What is Truth?
Morris W. R. Bailey
Moose Jaw, Sask., Canada
In a previous article, under the above out the far-reaching implications of this question which was asked by Pilate during the trial of Jesus. Since man is made free from the bondage of sin by the truth, and saved by belief of the truth, how important then is the answer to this question!
What is truth? The basic principle suggested in the word "truth" occurs in various forms, and is defined by the dictionary in accordance with its grammatical use. There is the word, "true," which is used as an adjective such as when we speak of a true story, and which is defined as; "not false or erroneous; conformable to fact." Then we have the word, "truism," which is used as a noun, and defined as; "an undoubted or undisputed fact." Then we have the word "truth," also used as a noun, and among the definitions given to this word, are: "fact; conformity to fact."
Other forms of the word, "truth," with their definition might be given, but I believe that these are sufficient to get before us the basic principle suggested in the word Let us now look more closely at some of these definitions.
Fact is, or facts are inherently and essentially true. In the very nature of things, facts could not be anything else but true. When we have the truth on a proposition, we have the facts. Conversely, when we have the facts. Conversely, when we have the facts on a proposition, we have the truth.
There are principles of truth, or facts, self-evident, undisputed, -- that are as old as time itself. Man did not create them. He has only discovered and applied them. Actually, man cannot create anything, but can only discover and develop that which already exists. The voice we hear on our radio, or the picture we see on our television is not man's creation, but has been made possible because man discovered laws that have been in existence throughout the millenniums of this earth's existence. Neither does man create or formulate truth. All the facts of scientific truth that make up the great body of knowledge in the various fields today, were already in existence when man discovered them.
In the field of mathematics, we have mathematical truth. It consists of undisputed and self-evident mathematical facts such as that two and two make four, two times three make six, five minus two equals three, and eight divided by two equals four. These fundamental facts, -- universally recognized, form the basis of every mathematical problem, from the most simple to the most complex. By the use of mathematical facts, we establish the value of money, measure time and distance, and compute weights and measures. What chaotic conditions would be the result if there was no such thing as mathematical truth!
In the science of chemistry, there is chemical truth composed of chemical facts. The air that we breathe is made up of seventy-nine parts of nitrogen and twenty-one parts of oxygen. The water we drink is composed of two parts of hydrogen to one part of oxygen. It is a chemical fact that certain acids will cause severe burns if they come in contact with the skin, and will cause a painful death if taken internally. Medical science advances as men learn new truth about chemicals and various ways of combining them. It is because of his knowledge of chemical truth that the druggist is able to fill a prescription and the doctor is able to prescribe an antidote for poison. How thankful we should be that in the field of chemistry, things have not been left to chance, but that there is such a thing as truth, by the knowledge of which man is able to give us so many useful things.
But the truth with which we are concerned in this article and which was involved in Pilate's question is not chemical truth, or mathematical truth, but divine truth. In his memorable prayer to the Father, uttered in the shadow of the cross, Jesus said: "Sanctify them in the truth, thy word is truth." (John 17: 17.)
Thus does Jesus tell us that God's word is truth. The Bible, being God's word, reveals God's truth. "Forever, O Jehovah, thy word is settled in heaven." (Psalm 119:89.) Thus man does not formulate divine truth any more than he creates mathematical or chemical truth. He can only discover truth, and that, only to the extent that he studies God's book of truth.
Just as important as learning truth is the matter of learning all the truth on Bible subjects. David said, "The sum of thy word is truth." (Psalm 119:160.) We must have all that God says on any subject to have all the truth. This is a principle that is recognized even in courts of law. If ten witnesses are brought in to testify on a case, the testimony of each and every witness must be heard and considered if justice is to prevail. What would we think of the judge, who after hearing one witness, ignored all the others and rendered his verdict on only a small part of the evidence. Yet strange to say, that is the way that many people deal with God's truth. Often a whole system of doctrine is built on a single passage of scripture, ignoring other passages that contain vital truth on the subject. Many are willing to hear Paul when he testified that we are saved by faith. (Romans 5:1.) But they are not willing to hear James, when he testified that we are not saved by faith alone. (James 2:24.) If we are going to learn all the truth on faith, we must be willing to take all that God has said on that subject.
We noted that one of the definitions of truth is "conformity to fact." This is self-evident. If facts are truth, then that which conforms to facts will be true. This is the criterion that is used when comparing values, or judging between right and wrong; that which is true and that which is not true. Most of us can remember our days in school and how examination papers would often come back with our answers to questions on various subjects marked wrong. Oh, we were sincere in submitting those answers. We thought at the time we gave them they were correct. Was the teacher narrow-minded in marking those answers wrong? Was it because she thought that she, alone, was right and that anybody that disagreed with her was wrong? Certainly not! The reality of the matter is that the answers we had submitted did not conform to the truth on the subject in question, and thus, in the very nature of things they were wrong. It would have been a very incompetent teacher that would have marked them correct. What confidence could we have in a school teacher who graded examination papers on the basis of the sincerity of the pupil and who would concede that there could be conflicting yet correct answers to a problem in mathematics?
How strange it is that in religion, people will adopt a philosophy that would not be tolerated anywhere else. The consensus of opinion in the religious world today is that it doesn't make any difference what one believes, as long as he is sincere. It is considered the mark of bigotry to question another's religious beliefs. Surely it must be obvious to those who think matters through, that such a standard would justify Mohammedanism and, in fact, every religion in the world since each has sincere adherents.
The apostle John said: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (I John 4:1.) The language of John tells us that there were false teachers then, and that all teachers were to be tried to see whether they were teaching the truth or not. But his language also implies that there must be a standard by which such teaching is to be judged. Since truth is defined as conformity to fact, then fact, or truth itself, must be the criterion by which we judged whether or not a man is preaching truth. Teaching that does not conform to the truth of God's word is false, regardless of the sincerity of the teacher. The apostle John gives us an example of the way to test preachers. "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." (I John 4:2.) It is a matter of truth, revealed in God's word, that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. The teaching that conforms to this fact is true teaching. But hear John again. "And every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God." (I John 4:3.) Because our teaching is true only as it conforms to God's word, the apostle Peter exhorts us: "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were the oracles of God." (I Peter 4:11.)
Truth is always in harmony with truth. Truth never contradicts truth. If it is true that two plus two make four, it obviously is not true that two plus two make five or that two minus two make four. A proposition cannot be true and false at the same time.
God's word, which is truth, is in harmony with itself. It does not contradict itself. It does not teach on the one hand that Jesus is the Son of God and on the other hand teach that he was just a good man. It does not teach that man is saved by grace alone and by faith alone. Such is a glaring contradiction of terms. It does not teach, that faith plus baptism equals salvation and at the same time teach that faith minus baptism equals salvation. It does not teach Christian unity and at the same time authorize denominationalism. Efforts on the part of men to array one scripture against another are unbecoming to anyone professing reverence and respect for God's word. Scripture may complement scripture and explain scripture: but scripture never contradicts scripture.
That there are mysteries in the Bible is cheerfully admitted. This is to be expected since the Bible is the product of an infinite mind addressed to man with a finite mind. If man could understand everything in the Bible, he would be as wise as God who gave us the Bible.
Truth is constant, inflexible, and immutable. It does not vary from age to age, nor is it subject to repeal by the whims of fickle humanity. That two and two make four; a straight line is the shortest distance between two points: that every living thing produces after its kind, are principles of truth that in their very nature must remain unchanged.
Because of the immutability of truth, man is able to reason from cause to effect, and from effect back to the cause. Knowing that seed produces after its kind the farmer who wants to grow wheat knows that he must sow wheat. If perchance he finds wild oats in his field he knows that at some time the wild oats were sown there. Knowing that like-causes produces like-effects, the competent physician reasons from the symptoms of a disease to the cause, since he knows that the cause of disease must be first eliminated before there can be successful treatment of the disease itself.
God's truth is not subject to repeal by man, nor can it be bent to cater to the speculations and philosophies of men. Jesus said; "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away."(Matt. 24:35.) Peter said: "But the word of the Lord abideth forever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:25)
Because God's truth endures forever, we know that we have that truth today in the book we call the Bible. We can be assured, too, that being the seed of the kingdom, it will produce the same results today as it did when it was first sown in New Testament times. When men and women gladly received the word and rendered obedience thereto, they became Christians and members of the church, which Jesus built. The same results will follow the faithful preaching of the word today. It takes the preaching of something more than the simple New Testament message, to produce something more than New Testament Christians.
In an article to follow we will discuss attitudes toward the truth that have been held by various individuals.
Truth Magazine, VII: 1, pp. 14-16