A vicar friend once mentioned how he despaired of some common misuse of our English language. As an example he referred to the noun ‘fellowship’ often wrongly used as a verb. For example: ‘It’s good to fellowship together’ should be: ‘It’s a blessing to have (or share) fellowship with each other’. I avoided admitting to him that I too had frequently committed this grammatical mistake, but I made a mental note to avoid that error from then on.
My wife could tell you how I regularly correct broadcasters, especially when they say ‘you and I’ on those occasions when they ought to say ‘you and me’. But my main complaint is the constant overuse of the word ‘really’ – hence the cumbersome heading I’ve given to this article. However, I won’t ever allow slovenly speech to get me agitated, as that might raise my blood pressure and shorten my remaining earthly days.
Can something be real if it’s fantastic?
In modern parlance, something is fantastic if it is exciting and, maybe, better than expected. However, since the literal sense of fantasy is ‘an illusion from the realm of vivid imagination’, it cannot be real! Real things are true and factual, genuine and authentic, not artificial or spurious. Technically, then, something that is fantastic is unreal (from Latin phantasticus = imaginary); it will be weird and fanciful, bizarre and whimsical. So, if a matter is real, why do we repeat the fact by telling others that this subject is ‘really real’?
Why double the word ‘really’?
Well, the other day I gave myself a linguistic shock when I remembered how all through John’s Gospel Jesus said ‘verily, verily’ (in the King James Version of my childhood – compare the verb ‘verify’ = to confirm the truth of a subject). So, I decided to revisit that Gospel using the English Standard Version, and I discovered that the Master introduced twenty-five of his wise sayings as ‘truly, truly’ (Greek ‘amen, amen’), which, of course, is ‘really, really’! Jesus’ repetition emphasises that what he was about to utter was ‘most assuredly true‘. And, incidentally, when someone leads a congregation in prayer, the responsive ‘amen’ that they utter in unison affirms their agreement with the speaker’s matters for praise and the items requested (e.g. Deuteronomy 27:15-26).
Here’s a sketchy review of them all in the ESV. However, ‘really, really’, is mainly used excitedly nowadays, whereas ‘amen, amen’ strikes a more solemn tone in both Old Testament (e.g. at the end of a series of songs in the book of Psalms – see Psalm 41:13; 72:19; and 89:52 – and New Testament, where the risen Christ is called ‘The Amen’ (Revelation 3:14). Those twenty-five statements of truth are found in John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23, and 21:18. In recent Bible translations the Greek phrase is variously rendered as: ‘I tell you the truth‘, ‘I assure you’, ‘Let me make this clear‘, and even ‘This is absolutely true‘. Here’s a sketchy review of them all in the ESV.
Aspects of reality, according to Jesus
Nearly all of Jesus’ sayings in this series were addressed to a plural audience, but occasionally he spoke specifically to the individual who was in conversation with him (such as Nicodemus and Peter). The KJV makes this difference clear by its use of the old English pronouns ‘thee’ and ‘ye’; I will only indicate those few occasions when the ‘you’ is singular in the Greek text.
- Stairway to heaven
 John 1:51, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus here implies that he is ‘Jacob’s ladder’ – ‘the flight of steps’ the patriarch had seen in his famous dream in Genesis 28:12 (see ESV margin). He is the real – and only – stairway to heaven.
- We must be born anew from above
 John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you [Nicodemus], unless one is born from above [ESV margin] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
 John 3:5-7, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you [personally], you [all] must be born again.”
 John 3:11, “Truly, truly, I say to you [Rabbi Nicodemus], we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you [all] do not receive our testimony.”
- Enjoy new life
 John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.”
 John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life.”
 John 5:25, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
- How to make sure
 John 6:26-27, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me . . . because you ate your fill of the loaves. …Labour for the food … that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”In other words, don’t let excitement substitute for revelation.
 John 6:32, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave [past tense] you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives [present tense] you the true bread from heaven . . . [which] is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
 John 6:47, 50, “Truly, truly, I say to you … whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life…. that comes down from heaven.”
 John 6:53-58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. … As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”
- Conquest of death
 John 8:34-36, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. … If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
 John 8:51, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
 John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” – not ‘I was’! (See Exodus 3:14).
- The door to reality
 John 10:1, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door … is a thief and a robber.”
 John 10: 7, 11, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. … I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
- Dying to live
 John 12:24, 32-33, ‘“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. … And I, … when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.’
- You’ll be blessed in doing what the Master teaches
 John 13:16-17, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
 John 13:20, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Compare John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
- Glimpses of things to come
 John 13:21, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
 John 13:38, “Truly, truly, I say to you [Simon Peter], the cock will not crow till you [personally]have denied me three times.”
 John 16:20, 22, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. … I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
 John 21:18-19, ‘“Truly, truly, I say to you [Peter] , when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God).’
- We should do greater works than Jesus did
 John 14:12-14, ‘”Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these he will do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”
- If you don’t ask, you won’t get
 John 16:23 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. … Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”