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I used to think nothing of it until someone said, "it makes you wonder what he was saying the rest of the time".

Now I don't believe for one moment Jesus was a liar, but why did He use that strange expression?

One of 22 examples exists here:

John 16:7 (NIV)
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

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@Richard: thx, done. Interesting that it covers all four Gospels. – Wikis Oct 13 '11 at 21:13
I was under the impression that "I tell you the truth" was simply a common expression at the time, in the same was as "I won't lie to you" is in Wales today (as any viewer of the sitcom Gavin and Stacy will know well!) – Waggers Oct 14 '11 at 8:47
@Waggers: possible, but I don't recall anyone else in the Bible using the same expression. – Wikis Oct 14 '11 at 8:55
Why do people say "to be honest"? – fredsbend Apr 30 '15 at 23:56
@Wikis Your link no longer shows 22 examples. – curiousdannii Apr 8 at 1:40
up vote 22 down vote accepted

It was likely a common expression in that day to emphasize the importance of what would be spoken immediately after that.

And, to tell you the truth, we have a similar phrase in English. We don't mean that we weren't telling the truth before and are only now beginning to do so.

So, can I be honest with you? I wasn't being dishonest with you before, but now my degree of openness is greater and I'm being more transparent than I would otherwise be in the course of conversations with acquaintances.

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Are you saying it is emphasis? – Wikis Oct 14 '11 at 14:10
Yes, it seems that it is used to emphasize and stress that what He was saying next was very important and critical. – Narnian Oct 14 '11 at 14:15
The fact is, we have a lot of expressions like that in English. – Kyralessa Mar 6 '12 at 2:07
Seriously, we have a lot of ways to grab the attention of the listener. – styfle Mar 11 '12 at 21:01
Surely you can't be serious. – Ben Miller Apr 30 '15 at 1:19

When Jesus says "I tell you the truth", he does it to indicate that what he is telling is the truth.

John 23:42-43 (NIV)
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Often times, Jesus speaks and replies using parables

For example, in Luke 10:25-37, a Pharisee asked him “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

However, when Jesus said "I tell you the truth", he was indicating that he was not speaking in parables, but telling the truth.

Obviously he wasn't lying at other times. He was just trying to illustrate the point that he was actually telling the truth. It's something that gets your attention.

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I voted this up but on reflection I wonder if I was too hasty: it's not as if He said, I tell you the truth every time He didn't tell a parable. Besides, it was usually or always pretty clear when Jesus used a parable. – Wikis Oct 14 '11 at 14:20
Maybe I should have made the phrase "illustrate the point" a bit more obvious. Clearly, he doesn't say this every time he tells the truth. Otherwise, that's all he would say! He just says it to illustrate the point. – Richard Oct 16 '11 at 19:43
OK, thanks, so I guess your answer is essentially the same as Namian's? – Wikis Oct 16 '11 at 20:09
No. It wasn't an idiom. I need to update my answer, but that'll have to happen tomorrow. – Richard Oct 17 '11 at 1:38
Parables are the Truth too...not literally true, but still the Truth. So this position doesn't really hold water. – Steely Dan Mar 7 '12 at 0:04

When Jesus says "I tell you the truth" the Greek word "amen" is being used. Amen can be translated as "I tell you the truth," "verily," and "so be it" or "let it be.". We have difficulty translating it into English, and the reason it is so odd is because we don't use those phrases colloqioully today.

I hope this helps!

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This is really not true at all: ēgo tēn alētheian legō umin I [the truth] tell you. – Richard Oct 13 '11 at 21:14
Is 'Amen, I say to you' only in Catholic bibles? – Peter Turner Oct 13 '11 at 21:19
Latin: Amen dico vobis, Greek: ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν – Peter Turner Oct 13 '11 at 21:21
@PeterTurner For Matthew 18:3, the Catholic Bible is the only one that has it. However, for John 16:7, for example, the Catholic Bible doesn't say Amen. – Richard Oct 13 '11 at 21:24
I thought amen is in hebrew? – Jim Thio Nov 16 '11 at 3:02

He was just using it as an expression to make it known that whatever he was about to say needs to be taken as seriously as possible. Jesus has always told the truth but I cannot say if everything he said was taken seriously by the people he was speaking to. So it could have been used more in the context of "listen carefully to what I am about to tell you now" or "Pay attention!".

The lines spoken by Jesus to Pilate come to mind for some reason when I read our question.

"That is why I was born. To give testimony to the truth. All men who hear the truth hear my voice."

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Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you'd like to strengthen your answer, I'd recommend adding sources to show that this analysis doesn't merely reflect your opinion. I hope you'll take a minute to review how this site is different from others, and better understand how your answer can be supported. – Nathaniel Apr 7 at 12:00

Jesus Christ the Son of God was emphasizing the goodness of truth in itself and if you look at scripture it says in John 14:6 that Jesus "literally", incarnate, in human form, is absolute truth. It also says that the only way to God and Heaven is to accept Him as savior.

Throughout the old and new testaments the goodness of truth is emphasized and the fact that a lie was the beginning of all evil is well, the opposite of good ... bad!

So, I agree with Aleks answer also on this.

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Generally, answers should have some basis other than just opinion. – Jon the Architect Apr 6 at 16:41

The answer is simple, it is to remind us that He is the Truth. It is a living testament that He was and He is the Truth and He was telling the truth yet people of Israel, not necessarily Jews, were blind and unable to see or hear or accept the Truth, Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with English and or phrases in any language. "I am telling you the truth!"

To put things a bit into perspective, for example if your mom tells you 1000000000 times: "Do not touch the fire because you are going to burn yourself. I am telling you the truth!" and you still do it and you burn yourself was she telling you the truth? Well yes, she told you so!

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! And thanks for offering an answer. However, answers here generally should either represent the view of whole denominations or groups of Christians, such as Catholics or Lutherans, or should answer directly from Scripture, with an explanation of how the particular quotes answer the question. For some tips on writing good answers, please see: What makes a good supported answer? – Lee Woofenden Apr 30 '15 at 20:41

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