An interesting discussion has sprung up over at Bob and Logan’s blog (which really needs a catchier name) on the nature of truth. What exactly do church members mean when they say that something (the church, the principle of tithing, the law of gravity) is true? What variations are there in the definition of this word?
At the very least, there seem to be two major categories of “truth” –
First, there are statements of fact, which can be true or false in a boolean, yes-no way. For example, the statement “Joseph Smith was born on December 23rd” is a statement of fact which is true. “Joseph Smith was born in February” would be a statement which is false.
Second, and more to the point, are instances where church members affirm that “the church is true” or “I know the church is true.” In this sense, “true” seems to mean based on correct principles; reliable; or perhaps “legitimate” (as in “the true heir to the throne”). When members recite their testimony as a matter of fact, it is an interesting question — what do they mean by “true”?
In fact, the dictionary lists several definitions of the word “true,” many of which would give very different meanings to the oft-repeated phrase “the church is true.” One set of definitions is:
true ( P ) Pronunciation Key (tr)
adj. tru·er, tru·est
1. a. Consistent with fact or reality; not false or erroneous. See Synonyms at real1. See Usage Note at fact.
2. Real; genuine. See Synonyms at authentic.
3. Reliable; accurate: a true prophecy.
4. Faithful, as to a friend, vow, or cause; loyal. See Synonyms at faithful.
5. Sincerely felt or expressed; unfeigned: true grief.
6. Fundamental; essential: his true motive.
7. Rightful; legitimate: the true heir.
8. Exactly conforming to a rule, standard, or pattern: trying to sing true B.
9. Accurately shaped or fitted: a true wheel.
10. Accurately placed, delivered, or thrown.
11. Quick and exact in sensing and responding.
12. Determined with reference to the earth’s axis, not the magnetic poles: true north.
13. Conforming to the definitive criteria of a natural group; typical: The horseshoe crab is not a true crab.
14. Narrowly particularized; highly specific: spoke of probity in the truest sense of the word.
15. Computer Science. Indicating one of two possible values taken by a variable in Boolean logic or a binary device.
However, later in the definition, we find the following, which I found helpful:
Word History: The words true and tree are joined at the root, etymologically speaking. In Old English, the words looked and sounded much more alike than they do now: “tree” was trow and “true” was trowe. The first of these comes from the Germanic noun *trewam; the second, from the adjective *treuwaz. Both these Germanic words ultimately go back to an Indo-European root *deru- or *dreu-, appearing in derivatives referring to wood and, by extension, firmness. Truth may be thought of as something firm; so too can certain bonds between people, like trust, another derivative of the same root. A slightly different form of the root, *dru-, appears in the word druid, a type of ancient Celtic priest; his name is etymologically *dru-wid-, or “strong seer.”
The etymology suggests that “truth may be thought of as something firm.” This makes sense when we view testimony. Members are attesting to the firmness of the gospel. And in this way, saying that “the church is true” may be simply saying that it is firmly based on correct principles.
(A related thought — does the constant repetition of “I know the church is true” merely signify personal knowledge of an objective fact? Or does it signify a variation in the idea of truth — that truth is not truth unless it is known? If no one knows that the church is true, is it still true?)