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“Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness”

Introducing the Ninth Commandment

4 min

With the rapid expansion of modern technology, we have gone from a world of printed materials to an influx of digital images and messages. Christian men must be on guard that the material they read, the actions they repeat, and the messages that they pass along are grounded in truthfulness. Deception is deadly, and God hates it.

In the list of the “seven deadly sins” in Proverbs Chapter 6, we find that no less than three of these sins that God hates are directly related to the ninth commandment. In verse 17, the list indicates that God hates “a lying tongue.” In verse 19, the writer noted that God also hates “a false witness that speaketh lies,” and “he that soweth discord among brethren.” The weight of emphasis upon these particular sins that God specifically hates and calls abominations indicates the seriousness of the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16).

False witness, prevarication, slander, gossip, flattery, deception, boastfulness, and hypocrisy all have the potential to destroy relationships in families, churches, communities, and even nations. James, an early church leader, wrote that the tongue is “a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). Jesus identified Satan as “a liar and the father of it [the lie]” (John 8:44).

The wicked queen Jezebel schemed and hired false witnesses to accomplish the murder of innocent landowner Naboth (see I Kings 21:5–7, 13). It was by false witness that the Lord Jesus was condemned to death (see Matthew 26:59). Hypocrisy and conspiracy to lie to the Holy Ghost brought God’s judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira according to Acts 5:3–10. The Apostle Paul admonished both Titus and Timothy to be on guard against slander and gossip among Christians. Examples of Paul’s warnings to these two men can be found in I Timothy 1:4, 3:11, and II Timothy 2:16, as well as in Titus 1:10–11 and 3:2. The repeated mention of this topic shows how important it is. Note that, while the English word gossip is never used in the King James translation of the Bible, the aforementioned references speak of accusation, vain talk, slander, and other ways we can be guilty of bearing false witness.

As Christian men, we must be diligent to be advocates of truth. We can shine the light of the New Testament upon the ninth commandment to not bear false witness by applying the commandment to our daily lives:

I am to put away lying and hypocrisy, knowing that I am accountable to the God of truth for every word that I speak.

(See Matthew 12:36)

This month, we will examine numerous passages in both the Old and New Testaments that pertain to the ninth commandment. Today we will carefully consider the wording of this specific commandment.

The wording of the ninth commandment in Exodus 20:16 reads this way: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” In the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 5:20, the wording is “Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

In English, the wording is very similar. But it is interesting to note that the Hebrew gives two distinctly different words which are both rendered into English as “false.” Exodus 20:16 contains the word שֶׁקֶר sheqer which specifically signifies “lying” and “deception.” Deuteronomy 5:20 contains the word שָׁוְא shawv which specifically signifies “emptiness” and “vanity.” God, in His infinite wisdom, chose both of these important words to fully convey what is forbidden in the ninth commandment. We are to guard against both falsehood and vanity in our speech.

The first and obvious application of the ninth commandment is to not give false testimony in a court of law. Perjury was a serious offense under the Law of God. In Deuteronomy 19:16–21, extended discussion is presented of what to do if Hebrew judges determined that a witness had lied in a court of law. Biblical legislation required that the false witness suffer the same penalty that he sought to exact from the accused. If the malicious witness gave false testimony in a capital case, the man who falsely accused his neighbor suffered the death penalty. “Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you” (Deuteronomy 19:19).

The full application of not bearing false witness against one’s neighbor, even in Old Testament times, went far beyond its application to penalties against perjury and outright lying. The following common and dangerous sins are closely related to the ninth commandment.

Slander

Slander is the passing along of information, whether true or false, with the intent to cause harm. The Hebrew word for Satan means “the slanderer” or “the accuser.” Christians do the work of the devil when they share information for the purpose of damaging another’s reputation. Slander is malicious and often has devastating consequences. According to Proverbs 10:18, we are warned that “he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.”

Gossip

Gossip is sharing information with people who are not part of the problem or the solution. Addressing a Christian brother about his sin is certainly correct, as well as in some cases taking the problem to church leaders or civil magistrates. These instances of first privately approaching a brother in the Lord and then, if necessary, working with church and civil leaders are intended to bring restoration and healing when there is proper repentance and reconciliation. However, when Christians spread rumors and accusations abroad with any third party, this activity is sowing discord among the Body of Christ and is to be avoided.

Pride

Boasting is a subtle way to bear false witness. Whenever a man exaggerates his own accomplishments in order to receive credit for something he did not do, he is bearing false witness. Thus, pride is linked closely with a lying tongue. According to Proverbs 6:17, a “proud look” and “a lying tongue” are named side by side.

Hypocrisy

A hypocrite is a habitual breaker of the ninth commandment. The word hypocrisy means an “actor”—someone who is not what he seems to be. He is testifying one thing with his mouth, but his words are not a reflection of his heart. The psalmist says that the Godly man “speaketh the truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:2).

Although these sins may seem harmless, they bring great pain and devastation to those affected by them. May God give us all the grace to be men of truth—men who shun giving a false witness. We must be men who will not even listen to slander or gossip and our words be a genuine, humble reflection of an honest and upright heart.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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