As a student of leaders and leadership, one of my truth-heroes is a briefly mentioned leader in the book of Acts. He was a Pharisee named Gamaliel who was a respected member of the Jewish governing council. The Roman government had allowed a certain measure of self-rule to the Jewish nation through this council. On the docket for the ruling council on this occasion was how to deal with a new upstart sect claiming to be the followers of a resurrected Jesus. Quoting Luke’s account:
“Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”” (Acts 5:34–39, NKJV)
When I preach my confidence is not in the truth in which I believe and am espousing. My confidence is in the existence of absolute truth. Wherever my preaching of what I believe to be truth agrees with absolute truth, that truth will endure. Wherever my preaching of what I believe to be truth contradicts absolute truth, that truth will not endure. I am still responsible for doing my homework and to diligently seek after truth. Some “truths” that I have preached in the past I no longer believe to be the truth. Many of those “truths” were taught to me by others who believed them to be true. Upon further study and reflection, I concluded that I no longer believed these “truths” to be true.
The battle for truth has been an ongoing fight throughout the history of mankind. When I launched out into full-time vocational ministry 40 years ago one of the battlefields for truth was being waged on the philosophical plane of relativism. Relativism denies the existence of absolute truth. The voice of relativism suggests, “What is true for you is not necessarily true for me.” Christian thinkers at the time, such as Francis A. Shaeffer, we’re addressing this attack and warning the church about its implications. Shaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live was published in 1976, during my final year in seminary.
The contemporary attack on truth is being waged on the plane of facts. I have not read anyone who has labeled this present battle but when the term “alternative facts” began to be bandied about that seemed to fit the nature of the battle. A fact is something that should be verifiable. A fact either supports or contradicts an assumed tenet of truth. In this battle, the voice of alternative facts suggests, “Facts do not have to be accepted if they contradict one’s preconceived world view or the accepted view of one’s peer group.”
Absolute truth is a person. “In the beginning God . . . “ (Genesis 1:1) God is the ultimate truth. Jesus is the Word that was God and with God in the beginning. He referred to Himself as the Truth. The Word, the Truth, became flesh and the glory Jesus revealed was full of grace and truth. Jesus named the Holy Spirit that he was to send the Spirit of Truth. A fun exercise in reading scripture is to substitute the word truth for the names of God and to subtitles the names of God for the word truth. For example,
“Behold, you delight in Jesus Christ in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6, ESV)
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is Truth, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in Truth for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Truth, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Truth,” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5, NKJV)
What impresses me about Gamaliel was not just that he was a man who understood the nature of absolute truth and put his confidence in it, he was a man willing to risk rejection by his social peer group in his defense of truth. Another member of the ruling council, Nicodemus, went to Jesus by night. The assumption is that Nicodemus feared the potential retribution of his peer group should they discover his interest in Jesus. Ultimately Nicodemus stepped up to defend Truth and came out of the closet to announce Truth.
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”” (John 3:1–2, NKJV)
“Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”” (John 7:50–51, NKJV)
“And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (John 19:39, NKJV)
Gamaliel was also willing to be challenged in his existing assumptions of truth. The Apostle Paul had been so convinced of his understanding of truth that he waged war against the early church. Humbled by his experience on the road to Damascus Paul sings a much different tune when he writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:9–10, NKJV) The “perfect” to which he refers is Jesus Christ, the Truth.
Whether Gamaliel became a disciple of Jesus Christ or not is a matter of speculation. I would like to think that he did. As a “Seeker-after-truth”, I suspect that Gamaliel ultimately bowed to the revelation of absolute Truth, Jesus Christ.