What is truth?
Although there may be as many answers to that query as there are people, that is not the case when it comes to Scripture. In the word of God, truth is not subjective.
It is not the opinions of people, nor the definitions compiled by Webster, nor the multitude of cultural nuances in how “truth” is interpreted that defines what God means in his word. For that matter, no minister, scholar, professor of theology, or any other pundit with a lofty title gets to define truth. The source of defining truth as it is used within Scripture has a unique and exclusive source.
That source for defining what God means when referencing “truth” as recorded in the Bible is the particular focus of this second post in this series.
Truth references a legal standing. That is why we in the USA will hear in courtrooms the requirement to speak the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There is no moral element implied in that expectation. There are only two possible sources allowed for consideration in determining the truth: laws or facts.
What often turns legal trials into circus acts is the subjective interpretation of governing laws and the alternate points of observation of related facts. In practice, it is the job of the judge to lay down a final interpretation of applicable laws, and it is the job of lawyers to point out all the pertinent facts. In the end, what is sought in the name of truth is a correct decision based on those laws.
In academia, we often test students with formatted questions as either True or False. So, for a particular problem or scenario, the student must consider if the given statement is accurate or inaccurate based upon whatever information is provided.
As a little confession, I remember back in High School, when I was taking AP English. I was ranked at the top of that advanced placement (AP) class during the school year, but when it came time to take the standardized test that could impact how one might improve their college choices, I did not score anywhere near what my high-honors grade level should have indicated. Out of 5 total points, I scored a humbling, flat out average, 3. I recall my teacher consoling me afterwards by saying, “You just think too much”.
I suppose that is still a problem for me, but what was likely meant was that whenever I read the questions, I was probably trying to figure out answers based on a broader set of data than that which was simply presented for each question. It continues to be an important lesson for me Today.
Regarding “truth” as it is used within Scripture, it is common for people to assume a global database applies, but that would be incorrect. When God references truth, he is not addressing whether something is correct or incorrect (T or F).
Truth also references a legal aspect within Scripture, but it would be an error to assume that either law or facts are the basis, as it is within society at large. I will prove this in a moment, but first let’s consider a possible format of truth that can apply both to the common usage as well as the biblical.
Truth appears to be that which rightly reflects something.
Within society, what makes truth often seem subjective to each person is that facts and laws are both limited in scope. They cannot fully represent all possible angles or ways of observing something. And when the source is limited, the conclusion also must be limited.
That is why governments have a never ending process of writing new laws. That is also why people will challenge one another by reminding them that since everyone sees facts from different perspectives, that their statement is just as valid and true even though it remains different.
Truth shows itself as that which rightly reflects something. But within Scripture, the source is neither law nor facts. Consider how the apostle John presents the source:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. [The text demonstrates this is Jesus; the beginning Source]
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. [ie: Jesus is the Source of all facts]
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…the true light… [Scripture is not saying Jesus is the correct light, but rather the only legitimate light. Truth is sourced in Jesus even though society, with all its laws and facts, remains incapable of recognizing it]
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” [Not even the biblical law through Moses, given by God on Mt Sinai, establishes truth, for that can only ever be found “through Jesus”]
Biblical Truth only comes through Jesus. The reason for this exclusivity is because Jesus alone is that which rightly reflects God. In both regards, he is absolutely perfect and he universally contains every possible right (factually correct) representation. That is why Scripture declares without exception: “Salvation is found in no one else”.
When it says that God desires worship “in spirit and in truth”, he is referencing the same thing in both words, rather than some form of spiritualized correctness. The very same verse tells us that God is the spirit (which is speaking of Immanuel and is set in contrast to the pagan deity worship by Samaritan-Israelites), and the leading context comes from Jesus statement to the woman at the well that they don’t really know what they worship, but “we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews”–not meaning that Jews are the source, but rather that from out of the Jews would come the One intended to be worshiped. Thus “in spirit and in truth” means that valid worship of God must be in and through Jesus to be labeled “true worshipers”.
In the same way, Jesus speaks “to those Jews who believed in him” (later known as Christians) and cautions them that only those who also “hold to my teachings” are “truly my disciples”. With that conditional caveat, he concludes “then you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. Again, he is not saying that they will have correct or perfect knowledge and celebrate their freedom to do their own thing. Those who obey will know him (the Truth) and he (the Truth) promises to sustain their eternal freedom.
This is also what is meant by all those times Jesus says: “I tell you the truth”. Although his words should certainly be accepted as correct, that is not what he means. He is saying that his words ALONE rightly reflect the will of God. That is what makes them true. As such, there is no such thing as what God means by truth outside of what rightly reflects Jesus as found in Scripture.
He does not speak on his own, Scripture tells us, but he only speaks as he receives from the Father. Jesus himself informs us that he speaks not only what God wants, but also how he wants it presented. No one and nothing else is capable of that kind of perfect, exclusive, absolute, exhaustive, divine representation. Therefore, Jesus not only is the source of all truth, because it emanates from his person as part of his very nature and not just through some fallible instrument, he rightly is Truth itself.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
With the emphasis of the definite article, he is “The Truth” itself in living form. Not only is it impossible to come to God except through him, it is therefore equally impossible to identify truth, except as it rightly relates to Jesus. Truth, as it is taught by Scripture does not exist in anything outside of that which rightly relates to Jesus.
That is not to say that there are no true things beyond the Bible, but rather that the use of a similar word does not equate to similar meaning. What God means is not what the world understands. That is why Scripture tells us that those who speak from the viewpoint of the world will have their definitions accepted by the world and that those who speak truth as God intends will only be heard by those God accepts as his own.
As the above verse continues, the knowledge of what is true in God can only be found “if you really knew me”. Our transformation into the very holy likeness of God has only one source of truth:
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth…I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
But that is not what the natural man wants to hear. They want to find another way to live. They want to identify some other possible source of truth beyond that defined by God’s word. Perhaps because there are certain commands in Scripture that they refuse to submit to. They will look for better laws, new governments, clearer facts, attractive sound bites; anything but submission to the exclusivity of truth in rightly relating to Jesus.
So they will emphasize the social concept of truth in evaluating whether or not something is correct per laws or facts in their observation. But their data pool is off and unlike the AP English test there is only a 1 or 0 score available in this thing we call life. Either we submit to The Truth and are gifted the perfect score of 1, or we deny the exclusivity of the One who is Truth and earn an eternal 0.
What you think you are scoring in the class becomes irrelevant when you stand before the Judgment and fill out your final test sheet. The heavenly entrance exam requires that we let go of non-pertinent data and deal only with what is offered before us: Jesus, Lord of Life, Truth incarnate, Lover of our souls.
And that is the truth!