There’s No Alternative to the Truth

the word truth among words of deceptionI’m not one for wearing t-shirts with clever messages. I never wanted wanted a bumper sticker on my car, so why would I want one on my shirt?

There is one exception, and it’s a really geeky exception. In fact, I call it my Bible-geek shirt. It says, “presuppositionless exegesis is IMPOSSIBLE.”

Part of the geekiness, of course, is in the large, obscure words. I mean, who talks like that?

Geeks, that’s who.

But I had to have the shirt, because it makes a point that I continually emphasize in my Bible studies: none of us can read the Bible completely objectively.

Any interpretation (exegesis) that is uncolored by prior assumptions (presuppositionless) we bring to the text is out of our reach. We always bring assumptions and biases, many of which we are unaware, to our reading which influence our understanding of what the text says.

This is more than just trying to understand the context of a biblical passage, as necessary as that is. It is the recognition that the Bible was written by Jews to a mostly Jewish audience living in a faraway land with a vastly different culture than ours and more than 2,000 years distant from ours.

If that describes you, then, wow, you are really old.

If it doesn’t, then you can’t really read the Bible exactly the way it was intended. You can only read it as a 21st century American, or Britain, or Nigerian, or whatever.

And if you don’t know how that influences your reading of the text, well, that’s part of the point. We can never escape our presuppositions, especially the ones we’re unaware of.

This is one of the main contributions of post-modernism, and has led the way in the movement that has arisen over the last 15 years or so of trying to root our interpretations as much as possible in our understanding of the ancient Jewishness of the Bible.

This is not to say, however, as many accuse post-modernism of saying, that there is no such thing as absolute truth. What it does say is that each of us need to hold our interpretations with some humility. It’s not always clear where our presuppositions color our understanding.

It is also not to say that all truth is relative, i.e. that we get to make up our truth, that we define reality.

Facts are indeed facts, even if they need interpreting and even if those interpretations are colored by our biases.

It’s important that regular people like you and me understand this, because I can guarantee you, there is one group of people who throughout history have very much understood this—those in positions of power.

In ancient times, including biblical times, literacy was for the educated elite, not for the regular guy. Kings and rulers gathered scribes around them and commissioned their works.

They wanted their stories told, but of course they wanted them told in a certain way, in a way that consolidated their power and legitimized their rule over the people.

This wasn’t done because their rule benefited the people—that alone would have been enough to legitimize their rule. No, they needed these stories because their rule actually exploited people, taking their money to enrich themselves, forcing them to work on their projects.

They needed stories that basically said that the gods favored the ruler so that the people would at least accept the reign if not the ruler, even when doing so was against their own best interests.

In effect, the rulers made up a “reality”. They either presented the facts a certain way or they excluded certain facts from the narrative.

Or they made facts up to create the narrative they needed.

But let’s be clear: they weren’t interested in facts or in history; they were interested in power.

It’s been this way throughout history, and it is still true today. The one who defines truth controls the people.

In this day of “fake news”, Russian hackers, and “alternative facts”; when anybody with a computer can set up a blog, go viral with a doctored photo, or send out their own podcast, it’s hard to know who to trust with telling the truth.

But we shouldn’t despair. The truth does exist, and there is no alternative to it.

We are followers of Jesus and Jesus alone. He not only tells the truth, he IS the truth.

His narrative, his rule, is the only one that matters.

He is the one we can trust.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo / dcdp

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