What is Truth?

by Mike Ratliff

38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:38 ESV)

John MacArthur has a new book out called The Truth War. Al Mohler wrote a short review of this book that is on the back cover.

“[The postmodern age] is the age of no truth, an age that has reached a point of deadly fatigue when it comes to facing the truth-a generation that no longer believes truth can be known. Dr. John MacArthur knows better, and he is armed with the courage to confront this age with a bold defense of truth….His argument is compelling, his defense of truth is brilliant, and his concern for the church is evident on every page. The evangelical church desperately needs this book, and it arrives just in time.” – R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

I have deep respect for both of these men. I use Dr. MacArthur’s studies myself. I bought this book in order to get a better handle on the Emerging Church Movement. I also agree completely with Dr. Mohler and Dr. MacArthur that the truth can be known. The world says that it can’t be known and each man’s perception of truth is just a valid as the next man’s perception of the truth. Tragically, this lie has crept into the Church.

There are many men who have “Christian Discernment ministries” that proclaim that they act as “watch dogs” against false teachers in the church. While that is a much needed ministry and many do it correctly, there are also many in this group who have been contaminated by the subtle lie that the truth cannot be known completely by any person. They say that the Bible is too intricate and real Bible teachers should never proclaim Biblical truth as if it is the truth. Instead, we are supposed to say this is what the Bible says and here is what I think that means instead of saying this is what the truth is from God’s Word. Is that how our Lord build’s up His Church?

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if ser-vice, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12 3-8 ESV)

The Greek word translated as “prophecy” in v6 means “speaking forth.” Since the New Testament is complete and further revelation is not going to be given by God because of that, this gift simply identifies the skill of public proclamation of the Word of God. It is used by God to encourage and strengthen hearers or to rebuke those who are holding to a false interpretation of the truth. Do all believers have this gift? No, our Lord equips His saints differently according to His Sovereign Will. No one can acquire the gifts they desire by asking for them. How does the person who has this gift “get” the truth?

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

The phrase “Do your best” is one Greek word that denotes zealous persistence in accomplishing a goal. That is why some Bible translations say, “Be diligent” here. Paul was instructing Timothy to devote all of his efforts to impart God’s Word fully and accurately to his flock. Why? We go back to one of the roles of those with the gift of prophecy in that God uses that to rebuke false teaching and address the debilitating results of it. The focus of v15 from Paul for Timothy is that he must “rightly handle or rightly divide” the word of truth (all scripture). The Greek for “rightly handle” means “cutting it straight.” This refers to exactness. When it comes to things like carpentry, I am not very good at measuring for exactness. That is why I’m not a carpenter. This phrase is speaking of how critical it is to be precise when handling scripture. That is why we must not expound scripture esigetically, but always exegetically. The former reads into the text what we want it say while the latter simply reveals what the text says. In the context of v15, we see that to not diligently and exegetically expound scripture will result in shame because Bible teachers have the highest level of accountability before God. That is how serious this is.

Those of us who are Bible teachers must understand that we are dealing with the truth and we must carefully and diligently exposit scripture to get the truth that God gives us then faithfully present that truth as the truth to the “hearers” or “readers” whom God has given us. Here is a definition for “Biblical truth” from John MacArthur.

“truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: truth is the self-expression of God.” – John MacArthur – The Truth War page 2.

Therefore, when those with the spiritual gift of prophecy study the Bible correctly, rightly handling God’s word, then teach or preach the truth, then lies are exposed, God’s people are edified, the enemy and his seed are shamed and God is glorified. Why? God’s mind, will, character, glory and being are taught to God’s people fully empowered by the Holy Spirit through the gifts God has given. God’s truth is sharper than any two edged sword. It exposes lies and causes God’s people to see the truth and repent. This does not happen when the truth is handled as if it is subjective. Those that have fooled themselves into believing that they have discernment, but, in fact, are only following expository rules that guarantee that no one will be offended or limit the teacher to only presenting the truth subjectively, are enemies of God’s truth instead of the guardians of it. The following is a quote from a dear friend addressing this.

“… in this time when quite frankly spiritual pride is rampant among professing Christians it is even worse now. Part of God’s 1 Peter 4:17 judgment, which is tied to His current Romans 1:18ff judgment is abandoning people to their own sin. As such you will have no doubt noticed in various aspects of your ministries it is very hard even to disagree with other believers – let alone apostates.”

My friend is right. It is almost impossible these days to have a discussion about certain theological subjects without offending someone if we tell the truth objectively instead of subjectively. The rule seems to be that we must force everyone to be benign by never allowing any one to proclaim the truth from God’s Word as the absolute truth that it is. What happens when we ignore those who demand our silence about the pure doctrine from God’s Word like the Doctrines of Grace for example? We are accused of being arrogant and prideful because we say, “This is the truth!” This is the very same thing that the Emergent Church Movement people say when we use scripture to correct them. Those who have the appearance of Orthodoxy, but also demand only subjective truth from us are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are the ones that demand that we agree with them or submit to their diatribes, or give their view equal time, but when we don’t, we are called arrogant and prideful or worse. However, we must not allow them to use their mean-spirited, extortion tactics to silence us.

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

Therefore, we must continue to remain firmly affixed to God’s Word as the absolute Truth. It is complete and inerrant. When we study it to teach or preach we must do so diligently and faithfully. We must not read into it what sounds good to people. Instead, we must present it complete as God’s truth not subjective truth. We must not fall for the lie that we cannot know God’s truth. Soli Deo Gloria!

Addendum: I wrote another post in October of last year with the same title as this one (What is Truth?). You may find it interesting as well. 🙂

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13 thoughts on “What is Truth?

  1. Say, Mike —I sent you this through your contact form too. But I may as well post it.

    I just finished MacArthur’s Truth War. Very good. Now… a little disclaimer. I have issues with Focus on the Family, and how they’re handling this project, but what about thei “Truth project” thing they’re doing? I saw the first installment and it seemed pretty good, so I’m wondering what I’m missing. It bothers me that you can’t get ahold of the DVD’s unless you go through their couple hundred dollar training seminar. I wrote to them asking why, if this was such important information, is it only available to those who can afford to go and who live near enough to a city where a training seminar is held?


  2. Jesus is the Truth. So if Truth cannot be known, then neither can Jesus. The last truth fort to be attacked will not be morality, or eschatology, or even salvation. These are only by products.

    The fort that will be attacked is the written revelation of God. If that is dismantled it will give birth to deception and error. Well meaning, reasoned dialogue, and smooth sounding words but death filled error nonetheless.


  3. Mike,

    Thanks for this post. I have to say that I was blinded by many things that were far from the Truth of God’s Word. I knew the Emerging Church was not of God, and, like you, I am going to read JM’s book to become more familiar with the movement (gonna tell my wife I want it for Father’s Day). I heard his interview with Mike Corley and he talked about the book. I believe your remark about studying diligently to teach or preach diligently, we should apply that to all believers, whether they teach or preach or not. God’s Word tells us that He rewards those who seek Him diligently. In doing this myself, I became fully aware of His sovereignty. That is a reward in itself because I am confident not in my abilities, but rather His grace and His glory, because that is what I want to do, is to glory Him. Praise His Name forever!!!!


  4. Good article. I am so saddened by those who seem to think that “handling accurately the word of truth” is less important than getting people into church services, following a program, (or a man!), or seeing “good things happen in the church.”

    I also agree with HF, in that Jesus is the Truth (“I am the way, the truth and the life”) – he’s right in saying if you can’t know truth then you can’t know Jesus.


  5. It is amazing how hard we try to be gentle, listen, and have a conversation in love, with who we believe to be our brothers and sisters in the Lord, but if you don’t agree with them, because with scripture you can show them how they have been mislead,( and we have all been there) I personally have never had people so want to go for ‘the jugular’ and not in a loving way either! You can’t even talk to them. They get as you say, mean spirited, and quickly. The truth war, really is a war. When we’ve been wrong, we welcome the correction and truth because thats what we really want and are glad to have had someone point out and prove the mistake. You know, iron sharpens iron. But things have changed out there it seems in the last few years. Its getting to be a real bumpy ride!! Good post Mike. May the Lord continue to use you in a mighty way.


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