Pilate’s question of Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) still echoes through time to our
own day. After a tense silence, Pilate could only respond, “I find no fault in him” (v.38),
thereby defining the very essence of “truth”: absolute integrity! Unwittingly, Pilate, a
Roman Governor, was affirming Jesus’ provocative claim to be “the Way, the Truth and
the Life” (John 14:6). In Jesus, the Christ, alone, one finds true life!
The word occurs in four primary forms in the New Testament:
1. Aletheia (noun – 110 times), almost exclusively translated as “truth”.
By far the most common in the New Testament, aletheia means “truthfulness”,
“verity”, “dependability”, “perfect fidelity”, that is 100% pure gold in character.
In relation to Christianity it refers to the unquestionable factual reality of its claims,
and as such is capable of being communicated to others.
However, the word also has a strong practical life application, meaning “rightousness”,
or “personal integrity”. In relational terms, it refers to “cognitive beliefs”
(propositional “truths”) which are lived out in practice (Ephesians 4:24 cf Psalm 51:10-
12). There is no room for held beliefs which do not make any difference to one’s
character. (BAG Lexicon, 36)
2. Alethes (noun – 25 times), something which is real, genuine. In relation to persons it
means one who is completely open and honest with nothing hidden. For example, God
is alethes in his very nature, absolutely true (John 3:33). Even Christ’s opponents were
forced to recognise his character as true and trustworthy (Matt 22:16, John 8:14). The
Apostolic testimony is also true, that is, genuine and reliable (John 21:24, 3 John 12).
3. Alethinos (adjective – 27 times, 23 of which are found in John’s writings!)
The essence of this usage is that which is thoroughly genuine, reliable and trustworthy.
“That which has not only the name but the real nature corresponding with the name”
(Thayer Lexicon, 27). This has its most significant expression in relation to character
which is absolutely devoid of any hypocrisy, insincerity, sham or defect, but is genuine,
through and through. It is unquestionably applied to the character of Christ who is the
“True Light”, of unquestionable integrity, which has come into the world (John 1:9 c.f 1
4. Alethos (adverb – 21 times), translated as “truly” or “verily”. In relation to spoken
words, it refers to their absolute veracity. It often modifies the verb “to speak”,
meaning to tell the truth – absolutely! In John 1:47 it describes a true disciple as one
who is genuine.
In summary, then “Truth” has two dimensions: First, it relates to something which is
absolutely factual, an objectively verifiable reality (Objective Truth). Second, when
applied to a person, it relates to their absolute personal integrity (Subjective Truth).
Tragically, in the modern world, “truth” has been watered down into a comfortable
relativity in which there is no absolute reality, other than one’s own personal human
opinion! In this context, the words of Jesus provide an uncomfortable challenge to the
contemporary age: “I am (still) the Way, the Truth and the Life”!