The Free Book of the Month from Logos in August is a video course on 2 Timothy, presented by Kenneth L. Waters Sr. and David A. deSilva.[Read more…]
Christopher Croom | Columbia International University
Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)
This famous portion of Scripture that has been rendered as a standalone verse is directly related to the crucifixion scene of Jesus Christ. In this scene, Jesus stands before Pilate, questioned regarding charges leveled at Him by the Jews. In analyzing this verse, we do not want to overstep the boundaries provided to us by the context. Nevertheless, in examining this verse, we cannot help but acknowledge this deeply profound epistemological question. What is truth?
First, we should observe the possible attitude with which Pilate proposes this question. Is Pilate saying this in a mocking tone? Or does Pilate opine with genuine curiosity? John Calvin suggests that Pilate laid out this question in disdain. In his commentary on this passage, Calvin says, “For my own part, I rather think that it is an expression of disdain; for Pilate thought himself highly insulted when Christ represented him as destitute of all knowledge of the truth.”1 D.A. Carson notes something specific in his view of this passage. Carson offers this beautiful observation. “Moreover, there is an implicit invitation in Jesus’ words. The man in the dock invites his judge to be his follower, to align himself with those who are ‘of the truth’.”2 Carson also goes on to suggest that Pilate may be irritated with Jesus and categorizes the question as “curt and cynical.”3
Gerald Borchert stands in opposition, suggesting that perhaps this question did affect Pilate. While Pilate may have resisted the more profound implications for his life, it certainly left him with no condemnation against Christ.4 I tend to agree with Borchert’s position in that the surrounding evidence of the passage does not lend itself to frustration or irritation on Pilate’s part. Moreover, Pilate seems to meet this situation with a certain level of wisdom and prudence. When asking the Jewish leaders for the charges against Christ, he appears less than impressed and may even see himself being used as a pawn in their scheme to rid themselves of the Messiah. Finally, we see Pilate approach the mob and try to provide a way to back out of this act against a seemingly innocent man. I wholeheartedly believe Pilate’s question of “what is truth?” was a genuine question worthy of consideration.
Addressing the Question
Having now addressed the biblical aspect of this, we must face the question itself and its implications in our world. However, I do not want to address this from a predominantly “spiritual” perspective (or what Christians might perceive as spirituality), but rather, a practical aspect. After all, I am a Ph.D. student of practical theology (with a slight lean focusing on ethics and morality). So, I will do what I think I do best—talk about this question’s practical and ethical aspects.
The Greek word behind “truth” is ἀλήθεια (aletheia). The word itself carries an intensely distinct semantic range. English speakers may translate this word as “in truth,” or “upon truth,” or “sincerely,” or “genuine,” or “firmness,” among other similar options. Considering the 109 uses of this word in the New Testament, it is translated as we see it here, “truth,” 95.4% of the time (or 104 times). Jesus states just before this verse that He came to testify to the truth. Pilate responds with what this author believes is a genuinely inquisitive query. So, what is Pilate asking, and how can we use this in our lives?
Pilate is asking a question that many people ask today. “How can we know what is true?” Before we address the question, we should determine its significance. When we speak about truth, or as I will often refer to it as “intellectual virtue,”5 In the most practical and simple terms I can provide, what we are discussing is an agreement to the definition of words and concepts and the reality built upon those definitions. In other words, there must be some fundamentally agreed-upon terminology that allows us to understand and decipher the world around us. For now, we will (mostly) lay aside questions of authority for defining those terms and reality and frankly focus on its existence.
If I took some exegetical liberty with the text, as those before me have, I would like to suggest that Pilate is not so far off in his mindset from the subjectivists of our modern-day America. In other words, Pilate did not have an objective standard for truth, and so, this question persuaded his mind to argue with this philosophical difficulty in a way that those on the Areopagus of Acts 17 might have done. So much was Pilate interested in this; he tried to exonerate Christ after a brief consideration of Christ’s statement.
What does this mean for the Christian Scholar or Pastor? Well, in today’s world, the Christian Scholar or Pastor finds themselves in one of three positions. The first position: Understanding and struggling to live with biblical clarity in a rapidly changing world with changing definitions and conceptual truths. The second position: Believing they understand and struggle to live with biblical clarity in a rapidly changing world with changing definitions and conceptual truths, but sinking further into the world’s subjectivity. The third and final position is being oblivious to the difference between the two and sinking further into the world’s subjectivity.
A Brief Practice to Address Error
Because this is not designed to be a book or even a full paper outlining all the issues and potential solutions, this is where we shall consider, briefly, a remedy. Having been made aware of the issue that faces us, we should now consider a solution.
Scholars and Pastors: Addressing the world with presuppositional truth is not practical in today’s world. I understand how unpopular this will be as a position. Nevertheless, telling a subjectively oriented world of a coming Christ is, while accurate, ineffective—at least, in and of itself. Starting with that will lead to nowhere. However, leading to that point, starting with a classical exposition of the general revelation could yield a more profitable engagement. When Pilate asks, “what is truth?” he questions something already answered in the world around Him that leads back to the Creator of all things.
The General Revelation helps the created creature agree upon the definition of what exists inside of it. For instance, what does the creation (not explicitly Scripture) tell us about the nature of man and woman? The reason this approach is critical is that, as Jay Wood points out, “there are what are called “basic” or “immediate” beliefs; these form the bedrock of all that we believe, undergirding everything else we are justified in believing.”6 In agreeing upon what exists in the General Revelation, we create what Nicholas Wolterstorff refers to as a control belief.7 That control belief identifies the boundaries in which we can continue to move in our question to build a perimeter around valid words and concepts.
This reason alone is why the Christian Church and the Christian (Scholar, Clergy, or Laypersons) have lost their foothold in the battle for words and concepts. In stepping away from the pursuit of truth, exchanging it for some undefined or unspecific spirituality, the Church began to, like the world, pursue subjectivity in religion, seeking a feeling of connection to God rather than a knowledge of the truth—or even worse, conflating the two, instead of an emotional connection to God being the result of proper knowledge of Him (Jer 9:23-24). This order is the natural order of true faith and spirituality, rooted in truth and reason.
What Pilate expresses is no different from what the Church expresses; each time, we neglect the pursuit of fundamental knowledge about God or portend to others that a relationship to Christ is the fullness of true religion (to the neglect of reason, doctrine, and similar concepts). We especially, as the Doctors and Pastors of the Church, must avoid both logical fallacies and cognitive biases in his assessment of the truth. As those who have General Revelation on our side, we should strive to define truth by the created world, ultimately pointing to Special Revelation.
The world is currently busy changing the definition to well-established truths, such as gender, family, sex, and all the like. The result is that concepts are being redefined through that change. Now, love, good, evil, culture, and ethics are all being manipulated in an unprecedented way. The truth that Jesus proposes to Pilate is not just a truth that leads to salvation. It is a truth that leads to seeing the world as it was truly meant to be seen.
Pastors, Doctors, Scholars: I call you to a serious pursuit of the truth. A pursuit that starts by understanding how the General (or Natural) Revelation provides a piece of evidence to all men. Whether through the existence of a Creator or the law written on man’s heart and the active consciousness of knowing a right from a wrong, in earnest, that comes with it, Christians must answer the call to challenge the world cognitively. We must satisfy the curious nature of man’s mind and heart and respond to the question that Pilate once asked, and so many have asked after him, “what is truth?” because we are the only ones with meaningful access to the answer.
If we, the learned and shepherds of the Church, do not understand this, how can we teach those under our care and doctrine? And if those under our care and doctrine do not learn, how can they reach the world?
How much better it is to get wisdom than gold!
And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver. (Proverbs 16:16)
Christopher Croom holds a Masters’s Degree in Bible Exposition, from Liberty University and is a Ph.D. student of Moral Theology at Columbia International University. He also is the founder and Managing Member of CROSS & Culture, LLC (http://crossandculture.org), a relaunching platform committed to expanding Biblical Scholarship and Discipleship within the Church.
by Timothy H. Lim | University of Edinburgh
An announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) on March 16, 2021 highlighted the discovery of fragments of biblical “Dead Sea Scrolls.” What have been found and what potential contribution do they make to our knowledge of the transmission, translation, and revision of the biblical texts in antiquity?[Read more…]
by Christopher M. Date
“What does God say about hell?” asks Kris Brossett, kicking off his two-article series on the topic.1 Brossett proceeds to survey the three historic Christian views of hell—eternal torment, conditional immortality, and universalism2—and commendably, he avoids offering readers simplistic, misleading caricatures of the two alternatives to the more historically dominant view (eternal torment). Brossett begins his second article equally commendably, rightly observing, “None of the positions I’ve examined in Part I deny [hell’s] existence. Instead, ‘they differ on what hell is like.’”3 This kind of honest representation of controversial views is refreshing;4 proponents of such views are accustomed to being terribly misrepresented.5[Read more…]
by Phillip Cary
The key concept in The Meaning of Protestant Theology is there in the subtitle: The Gospel that Gives Us Christ. That’s the core of Protestant theology and the key to its meaning, as well as the center of the distinctively Protestant piety of the Word. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most fundamental form of what Christian traditions call “means of grace,” which is to say: the ways God gives his own Son as our savior, our righteousness, and our eternal life. When Catholics think of “means of grace,” they think first of sacraments. The Eastern Orthodox may think first of icons. But Protestants think first of the saving power of the Word of God, without which there are no sacraments and icons lose all meaning. Every form of Christian piety needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ if it is to have any meaning at all. So the Protestant piety of the Word, centered on the Gospel, is a gift to the whole Christian tradition.[Read more…]
By Donald C. McIntyre
A Case Study in Matthew 2:1–12
There are forty-seven verbal forms in this pericope; all but 10 verbal forms are perfective aspect. Of those ten forms that are not perfective, one is stative, two are future, and the remaining six are imperfect or present tense. Porters method combines the aspect found in the tense of the verbs with associated elements that are attached to the mood. Applying his theory will begin with the most basic argument of his theory, that imperfective aspect is “defined foreground” information, and then proceed to his views on the perfect tense, where he finds the aspect to be stative, and “well defined foreground information” for discourse purposes. The analysis will end with a discussion of Porter on mood before explaining the future tense, since Porter does not give the future tense an aspect but leaves it as a mood of expectation. It should be noted that since the aorist is “main line” to the discourse, the aorist tense verbs should be seen as the basic plot structure, which is slowed down by the foregrounding devices.[Read more…]
by Donald C. McIntyre
See also Part 1
Verbal Aspect has the Ability to Show Points of Emphasis and De-emphasis
In Porter’s analysis of Philippian 2:5-11 the two verbal forms which are not in the perfective aspect are the imperative φρονεῖτε, “Have this mind,” and ὑπάρχων, a present participle “to be,” in vv. 5 and 6a. In this case, Paul is issuing a command for the Philippians to imitate the mind of Christ, which is described through the hymn in two parallel structures revolving around secondary clauses (vv. 6 and 9a in S-C-P order) which are supplemented by two secondary embedded clauses (vv. 7a and b, and 9b and 10, S-P order), and a final secondary embedded secondary clause (vv. 8 and 11, C-S order).1[Read more…]
by Donald C. McIntyre
Verbal Aspect is Critical to an Accurate Apprehension of the Text
Verbal aspect theory arose to prominence in 1989 and 1990 with the simultaneous work of Stanley Porter and Buist Fanning, who both sought to show how linguistics could further effect exegesis of the Greek New Testament (GNT).1 Upon the publication of the dissertations, a debate sprang forth between the two views, with Dr. Fanning’s views being more conservative to previous methods, and Dr. Porter’s being a hard break from previous grammatical theory. Thirty years later, their works are still cited in all relevant works on the subject.[Read more…]
“Every theology is contextual.” So opens the preface in each volume of the Asia Bible Commentary. The commentary series stands on the premise that our “understanding of the Bible is influenced by our historical and social locations.” The momentous task undertaken by the Asia Bible Commentary (ABC) is to give voice to Asian evangelical scholars in whose homelands Christianity is spreading like untempered fire but sound exegesis of the biblical text historically is lacking, where the prosperity gospel and native religion threaten pure doctrine. The ABC bolsters the preaching of the Word in a global context.
I put a number of questions to Rico Villanueva (former General Editor) and Andrew Spurgeon (current General Editor) in a brief interview recounted below. We at Logos are very excited to have a number of volumes in the ABC series now available for your digital library. Stay tuned for more interviews with the authors and editors of Langham Publishing in the coming weeks.[Read more…]