Back during Holy Week in April, I hope you went to church on Good Friday, where you would’ve heard the Passion of Jesus from John’s gospel. Only John’s gospel gives us additional details of the conversation Jesus had with Pontius Pilate, who was the Roman governor of Judea during those years.
Jesus said to Pilate, “I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate replied with a question: “What is truth?”
I’ve often wondered exactly how Pilate said these words. Did he ask the question with sincere longing, kind of like, “Yeah, what is truth anyway? I really want to know.”
If so, this means Pilate believed that truth existed, that there is a final and accurate description of our situation here on earth, but it’s just very difficult to discover and understand.
Or maybe Pilate asked the question with sarcastic laughter. “Truth? You’re kidding, right?” He may have meant, “It’s impossible to know the real truth, at least in this life, so why waste your time trying to figure it out?”
If this is how Pilate viewed the idea of truth, at least he believed that truth existed, even though in his opinion mere mortals have no way of really discovering it.
Or maybe Pilate asked the question with a cynical sneer. “Truth? You actually said the word TRUTH?! Bah, what a fool. There’s no such thing as truth!”
This last option, I suspect, was the way Pilate actually asked his famous question. From the information we know about Pontius Pilate, it seems quite likely he was a typical pragmatic politician. His greatest concern was to increase his personal power and influence, while at the same time avoid getting blamed when things went wrong. And as so many politicians do nowadays, this means changing opinions on various topics to fit whatever is in your best interest at that particular moment.
Many people in our modern world, not just politicians, claim that there is no such thing as truth. Truth, in their view, is nothing more than personal opinion. Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Well, if you believe that’s true, then it’s true for you. But I believe the exact opposite, which is true for me.”
This attitude is quite illogical. Just imagine if the subject being discussed is this: Is God real? If a skeptic says to a Christian, “If you believe in God, then it’s true for you. I don’t believe, so atheism is true for me.”
It is impossible for both beliefs to be correct. We’re talking about external objective reality, not internal subjective feelings. God either is real or He’s not. His existence does not depend on our opinions about it. Now, maybe it’s impossible for mere mortals to know for sure if God is real, but human ignorance doesn’t change reality. There is an absolute truth about this question. It’s either yes or no. “Both” or “neither” are not valid answers.
Claiming that truth is nothing more than personal opinion is known as moral relativism. Many folks think this is a recent phenomenon. But as the Passion account in John’s gospel indicates, Pontius Pilate may have been one of the earliest moral relativists in history.
Just think of the irony: this Roman governor sneered at the concept of truth. And yet, he was standing face to face with Truth itself. Jesus Christ referred to Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” If He was who He claimed to be, the Divine Son of God, then He was and is the true Truth—for all people and for all time.
Pilate was completely blind to that.
If you did not hear the Passion account from John’s gospel on Good Friday, look it up in your Bible or online. Read the fascinating interaction between Jesus and Pilate. And whatever you do, don’t fall for the foolish claim that truth is just personal opinion. Truth is real, and Truth has a name: Jesus.