What Is Truth?
By Abi F. May
Standing in the judgment hall of Roman-controlled Jerusalem, face to face with the prophet of Galilee, the procurator Pontius Pilate asked what was to become one of the most famous questions of all time: “What is truth?” Pilate apparently failed to realize that the answer was standing right in front of him. The Bible tells us that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17) and Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
Today we live in a world of relativism, where it would seem there are no absolutes. Relativism alleges that truth is subjective, elusive, changeable. Politicians utter promises they can’t or don’t intend to keep; spin doctors mislead; the world’s commerce is driven by greed at the expense of integrity; history is revised; news reports are frequently biased, sensationalized, or otherwise distorted; modern entertainment blurs the lines between reality and fantasy; the Bible is viewed as mythical, irrelevant, and inappropriate for today’s needs—if ever it was.
People may imagine what they will, disparage as they will, and try to make reality conform to their own desires and agendas, but that doesn’t change the truth. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, “God is, even though the whole world deny Him. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.” Those who close their minds to that reality unwittingly fulfill some of the saddest words in the Bible: “[Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11) Even many sincere seekers of the truth look first in the wrong places. While they explore new forms of spirituality or take a psychological route toward self-improvement, for example, like Pilate they miss what is right in front of them: the liberating truth and love of God, which He freely extends to them.
But those who read the Bible with open minds and believing hearts find what they’ve been searching for—answers to life’s deepest questions and love enough to fill the deepest void—truth. “If you abide in My word,” Jesus promises, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The Bible—Fact or Fable?
Despite popular dismissals of the Bible as little more than fables and fabrication, archaeology has provided remarkable evidence of its historical accuracy. For example, the archive of the ancient city of Ebla in northern Syria was discovered in the 1970s. The documents it contained, written on clay tablets around 2300 BC, demonstrate that personal and place names in the accounts of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are real. Ancient customs reflected in the stories of the patriarchs have also been found in clay tablets.
Another example concerns Sargon, king of Assyria, who is referred to in the book of Isaiah, but whose existence historians long disputed: “In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and fought against Ashdod and took it” (Isaiah 20:1). We now know that Sargon II was indeed an Assyrian king who started his reign in 722 bc. Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad, Iraq, was discovered by Paul-Émile Botta in 1843. Further excavation of the site some 90 years later found the very event mentioned in Isaiah—Assyria’s conquest of Ashdod—recorded on the palace walls. Visitors to the British Museum in London can see the colossal winged bull taken from the palace.
A third example was discovered in the British Museum itself. In the summer of 2007, visiting professor Michael Jursa, an Assyriologist, was searching through the museum’s collection of 130,000 Assyrian cuneiform tablets when he came across a name he half remembered—Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, described there in a hand 2,500 years old as “the chief eunuch” of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon. The small tablet on which the name appears is a bill of receipt acknowledging Nabu-sharrussu-ukin’s payment of about 0.75 kg of gold to a temple in Babylon. Jursa checked the Old Testament and found the same name, rendered differently by the Bible’s translators, in chapter 39 of the book of Jeremiah. Nebo-Sarsekim, according to Jeremiah, was “chief officer” to Nebuchadnezzar II and was with him at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 bc, when the Babylonians overran the city. Dr. Irving Finkel of the British Museum summed up the significance. “This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find. A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.”
What of Jesus Himself?
Dozens of ancient non-biblical manuscripts confirm that Jesus was a genuine historical figure who lived in Palestine in the early part of the first century. The Encyclopedia Britannica states: “These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time—and on inadequate grounds—by several authors during the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”
For instance, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus mentions “Christus” in his annals published around 115 AD: “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”
Another example is Lucian of Samosatam, a Greek satirist who lived during the second century. He was scornful of Christians, but nevertheless his writings attest to the spread of Christianity at that time: “The Christians … worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced this new cult, and was crucified on that account. … You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains their contempt for death and self devotion … their lawgiver [taught] they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take on faith.”
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Let mental culture go on advancing, let the natural sciences progress in ever greater extent and depth, and the human mind widen itself as much as it desires—beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity, as it shines forth in the Gospels, it will not go.
—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, German poet (1749-1832)
All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truth contained in the sacred Scriptures.
—Sir William Herschel, German astronomer (1738-1822)
The Bible is the sacred collection, preserved under the name of Book of books, which contains the doctrinal, moral, and religious system relatively most profound, popular, and intelligible that has come into existence in the history of mankind.
—Francisco Giner de los Ríos, Spanish educator and philosopher (1839-1915)
There is abundant evidence that the Bible, though written by men, is not the product of the human mind. By countless multitudes it has always been revered as a communication to us from the Creator of the universe.
—Sir Ambrose Fleming, English inventor (1849-1945)
All that I think, all that I hope, all that I write, all that I live for, is based upon the divinity of Jesus Christ, the central joy of my poor, wayward life.
—William Gladstone, English Prime Minister (1809-1898)
In books I converse with men, in the Bible I converse with God.
—William Romaine, English preacher (1714-1795)
For me, the Bible is the Book. I cannot see how anybody can live without it.
—Gabriela Mistral, Chilean poetess and Nobel prizewinner (1889-1957)
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