John 18:38 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

John 18:38, NIV: "What is truth?' retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him."

John 18:38, ESV: "Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him."

John 18:38, KJV: "Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all."

John 18:38, NASB: "Pilate *said to Him, 'What is truth?' And after saying this, he came out again to the Jews and *said to them, 'I find no grounds at all for charges in His case."

John 18:38, NLT: "'What is truth?' Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, 'He is not guilty of any crime."

John 18:38, CSB: ""What is truth? " said Pilate. After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no grounds for charging him."

What does John 18:38 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Pilate is only speaking with Jesus because of accusations of sedition (John 18:28–32). As part of explaining His status as a "king," Jesus has made it clear He is not attempting to overthrow Rome or establish an immediate earthly kingdom (John 18:33–36). When pressed on the idea, Jesus referred to truth (John 18:37) and His role in proclaiming it. In earlier passages, Jesus explicitly claimed to be teaching truths from God (John 8:28; Luke 5:32). Even further, Jesus claimed to be "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

There's room to interpret the nuances of Pilate's comment in different ways. However, he's likely being rhetorical, and dismissive. He is certainly not seeking further information from Jesus. Instead, Pilate is brushing off the concept of "truth" as relative, unsure, and ultimately unimportant. One can imagine him shrugging his shoulders and holding up his hands in a gesture of uncertainty. Or, shaking his head and waving as if to say, "who cares?"

Rather than engaging, he's ignoring. Jesus is not speaking of politics or war, so the subject is of no interest to the Roman governor. The irony of the moment is painful: this might be the most important question a human being can ask, and Pilate is standing in front of the ultimate answer, yet he walks away without really considering his own words.

Pilate knows Jesus' enemies are trying to manipulate Roman law (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). He's heard enough to be sure that Jesus is not guilty according to any secular or civic law. It will be the presence of a mob, and the threat of civil unrest (John 19:12–15; Matthew 27:24), which eventually coerces Pilate into executing someone he knows is innocent (John 19:16).

John's gospel skips many details given in the other accounts, to focus on his own perspective. Among the incidents he omits is Pilate's attempt to have Herod weigh in on the situation (Luke 23:6–12).