What is Truth?

What is truth? This is the question famously asked by Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus. Jesus, the man best able to ever answer this question says nothing. But, he taught his disciples the answer. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” he said. What does it mean for Jesus to be the truth? How can a person be the truth?

A similar question, about the nature of piety, was asked by Plato in his Socratic Dialogue called “Euthyphro.” I’ll recount a brief version of the story for those unfamiliar:

Socrates is awaiting trial for “corrupting the youth” of Athens. While waiting he meets Euthyphro.

Socrates: Are you a defendant or a pursuer?

Euthyphro: I am a pursuer.

Socrates: Who are you pursuing?

Euthyphro: You will think I’m crazy if I tell you.

Socrates: Why, does the man have wings?

Euthyphro: No, the man I pursuing is my father! A man broke into our estate and stole from us. My father caught him, tied him in chains, left him in the ditch, and called for the authorities. But, the authorities did not arrive in time and the man died of exposure.

Socrates: Your own father! You must know the meaning of piety and justice if you are willing to even pursue your own father. Let me say that I am a student of Euthyphro at my trial. Then they cannot say that I am corrupting the youth, for that which I teach I have learned from my wise teacher, Euthyphro. Tell me Euthyprho, what is piety? Surely you must know.

Euthyphro: Piety is doing as I am doing.

Socrates: I agree that this is an example, but what is the actual meaning of piety besides examples.

Euthyphro: Piety is doing what men consider just.

Socrates: Is any man wise enough to know what is just?

Euthyphro: Perhaps you are right Socrates, no man is. Therefore, I say that the gods are wise enough. Piety is what the gods say is just.

Socrates: But, there are many gods and they do not always agree.

Euthyprho: Piety is then perhaps that which the gods all agree is just.

Socrates: (sometimes using the singular “God” instead of the plural god finally asked the question which is at the heart of the dialogue and called the “Euthyphro Dilemma.”) Is that which is just just because the god’s say so, or does the god’s like that which is already just? (essentially, the question is “what came first, goodness or god(s)?”)

The dilemna asks us to choose whether God > Justice and therefore arbitrary in his choices or Justice > God and therefore God is not God. This is a popular argument made by anti-theists. However, the Bible provides the answer. The dilemma is a false one. There is another option. Rather than > or < a third possibility exists, namely God = Justice.

God himself is the foundation of all that is just and all that is true. He is unchanging in his nature and thus his justice does not change and he is not arbritrary. This is the answer Jesus gives when he tells us that he himself is the truth. The truth is not before God or after God, it is God. The measure of truth is not man as the secular humanists desire, but the measure of truth is God as the Bible tells us. Jesus himself (who is God and declared so when he said "I am" hearkening back to the Yawheh or "I am who I am" of the books of Moses) is the truth.


About douglasdouma

I am a husband to beautiful wife, an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church - Hanover Presbytery, and founder of Sola - Appalachian Christian Retreat (www.discoversola.com). In addition to blogging at this site I am the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher - The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017) and compiling editor of Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (Trinity Foundation, 2017). I have a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (University of Michigan), a master's in business administration (Wake Forest University) and a master of divinity (Sangre de Cristo Seminary). I'm an avid hiker, having completed a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian trail in 2013 and the first 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.
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5 Responses to What is Truth?

  1. Seamus Browne says:

    If god is our creator, essentially our father, do think as our parent downing his children because they were misbehaving is an appropriate parenting choice? If we were created in god’s image should we not follow his example and drown our creations, our child, in the bathtub when they misbehave and we no longer wish to deal with them? Our does he wish for us to do as he says not as he does? Burning down Sodom and Gomorrah =truth and justice? I hope god’s form of justice has changed, or our generation is doomed.

    • douglasdouma says:

      God is the law-giver and the judge. The rules he has given us apply to us as men, not to him. They are for our own good as He is in a position to know what is good for us. But, more importantly, the law shows us that we are sinners. We cannot follow the law and thus we need a savior.

      • Seamus Browne says:

        If god is the law-giver and the bible is his word through man, when will you constitute Deuteronomy 17. If you need stones let me know, but if you feel stoning is an unacceptable and barbaric means for punishment for the non-believers I would understand. Here lies the conundrum. If god is not arbitrary in his decisions, than he would want and command you to stone me to death, but man’s law would call your actions murder. Do you obey god and follow all his teaching and be greeted with open arms in heaven, or do you disobey god to save yourself a life of imprisonment? Just let me know where to show up so you can follow god’s teachings; I would hate for you to be punished by god because of my blasphemy.

      • douglasdouma says:

        This is actually a difficult question. Whenever I don’t know an answer I’m glad to admit such. There are multiple different approaches I’ve seen regarding the relationship of the law of the old testament with the teachings of Christ. Like much of Scripture it can be challenging. Jesus taught that he fulfilled the law; the law is not abrogated. But at the same time we are not to let these laws completely overwhelm our lives. How these teachings all fit together can be difficult to figure out. This is certainly an area I hope to study further. Interestingly, this was essentially the first debate in the church between Paul, the “Judaizers”, and Peter in what has been called the “Council of Jerusalem.”

  2. Seamus Browne says:

    I hope you understand that dissention is going to exist in your future role as a preacher and you will need to be able to express yourself and the teaching of your god in more articulate manner. Just saying god is god, do not question will be a poor means of swaying questioning minds. It is easy to teach those that are already believers, but if you wish to spread the word of your god, I would develop a better approach. I was part of the Catholic church for 10 years before I needed more answers than their dogma could provide. I am sure you will run into others that will question this fairy tale and it will be your duty to convince them of the tale’s validity. I was once told Santa Claus existed and it was effective at controlling my behavior, but eventually the truth was revealed to me. I find it unfortunate that for thousands of years man has been controlled by a “Santa Claus” and even with our advancement in a man made justice system, we still need to believe in mythical creatures. I know you do not see your god as “Santa Claus” but is there any inherent difference in believing in one and not the other? Both are used by man to control another man’s behavior, but I defend Santa Claus because he does not call for the head of the non-believers; he only gives them coal. Coal is not that bad, I can use it in by BBQ pit. I will refrain from commenting on your theological post because we will not get any where in our discussion. You are a believer and I am not. I do wish you will with your physical and philosophical journey. I am sure you are going to do great in your theological endeavor and I wish you well.

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