Dusty Phrases

Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find below an ancient phrase in one language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.

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Quid est veritas? Est vir qui adest.


What is truth? It is the man who is before you.

If you look closely, you will notice that this Latin phrase is an anagram. It comes indirectly from the Bible’s Gospel of John Chapter 18, verse 38. From Wiki:

Nova Vulgate 1979

38 Dicit ei Pilatus: “ Quid est veritas? ”. Et cum hoc dixisset, iterum exivit ad Iudaeos et dicit eis: “ Ego nullam invenio in eo causam. ”

NIV 2011

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

Some commentators have seen significance in the fact that the anagram “Est vir qui adest” (“It is the man who is before you”) can be made from the letters of “Quid est veritas”.

In addition to the guiltlessness of Jesus this verse also reflects the rejection of the truth of God: Jesus, the witness to truth was rejected, ignored and condemned.

The exact intention of Pilate has been subject to debate among scholars, with no firm conclusion. His statement may have been made in jest that the trial was a mockery, or he may have sincerely intended to reflect on the philosophical position that truth is hard to ascertain. The Greek word rendered as “truth” in English translations is “aletheia“, which literally means “unconcealed” and connotes sincerity in addition to factuality and reality; whereas Jesus’ use of the term appears to indicate absolute, revealed knowledge.

This verse reflects the Christian tradition of the “guiltlessness of Jesus” in Pilate’s Court. The innocence of Jesus is important in the Gospel of John, given that it emphasizes Jesus as the Lamb of God.

Note that Jesus, although he does not respond to Pilate’s question (perhaps because Pilate “went out again” before giving him a chance to), knows the answer. During his prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus tells God, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)

This is one of the most famous anagrams in history, but you’ll note that Jesus did not make the anagram reply (nor was the conversation likely to have occurred in Latin.) It has just been noticed that the reply was possible within the Latin translation.

2 thoughts on “Dusty Phrases

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you got something out of it.

      I’ve really enjoyed doing these short phrase studies. I feel like I come across these things all the time without always looking at them closely.