Special Study Articles
Truth about Truth
“Now these were more noble- minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NASB).
We find differing attitudes in Acts 17. At the beginning of the chapter are the staunch Jews who were unwilling to listen to anything they had not already heard. They accused Paul and his companions of upsetting the world (vs. 6). Even so, some were persuaded by the truth. Paul had reasoned from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence about Jesus.
At the end of Acts 17 we find another attitude, marked by a desire to hear only new things (vs. 21). While they were willing to let Paul speak, the reaction to the resurrection teaching was mixed.
While some don’t want to hear anything new, and others only want to hear new things, there is a better, more honorable attitude exemplified. We read about the Bereans, who were noble, eager, and willing to examine what they heard to make sure that what was being taught was truth. The chapter shows that it really doesn’t matter how old or new something is to our ears; what matters is whether or not something is the truth. We don’t seek the old because it is old, or the new because it is new. We seek the truth because it is right. Finding truth is rewarding in itself.
Yet, how do we determine truth? To “determine” is to decide or conclude that something is truth, but “determine” can also carry the logical meaning of limiting an idea by adding differentiating characteristics (dictionary.com). In other words, we should understand that there are boundaries around what should be considered truth, rather than just accepting anything and everything (cf. 1 John 4:1). We are not to be gullible.
We may well be interested in only hearing the truth, as we ought to be, but not know how to understand that truth when we hear it. Not only do we need to know the truth, but we also need to be aware of the nature of truth in order to determine whether truth is what we are actually seeing or hearing. In other words, determining truth requires determining some fundamentals about truth. Let’s consider, then, some truth about truth.
Truth is rooted in reality
If we are going to know that something is the truth, we must also know what is real. There is no sense in talking about the truth of something unless what we are discussing is grounded in reality. For example, in discussing morality, some atheists will argue that moral values are illusory rather than real. They argue that morals have evolved merely to help us survive, but they are not actual or objective. This view makes any discussion of truth relative to moral values meaningless, as atheist Michael Ruse wrote:
“Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, it [ethics] is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, to a Darwinian evolutionist it can be seen that such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction and has no being beyond or without this.”
“Morality is an ephemeral product of the evolutionary process, just as are other adaptations. It has no existence or being beyond this, and any deeper meaning is illusory.”
Richard Dawkins took a similar position when he wrote, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
If evil is not real, then it cannot be true that evil is bad, for then we are making a nonsensical statement that something that does not exist is bad. The same holds for truth. If it is not real, then talking about it is pointless.
Reality is fundamental to understanding and determining truth. When Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6), He was speaking of what is actual. He not only teaches truth; He is truth. If His identity is not rooted in who He really is (reality), then teaching that He is the truth makes no sense. If He is who He claimed, then He is the only truth that can save us.
Truth is objective
Many today are fond of arguing that truth is subjective. Postmodern philosophy sees truth as something we create in ourselves, not something that is objectively true. If truth is real, then it must also be objective. That is, it stands outside of ourselves and is true whether or not we believe or accept it. How we feel about the truth does not change anything; truth is truth whether we like it or not.
The objective nature of truth is seen in Paul’s message to the Galatians: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Gal. 1:8-9)
Notice in this passage that there is an objective standard to which we may appeal: the gospel that has been preached. If something runs contrary to that which has been revealed, then it is to be accursed.
Sometimes people will claim to have seen an angel or some kind of vision telling them what to do or believe. Of course, this is never verifiable and there is no way to cross-check what is claimed. Paul’s point here applies: if anything runs counter to the objective standard, then it is false.
Feelings cannot be challenged, but truth remains truth, and can be appealed to as an objective standard.
Truth is discoverable
Truth can be investigated and found. Since truth is objective and based on what is real, then it is something that can be searched for, studied, and known. God made us with minds that can reason, think, discover, and learn. We are not mere robots, but have been made with the need to reason. As we grow and mature in our thinking, we ought to be able to discern between good and evil (Heb. 5:14).
That truth can be investigated, then, is no surprise, for it fits the nature of the gospel and the need to be informed. Luke began his gospel with this purpose:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4, NASB).
If we desire to know truth, then we will search for it, and we can discover it.
Truth is attainable
We understand that there can be truth that is undiscoverable to us. For instance, there are aspects of God and His knowledge that we cannot attain (cf. Eph. 3:20). However, this is not to be understood to mean that no truth can be attained. What we are discussing here is within our reach. Our search will not be in vain, but will become a valuable and vital part of who we are. This also means that truth is understandable. We can know it, be persuaded by it, and submit to it.
“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’” (John 8:31-32, NASB).
Truth makes us free from sin. Discovering truth will be more valuable and lasting than anything else we can do, for to find the truth is to find Jesus (John 14:6).
Truth is immutable
The nature of objective truth does not change with time. There can be things that are relatively true, i.e., it is true for me that I like chocolate ice cream better than mint, and it is possible that my taste can change over time, but we are not talking about fashions, foods, and general preferences here. We are discussing what some might call “True Truth.” Personal preferences are different from objective standards. Objective standards remain objective whether we like them or not, or whether we have changed personal preferences or not. Therefore, if what we are considering is a personal or changeable preference, then it is not “Truth with a capital T.”
Speaking in a context of judgment and God’s faithfulness, God declared, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal. 3:6). God is faithful. His declared Truth will match His nature. For example, when God declared His oath to Abraham, it was as good as done because it is impossible for God to lie and His purpose is unchangeable (Heb. 6:15-18).
Likewise, Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6), and He is also unchangeable in His faithfulness (Heb. 13:8). Since truth is based on God’s immutable character, then that which is changeable and contrary to God’s nature will not be the truth we are seeking.
Truth is universal
Personal preferences are local and limited, but truth is universal in nature. Two plus two equals four, regardless of who, where, or when we are. God’s will is universal. If He desires all men to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), then that same truth about sin and salvation applies to all, regardless of where or when they are. He is not reaching out only to one little group or nation now; Jesus came into this world to die as a propitiation for all the world (1 John 2:2). The need for salvation is as universal as sin, and the means of salvation through Christ is as universal as God’s expressed will.
Moral truth is, likewise, universal. That which is good or evil is equally applicable across time and place. Murder, for example, is always wrong, regardless of who we are or where we are. Love, as a virtue, is always right everywhere and for everyone.
Truth is foundational
Truth must be at the baseline of a worldview if that worldview is going to be meaningful. If what is at the bottom of a worldview is false, then it will not stand as a viable option by which we ought to be living our lives. This requires that truth be self-consistent. If we believe something that is self-contradictory, then we know that it is not truth. For example, some will say, “There is no such thing as truth.” The nonsense of that statement is revealed by simply asking, “Is that true?” If it is true, then it is false, and if it is false, it cannot be true. A worldview based on a “no truth” foundation will fail. The only foundation that can stand ultimately will be based in truth.
To determine truth, we must also determine characteristics about the fundamental nature of truth. We must know that we are dealing with something that is real and objective. It must be discoverable, attainable, immutable, and universal. Truth will be foundational to other principles that help form the makeup of a viable worldview. The question for us is whether our search is to merely validate what we already think (like the Jews of Thessalonica in Acts 17:5), to get excited over hearing a bunch of new things (like the Athenians in Acts 17:21), or to actually find the truth (like the Bereans in Acts 17:11). May God help us all to be noble-minded.
Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (London: Orion, 1995), 155.
Ruse, Michael. “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics: Are They in Harmony?” Zygon, vol. 29, no. 1 (March 1994), 5-24.