Truth: Personal or Propositional?

“What is truth?” – Pilate, John 19

During Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate, the climax of the conversation is reached after Jesus describes his own personal mission as God’s ideal king to testify to the truth. Pilate responds with the question, “What is truth?” Pilate did not wait for an answer.

Jesus and Communion

In my opinion, Jesus could not have given Pilate a propositional answer that would havesatisfied Pilate’s intellectual curiosity. Jesus would, however, answer Pilate’s question not by further propositions, but through his person, namely in is crucifixion, death, and powerful resurrection.

I believe Christians have a struggle not all together different from Pilate’s. We, too, want to know the truth. And, if we are honest, we too have reduced the truth to a set of propositions. I am not saying propositions are without value; rather, I’m saying propositional truth is often considered the evidence of a Christian’s arrival into maturity when in actuality propositional understanding of truth is the sign that one can begin the much longer and more arduous journey of knowing Truth personally.

Knowing Christ propositionally is not the same as knowing him personally. Propositions are cold and unchanging. Christ is warm and exciting. Personalities are mysterious in their depth as they reflect on a creaturely level the mysterious beauty and wonder of their infinitely mysterious and beautiful Creator. Propositions say what they say, without changes, twists, or turns. Persons, though, will surprise you.

Jesus continually surprises me. Jesus is moving me with fixed purpose towards himself. And, what I’m seeing more and more as I age is how different Christ moves me towards himself than he moves others. My wife and I were both raised in Christian homes. We hold the same propositional truths (for the most part), but our experiences with Christ are quite different. If God became fully man, should this surprise us?

The disciples were constantly amazed at things Jesus said and did. Jesus did things differently when necessary. Sometimes he healed, sometimes he did not. Sometimes he spoke plainly, other times through parables. Oftentimes, when Jesus spoke propositional truth, his disciples did not get it! Only when their eyes confirmed what their ears heard did the truth finally sink into their hearts.

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is Luke 24. On the road to Emmaus, two disciples are walking and talking about the recent events in Jerusalem, namely Jesus’ crucifixion and death followed by subsequent rumors of him being alive. As they are walking, Jesus walks up and joins their conversation. Now, these disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, but as Jesus talked, they felt a strange burning in their hearts. Jesus propositionally explained the scriptures and how the messiah had to suffer and die before being vindicated through resurrection. As the two disciples reach their destination, Jesus acted as if he planned to keep walking. Jesus was encouraged to stay and have a meal with them. What happens next is worth quoting directly:

dar-panWhen he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. – Luke 24:30-35

Jesus had been saying the truth all along, but when he personalized the truth, eyes were opened. Jesus said the truth. This is not in question. But, sometimes we take his word and replace him with his word. This may be splitting hairs, but I think it’s important. We are called to follow Christ in his person, life, actions, words, and, most especially, in his death. We are not called to theorize about him, but to trust him no matter what.

Pilate’s question “What is truth” missed the point, in my opinion. The right question would’ve been “Who is Truth?”, to which Jesus said, “I am the waythe truth, and the life.” Follow Him where he leads, watch carefully to see where and how he steps, what and when he speaks. Most importantly, love as he loved. Please, do not reduce Jesus to a proposition.


*Images from E!Online and public domain

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