Truth vs honesty

Sometimes nothing is less true than the truth.
                             Georges Simenon

What is truth?
                             Pontius Pilate

Have you ever noticed that telling the truth and being honest are not always the same thing?  I’ve been pondering this for a while, then came across the first quotation above in a novel I was flicking through while waiting for some friends yesterday.  When I got to church I was still mulling it over and remembered Pilate’s question to Jesus.  Pilate actually went on to illustrate perfectly what I mean.

Having questioned Jesus for hours, he went outside to the eagerly-awaiting crowds and told them ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’ 

This was perfectly true, but rather than releasing this innocent man, and facing the wrath of the people, Pilate passed the buck to them, asking who they wanted released – Jesus or the convicted criminal Barabbas. We all know the rest of the story. 

Pilate spoke the truth, but was not honest.  The honest response to the crowds would have been ‘There is no basis for a charge against him, and therefore he is free to go.’

I recently had lunch with a friend and two strangers who had contacted my office asking if we could meet with a view to a possible collaboration.  Since it was, in my opinion, a business-focussed lunch, I paid on my business credit card.  When filling in my expenses claim form I listed the name of the friend first and the two strangers second. Since there is only limited space on the printed document, the friend’s name showed up, and the beginning of the next name.  My boss, who also knows this friend, noticed his name when approving my expenses and challenged me on it – was I just taking my mates out for lunch with work money?  I explained and it was passed, but I was asked to please check with my boss in advance before doing such a thing in future.

My automatic thought after the conversation was ‘I should have put my friend’s name last, so my boss would never have noticed.’ I immediately caught myself, realising that though this would have been telling the truth, it would not have been honest.  Thankfully, I had done the honest thing, so my conscience is clear, even though I still feel slightly humiliated at the thought of the (gentle) reprimand.

Honesty is usually a much harder path.  It carries the risk of involving much more time and effort – the slightly misleading truth can simply be quicker, avoiding a long explanation, but it’s better.

There is a popular saying that it is easier (sometimes people even say ‘better’) to ask for forgiveness than permission. I’ve even heard Christians commonly operating on this principle.  The thing is, it is not an honest way to live.  If you’re in a situation where you are even thinking the above, the likelihood is that it is something you know you are not supposed to do.  You know that if you asked permission it would likely be denied, but you want to do it anyway, so realising the person in authority is lenient, patient and forgiving, you decide to do it then fall on his mercy later if necessary.

What does God think of this kind of duplicity? How does he feel when his children act like this? Yes, he’s loving and forgiving, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, but I’m pretty sure his heart is grieved when his children act like this.

A friend of mine told me recently that one of her dreams for the world is to see truth being re-discovered and put back at the top of the agenda, specifically in the business world, but it relates to every other sphere of life, too.  I’d like to suggest that it’s not just truth we need to put back, but actual honesty.

We can’t expect the world to act in honesty if we don’t model it in our own lives, though. Keep an eye on yourself over the next few days and examine whether, when choosing which parts of the truth to tell you are actually being honest or dishonest.

Anyone can tell the truth. Honesty takes courage and commitment, but in doing so builds a far better character.

(And in the interests of honesty, I must confess that despite scheduling it to appear on Monday, I wrote this post on Sunday.  Decided since I’d missed a few days I wouldn’t be legalistic about my Sunday rule, just on the odd occasion.)

6 Comments On This Topic
  1. Mel
    on Jul 12th at 12:01 am

    Honesty is attainable with integrity and commitment and is under our complete control. And wrong or delusional person can still be completely honest too. But truth is so much bigger than us. It is the non subjective perfection of what is that can only be aspired towards.

  2. Baskar
    on Sep 20th at 9:21 am

    When a Jew was renting part of a christian woman’s apartment during the holocaust times, she was under the dilemma of whether to be “honest” and tell the officers at her door of his presence or be “truthful” to God and protect him by telling a “lie”. Then she took a middle path by saying “No Jew in MY apartment” – since the rented technically owns the place temporarily – she didnt tell a lie, was “honest” to the officers, but as well “truthful” to God, as no murder happened due to her words!

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Sep 20th at 9:43 am


    • belle Dovidio
      on Mar 17th at 4:15 pm

      Oh, Baskar! Thank you, thank you, thank you! This short and simple story finally eased the last several hours of my intense, sometimes chaotic, mind-analyzing regarding truth versus honesty. It all finally clicked! Thank you…so much!

  3. Mike Snyder
    on Sep 29th at 6:00 pm

    I had a conversation with a friend in recovery earlier today. He told me it took him 12 years to understand the difference between “truth” and “honesty,” and everyone (meaning me) had to make that discovery on their own. (My friend is quite a Sphinx-like cat!)

    Later, your blog post turned up in a Google search of “truth vs honesty.” I’m quite glad to find it. Very interesting.

    I’d been mulling “truth” and how it’s run through my filters of thought and experience, wondering: How do I perceive “what’s true?” Has a greater, universal truth been diluted by me and the natural shortcomings of my human mind? To be “honest,” I should allow for that, no? I may never be capable of knowing the full truth, but I can live an honest life based on principles of what I believe to true, based on a faith that rings true for me.

    Maybe that’s what my friend was getting at. I’ll ask him next time I see him.

    Apologies for the stream of consciousness comment. Thanks for your post. Please add me to you subscribers list. (I couldn’t get the button to work.)

  4. Tony Anonymous
    on Jan 10th at 12:37 am

    I’ve spent this day looking into the need for honesty to develop trust in a relationship. I was made aware of the idea that Honesty like truthfulness are actions, while trust is an emotion. So for my needs truthfulness and honesty are needed in a relationship.
    But then I had to ask what is the difference between honesty and truthfulness or being honest and being truthful.

    I then branched of into the honesty -vs- truthfulness debate. I came across what seemed to be the simplest description. Honesty is not telling lies, while Truthfulness is making known all the facts of a matter. I tried to apply those definitions to your example about Pilate. It lead me to believe he was was being honest, just not truthful.

    This is where I always seem to have problems. It might be my inability to follow a logical sequence. But, it seem there are at least two and sometimes three or more definitions to a word that stand opposing to each other.

    My question of myself and the world around me is: If I had to chose one, do I strive to be honest or truthful? and by what definition do I use the words?


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