The title of this post is a phrase many people have heard. Some of us, including me, heard it as a question in a courtroom.

I was called as a witness in a bench trial (no jury), and was sworn in by a court official. With my hand on a Bible he asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

(That swearing in oath has changed now, but I personally like the version used with me.)

woman in gold dress holding sword figurineI did so swear, and then the fun began. Or at least I suppose it was fun for the attorneys, because for me it felt like work.

All that time I remembered that I had to tell the truth — all of it and nothing but it — or I could be accused of perjury.

It all turned out fine, though I have not been anxious to testify in court since then. But I still want to tell the truth.

The phrase I had to focus on in the witness box was “the whole truth.”

It was thinking back on that day which led me to one of my core statements, “a half-truth is a whole lie.” You’ve probably heard some of those kinds of lies. Or maybe even used one along the way.


Here I am talking about truth and some readers are asking, “What is truth?” They know, but the modern American culture doesn’t seem so sure about it.

Definition 1. “Truth consists in the agreement of what we think and what is real.” So says Mortimer J. Adler, who studied the idea of truth for decades. That isn’t original with him, it is the definition of all times and all ages. Just because a few people have tried to make truth subjective, the definition hasn’t changed. Truth is objective.

Definition 2. “An integer is a number that is not a fraction.” In other words, an integer is a whole number. No, I didn’t throw that in for the math geeks in the audience, although I hope they all appreciate it. I added it (see what I did there?) because it is from the same root as our next word.

Definition 3. “Integral is that which is necessary to make the whole complete.” This is something that is not separate but is included as part of the whole.

Definition 4. We use integrity two ways, and you’ll see how they fit together. The more common use is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” It is the quality without which a job applicant will not be hired by Warren Buffet. Integrity is also defined as “the state of being whole and undivided.”

See how they work together? If you are honest and have strong moral principles (integrity), what you say and how you behave will be whole and undivided (integrity).

Do you have integrity? It is integral to doing good, and of course to speaking the whole truth.

Back to court

The civil trial I referred to earlier was, like many arguments that reach a courtroom, contentious. Having been called as a witness by one side, I assumed the attorney for the other side would not be friendly.

I was wrong. She wasn’t just not friendly, she was fierce. Not quite hostile, not quite pugnacious, but far from friendly.

And here is the odd thing about our nearly hour long exchange: I kind of liked her.

I’d never met her before, nor did I see her again, but she was a force to be reckoned with. She was smart, which perhaps should go without saying, and she knew stuff. By that I mean she knew the law, but she also knew the case and the parties involved. She also knew words and how to use them.

I was not in her league, but I had two things going for me: prayer and the fact that I would only tell the truth. Oh yes, I also dressed nicely, including a coat and tie, which perhaps gave me some professional credibility. Not that she cared.

What if I had tried to bolster my testimony by leaving out part of the truth? She would have ripped me to shreds and discounted everything I said. Because I’m sure she would have known it.

Now you and I are not a witness in a court of law on a daily basis. We are, however, interacting with other people most days of our lives. Are we ever tempted to fudge the truth a tiny bit? Of course we are. Do we ever do that? Yes, we do.

And in the blink of an eye, a whole number — or a whole person — becomes a fraction of itself.

Truth and good

In my studies on the matter, all cultures consider it good to speak the truth.

When I was a child watching “cowboys and Indians” on TV, the Indians would sometimes say, “White man speak with forked tongue.”

When I got a little older I assumed the phrase came from the garden of Eden. It was there that Satan, in the form of a serpent (naturally with a forked tongue) lied to Eve. Later in the Bible Jesus says that the devil “is a liar and the father of lies.”

Later I wondered how those Native Americans would have known about Satan and his encounter with Eve, but even now I’m confident that is why speaking with a forked tongue is a picture of lying.

In that same encounter with some of the religious leaders of his day, Jesus spoke about truth and said a curious thing.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Isn’t that the truth, both theologically and in life?

Way back in 1808, Sir Walter Scott published an epic poem that contains the lines:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!

Only truth can untangle such a web, or keep it from forming at all.

Do good. Be a person of integrity, and be free.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Jim

    Great message today Lewis…and the reference to the forked tongue was quite inciteful…it’s great to learn something new first thing in the morning!!

    1. Lewis Greer

      Thanks, Jim! Learning something new is always fun, and especially first thing in the morning. 🙂 Now when you hear that phrase in a conversation you can help someone else learn where it came from!

  2. Mark Starley

    The whole truth about this blog today is that it is outstanding!
    Thank you

    1. Lewis Greer

      Much appreciated, Mark!! It was a fun one to write, and I’m glad you liked it.

  3. Terry Ray

    We(Jeep and I)are really loving your writing and have been forwarding it to friends here in Pinetop/Lakeside… and constantly learning that “the truth really will set you free”…even on the golf course!

    1. Lewis Greer

      Thanks very much, Terry and Jeep, for the kind words and for passing along the articles! Hope Pinetop/Lakeside has been cool this summer.

      I love your line that “the truth really will set you free… even on the golf course!” I might have to use that with one or two playing partners along the way. 🙂

  4. Bill Billard

    Lewis: Thank you for tying together the words, Integer, integral and integrity – some of my favorite words that are often misunderstood. Well said!

    1. Lewis Greer

      And to think I considered leaving out “integer.” But then (as you know) the thought wouldn’t have been complete. 🙂

      So glad you felt it worked well, and I’m not surprised at all to know you like those words!

      Thanks, Bill!

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