Episode 169 - What Is Truth and How Does It Relate to Scripture?

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The beliefs we have convictions about as Christians are things we believe to be true, right? It wouldn't make much sense to have a strong conviction about something you knew to be false or you didn't think you could know. Now, this presupposes lots of different considerations, like how do we know things and what is truth? And that's an interesting question, because someone in the Bible asks that question, “what is truth?” In John, we see that Pilate says to Jesus, "So, you are a king," and Jesus replies, "You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asks, "What is truth?"

There are several interesting points in this passage. Jesus does not reject the claim that he was a king. He's basically saying, "Yeah, that's what you're saying. That's true." He says that those that listen to his voice actually belong to the truth. They already belong to the truth, and that's why they listen to his voice. They don't listen to his voice and then become those who belong to the truth. But Pilate then asks, "What is truth?" And that is a question, if there were any question, that we need to be prepared to answer today, because all of the things we claim as Christians are truth claims. We claim that it is true that Jesus lived and walked on the earth, as opposed to what some atheists might say, even though it’s a totally non-credible idea, that Jesus didn't live at all. We claim that Jesus went to the cross and that he died, and that three days later he rose again from the dead, and that those are facts, true things about history.

But, we also claim things that are more theological in nature because the gospel is not that there's a historical event and that you place your trust in that event. No, the gospel is that in so going to the cross, and dying, and rising again, Jesus paid for sins. He paid for the sins of his people, and we place our trust in Jesus, not in an event. So, we actually also think that it's true, not in any type of lesser way, that Jesus actually did pay for sin on the cross. We don't delineate between this idea that there is a historical fact that is true-that Jesus died and rose again, or that Jesus was a person of history-and the theological truth that Jesus paid for sin on the cross. Those are no less true than one another. They are all equally true.

Now, we might come to know them through different ways, but they're all equally true. One is not relegated to opinion because it's a spiritual claim about paying for sin and atoning for sin, while the other is somehow more valid because it's not a theological claim. So, all of these are equally true.

What's really interesting to me is we have this issue today in society where people think religious claims aren't actually things that could be true or that you couldn't be justified in knowing they were true. Most people, it seems, think religion is a matter of a personal preference and opinion. So, you have your religion that works for you. I have my religion that works for me, and don't try and convert me because what I have is working for me. Isn't that interesting? None of what I just said actually seems like it's concerned with truth at all. The question isn't, "Well, what is true?" The question for many people seems to be, "Well, what do you like?" And those are very different things, aren't they?

What we think and what we feel about something, what our preferences are, those don’t necessarily inform us correctly about what is true. You could get a cancer diagnosis from your doctor and not like it, which would make a lot of sense, but that doesn't make it not true, does it? No, the truth of the matter has nothing to do with how you feel about it. It's the same way with religious claims. You could really not like the idea of Jesus, but that doesn't mean he didn't walk the earth. You could not like the idea of a God who would die on a cross and rise again. That doesn't make it not true.

The Bible itself actually presents this view of truth, where truth is something out in the world to be discovered. It's not something that's a reflection of how we feel, or what we think, or what our opinions are. It's something objective that we can point to. It's not just something that depends on how we think. Jesus, in the Gospel of John, actually seems fairly concerned with this idea of truth. Actually, so does John. He wrote his gospel so that we could know these things about Jesus, in other words, come to know the truth, and in so knowing and believing have eternal life in Jesus's name. That's why we care about these things, right? That's why we care about our Christian convictions, because we think they lead to life and not believing the truth leads to death.

One of the places in John's Gospel where Jesus speaks about truth in John 17:17. Jesus says, "Set them apart in the truth," or sanctify them, set apart for some holy purpose, in the truth. Then he says, this is speaking to the Father, "Your Word is truth." The Word of God is truth. Now, in context here, Jesus is not referring to the whole Bible. Because it hadn't been written yet when he is saying this as recorded in John's Gospel, but he is speaking of the specific message that he revealed to the disciples. Isn't that interesting that he's saying that God's Word is truth?

Now, he's giving us a specific example of God's Word, what he told the disciples. But Jesus is also God. John's Gospel makes that clear. So, everything Jesus said is the Word of God, which means it's also true. But, there are other passages in scripture that tell us about things that are from God that are God's Words. For instance, Second Timothy 2:16 says that every scripture is inspired by God. Literally the word Paul made up there that we translate as “inspired” means “God breathed.” He took the word for God and he took the word for breath and he put them together.

So, scripture, that's words, right? We read them, but he's going on to say that they're from God. They're the words of God because they're God-breathed revelation out to us. So not just the specific message Jesus gave here as recorded in John 17, not just everything Jesus said, but all of scripture is equally the Word of God, which also means, based on the words of Jesus, that his word is true, that all of scripture is true. If it comes from God, it is true. Doesn't that make sense?

So, people want to talk about the concept of inerrancy, the fact that the scriptures, when they speak, everything they affirm is true. No mixture of error is contained therein. People want to say, "Well, that's not necessary as a Christian doctrine." And it's like, "Really?" Because what you're talking about here is not just the scriptures. You're talking about the God who gave the scriptures. In order for scripture to be not true, the God who gave it would have to be capable of doing something that is not true and communicating inadequately, and incorrectly. So when we say something about the accuracy of scripture, we're actually saying something about the character of God. You can't separate out God's revelation and its truthfulness from God's character and its purity. That's really important for us to understand. Jesus says, "The Word of God is truth." So if we think we have found a problem and error in the Word of God, we have erred. That's incredibly important.

Now, here's another question. If scripture is the Word of God, could there be any higher standard that we could appeal to that could actually prove it to be wrong? The answer has to be no. If God has spoken and said what is true, and God is the creator of the universe, and God is all-knowing and all-powerful and all the other attributes of God that start with “all,” than to what or to whom could we appeal to contradict that revelation that God has given us? I'll take that a step further: to what or to whom could we appeal to corroborate, to give a second voice of testimony in affirmation of what God has revealed that would add more weight to it?

Think of the court system, the judicial system, at least in the United States, where you might go to a lesser court. They have a verdict, and you know what? You think maybe they got it wrong, so you appeal to a higher court. That court can either affirm the lower court's ruling or overturn it. Then, you could appeal to another court and another court, and at some point you may end up at the Supreme Court. Now, they may not take your case, but they could. There is no one to appeal to after the Supreme Court. Who could say the Supreme Court erred based on our current system of government? Well, no one.

You get to a place where you can't appeal any further. There's no one who could say this was the right call or the wrong call after that ultimate authority has spoken. It's the same way with scripture. Since the scriptures are the Word of God, the revelation of God, and since God is the highest authority in the universe, there is no one, no thing to which we could appeal to overthrow or contradict or even confirm, in a helpful sense, what scripture has to say.

Now, that doesn't mean there aren't other sources of knowing. That doesn't mean we can't know things from outside the Bible. We certainly can. But, what is our highest authority? Which authority stands over all other authorities? Which norm norms all the other norms? Which source of authority and revelation gives us the perspective to even understand the others? That's an interesting point, isn't it? None of us are neutral observers. None of us neutrally evaluate things. So, what is the standard by which we evaluate everything else in the world? Well, it should be the standard that God gives us in His Word, which remember as Jesus said, is truth.

Now, when we say that the scriptures are inerrant, that they are totally true in everything they affirm, and we say that God's Word is necessarily true because God is pure, and powerful, and can communicate accurately and would not communicate inaccurately, when we say those things, often the rejoinder is, "Well, how come so many people disagree then? How come, well, the denomination on one corner disagrees with the denomination on the other corner and they're all pointing to scripture? Doesn't that contradict this concept of inerrancy? There's so many different opinions." And once again, the answer is no. Let's recall where we started, that truth is not a matter of opinion. It's not a matter of perspective. It's not a matter of how I feel. It's actually something that exists in the world that I discover. I don't create it. So yes, you have multiple groups of people in every area of life, not just on religion, and they disagree on things.

Now, it's interesting to me that in politics, or in science, or other areas, when people disagree on a claim, what they don't say is, "Well, I guess there can't be a right answer because there are different perspectives," but that's what the world wants to do when it comes to religion. They want to say, "So many people disagree so there can't be a right answer." Well, they're inconsistent on that because we don't act that way anywhere else. But in science, in religion, in any area of life where we want to know what is true, we evaluate something on its merits, on the evidence for it.

There are different views on what scripture says, but there's only one right interpretation. Now, I'm not claiming that I hold all of that all the time or that anyone does. We all hold wrong opinions on something and wrong beliefs. Our goal is to try and constantly go back to the source to understand what the right answers are, but that presupposes that there is a right answer out there to be found. Isn't that interesting that Paul seems to assume that in this verse when he says, "Make every effort," he's writing to Timothy, "to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately” “teaching the message of truth accurately"?

There is this message, the message of truth and it is, well, true, right? That's right in the name there. But, you can teach it accurately or you can teach it inaccurately. He actually seems to present the view that you need to work, and study, and prove yourself, and improve, and mature so you can teach it more accurately, that there are more accurate and less accurate ways of teaching the same message. The message is true. In as faithfully as you present it and reflected on when you present it, you either do so accurately or inaccurately, more truthfully, more faithfully or less truthfully, less faithfully. But, that presupposes that, one, the message is true and that it's true regardless of what we say about it, but that our job is to discover the truth, to accurately present the truth, to constantly be examining what we believe to make sure it is more and more accurate, not just to be content and to sit back on our heels.

I think that's what we need today as a church. We need confidence that God's Word is truth, that what Jesus said is believable, that when Jesus affirmed that the scriptures are true, I believe that they're true, that I don't just say, "Well, Jesus didn't know about sexual orientation. Jesus didn't know about gender theory, and queer theory, and things like that. Jesus didn't know about where the earth came from. Jesus didn't know about Adam and Eve and that they weren't real people." No, Jesus said his word is truth. If we say that his word is wrong, we are impugning the character of God.

So, the church needs a message it can be confident in, that it can stand upon, and reason from, and confront people because how do you call people to account for their sins and to repent and place their faith in Christ if we don't have a message that is true and that we don't have a God who can actually maintain and preserve a true message? If we don't have those things, what are we sharing with people? Well, it's something probably less than true. So, our job is to discover the truth in the world, to discover the truth in scripture, and as Paul alludes to with Timothy, to do the work required to pull the truth out of what we're reading and studying in scripture.

Now, once again, scripture's not the only source of truth in the world, but it is the highest authority on everything it speaks to. It is the ultimate authority that cannot be appealed past. It must be only appealed to.

Well, I hope this has been helpful. I'll speak with you next week on Unapologetic.