Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What is Truth?

The earliest portion of the New Testament ever discovered is dated to 100-135 AD. It is a small fragment of papyrus known as the John Ryland manuscript. In my Greek testament it is footnoted simply as p52. It measures just 3 1/2 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide.

It contains only a few verses of the 18th chapter of the Gospel of John, a part of the scene of Jesus' trial before Pilate. It includes portions of these words of Jesus: "For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?"

It is the question of the ages. But it is a question whose validity is questioned today. We live in a postmodern setting where the idea of truth is no longer assumed. Truth has been deconstructed into its cultural components. Truth is no longer measured in absolute terms, but in terms of social values and personal convictions. Truth is relative. Even the relativity of truth is relative.

Christians point to the authority of scripture as the source of truth, but such a claim sounds meaningless to postmodern ears. Truth is not even a matter of personal experience any more. Even the word "truth" sounds quaint to young ears. People no longer talk of truth, but of meaning and purpose.

What is truth? For us pre-postmodernists, there is philosophical and theological truth, truth depicted in ideas and concepts. There is also relational truth and experiential truth. We can talk about our relationship with Jesus and our spiritual experience. But these are poor cousins to ultimate Truth.

Ultimately God is truth, and Jesus bears witness to the truth (as he says in this fragment of papyrus). Truth is something we can only witness to. We can point to truth but not possess truth. Truth possesses us.

In another controversial passage in this same gospel, Jesus said that he is the truth. "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." This has often been used as a rhetorical weapon by Christians to mean, "My religion is better than your religion." But truth is not meant for use in religious holy wars. When truth is used in this manner it ceases to be the truth.

The truth that we comprehend with our tiny human brains is no more than a fragment of papyrus from the vast manuscript of God's truth. Christ is truth and the witness to truth and the way to truth. He is life and the way to life. Only when I am one with the Son as He is one with the Father, do I know truth. That is what Christ prayed for, and it is my prayer. When I am asked, "What is truth?" I point.

Photo is the front side of P52 , the oldest known manuscript fragment of the New Testament.

1 comment:

  1. The Father cannot be defined by scholar or layperson; Pointing is futile. God only knows.