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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 26 examples exists here:

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

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    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
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    @Waggers: possible, but I don't recall anyone else in the Bible using the same expression. – Wikis Oct 14 '11 at 8:55
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    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 '16 at 1:40
  • @fredsbend for the same reason that some people start a story with "this is no sh__" – KorvinStarmast Mar 10 at 0:10

11 Answers 11

29

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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    The fact is, we have a lot of expressions like that in English. – Kyralessa Mar 6 '12 at 2:07
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    Seriously, we have a lot of ways to grab the attention of the listener. – styfle Mar 11 '12 at 21:01
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    Surely you can't be serious. – Ben Miller Apr 30 '15 at 1:19
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    I literally am being serious, and don't call me Shirley. – Mason Wheeler Apr 7 '16 at 10:59
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    Not gonna lie, he makes a good point! – Samuel Bradshaw Jun 13 '17 at 3:12
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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.

  • 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
6

The Phrase

As retained in the Latin Vulgate, and therefore the Douay-Rheims ('the Catholic KJV'), but usually obscured in most English translations, Jesus is actually saying the vast, vast majority of the time, "Amen, Amen I say to you."

Which does mean 'Truly, I tell you a (solemn or sure or serious) truth (i.e. so pay special attention)'.

In Greek, the authors have transliterated "Amen" into Greek (authors who also recorded Him say "I tell you the truth," implying they saw it important to at least record that He did say "Amen" specifically—John records that Jesus in fact said 'Amen' twice in each instance, "Amen, Amen": since he didn't put extra words into Jesus' mouth, the other authors have determined, not erroneously, this to be perhaps lost on their audience, and so retained the term, but not the exact words).

For example:

Luke 4:20-30

And he said: Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country. In truth I say to you, there were many widows in the days of Elias [Elijah] in Israel, when heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there was a great famine throughout all the earth. And to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta of Sidon, to a widow woman. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian. And all they in the synagogue, hearing these things, were filled with anger. And they rose up and thrust him out of the city; and they brought him to the brow of the hill, whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them, went his way.


The Word

"Amen" is a Hebrew/Aramaic (getting it from Hebrew) word meaing "May it be" or "So be it." Since this is a rather loose translation of the word, which usually followed the end of prayer1 (a faithful assent to the prayer), it means here, in Jesus' use, something close to "Yes, truly, ..." or "Most assuredly, it shall be no other way than..."

The Catholic Encylopedia (Catholic Encylopedia 1914, A, "Amen") says the following:

"So frequent was this Hebrew in the mouth of Our Saviour", observes the Catechism of the Council of Trent, "that it pleased the Holy Ghost to have it perpetuated in the Church of God". In point of fact St. Matthew attributes it to Our Lord twenty-eight times, and St. John in its doubled form twenty-six times. As regards the etymology, Amen is a derivative from the Hebrew verb aman "to strengthen" or "Confirm".

So Jesus is highlighting those truths which He deems most important to be remembered or believed, not implying these are true and the rest of what He says is not true—God forbid. Jesus also appears to be the only Person to use "Amen" before what He says or affirms as most true, which is interesting.

1 Neh 8:6; cf. Judith 13:26—this seems to be a double expression of the usual one "Amen!" (1 Chron 16:36), and not the sense in which Jesus is using "Amen." That is to say, 'A solemn or sure truth is about to be spoken:'


"The Amen"

Jesus is said to be "the Amen." (ὁ Aμην ho amEn) Jesus is the solemn Truth (John 14:6).

Revelation 3:14

And to the angel of the church of Laodicea, write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God:

Amen in the context of Jesus is here tied to true/reliable witness (as far as I see it).

My Humble Opinion

When Jesus uses two "Amen"s, I believe He is actually showing that the Father affirms and approves and bears witness (represented by the first "Amen") that all He (represented by the second "Amen") says is most true and reliable. Not out of any necessity (John 8:13-14) but because it's something that's important to know for us who are not Jesus (John 8:14) and need to have witness from the Father:

John 5:31-32

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.2 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.

2 That is, true witness—valid witness for all intents and purposes; as far as we are concerned

The fact that St. John's Gospel is focused on and written to highlight the relationship between the Father and the Son, I find this not impossible, and quite probable.

John 16:7

However, in John 16:7 He actually says, "εγω την αληθειαν λεγω υμιν.." which means "I tell you the truth.." but could just as easily be translated, equally so, though it would not be normal for anyone to say this except Jesus, "I, the Truth, tell you.."

However, He is still emphasizing that what He says will certainly come to pass (John 16:4).

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    What a superb answer. Not sure how I missed it when you posted it. I'll be taking this with me when our men's group at church meets. – KorvinStarmast Oct 4 at 12:39
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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
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    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
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    I thought amen is in hebrew? – user4951 Nov 16 '11 at 3:02
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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."

2

The answer to this question is simple. Read John 18:37... remember, the purpose of Jesus’ coming and His birth was to “bear witness to the truth.” Every time Jesus spoke or taught, it was about releasing truth. His word shed light of knowledge which opened the eyes of the spiritually blind. If you read John, he says “truly, truly I tell you..” Why does He put premium to truth? Because the world is a slave, in a bondage... of sin, Satan, lies of tradition, culture etc etc. word of truth brings light exposing thereby the lies underneath, releasing the people.

  • That's a lovely answer, Vinod. I hope you keep posting more. It caused me to think of how Jesus is described as "The Way, the TRUTH and the Life" (John 14:6) and how this signature phrase served as a solemn affirmation of Him stating the truth. Your phrase, 'releasing truth' is rather lovely. Although simple answers are rarely appreciated on here, yours serves as an object lesson in that art-form. – Anne Mar 16 at 18:23
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In the Garden of Eden, the devil when tempting the children of God said "did God really say...?". The children of God doubted the truth of God and sinned. Jesus was dealing with that decision to not believe God's truth. Is it not underscored when Jesus says, "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life"? TRUTH is part of his name and he simply was re-iterating, in essence, I told you the TRUTH in the Garden, I tell you the TRUTH today, and I will tell you the TRUTH tomorrow. Seems as if we learn best by repetition. So he repeated his truth constantly. Just before he ascended, he said 'I go to prepare a place for you, if it was not so I would have told you so'. Once more, affirming that he tells only the TRUTH.

1

Jesus used the expression, "I tell you the truth" or "Verily, Verily, I say unto you" to say to those to whom he was speaking, "Listen to me (give me your full attention), what I am about to say to you is of special importance." Jesus did not need to lie, he was and is the truth. He was a Jewish Rabbi and Teacher of the New Covenant (New Testament). He was and is the Messiah. The living Christ and Son of God almighty.

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This word shows authority. Jesus is an "ambassador" talking to us about God's kingdom. Jesus was fulfilling God's purpose here on earth. He was on a mission. Jesus has said many times that he does not speak on his own authority but for the one who sent him. John 12:49. John 8:42. John 17:17
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

We understand that God's word is the truth and Jesus is speaking with authority from God. Therefore whenever Jesus says "I tell you the truth" he is Quoting God's word, not his word.

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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 '16 at 16:41
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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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