What is truth?

The other day Mom and I were having a discussion about my various debates on my favorite message board. I was expressing my frustration with the constant demands for “biblical evidence” of various beliefs. I’ve explained a million and one times that Catholic beliefs aren’t solely based on scripture, we also take into account Sacred Tradition and the rulings of the Magisterium/seat of Peter. Somehow, this either doesn’t sink in or my fellow debaters feel that this is irrelevant since they don’t follow either of our “extra” things.

Mom comes up with a rather witty, scriptural response. Simply mention 1 Timothy 3:15 “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” Hmmm, scripture says that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth? What truth? Religious truth? Well what about that next letter to Timmy? 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Doesn’t that mean that scripture is the only place we can find truth?

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is pretty much the prevalent Protestant view point regarding how we learn about our faith. Most use the 2 Tim verse along with this bit from the gospel of John “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31) to justify the view that all knowledge about Christianity and all the answers to our questions are found within the covers of the bible.

Now, I’m not even going to go into all the various other verses that talk about the church, apostolic tradtition and the authority of the pope or any of the other various topics that override and improve upon Sola Scriptura. Rather, let’s just examine these two key verses, in context, and figure out what they really mean to us Christians.

First, 2 Timothy in context. The first part of the third chapter describes all the awful things that will happen with people going evil in the “last days”. Then at the end of the chapter Paul exhorts Timothy “But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known (the) sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Paul is pretty much telling Tim that when those terrible last days roll around he needs to remain faithful to Christianity, not falling into evil. He reminds him that he learned all this from scripture, a handy tool that gave him wisdom. Paul points out that scripture isn’t just the ramblings of crazed men, rather they are directly inspired by God, some translations say “breathed by God”. Then he outlines what scripture is good for: teaching (others about the good), refuting (those who disbelieve), correcting (those who don’t understand or don’t follow the rules) and training (teaching others the way to act, similar to just teaching, yes). And the reason for all these things is that a Christian is ready to go out in the world and perform good works. I don’t know if I’m crazy, but I don’t see anything about Christianity’s truths only being in scripture or scripture being the only way to gain the wisdom of salvation. Yes, it’s important for Christians to use scripture to lead others to Christ and to continue learning about good works and how we need to act. But this isn’t the only way to learn all those things! Heck, what if one couldn’t read, as many at that time couldn’t? How would you learn about Christ then?

Let’s move on to Johnny boy’s writings. The 20th chapter is next to last and we hear about post-Resurrection stories, particularly doubting Thomas. Jesus is all “Blessed is he who does not see but believes” and the John chimes in with this closing thought: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” So basically John could have written a LOT more than 20 chapters, and he saw a lot more stuff , but he feels that what he has written is sufficient to prove to us that we can believe that Jesus is God. Again, nothing points out to me that this is the only place to learn about Christ. Reinforcing that, if it were true that that is what John intended to tell us it would mean something really important: that John’s gospel is the only place to find truth about Christianity, not all of scriptures.

So based on those two passages (which I generally like a lot) what have we learned?

  • Scripture is a good thing and has lots of benefits
  • Scripture is designed for two things
    • Leading people to belief in Christ (John’s passage)
    • Helping Christians in their walk through teaching, reproof/correction, and defense of the faith (Paul’s idea)

What did we not learn? That scripture is the only way to Christ and knowledge. Rather, it’s one way to help us, but it’s not exclusive.

So yeah, although my Mom and I didn’t discuss all this the other day, she brought up another valid point. It does say in the bible that the church of God is the pillar and foundation of truth. Maybe next time we can explore that a bit more in depth, pulling up some other resources to show that Christ left us with multiple sources of knowledge and that there truly are myriads of ways for Christians to build themselves up in the knowledge of faith.

During Jesus’ trial he had this discourse with Pilate “So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:37-38). Although Pilate apparently didn’t give Jesus a chance to answer his question Jesus has told that we need to listen to His voice. He speaks through the scriptures, through the Holy Spirit in our lives, through our consciences, through the Church, through our brothers and sisters.

αποχαιρετισμός friends. Until next time.


3 thoughts on “What is truth?

  1. Excellent work. Once again I am impressed with your insight, intelligence and writing ability. And tendency to take after your mother!

  2. Truly Pontius Pilate was the first moral relativist when he said, “Que est Veritas (What is truth)?”.

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