What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Truth in a world filled with competing truth claims, as well as people who doubt the very existence of truth? Convoluted and inconclusive speculation about truth has led many to become, like Pilate, cynical about the very idea—“What is truth?” The Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the Truth suggests a hopeful answer.
Truth is not finally to be found in abstract notions or theories, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God and the living embodiment of truth. From this perspective, knowing truth depends on being in proper relationship to this one person who is divine truth. Jesus is categorically different from all other prophets, witnesses, and messengers from God. Jesus is all of these things, yet more. Along with the Father and the Spirit, Jesus himself is God.
In the Gospel of John, this affirmation is expressed by calling Jesus the logos of God, the living and active Word of God, the very basis of creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:1–5).
John explicitly says what he means when he says Jesus is the logos of God—and he certainly means more than abstract truth: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (1:17–18).
Jesus, then, is presented as the all-encompassing Truth of God, a truth that is personal, active, relational, and gracious.
John fills out this picture in terms of Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit. “When the Advocate comes,” says Jesus, “whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (15:26). The Spirit of truth bears witness to Jesus (not to some philosophy or theory) as the incarnate manifestation of truth—truth that has “moved into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message. And clearly, an important aspect of the Spirit’s truth-bearing work is found in the inspired Scripture, which is at its core a witness to Jesus Christ the Truth.
This too has many consequences, but let me note three. First, because Jesus is the Truth, the very Truth of God, we cannot limit our understanding of him as merely a good moral teacher and significant religious leader, one ethical genius among others. This is to pull the rug out from under the most basic Christian understanding of Jesus. When we claim Jesus is unique, we mean that he is in an altogether different category from Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, or whomever. Such religious geniuses have indeed spoken many truths, but those truths are truths only insofar as they finally point to the Truth of God, that is, the life and work of Jesus Christ, the Truth. As Christians enter into interfaith conversations, it is important that we maintain this fundamental understanding of Jesus.
A second consequence is illustrated by a discussion I was in recently. A pastor who wanted to demonstrate the strength of his conviction said that if Jesus himself were to appear and affirm the opposing view, he would look him straight in the eye and say, “No, Jesus, you are wrong, I know this based on my experience, and nothing you can say will lead me to believe otherwise.”
Phrases like “you have your truth and I have mine” or “that may be true for you but it’s not true for me” also express this cultural mood. Such expressions imply that truth is determined by the particular community one happens to be in. Cultural relativists deny that a particular set of ideas, beliefs, or practices can provide the basis for shared convictions about ultimate truth. Thus, it is impossible for people to arrive at common conceptions of truth, except perhaps to affirm their commitment to the idea that there is no ultimate truth. Everything is interpretation: mine, yours; ours, theirs; each as good as another.
The Christian church has the audacity, in this climate, to insist that some things are true for everyone regardless of their social location, beliefs, or particular opinions. Not everything that is claimed to be true actually is true. Some beliefs and convictions, no matter how sincerely held, are false and untrue and must be opposed. We must assert this in humility—because the Christian message is not “our” truth, but is a divine gift to us, as it is a gift to the world. Nor do we claim to know truth fully and completely—that only God can do—but what we are given to know by God in Christ, we know truly and confidently. Christians cannot adopt moral relativism without compromising the conviction that God, the source of all truth, speaks in and through Jesus Christ, the Truth.
Finally, this affirmation that Jesus is the Truth is a stark challenge to abstract ideas of truth. As noted above, in Jesus we discover that truth is not merely intellectual or even moral, but personal and relational—truth for Christians is very much woven into the theme of love. Some of that was noted in the section about Jesus as the Way. Another dimension is outlined below.
Franke, J. R.