The Ten Commandments: The Ninth Commandment

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

While this commandment appears to be narrowly confined to speaking falsely about one’s neighbor, the broader definition includes all lying. Often the evil intention behind lying is to cause harm and damage another’s reputation. People also tell lies to conceal their wrongdoing and obscure the truth or even to “muddy the waters,” as we might say, and cause confusion. This can affect us personally as individuals, but it rises right to the top of world governments who are busy circulating false reports about one another. “Fake news” threatens the very foundations of society. That is exactly what the devil wants.

Endemic Lying

Take the example of the Cretan philosopher of long ago, referred to in the New Testament book of Titus. It was Epimenides who opined that “Cretans are always liars” (Titus 1:12 NKJV). If that was so, then Epimenides of Crete was also a liar. If that was so, then his phrase was untrue, and Cretans were truthful. And if that was so, then Epimenides spoke the truth and Cretans really were liars! This has been called “the Epimenides paradox” and we see how confusing it all can be. The apostle Paul makes it clear that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).

Satan is a master at lying. From Genesis to Revelation, he is seen as the great deceiver (Rev 20:8). In the Garden of Eden, he began by sowing seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind as to what God had said. Adam and Eve were to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else they would die. Satan flatly denied the truth, telling Eve, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen 3:4).[1] This was the prelude to the Fall of man into sin. Each denied their guilt: Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.

During the time of the Lord Jesus upon the earth, He castigated His opponents and traced their sinful behavior back to the devil: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (Joh 8:44). When it came to trumping up charges against Christ, His enemies enlisted the help of false witnesses, but even they could not agree (Mar 14:55-59). False witnesses were also called at the trial of Stephen (Act 6:13-14).

The God of heaven hates those who tell lies: “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (Pro 6:16-19). This describes a toxic combination of pride, deceit, murder, lying and divisiveness. The nation of Israel was afflicted at different times by prophets, priests and kings who lied to gain an advantage and personal advancement. As we have noted, when the Messiah came and pronounced Himself as the way, the truth and the life, they responded by rejecting Him.

A Better Way

These prohibitive commandments imply that there is a positive way to live and honor God. However, the alternative to lying is not necessarily to bluntly confront someone with the whole truth of a particular matter. For example, a doctor may have to share a grim diagnosis with a patient. Fine judgement will be required. Some patients will make it clear that they want to know: “Tell me, doctor, do I have cancer?” Even then, sensitivity and empathy are required. Others may already be in a fragile emotional state so that slowly, patiently and gently the truth is unfolded before them.

Christians should avoid what are commonly known as “white lies” and “half-truths.” People should be able to trust what we say, our “yes” meaning yes, and our “no” meaning no (Jas 5:12). The endemic sin of gossip is often laced with the poison of innuendo and suggestion: “I could tell you a thing or two about him” does as much damage to someone’s reputation as to state a matter directly. The Sunday evening meal often has “roast preacher” on the menu. Tongues are loosed and the lives of others are unjustly dissected and shredded in their absence. The false assumption is that in making someone else look bad, the tale-bearer comes out looking better.

Ananias and Sapphira were motivated by the same thought, wanting to appear better than they really were. The tragedy of the story is that they were under no obligation to sell their property and donate the proceeds. But when they did so, they claimed they were giving all when, in fact, they held back something for themselves. Judgement was swift and severe, following Peter’s challenge: “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost …? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things” (Act 5:3-5).

Today the internet links together a tangled web of evil and deception (telephone scams serve the same purpose). Maybe you too have received emails informing you of a massive fortune that is coming your way. In more recent times, these target Christians and appear to have been written by a believer, usually a rich widow who has a terminal illness. She wishes to leave millions of dollars to a worthy Christian cause and she has chosen you! Simply forward your personal contact and banking details. Who could resist?  The elderly and those facing financial hardships are particularly susceptible to these scams. The God of heaven must be offended at such vile deceit perpetrated in His Name.

Our speech can bring glory to God. Paul’s exhortation is pertinent: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6). A certain believer was known to never say a bad word about anyone. He was once asked his opinion about a well-known rogue. His answer was, “Oh yes, he has a lovely wife.”

[1] This and all remaining Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.