Poor old Pontius Pilate, at the top of his game, having clawed his way up the Roman ladder to become a Governor, but here he is, faced with this Jewish upstart telling him, “Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, listens to me,” John 18:37.
Pilate’s reply, “What is truth?” in verse 38, is quite surprising, because being a seasoned politician he’d pushed the Roman narrative as truth. What other truth was there, other than Roman truth? So surely Pilate didn’t need to ask what truth was; he already knew.
So why did he ask what truth was? Was it to get people all through the ages recalling his question, and maybe asking themselves what truth is too? In which case, thanks to Pilate, what IS truth, then?
The Greek word for truth in those verses is alētheia (ar-laith-ee-ah), which meant “corresponding to reality.” It ties in nicely with our modern definition of truth too, as “in accordance with fact or reality.” So truth is whatever corresponds to fact and reality.
Pilate was now being told, then, that anyone who cares for fact or reality, or anyone who has any feeling for fact and reality, or who wants to live in reality, listens to Jesus. But what is it that sets Jesus aside as the source of truth?
Jesus makes his claim in at least two ways: first of all, that he “speaks the words of God,” John 3:34; and, secondly, if anyone doubts that, then “believe on the evidence,” John 14:11.The evidence being, that when we “know the truth, the truth will set you free,” John 8:31-32.
But free in what way? It’s free of all the hang-ups that an evil-deceived society got stuck in our heads, like fear, timidity, worry, anxiousness, insecurity, poor self-image, a feeling of failure and guilt, prejudice, hypocrisy, narcissism, dishonesty, arrogance, jealousy, striking out at people who make us feel inferior, or ignoring those who need us, and chasing the seductive but empty delusions of celebrities and so-called experts.
It all presses down on us like an endless weight we can’t shift. But Jesus says, “You come to me and I’ll lift all those burdens off you,” Matthew 11:28. So now we can live a life that corresponds to reality, the reality he intended us to live in, from the start.
To ask “What is truth,” then, is a very, very good question, because Jesus has an answer that we can actually experience as fact and reality personally.