When Yeshua was first brought to Pilate, Pilate questioned His accusers as to the charges and evidence against Yeshua. His accusers charged Him with claiming to be a king, a king set up against Caesar. When Pilate asked for the evidence to support the charge, His accusers said that the sheer fact that they had brought Him was sufficient evidence. Of course it wasn’t, and Pilate knew this. So, Pilate questioned Yeshua himself. All of the Gospel writers give a direct account of this discourse, but the Apostle John provides more of the conversation which opens the topic of this article.
Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Yeshua, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Yeshua answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Yeshua answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Yeshua answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.”
Pilate’s first question was valid to ask. He had been told by credible persons (the High Priest and elders of the temple) that Yeshua was claiming to be a king. Actually, they had heard from others (rumor) that He was the Messiah and that constituted being the King of the Jews. When Yeshua was asked directly if He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Yeshua simply said, “You yourselves have said it.” This was enough for them to charge Him with blasphemy. However, they couldn’t condemn Him or participate in His condemnation as it was Passover, so they modified the charges and brought Him to Pilate for judgment and execution. Pilate could sense this. Pilate needed to follow Roman law and yet keep his relationship with the leaders in Judea cooperative. This may be why Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?”
But let’s go back to the question that Yeshua asked Pilate first. When Pilate laid out the charge, Yeshua asked, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” This did not make Pilate happy or comfortable. He knew that Roman law said that hearsay (the statement of a person which is not based on personal knowledge passed on to others) was unacceptable as evidence in a judgment. Pilate knew that the High Priest and the elders were not witnesses to anything; they had put themselves in the position of judges accepting hearsay as evidence and making an improper judgment. Now, they were passing on the same hearsay to Pilate in an effort to get him to declare it as the truth.
Yeshua’s question challenged Pilate directly as to how he would make a judgment (to determine the truth in the matter). Pilate knew that he did not have any evidence of Yeshua and His followers sowing sedition against Rome and Caesar; that was his duty and office to judge. It was not his duty nor office to participate in a conspiracy against anyone, even a Jew.
Pilate tried to get the Jewish leadership to try Him under their own laws, but they refused on religious reasons, insinuating that Pilate’s refusal to judge Yeshua would bring accusations against him to Rome. “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar’s.” Pilate even tried to get King Herod to take the case off of his hands. Yeshua was from Galilee, that was Herod’s jurisdiction. Pilate was only governor of Judea. Herod just wanted to see a miracle and when Yeshua failed to comply, he sent Him back to Pilate.
So, “What is truth,” Pilate had asked.
Pilate failed to answer his question and you know the rest of the story. Pilate did what the Jewish religious leadership wanted. Pilate has gone down in history as the man who couldn’t do the right thing. He didn’t love or pursue the truth. He turned down the truth to follow the dictates (influence) of others in pursuit of his political career. He couldn’t stand when he needed to stand for the truth. In his feeble defense, he washed his hands of the entire matter. He was a coward.
So, let’s answer Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” We, as members of the Messianic faith, desperately need to answer that question. If we are to walk with the Lord, then it must be in truth and in spirit. God Himself said He is the truth. We cannot have a true relationship with God unless it is true faith. Presuming that God made the heavens and the earth, presuming that Yeshua is the Messiah, and presuming that we have a hope for the future is exactly that - presumption. Presumption is not the truth!
The question of what is truth has been addressed by mankind for ages. Pilate wasn’t the first nor the last to ask the question. Let’s examine the efforts of others to answer the question.
Modern philosophers actually have five theories to answer what is truth? First, let’s review some dictionary definitions.
Dictionary.com gives twelve definitions:
1. The true or actual state of a matter: He tried to find out the truth.
2. Conformity with fact or reality; verity: the truth of the statement.
3. A verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like: mathematical truths.
4. The state or character of being true.
5. Actuality of actual existence.
6. An obvious or accepted fact; truism, platitude.
7. Honesty; integrity; truthfulness
8. Ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience: the basic truths of life.
9. Agreement with a standard or original.
10. Accuracy, as of position or adjustment.
11. Fidelity or constancy.
12. In truth, in reality; in fact; actually: in truth, moral decay hastened the decline of the Roman Empire.
I could cite other dictionaries, but they would essentially say the same thing. What is more interesting is to listen to a philosopher chase his tail trying to explain and define truth. According to several sources in philosophy, there are three generally accepted theories about truth with two additional ones competing for attention. They are the Correspondence Theory, the Semantic Theory, and the Deflationary Theory. Competing with these are the Pragmatic Theory and the Coherence Theory.
These theories attempt to define truth by defining the properties of truth. If truth is truth, then there must be something also called false or fake. This is the logic of truth. Does truth exist beyond what is linguistic (that which is spoken), and if it does, is it concrete or abstract? What are the rules (laws) concerning truth? That is, every assertion is true or false; no assertion can be true and false at the same time. Then there is the problem with what is an assertion of fact. What are the rules for a fact? Finally, philosophers struggle with some classical problems about truth. For example, can a declarative statement of the truth be made without a foundation for the truth. If there is no president of the country, can you declare that the President is bald? Don’t be quick to judge. He may be making a statement about the man who is about to be president, thus revealing the president. This also applies to any prophetic statement. Are prophetic statements the truth? Consider the opposite issues. What if the statement is a lie? Do the rules and definition of truth apply in addressing that issue? What if the declaration is about morality, ethics or aesthetics?
The Correspondence Theory dates back to ancient times, including Plato and Aristotle in a discussion of Metaphysics. They argued that a proposition for truth must have corresponding facts in existence. The theory also addresses whether the facts are dependent or independent of the truth.
The Semantic Theory is the product of a man named Alfred Tarski, who lived in the 1900's. He challenged the Correspondence Theory by arguing that something is true if and only if it is true. Therefore, truth is in and of itself independent of corresponding facts. The corresponding facts only mirror what is true to begin with. The Semantic Theory only works with a lot of semantics in the language.
The Deflationary Theory does not believe in assumptions concerning truth. Truth is only truth when it has a redundant element or it performs as the truth. This can be simplified to “I will believe it when I see it.”
The competing theories tend to be derivatives of these three arguments. They attempt to define truth without making it a definition. They try to strike an understandable relationship between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, with truth being present in all three. This is where lay philosophers weigh in. Consider these common quotations about truth.
“Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.” - Winston Churchill
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”- Galileo
“The search for truth implies a duty. One must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.” - Albert Einstein
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” - Martin Luther
“Always tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember what you said.” - Mark Twain
“When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either quit being mistaken, or cease to be honest.” – Unknown (some attribute to Attorney Richard Humpal)
“All generalizations, including this one, are false.” - Mark Twain
“A man may be an heretic in the truth, and if he believes things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.” - F. W. Farrar
“Those who think that the majority holds the truth are themselves in the majority of fools.” - Unknown
“It’s not a matter of what is true that counts but a matter of what is perceived to be true.” - Henry Kissinger
We don’t need to carry this part of our conversation further. Suffice it to say that this is how the world attempts to answer the question, “What is truth.” But I do want you to consider the last quotation given by Henry Kissinger. This is this generation’s mantra for dealing with the truth.
According to the Bible, truth is clearly defined and it usually does not conform to what man thinks it is. Let’s examine some basic statements about truth from the Scriptures.
God says He is truth. When Moses was in the cleft of the rock, God defined Himself this way.
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;” Exodus 34:6
The Son of God defined Himself as truth.
Yeshua said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” John 14:6
The Bible defines the Law and Commandments in the Torah as truth.
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth. Psalms 119:142
You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth. Psalms 119:151
God also defines Himself as spirit and instructs us to worship Him in the qualities of spirit and truth.
God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24
For the purposes of this article we will be focusing on the truth factor.
The Scriptures also give us some simple rules on how to determine the truth and what the truth does for us; however, this is where believers have the most difficulty dealing with the truth. The Law teaches that a single witness cannot determine the truth. There must be a confirmation of evidence, at least two or three evidences to render a judgment.
A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. Deuteronomy 19:15
Many brethren believe that their single eyewitness evidence is sufficient to be called the truth. They may see something and then appoint themselves as the prosecutor and judge of the matter. They think they know the truth and are doing truthful things. They are wrong; all they have is an assertion or a fact. They don’t yet have the truth.
Because of this one commandment, many brethren are falsely accused. There are a host of examples I could supply, but it is generally understood by everyone (because of their own personal experience).
This even applies to statements made by an individual about himself. Did you know that a full confession by a wrongdoer is insufficient evidence to convict a person? There are many cases where a person confessed to a wrong deed for wholly other reasons. I learned this as a child.
I was a sitting at the supper table one night with my family; my father noticed that his fork had one bent prong. It appeared that someone had used the fork to try to pry something. The fork was apparently weaker than the other object. My father became angry and immediately assumed that one of us children had bent the fork. There was no evidence to explain exactly how the fork was bent, nor was there evidence to point to one of the children. It could have been placed in the drawer, tangled with other things, and been bent by shutting the drawer, which happened once in a while. Rather than consider that or any other explanation, he declared that one of us kids had done the deed. When none of us immediately confessed, he raised the stakes. He stated that all three of us would be disciplined to ensure that he got the culprit. Again, he demanded to know who the person was that bent the fork. Somehow at that young age, I knew that my father’s judgment was not right; it was not about the truth, but I could do nothing. Looking back, God was teaching an important lesson about truth. Suddenly, my brother Frank (seven years younger than myself) confessed to the deed. My father took him from the table and disciplined him. Later that night, in between tears, my brother confessed the truth. He never bent the fork; he only confessed to protect his brother and sister. My father didn’t have very good judgment and did not know how to determine the truth of a matter.
Law enforcement personnel will ask for all of the details from a confessed criminal. It is not that they are morbid, they are trying to find additional evidence that will confirm the confession. They ask the confessor to show them the body or to produce other incriminating evidence. There is a reason for it. A single evidence, even a confession, is not proof. It is not the truth without confirming evidence.
Yet, believers will take a single account of a deed and summarily judge another brother. Worse yet, the average believer will listen to another person’s opinion (perception) of something and render a judgment against a fellow believer. The average believer professes to believe in the truth of God and yet believes the worst of one another with no confirmation. Those who follow the Torah need to check their own pulse on this. In my experience, Torah observant brethren seem to offend this even more so than church folks.
Yeshua spoke of this directly when He cautioned all of us, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2) How would you like for your friends and brethren in the faith to suddenly drop all fellowship with you based on the perception (or rumor) of another in the form of an accusation? How many of you have used this defense: “Why didn’t you just come and ask me?”
Objectivity is absolutely required to find the truth. Subjectivity in searching for the truth is stupidity.
Do you remember Henry Kissinger’s quotation? “It’s not a matter of what is true that counts but a matter of what is perceived to be true.” This statement is how the world and worldly people think. It is not how believers are commanded by God to think, but it is common for many believers to act on. They don’t know the Torah in this matter. A perception is not the truth; a single fact is not the truth. These are assertions (evidence to be considered in determining the truth). But confirmation must be established.
The Apostle Paul specifically taught this when he instructed the brethren, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19) These are those who have firsthand knowledge, not rumor-mongers. The modern Messianic Movement has a major problem with this instruction. Many brethren (including leaders) do not obey this instruction. They believe their personal perception or their opinion and act on it as though it is the truth. Even worse, some brethren lay the responsibility for determining the truth on others. They deny any responsibility for passing false information on to others. They believe and act like they do not need to obey the commandments with regard to accusing another person.
I have lost many friends in the faith because they chose to listen to a single witness who was blatantly malicious. Some have actually quoted me on occasion. Yet, with no context or confirmation, they have fallen prey to division because of slander. They use the definition for truth that comes from the world (their own judgment and opinion) instead of the one they are pledged to obey from God. I am not the only one who has been harmed. This kind of harm in a spiritual community or congregation is a like a suicide bomber. In their zeal to harm one, they indiscriminately harm many.
This principle—that two or three evidences must be present to prove or establish a truth—is also true in mathematics and geometry. A single point of reference without at least one more angle is just a straight line. You must have an x and y axis to pinpoint a place on paper (two dimensions). You must add the z axis to pinpoint something in space (three dimensions). The Global Positioning System (GPS) used for navigation in cars and aircraft must have at least three satellites coordinating a position to work accurately (they prefer to use more). A mathematical truth (theorem) requires two or three proofs to be called a truth.
Even the Messiah addressed this point specifically when He was asked directly if He was the Messiah.
I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. John 5:30-36
Yeshua was the Messiah, yet He said of Himself that if He alone bears witness of Himself, His testimony is not true. He is not saying that He lied; He is saying that there must be confirmation to have the testimony be considered the truth. If the Messiah cannot bear a singular testimony of Himself, saying it is not true, then how do individual believers think they are different?
Everyone acknowledges that God is truth. But, where is the confirmation? God must have two or three evidences to meet His own definition of the truth. Answer: God does supply the two or three witnesses. Not only does God manifest Himself in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but consider this passage.
… It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 1 John 5:6b-8
There is another aspect of handling the truth that the Scriptures require. It must be balanced and work in a cooperative fashion with loving-kindness.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2
Paul’s proposition could be just as easily said, “If I speak the truth, even the truth that comes from heaven and God, the truth that comes from deep knowledge and understanding, and yet speak it without kindness and care for those who are to receive it, then I am just making a lot of noise and have accomplished nothing.”
Sometimes the truth is not pleasant. Sometimes the truth is naked (transparent) truth and it offends us. Sometimes we discover that truth is on the other side and we are embarrassed. This is when loving-kindness and understanding are most needed.
In Chinese culture, they ask a specific question that seems to address the need for loving-kindness to be shared with the truth. They simply ask, “Is it necessary to share this truth right now?” This question is not about hiding the truth; it is about helping the recipient to receive the truth.
I thank God that He does not scorn me as I learn the truth about Him because of my past thinking of what I thought the truth was. This brings me to one of the most profound statements there is anywhere.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32
This is a very hard statement for brethren to believe. They have little courage whenever it comes time to tell the truth or to stand on the side of truth. Very few believe that truth brings freedom. They tend to believe more strongly that truth brings loss. This is where the rubber meets the road about believing in God. If you won’t trust the truth, then you won’t trust God. If you love God, you will love truth.
Television programs and movies love to use courtroom settings to tell a story. A courtroom is about telling the truth and rendering correct judgments. You have heard the popular oath for every witness, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Lying under oath is its own criminal offense - perjury.
A modern courtroom requires every piece of evidence to be weighed and factored into the judgment. They will not listen to hearsay, rumors, or conjecture. Each witness can only testify to that which he knows directly. No one can testify for another. Even if testimony speaks of wrongdoing elsewhere, it is only permitted for consideration in a verdict if it directly bears on the matter to be judged. Judges and lawyers must operate within the bounds of the law and cannot offend the law while trying to judge any matter. It is call due process.
“Justice, justice you shall pursue,” the Scripture instructs (Deuteronomy 16:20). “Justice, justice” is not a redundant expression. It means that you must use justice while pursuing justice. Failure to do so invalidates the proceedings. In other words, the truth must be based on truthful things. There is no formula where lies establish the truth. Two lies canceling each other does not establish the truth, it is just evidence of people lying.
Furthermore, two or three brethren repeating a rumor does not make it true. That is not the confirmation referred to in Scripture. A majority in a democracy may determine a decision, but a majority does not determine the truth. Remember, some people just plain lie. Sometimes it is to get attention or because they want something; sometimes they are afraid. But in all cases, a liar is a coward. The Torah has a lot to say about a malicious witness, a person who would intentionally lie to bring about an error in judgment against someone. Whenever a person lies against a believer in his own community, he is hoping that the community will make a judgment against the person. The fact is that he is lying to the whole community about the brother. According to Torah, he should receive the same punishment that the brother could have received. Do we do that? No. We tend to ignore the liar and the brother who was lied about suffers a loss of reputation. Where do you get your reputation back after it has been damaged by a lie? Who do you see to get the matter corrected? One could say that God will restore all things in the kingdom to come. I agree, but my question is what about now, since the Lord commanded us to walk in the truth here and now.
Until believers are taught the definition of truth according to the Torah, we are subject to HaSatan’s definition of the truth, which is personal perception. Until we love the truth more than the world we will continue to do HaSatan’s bidding and harm one another. Every Messianic brother needs to proclaim the truth and do so in brotherly love.
Let me conclude this article by answering Pilate’s question “What is truth?” Truth is the Lord our God. It is His Law and commandments. It is established by confirming evidence. It is served with loving-kindness. And, in the end, it is our freedom.
Truth is not a single fact or assertion. It is not a personal perception or someone else’s opinion. It is not presumption or a subjective summary judgment. Making accusations is not the love of the truth; the love of the truth honors the due process and seeks to guard against false accusations. Truth works with knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Those who choose half-truths and mix falsehoods bring captivity and destruction to themselves.
Let me also conclude with a child’s riddle about truth. You are on a road that forks. One way leads to the city of truth. Everyone who lives there speaks only the truth. The other way leads to the city of lies. Everyone who lives there speaks only lies. A man is standing at the fork in the road. You do not know which city he is from. What question do you ask him to go to the city of truth?
Answer: You ask him, “Which way is the way to your home?” The liar will point to the city of truth; the truthful person will point the same direction - the city of truth.
Where do you want to live? In a world where personal perception is called the truth (which makes it a lie)? Or in the kingdom of God? The Torah teaches us that God is sanctifying us in the truth, teaching us to walk in truth with one another, and to speak the truth. We need to decide where we live - the city of lies or the city of truth. Where is your home? What is truth to you?
The next time you hear a bad report or an accusation against a brother in the faith, challenge that person and demand that he prove it - demand the confirmation. Next, ask for his motivation in spreading the information. If he cannot confirm it, if he seems to have an agenda far from loving- kindness, then don’t listen to him. And, for God’s sake, don’t believe him!
Speak the truth, love the truth, and cling to the truth!