"'What is truth?' asked jesting Pilate, and did not stay...

"'What is truth?' asked jesting Pilate, and did not stay for an answer." It was Whately, Archbishop Whately of Dublin, who was guilty of that extraordinarily inept atom of exegesis, and it proved that the writer understood Pilate quite as little as Pilate understood Jesus. Pilate was puzzled, mystified, frightened, even angry, but if there was one thing he was not, it was jesting. Neither was he asking the question to obtain or in hopes of obtaining an answer. He was not in a hurry either. He had been all day maneuvering to put off the inevitable and to find an excuse for not doing something he felt that he was being inexorably forced into doing. Accusers and prisoner alike seemed adamantine in preventing his escape; and so the ejaculation, What is truth? became not so much a question as a partly contemptuous, partly despairing, and altogether incredulous dismissal of the ability of any man to answer the question.

It would, of course, have been impossible for a rank materialist, like Pilate, to have found an answer to the question. Jesus had mystified him by the use of the word truth in a spiritual and metaphysical sense in which the poor self-seeking did not even know it could be used. And so he picked up Jesus' phrase without a suspicion of the irony of the great Teacher's meaning, and the tragedy of his own situation. But seeing that Archbishop Whately, writing eighteen centuries later, had not discovered the answer to the riddle Pilate could not solve, it is, perhaps, a little unfair to judge too hardly the Roman governor, thinking only of how he might retain the favor of a pagan emperor in Rome.

The Christian Science Monitor

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