“What is truth?” that was the sharp reply given by Pilate, the highest authority in the city, to the prisoner that stood before him, Jesus. Pilate’s inner dilemma and outward declaration reveals a battleground that continues to this day (John 18:28-19:22). In the words of William Raeper and Linda Edwards in their book, A Brief Guide to Ideas, “Faith is believing that something is true when we cannot be absolutely certain it is true…faith is usually based on some evidence which is convincing to the believer.” (p.30) Therefore, according to Raeper and Edwards to wrestle with questions of faith is to wrestle with the questions of truth. Their historical survey of thinkers, thought and theology provides many entry points with which to identify our own journey. For me that entry point, much like Pilate’s was philosophical. “We may still wish to ask some of the same questions that the Ancient Greeks did or the early Christians did. It is unlikely however that we will accept their reasoning without some interpretation of our own, as our understanding of the world and the way we think about the world have changed.” (p.55) Evidence and context are important factors when pursuing truth, but can truth prevail.
There are those that say that truth is only the substance of what we see.
Truth is evidential, tangible or demonstrable. In that sense it is a very scientific approach. However as we judge truth only by actions then where does that leave Pilate. The religious leaders were waiting for a justifiable action. Pleasing these very influential teachers of the law, who were leading him to wield his authority, would provide evidence of their version of the truth, but would it be truth?
Within his own mind, he continued to battle. Turning away from Jesus, he went outside to the boisterous crowd that had gathered and tested the truth of his own conclusions: “I find no basis for a charge against him…do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” The venomous shouts that he received back for crucifixion of Jesus may have surprised him at first, but the momentum and intensity of their demands seemed to give no other option.
Truth it would seem is determined by what is socially acceptable at a given time.
Certainly to yield to the popular opinion at this time would protect his position. Pilate then subjected Jesus to more brutal punishment, perhaps in hopes of coaxing some kind of confession of some kind of justifiable crime. With no change in demeanour from the prisoner, Pilate again wrestling against the truth within appeals to the crowds and declares his stance while attempting to resist the increasing pressure of the people.
Truth it would seem is determined by power.
Pilate thought he possessed; Jesus was able to have him reconsider what power really looked like: was power the ability to force the actions of another or was power the capacity to influence the actions of another yet have the ability to relent? The truth was that Pilate was afraid of losing his position and his actions were generated by the political implications of his decisions both from the people and from Caesar.
And yet truth can never be completely hidden.
For in his final interactions with Jesus, Pilate places a statement above the cross upon which Jesus would be crucified: “Jesus of Nazareth: The King of the Jews”. It was clear and it was succinct – translated into the three main languages of the times, so that all would be sure to read and understand. Caught in the swirling opinions of relativity, Pilate chose truth that revealed his own conviction based on the evidence before him, the actions of those around him, the words and posture of the Prisoner, and ultimately of what the combination was doing to his heart/conscience/soul within him.
All versions of truth cannot all be equal.
Every purported truth cannot have the same ultimate value as so many faiths and truth foundations are contradictory both in their compositions and in their implications. “As long ago as 1885 Pope Leo II warned: ‘ The equal toleration of all religions…is the same thing as atheism.’ Postmodernism, pluralism, relativism, humanism, tolerance, accommodation all have limits that must be reconciled for our societies to function. Reconciliation requires an unchanging truth. “How we are taught to think is as important as what we are taught to think. The very way you learn transmits a particular philosophy about you and your world.” (p.364)
The quest for truth is for all of us, however, what our quest often reveals is that we are less interested in truth and more interested in the deep matters of life.
Perhaps, for Pilate, he came to consider the fact that everybody around him had something to say about this Jesus – and although we don’t have all of the dialogue that must have gone on between these two men in this room – Pilate must have come to a place where he thought, if everyone has an opinion on this Jesus, then maybe I should find out for myself. Truth was more than the evidence before him. Truth was greater than the waves of emotion that swirled within him. Perhaps it is in this process that Pilate finally discovered where truth comes from, how truth leads to faith in the unseen and what truth looks like in a world of complex and competing options.
“This is the King of the Jews”
What is Truth? Whether you believe in Jesus or not, every major religious framework and every major philosophical stream has a contention with Him. Perhaps like Pilate, it’s time for you to inquire with Jesus and His Truth directly.
- In a world of where information is not only accessible but also comes at us at a relentless pace, how do you determine what is truth?
- Where versions of truth differ, how do you handle those differences?