Why Did Pontius Pilate Ask Jesus ‘What is Truth?’: Understanding John 18:38

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, posed a question to Jesus that has echoed through the ages: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This simple yet profound query, asked during a pivotal moment of Jesus’ trial, remains relevant today.

Let’s explore the biblical context and potential reasons behind Pilate’s inquiry.

Why Did Pontius Pilate Ask What is Truth Understanding John 18 38 2

Historical and Biblical Context of John 18:38

Pilate’s question came during Jesus’ trial, a time of extremely high political and cultural tension. (Sidenote: Have such tensions really changed in modern times? Not really!)

The Jewish religious leaders had handed Jesus over to Pilate, accusing Him of blasphemy and seeking His execution. Jesus had repeatedly made strong claims about truth, including His assertion to Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

Here are some fascinating facts about Pontius Pilate to give further context.

Possible Interpretations of Pilate’s Question

  1. A Cynical Retort: Some scholars believe Pilate’s question might have been a cynical or mocking response to Jesus’ bold statements about truth. Living in an age of political deception and competing perspectives, Pilate might have doubted the existence of absolute, objective truth. Through this lens, his response is very much akin to the moral relativism – or ‘subjective truths’ – rampant today.
  2. Genuine Curiosity: A slightly less prevalent view holds that Pilate’s question could have been underpinned by a sincere philosophical inquiry. There is a possibility that he genuinely wondered about the ontological nature of truth in a world filled with gray areas.
  3. A Reflection of Moral Ambiguity: Though in a position of power, Pilate was often caught between the demands of the Jewish leaders and his own duties as a Roman official. Uncomfortable clashes between the two were common as he sought to maintain social order. So, when trying to deliver justice on a pragmatic level, Pilate’s question to Jesus might be an indication of his own struggle to tell right from wrong in a rapidly unfolding situation.

Jesus: The Answer to Pilate’s Question

The Way the Truth and the Life

Amid the various interpretations of Pilate’s question, one thing remains clear: Jesus Himself provides the answer. He declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

In other words, Truth is not a thing. Truth is a person – who is Christ.

For all who grapple with the nature of truth, Jesus offers clarity. He doesn’t just speak truth; He is the living embodiment of Truth with a capital T. In Him, the abstract concept of truth becomes tangible, accessible, and life-changing. By looking to Jesus, we find the ultimate answer to Pilate’s question – and also discover the gift of our sins forgiven.

If all this seems rather vague, don’t worry! Here are some other posts exploring Bible verses that reveal the true nature of Jesus.

Conclusion: Seeking Truth in Jesus

Even today, Pilate’s age-old question continues to intrigue truth seekers. As believers, we know that, whether his inquiry was cynical, genuine, or a reflection of moral ambiguity, the answer ultimately lies in Jesus. Christ is the only Truth we need, and it is God alone who offers authentic clarity and hope to all who seek Him.