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Interpreting Interpreter
Oh Say, What is Truth?

This post is a summary of the article “Recovering the Lost Concept of Truth in the Restoration Scriptures: Another Key to Understanding God’s Word” by Blaine L. Hart in Volume 60 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Hart explores scriptural use of the word truth in its more archaic meaning of “fidelity” or “reliability,” outlining examples from various corners of the standard works and the words of modern prophets and encouraging us to consider that meaning in places where we would otherwise interpret the word as “factual” or “honest.”


The Summary

In this article Blaine L. Hart works to expand our understanding of the word truth, emphasizing a meaning that has been practically lost in modern English: that of loyalty and faithfulness. That meaning is in fact older than our modern meaning, being observed in Old English and persisting in use through the nineteenth century. In scriptural terms, it can be found in the Old Testament, as emeth (with a primary meaning “firmness, faithfulness, truth,” particularly in connection with God’s word) or emunah (often translated as faithfulness, truth, and stability, among other terms), and in the New Testament as the Greek alētheia, where it most often means “fact” or “reality,” but has an etymology meaning “to not forget,” and has some instances where it seems to denote fidelity (e.g., John 8:44). The same seems to be true for the Book of Mormon, where some passages are best understood if truth means fidelity (e.g., Alma 53:20-21), and for modern revelation (e.g., D&C 76:5; Moses 7:62). There may be as many as 20 examples of that use in the D&C that may use that meaning of truth, along with five in the Pearl of Great Price, as well as some examples from early church leaders.

These scriptural meanings have been recognized in the modern day, such as C.S. Lewis naming a character Emeth, notable for his loyalty and faithfulness, or modern biblical translations rendering the words as faithful. It provides a stark contrast to the modern meaning of truth, which has shifted over time to take on an increasingly secular and relativistic tone—a trend opposed by modern prophetic voices. Hart suggests that truth’s dual meanings present “both a challenge and an opportunity” as we work to understand and apply the scriptures. Allowing room for both may open up new options and interpretations that otherwise may not have been considered. Forgetting the nearly lost archaic meaning can, in turn, limit the insights we can draw. As Hart notes:

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.


The Reflection

I generally agree with the sentiment that, when it comes to scriptural interpretation, more is
more—I think we are rarely harmed by the existence of additional ways to view or interpret a particular passage, even for examples that are clear forms of eisegesis. Those additional interpretations will nearly always be helpful to someone, somewhere, allowing them to gain an insight or find meaning in scripture that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. This is especially true given the tendency for us to see passages differently when we’re at different points in life’s timeline—some scriptures just hit me in new ways when I became a parent, or when I started preparing for a mission. Allowing for new, reliable (read: true) ways to view a verse increases the chance that the Spirit can grab hold of us and communicate, like a bigger underground water tank creating more opportunities for interactions with neutrinos, and Hart’s views on the word truth is a great example of that.

In my experience, the greater danger is in insisting that one’s own interpretation is the only valid one available, and that others are to be mistrusted. I wish recent events in LDS circles hadn’t provided such useful examples of outright hostility to new and unfamiliar ideas—of attempts to shout down potentially useful interpretations because they weren’t what one grew up believing or defending. This is not to say that every idea is created equal. Where the factual (also read: true) nature of scripture is important, it’s critical that we have mechanisms for sorting out better interpretations from worse ones. But, in my view, it’s better for those ideas to be able to mingle and compete freely than for them to be rejected out of hand. We can entertain thoughts without accepting them, and we can test proposed truths before allowing them to fully shape who we are. That’s an environment where truths, in both senses, can rise to the surface, eventually leading us to the place where Truth has its ultimate wellspring.

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