 2:1.: I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure"; but surely, this also was vanity. 2. I said of laughter -- "Madness!"; and of mirth, "What does it accomplish?" 3. I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives. 4. I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. 5. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. NKJV
In many ways, this is one of the strongest ambitions of people throughout the world. Society is geared around people wanting to improve their position and gain more goods and happiness. In Ecclesiastes, however, the long term effect is considered, and it is found that there really isn't profit in this ideal
Ecclesiastes 2:11.: Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done And on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. NKJV
The same idea is expressed later in the book, when the value of present pleasure and mirth is evaluated.
Ecclesiastes 7:4.: The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise Than for a man to hear the song of fools. 6. For like the crackling of thorns under a pot, So is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity. NKJV
Pleasure may be pleasurable, but from a distance it can appear very empty, - “like the crackling of thorns under a pot.”
Serving the Creature
The book of Romans looks into an example of cause and effect in people looking for truth in pleasure. The apostle Paul starts the section by considering the people who suppress “the truth”,
Rom 1:18.: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, NKJV
Paul then goes on to justify the wrath, showing that the people are without excuse,
Rom 1:19.: because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, NKJV
This is stating that God can be seen through his creation, so the excuse is not about a lack of knowledge of the existence of God. In fact the did know God,
Rom 1:21.: because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. NKJV
They knew God, but they didn't glorify Him. Instead of glorifying the truth of God, they looked for truth in their own wisdom,
Rom 1:22.: Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23. and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man -- and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. NKJV
Their own wisdom had lead them away from the truth of God through pride. There had been a choice here, and the people had chosen to find truth in themselves. God's reaction to this was to allow them to have the consequences of their own actions,
Rom 1:24.: Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25. who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. NKJV
The passage goes on to show the level of depravity the people sank to as a result of this. They became,
Rom 1:30.: backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, NKJV
Now the cause of this was twofold:
- They chose to serve the creature rather than the creator. (ie themselves)
- The creator allowed them to suffer the natural consequences of the decision.
The Choice - Luke 16
Luke 16 presents a parable that shows that we are given the opportunity to choose what truth we would like to live by. This choice also had consequences attached to it, however.
Luke 16:1.: He also said to His disciples: "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2. "So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' 3. "Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. NKJV
A situation is presented here where the steward is in a difficult position. Whatever the outcome, he looks like finding himself in a poorer position. He made a decision, however, to cut his losses.
Luke 16:4.: 'I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.' NKJV
The plan here was to use his present position to gain good faith among other people. By making friends, he could salvage some of his livelihood.
Luke 16:5.: "So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6. "And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7. "Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' NKJV
At this point, the steward had given discount debt clearances before he lost his position with the master. While not stated, this is likely to have been a dishonest dealing, and made the steward even more unjust. This is not the way that things are described, however,
Luke 16:8.: "So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. NKJV
Instead of being angry at the steward for a greater loss, he commended him for his shrewd dealing. This seems a little strange, until the context of the parable is revealed. The master is talking at a deeper level than the superficial loss of the debts. Jesus shows this as he makes his recommendations,
Luke 16:9.: "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. 10. "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. NKJV
Even this seems odd. Jesus is here making the recommendation that his listeners associate with the unrighteous. The recommendation, however, is based on the assumption of failure. What he is saying is that if you are going to fail, you might as well do it with style. The important point here is that it is no use being a partial believer. Such a person misses out on the glory of God, and may also miss out on the pleasures of the world.
Of course, a wavering person on hearing this, is going to feel uncomfortable with the idea of completely abandoning the belief, and is so forced into thinking about the situation. Later, the message is spelled out simply,
Luke 16:13.: "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." NKJV
It is a choice between two masters. These masters represent the source and view of truth. A person can either see God as truth, or otherwise the concept of truth comes from worldly views.
This parable shows that the current pleasures are a true reward for seeking the pleasures of this world. Following the truth of God is a fair choice, because both sides have their rewards. The wicked who followed their own ways in Romans 1 found pleasure in what they did, and essentially received their reward. It was a mixed reward, containing pleasure, mirth, violence and death.
We have an option of who we will serve. It can be the truth of God, or we can search for our truth elsewhere. The book of Romans spells out the reward for each option.
Rom 6:16.: Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? NKJV
Each of the options has a natural conclusion, and this is the reward for that option. In choosing to find truth without God, the reward is quite clear - we see that in our everyday lives, and it includes all of the mirth, depravity and death that can be seen. In contrast, following God's Truth, with faith in His salvation, offers far more,
Rom 6:22.: But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. NKJV