Saturday, November 20, 2021

Does Truth Matter? (John 18:38)-In Progress

Greek (SBLGNT): λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος· Τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια; Καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν πάλιν ἐξῆλθεν πρὸς τοὺς Ἰουδαίους, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· Ἐγὼ οὐδεμίαν εὑρίσκω ἐν αὐτῷ αἰτίαν·

NET Bible:
Pilate asked, “What is truth?” When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish leaders and announced, “I find no basis for an accusation against him.

The words of Pontius Pilate are now lodged in our collective memories. As Jesus stood before this Roman official while proclaiming that his life's purpose was bearing witness to the truth, Pilate gave the rejoinder above. NET suggests that Pilate was dismissive of Jesus; moreover, "He may have been sarcastic, or perhaps somewhat reflective." A number of scholars maintain that Pilate was cynical or possibly skeptical but NET interprets his actions as possibly more benign, portraying the Roman as "somewhat reflective." Does his question make the reader think about the nature of truth? We cannot discount that interpretation from the outset with the scant information we have. Therefore, it's possible that Pilate's words serve to reinforce John 14:6, which declares that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. However, this conclusion is far from certain.

Whatever Pilate meant by his question, Τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια, there has been no lack of commentary about his query. Pilate might have been questioning the very existence and importance of truth. His question seems to be framed in ontological terms: it apparently is not an epistemological query. Maybe he desired to know the nature or essence of truth versus seeking to know what is true (an epistemological concern). One could also distinguish absolute from relative truth--absolute truth is true at all times, in all places, and for all people whereas relative truth is context-dependent, that is, relative truth is true for a group of people but possibly not for those outside of the group. It could be true at one time but false at another time; the tendency of many people today is to reject absolute truth in favor of relativism. It makes us wonder, does truth matter?

The Hebrew Bible refers to Jehovah as the God of truth (Psalm 31:5); Jesus is the way, truth, and life (John 14:6). The substance of God's word is truth (Psalm 119:160), and Jesus prayed: "
Sanctify them in the truth—your word is truth" (John 17:17 LEB). We must not forget John 4:24 as well: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (ESV).

Many other texts could be adduced to show that truth mattered to the ancient Bible writers, but the truth about Jesus was and is not merely abstract truth but it is concrete. The truth that revolves around Christ is reflected in what he did and said. When Christ stated, you will know the truth, and it will set you free (John 8:32), the context indicates he was not talking about truth in the abstract: the Lord was referring to the truth about himself (concrete truth). That kind of truth could free his disciples in the relevant sense, from sin. Such truth remains just as liberating today.

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