Is truth subjective? Does it hinge on our preferences and perspective?
Many today would answer yes to both questions. That’s why most social media platforms today are weighed down with endless debates that boil down to “my truth” versus “your truth.” But that kind of relativism is nothing new. It merely echoes the ancient question that Pontius Pilate asked of Jesus: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
Where, after all, does the concept of truth come from, and why is it so basic to all human thought? Every idea we have, every relationship we cultivate, every belief we cherish, every fact we know, every argument we make, every conversation we engage in, and every thought we think presupposes that there is such a thing as “truth.” The idea is an essential concept, without which the human mind could not function.
Even if you are one of those trendy thinkers who claims to be skeptical about whether “truth” is really a useful category anymore, to express that opinion you must presume that truth is meaningful on some fundamental level. One of the most basic, universal, and undeniable axioms of all human thought is the absolute necessity of truth. (And we might add that the necessity of absolute truth is its close corollary.)
A Biblical Definition
So what is truth?
Here is a simple definition drawn from Scripture: Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: Truth is the self-expression of God. And because the definition of truth flows from God, truth is theological.
Truth is also ontological—which is a fancy way of saying it is the way things really are. Reality is what it is because God declared it so and made it so. Therefore God is the author, source, determiner, governor, arbiter, ultimate standard, and final judge of all truth.
The Old Testament refers to the Almighty as the “God of truth” (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). When Jesus said of Himself, “I am . . . the truth (John 14:6, emphasis added), He was making a profound claim about His own deity. He was also making it clear that all truth must ultimately be defined in terms of God and His eternal glory. After all, Jesus is “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). He is truth incarnate—the perfect expression of God and therefore the absolute embodiment of all that is true.
Jesus also said that the written Word of God is truth. It does not merely contain nuggets of truth; it is pure, unchangeable, and inviolable truth that (according to Jesus) “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Praying to His heavenly Father on behalf of His disciples, He said this: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Moreover, the Word of God is eternal truth which “endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25).
Of course there cannot be any discord or difference of opinion between the written Word of God (Scripture) and the incarnate Word of God (Jesus). In the first place, truth by definition cannot contradict itself. Second, Scripture is called “the word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16). It is His message, His self-expression. In other words, the truth of Christ and the truth of the Bible are of the very same character. They are in perfect agreement in every respect. Both are equally true. God has revealed Himself to humanity through Scripture and through His Son. Both perfectly embody the essence of what truth is.
Remember, Scripture also says God reveals basic truth about Himself in nature. The heavens declare His glory (Psalm 19:1). His other invisible attributes (such as His wisdom, power, and beauty) are on constant display in what He has created (Romans 1:20). Knowledge of Him is inborn in the human heart (Romans 1:19), and a sense of the moral character and loftiness of His law is implicit in every human conscience (Romans 2:15). Those things are universally self-evident truths. According to Romans 1:20, denial of the spiritual truths we know innately always involves a deliberate and culpable unbelief. And for those who wonder whether basic truths about God and His moral standards really are stamped on the human heart, ample proof can be found in the long history of human law and religion. To suppress this truth is to dishonor God, displace His glory, and incur His wrath (Romans 1:18–20).
Still, the only infallible interpreter of what we see in nature or know innately in our own consciences is the explicit revelation of Scripture. Since Scripture is also the one place where we are given the way of salvation, entrance into the kingdom of God, and an infallible account of Christ, the Bible is the touchstone to which all truth claims should be brought and by which all other truth must finally be measured. As He prayed to the Father, Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
That is the ultimate answer to Pilate’s question and the unchanging reality for all of mankind. As we’ll see next time, truth cannot be defined, explained, or understood apart from God and His inerrant Word.