THE NINTH COMMANDMENT –
THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOR – Exodus 20


Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Exodus 20:16 ASV

Each command guards something precious:

V guards father and mother

VI guards life

VII guards marriage and the home

VIII guards property rights

IX guards truth and the reputations of men.

It is a gross error to limit this commandment to testimony given in a court of law, as did the ancient Pharisees.

In their view, one could tell as many lies as he liked, as long as he was careful not to be sworn in, or in some instances, deliberately taking an illegal form of oath that nullified the penalties!

Christ superseded this law by another which requires that Christians tell the truth at all times and under all circumstances (Matthew 5:33-37).

It is in deference to this that Christians are permitted in courts of law today in this country to “affirm” rather than “swear” as to the truth of their testimony.

The principal area of violations concerning this commandment does not concern courts of law, or “false swearing” in the usual sense, but must be recognized in a vast theater where falsehood instead of truth is used to deceive, to defraud, to deny, and to destroy in countless instances.

It began in Eden where the lying tongue of Satan set the stage for the tragic Fall of Mankind (Genesis 3:4).

Joseph was slandered by the wife of Potipher (Genesis 39:13-20).

Naboth poured out his blood because of the suborned testimony of Jezebel’s lying witnesses (1 Kings 21).

Stephen, Paul, Silas, Jesus our Lord, what a company of immortals, all suffered from the violation of this law of God!

Those who will at last be excluded from the City Celestial include, “every one that loveth and maketh a lie” (Revelation 22:15).

We shall now note a number of ways in which this commanded is violated.

Perjury. This is recognized by every court of law on earth as a crime, and the widespread incidence of it is proved by the list of grand jury indictments handed up every year in every county or precinct on earth.

But for every legal indictment of persons charged with this crime, there must be a million others where slanderous and gossipy tongues rage out of control beyond the jurisdiction of statutes.

Slander. A striking incidence of this is recorded in the O.T. Doeg, the Edomite, brought an evil news report to King Saul.

Although truthful as to fact, it was slanderous because it attributed to Abimelech, a godly priest, the crime of treason against Saul. Saul ordered Abimelech slain, and none of his servants was willing to execute the penalty.

Whereupon, Saul ordered Doeg to do it, and with that as an excuse, that evil being fell upon the whole body of priests, eighty-five of them, and he murdered every one of them.

It would be difficult indeed to depict any more dramatically the true soul of the slanderer (1 Samuel 22:18).

Slander can be committed in many ways, even by telling the truth that carries false implications.

The case of the captain who wrote in his log, “The mate was sober today,” is an example.

Fraudulent Advertising. Better Business Bureaus and half a dozen governmental agencies are occupied full time trying to run down and eliminate false, misleading, and crooked advertising, including dishonest packaging, and all other variations of it.

Respect for this commandment would provide an ethical climate in which such watchfulness would not be necessary.

Faked television contests, online scams, misleading promises, false claims, lying comparisons, and all kinds of unethical solicitations also fall under the ban of Commandment IX.

Libel. This is a special kind of slander, for which there is allegedly legal recourse to the victim, but libel laws are totally inadequate to protect anyone.

In a legal jungle where libel is recognized ONLY if it has impaired the victim’s ability to make a living, the result is fatal to a truthful or ethical press.

Many newspapers, websites, apps, social media, all follow a line of publishing designed to create or influence opinion in either of two directions, depending upon their purpose, with the intention of either tearing down or of building up some person, issue, or institution.

I think a great moral gain would be secured where every writer of any statement concerning any individual or institution would be compelled to assume responsibility for the statement by affixing his signature.

I see no reason why a newspaper should be granted an immunity denied to a gentleman.

Yellow Journalism. This exists even among religious publications and is especially tragic since it is right here that one should be able to expect a higher ethical conduct, but alas, disappointment prevails.

Editors whose energies are principally devoted to confessing other men’s sins are themselves unclean.

The excuse that such an editor “loves” his victim is a manifest absurdity.

As Paul put it, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:15).

False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.

That this is indeed true appears in the phenomenon that the truth principle itself perishes from the heart of the inveterate liar, until finally, he does not even know what the truth is, even believing his own lies.

Can you think of any examples from recent days and years?

In this mortal error the false witness is isolated from all truth, and, groping in his self-created darkness, he stumbles at last into the grave with no thought of repentance, having put out the light of his own spiritual eyes.

The imagination of men is involved in the violation of this commandment, because, if one does not tell the truth, the imagination is the only source of what he does tell.

Therefore, all that was written above with reference to the part played by the imagination in the breaking of Commandment VII applies also here.

Despite the fact of imagination’s being one of the most precious gifts of mankind, leading to many marvelous discoveries and inventions, these commandments show that, like any precious gift, it may be prostituted to low and sinful uses.

God grant that his people may indeed “Speak the truth … and lie not one to another” (Colossians 3:9).

Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal; but in his own seasons manifested his word in the message, wherewith I was intrusted according to the commandment of God our Saviour; to Titus, my true child after a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.
Titus 1:1‭-‬4 ASV

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