Recovering the Lost Concept of Truth in the Restoration Scriptures: Another Key to Understanding God’s Word

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Abstract: The word “truth” has for practical purposes lost one of its original English-language meanings, and this has significant implications for understanding scriptures. The obvious, well-understood meaning is that which is real or factual. However, the earliest meaning in English is that which is true in an entirely different way, in the sense of fidelity, loyalty, and faithfulness. The King James translators frequently used “truth” in this latter sense. The sense of “truth” as “faithfulness” remained well known in the nineteenth century. Some passages in the Book of Mormon and other Restoration scriptures reveal deeper insights when read with this understanding. Pondering both meanings of “truth” in the scriptures can serve as a source of inspiration and learning.


A conversation such as the following is probably familiar: “Do I turn left at the next intersection?” “Right! No, I mean, correct! Left!” We joke about occasional confusion between the two major meanings of the word right but seldom get seriously confounded. The two quite different meanings, which are remotely derived from the same origin, are easily distinguishable now by context.

In a famous statement by Pontius Pilate, just as he agreed to the death of the Savior of the world, he asked “What is truth?” This paper will provide at least partial help in answering that question.

The changeable nature of word meaning creates challenges for discipleship and a serious study of the scriptures. Shifts in meaning may generate novel nuance or striking differences. Once-common words can become quaint or obscure, which can be a stumbling block in reading King James period literature.

[Page 446]The meaning of truth at first glance seems obvious: that which is true and factual, corresponding to reality. Truth (true-th) is the quality or condition of being true. However, truth can and in the past frequently did refer to the meaning of true as faithful or loyal. Although in less common usage now, we readily understand true/faithful in such phrases as “true to one’s beliefs” or “true to his or her favorite team.” We are familiar with this use in the hymn “True to the Faith.”1 Elder David A. Bednar intentionally used both meanings of true in an address in the October 2012 General Conference with a short chiasm: “We should know the gospel is true and be true to the gospel.”2 Truth is the noun (nominative) form of the adjective true and can derive from either underlying meaning. Some passages in the scriptures of the Restoration yield richer significance when read with both meanings in mind.

What is Truth?

Before examining scriptural use of the word truth, let us look at its origin. It is revealing to look at the use of truth in popular literature at the time of the translation of the KJV and at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon.

Origins and Early Use in English

Truth as faithfulness is in fact the older attested meaning, documented in Old English. The broad meaning is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as the “quality or character of being true to a person, principle, cause, etc.; steadfast allegiance; faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, constancy,” with four subdefinitions.3 This is followed by an observation: “now somewhat rare.”

For simplicity, this usage will be listed here as truth/fidelity. The word derives from Germanic and Proto-Germanic words meaning “firm, solid, steadfast” and may derive from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning tree or oak.4 The English words tree and true share a common [Page 447]origin.5 The now archaic troth is a phonetic doublet. To plight one’s troth meant to pledge loyalty or faithfulness to one’s betrothed or to one’s king.6 Shared pledges of loyalty in a plural form evolved to a singular form in the modern word truce.7 Subcategories under this first definition include concepts such as integrity.8

A second broad category of truth definitions includes “conforms to fact or reality” (distinguished here as truth/fact), with seven subdefinitions in the OED. This sense entered the English language in the period of Middle English.9 These two broad meanings denote faithfulness to person or cause and faithfulness to reality or fact.

One of the consequences of this linguistic development is that in the English language, truth, faithfulness (also truth), trust, and even tree (with its scriptural associations including tree of life) are all related.10

It may be very difficult in casual reading of sixteenth- to eighteenth-century literature to stretch beyond our instinctive interpretation as truth/fact. For instance, William Shakespeare wrote contemporaneously with the translation of the KJV, and examples can be easily found in his works that use truth in both senses of the word. Examples include:

This is the first truth that e’er thine own
tongue was guilty of.11

Richard II compares his faithless, former followers to Judas:

[Page 448]Did they not sometime cry “All hail” to me?
So Judas did to Christ, but He in twelve
Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand,
none.12

Truth in the Nineteenth Century

Truth persisted with two meanings into the nineteenth century. Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language documents usage in American English at that time.13 In referring to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, Newell Wright recommended that “Book of Mormon scholars should be attentive to the meaning of English words used in the book at the time when it was first published.”14 Definitions of truth in Webster’s 1828 dictionary include “Conformity to fact or reality” but also, as definition 6, “Fidelity, constancy.”15

For nearly contemporaneous examples in popular literature, Charles Dickens readily used truth in both senses in the decades immediately following publication of the Book of Mormon. As an illustration, one of the protagonists in Barnaby Rudge says, “I rely upon your niece’s truth and honour, and set your influence at nought.”16 David Copperfield reports on the faithfulness of his childhood nurse: “I felt the truth and constancy of my dear old nurse, with all my heart, and thanked her as well as I could.”17

Truth is also often used by Dickens in the truth/fact sense. For example, in Bleak House (1853): “Your flight, Lady Dedlock, would [Page 449]spread the whole truth, and a hundred times the whole truth, far and wide.”18

In addition to the works of Dickens, other literature can be used as examples of how the word truth was understood during the nineteenth century. A beloved hymn likely written in the 1840’s uses truth in a sense most consistent with truth/fidelity:

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.19

From these examples and others, it is clear that from the Elizabethan era (latter half of the 1500s) through at least the mid-nineteenth century, the word truth could mean either truth/fidelity or truth/fact. In general, the use of truth in reference to a statement or proposition meant truth/fact, and truth as a trait or quality of a person meant truth/fidelity.

Truth in the Scriptures

While the use of truth/fidelity in the KJV may not be a surprise, the presence of both truth/fact and truth/fidelity in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price is more unexpected. Recognizing it can yield spiritual lessons.

Truth in the Old Testament

Truth is used in both senses in the KJV Old Testament, which was translated during Shakespeare’s time.20 The Hebrew word אמת (transliterated emeth) was usually translated by the King James scholars as truth, although faithful was also used (Nehemiah 7:2). Strong’s Concordance gives “truth; right; faithful” as meanings of emeth.21 The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon similarly defines emeth as: 1. firmness, [Page 450]faithfulness, truth (with subdefinitions) and 2. in truth, truly.22 The definitions cover both truth/fidelity and truth/fact.

Pavel Florensky, a Russian Orthodox theologian and scholar, explains:

Truth for them was always the Word of God. For the Hebrew, the irrevocability, certainty, and reliability of this Divine promise is what characterized it as Truth. Truth is Reliability. “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17). The Truth as it is represented in the Bible is precisely this absolutely irrevocable and unalterable “law.” … Thus, for the Hebrews, Truth really is the “reliable word,” “reliability,” “the reliable promise.” And since to “put … your trust in princes, … in the son of man” (Psalm 146:3) is vain, the sole reliable word is the Word of God; Truth is God’s unalterable promise, which is insured by the Lord’s reliability and immutability.23

Theologian Tito Lyro says of actions, speech, reports, or judgement that they are emeth “because they are reliable. … The most important use [of emeth] in the Old Testament is in describing God, that is, the character of God.”24

The other Hebrew word less frequently translated as truth in the KJV is אמנה or emunah. Words used by the KJV translators for emunah, in decreasing order of frequency, are faithfulness, truth, faithfully, office, faithful, faith, stability, steady, truly, and verily.25 Strong’s Concordance defines emunah as “firmness; faithfulness; truth; honesty; official obligation” and notes that it includes both subjective and objective qualities. The entry in Strong’s Concordance concludes, “It is not always possible to discern which emphasis is intended by a given passage.” That is a significant comment or disclaimer considering the point of my article. The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon defines emunah as “firmness, steadiness; steadfastness; faithfulness, trust.”26

[Page 451]To use a recent example to help illustrate the word emeth, consider a twentieth-century allusion by C. S. Lewis. In The Last Battle, the final book of his Narnia children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis named a character “Emeth.” Lewis scholar Paul Ford explained, “Emeth is the Hebrew word for ‘faithful, true,’ and this is a deliberate reference by Lewis, for he was well aware of the meaning.”27 The character Emeth, although taught incorrectly to believe in a false god, was deeply committed in his service to that false god. Aslan, Lewis’s Christ figure in the series, accepts that faithful service as having been rendered to himself. Aslan commends Emeth for keeping his oaths. Emeth is honored, not for honesty (although we presume that he is honest) but for steadfast faithfulness.

Using this understanding of emeth to interpret scripture, many passages in the Old Testament using truth for emeth become more meaningful. Some examples include:

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. (Isaiah 10:20) [The sense here is relying upon the Lord in faithfulness.]

Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth [stability] in my days. (Isaiah 39:8)

Some of these passages are rendered with more familiar terms in other translations. Here are examples that compare the KJV with the New International Version (NIV). In each, the word truth in the KJV is translated as faithful in the NIV.

And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. (1 Kings 3:6, KJV)

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and [Page 452]righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.” (1 Kings 3:6, NIV)

And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 31:20, KJV)

This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 31:20, NIV)

Covenant Truth and Temple Worthiness in the Old Testament

Truth in the Old Testament as expressed by emeth underscores the relationship of faithfulness to covenants. This includes temple worship and the covenant between God and his people. One of the Psalms strongly related to temple worthiness is Psalm 15:

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. (Psalm 15:1–2, KJV)

The chapter heading in the online Latter-day Saint edition of the standard works interprets this phrase as integrity:

David asks, Who will dwell in the Lord’s holy hill? — He answers, The righteous, the upright, and those with integrity.

Donald W. Parry discusses the role of Psalms in ancient temple worship, also citing others who conclude that some of the Psalms were used not only for worship but also to describe qualities needed to enter the First Temple.28 There may have been questions and answers asked at the entrance, perhaps from priests to worshippers seeking entrance to the temple using Psalm 15 or 24.29 Matthew B. Brown presents the three qualities of truth, righteousness, and uprightness listed in the [Page 453]Old Testament passages above as temple entrance requirements in ancient times and relates these to ritual symbols.30 Brown does not discuss the specific meaning of truth in these passages, but as discussed above, this requirement for temple entrance is in many sources consistent with faithfulness.

Truth as fidelity and loyalty is part of a covenant relationship. Brent Schmidt has discussed extensively the relational aspect of faith and faithfulness.31 With regard to emeth and related Hebrew words, he states that they express “the divine relationship between Yahweh and Israel as preserved in the covenant tradition” and that they define “humanity’s relationship to God as true, reliable, or faithful.” The faithfulness of the Lord to his covenant people is repeatedly described in the scriptures. For example, “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth [faithfulness in the NIV] endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). We commit to covenants in the modern temple and are promised profound blessings if we are true and faithful.

In a prophecy of the last days, Zechariah states:

Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain. … I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness. (Zechariah 8:3, 8, KJV)

In the NIV:

This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain. … I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.” (Zechariah 8:3, 8, NIV)

Truth here means that the Lord is unfailingly faithful to his covenant people. Their duty, arising from love and faith, is to be true to him and to their covenants.

Before leaving the Old Testament discussion, we might realize that sometimes emeth means truth as we would expect in the 21st century. There are numerous passages in which truth in the KJV is used in the [Page 454]truth/fact sense, as well, and the reader must rely on context to infer which sense is intended. For example:

And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity. (Jeremiah 9:5)

“Speak the truth” here means what we instinctively think it means, with the next phrase confirming that it is the opposite of speaking lies.

Truth in the New Testament

In the New Testament, truth is nearly always translated from the Greek word ἀλήθεια (alētheia). The concept is rich and does not fit neatly into a single English word. As an acknowledged oversimplification, though, alētheia generally expresses a concept more closely relating to truth/fact, especially underlying spiritual reality. The discussion here is focused on New Testament uses and lexicons. Martin Heidegger, a twentieth-century philosopher, draws upon the Greek word alētheia to signify disclosure, or “unconcealment.” He stresses the combined role of the world and the human experiencing that world. Alētheia is defined in the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon as “truth, verity.”32 Richard Draper and Michael Rhodes describe alētheia as “the reality on which appearance sits.”33

Pavel Florensky points out that alētheia derives from a-, which is the source of the prefix meaning not or without in modern English words such as amoral and amorphous; and lethe, meaning forget. He explains:

We cannot extinguish the demand for that which is not forgotten, for that which is not forgettable, for that which “abides” in the flux of time. It is this unforgettableness which is a-lētheia. Truth, in the understanding of the Greeks, is a-lētheia, something capable of abiding in the flux of forgetfulness, in the Lethean currents of the sensuous world. It is something that overcomes time, something that does not flow but is fixed, something eternally remembered. Truth is the eternal memory of some Consciousness. Truth is value worthy of and capable of eternal remembrance.34

[Page 455]Alētheia is the source word of many familiar and important New Testament passages. It is used in the Greek sources when Christ describes himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).35 It is used in John 8:32, “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” which may well refer to Christ as the truth. It is the word translated as truth in Christ’s statement before Pilate, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37). Pilate then asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Pilate received no answer, but we can ponder what it might mean for us to be “of the truth.” Does it mean facts and knowledge? Or might it also mean loyalty and fidelity to God?

Strong’s Concordance does note some instances that involve an element of truth/fidelity.36 Strong interprets the phrase “the truth of God” in Romans 15:8 as “indicative of His faithfulness in the fulfillment of His promises as exhibited in Christ.”

Regarding John 8:44,

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.

Here the editors of Strong’s Concordance comment that truth here is “not merely verbal, but sincerity and integrity of character.”

Alētheia can clearly mean more than intellectual knowledge:

For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:20–21)

Here truth is part of action, something that one can do. To do truth is opposed to doing evil.

Evangelical scholar Tyler Hallstrom presents the case that alētheia in some places in the New Testament has the sense of faithfulness, especially in Ephesians 5:9 and 6:14.37 He interprets Ephesians 5:9 (“For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth”) as meaning [Page 456]goodness, righteousness, and faithfulness, with specific reference to the familiar “triad of virtues in the [Old Testament].”

Ephesians 6:14 is part of Paul’s description of the whole armor of God:

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.

Hallstrom points out that the Septuagint frequently used alētheia to translate emeth, indicating that alētheia sometimes meant faithfulness. Moreover, he cites authorities who consider John 1:14, 17 (“full of grace and truth”) to refer to Christ’s faithfulness.38 Additional evidence comes from Old Testament sources for Paul’s wording. Specifically, Isaiah 11:5 was likely an inspiration for the description of the armor of God: “And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.” Hallstrom concludes that the direction of Paul to “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth” is counsel to “gird themselves with the belt of faithfulness as the Messiah bore in [Isaiah] 11:5.”

In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, truth was used in the KJV to translate words that sometimes had the meaning of fact/reality but sometimes had the meaning of faithfulness. Despite not being closely related languages, Hebrew, Greek, and English each turned out to have a word (emeth, alētheia, truth) that may be confusing because of these dual meanings. The similar range of meanings may have arisen from a core concept in each language relating to reliability. In some cases, even experts in ancient languages disagree on the intended meaning, but much of the time the sense of truth can be discerned. When a single intended meaning is not clear, insights can be gained from thinking about both possibilities, as discussed below.

Truth in the Book of Mormon

The near-archaic use of truth/fidelity is well-known to scholars, hence the frequent use of faithfulness for emeth in newer translations of the Old Testament. The Book of Mormon was written with some features of [Page 457]King James language.39 Might truth in the Book of Mormon sometimes mean steadfast faithfulness, loyalty? Obviously, we do not have access to the source word, but the English context used in translation should give strong clues. Truth used in the Book of Mormon most often means truth/fact. The most famous example is Moroni 10:5: “and by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” As just one more example, consider the phrase “if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it” (1 Nephi 16:3).

However, several passages read better, or at least offer additional discernment, when understood as truth/fidelity.40 The clearest example describes the two thousand stripling sons of the people of Ammon:

And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all — they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Yea, they were men of truth and soberness … (Alma 53:20–21)

This is practically a dictionary definition of truth/fidelity. Mormon continues in explanation of how and why they were men of truth and soberness, “… for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.”

Later, Mormon contrasts the back-sliding Nephites with the righteous Lamanites:

And thus we see that the Nephites did begin to dwindle in unbelief, and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grow exceedingly in the knowledge of their God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him. (Helaman 6:34)

[Page 458]King Benjamin, after teaching his people of the future mission and atonement of Christ, admonishes them on how to raise their children. After listing various unacceptable behaviors, he gives the righteous alternative: “But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:15). His admonition could be understood to refer to truth/fact, to raise honest children. However, the phrase “walk in the ways of truth” calls to mind Old Testament passages such as 1 Kings 2:4:

If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel.

The NIV translates this as:

If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.

After calling his son Corianton to repentance and explaining the plan of repentance and salvation, Alma concludes with the same phrase King Benjamin uses, “And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance …” (Alma 42:31). This could mean either to declare the factual word or to declare the word faithfully. Alma directs each of his three sons to declare the word with soberness, likely referring to serious intent. Helaman is told, “Go unto this people and declare the word, and be sober” (Alma 37:47), and Shiblon is instructed, “Now go, my son, and teach the word unto this people. Be sober” (Alma 38:15). Only Corianton receives the additional charge to act with truth — perhaps because he most needed a reminder to be faithful.

An Isaiah passage used by Nephi (1 Nephi 20:1, corresponding to Isaiah 48:1) shows how the senses may converge:

Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.41

[Page 459]Either sense of truth is apt here: to make covenants in the name of the Lord but not keep them is untruthful or dishonest; to betray a covenant with God is faithless or disloyal. In these examples from the Book of Mormon, there is value to be gained by considering the role of faithfulness.

Truth and True in Latter-day Scriptures

What should truth mean to us in our time? The word truth in the Doctrine and Covenants most often refers to spiritual reality, truth/fact. A definition with this sense is given in Doctrine and Covenants 93:24: “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” Other examples include “that you mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth ” (D&C 6:11) and “Blessed are you, inasmuch as you have turned away from your iniquities, and have received my truths” (D&C 66:1).

These passages describing truth suggest a broader challenge. Not only has the understanding of truth/fidelity nearly disappeared, but the understanding of truth/fact is also changing. The second broad sense of truth, what has been referred to here as truth/fact, is based on lexical characterization. A consideration of what truth means in this sense is a deep philosophical question, with major changes since the early nineteenth century. The predominant historic understanding of truth is close to correspondence theory, that a statement is true if it corresponds to a fact or state of affairs. Many of the scriptures cited above seem, at least superficially, to fit such an approach. Correspondence theory, however, has limitations and has been succeeded by other philosophical theories of truth. Most notably, coherence theory defines truth in terms of statements that fit into a coherent system taken as a whole. Pragmatist theories emphasize experience (true beliefs will not conflict with subsequent experience or inquiry), and many different systems or refinements have been proposed by philosophers.42 More recently, pluralism, relativism, and postmodernism pose particular challenges to traditional understandings of truth. As these ideas pass into popular culture, we hear about “my truth” and “your truth.” We also hear that truth is in the eye of the beholder. The word truth, despite its etymology deriving from firmness, has become far from firm in our current society.

[Page 460]Church leaders have addressed perspectives on truth. President Russell M. Nelson clearly stated,

The adversary has other disturbing tactics. Among them are his efforts to blur the line between what is true and what is not true. … Some would have us believe that truth is relative — that each person should determine for himself or herself what is true. Such a belief is but wishful thinking for those who mistakenly think they will not also be accountable to God.43

Doctrine and Covenants 93 contains extensive teachings about truth. The definition of truth as “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (v. 24) was cited above. This is not at all simplistic and implies an interactive relationship between individuals and truth. In verse 27 we learn that to receive a fullness of truth, it is necessary to keep the commandments. Not only is there a required role of the individual but there is a covenant relationship with God. The iterative nature of learning truth is reinforced in verse 28, “He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” Intelligence is equated with the light of truth in verse 29. We are told that intelligence is not created or made (certainly not relative) and is independent, “to act for itself” (v. 30). Verses 31 and 32 lay out the agency of man and the consequences of misusing that agency by not receiving light (they are “under condemnation”). Verse 36, very familiar, tells us something of the nature of God: “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” The picture of truth in this section is far more complex than simply accuracy or fact, and it may in some ways integrate the separate linguistic streams of truth. The section is worthy of much more research.

In addition to truth/fact in latter-day scriptures, it may be valuable to ponder passages that use “in truth,” a use which suggests truth/fidelity. An example is D&C 76:5, in which truth and righteousness are praised as a way of living:

For thus saith the Lord — I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.

This recalls the qualities of David (1 Kings 3:6), Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31:20), and the converted Lamanites (Helaman 6:34).

[Page 461]From the Pearl of Great Price, Moses also combines truth and righteousness:

And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood. (Moses 7:62)

There are elements in this passage also present in an Old Testament passage that has often been cited as a prophecy of the Book of Mormon:

Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. (Psalm 85:11)

This is likely most often understood by Church members as meaning that the Book of Mormon restored gospel truths — which it did. However, the role of the Book of Mormon in returning covenant faithfulness to the earth is also a valid and thought-provoking fulfillment of prophecy.

The dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland temple asks the Father that his servants “may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth …” (D&C 109:23). This could be interpreted with either meaning, but to go forth in faithfulness is fitting.

Of the 68 verses in the Doctrine and Covenants (identified with WordCruncher) that contain the word truth, most are likely to be interpreted with the sense of truth/fact, but 20 or more might plausibly be considered with either meaning, including those just discussed and several I will cite in the following section. There are 11 verses containing the word truth in the Pearl of Great Price, including the first two from Joseph Smith’s history, with explicit reference to facts in verse 1 but also referring in verse 2 to the phrase “in truth and righteousness.” There are 5 verses in the Book of Moses discussed in the following section, which may refer to truth/fidelity.

The word true in the Doctrine and Covenants likewise invites questions. True can obviously mean loyal or trusted:

It is not wisdom in me that he [Oliver Cowdrey] should be entrusted with the commandments and the moneys which he shall carry unto the land of Zion, except one go with him who will be true and faithful. (D&C 69:1)

What then of other instances of “true and faithful,” in relation to abstract concepts, such as “Keep these sayings, for they are true and faithful ” (D&C 66:11), “These sayings are true and faithful; wherefore, [Page 462]transgress them not, neither take therefrom” (D&C 68:34), or “Wherefore, keep my commandments; they are true and faithful” (D&C 71:11)? What can we learn if we think of these sayings and commandments as being not simply correct but completely reliable, worthy of deep trust?

Teachings of Latter-day Prophets

It would be interesting to know how early Church leaders and members interpreted the Book of Mormon passages discussed above, whether they understand truth in some cases as meaning faithfulness. The Scripture Citation Index returns many examples in which early Church leaders used passages such as Mosiah 4:15, Alma 53:20–21, and others containing truth.44 However, these often consisted of exhortations to follow the teachings of King Benjamin or the models of the 2000 stripling warriors and their mothers. The leaders quoted did not stop to define familiar words, so we have limited knowledge about their interpretation.

In their own teachings, Joseph Smith and his contemporaries most often used truth in the sense of true/fact, especially in reference to sharing or establishing the truths of the gospel. This is understandable since their focus was on restoring a body of knowledge. However, there are a few suggestive uses of truth/fidelity in what they wrote and taught. Here are two such examples:

From Joseph Smith: “Be virtuous and pure; be men of integrity and truth; keep the commandments of God; and then you will be able more perfectly to understand the difference between right and wrong — between the things of God and the things of men.”45

From John Taylor: “Let us be men of truth, honor and integrity — men that will swear to our own hurt and change not — men whose word will be our everlasting bond . … We are trying to raise up a people that shall be men of God, men of truth, men of integrity, men of virtue, men who will be fit to associate with the Gods in the eternal worlds.”46

[Page 463]I have centered this paper on the concept of truth/fidelity. Teachings of Church leaders in the 21st century repeatedly stress the importance of relying on spiritual truth, truth/fact, as distinct from worldly views of relative truth. To quote President Nelson again, “There really is absolute truth — eternal truth. One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth.”47 President Dallin H. Oaks teaches about types of truth and how to learn:

We live in a time of greatly expanded and disseminated information. But not all of this information is true. We need to be cautious as we seek truth and choose sources for that search. … When we seek the truth about religion, we should use spiritual methods appropriate for that search: prayer, the witness of the Holy Ghost, and study of the scriptures and the words of modern prophets. … The methods of science lead us to what we call scientific truth. But “scientific truth” is not the whole of life. Those who do not learn “by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118) limit their understanding of truth to what they can verify by scientific means. That puts artificial limits on their pursuit of truth.48

Questions to Consider

As I have demonstrated, the words true and truth carry dual meanings, which can be both a challenge and an opportunity for enlightenment as we ponder. This is not to say that both meanings are simultaneously correct or that all cases are indeterminate, but in ambiguous cases we may benefit from contemplating both. As an example of this, consider the teaching of Elder Howard W. Hunter, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, when he based a General Conference address on the phrase “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” from D&C 1:30.49 He challenged his [Page 464]listeners to apply “true and living” to themselves as members of the true and living church in an unexpected sense:

When I ask, “Am I a true and living member?” my question is, am I deeply and fully dedicated to keeping the covenants I have made with the Lord? Am I totally committed to live the gospel and be a doer of the word and not a hearer only? Do I live my religion? Will I remain true?50

In a similar vein, it is profitable to reflect on the possible meanings of truth in the scriptures, keeping in mind that in multiple passages in the Bible, truth implies covenantal faithfulness. For instance, the phrase “grace and truth” occurs in all four of the standard works in relation to the Savior or the Father. Kostenberger points to this phrase in John:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. … For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:14, 17)

He states that the phrase “harks back to the phrase ‘steadfast love and faithfulness’ in Exodus 34:6” (“abundant in goodness and truth” in the KJV).51 The same phrase occurs in 2 Nephi 2:6 (“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth”), D&C 66:12 (“my Father, who is full of grace and truth”), D&C 84:102 (“for he is full of mercy, justice, grace and truth, and peace, forever and ever”), D&C 93:11, from the revealed record of John (“the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth ”), and five times in the book of Moses (Moses 1:6, 1:32, 5:7, 6:52, and 7:11), including Moses 5:7:

And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.

Alma 13:9 expands the phrase to include equity:

Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without [Page 465]beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.

All three terms — grace, equity, and truth — point to relationships between God and man.

It is accurate to think of Christ as the source of truth and knowledge. However, without arguing here for a definitive interpretation, I believe there is also wisdom in contemplating the importance of Christ’s faithfulness.

Furthermore, given the use of truth and righteousness together in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, what could we learn from these phrases in the Doctrine and Covenants?

Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me. (D&C 50:9)

Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (D&C 107:84)

And, from the masterful passage on the powers of the priesthood:

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth. (D&C 121:46)

Lost Meanings, Lost Opportunities

Language can limit us. Perhaps as a consequence of the changes of the Industrial Revolution and the scientific world in which we live, truth is more and more understood to mean accuracy and fact, even as it has lost moral reference to some. Rabbi and scholar Joshua Berman points out the limitations of relying on facts and of applying current modes of thought to the past:

If you take all of biblical literature and all of rabbinic literature through the Middle Ages, you will not find anywhere a Hebrew term for “history.” Of course, you can find innumerable discussions of the events of the past, but you will never find these referred to as “history”; you will never find that one who discusses the past is called “a historian.” Or, consider this even more surprising observation: there is no Hebrew equivalent in biblical or rabbinic writings for the words fact or fiction. This is astonishing, because the rabbis were clearly attuned to the moral values of truth (emet) and [Page 466]falsehood (sheker) … The near-total absence of the conceptual categories of history, fact, and fiction from the biblical and rabbinic record speaks volumes about how far we as moderns stand from the world of our forefathers during those periods. It means that we are likely to find genres of writing here where these categories appear to us as blurred. When we speak of history, fact, and fiction, we must realize that we are utilizing modern categories of thought, that these are categories that the modern mind has constructed. We think that history simply means a discussion of past events with factual accuracy. We assume that this “history” has existed for, well, all of history. But it has not.52

Forgetting, as we have seen, relates directly to truth. To the Greeks, truth in one sense meant un-forgetting. Remembering is a basic principle of the gospel, especially remembering our covenants with God and remembering God’s mercy and faithfulness to us. Steven Olsen writes regarding remembering:

The verb remember, along with its variants, appears some 220 times in the Book of Mormon, making it one of the most frequently used verbs in the entire text. Frequency, however, is just one indicator of significance. Another is the specific literary contexts in which this constellation of related words appears. The imperative form of the verb regularly appears in sermons, exhortations, prophecies, and spiritual counsel. … Religious leaders from the Book of Mormon exhort their followers to remember as much as to obey, repent, pray, and worship.”53

Louis Midgley points out that in the Old Testament as well as the Book of Mormon, to remember means much more than to recall information:

To remember often means to be attentive, to consider, to keep divine commandment, or to act. The word in Hebrew thus carries a wider range of meaning than is recognized in English. Indeed, to remember in Hebrew involves turning to God, repenting, acting in accordance with divine injunctions. [Page 467]… The Book of Mormon links remembrance with covenants and their renewals.54

We in turn have an opportunity each Sunday to witness through covenant that we remember Christ — that we will be true to him.

With the fading of truth meaning faithful remembrance of a covenant relationship, we lose cues in the scriptures that emphasize our relationship to the Savior and to our Father in Heaven. As an illustration, I searched in the Church’s online Gospel Library for the first 25 General Conference addresses or BYU or CES speeches using the phrase, “full of grace and truth.” The results ranged from 1973 to 2022. There are five talks on truth as an accurate description of reality, with wonderful insights on spiritual truth. Six focus on sacrifice, quoting Moses 5:7. Eight discuss the nature of Christ, testimony, or redemption, all of which describe Christ as the source of grace and truth, and six more cover other topics. These are all uplifting and enlightening talks. However, the concept of the truth of Christ including faithfulness and complete reliability is absent from our modern conversation because truth/fidelity is less common. In this sense, changes in the language work against our full capacity for spiritual growth from scriptures.

Conclusions

The word truth, signifying that which is true, once meant either faithful behavior or true facts/reality. The former meaning is common in the KJV of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The scriptural use of truth/fidelity usually refers to faithfulness or steadfast loyalty to God, often with a covenantal implication.

Several passages in the Book of Mormon — notably from King Benjamin, Alma, and Mormon — may use truth in this sense. These prophets elaborated teachings regarding truth with phrases such as:

  • to love one another, and to serve one another
  • to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him
  • [to] declare the word with truth and soberness [to] bring souls unto repentance
  • [Page 468]to keep his statutes and commandments

The Doctrine and Covenants can also prompt reflection about truth. “Truth and righteousness” and “grace and truth” are recurrent themes throughout the scriptures, with implications of fidelity to God and divine covenants. Lessons learned about truth are also relevant to temple worship. Elder John C. Pingree, Jr., in October 2023 General Conference says, “We need to remember that Satan works to keep us from truth. He knows that without truth, we cannot gain eternal life.”55 Elder Pingree is speaking about truth/fact, but it is also the case that without faithfulness, we cannot gain eternal life.

In all of the standard works and in General Conference addresses, passages that use true and truth deserve careful thought as an invitation to inspiration and learning. Their messages can unlock insights into what it means for a disciple to be true and faithful. With both meanings apparent, we can stand:

True to the faith that our parents have cherished,
True to the truth for which martyrs have perished,
To God’s command,
Soul, heart, and hand.56

[Author’s Note: I express appreciation to Newell Wright, Craig Kelsey, and Mark Campbell for helpful comments on early versions of this paper and to Godfrey Ellis, Jeff Lindsay, Allen Wyatt, and the anonymous reviewers for their invaluable thoughts.]


1. “True to the Faith,” Hymns, no. 254.
2. David A. Bednar, “Converted unto the Lord,” Ensign 42, no. 11 (November 2012), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2012/10/converted-unto-the-lord.
3. See Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “truth, n.,” https://www.oed.com/dictionary/truth_n?tab=factsheet#17397989.
4. OED Online, s.v. “truth, n. & adv., Etymology.”
5. Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “truth (n.),” https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=tree.
6. Troth is defined as “loyal or pledged faithfulness: fidelity; one’s pledged word,” see Merriam-Webster, s.v. “troth,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/troth.
7. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “truce, n., Etymology.”
8. OED, s.v. “truth, n., sense I.3.”
9. OED, s.v. “truth, n. & adv., Etymology.” See also Richard Firth Green, A Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999). Green gives evidence, especially in Chapter 1, that an intellectual as opposed to ethical sense of truth emerged in the English language in the latter half of the fourteenth century.
10. Thanks to the anonymous reviewer who suggested this.
11. Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, 4.1.33–34, https://www.folger.edu/explore/shakespeares-works/alls-well-that-ends-well/read/4/1/, emphasis added.
12. Shakespeare, Richard II, 4.1.177–80, https://www.folger.edu/explore/shakespeares-works/richard-ii/read/4/1/, emphasis added.
13. Newell D. Wright, “Moving Beyond the Historicity Question, or a Manifesto for Future Book of Mormon Research,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 55 (2023): 312, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/moving-beyond-the-historicity-question-or-a-manifesto-for-future-book-of-mormon-research/.
14. Ibid.
15. American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “truth,” https://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/truth.
16. Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge: a tale of the riots of ’eighty (London: Penguin Books, 2003), Chapter 14, emphasis added.
17. Jeremy Tambling, introduction to David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens (London: Penguin Books, 2007), Chapters 10, emphasis added. Tambling also notes a passage in Chapter 42 in which Dickens combined truth, honor, and faith as related concepts.
18. Charles Dickens, Bleak House (London: Penguin Books, 2003), Chapter 41, emphasis added.
19. “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” Hymns, no. 142, emphasis added.
20. I rely on information from others regarding Hebrew or Greek, but the main focus here is the meaning of the English word used in translation. The Polyglot Bible is a source for Hebrew and Greek text, https://sacred-texts.com/bib/poly/index.htm. Specific lexicon references are given below regarding emeth, emunah, and alētheia.
21. James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), Hebrew 571, emeth.
22. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000), s.v. “אמת.”
23. Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, trans. Boris Jakim (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), Letter Two, 18–19.
24. Tito Lyro, “What is Truth?” WRS Journal 6 (1999): 9–12.
25. Strong, Concordance Hebrew 530, emunah.
26. Brown, Driver, Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, s.v. “אמנה.”
27. Paul F. Ford, Companion to Narnia, 4th ed. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994), 166; and C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2017), Chapter 6.
28. Donald W. Parry, “‘Who Shall Ascend into the Mountain of the Lord?’: Three Biblical Temple Entrance Hymns,” in Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 2014).
29. Andrew C. Skinner, ”Seeing God in His Temple: A Significant Theme in Israel’s Psalms,” in Ascending the Mountain of the Lord: Temple, Praise, and Worship in the Old Testament, ed. David R. Seely, Jeffrey R. Chadwick, and Matthew J. Grey (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 2013), 281–82.
30. Matthew B. Brown, “Cube, Gate, and Measuring Tools: A Biblical Pattern,” in Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium, 14 May 2011, ed. Matthew B. Brown et al. (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2014).
31. Brent J. Schmidt, Relational Faith (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2022), Chapter 3.
32. Maria Pantelia, ed., The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. “Ἀλήθεια,” https://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=4266.
33. Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2015), note on 1 Corinthians 13:6.
34. Florensky, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 17.
35. There is another layer of translation difficulty because Jesus would not have been speaking Greek to his disciples.
36. Strong, Concordance, Greek 225, aletheia.
37. Tyler Hallstrom, “Truth or Faithfulness?: Semantic Considerations on Ἀλήθεια in Ephesians,” Evangelical Quarterly 93 (2022): 297–318.
38. Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 1:405; and Andreas J. Kostenberger, “‘What is Truth?’ Pilate’s Question in its Johannine and Larger Biblical Context,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 48 (2005): 33–62.
39. Evidence for the theory that much of the Book of Mormon was not written in the language of either the KJV or the language of Joseph Smith’s time but in Early Modern English is presented in: Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Part three–four: The Nature of the Original Language (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Studies, The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2018). Since truth/fidelity persisted into the nineteenth century, this specific question regarding Book of Mormon language does not change the conclusions of this paper.
40. Note that the Book of Mormon passages cited in this study show no significant differences related to the word truth identified in Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Studies, The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2014).
41. The phrase “or out of the waters of baptism” is a parenthetical addition made by Jospeh Smith in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon. Nephi’s version adds “they swear” to the final phrase in the KJV of Isaiah 48:1 which reads “but not in truth, nor in righteousness.” Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:427.
42. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Truth,” last updated August 16, 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth.
43. Russell M. Nelson, “What Is True?,” Liahona (November 2022), 29–30, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2022/11/19nelson.
44. Scripture Citation Index, s.v. “truth,” https://scriptures.byu.edu/#::ss&b&n&30@0$truth.
45. Times and Seasons, 15 June 1842, p. 825, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/times-and-seasons-15-june-1842/11, emphasis added.
46. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), 59, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-john-taylor/chapter-7?lang=eng#p25, emphasis added.
47. Russell M. Nelson, “Pure Truth, Pure Doctrine, and Pure Revelation,” Liahona (November 2022), 6, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2021/11/11nelson.
48. Dallin H. Oaks, “Truth and the Plan,” Ensign 48, no. 11 (November 2018): 25, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2018/11/saturday-morning -session/truth-and-the-plan.
49. Howard W. Hunter, “Am I a ‘Living’ Member?,” Ensign 17, no. 5 (May 1987), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1987/05/am-i-a-living-member. See also Jeffrey R. & Patricia Holland, “Are You True?” (devotional, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, September 2, 1980), https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-and-patricia-t-holland/true/; and Joseph B. Wirthlin, “True to the Truth,” Ensign 27, no. 5 (May 1997), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1997/05/true-to-the-truth.
50. Hunter, “Am I a ‘Living’ Member?,” emphasis added.
51. Kostenberger, “What is Truth?,” 17.
52. Joshua Berman, Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith (Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2020), 51–52.
53. Stephen L. Olsen, “Memory and Identity in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 22 (2013): 42.
54. Louis Midgley, “To Remember and Keep: On the Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book,” in The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed., Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000).
55. John C. Pingree, Jr., “Eternal Truth,” Liahona (November 2023), 34, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2023/11/52pingree?lang=eng#p34.
56. “True to the Faith,” Hymns, no. 254, emphasis added.

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About Blaine L. Hart

Blaine L. Hart is a Professor Emeritus of Radiology. He was raised in Detroit, Michigan, and Logan, Utah. He received a B.A. in Liberal Arts at Utah State University and an M.D. from Vanderbilt University. After life experiences courtesy of the U.S. Navy and further training, he joined the faculty at the University of New Mexico. He has authored or co-authored numerous papers on topics in neuroradiology. Recently retired, he enjoys life with his wife, the former Nancy Jacobson. They have 2 children and 4 grandchildren.

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