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We read in John 18:37-38 how Pilate poses an inquisitive question on Truth to Jesus :

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

The Evangelist does not record as to what answer Jesus gave to Pilate, but goes on to say:

After he (Pilate) had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.”

It is possible that Pilate posed the question on Truth just to tease Jesus, and did not expect an answer. It is also possible that the Lord knew the futility of explaining to Pilate and therefore, kept mum. Be that as it may, John does not record the answer, nor does he talk of Jesus's silence, whichever may have taken place in response to Pilate's query.

My question therefore is: Why does John the Evangelist not record Jesus' response to Pilate's query on Truth?

Inputs from any denomination are welcome.

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    There is no evidence in the text that Jesus responded to that (rhetorical) question.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 13:09
  • Thanks, Ken Graham for editing the question. I have since added reference Nos of the chapter and verses. Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 6:17

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What appears in English texts as three words and a question mark "What is truth?" may well have been spoken dismissively and rhetorically rather than as a genuine query.

Jesus has just claimed to possess a kingdom that is not of this world. When Pilate asks Jesus if He is claiming to be a King (which would have perhaps given Pilate grounds for a charge against Him) Jesus answers that those are Pilate's words. Jesus then states His singular purpose in coming into the world ... to testify to the truth.

The text allows one, I suppose, to ponder if Pilate was really hoping that Jesus would answer his question and explain or reveal truth. Given that Pilate ultimately had no qualms about scourging and killing a man in whom he could find no guilt, coupled with history suggesting that he had nothing but contempt for Jews and their religion, it is hard to hold such a position without substantiation:

Protected by Sejanus, Pilate incurred the enmity of Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine by insulting their religious sensibilities, as when he hung worship images of the emperor throughout Jerusalem and had coins bearing pagan religious symbols minted. After Sejanus’s fall (31 ce), Pilate was exposed to sharper criticism from certain Jews, who may have capitalized on his vulnerability to obtain a legal death sentence on Jesus (John 19:12). The Samaritans reported Pilate to Vitellius, legate of Syria, after he attacked them on Mount Gerizim (36 ce). He was then ordered back to Rome to stand trial for cruelty and oppression, particularly on the charge that he had executed men without proper trial. According to Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History, Pilate killed himself on orders from the emperor Caligula. - Brittanica

The text also allows for one to suppose that Pilate had absolutely no use for any notion of 'truth' coming from a Jewish prisoner and possibly no truth at all. If Pilate did not believe truth was accessible, important, or even actual then his 'question' may not have been a question at all. Much like if one offered to share ultimate truth with a nihilist, the nihilist might answer much the same as Pilate..."Truth, what is truth?". The question drips with disdain.

Jesus, having just said that "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." and recognizing the false question as proof that Pilate did not listen to His voice and was therefore not of the truth, had no need to answer.

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St. John the Evangelist does not record Christ's answer because he did not answer verbally.

However, the answer to Pilate's question:

"Quid est veritas?" (lat. "What is truth?")

was contained in the question already as an anagram:

"Est vir qui adest." (lat. "The man (standing) before you.")

One could say Christ's presence was an answer in itself since His divine aura and dignified air are more than sufficient to quench any doubts about Him.

As Pilate admits in his report to the Emperor Tiberius:

"The vociferations of the infuriated mob shook the palace to its foundations. There was but one who appeared to be calm in the midst of the vast multitude. It was the Nazarene."

If you are interested in further reading on the relationship between Pilate and Christ I recommend the Acta Pilati cited above or the audio version.

For context on the Acta Pilati there is the Catholic Encyclopaedia, which states, among other things:

The "Acta" are of orthodox composition and free from Gnostic taint.

I hope my answer was helpful.

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  • Thanks, Glorius. Interestingly, the Ethiopian church venerates Pilate as a martyr and saint., who had converted to Christianity before he died. Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 11:56
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    The Gospel of Nicodemus, otherwise known as the Acta Pilati, is likely from the 4th or 5th century and is in no way inspired canon. It is even considered by some to be entirely fake: ebible.com/questions/…. The Catholic Encyclopedia also says this: "We are forced to admit that is of later origin, and scholars agree in assigning it to the middle of the fourth century.". Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 12:29
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    Anagrams... in Latin? When John was written in Greek??
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 6:30
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Why does John the Evangelist not record Jesus' response to Pilate's query on Truth?

Quid est veritas?

We may never know, because the Scriptures do not explain why Jesus did not respond to Pilate’s question about truth: Τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια. Pilate most certainly spoke in Greek to Jesus during his trial.

My take on this is that Pilate was jesting with Jesus and did not hang around for a response to be given! Other too seem to believe the same, so I am not alone in this thinking.

John 18:38 is the 38th verse in chapter 18 of the Gospel of John in the New Testament of Christian Bible. It is often referred to as "jesting Pilate" or "What is truth?", of Latin Quid est veritas? In it, Pontius Pilate questions Jesus' claim that he is "witness to the truth" (John 18:37).

Following this statement, Pilate tells the complainant authorities outside that he does not consider Jesus guilty of any crime.

Analysis

The exact intention of Pilate has been subject to debate among scholars, with no firm conclusion. His statement may have been made in jest that the trial was a mockery, or he may have sincerely intended to reflect on the philosophical position that truth is hard to ascertain. The Greek word rendered as "truth" in English translations is "aletheia", which literally means "unconcealed" and connotes sincerity in addition to factuality and reality; whereas Jesus' use of the term appears to indicate absolute, revealed knowledge.

This verse reflects the Christian tradition of the "guiltlessness of Jesus" in Pilate's Court.[9] The innocence of Jesus is important in the Gospel of John, given that it emphasizes Jesus as the Lamb of God.

Note that Jesus, although he does not respond to Pilate's question (perhaps because Pilate "went out again" before giving him a chance to) knows the answer. During his prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus tells God, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." (John 17:17)

In addition to the guiltlessness of Jesus this verse also reflects the rejection of the truth of God: Jesus, the witness to truth was rejected, ignored and condemned.

This verse has been widely quoted and alluded to in culture and literature, particularly in that of philosophical nature. While Pilate's question—whether intended philosophically, jestfully, rhetorically, or born of frustration at the lack of a plain answer—is by no means the only incident of someone questioning the nature of truth, it has been drawn upon many times as a significant occurrence thereof.

Francis Bacon uses this musing to open his essay Of Truth, saying that Pilate "would not stay for an answer". He uses this to introduce his theme of truth as an affirmation of faith.

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  • Thanks, Ken Graham. In fact, the NIV puts the verse as : “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. " I used the NRSVCE for the question . So, which is the nearest translation -- ` Pilate retorted ' or ` Pilate asked ' . Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 11:06

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