THE FIRST GREAT PHILOSOPHICAL question is: What is? The second, which naturally follows, is: How do we know what is? The first question is about being, the second is about truth. Truth is relative to being, for “truth” means “the truth about being.” “An orange is round” is true only because an orange is round.
Jesus’ answer to the first question, the question of being, was Himself. It was not to point but to he, to be “I AM.” So His answer to the second question, the question of truth, is also not to point t o anything else as the truth but simply to be himself the truth: “I AM the truth.” (John 14:6)
Thus the supreme irony of Pilate cynically addressing the philosophers’ great question “What is truth?” to the eternal, perfect, absolute, divine, truth Himself, made incarnate and concrete and personal and standing before him, condemned. Pilate’s skepticism implicitly complains: “How am I supposed to know that great philosophical will-o-the-wisp, `truth’? Can I see it? Can I touch it?” And Jesus answers: “Yes. In fact, you can crucify it.”
But when man crucifies truth, truth crucifies man. In the very act whereby Pilate condemns truth incarnate, truth unincarnate condemns Pilate.
Jesus does not answer Pilate in words because truth incarnate is like light, not like a lit object. Jesus is not on trial, Pilate is. When we juxtapose Jesus with this second great philosophical question, the epistemological question, we see the same pattern repeated as we saw with the first question: just as Jesus is not a metaphysician but something more metaphysical than a metaphysician — He is the very being that all metaphysics seeks — so he is not just an epistemologist but the truth that all epistemology seeks. For Jesus is not a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, only because He is wisdom. He is the Beloved that “the love of wisdom” is in love with. He is the answer to Job’s great, perennial quest:
“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness. They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people. As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. “That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it. The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it. “They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots. They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing. The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light. “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living.
The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.
“Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’ “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’”