What is Truth and How Can We Find it?

Originally preached at Calvary Assembly of God, East Ridge

If you have your Bibles, turn to the book of John, the 18th chapter, starting with the 33rd verse. We’ll be considering Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” Once you find the verses, mark them. We’ll be jumping around, but we’ll come back in our concluding remarks.

The two big questions are: What is truth? How can we find it?

John writes in the 18th chapter starting at the 33rd verse, “Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? …”

The Greek word al-ay’-thi-a is translated ‘Truth’. Al-ay’-thi-a has several shades of meaning. It can mean “what is true in any matter under consideration”. In other words, it’s opposite of false. Al-ay-thi-a can also be a quality of a man’s character. A man was al-ay-thi-a if he was free from pretence, falsehood, or deceit. In that sense, al-ay-thi-a corresponds to our phrase ‘true-blue’. Where we would say, “He is true-blue”, a Greek would say “He is al-ay-thi-a.” Keep both shades of meaning in mind tonight.

What is truth? How can we find it? There are many different paradigms used in the quest for truth. Scientists use their own methods. Philosophers use their own methods. Policemen use their own methods. And we Christians use our our methods. Our methods have been called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, but it doesn’t matter what we call it. It’s more important to know its components and their relative weight. It has four main components: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Each of these components is important but they don’t carry the same weight. Scripture is the only infallible source for truth. Yet, we need the other three components. Scriptures would be meaningless if we read it in a vacuum. Let’s say we read the story of Peter denying the Lord and we are having trouble understanding it. We might need to remember one of our own times of failing. Or, we might need to remember a sermon we heard, or we might need to remember a book we read. Or, we might need to use our own reason to ponder issues in the story. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience may not be equal sources for truth, but each has its own place.

First, let’s consider the Scriptures. The Scriptures are very clear about themselves. The Psalmist writes, “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.” Jesus said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” He later said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” The Scriptures claim to be infallible and inerrant. What do we mean by inerrant?

Inerrancy, of course, means the Bible is 100% true. However, that’s within the language and customs of the time. It’s silly to superimpose our language and our customs on the text. The text means what it was intended to mean at the time it was written. For example, at the great flood of Noah, the Bible says, “Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail.” It would be silly for us to claim the Bible is in error if the Flood water actually prevailed 14.999932 cubits. Why? There’s an implied degree of precision in the phrase “fifteen cubits”. Moses meant the water was greater than 14.5 cubits and less then 15.5 cubits when he wrote it. That same type of issue holds true for time. There’re several interesting discussions regarding the meaning of “three days in the grave”. But we have many things to discuss tonight and we’ll save that one for another time.

Revelations says, “the stars of heaven fell unto the earth.” A star, as we use the word today, means a faraway sun. Many of these suns are larger than our sun. A sun cannot fall to the earth from the sky. Our earth, being much smaller, would fall into the sun. Is the Bible in error? How would someone of John’s day understood it? ‘Star’ is translated from the Greek word, ‘astor’, which is where we get our word asteroid. A meteorite, or a falling star, is an asteroid that got too close to the earth and was pulled to the ground. Those stars fall to earth all the time. The Bible is still inerrant.

There are many different versions of the Bible circulating today. They don’t all agree. Which version is infallible? Conservative evangelical Christians hold that the original parchment that came from the writer’s hand is infallible. That original is called the autograph. Versions are infallible only to the degree they match the autograph.

Some would ask, “Why is the Bible infallible?” The answer is simple. Its author can’t make a mistake. Paul wrote, “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” That phrase, “is given by inspiration of God”, is one word in the original — theh-op’-nyoo-stos – God-breathed. I picture God breathing through those ancient writers like a musician blowing on his horn. The horn only plays what the Great Musician imagines. God-breathed! Peter wrote, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.” “Not by the will of man”! That leaves nothing that can be minimized, nothing that can be discarded, nothing that can be ignored — every word, every jot, and every tittle is the word of God.

We come back to our original questions. What is truth? It’s a trait and it’s facts. How can we find it? Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Let’s now consider tradition. Tradition is what is, or has been, taught and generally accepted in the church. Tradition includes creeds, sermons, Sunday School lessons, Seminary lectures, informal Bible discussions, Christian books, and Christian magazine articles. Tradition plays an important role in the church. Tradition helps move us toward the mainstream and tradition helps move us away from the bizarre. Let’s say someone quotes the book of Numbers, “Bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD.” Let’s say they tell us that we must wear a blue ribbon on our pants to know the Bible. It’s tradition that tells us that they’ve went off the deep end.

Another example! Let’s say someone else quotes the Lord when He said, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, [and] one shepherd.” They tell us that, while their church was founded only a hundred years ago and it only has less than 100,000 members, they’re the one true church and everyone else is the sheep of another fold. It’s tradition that tells us that they’ve went off the deep end.

Another example! Let’s say someone brings out a box of rattlesnakes for a little snake handling. Even if we know nothing about tempting God, tradition tells us they’ve went off the deep end.

Now tradition isn’t infallible, but it sure can act as a valuable caution meter. The further away from the mainstream folks try to take us, the more we need to pray, to study, and to ponder.

But tradition can also get us into trouble. For example, Christ told the scribes and Pharisees, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to [his] father or [his] mother, [It is] a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, [he shall be free].” That phrase, “it is a gift”, by tradition, indicated that the son’s possessions were willed to the Temple. When he died, his possessions were ear-marked for the Temple. So, he couldn’t spend his gift to support his parents. Those hypocrites could disobey God’s command to honor their fathers and mothers and do it while being ultra-religious.

Traditions are fallible and they can actually be destructive. They can lead us into sin. However, A tradition is not wrong because it’s a tradition. A Tradition is wrong when it runs contrary to the word of God.

But still traditions are important. For example, the Bible consists of sixty-six different books. The church debated from 90 AD to 367 AD in order to arrive at our list of 66 books. Everyone today accepts that list of 66 books by tradition. Traditions are important.

Let’s come back to our questions. What is truth? It’s a trait and it’s facts. How can we find it? Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Now, let’s consider reason. In the Old Testament reason, wisdom, and understanding were translated from the Hebrew word, khok-maw’. Khok-maw’ carries many shades of meanings: skill in war, managerial craft, shrewdness, discernment, and spiritual wisdom.

God filled Bezaleel and Aholiab with the spirit of wisdom to make beautiful items for the tabernacle. God filled the women of that day with wisdom so they could spin goat’s hair for that same tabernacle. Later we see a young King Solomon ask God for wisdom to rule the Israelites. God certainly granted Solomon the desire of his heart. Solomon’s judgments were so profound that the Bible says all Israel, “feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God [was] in him, to do judgment.” Proverbs says, “For wisdom [is] better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”

James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Paul warns us that, “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.”

Wisdom is desirable. Wisdom is commanded. Wisdom is promised. But, wisdom – reason, understanding, intellect, logic – whatever we call it — has its limitations.

The prophet Isaiah said, “For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Some doctrines, such as the Trinity, are beyond are ability to understand. A. H. Strong called these doctrines SUPRA-RATIONAL. It doesn’t contradict reason, it goes beyond reason.

There seems to be warfare between Philosophy, or secular wisdom, and the church. The church has had this love-hate relationship with Philosophy for two thousand years. The early church patriarch, Tertullian, said, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” In other words, what did the Hebrew Scriptures have to do with Greek philosophy? Tertullian was complaining about folks using Greek philosophy. Then he went on using the same philosophical devices in his own writings. As I said, the church has had a love-hate relationship with Philosophy.

We need to go back to the original Greek to understand the tension between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom. There were two basic words used for wisdom in the New Testament – sophia and phronesis. Lightfoot said, “While sophia is the insight into the true nature of things, phronesis is the ability to discern modes of action with a view to their results; while sophia is theoretical, phronesis is practical.”

Sophia is used to describe both spiritual wisdom and worldly wisdom. Theoretical knowledge can be useful or it can be vain. It’s sophia that is used in the phrase, “full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom”, when the Apostles listed the requirements for the first deacons. The church was to seek out men full of ‘sophia’. But, it’s also sophia that’s used when James said, “Who [is] a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife [is], there [is] confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [and] easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” It’s sophia that Paul used when he said, “Where [is] the wise? where [is] the scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” Theoretical knowledge, even theoretical knowledge of the Bible, can be damaging if it makes us puffed up in pride.

Unlike theoretical wisdom, phronesis, or practical wisdom, is always spiritual. It’s practical wisdom that Paul used in, “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” Practical wisdom always brings us closer to God. Theoretical spiritual wisdom helps us understand God. Worldly wisdom just blinds us with pride.

Coming back to our original questions, “What is truth?” It’s a trait and it’s facts. “How can we find it?” Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Now, let’s consider experience.

While Scripture is the most important source of information because it’s infallible, experience is the most important part with regard to our life. We can know all the Bible verses for salvation, but if we don’t accept Jesus into our hearts then we’re still going to hell. We can know all the Bible verses about backbiting, but if we talk about everyone in the church the minute we get into the car then God will still bring our words back on us. We can know all the Bible verses about paying tithes, but if we still withhold our tithe then God will still be putting a curse on our finances. The most important source for truth is the Bible. The most important place for truth is our life.

We have the three E’s of experience – epiphany, event, and exercise.

Epiphany! Now we’re not talking about the holiday on January the 6th. Epiphany, as we’re using it tonight, refers to an experience. It’s a divine manifestation of God. Or it can be grasping an idea by means of a sudden intuitive realization. Epiphanies can be spectacular or quiet. God appeared to Abram in Haran and told him to, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.” Abram had a spectacular epiphany that night.

At the foot of Mount Horeb, the voice of God thundered out to Moses, “I [am] the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses had a spectacular epiphany at the burning bush that day.

At the outskirts of Damascus, the voice of the resurrected Christ called out to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Paul had a spectacular epiphany on that road into Damascus.

It was an epiphany when the Holy Ghost conviction compelled me to rise to my feet, go down to an alter, and ask Jesus into my heart. It was an epiphany the night I received the Baptism in the Holy Ghost. Dramatic epiphanies still happen. My Damascus road seems just as dramatic to me as Paul’s seemed to him. My upper room seems just as dramatic to me as Peter’s upper room seemed to him. Dramatic epiphanies still happen.

But, epiphanies don’t have to be dramatic to still be epiphanies. Some are calm and tranquil. Paul talks about the relationship between our understanding and the work of the Holy Ghost. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God hath revealed [them] unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” The Holy Ghost works as our intuition, and the Holy Ghost works with our intuition.

But listen closely and heed this warning well! Not all mystical experiences are epiphanies. Consider the man who lived in the land of the Gadarenes by the Sea of Galilee. He started hearing voices. The voices might have been making promises. The voices might have been making threats. The Bible doesn’t say if his possession started by threat or promise. But it started with some type of mystical encounter. The man knew he wasn’t crazy and he knew it wasn’t his imagination. The man started befriending the voices. One day he woke up naked in the grave yard. One day he woke up possessed. Friends, not all mystical experiences are from God.

We live in a world full of ouija boards, astrologers, and fortune-tellers. Make no mistake. There’re dark unforeseen forces in the world. Try the spirits. Not everything that pops into your mind is God.

But, let’s go back to our three E’s – epiphany, event, and exercise. Let’s look at events.

Life lessons can be hard knocks from the University of Hard Knocks, or they can be encouraging memories. Moses rehearsed the law before the assembly at Horeb. It was his last charge before turning leadership over to Joshua. The Israelites would be starting a long military campaign on the other side of Jordan. Moses told them, “If thou shalt say in thine heart, These nations [are] more than I; how can I dispossess them? Thou shalt not be afraid of them: [but] shalt well remember what the LORD thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt; The great temptations which thine eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the stretched out arm, whereby the LORD thy God brought thee out: so shall the LORD thy God do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid.”

Moses was telling them to remember that God delivered them before and He will deliver them again. The book of Revelations talks about those that overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Our testimony is a remembering and a recounting of our personal experiences with God.

The young shepherd boy, David son of Jesse, heard Goliath defying the army of God. David wanted to go out to the field of battle and challenge Goliath. Everyone in the Israelite camp was trying to talk him out of the fight. But David told King Saul, “The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” Experience had taught David that God delivered him before and God would deliver him again.

David wasn’t the only one relying on past experiences that day. Goliath woke up that morning like every other morning. His nine foot frame stood up, he put on his 125 pound breastplate, and he picked up his spear with its fifteen pound point and went walking out from the town of So’choh. This undefeated champion of the Philistines, this great warrior, this fearless fighter walked out to taunt the army of God. All of his battle experience taught Goliath one thing – he had absolutely nothing to fear. No one had ever beat him. But, this wasn’t any other day. One little shepherd boy, five stones, a sling, and the hand of God made a liar out of all his experience. Our past experience can be deceiving. Only the word of God is infallible.

The three E’s of experience – epiphany, event, and exercise. Now, let’s look at exercise. The mechanics of hitting a baseball are simple. You put your hand here, you put your hand here, you watch the ball, and you hit it. The mechanics of playing a C and G7 chord on a guitar are simple. Yet, both hitting a baseball and playing a guitar takes hours of practice. Everyone that has played a sport or played a musical instrument knows the difference between theory and skill. Theory is knowing about something. Skill is being able to do. All the baseball theory in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t practice enough to hit the ball. All the guitar theory in the world doesn’t do you a bit of good if you don’t practice enough to play a chord. Spiritual knowledge works the same way. Listen closely to what the writer of Hebrews says, “strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, [even] those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” That phrase, “of use”, is hex’-is in Greek. Hex-is is a habit, whether of body or mind, that gives someone a power or skill.

Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That word, know, is ghin-oce’-ko. Vines Dictionary says that ghin-oce-ko is obtained, not by mere intellectual activity, but by operation of the Holy Spirit. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that ghin-oce-ko, in classical Greek usage, was a knowledge grounded in personal experience.

In conclusion, let’s return to our story of Christ and Pilate. In Christ’s statement, we see Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Look at verse 37 in John chapter 18. Jesus said, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Scripture is represented with ‘my voice’. The phrase, ‘Every one’, represents the church as a unified group – which is kept unified by tradition. The phrase, “for this cause” represents logic, reason and wisdom. The phrase, “heareth my voice”, represents our personal experience with God. So, we have all four methods: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Let’s think once again about the two shades of meaning of the word al-ay’-thi-a, or truth. When we think of truth as the opposite of false, then we must remember that scriptures are the only infallible source of truth. Everything else at our disposal can be in wrong – our traditions, our intellect, and our past experiences. When we think of truth as a part of our character, then we must remember that the only the truth that matters is the truth that makes it to our day-to-day lives.


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