Saturday, February 13, 2021

Apocalyptic? #19: Does Absolute Truth Exist? (Rev. 3:14)


These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:(Rev. 3:14 NKJV)

Here, in one-half of a single sentence, John records Jesus’ self-introduction with THREE words that carry the meaning of “truth”:  Amen, Faithful, and True.  But, does absolute truth exist?  Not according to Postmodernism.    On pages 2-3 of my book ArguMentor, I observe:

[I]n the Postmodern world in which we live, philosophers are skeptical of the notion that it is even possible to find “absolute” truth.  These Postmodern philosophers might even make the claim that there is NO TRUTH!  Kenneth Burke, himself a Postmodernist, counters that we cannot make a reasonable claim that there is no truth, because the only way our claim would make sense is if we believed that the claim were true.  Yet, if there is NO TRUTH, that claim could NOT BE TRUE!  Burke helps us out of this conundrum by suggesting neither that there is ABSOLUTE TRUTH, nor that there is NO TRUTH.  Rather, he suggests that there is PROBABLE TRUTH.  This probable truth is what Aristotle points to as the goal of testing and maintaining an argument in rhetoric.  Rhetoric was not originally considered for use in the field of science (as . . . dialectic [was]). Rhetoric supplies arguments that point to probable truth, not absolute truth. 



So, why does Jesus claim the mantle of “truth”?  In John 14:6, (NKJV), Jesus states: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”  In John 8:31-32 (NKJV), he encourages: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  Jesus tells Pilate in John 18:37 (NKJV): “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  To which, Pilate responds: “What is truth?”  In all of these passages from the Gospel of John, the Greek noun John uses for “truth” is ALĒTHIA, a word that is not found in Revelation, but John’s Gospel uses it twenty-six times (more than any other New Testament book). Incidentally, this is an example of why I do not think the writer of the Gospel of John and the writer of Revelation are one and the same.  They do not share the same vocabulary.  The Gospel of John also uses the adjective ALĒTHĒS (“true”) fifteen times (more than any other New Testament book) and the adverb ALĒTHŌS seven times (more than any other New Testament book).  Revelation uses neither term, but speaks often of truth.

In the 3:14 passage, cited at the first of this post, Revelation has Jesus introducing himself to the Laodiceans with the Greek adjective ALĒTHINOS, meaning “true.”  Jesus, likewise, introduces himself to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7) as the “true” one (ALĒTHINOS).  John in Revelation uses this Greek adjective more than does any other New Testament book—13 times (always describing either Jesus or God or their words or judgments), although the Gospel of John is second, using the term 10 times (again, almost always describing either Jesus or God).  The answer to the question posed by the title of this post (Does Absolute Truth Exist?) is a resounding ABSOLUTELY, for John.  And the location of that “truth” is to be found in God and Jesus. 


As I stated in my earlier post (Apocalyptic? #9):

Although John writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew.  His language shows that dual-language mind, throughout the book.  Therefore, correspondence between Greek and Hebrew terms often points to and resolves important issues. 


I further stated in my earlier post (Apocalyptic? #10):


This John writes in Greek, but thinks in Hebrew.  Not so for the writer of the fourth Gospel, who writes in very clear Greek, or any of the three letters attributed to John.


The Hebrew word ‘AMĒN and its cognates have definite “truth” implications.  Therefore, John in Revelation does not appear to be satisfied with a Greek translation.  It is for this reason that John in Revelation uses the Hebrew term ‘AMĒN more than does any other New Testament writer (other than in the “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” phrase that Jesus constantly used to introduce his teachings).  The synoptic gospels quote Jesus saying “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” more than fifty times.  In the Gospel of John, the phrase is changed to “verily, verily [AMĒN, AMĒN], I say to you,” thus repeating the AMĒN, each time.  John’s Gospel uses the term in that fashion (doubling the AMĒN) twenty-four times.  In Revelation, AMĒN is never used with either of the two variations of “verily [AMĒN], I say to you” constructions, but the Hebrew term AMĒN is still used ten times in Revelation. 


It is extremely helpful to me that my brother, Dennis Lindsay, wrote his doctoral thesis at the University of Tuebingen on the subject of the Hebrew word ‘AMĒN and, subsequently, published a book on the subject of how the Septuagint and other later Jewish writings translated ‘AMĒN and its cognates from the Old Testament Hebrew into the Greek word PISTIS (usually, translated by the English word “faith”) and its cognates, one of which (PISTOS) appears in the text cited at the first of this blog (translated, here, as “faithful” 3:14).  Dennis was kind enough to send me a free copy of his text (actually, his own original copy!), Josephus and Faith: Pistis and Pisteuein As Faith Terminology in the Writings of Flavius Josephus and in the New Testament (Arbeiten Zur Geschichte).  The book currently sells on Amazon for $437.35, so getting a free copy was fantastic!  He has written an (easier-read) book, Believing in Jesus:  Studies in the Gospel of John, that is available on Amazon in paperback for $19.95 or Kindle for $9.95, but I found the $400 text extremely interesting for those who can handle German, Greek, and Hebrew.


Jesus, in Revelation, introduces himself, in 3:14, as “The AMĒN.”  Dennis alerted me to the connection between the concept of “holding fast,” discussed in my last blog post, and the Hebrew term ‘AMĒN.  According to Dennis, in an email dated January 21, 2021: 

The concept of “holding fast” is much akin to what I argue as the ground concept of a biblical theology of faith, based on the LXX (and subsequently NT) appropriation of the pistis terminology for the ‘aman vocabulary of the Hebrew text (where ‘aman, particularly in the hiphil form, routinely has the meaning of “standing firm” in the face of adversity; cf. Gen. 15:6; Ex. 14:31; et al.).

In his book (p. 18), he states:

It is obvious that the [‘AMĒN/’MN] root in the OT is not restricted to the sense of an action-motivating faith/trust in God.  The idea of truth [ALĒTHIA] is one important nuance of the Hebrew [‘AMĒN/’MN]; also the idea of “standing firm.”

On page 21, he cites Bultmann’s statistic that ALĒTHIA “is used 87 times . . . and 22 times” by the Septuagint as a Greek translation for forms of the same root as ‘AMĒN.  On page 29, he cites Weiser: “There is an ‘exclusiveness of the reciprocal relation between God and man’ which is to be found in the religious use of” the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN.  This indicates that humans who stand firm in trusting God as the true one have a relationship with God that is “the divinely established basis of the community of God.”  In the footnotes of page 29, Dennis notes: “It is significant here that [the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN] is never used for the relationship to other gods and idols.”  Hence, one might understand that relationship between the “true” God and his people is the only relationship actually based upon “truth.”  Dennis states (p. 35) that even the word PISTIS in Classical Greek “could not fully express the idea of ‘truth’ which is inherent in [cognates of ‘AMĒN] so [ALĒTHIA] had to be adopted in many instances.”  Nor did PISTIS “necessarily have the base meaning of ‘to stand firm,’ which is extremely important in” the hiphil of the root of ‘AMĒN.  When the New Testament, written in Greek, finds it necessary to translate the Hebrew concept of ‘AMĒN into Greek, it uses cognates of PISTIS. Dennis places PISTIS in the LXX and New Testament into the classification of words borrowed from another language, but with the meaning carrying over from the original language (p. 16).  This is precisely what I meant when I commented: “John writes in Greek, but thinks in Hebrew.”  If, therefore, the location of “truth” [ALĒTHIA] is to be found in God and Jesus and, as The ‘AMĒN, Jesus represents absolute truth, the proper response of humans to Jesus and God is a response of absolute trust and “faith” that causes them to “stand/hold fast” (PISTIS).  Dennis (p. 18) writes: “The idea of truth [ALĒTHIA] is one important nuance of the Hebrew [cognates of ‘AMĒN]; also the idea of ‘standing firm,’” and the Hebrew connotations of cognates of ‘AMĒN transfer over to cognates of PISTIS, in the New Testament.  Furthermore, Dennis (p. 29) citing Weiser, states that the Hiphil of ‘AMĒN is used by the Old Testament “only for the personal relation, for behind the word which one believes is the [one] whom one trusts.”  The Hiphil of ‘AMĒN is never used by the Old Testament “for the relation to other gods and idols.”  Other gods and idols, of course, would not be true or trustworthy.  On page 31, Dennis points out the absolute use of the Hiphil of ‘AMĒN in Isaiah 28:16:  It “denot[es] an attitude and manner of steadfastness, confidence and trust in the midst of a life-threatening situation.”  This sounds very much like the situation in which John’s audience in Revelation in 69 A.D. found themselves.




Revelation uses the Greek noun PISTIS only four times, but in two of those instances (2:13 and 14:12), it refers to the faith/PISTIS of Christ.  There are three Greek ways of understanding this “faith of Christ” construction:  1.  Jesus is the one who has faith (subjective genitive), 2.  Jesus is the object of others’ faith, i.e., they believe Jesus (objective genitive), and  3. What Dennis (pp. 105-106), following Hultgren, calls “Christic faith,” “the faith of the believer which comes forth as Christ is proclaimed in the gospel” (genitive of quality), “an instance of Semitic [Hebrew] syntax underlying the Greek.” In the other two instances of PISTIS in Revelation, Jesus in 2:19 compliments the church at Thyatira for their faith—probably, referring to that “Christic faith” mentioned 6 verses earlier—and in 13:10, John describes that “faith of the saints”: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”  It is a patient faith that surely implies the possibility of captivity and death. 


In the passage cited at the first of this blog post (3:14), plus 1:5 and 22:6, the adjective PISTOS is used instead of the noun PISTIS.  PISTOS, translated “faithful,” is used to describe Jesus as a “faithful witness/MARTYS.”  As we considered in my previous post, MARTYS in Revelation, generally means one who has been killed for the faith.  Jesus, certainly fits the description.  Also, Antipas (who was killed) is called Jesus’ faithful/PISTOS witness in 2:13.  Therefore, both the PISTIS connotation and the MARTYS connotation carry the concept of being killed. Indeed, Jesus tells the church at Smyrna (2:10 NKJV), “Be faithful [PISTOS] until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In 17:14, the Christians who are “conquerors” with Christ are called faithful/PISTOS.  As we will see later, the term “conquerors” also carries the connotation in Revelation of one who has been slain.  In 19:11, Jesus is called “Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS.” Actually, the combination “Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS” occurs four times, twice (3:14 and 19:11) referring to Jesus as Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS, and twice (21:5 and 22:6) referring to the words of the Book of Revelation as Faithful/PISTOS and True/ ALĒTHINOS.

Having classified PISTIS as a word “borrowed from another language, but with the meaning carrying over from the original language,” I have been transitioning from Dennis’s area of expertise into my own.  Holding a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Purdue University and having completed all coursework for a second Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois, I understand well the distinction Aristotle makes between “absolute truth” and “probable truth.”  Specifically, the term faith/PISTIS is a basic term in Rhetoric, as the goal of finding “probable truth.”  But, before we get to Aristotle, we must first briefly consider the Jewish historian Josephus (a contemporary of John the Revelator, born a few years after Jesus’ resurrection), and one of Plato’s Jewish advocates Philo (a Jew who lived contemporaneously with Jesus and who, some scholars have suggested, had an impact on John’s Gospel).  As Dennis (p. 188) correctly sees, “the line of distinction should be properly seen between the biblical kind of faith and the secular Greek kind of faith.”  For all practical purposes, Aristotle, Plato, Philo, and Josephus were all using “the secular Greek kind of faith.”  On page 82, Dennis states: “Josephus often uses [PISTIS] to mean “proof, evidence.”  Dennis (p. 80) cites David M. Hay to the effect that PISTIS in Josephus “refers to that which inspires faith or trust.” This is certainly an Aristotelian use of PISTIS.  Aristotle uses the plural of PISTIS (PISTEIS), to identify those “proofs” that produce faith/PISTIS. On page 57, Dennis acknowledges that PISTIS, “as . . . proof, appears quite frequently in the plural in Philo.”  This is also an Aristotelian use of PISTIS.


So, what does Aristotle say about faith/PISTIS? As I explained in my post Apocalyptic? #15, “Aristotle suggests that there are three primary [artistic] means of persuasion that humans develop” in the realm of Rhetoric.  These are ethos, pathos, and logos.  Aristotle calls all three of these means of persuasion “proofs/PISTEIS.” Logic/LOGOS, trustworthiness/ETHOS, and emotion/PATHOS are all “proofs” used to “prove” that something that was otherwise “unprovable” given the limitations of human knowledge was “probably” true.  A logical reason why the New Testament, as Dennis indicates (p. 188), must make “the line of distinction . . .  between the biblical kind of faith and the secular Greek kind of faith” is that the New Testament CANNOT adopt a stance that “Christic Faith” could be only “probable” truth.  Instead, if faith/PISTIS “denot[es] an attitude and manner of steadfastness, confidence and trust in the midst of a life-threatening situation,” one’s faith must be an absolute faith.  One must believe that Jesus and God are “absolutely true.”


This link in the syllogistic chain (see my book The Logic of Christianity:  A Syllogistic Chain) brings us to a stunning conclusion:  If Jesus and God both know “absolute truth,” there is no room for debate between them on ANY ISSUE.  There is no need for Rhetoric between God and Jesus, because both individuals KNOW “Absolute Truth.”  The “issues” concerning which humans debate, using argumentation and rhetoric do not exist between God and Jesus.  They do not differ in perspective concerning which candidate fairly won the election.  They both know for certain.  They do not argue whether abortion is murder or not.  They both know for certain.  They do not disagree about what will happen in the future.  They both know for certain.    They do not argue whether the Chinese Communist Party intentionally released the COVID19 virus on the world.  They both know for certain.  They do not argue whether greenhouse gasses are dangerous to the Earth.  They both know for certain.  Even in areas of “science,” they both know for certain much more than the scientists know. They both know whether there is life on Mars or any other location in the universe.  They both know for certain, at any given point in time, the number of ever-decreasing hairs on my head. 


If, therefore, both God and Jesus know absolute truth, concerning everything, there is no point of disagreement between them concerning anything.  People do not disagree about things that are considered “fact.”  People have trouble understanding how God and Jesus can BOTH rule the universe, without any conflict.  It is because they never argue; they never disagree, they don’t have differing opinions, because they both know “absolute truth” for certain.  Therefore, as we approach two of the most interesting chapters in Revelation—Chapter 4 where God is “worth-shipped” (understand, worshipped) by all creation and Chapter 5 where the Lamb is “worth-shipped” (understand, worshipped) by all creation—we can see that there is absolutely no conflict between these two individuals.  They do not argue (Rhetoric) about anything.  They both know everything for certain.  As John 10:30 states: “I and My Father are one." Even though my wife, Linda, and I are "one flesh," we still argue at times.  Because, for humans, there is only probable truth.  There is no “probable truth” for them.  All is “absolute truth.”  So, does absolute truth exist?  Absolutely!