Online Sunday School – The Ten Commandments, For a Blessed Life – Kerygma Materials Commandment 9, Bearing False Witness


  1. The commandment. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus, 20, 16. Deuteronomy, 5, 20.


  1. As often with the Ten Commandments, the meaning of the word in the commandment is often interpreted in other passages.
    1. Deuteronomy 19. 15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
    2. Exodus 23. “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. 2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. 4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. 6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. 9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
    3. Psalm 5. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you. 5 The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who speak lies;   the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful. 7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house, I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you. 8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness     because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. 9 For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues. 10 Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.
  2. While the term “witness” in the commandment seems to apply to a justice system, and the Bible gives great importance to justice, Deuteronomy 16, 20; Isaiah 28, 16-17, Amos, 5-24, falseness also appears in other settings.
  3. The Heidelberg Catechism, a confession of the reformed churches including Presbyterians, states at 112, “I must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Rather, I must avoid all lying and deceit as the devil’s own works, under penalty of God’s heavy wrath. In court and everywhere else, I must love the truth, speak and confess it honestly, and do what I can to defend and promote my neighbor’s honor and reputation. It cites
    1. Leviticus, 19, 11;” you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.”
    2. Psalm 15, “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? 2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,     and speak the truth from their heart; 3 who do not slander with their tongue,     and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; 4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;”
    3. Proverbs 19, “Better the poor walking in integrity than one perverse of speech who is a fool.  . . . A false witness will not go unpunished, and a liar will not escape.”
    4. Proverbs 12, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.”
    5. Romans 1, “29They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” 
    6. Ephesians 4, “15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
  4. Questions arise as to what is truth, what is false, what is opinion and whether truthfulness is desirable in all situations. Consider what is involved in the following, and how this commandment applies:
    1. A wife asks her husband “do you think this dress makes me look fat?”
    2. In Nazi Germany, someone is hiding Jews in their home to protect them against being killed. A Nazi knocks on the door and asks if there are any Jews inside.
    3. A used car salesman tells a customer that the car in question is in great shape and will last for years. Does it matter if he has looked at the car and knows it will soon wear out? If he does not look?
    4. A politician gives a speech saying that his/her opponent is a socialist, and a fascist, and a Moslem, knowing that many potential voters find all of those unacceptable.
    5. Another politician gives speeches to three different interested groups and tells them three different things, knowing what they want to hear.
    6. A child does something that violates school rules. When the teacher asks about it he/she blames another child.
    7. An alarm goes off in a department store. A white customer saw an African American in the area and points him out to the police.
    8. A person fills out a tax return and omits some earnings for which he/she was paid in cash.
    9. A person has a disease that is expected to be fatal within a short time. His doctor tells him that a treatment will make him well, in order to be positive and encouraging.
    10. A football player gives up a touchdown. He complains to the referee that the other player was out of bounds.
    11. A person has an extramarital love affair and conceals it from his/her spouse.
    12. A witness in court is told by the lawyer for his side not to say anything about certain topics harmful for the case unless directly asked. If asked, the witness is told to avoid answering the question directly and instead try to divert attention, only answering the question as a last resort. .
    13. Church members get together and talk about another member that they don’t like. How much does it matter if the things said are 1. Accurate but hurtful; 2. Opinions that the speaker assumes are accurate but may not be;
    14. A business learns that its product is dangerous. Its response is to organize a campaign where people are paid to create doubt about the harm.
  5. Some argue that there is no absolute truth, but that truth is based on perceptions, assumptions, the community that we are socialized into, and the limitations of our perception and understanding. Some point to logical paradoxes and scientifically difficult concepts like quantum mechanics. Others argue that the Bible, or an interpretation of it, is absolute truth. They may argue that unless something is absolute truth, there is nothing to prevent evil from winning out. How do you evaluate these issues?
  6. When should the truth be told? When are other things more important? Do we need to be told when truth is more important and when it is less important, say by an oath in a courtroom? What if the truth does not lead to comparatively more worldly benefits for us? When should we speak it anyway?
  7. How does God and who God is impact this decision? Kerygma suggests “God is a God of truth and justice and therefor God’s people must ensure truthfulness and justice throughout the community.”
  8. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. What does this say about when the truth should be told?

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