There is a little-known phrase in scripture, especially among younger believers, that has worth none-the-less. Its importance lying in its ability to highlight significant phrases, teachings or ideas; prompting us to sit up and pay attention.
Used over 50 times in the gospel books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, it appears – slightly modified – another 20+ times in John. Its use throughout the pastoral letters as well as the Old Testament likewise affirming or emphasizing a point or idea.
Yet on the surface, this phrase seems almost negligible, causing many to overlook its importance. The King James version of our Bible translating it as verily in the first 3 gospels; verily, verily in the gospel of John. Its limited use throughout the Old Testament more times than not translated as “surely” (See Exodus 31:13, Genesis 42:21, Judges15:2 & Psalm 58:11), the NIV doing so as well in Mark 9:12, while 1 John 2:5 renders it as “truly”; Galatians 3:21 using the word “certainly” to convey its meaning.
Both phrases are translated by the NIV as “I tell you the truth…” Not so much because the teachings they precede are paramount to scripture, but they none-the-less would seem to herald a declarative statement, illustration or explanation to which Jesus wanted to lend significance; encouraging his disciples to gather round and listen carefully.
Such as, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” Matthew 17:20 (See also Matthew 21:21 & Mark 11:23)
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 18:3 (See also Mark 10:25 & Luke 18:17)
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did (of did not do) for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did (or did not do) for me.” Matthew 25:40 & 45 (See also Mark 9:41)
John’s verily, verily is indeed translated the same way, but I wonder if they deserve even more scrutiny, as Jesus seemingly says even more forcefully, ‘OK guys. Sit still, shut up and listen.’ “I tell you the truth; no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3
“I tell you the truth; whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life…” John 5:24 (See also John 8:51)
“I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him… Whoever accepts anyone I send, accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” John 13:16 & 20
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I am doing.” John14:12 (See also Mark 10:29-31 &Luke 18:29,30)
Along with these examples of the 76 times this exclamatory statement is used to gain our attention are the 5 occasions Paul continues this tradition in his pastoral letters by using the phrase “This is a faithful (KJ) or trustworthy (NIV) saying.” Possibly designating them as familiar truisms exchanged among believers in the early church.1 For example, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserve full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” 1 Timothy 1:15; directly corroborating the central teaching of the gospels summarized in John 3:16 & Luke 19:10 Furthering this point by saying, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men,…” 1 Timothy 4:9,10
And finally, in specific instructions to Titus for his ministry, Paul writes, “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good... (which) are excellent and profitable for everyone.” Titus 3:8
That “trustworthy saying” being the core of the gospel preached by Paul,2 even as we are reminded that, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, who he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:3-7
1From John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Paul, Thomas Nelson Publishing
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