Texted question from last week: “What is truth?”

November 29, 2009

Someone texted the following question to me in last Sunday’s service, which I didn’t answer during the sermon time:

Why does Pilate ask what is truth? Does he think there is more than one truth?

This question refers to John 18:38a. Jesus tells Pilate that he came into the world “to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate responds, “What is truth?” Pilate’s question sounds deep and philosophical. To our ears, it even has a contemporary post-modern ring to it. I suspect Pilate’s tone was more dismissive than soul-searching: What is so important about truth that you would be willing to give up your life for it? Pilate perceived that the truth to which Jesus testified—the truth that Jesus embodies (John 14:6)—was no threat to him.

I don’t know whether Pilate thought there was more than one truth. If so, he likely believed that his truth, represented by a Roman army of overwhelming force, mattered far more than the truth of this kingdom-not-from-this-world.

The careful reader of John’s gospel may see similarities between Pilate and Nicodemus in John 3: After Nicodemus’s encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus seemingly throws up his hands and says, “How can these things be?” Like Pilate, he is a powerful and well-connected representative of authority who fails to grasp the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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