Knowing The Truth

‘You shall know the truth’, Jesus is reported to have said, adding that the truth would make his hearers free (John 8:32). One’s first instinct may be to take the truth referred to here as being some teaching that is true, say Christianity. But in the world of the Bible and the Church, ‘knowing’ often has the sense not of intellectual knowledge that we can have about something but of the deep knowledge we can have of another person (hence it is used of sexual intimacy, as at Gen 4:1, Matt 1:25). And as Jesus elsewhere describes himself as the way, the truth and the life, perhaps the liberating truth he wants people to know is himself; he is the truth that will set his hearers free. And so, in his words that occur a little later, ‘if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8:36).

This interpretation may be unexpected. But it makes sense in the light of other portions of John’s Gospel (especially 17:17, 19, where words are attributed to Christ that, when read carefully, strongly suggest identification of  the speaker with the truth), and is that of Cyril of Alexandria, according to whom ‘we should go resolutely forward to the truth itself, which is Christ the giver of true freedom.’ ‘What is truth?’ asked Pilate, it being his failure to recognise that it was standing in front of him.