Truth Issues from Authority, Which Rests on Trust


All truth flows from authority. All that you know or believe[1] was reported to you. Some, of course, will immediately object, but let me remind you that those things you know from firsthand experience were reported to you by your senses. And, yes, even those truths that are discerned instead of discovered are reported, in a sense, by one’s reason. This ‘reporting’ aspect is not the point, though. The point is that all truth rests upon and is reliant on authority and authority is largely a matter of trust.

To the extent you trust your eyesight (and image-processing systems), you will believe what you see. To the extent you trust your hearing, you will believe what you hear. To the extent you trust your spouse[2], you will believe what he or she says. To the extent you trust a leader, you will believe what he says. Trust is the foundation of authority[3], but do carefully note that this sort of trust is more encompassing than the assessment of truthfulness, for it also includes assessment of such things as capacity[4].

Let us take two concrete examples: 1) whether or not a particular coffee shop is good and 2) whether or not a particular mushroom is edible. In the first case, you have a number of options: You could go to the coffee shop and make your own assessment; you could ask a trusted friend his opinion; or you could check some aggregator of reviews. Two of these options require you to assess the reliability of one or more sources, and doing so entails many subsidiary assessments[5]. All these options, of course, ultimately require you to make your own assessment (after all, you likely care most, in this case, if you like the coffee). In this matter, the worst outcome (among the set of likely outcomes, anyway) is that you hate the coffee and waste some of your time, have to discount how much you trust your friend’s tastebuds, or have to discount how much you trust whatever review aggregator you used. Being out some relatively small amount of money and (likely) under an hour of one’s time is not a particularly costly negative outcome. So, let us look at our second example. If you want to know if a mushroom is edible, you have, essentially, four options: Eat it, have someone else eat it, ask an expert, or run a chemical analysis. Only a tiny percentage of men will have four as a reasonable option, so most will be limited to risking their own lives, potentially committing a (serious) felony, or simply asking someone who knows the answer. Most will choose to ask the expert. But how do you know you can trust the expert? Perhaps he has a degree or is certified in some way. But how do you know you can trust that university or certificate-issuing authority? Et cetera.

We simply cannot escape the issue of trust and authority. This is even more true when dealing with ultimate matters. Thus far, we have been dealing with the trivial sense of truth (i.e., that which corresponds to reality), but there is a greater — an ultimate — sense of truth that is not only more salient, but relies even more upon authority than the trivial sense. To be blunt: The common man is not going to come to sound, novel conclusions when pondering ultimate matters.[6] However, such ultimate matters are not only still relevant to him, but of immense benefit if they are explained to him in a productive way. Here, then, we come to the true heart of it: Ultimate matters — goodness, beauty, truth, God and His nature, and so on — are matters that, whereas the common man may ponder them, he must have them explained to him, and he will be unable to assess, independently, the truth of such explanations. I could explain the transcendentals to you, but not one man in a million could work them out for himself; you must trust me (or some other man with adequate capabilities) if you wish to know anything of the transcendentals[7]. Now, we must be careful here: I do not mean that one can know nothing of these matters without explanation (e.g., all functional men know beauty when they see it); rather, I mean specifically that a thoroughgoing or intimate knowledge of these matters is available a priori to but a select few men, and they may (must) share that knowledge with others who can obtain it no other way. If you trust only yourself (an insane position), then you forsake a great wealth of knowledge.

In truth, the foregoing point is hardly novel or esoteric or any such thing. We all know that specialized knowledge is often restricted to a handful of men. There are only so many expert sushi chefs in the world, only so many survival experts, and only so many bonsai masters. And yet we instinctively view these fields of expertise as distinct — or even different in kind — from such matters as truth or other ultimate things. To some degree, this is a consequence of decades of pervasive propaganda (in this case, lies) propping up the pernicious lie that is Egalitarianism. We are not all equal. This is so manifestly true that it should go without saying. However, there is more to the matter. On an analogous[8] note, we inherently and instinctively consider psychological ailments more serious or more troubling than even deadly physical ailments. Of course, this is relatively readily and easily explained: We (rightly) sense that an illness that strikes at who we are is more serious and more terrifying than an illness that merely diminishes what (in a physical sense) we are. More concretely: We know that losing a foot, while annoying and debilitating, is not the same as slowly losing one’s very sense of self. Similarly, there is a sense that one should be able to grasp at (or even grasp) such fundamental and essential matters of existence as truth, the existence and nature of God, and the good. And yet this sense or intuition is wrong. It has been given to relatively few men to truly understand these matters, and this truth remains regardless of what any man may think or say or feel about it.

And so we come, not to the heart of the matter, which was already discussed, but the import of the heart, the consequence — the most salient one — of the truth that is the heart: Can the common man know anything about God a priori? No. This answer comes with several caveats: First, ‘anything’, here, refers to ultimate matters (e.g., the nature of God) and is meant to specifically exclude the patently obvious truths that even dogs, squirrels, and goats recognize.[9] Second, what is meant by ‘a priori’ should be obvious, but, to ensure it is abundantly so: In this usage, “a priori” simply means ‘without it being explained by another man’, which is to say by original thought. Third, and most importantly, the Gospel is absolutely not in view here — no man may know the Gospel a priori. This third point is, in fact, the second point of this article: Some exceptional few men may discern much about the nature of God, but no man may discern the disposition of God toward us — the former requires (admittedly rare) God-given abilities, but the latter requires revelation. If God had not revealed His disposition toward us (the Gospel) in Scripture, then we would have no way of knowing it.[10] Even the most intellectually gifted man ever to live may know God’s disposition toward mankind only from God’s revelation of that disposition in the pages of Holy Scripture. And yet Scripture is not without its demands when it comes to interpretation and comprehension.

We must distinguish two categories in Scripture: the exegetable and the purely revelatory. The Gospel is pure revelation; the scope of the Commandments is exegetable. A more concrete example for the sake of clarity: Scripture commands that we pay ‘taxes to whom taxes are owed’. This seems categorical, but it is not — there are clear limits to the rule in that there are limits to how much tax may be assessed. A tax rate of one hundred percent would clearly be morally impermissible (it would, in fact, be a violation of the Fifth Commandment), and so we know there is a limit to the command. Where precisely is the line? That is a matter left to human wisdom. The Gospel, as pure revelation, is available to all men regardless of their skills, abilities, talents, because the receipt of the Gospel is moderated by the Spirit, not by the capacity of the man receiving it. The nuances of the communicatio idiomatum may be discerned only by a genius; the Gospel may be received by any son or daughter of Adam who reads or hears the Word of God.

And so we come to my third and final point: The very nature of the Gospel and its means of transmission is affirmative proof that there is a God and this Good News comes from Him. Again, much about God can be discerned without Scripture — His omniscience, His omnibenevolence, His omnipotence, His unity[11], His self-revelation (in the sense that it must exist and be available). His disposition toward us, however, cannot be discerned from natural revelation, reason, or any source other than special revelation. In His nature, then, God is revealed in His creation, but, in His disposition, He is concealed in His creation. And yet it is this concealment that truly reveals the nature of God and even, to a degree, His disposition toward mankind. As already discussed, the discernment of ultimate matters, to include the existence and particularly the nature of God from His creation, relies, necessarily, upon the capabilities of the man engaged in such discernment. Ergo, a man who lacks such capabilities cannot discern these things — he can only be taught them —, which is to say that most men, given only natural revelation, can know vanishingly little about God.[12] If this were the fullness of the state of affairs, then God would be a Deus absconditus for virtually all men — an utterly unknowable thing spoken of only by men who are themselves often incomprehensible. Such a God would not only be unknown by but also unknowable to a majority of His children. Such a thing surely could not be God. And so we find that this is not the fullness of the state of affairs, for God has revealed Himself in Scripture in two ways: the exegetable and the purely revelatory. With regard to the latter, neither I nor any other man has any advantage, as it is moderated by the Spirit and, consequently, equally available to all men. What greater proof of God, His nature, and His disposition toward us could even be conceived? To all of Adam’s fallen, foolish, rebellious children God has revealed Himself without regard to ability, skill, or capacity.[13]

Naturally, it remains true that all truth flows from authority, but Scripture is the only truth that brings its authority with it. My senses, I must trust on the balance of available warrant; experts, I must trust according to many criteria and my assessment and balancing of them; arguments, I must trust according to my reason[14]; but the Scriptures, and the purely revelatory portions especially so, I trust because the Spirit testifies to their truth. God Himself speaks to, through, and from the pages of Holy Scripture, and it is He alone Who gives us the eyes to see this, the ears to hear this, and the hearts of flesh to believe this.

I cannot walk you through every nuance and detail and interconnection of the argument I just presented for God’s existence and the truth of His Word, or, more accurately: I could, but if doing so would be productive, then you would be the sort of man who would have no need of such a tour. And so we end where we began: All truth rests on authority, and all authority rests on trust. If I have earned your trust, then my argument may speak to you with and from authority, and, consequently, you may rely upon it — you may trust it. What a wonderful system God has built.


  1. And there is hardly a difference between those two. ↩︎

  2. And you generally should have nearly complete trust in your spouse, for a core part of marriage is that venture of trust and the attendant risk. ↩︎

  3. Authority here meaning ‘authority on’ with regard to reporting truth; authority as power is a separate and only tangentially related thing ↩︎

  4. A man with very poor eyesight may be an untrustworthy witness even if his truthfulness is impeccable. ↩︎

  5. For instance, if a review comes from someone who has not been to the coffee shop in ten years, you may, reasonably, want to discount the weight of that review. ↩︎

  6. Naturally, it cannot be said that a conclusion is one’s own if it is simply the repeated conclusion of another, but it can certainly be said that it is a conclusion one has adopted or with which one agrees. ↩︎

  7. And you most certainly should wish to know something of them. ↩︎

  8. Or, perhaps, more than merely analogous. ↩︎

  9. Although it must be admitted that animals sometimes make better Christians than actual Christians. ↩︎

  10. Yes, clearly, God could also have used oral revelation, but He chose to use Scripture. ↩︎

  11. And His Trinity, but that is a more complex matter for another time. ↩︎

  12. Although, the least wise often prove themselves wiser than their intellectual betters by believing in God with a truly childlike faith. ↩︎

  13. Yes, of course, one must be able to read or have someone else who can read aloud, but such is a low bar and God provides. ↩︎

  14. And reason, contrary to what so many seem to believe, it subject to the same sort of reliability analysis as our other senses. ↩︎