“A faithful witness will not lie; but a false witness breathes lies.” Proverbs 14:5
Faithful – Some modern translations do not use this English word. Instead, they use the word “truthful”. The Hebrew ‘e munah can mean both, but the shift from “faithful” to “truthful” does more than simply use an alternative meaning. When I choose “truthful” instead of “faithful”, I change the topography of the whole thought. I move the context from the Hebrew culture to the post-modern Greek culture. And in the process, I lose the real impact of this verse. It simply disappears as though it were never part of Biblical picture.
You might object. “Isn’t “truthful” about the same as “faithful”? What’s the big deal?” Here is the big deal. When I think about telling the truth in the context of our culture, I think about accurately reporting what I know. In our culture, truth telling is about facts. I stand before the court and promise to speak the facts. When I have communicated all the facts, I have fulfilled my obligation to tell the truth.
But the Hebrew world would never agree to this narrow definition. That’s why the text uses the word “faithful”. This word is first and foremost about the character of God. It is a relationship word, not a fact-reporting word. To be a faithful witness is to reflect the character and relationship of God. This is far more than simply reporting what I know. In fact, if the translation is “truthful”, then the verse is nothing more than a tautology. Of course a truthful witness speaks the truth. Did you expect a truthful witness to lie?
Let’s look at an example. President Clinton may have fulfilled his obligation to speak the truth when he was confronted about his sexual conduct. He could accurately say, “I did not have intercourse with her.” But was he a faithful witness? He met the requirement of reporting the facts but he broke every standard of faithfulness. He compromised and banim zarim were born in his house (do you remember yesterday’s word?).
Proverbs does not ask us to report accurately. It asks us to live faithfully. Truth telling is the natural consequence of faithful living. You can be Greek if you choose, but God is Hebrew. He won’t ask if you reported all the facts. He will ask if you were faithful to His character. Now how will you answer?