John 18:38
Pilate said to him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, I find in him no fault at all.
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(38) Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?—“‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” Such is Lord Bacon’s well-known interpretation of Pilate’s well-known question. Others have seen in it the bitterness of a mind that had been tossed to and fro in the troubled sea of contemporaneous thought, and despaired of an anchorage. Others, again; have traced the tone of sarcasm in the governor’s words—“Is the son of Roman freedom and Greek thought, which had at this time been welded into one power, to learn truth of a Jewish enthusiast?” while the older interpreters, for the most part, regarded the question as that of an earnest inquirer desiring to be satisfied. These are a few among the many thoughts the passage has suggested; and yet none of them seem to give the natural impression which follows from the words. Bacon’s is nearest to it, but Pilate was far from jesting. He seems rather to have been irritated by the refusal of the Jews to furnish a formal accusation (John 18:31), and more so at the question of Jesus in John 18:34, and the subtleties, as he thinks them, of John 18:36. This seems to him to be another, and at all events it is wholly irrelevant to the question at issue. He has neither time nor will to deal with it, and at once goes from the palace again to the Jews.

I find in him no fault at all.—Better, I find no crime in Him. St. John uses the word rendered “fault” only in this phrase. (Comp. John 19:4; John 19:6.) It is used by St. Matthew (Matthew 27:37) for the technical “accusation written, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” and this seems to be the sense here. “I find no ground for the legal charge (John 18:33). Whatever He may be, there is no proof of treason against the majesty of Cæsar.”

On the attempt of Pilate to release Jesus (John 18:39-40), comp. Matthew 27:15-23; Mark 15:6-14; Luke 23:13-23. It is preceded in St. Luke by the trial before Herod (John 18:6-12).

18:33-40 Art thou the King of the Jews? that King of the Jews who has been so long expected? Messiah the Prince; art thou he? Dost thou call thyself so, and wouldest thou be thought so? Christ answered this question with another; not for evasion, but that Pilate might consider what he did. He never took upon him any earthly power, never were any traitorous principles or practices laid to him. Christ gave an account of the nature of his kingdom. Its nature is not worldly; it is a kingdom within men, set up in their hearts and consciences; its riches spiritual, its power spiritual, and it glory within. Its supports are not worldly; its weapons are spiritual; it needed not, nor used, force to maintain and advance it, nor opposed any kingdom but that of sin and Satan. Its object and design are not worldly. When Christ said, I am the Truth, he said, in effect, I am a King. He conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth. The subjects of this kingdom are those that are of the truth. Pilate put a good question, he said, What is truth? When we search the Scriptures, and attend the ministry of the word, it must be with this inquiry, What is truth? and with this prayer, Lead me in thy truth; into all truth. But many put this question, who have not patience to preserve in their search after truth; or not humility enough to receive it. By this solemn declaration of Christ's innocence, it appears, that though the Lord Jesus was treated as the worst of evil-doers, he never deserved such treatment. But it unfolds the design of his death; that he died as a Sacrifice for our sins. Pilate was willing to please all sides; and was governed more by worldly wisdom than by the rules of justice. Sin is a robber, yet is foolishly chosen by many rather than Christ, who would truly enrich us. Let us endeavour to make our accusers ashamed as Christ did; and let us beware of crucifying Christ afresh.What is truth? - This question was probably asked in contempt, and hence Jesus did not answer it. Had the question been sincere, and had Pilate really sought it as Nicodemus had done John 3, Jesus would not have hesitated to explain to him the nature of his kingdom. They were now alone in the judgment-hall John 18:33, and as soon as Pilate had asked the question, without waiting for an answer, he went out. It is evident that he was satisfied, from the answer of Jesus John 18:36-37, that he was not a king in the sense in which the Jews accused him; that he would not endanger the Roman government, and consequently that he was innocent of the charge alleged against him. He regarded him, clearly, as a fanatic poor, ignorant, and deluded, but innocent and not dangerous. Hence, he sought to release him; and, hence, in contempt, he asked him this question, and immediately went out, not expecting an answer.

This question had long agitated the world. It was the great subject of inquiry in all the schools of the Greeks. Different sects of philosophers had held different opinions, and Pilate now, in derision, asked him, whom he esteemed an ignorant fanatic, whether he could solve this long-agitated question. He might have had an answer. If he had patiently waited in sincerity, Jesus would have told him what it was. Thousands ask the question in the same way. They have a fixed contempt for the Bible; they deride the instructions of religion; they are unwilling to investigate and to wait at the gates of wisdom; and hence, like Pilate, they remain ignorant of the great Source of truth, and die in darkness and in error. All might find truth if they would seek it; none ever will find it if they do not apply for it to the great source of light the God of truth, and seek it patiently in the way in which he has chosen to communicate it to mankind. How highly should we prize the Bible! And how patiently and prayerfully should we search the Scriptures, that we may not err and die forever! See the notes at John 14:6.

I find in him no fault - See Luke 23:4.

38. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?—that is, "Thou stirrest the question of questions, which the thoughtful of every age have asked, but never man yet answered."

And when he had said this—as if, by putting such a question, he was getting into interminable and unseasonable inquiries, when this business demanded rather prompt action.

he went out again unto the Jews—thus missing a noble opportunity for himself, and giving utterance to that consciousness of the want of all intellectual and moral certainty, which was the feeling of every thoughtful mind at that time. "The only certainty," says the elder Pliny, "is that nothing is certain, nor more miserable than man, nor more proud. The fearful laxity of morals at that time must doubtless be traced in a great degree to this skepticism. The revelation of the eternal truth alone was able to breathe new life into ruined human nature, and that in the apprehension of complete redemption" [Olshausen].

and saith unto them—in the hearing of our Lord, who had been brought forth.

I find in him no fault—no crime. This so exasperated "the chief priests and elders" that, afraid of losing their prey, they poured forth a volley of charges against Him, as appears from Lu 23:4, 5: on Pilate's affirming His innocence, "they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place." They see no hope of getting Pilate's sanction to His death unless they can fasten upon Him a charge of conspiracy against the government; and as Galilee was noted for its turbulence (Lu 13:1; Ac 5:37), and our Lord's ministry lay chiefly there, they artfully introduce it to give color to their charge. "And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing (Mr 15:3). Then said Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee? And He answered him to never a word, insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly" (Mt 27:13, 14). See on [1905]Mr 15:3-5. In his perplexity, Pilate, hearing of Galilee, bethinks himself of the expedient of sending Him to Herod, in the hope of thereby further shaking off responsibility in the case. See Mr 15:6, and see on [1906]Lu 23:6-12. The return of the prisoner only deepened the perplexity of Pilate, who, "calling together the chief priests, rulers, and people," tells them plainly that not one of their charges against "this man" had been made good, while even Herod, to whose jurisdiction he more naturally belonged, had done nothing to Him: He "will therefore chastise and release him" (Lu 23:13-16).

Pilate (as profane persons use to do) thought that our Saviour, speaking of truth, and a spiritual kingdom, did but cant, and therefore asking him what he meant by truth, he never stays for an answer, but goes out again to the Jews, whom he had left without the door of the judgment hall, and tells them he found no fault in him. Whatever the quality of the kingdom was of which our Saviour spake, he judged that his pretensions to it were not prejudicial to the authority of the emperor, nor the tranquillity of the state, and would have demissed him from their unjust prosecution. Pilate saith unto him, what is truth?.... That is, in general, or that which Christ then particularly spoke of: many things might be observed in answer to this question, as that there is the truth and faithfulness of God in his word and promises; the truth of grace in the hearts of his people; Jesus Christ himself is truth, he is true God, and true man; the truth of all covenant transactions, of all types, promises, and prophecies; whatever he said and taught was truth, and the truth of all doctrine comes from him. The Gospel is truth in general; it comes from the God of truth; lies in the Scriptures of truth; Christ, who is truth itself, is the substance of it; the Spirit of truth has an hand in it, leads into it, and makes it effectual; the whole of it is true, and every particular doctrine of it; as the manifestation of the Son of God in human nature, his coming into the world to save the chief of sinners, justification by his righteousness, pardon by his blood, atonement by his sacrifice, the resurrection of the dead, &c. The same question is put in the Talmud (p), , "what is truth?" and it is answered, that he is the living God, and the King of the World: we do not find that our Lord gave any answer to this question, which might be put in a scornful, jeering way; nor did Pilate wait for one; for

when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews: as soon as he had put the question about truth, having no great inclination to hear what Christ would say to it; nor did he put it for information sake, or as having any opinion of Christ, and that he was able to answer it; he directly goes out of the judgment hall, taking Jesus along with him, and addresses the Jews after this manner:

and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all; and indeed how should he? there was no sin in his nature, nor guile in his lips, nor any iniquity in his life; the devil himself could find none in him. This confession is both to the shame of Pilate and the Jews; to the reproach of Pilate, that after this he should condemn him; and of the Jews, that after such a fair and full declaration from the judge, they should insist upon his crucifixion; it shows, however, that he died not for any sin of his own, but for the sins of others.

(p) T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 18. 1.

{12} Pilate saith unto him, {d} What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

(12) It was required that Christ should be pronounced innocent, but nonetheless, in that he took upon himself our person, he was to be condemned as a most wicked man.

(d) He speaks this disdainfully and scoffingly, and not by way of asking a question.

John 18:38. Pilate, now fully convinced that he has before him an innocent and harmless enthusiast, asks, with that air of contemptuous deprecation which is peculiar to the material understanding in regard to the abstract and supersensual sphere, What is truth? A non ens, a phantom, he thus conceives it to be, with which He would found a kingdom; and weary of the matter, and abruptly breaking it off, he goes straightway forth to the Jews, and declares to them that he finds no guilt in Jesus,[233] from which definite declaration it is seen that by the above question he does not mean at all to designate the matter merely as not coming within his jurisdiction (Steinmeyer). Something of good-nature lies in this conduct, but it is the weak and shallow good-nature of the man of the world who is indifferent towards higher things; nothing of the disconsolate tone of the searcher for truth (Olshausen) is to be imported. Against the view of Chrysostom, Theodoras Heracl., Euth. Zigabenus, Aretius, and several others, however, that Pilate had actually become desirous to be acquainted with the truth (Nonnus even thinks: καὶ Πιλάτος θάμβησε); it is at once decisive that he immediately turns his back and goes out.

Whence did John learn of this conversation of Pilate with Jesus? He can hardly have been himself an ear-witness of it.[234] But whether the fact be that it was communicated by Pilate in his own circles, and that hence it reached John, or whether it be that some ear-witness of the interview himself brought the information to John, the matter is not inconceivable (in answer to Scholten), and in no case have we the right to ascribe the account merely to the composition of John (Strauss), as Baur especially finds impressed on the declarations of Pilate that he “finds no guilt in Jesus,” only the tendency of the evangelist to roll the guilt as far as possible off Pilate’s shoulders, and place it on those of the Jews, which purpose also the question, What is truth? is intended to serve, in which Baur suggests the sense: how can one make a crime out of truth?

[233] Here we are to think of the sending away of Jesus to Herodes Antipas. See on Luke, note after Luke 23:12. But how could the fourth evangelist have omitted this episode, had he been a Gentile Christian, and had designed to concentrate the guilt of the death of Jesus as much as possible on the Ἰουδαϊοι? This in answer to Baur and Schenkel.

[234] So Steinmeyer, Leidensgesch. p. 143.John 18:38-40. Pilate declares the result of his examination.38. What is truth?] Pilate does not ask about ‘the Truth,’ but truth in any particular case. His question does not indicate any serious wish to know what truth really is, nor yet the despairing scepticism of a baffled thinker; nor, on the other hand, is it uttered in a light spirit of ‘jesting’ (as Bacon thought). Rather it is the half-pitying, half-impatient, question of a practical man of the world, whose experience of life has convinced him that truth is a dream of enthusiasts, and that a kingdom in which truth is to be supreme is as visionary as that of the Stoics. He has heard enough to convince him that the Accused is no dangerous incendiary, and he abruptly brings the investigation to a close with a question, which to his mind cuts at the root of the Prisoner’s aspirations. Here probably we must insert the sending to Herod Antipas, who had come from Tiberias, as Pilate from Caesarea, on account of the Feast, the one to win popularity, the other to keep order (Luke 23:6-12).

38. unto the Jews] Apparently this means the mob and not the hierarchy. Pilate hoped that only a minority were moving against Jesus; by an appeal to the majority he might be able to acquit Him without incurring odium. By pronouncing Him legally innocent he would gain this majority; by proposing to release Him on account of the Feast rather than of His innocence he would avoid insulting the Sanhedrin, who had already pronounced Him guilty. From S. Mark (Mark 15:8; Mark 15:11) it would appear that some of the multitude hoped to deliver Jesus on the plea of the Feast and took the initiative in reminding Pilate of the custom, but were controlled by the priests and made to clamour for Barabbas.

I find in him no fault at all] Rather, I find no ground of accusation in him. As in John 19:6, the pronoun is emphatic; ‘I, the Roman judge, in contrast to you Jewish fanatics.’ The word here and John 19:4; John 19:6 rendered ‘fault’ (aitia) is rendered ‘accusation’ Matthew 27:37 and Mark 15:26, and ‘cause’ Acts 13:28; Acts 28:18. In all these passages it seems to mean ‘legal ground for prosecution.’

38–40. Outside the Praetorium; Pilate pronounces Him innocent and offers to release Him in honour of the feast: the Jews prefer Barabbas.John 18:38. Τί ἐστιν ἀληθεία; what is truth?) Pilate thinks that the mention of truth does not square with what He said concerning His kingdom. He knows only to connect the idea of a kingdom with power, not with truth. But the kingdom of truth is a kingdom of freedom; for the truth makes free (ch. John 8:32; John 8:36). Here Pilate ought to have questioned Him, as an earnest inquirer: but he so questions Him, as to confess that he is not of the truth. The words of Jesus were an enigma to Pilate; and Pilate confesses this. It is at the end of his conversation with Jesus, and not till then, that he asks τί ἐστιν, what is truth? Sir. (Ecclesiasticus) Sir 22:8, “He that telleth a tale to a fool, speaketh to one in a slumber; when he hath told his tale, he will say, What is the matter?”Verse 38. - Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? The aphorism of Lord Bacon, "'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate, and did not wait for an answer," scarcely represents the reality oft-he case. Pilate was not scornfully jesting with a metaphysical problem, nor professing himself hopelessly baffled in search for it. The language was not the utterance of irrepressible homage to his mysterious Prisoner, or heartfelt sympathy with him. For on this supposition why did he not wait for some more words of strange unearthly wisdom? Nor does he go so far in his skepticism as Pliny the Eider did when he said, "that there is only one thing certain, viz. that there is nothing certain;" but as a man of the world having to do with Roman authority or intrigue and Jewish fanaticism, Pilate despised earnestness and zeal, and was utterly unable to believe in the existence of a world or region where any higher reality than force prevailed. But the governor was now, with his narrow range of thought, strongly convinced that Jesus was utterly innocent of the charge brought against him. The unanswered question is equivalent to this - What has truth to do with kingship? What has the vague shadowy region over which this poor king reigns to do with plots against Caesar? He saw enough to induce him to break off the interview within the Praetorium, and he proceeded, though vainly, to deliver a verdict on the case. When he had said this, he went out to the Jews, and said, I find no crime in him. Here, however, must be introduced the scenes described by Matthew, Mark, and especially by Luke - scenes of loud and angry dispute and renewed and fierce accusation (Matthew 27:12-14; Mark 15:3-5; Luke 23:4-12). In all three accounts, after the admission that he was King of the Jews, the loud, fierce accusations followed in which our Lord, notwithstanding the repeated summons of Pilate, "answered nothing." At this the governor marveled greatly (Matthew and Mark). It is not impossible that the first question which Pilate put to him within the Praetorium was renewed and laconically answered with the Σὺ λέγεις, as before I but all the wild roar of the chief priests and people could extract nothing more. This silence in face of the accusation of the mob astonished Pilate, and made him more than ever convinced of the innocence of his Prisoner. B. Weiss shows conclusively how much light this interview with Pilate throws on the synoptic narrative; that, in fact, Pilate's whole conduct is only explicable on the supposition that he had received cogent reasons to disarm all political mistrust (see 'Life of Jesus,' vol. 3. pp. 348, 349). Westcott says, "It is of great interest to compare this confession before Pilate with the corresponding confession before the high priest (Matthew 26:64). The one addressed to the Jews is in the language of prophecy, the other addressed to a Roman appeals to the verdict of universal conscience. The one speaks of a future manifestation of glory, the other of a present manifestation of truth." Truth

Not with the article as in the previous verse, the truth. Jesus meant the absolute truth: Pilate, truth in any particular case. "Pilate's exclamation is neither the expression of an ardent thirst for truth, nor that of the despair of a soul which has long sought it in vain; it is the profession of a frivolous skepticism, such as is frequently met with in the man of the world, and especially in the statesman" (Godet).

Fault (αἰτίαν)

Properly, cause of accusation. Rev., crime. See on Matthew 27:37, and compare note on Matthew 19:10.

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