What is Truth?


Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32) --But what is truth?

Truth On Trial

There is a joke that goes like this. Once a scientist, engineer, and lawyer were all asked the [true] answer to 1 + 1. The scientist said 2.0, the engineer said around 2, and the lawyer asked, "what do you want it to be?" While the joke may not be "truly" fair to any of the above, the point is that some people think truth is only logical certainties, some think truth is never precise, and some think truth is created by man's opinion and debate.

In U.S. law, something must be "true beyond a reasonable doubt." That can either be an honest or else misleading statement, depending on the interpretation. If it is meant as "proved to be true beyond reasonable doubt", that is fine. However, it is misleading to think reality depends on a lawyer's brief or a judge's opinion.

For example, if an assault victim knows her attacker, but cannot prove it in court, then is the attacker really innocent, and his conscience really clear, because it was not "true beyond a reasonable doubt" in court that he did it? I doubt it.

Does Truth = Reality?

Since all truth is reality, this would be reasonable, except that all reality is not truth. For example, Satan, cancer, and sin are all realities. We are supposed to follow the truth, love the truth, and live by the truth. We are not to follow, love, and live by these things though.

Things can be real in different ways. Some realities can depend on observers. In one English class, a paper may deserve of a grade of A, and only a C with a different teacher, class, and curve. The truth of the essay "deserving an A" depends on others.

Things can be true for a limited period of time. Armored knights were nearly invincible, until halberds, pikes, and gunpowder were used.


Truth = Perception of Reality?

What is _____ to you may not be _____ to me, and vice versa. Fill in the blanks with fashionable, cool, or stylish, and everybody agrees this is true. Fill in the blanks with "pregnant", "a grade of F", "dead", "hard as concrete", or "HIV positive" and everyone agrees this is false. Which category is truth? Professors do not seem to think "true test answers" is relative.

Because we find examples where some truth is dependent on things, not-too-thoughtful people have said, "the only absolute is that there are no absolutes." Well if that statement is true, then they are wrong because there is at least one absolute. If there is one absolute, then there may very well be others. When a large earthquake hits in California, would people not foreseeing it delay or prevent the earthquake? If a drunk driver perceives that he is driving just fine down a lonely stretch of road, is there no greater risk of an accident? Some truth is as absolute as death.


Compartmentalizing Truth

Many people compartmentalize truth. Some think there is "real", "scientific" truth, that is absolute and independent of observation. Other truth is "religion and politics", exclusively opinion and perception. Truth may appear one way when you are in a classroom discussing ethics, and a different way when you are tempted at work to cheat and make some dirty money. Some truth is exempt from questioning, critique and debate, some is not, and some is exempt only if it is "my viewpoint". In summary, one truth is certain: many otherwise intelligent people can use sophisticated rationalization to suppress seeing truth.


A Butterfly Dream

The Chinese philosopher Zuang-zi once told a story of a man who one night dreamed he was a butterfly. When morning came and the sun rose, he awoke. Then he thought, "am I a man that dreamed he was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly that is now dreaming he is a man?" People can conclude three things:

1. Don't take anything for granted.

2. Common sense, and some assumptions, are important in finding conclusions about truth. A butterfly, with a small brain and no language, is not likely to be speaking a contemplative soliloquy to itself.

3. We have to act on our conclusions. Otherwise, as a human there is no point in eating, studying, or working hard, as we can always shake ourselves with our hand (or is it wing) and wake up.

Dimensions of Truth

Is a cylinder really a rectangle or a circle? From one perspective it appears as a rectangle. An end-wise view is a circle. The reality, independent of observers, is that it has more than two dimensions. It can be truly perceived as a rectangle or a circle, but it cannot be truly perceived as a triangle or pentagon. Truth is similar.

Is Truth Like an Elephant?

A familiar fable tells of four blind men who touched an elephant. The first, touching the trunk, said an elephant was like a snake. Touching a leg, the second logically concluded the elephant was similar to a tree. The third, touching its side, believed it was like a wall. The last, touching its tail, felt it was like a rope. Their observations were all true. Yet individually they did not truly understand the elephant. Even together, they could not fully comprehend an elephant, because they did not know how the pieces of truth fit together. Only with instruction could they truly know the absolute (i.e. observer-independent) truth of the elephant.

We all see aspects of truth, but in defining truth, one has to realize it has many dimensions. Even knowing this, we still may not know what truth is without instruction on how this elephant of truth fits together. Let's see what a book that claims to instruct us on truth says.

What Bible Says about Truth

God is a God of truth Psalm 31:5

God's word is truth John 17:17

No lie comes from the truth 1 John 2:21

All God's words are true.Pr30:5;Ps119:160

We can walk in the truth Psalm 26:3

Choose the way of truth Psalm 119:30

Wisdom speaks what is true Prov 8:7

Truth is to be obeyed 1 Pet 1:22

There is a book of truth Daniel 10:21

There is the spirit of truth John14:16-7

We're given birth thru the word of t.Jas1:18

Love rejoices with/in the truth 1 Cor 13:6

We are to speak the truth in love Eph 4:15

Love in / work together for it.2Jn1,3;3Jn4,8

Some perish for refusing to love it 2Th 2:10

People can be robbed of the truth 1 Tm 6:5

We can know the truth. 1Tim4:3;1Jn2:20-1;Jn8:32

Some can always be learning and yet never be able to acknowledge the truth 2 Tm 3:7

Don't oppose or reject it 2Tm3:8; Titus1:14

Live by & belong to it.1Jn1:6,8; 2:4,8; 3:19

We should think on what is true Php 4:8

Hebrews 6:18 contains a paradox. It tells of one thing it is impossible for the Almighty to do: lie. Perhaps Genesis 1:1 hints how at this can be; the Hebrew word for create indicates God created by His word. So not only are God's words true, but God's words become reality.

"The Truth" according to the Bible

The apostle John wrote a striking sentence in John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Word here is Jesus.

Jesus made a most astounding claim in John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Unlike others, Jesus did not just say "I can show you the truth", but rather, "I am the truth.".

A Synthesis of Truth

A description is a partial list of necessary characteristics of something; a definition is an exact description of both what some-thing is and what it is not. In other words, a good definition shows both what is necessary and sufficient. This is an attempt to interpret and synthesize the Bible's teaching to define five aspects of truth.

Truth is a map of reality. Truth conforms to reality; it is a description, a representation of what is. It is consistent, but may contain limitations on time, location. Perception is itself a truth and reality, but much truth is independent of perception. A true statement may contain paradoxes, and have limitations on precis-ion, time, and context. Antonyms of true knowledge are ignorance, illusion, fiction, bogus, and lie.

Truth is a road to follow. Truth is authentic; it is to be acknowledged, followed, and obeyed. It is a way to live your life. It is worth living for, and worth dying for. Antonyms of truth are mistake, error, hypocrisy, suppression of truth, and deceit of self and others.

Truth is a compass of direction. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, guides believers along the true path. It is a goal to seek.

A goal to reach. Truth is to be desired, loved, and held precious so as not to be lost. True wisdom is the pursuit and love of the truth. It is something we can have to varying degrees right now on earth, and we can fully attain after we die. Antonyms of truth are fantasy, foolishness, and love of error, ignorance, and foolishness.

A Being who creates reality. Ultimate truth is not reality as much as the source of reality. It is a being, and it involves our relationship with that being. John 14:6 says The Truth is Jesus Christ, through whom everything was made and is sustained.


Seek the Truth

Just as plastic, imitation food does not help your body, imitations of truth do not help you find the answers to life. There are some absolute truths, and do not give up seeking to find them.

If you are sincerely hunting for truth, I realize that nobody can find the answer for you; only you can. As for me, I have found the answer to my hunt, and the answer is Jesus. ' but find out for yourself. Read one of the gospels in the New Testament, and praying to the God of truth that you will find the truth to live by it. ' Happy hunting.

For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.