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I'm studying philosophy of religion and I was just wondering if anyone could tell me why, in the fourth sign in John's gospel especially (feeding of the five thousand), he constantly says, "Very truly I tell you" in the discourse? For instance, John 6:26 (ESV):

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

It's as if he's trying to convince us that it's true, which makes him sound all the more guilty of lying. Why else he would say it so often?

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  • Note that it's only in John that we see the double "amen amen", even for stories which appear in other Gospels as a single "amen", e.g. Jn 13:21 vs Mt 26:21.
    – fumanchu
    Jan 26 '15 at 0:12
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I see the following translations from the BibleGateway.com translation of John 6:26:

  • "Amen, amen I say to you": Douay-Rheims American Edition, New American Bible Revised Edition
  • "Believe me": J. B. Phillips New Testament
  • "For sure, I tell you": New Life Version
  • "I assure you": Common English Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible
  • "I can guarantee this truth": God's Word Version, Names of God Bible
  • "I tell you for certain": Contemporary English Version
  • "I tell you the solemn truth": Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament, New English Translation
  • "I tell you the truth": Expanded Bible, New Century Version, New Living Translation, The Voice, Worldwide English New Testament
  • "Most assuredly, I say to you": New King James Version
  • "Most certainly I tell you": World English Bible
  • "Most solemnly I tell you": Amplified Bible
  • "Omein, omein, I say to you": Orthodox Jewish Bible
  • "The truth is": Easy-to-Read Version
  • "The truth of the matter is": The Living Bible
  • "Truly, I tell you all emphatically": International Standard Version
  • "Truly, truly I say to you": Disciples' Literal New Testament, English Standard Version, English Standard Version UK Edition, Lexham English Bible, Modern English Version, New American Standard Bible, Revised Standard Version, Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, Wycliffe Bible
  • "Verily, verily I say to/unto you": 21st Century King James Version, American Standard Version, Darby Translation, 1599 Geneva Bible, Jubilee Bible 2000, King James Version, Authorized (King James) Version, Young's Literal Translation
  • "Very truly I tell you": New International Version, New International Version UK Edition, New Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version Anglicised, New Revised Standard Version Anglicised Catholic Edition, New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
  • "What I'm about to tell you is true": New International Readers' Version
  • "Yes indeed! I tell you": Complete Jewish Bible
  • [not translated]: The Message

From this list, it appears that most of the listed translations use something like "Truly/Verily/Amen I say to you"; but the rest use words that appear intended to convey a meaning like "Here is an important truth". That is, the emphasis is not on the idea that Jesus is telling the truth, but on the fact that the truth Jesus is telling is significant and important to listen to.

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  • Is there a hint of maybe Hebrew influence here with the Reduplication linguistic device that is common in Hebrew?
    – Joshua
    Dec 28 '15 at 15:12
  • @JoshuaBigbee Hm, interesting, hadn't thought of that. I suppose it's possible. Dec 28 '15 at 18:07
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    It would certainly support your answer. I don't think Greek does it much, not for emphasis. Think it can be involved in present perfect, but I'm going off old memory here. But if Jesus is speaking in Aramaic then that doesn't really matter, John is just translating verbatim. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduplication#Semitic that could be why some translations go with "very" or "most".
    – Joshua
    Dec 28 '15 at 18:12
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A literal translation of the Greek would be "Amen I say to you." As @fumanchu notes, in John's gospel, it's always "Amen Amen I say to you."

It seems to me that Jesus uses this phrase when speaking on his own authority - something that set him apart from other rabbis of his day. People found this astonishing - as Matthrew comments at the end of the sermon on the Mount: "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law."(Matthew 7:28-29)

Presumably this was a catchphrase of his, and his disciples would have picked it up and imitated it - 1st century Jewish disciples used to imitate their master, trying to copy not just his words but his tone of voice.

Here is a list of the occasions he uses the phrase in John's gospel.

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It is not only in John 6:26 that Jesus says "truly" as if trying to convince us that what he says is true, although here he repeats the word as if this saying is of utmost importance. 'Truly' (ἀμὴν, also translated as 'verily') is a figure of speech used quite frequently in the synoptic gospels and more likely intended by the gospels authors to indicate important sayings of Jesus.

John's Gospel continues this practice, but with a noteworthy elaboration. In every instance
(John1:51,3:3,3:5,3:11,5:19,5:24,5:25,6:26,6:32,6:47,6:53,8:34,8:51,8:58,10:1,10:7,12:24,13:16,13:20,13:21,13:38,14:12,16:20,16;23,21:18) - and only in this gospel - Jesus is portrayed as repeating the word for added emphasis.

If these were literally the words of Jesus, in verse 6:26 and elsewhere in John's Gospel, we would find the words repeated with similar frequency in the synoptic gospels, but this is never the case. This means that "truly, truly" is the intentional style of the author of John's Gospel, paraphrasing what Jesus might have said.