The Truth is Human, too

One of the most compelling, ironic, and terrifying passages in the bible for me is John 18. It may sound weird, but I think verse 38 should be seen as one of the most serious warnings for us who study such things.

John 18 finds Jesus before Pilate. After a series of questions, Pilate utters those immortal words- “What is truth?” 

The most obvious aspect to this verse is the irony. In several places (most notably John 14) Jesus has claimed to be the truth. And when he states that “everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me” we should hear his assertion of chapter 14 reverberating through our minds. And so when Pilate asks rhetorically what truth is, we should want to scream “He’s right in front of you!”

Yet while we have, over the centuries, established a theological connection between truth and divinity, we balk at the connection between truth and humanity.

See, evangelical Christians are quick to assert that Jesus is the truth. Even if we don’t get this turned around, we still maintain that truth is only to be found in Jesus’ divinity, and not his humanity. This, I think, is founded on a mis understanding of the warning of Pilate’s question; we assume that truth from a human perspective is what Pilate wanted, and it was for this reason that he failed to perceive the truth before him.

But it was not human truth that Pilate was after; it was divine.

In the verses preceding the philosophical despair, Pilate has been asking Jesus if he is a king-he is aware that Jesus is not a human king (see vs 36-37). He is asking if Jesus considers himself a “god” in the Roman sense. When Jesus turns that inquiry on it’s ear, Pilate disengages, uttering his infamous words.

This parallels the debates of the early church.

Who was Jesus? Was he a man? A “god?” An Aeon? Was he Messiah? Was Messiah a man? Was he YHWH? The conclusion of millennia is that he was/is both God and human. This has been a foundation of the Christian faith- that Jesus was the Messiah, and as such was both fully God and fully human.

But if this is so, what of the truth of Jesus’ humanity?

In Jesus we point to God’s unique apprehension of truth. Yet we ignore the complete picture of Jesus; we elevate his divinity at the expense of his humanity. While he is uniquely the truth, the human aspect of that reality cannot be overlooked with pious eyes towards the heavens. This, I think, is actually the warning of Pilate’s words. Of course we must take the obvious road as well as the other. But the irony goes deeper than that. We cannot ignore that in Jesus truth is to be found by humans and in humans. Truth is not reserved for the Platonic Forms, but is instead the property of humanity through the revealed incarnation of Jesus the Messiah.

Your humanity does not preclude you from the truth. It enables you to engage it.

Because you are human you may know the truth that sets you free, but it is not found by looking at the sky. It is found by looking at others. It is found by looking at Jesus.

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