“How can I know what’s true?” It seems like a simple question. But with the advent of social media, “fake news,” and a multitude of competing voices, it can be hard to discern the truth. But there is good news. The Bible tells us that we can and must know what’s true.
Looking to the Scriptures, theologians have discerned two different ways we can know what’s true. First, we know what’s true through general revelation. This term refers to what God has revealed in His world and in us (Gen. 1:1, 28; Ps. 19:1–6; Ps. 139:13–14; Rom. 1:18–21). Interestingly, this conviction about general revelation led to the scientific revolution. Biblical Christianity provided a worldview that encouraged mankind to investigate the world around us with the firm assurance that because the God who made it and upheld it is true, we could discover what’s true.
But we do not learn what’s true just from investigating the world around us. We also learn the truth by using our minds. This is another aspect of general revelation. Since man is made in God’s image, we can, as one theologian put it, think His thoughts after Him. So, we use the laws of logic, mathematical laws, laws of physics, and so on to discover truth.
Second, we know what’s true through special revelation (Ps. 19:7–11; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16). This refers to the way in which God has revealed Himself in His Word. Of course, God spoke other words to His prophets and Apostles that were not recorded in His Word. But the special revelation He wanted us to have, He has preserved for us in the Bible.
The Bible is not a textbook of science, math, physics, or art. However, it gives us the only worldview that ultimately makes all those things possible. In other words, the Bible not only teaches us ultimate truths about man, the world, salvation, the future, and a host of other subjects that make up a worldview, it also gives us the very principles by which we can know what’s true.
One more caveat. We will never believe the Bible is true unless we are born again. As Paul put it, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them” (1 Cor. 2:14). A natural person is a person who has not believed in Jesus and therefore is not indwelt by His Spirit. Unless and until we believe in Jesus, we’ll never believe the Bible and all that it claims.
What are the alternatives to the ways of knowing what’s true outlined above? Let’s mention just two. First, some have posited that we can know the truth only by using our five senses. This is called empiricism. A glaring difficulty with this proposal is that we cannot investigate with our five senses the claim, “Only what the five senses disclose is true.” In other words, we cannot know empiricism is true using the method of empiricism.
Second, others have proposed that we know what’s true only by using our reason. This is called rationalism. The issue with this method is that it is viciously circular. That is, if we ask a rationalist how he knows rationalism is the best or only way to know what’s true, he’ll tell you to follow his reasoning. But that’s just the question at hand. How do we know that human reasoning is the best way to know what’s true?
Of course, this analysis is, by necessity, pretty limited. The takeaway is this. If we try to find what’s ultimately true without grounding our thinking in the Bible, our efforts are doomed to fail. Why? Because any attempt to know what’s ultimately true apart from the living and true God is, in the end, intellectual idolatry. And all idolatry will eventually lead to spiritual death.
Finally, Jesus wants us to know what’s true because He wants us to know Him, the truth (John 14:6). Our Lord’s promise about truth still holds true. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).