Is truth absolute, or does it vary according to circumstances and opinions? Is it merely a philosophical argument? What is truth according to the Bible?
Winston Churchill once stated, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
Can anyone really know “the truth”? Or is truth subject to human interpretation?
Many today think truth is relative to the circumstances—that what is true for one situation is not necessarily true for others. This means that truth for one person is not necessarily the same for everyone! If this is correct, how can we know with certainty what to believe and how we should live?
Almost 2,000 years ago, a Roman governor asked a wrongly accused prisoner who stood before him, “What is truth?” The Roman’s name was Pontius Pilate. The prisoner was Jesus of Nazareth (John 18:37-38).
Jesus did not respond to Pilate’s question during this encounter. At least we do not have a record of it if He did. Apparently, Pilate walked away from the question that day and simply washed his hands of the ordeal. At least he thought he did. Christ did answer the question elsewhere. The same writer, John, records it in a prayer of Jesus to His Father.
What is truth? Jesus’ definition
The night before His crucifixion, Jesus offered a heartfelt prayer to His Father on behalf of His disciples—not only those of that day, but also those who would follow Him in the future. Within the context of that prayer, He said, “Sanctify [set apart] them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17, emphasis added throughout).
Here, Christ is saying one should be able to examine the pages of God’s Word—the Holy Bible—to learn the truth on any subject of major importance or significance. The Bible contains the answers to questions about why we were born, our purpose in life, whether God exists and the potential of mankind—to name only a few of the subjects covered within this Book.
The psalmist wrote similarly: “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). Interestingly, the word “truth” can be found more than 200 times in Scripture.
President Ronald Reagan on truth
Former President Ronald Reagan stated, “Americans yearn to explore life’s deepest truths.” He went on to say, “Within the covers of that single book [the Bible] are all the answers to all the problems that face us today, if we would only read and believe.”
Reagan is heralded as one of America’s greatest leaders. He also believed that there is a divine plan for all of us. Other world leaders have said that they held the same belief.
Jesus said He was the truth
In an interesting twist on the above, Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Paul said to the Ephesians, “If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). Christ, as God, is the personification of truth. He embodies truth.
Paul, in the introductory comments in his epistle to Titus, said, “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgement of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:1-2).
Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Knowing the truth freed the disciples from deceptions, errors and heresies.
Moreover, Christ said that Satan, who as Lucifer had known the truth, did not abide in the truth. Rebuking the Pharisees who did not believe in Him, Jesus told them they were of their father the devil. He went on to say, “He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
Truth is revealed in the Bible as the character of Christ, His teachings and His promises.Reflecting the confusion that Satan has created, Otto von Bismarck humorously stated, “When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.”
Truth is revealed in the Bible as the character of Christ, His teachings and His promises. Anything that does not agree with the Bible is false, error, deception or heresy.
Spiritual force against truth!
Did you catch the significance of these monumental revelations? God is the source of truth through His Word. Jesus embodied truth. And an evil being who is dedicated to falsifying truth is at work in our world! People should be wary of their belief that “truth is not absolute.” Where did that concept originate? It came from Satan, “the father of lies.”
Satan lies now and he has throughout history, literally deceiving the entire human race (Revelation 12:9). Countless people think they have “discovered” an idea that he simply plants in their minds.
Notice the warning Paul gave in the concluding comments of his first letter to Timothy, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
Science not the source of truth
Many people believe that science can reveal truth. But Kathy Sykes, a British physicist and professor at the University of Bristol, explains, “Science is not about truth, but is about trying to get closer to the truth. This is important, because, too often, people look to scientists as having the ‘truth.’ What we have is wrapped in uncertainties, caveats and simplifications.”
Winston Churchill once said, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Does absolute truth exist?
There are those who do not believe in absolute truth. Dictionary.com defines the word absolute as “free from imperfection; complete; perfect.” The word truth is defined as “the true or actual state of a matter …; conformity with fact or reality …; a verified or indisputable fact.”
Philosophers and scientists have debated the issue of absolute truth for centuries. Moreover, many others have chosen to accept another philosophy, called situation ethics. Situation ethics is defined as “a theory of ethics according to which moral rules are not absolutely binding but may be modified in the light of specific situations” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary).
Said another way, situation ethics is “a system of ethics that evaluates acts in light of their situational context rather than by the application of moral absolutes” (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).
Ironically, if one were to say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” he or she might be asked, “Are you absolutely sure that no absolute truth exists?” To make such a statement is itself the claim of an absolute truth and, therefore, self-contradictory!
For example, just because one may choose not to believe in the law of gravity does not mean that gravity does not exist. The same can be said of God’s existence. What one person believes about God’s existence has nothing to do with the fact that He indeed exists!
To be honest, people would have to admit that they don’t know whether there is absolute truth about a specific subject. Yet God, through the pages of the Bible, states that absolute truth truly does exist.
Worship must be in truth
Knowledge of “the truth” is essential for worship. Notice what Jesus said to a Samaritan woman He met by Jacob’s well. “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
On one occasion, even Christ’s enemies, the Pharisees, admitted to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth” (Matthew 22:16). Although they likely said this tongue in cheek—for they were trying to trick Christ in this situation—their description of Him was true.
God speaks of His Holy Spirit as a Spirit of truth that would eventually guide those who believed in Him into all truth (John 16:13).
David and Paul’s example
Notice the examples of a few faithful people of God who understood that God had absolute truth. David prayed, “Lead me in Your truth and teach me” (Psalm 25:5). Speaking to the Ephesians, Paul reminded them that “in Him [God] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13).
God expects us to act on the truth as He helps us learn it. More important than knowing the truth is loving the truth and living the truth—walking in truth.To members of the Church of God in Colosse, Paul wrote, “Because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). The gospel Christ and the apostles preached was the truth of the coming Kingdom of God.
Furthermore, Paul reminded Timothy to be diligent and accurate in explaining and expounding the Word of God. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing [correctly presenting] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The “word of truth” is the Bible.
Paul also told Timothy, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground [foundation] of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul is saying that there is also a “true Church” and that the truth can be found in it.
And Paul warned the Thessalonians about end-time “lying wonders” and “unrighteous deception” that will lead astray those who do not “receive the love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
Act on the truth
Here’s a summary of biblical answers to the question: What is truth?
- Jesus said God’s Word, the Bible, is truth (John 17:17).
- Christ, as God, is the personification of truth (John 14:6; Ephesians 4:21).
- God cannot lie (Titus 1:1-2).
- Satan does lie unabashedly! And we have to be on guard against his attacks on the truth (Revelation 12:9).
- Jesus promised His disciples that they would know the truth (John 8:31-32).
- Truth is revealed in God’s Word—not through science.
- God will only accept worship of Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Knowing the truth is wonderful, but it is not enough! God expects us to act on the truth as He helps us learn it. More important than knowing the truth is loving the truth and living the truth—walking in truth. Wisdom, knowledge, understanding and truth are all attributes of God. You can know the truth if you diligently and prayerfully seek it.
“Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge [truth] of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:3-6).
This is the absolute truth!
To learn more about the truth contained in the Bible, see our article “How to Study the Bible” and related articles.