John 18:37,38; John 19:12
Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest I am a King. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, what is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all…
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar.
MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): What is truth? It is uncertain with what design Pilate asked this question…Some think he spoke it as a judge, enquiring further into the cause brought before him…Others think he spoke it as a scoffer, in a jeering way: “Thou talkest of truth; canst thou tell what truth is, or give me a definition of it?”
J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): This famous question, in my judgment, can only admit of one interpretation. It is the cold, sneering, skeptical interjection of a mere man of the world, who has persuaded himself that there is no such thing as truth, that all religions are equally false, that this life is all we have to care for, and that creeds and modes of faith are only words and names and superstitions, which no sensible person need attend to…Gallio [the Roman deputy of Achaia], who thought Christianity a mere “question of words and names,” Acts 18:15―Festus [the Roman governor of Judea], who thought the dislike of the Jews to Paul arose from “questions of their own superstition,” Acts 25:19―and Pontius Pilate, were all much alike.
JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): Some think it is vox admirantis―as if Pilate wondered at Christ, that when his life was in question he should talk of truth; “Your life is in danger, and talk you of truth?” Politicians think religion niceness.
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): For my own part, I rather think that it is an expression of disdain; for Pilate thought himself highly insulted when Christ represented him as destitute of all knowledge of the truth. That Pilate spoke from mockery is evident from this circumstance, that he immediately goes out.
MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): Pilate thought that our Saviour, speaking of truth, and a spiritual kingdom, did but cant―[speak hypocritical, sanctimonious words].
J. C. RYLE: Expanded and paraphrased, Pilate’s question comes to this: “Truth indeed! What is truth? I have heard all my life of various philosophical systems, each asserting that it has found the truth, and each differing widely from the others. Who is to decide what is truth and what is not?” The best proof that this is the right view of the sentence is Pilate’s behavior when he has asked the question. He broke off the conversation at this point. Very likely the mention of “truth” touched his conscience, and he found it convenient to go out hurriedly and cover his retreat with a sneer. A bad conscience generally dislikes a close conversation with a good man.
WILLIAM MORLEY PUNSHON (1824-1881): Cowardice asks, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks, “Is it popular?” Conscience asks, “Is it right?”
MATTHEW HENRY: But Pilate had not courage enough to act according to his conscience; and his cowardice betrayed him into a snare.
WILLIAM GREENHILL (1591-1677): Politicians think it weakness, foolishness, to suffer for religion. They can change it at pleasure, and fall in with that which hath most pomp and applause in the world.
WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): I have heard that politicians can make use of a state lie—though the credit of it lasts but a little while—for great advantage to their designs.
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Oh, how often we hear this brought up! You are told to regard the difference between right and wrong everywhere, except when you get into politics; then stick to your party through thick and thin. Right and wrong vanish at once. Loyalty to your leader—that is the point. Never mind where he leads you, follow him blindly. You are even told that you may do wrong because it is politically right. I hate such an argument!
LORD SHAFTESBURY (1801-1885): I am under a great infirmity, and insuperable infirmity to public [political] life, that I cannot even speak unless on conviction.*
C. H. SPURGEON: However, plain truth will cut its way in the end, and policy will ring its own death-knell…Let us leave shifty tricks and political expediencies to the citizens of the world.
WILLIAM GURNALL: As we deal with truth, so we deal with God Himself; he that despiseth that, despiseth Him. He that abandons the truth of God, renounceth the God of truth.
C. H. SPURGEON: Jesus is the Truth…Next, let us remember that God’s truth is still the same. It does not matter whether fifty thousand espouse its cause, or only five, or only one. Truth does not reign by the ballot box, or by the counting of heads: it abideth forever…The lip of truth shall be established for ever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment, Proverbs 12:19. What a poor thing is the temporary triumph of falsehood! A lying lip is but for a moment! It is a mere gourd, which comes up in a night, and perishes in a night; and the greater its development the more manifest its decay.
JOHN WYCLIFFE (1330-1384): I believe that, in the end, truth will conquer.
GEORGE SEATON BOWES (circa 1820’s-1880’s): When the question, “What is truth?” was proposed at a Deaf and Dumb Institution, one of the boys drew a straight line.
“And what is falsehood?”
The answer was a crooked line.
*Editor’s Note: Regarding Lord Shaftesbury’s speaking upon conviction.
In 1839, fed up with the moral and social degradation resulting from British opium entering China from India, the Chinese government seized 20,000 chests of opium in an attempt to halt its importation. Britain objected and went to war to preserve her profitable drug trade. In 1843, Lord Shaftesbury recorded in his diary his determination to oppose his government’s policy in Parliament whatever the political cost: “Gave notice last night of a motion on the Opium Monopoly. I did it with fear, anxiety, and trembling. I shrink from the task, I dread the preparation, I quail before the execution of it. Yet it is the cause of Christianity and of God…Oh, what a question is this Opium affair; bad as I thought it, I find it a thousand times worse, more black, more cruel, more Satanic than all the deeds of private sin in the records of prison history. O God, be thou with me in the hour of trial, speak to me the words that Thou spakest to Thy servant Joshua, and touch my lips, like Isaiah’s, with fire of the altar—but take to Thyself all the glory; blessed Lord in Jesus Christ our Redeemer.”
Shaftesbury’s politely worded motion was “that it is the opinion of this House that the continuance of the trade in opium, and the monopoly of its growth in the territories of British India, are destructive of all relations of amity between England and China, injurious to the manufacturing interests of the country, by the very serious diminution of legitimate commerce, and utterly inconsistent with the honour and duties of a Christian kingdom; and that steps be taken, as soon as possible, with due regard to the rights of governments and individuals, to abolish the evil.”
Although his motion was defeated, Shaftesbury recorded the reaction to his speech on the British goverment’s drug trade: “Last night, Opium! I did not succeed in carrying my motion…Yet I made a sensible impression on the House, and through that, I hope, on the country. I was, perhaps, more master of myself than on any former occasion, yet down to the very moment of commencing my speech I was in dejection and uncertainty. God, however, I see was with me, and I reached the consciences, though I could not command the support, of several members. Sir Robert Peel [the British Prime Minister] ‘was forced to rise at last,’ and gave a contented defence of the East India Monopoly. He sneered at our care for the health and morals of the Chinese, and altogether assumed the tone of a low, mercantile financial soul, incapable of conceiving or urging a principle. Very remarkable—not one person even attempted to touch the morality of the question; that seemed to be tacitly but universally surrendered. The prayer of the 28th was heard; the hand of the Almighty was with me. To Him, and to Him alone, be all the glory!”