Tracing the origin of this oft quoted phrase.
We hear this phrase used most often by actors in movies or television shows, but it does not end there. Each day, someone somewhere will use this phrase.
In an effort to trace the origin of the titular phrase of this piece, I will discuss both secular and spiritual definitions of truth. Before we can fully understand the meaning of this phrase, we must first learn what truth really is.
Before we go any further, let us look at how the dictionary defines the word ‘truth’: (noun) ‘that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.’ This definition is decidedly secular, having its origin in Old English.
Old English was the first language written and spoken in Anglo-Saxon Britain from approximately 450 AD to 1150 AD. If you would like a more detailed description of Old English, you can find it here:
In the secular world, this phrase is used to counter things that are not true. When most of us were young, we were taught that if something were untrue, it was called a lie. Children are often asked whether they know the difference between the truth and a lie, or between true and false.
As more and more people gain access to the internet, platforms such social media, news, even blogs have allowed a lie to travel around the world in mere seconds. Sadly, the truth travels much slower around the world than a lie does.
Most people in society do not see these things as either fully true, or fully false. Our society sees things in varying degrees of either true or false, even going so far as to attempt to describe the intent behind a falsehood.
As a result of this current view, our English lexicon has undergone some major changes. In an effort to describe the gray area that exists between fully true and fully false, we began using terms such as: misinformation, disinformation, misrepresentation, dishonesty, distortion, evasion, fabrication, inaccuracy, slander, misrepresentation, myth, and falsehood.
During his 1855 sermon entitled “Joseph Attacked by the Archers”, the famous Baptist minister from London, Charles H. Spurgeon, spoke these prophetic words to his congregation:
“If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it. It is well said in the old Proverb, ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.’”
I say that these words were prophetic, because more than a century before the creation of the internet, Charles H. Spurgeon was able to grasp just how quickly a lie can travel around the world before the truth even begins its journey.
At this point, I think it is important to note the actual origin of the phrase ‘the truth will set you free’. Those words were originally spoken by Jesus Christ Himself during the 1st century AD, and written by his disciples/apostles later that century.
For my purposes here, I will quote Jesus’ words as recorded by the Apostle John:
‘So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’ (John 8:31-32)
In the passage above, Jesus was telling the Jews who believed in Him that if they held to his word (teachings), they would be his disciples (followers), then they would know the truth (according to Jesus’ words), and that that truth will set them free from lives filled with sin.
The New Testament Scriptures were originally written in Greek. The Greek word for truth is ἀλήθεια, which has been transliterated to the English alphabet as alétheia.
The original word, along with its transliteration into the English alphabet can be found in Strong’s Greek 225. That number is taken from the back pages of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, written by Edward Strong in 1890. Those back pages are commonly known as ‘Strong’s numbers’.
The original usage is important because it provides us with a window to what the word meant to people who either spoke or wrote Greek during the 1st century AD.
According to Strong’s 225 the usage was as follows: ‘truth, but not merely truth as spoken; truth of idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, divine truth revealed to man, straightforwardness.’
Does any of the above bear any resemblance of how the word truth is used in the English lexicon to you?
I believe that the Holy Bible contains the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God. The four Gospels in the New Testament give us the story of Jesus, His Deity, His miracles, and His teachings.
I believe that the Holy Bible is the final source of truth in all spiritual matters. To put it simply, I believe the Bible to be 100% completely true.
For those who are unsure whether the Bible is 100% truth, I invite you to study recorded history, as well as a major archeological find. Two different Roman historians recorded the fact that Jesus lived on earth during the 1st century AD. The major archeological find occurred during the 20th century AD.
Please refer to the writings of Flavius Josephus and the Roman Senator Publius Cornelius Tacitus. Flavius Josephus (known simply as ‘Josephus’) was a former Jew who became a Roman citizen, and official Roman historian. The Roman Senator Tacitus was also a historian, and he wrote about Jesus.
The most talked about work of Flavius Josephus was The Antiquities of the Jews. In Book 18, Chapter 3, Section 3, Josephus wrote the following:
‘Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.’
The above passage written by Flavius Josephus is also known as the ‘Testimonium Flavianum‘, which is Latin for ‘The Testimony of Flavius’. That passage is not the only one he wrote that spoke of Jesus. In Book 20, Chapter 9, Section 1 of the same work he wrote about the stoning of James the brother of Jesus.
If we take another look at Book 18, Chapter 5 of The Antiquities of the Jews, we will find that Josephus wrote about the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist. Here, Josephus corroborates what was written in the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament Scriptures. The Synoptic Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was also known as simply ‘Tacitus’. In Book 15 of his work The Annals, Tacitus wrote about the execution of Jesus under Pontius Pilate. He also wrote about the Roman Emperor Nero who persecuted Jesus’ followers, and how Nero blamed and persecuted them for the fire that destroyed 70% of Rome in 64 AD.
In the interest of brevity, you can find the relevant chapters of Book 15 of The Annals at the link below:
Somewhere between November, 1946 and February, 1947, the Bedouin shepherd Muhammed edh-Dhib, his cousin Jum’a Muhammed, and Khalil Musa first discovered some manuscripts in a cave in the area known as Khirbat Qumran. This is the major archeological find that I referred to earlier. Eventually, the manuscripts were dubbed the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’.
The massive cave complex is collectively known as the Qumran Caves. At the time of their original discovery, they were located in the nation of Palestine. The Qumran Caves are located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.
The manuscripts were found a little more than one year before David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish nation of Israel on May 14, 1948. It is important to note here that U.S. President Harry S. Truman officially recognized the nation of Israel that very same day.
During the decades that followed the original discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, more and more manuscripts were found.
Currently, the Qumran Caves are located in the Palestinian West Bank, which has been under Jewish control since the Six Day War of 1967.
One of the reasons the Dead Sea Scrolls are so important, is that the manuscripts covered a period of time ranging from the 3rd century BC, to the 1st century AD.
Complete manuscripts of certain Books of the Bible were found there, especially an entire copy of the Book of Isaiah. That Book was first written some 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Book of Isaiah contains many prophecies that were fulfilled with the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ.
There were other manuscripts that contained what Protestants call the Apocrypha, or hidden books. The Apocryphal Books appear in the Roman Catholic version of the Bible.
While the Apocryphal Books were not included in the Protestant Biblical canon, they can be important to read from a historical perspective. The most notable of those is the story of the Maccabean Revolt led by Judah Maccabee. The story of the revolt is told in the two books of Maccabees. The revolt began in 167 BC, and continued until it was put down by the Romans in 63 AD, just seven years before the Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple.
Throughout this piece, I have discussed both secular and spiritual definitions of truth.
Exactly how did a portion of the words spoken by Jesus Christ Himself during the 1st century AD become a common part of the modern secular English lexicon?
I am unable to offer you a completely truthful answer to that question. If I am unable to provide an answer to any question that is not completely true, I will not attempt to do so. That is why I will not attempt to provide an answer here.
Would the truth be better served with the assistance of a linguist or historian? Perhaps a combination of both?
Dear readers, The Steadfast Watchman will leave you to ponder the answers to those questions for yourselves.