Why did Jesus and His apostles constantly raise up Truth? And not just “truth” as a situational or religious maxim, but singularly-fixed Truth, above and against the specter of untruth, which is displayed specifically in man’s vaunted wisdom, imaginary stories, and the subtle hiss of the Adversary. Why did they emphasize over and over again the grand themes of Christ as Truth, the Gospel as Truth, and their eyewitness testimonies as Truth, and not as an inventive moral tale?
The answer from Scripture is clear and uncompromising. Their only weapon against lies, fables, and half-truths was the pure and unvarnished Truth of God.
Their numerous statements on truth, in direct opposition to untruth, abound in the New Testament:
Jesus said, Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come (John 16:13). Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:17).
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth (Titus 1:14).
Nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith (1 Timothy 1:4).
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7).
The apostle Peter obviously knew the score. The apostles’ amazing tale of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who was raised from the dead in order to reconcile sinful man with a holy God was only one of many religious viewpoints out there that claimed spiritual truth and understanding. He knew the gospel would be seen as just another romantic fable of man and not the only power of God unto salvation. No doubt this concerning fact was on his mind when he made the emphatic claim:
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
These men of God were the eyewitnesses of a relentless reality, not authors and purveyors of fanciful, mythic legend captured by a cunning imagination for popular consumption. They did not set about to write novels or produce plays to enlighten through entertainment. Markedly, Christ and His apostles were establishing an unrivaled New Testament truth that was dramatically opposed and resistant to the devilish challenge, “Yea, hath God really said?” They rejected this kind of Hegelian dialectic and relativism that was intrinsic to the development of fables, pagan myths, Jewish folk magic, and godless speculations entrenched in the surrounding cultures of the known world.
Our Lord’s Example
Jesus specifically demonstrated the establishment of truth in the wilderness against the temptations of Satan which the devil used to marginalize that truth. Every answer given by Jesus to counter and destroy the devious wiles of the Adversary were founded on God’s word alone and the perfect power found therein: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God; Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Indeed our Lord never wavered from the truth first established by the God of Israel, and carried throughout the Old Covenant and into the New. There was never a capitulation or allowance for a trustworthy word coming from the gentile nations or being gleaned from any other source. To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus was steadfast: Truth had come through the oracles of God among the Jews, and not through the oracles at Delphi or the prophets of Baal. As Dr. Robert Morey wrote in his essay, An Evangelical Appraisal of Greek Philosophy in General and Aristotle in Particular:
“Alas, Jesus was just as exclusive as the prophets before Him and the apostles after Him. His words to the Samaritan woman, ‘Salvation is from the Jews’ (John 4:22), clearly means that salvation is not from the Greeks, Romans, Indians, Chinese, Africans, Europeans, as well as the Samaritans. Jesus’ words in John 14:6, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me’ forever dooms all the ecumenical delusions of such apostates as Peter Kreeft. While modern Romanists, Protestant liberals, Witches, and New Agers join in an ecumenical frenzy of exalting pagan philosophy, Evangelicals exalt the Word of God.”
Jesus’ clear commitment to the exclusivity of truth also rejects the more modern-day romantic notion by Tolkien, Lewis, and other kindred spirits of the Inklings who insist that pagan mythology should be honored and recast on the basis of their so-called “splintered fragments of light.” Not once, however, is it found in recorded history that Jesus remotely did such a thing.
The Apostle Paul’s Example
The apostle Paul scrupulously followed his Master’s lead. When he entered into Athens, he observed (or “perceived and discerned” as the Greek work “theoreo” suggests) that the city was full of idols, not just in the physical statues and temples of various gods and goddesses, but in the very fabric of Athenian life. Passing through the city gates, Paul would have beheld a “forest of idols,” as Wycherley put it: an ostentatious maze walled by the sculpted images of Healing Athena, Apollo, and Hermes standing near the Sanctuary of Dionysus and other pagan altars and temples.
Did Paul find any comfort whatsoever with the idea that these pagan idols held a small fractured beacon of light to the people? Did he in any way concur with C.S. Lewis’ assessment that he would not be “very wrong” to pray to Apollo for his wife’s healing because he would have “only been addressing Christ sub specie Apollonius”? (See C.S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn).
Of course not. On the contrary, Paul’s spirit was “provoked within him” when he saw the blasphemous statue of Apollo and the other pagan idols, including an altar dedicated to an “unknown god.” As the IVP New Testament Commentaries aptly describes it:
“Paul is more than greatly distressed, for he experiences a paroxysm in his spirit, a provocation of anger or grief or both, because the glory due to God alone is being given to idols. The Lord reacted the same way to idolatry in Israel (Duet. 9:7, 18, 22; Ps 106:28-29; Is 65:2-3; compare Is 42:8), and so should we. Any paraphernalia of false worship should provoke in us such grieving anger that we, jealous for the glory of God and his Christ, reach out and share the good news, which includes a call to repentance (Stott 1990:279).”
Wearing the full armor of God, then, Paul rightly clothed himself to commend the gospel in all its purity and power, and boldly declared it on the Areopagus, a place named after the Greek god of war, Ares (or Mars for the Romans). This would have been the perfect opportunity for Paul to appeal to the Epicureans and Stoics by pointing to Zeus or Apollo as a “sub species of Jesus,” but he did not do this. He pointed instead to their altar of the unknown god, not as a friendly indication that the pagans were worshiping the one true God in a veiled or limited way, but as a stark reminder of the Greeks’ utter ignorance of God, a foolishness which held no possibility of salvation outside of a true knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Ah, but didn’t Paul use the wisdom of pagan poets to make his appeal? Here again, Paul was simply using a rhetorical strategy to turn their words against them and prove that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Indeed Paul quotes the Stoic philosopher Aratus who waxed, “we are his offspring,” but Paul deliberately strips it of its specific reference to Zeus and its pantheistic metaphysic, and thus neuters the statement of all pagan identity. By doing so, Paul proves that the pagans again were ignorant, but now through the revelation of Christ the poetic reference was cast aright and the Greeks were left to ponder their need of repentance.
The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth
The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:13), and this truth is the power of God unto salvation, for both male or female, Jew or Gentile, and slave or free (Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:28). Fixing ourselves completely on the truth (Hebrews 12:2), as patterned by Jesus and His apostles, is the irreproachable way in which all kinds of people, including the philosophers on the Areopagus, might be redeemed by the Lord. We completely miss the point when we focus on trying to “redeem” the wayward ideas of this world, and don’t focus on seeking the redemption of the wayward people in this world.
When Paul crossed paths with the Philippian slave-girl, he did not commend her for perceiving and rightly proclaiming his position as a “servant of the Most High God who is proclaiming the way of salvation.” He knew that the source of her clairvoyant accuracy was from a demonic spirit who possessed her and was seeking to legitimize its activities among pagans and Christians alike. Today, some Christians, if confronted with a similar situation, would see nothing wrong with trying to “redeem” her occult construct in order to highlight and celebrate the “truth” she revealed from that framework. This was surely the foundational philosophy behind the work of the Inklings. Yet Paul never did such a thing during his ministry. Why? Because he knew that divination was not only strictly forbidden by God, but it was a satanic activity created solely for the purpose of mixing truth with error in order to sow confusion and delusion within the hearer.
Paul knew he could never “redeem” her soothsaying, no matter how often it aligned itself with a level of truth, because it was not of God. Its only purpose was to deceive by appearing as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), in the hope that its veiled lies would appear worthy of our consideration. The laser focus of Paul’s concern, however, was immediate and profound: It was the slave girl herself who needed redemption, not her powers of clairvoyance or the flawed content of her revelation. In more ways than one, this poor soul had been sold in the marketplace of sin and was a slave to Satan and her earthly masters. Her redemption and the purity of the gospel message was the only things that mattered, and Paul with all his apostolic power and authority, drove out the vile demon and freed the woman from her spiritual bondage and silenced the attending commotion, to the praise of God.
Following Their Example
Likewise, we Christians do not need to “save” Star Wars, Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings or any other product of human imagination or religion, or to collude with the enemy in any way. Their confusing, unbiblical idolomancy needs to be denounced or at least abandoned completely. These syncretic myths and philosophies don’t need to be redeemed, nor can they be redeemed. In fact, Jesus and His apostles did not seek to redeem paganism, they sought to redeem pagans; and they called them, without hesitation, to turn from their idols and myths and turn instead to the pure Truth, the glory of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
May we, by God’s grace and out of a sincere love for our unbelieving neighbor, follow the Lord’s supreme example to establish and protect the Truth without compromise in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation that is filled with lost souls, confused by the demonic noise of this world and in desperate need of the redemption found in Christ and Him alone.
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).