“What is Truth?”


The above question posed by Pontius Pilate to Jesus is well known and often used to counter or support various points of view.  However, when we examine the actions of Pilate concerning the “trial” of Jesus before he asked his famous question, we see that Pilate knew: The charges of the Jews against Jesus were lies and knew that Jesus was innocent; he was deeply impressed with Jesus; and that he did not want to condemn Him to death (even though he did). Pilate tries various means to remove himself from the “trial”, and in John 18:38 we are told how Pilate poses his question to Jesus “Pilate said unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.” How Pilate later acquiesced to the crowd is well known, but just examine his action after he asked that question of Jesus. John tells us that Pilate asked the question, then without waiting for an answer, he leaves Jesus to address the crowd.

Jesus’ answer to Pilate will never be known, and we can only offer conjectures. However, what I want to question is the action of Pilate as he asks such a question from a man that he admittedly admired. Also, we can only guess at why Pilate did not wait for an answer to his question. Was it his well-known arrogance? Was he cynical? John does not offer any information, but for us during the times we face today, we can draw at least one conclusion from Pilate’s action.

Truth! Yours, mine, theirs? While we may be presented with various thoughts, only one truth can exist. To quote Senator Moynihan , “You are entitled to your opinion, but not your facts.”  

As mentioned, Pilate was impressed with Jesus and looked forward to meeting him and talking with him, which he did. Conversation and debate are healthy. Questions directed to ourselves and others force reconsideration of a particular stance, and may lead to new or stronger positions. Yet, here is a Roman governor who fails to take advantage of an opportunity to learn from Jesus. Pilate asks the question but does not wait around for the answer. What did he miss? What does his exit cost us? We will never know, but we can learn from Pilate one important fact.

If we are genuine when asking a question, we will stay to hear the answer. Pilate did not, and my guess is he was using his power against Jesus, allowing his arrogance to over-ride his judgement. At that moment he was in charge and wanted all to know it. He asked an honest question and missed the answer.

Truth is an absolute. We cannot survive as Christians if we all have our individual truths. We may have different opinions, but we cannot all have our individual truth. For example, it is a list of Ten Commandments, not ten suggestions. Also, we may have opinions regarding the action of Pilate, but we cannot deny his decision to murder Jesus.

Ask questions of each other, knowing that “iron sharpens iron.” But hang around to hear the answer. It matters.

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