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"'What is truth?' asked jesting Pilate, and did not stay...
The Christian Science Monitor
"'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.
Later scholars, however, have found the explanation Whately missed, and have found it by a patient study of the Greek text of the fourth gospel, but even they have failed to realize the significance of their own discovery, with the result that it was left to Mrs. Eddy, working on her own dictum, expressed on page 320 of Science and Health, that "the one important interpretation of Scripture is the spiritual," to solve the riddle which proved too much for Pilate and all the commentators. The solution lies in the little word the. What Pilate speaks of as truth, Jesus speaks of as the truth. Now, in the vocabulary of the fourth gospel there is a great gulf fixed between the use and the omission of the definite article. The truth means the absolute, spiritual Truth, God. Truth means the human sense of truth. Thus when Jesus replied to Pilate's demand as to whether he was a king, in the words, "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice," he was simply saying, that every one who was of God understood Principle. Whereas Pilate's wearied ejaculation, "What is truth?" simply meant, Oh, well! what after all does anyone know about anything?
FRANK H. SPRAGUE
JOHN SIDNEY BRAITHWAITE, M.A.
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