“What Is Truth?” Some Thoughts on the Bible as Scripture

This is a brief section of a book on biblical interpretation that I’ve been working on. If you have constructive comments and criticism, I’d be glad to receive feedback. 

We need to know who the true God is and what this God has done for us. We need to know this because it is more important than anything else that has ever happened among humans, and our very eternal lives depend upon it. There are many contenders for truth in the world today. John Calvin famously remarked that the human mind is an idol-making factory. Different views of the world generally bring with them different views of truth. For some, science is the ultimate truth. For others, it is a particular philosophical or religious system that they share with a community of like-minded people. Alternatively, it is quite common for people today to see truth as a primarily individualistic affair, where I am the arbiter of my own truth. This perspective undermines the very idea of a broader truth woven into the fabric of creation, and it is symptomatic our present “postmodern” era. As Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry put it in their book Deep Church Rising, today “one is more likely to come across the idea that nobody is right or wrong” on questions of religious truth. There may be such truth, “but it is person-relative.” Each of us decides truth for ourselves. No one can judge us because “each individual has the right to make such decisions.”[1]

Christians, however, can’t really believe this way. Jesus said that he came to testify to the truth (John 18:37). Pilate, who is interrogating him, asks a question people were asking long before him, and continue to ask today: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Christians know that God is truth. Whatever else we say is true is somehow ultimately rooted in God. Science and math may tell us true things, but God is the source of the laws of science and math. As people of faith we make truth claims about right and wrong, but God called into being the moral fabric of the universe. God is truth, and once we recognize this, all of the smaller quests for truth in our life are actually quests to understand the divine. Left on our own, we cannot truly know God, but we are not on our own. God has revealed himself to us in history, and our primary resource for receiving God’s self-revelation is the Bible. Our faith, then, stands over against the idea that there is no truth, as well as truth claims incompatible with ours made by other religions and philosophies, such as Buddhism or atheism.


To be clear, knowing the truth about God is not enough. As we read in the Letter of James 2:19, even the demons believe (though they believe and tremble). Believing is necessary, but it is not sufficient. John Wesley, the great eighteenth-century British evangelist and founder of the Methodist movement, once quipped that a person could be as “orthodox as the devil,” and “all the while be as great a stranger as he to the religion of the heart.”[2] You can believe all the right things about God and still not know God. You can recite any creed you would like and yet not know the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing the basic truths about God that Christians have confessed through the centuries is necessary, but not sufficient. It is crucial, but it is not enough. When we read the Bible, then, we should look not just for information about God, but for the transformation that comes from God. The Bible isn’t just a book of propositions. It is a port of entry into God’s very life.


This function of the Bible seems to have been lost in much of Christianity through North America and Western Europe. In the mainline Protestant traditions, and increasingly in evangelicalism, we have gotten very good at being critical of the Bible. We have become experts in defeating the bogeyman of “biblical literalism,” so much so that “critical” has become the primary posture by which we approach the text. Thus we live our lives at a safe distance from those passages of the Bible that are most challenging to us, and perhaps those through which God can shape us most profoundly. Our abbreviated Bible becomes a reflection of our own perspectives, and God a cipher for the values that our culture has taught us to honor.

We are not nearly so good at identifying the ways in which God inspired the writing and selection of the text, nor of perceiving the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding our readings. We do not have much to say about the Bible theologically. I was once part of a process of interviewing candidates for a professorial position in Bible. One of the other interviewers, a professor of theology, asked each candidate one simple question: What is the Bible? It surprised me that, despite the great learning and intelligence of each of these candidates, every one of them struggled to answer this question. My guess is that many Christians in North American and Western Europe–including the best educated among them–would struggle with this question as well. They would have a hard time saying not only what the Bible is, but what it is supposed to do. Yes, they could probably muster some formula such as, “The Bible is the word of God,” or “The Bible teaches us how to live a Christian life.” Yet these formulae do not tell us very much about the Bible at all.

To put the matter differently, we have lost sight of the Bible as Scripture. To say that the Bible is Scripture is to affirm that it is a sacred text revealing the truth about God to a community of people who are committed to living in that truth. Daniel Castello and Robert Wall write that the term “‘Scripture’ signals a way of thinking theologically about the Bible as God’s Word for God’s people, one that supplies the theological goods that fund spiritual wisdom and provide moral direction.”[3] The traditional tools of the guild of biblical studies, such as the biblical languages, historical criticism, and literary analysis contribute in important ways to our understanding of the BIble. Nevertheless one can achieve outstanding mastery of these tools and never read the Bible as Scripture. It is commonplace to find academic biblical studies that range in their approach from theological neutrality to methodological atheism. There is a certain logic to approaching the Bible in this way in a secular context such as a state university classroom. In the Sunday school or seminary classroom, however, such an approach will inevitably be inadequate. Believers and unbelievers alike will affirm that there are historical truths, literary truths, scientific truths, and philosophical truths. But those who profess faith will also affirm that there is theological truth, which is related to, but also distinct from, other forms of truth. As Christians, we should feel free and comfortable in approaching the Bible with our core theological truths in hand.

[1] See Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising: The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade, 2014), 24.

[2] John Wesley, “The Way to the Kingdom,” sermon 6 in The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey, ed. Kenneth J. Collins and Jason E. Vickers (Nashville: Abingdon, 2013), 1.6.

[3] Daniel Castello and Robert W. Wall, “Reading the Bible as Scripture,” chapter 1 in A Compact Guide to the Whole Bible: Learning to Read Scripture’s Story, ed. Robert W. Wall and David R. Nienhuis (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 12.

19 thoughts on ““What Is Truth?” Some Thoughts on the Bible as Scripture

  1. Simply stated truth is timeless – nothing can be added or subtracted from a truth.
    It is the same today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.

    We frequently, and mistakenly, use the word FACT as a substitute for the word truth. However, a fact is not timeless – it is time based and frequently changes.

    Is the Word of God – The Holy Bible, a truth or a fact?
    As a Christian, one must accept by faith that the original Word of God is truth in print – it does not change. However, when mankind gets his hands on the truth in print he translates, mistranslates (intentionally or in error?) and even attempts to simplify the written Word to a more readily understood version. A change in punctuation or a mistranslated word (even if unintentional) can change the meaning of a section of Scripture.
    It would therefore appear that the human spirit, by itself, does not have the ability to accept the truth of the printed Word for ‘it is not subject to the law of God’ (Rom.8:7).
    Fortunately, for those who accept the ‘call’ (John 6:44) there is help available (Job 32:8).

    Then again given the plethora of churches that all call themselves Christian – but preach different doctrines – we should perhaps question which spirit is leading many of them (2 Corinth.11:15)?

  2. “For some, science is the ultimate truth”- Either you don’t understand how science works, or you are being dishonest. Science is simply a tool used to discover how the natural world works. It’s not a religion. Religion claims to know things for which there is little to no evidence. Claiming to know the mind of any god is the most arrogant and dishonest position one could take.

    • Depends on the specific claim, and the definitions as well. Truth with a capital “T” is not going to be well defined; especially if it deals with theology will it likely be vague and non-specific. The truth of a specific claim, with a little “t” is more likely to reflect reality. A reality that is real to everyone, not just one person’s perception.

    • Really? You said Truth with a capital “t”. How are you defining “Truth”. Is it synonymous with objective reality, which is what is real for both me, you, and somebody in China? Or is “Truth” your idea of a personal god that answers prayers if he deems you worthy enough, or perhaps if you believe in him hard enough? In other words “subjective” reality. Basically, it’s True for you, but not for anyone else? Have you ever considered that maybe God (with a capital “G”) is just an idea? Have you ever considered that position? To tell the Truth, I’m skeptical of anyone who thinks they know what “Truth” is. The scientific method is the best method we have to explain the natural world. But we have to agree that the natural world is real in the first place. We have no objective evidence that a god is part of that natural world. There is no way to test that claim. Unless you don’t care if God is real. Unless you’re a presuppositionalist. How do we even know he’s a he?

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