Discipleship: The Biblical Understanding of Truth
My purpose in presenting the above four worldviews is to emphasise their differences. Unless you believe that anything can be true (which is what some appear to believe!), then it must be obvious that if one of these worldviews is really true, the others must be false. I will spend the rest of this booklet exploring the Christian viewpoint—what the Bible has to say about truth. You, the reader, must decide whether or not this view best fits the facts and, if so, whether or not you will do anything about it. One thing is certain, whichever worldview you decide to run with, it will affect your value system and the way you choose to live in this brief life. If Christianity should be true, then it will affect your eternal future as well.
The Bible emphasis on the importance of truth
The Bible has a great deal to say about truth, particularly the truth about God and our relationship to him as human beings created with God-like qualities. On practically every page of the New Testament this emphasis is apparent. The gospel message concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is spoken of as “the word of truth” (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; James 1:18), or often simply as “the truth”. Christians are spoken about as those who “belong to the truth” (1 John 3:19). God the Father’s word is truth (John 17:17); God the Son declared himself to be the truth (14:6), and God the Holy Spirit is spoken of as the “Spirit of truth” (1 John 5:6).
Warnings about false teaching, false teachers and wrong behaviour, both from Jesus and other writers of the New Testament, are numerous. Philemon is the only one of the twenty-seven books that doesn’t contain such warnings. The connection between truth and behaviour is constant through the Bible. More of that later. False teaching, symbolised by the “false prophet” in the book of Revelation, is pictured as one of the four major enemies of God’s people (the others being Satan, godless civil powers and corrupt values).
It is significant that the Greek word for “truth”, used about a hundred times in the New Testament, also has the meaning of “reality”. The Bible is a book about what is really real and truly true.
Truth about God is known by revelation
From Genesis to Revelation the Bible underlines the point that we can know the truth about God because he has chosen to make himself known to us. This makes perfect sense. If he is indeed the creator of this vast universe, he must obviously be infinitely greater than our puny little minds can take in. Something more is needed than our own limited reason. If, however, as the Bible declares, he created us for the express purpose of knowing him and living in a loving, personal relationship with him, then he is obviously going to make himself known to us somehow.
The Bible declares that God has made himself known through both creation and history in a number of ways. He has revealed certain things about himself through the vastness, the beauty, and the order of his created universe. “God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That’s why those people don’t have any excuse” (Romans 1:20; quotes are from the New International Version or the Contemporary English Version).
However, what we can learn from this source is limited, and so God has chosen to make himself known more directly and personally. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1: 1-2). God has revealed himself to individuals and through his dealings with his chosen people, the Israelites, descended from Abraham. All this was preparatory to his supreme revelation of himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. [I have dealt with the evidence for believing that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the divine second person of the Trinity, in the booklet ls Jesus Really God?]
The record of these revelations is given to us in the sixty-six books of the Bible. It is now the ministry of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of these things to those open to heed them. It is one of the chief responsibilities of the church to be a community of seekers and listeners, where people can explore the meaning of this revelation and apply it to their daily lives, in loving relationships and humble submission to one another. Christian belief is that truth not only matters, it is accessible. The coming of Jesus, particularly, has made it so.
The place of intelligence in understanding truth
As God created our human intelligence, he obviously intends us to use it. However, we have a problem. The Bible declares that though humans were created perfect, in a loving relationship with God, they abused the freedom they had been given and chose to live independently of God. One of the results of this “fall” is that our intelligence, and our ability to think dearly, has been affected. Paul puts it this way, “They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark” (Romans 1:21).
In other words, when we reject the truth of God, one of the effects is that we become blind to further spiritual truth. Theologians used to talk about the “total depravity” of the human race—not meaning that we are incapable of any good, but that no part of our nature has been unaffected by our rebellion against God. That includes both our reasoning ability and our moral character. One is affected by the other. John declares, “If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark. We don’t know where we are going, because we can’t see in the dark” (I John 2: 11). Conversely, one of the qualities of love is that it “rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).
One of the reasons for the confusion that exists today, with so many conflicting ideas about the nature of truth and reality, has been the overemphasis over the last three hundred years on the ability of human reason to solve all our problems. Nicky Gumbel sums this up well in Searching Issues.
In pre-Enlightenment times, reason was viewed as a tool of understanding but subordinated to the revealed truth of Christianity which was seen as thoroughly supernatural. The seventeenth and eigbteentb centuries saw a shift in the European way of thinking. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason—tbe power by which we understand the universe and improve our condition. Tbe Enlightenment brought enormous progress in science, technology and medicine, but within it were the seeds of its own destruction. Revelation was made subject to reason. Although the Enlightenment was for the few, nineteenth-century secularisation was for the many. Yet in spite of all the changes of atmosphere, the Victorians preserved a society which was powerfully influenced by Christian ideas and continued to accept the Christian ethic as the highest known to mankind. It was not until the twentieth century that tbe full implications and tbe fruit of the seeds sown were seen in a devastatingly clear light.
All this means that the first requirement for knowing the truth about God is humility. We must admit that he knows a little more than we do, and also admit to our moral weaknesses and need of God’s forgiveness. Are we really willing for God to make his truth known to us, including the truth about ourselves? The most pervasive and most destructive symptom of our fallen nature is our pride, whether it reveals itself in our relationship to others or in our relationship to God.
God has revealed to us in history, and will reveal to us personally, all we need to know of the truth in order for us to live as he intended, if we humbly submit to his authority. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law”(Deuteronomy 29:29). Or as Paul puts it in his letter to Timothy in the New Testament, “Everything in the Scripture is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for collecting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The claim of Jesus to be ultimate reality
Jesus made many remarkable statements—ridiculous if not true—about himself. [I have given a comprehensive list of these claims in the booklet ls Jesus Really God?] One of these is his claim to be the truth. “Thomas said, ‘Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?’ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life!’ Jesusanswered. ‘Without me, no one can go to the Father'” (John 14:5,6). Notice that Jesus here is not just claiming to speak the truth (which he often did claim), but to be the truth. Stephen Neil, in Crises of Belief, says of this claim:
[This] does not mean that Jesus was stating a number of good and true ideas. It means that in him the total structure, the inmost reality, of the universe was for the first time and forever disclosed.
Theolgian John Snyder puts it like this:
[Jesus is depicted as] the one in whom is manifested the Creator of the universe; the fullest disclosure of the character and Person of God; the focal point of all that God has been doing in history; the chief personality in God’s creation of the world; the ruler of natural forces; the watershed of human destiny, and the only path to the presence of God. Jesus is portrayed not simply as the greatest teacher, but as the foundation of all teaching-the truth itself.
Of course, if Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the second person of the divine Trinity, this claim makes sense. After all, he had a hand in creating all of reality. “Everything was created by him, everything in heaven and on earth, everything seen and unseen, including all the forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities. All things were created by God’s Son, and everything was made for him” (Colossians 1:16).
In the opening chapter of his Gospel, John speaks of Jesus as “the Word”. He declares, “The Word became a human being and lived here with us” (John 1: 14). The Greek word logos that John uses here could also be translated “reason” and was associated by the Greeks with divinity. In commenting on this passage, the popular writer William Barclay says:
Jesus is the expression of the mind of God. It is as if John said to the Greeks: “For the last six centuries you have been speaking about the mind of God in the universe. If you want to see what the mind of God is, look at Jesus Christ. Here, full-displayed, is that mind of God about which you have always been thinking and talking. The logos has become flesh. The mind of God has become a person.
It is one of the ironies of history that when Pilate asked Jesus at his trial, “What is truth?” the one who is the embodiment of all truth was standing before him in person. There is some indication from the account of the story that Pilate sensed something of this. He was, however, unwilling to face the implications of it. The statement of Jesus to Pilate on this occasion is significant: “I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice” (John 18:37-38).
The greatest demonstration of the authenticity of Jesus’ claim is his resurrection from the dead. You can bury Truth in the grave if you wish, but it wouldn’t stay there. [I have dealt with the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus and its implications in the booklet Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?]
1999 Dick Tripp, Lyttelton, New Zealand
Author: Dick Tripp