However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 16:13)
Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) We also know Christ taught that He Himself is truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). But were they both speaking about the same truth?
Origen, the great scripture commentator of the 3rd Century, points out there are different kinds of truth. Referring to words of St Paul, Origen says:
But let us see when he says, ‘I am speaking the truth in Christ‘ [Rom 9:1], as if showing that there is some truth that is not in Christ. See whether we can distinguish truth that i in Christ from that which is not in Christ in some such way. (Origen, COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 6-10, p 105)
Origen goes on to give examples of truth that is not in Christ. He says when Caiaphas declares that one man must die for the nation, he is speaking the truth. However, he is not speaking the truth in Christ. So Origen allows for there being differing kinds of truth. One could from his words understand how there can be scientific truth that is not in Christ. The chemical makeup of water – two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen – perfectly true, but it is not a truth in Christ. We can learn many truths about the universe or other people that aren’t in Christ because they lead us neither to Christ or away from Him. So the truth that the Holy Spirit reveals to us is specifically in Christ. The Spirit may reveal to us all the truth that is in Christ, but that may not be all the truth in the universe. There is truth which is not in Christ. The spiritual life consists in learning all the truth in Christ. This truth is very unique for it is revealing God to us.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)
God’s wisdom and truth is pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. It also becomes clear what God’s truth is not.
“Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like, once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.” (St Isaac of Nineveh, THE WISDOM OF ST ISAAC OF NINEVEH, p 32)
Truth fills us with love, peace, mercy, reason. If all it does is turn a person into a zealot, they haven’t understood truth to begin with. For truth keeps us in Christ and helps us to be Christ-like, a Christian. As St Paul laments: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened” (Romans 10:2).