THE NINTH COMMANDMENT – A BRIEF EXPLANATION
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
These words bring us straight into a courtroom. In this 9th Commandment, the Israelites are forbidden to stand in the witness box, give a false testimony and bring harm to the accused. A verse like Deuteronomy 17:6 (Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness) tells us just how powerful the testimony of a witness is. It can make the difference between life and death!
Hence, the immediate concern of the 9th Commandment is to uphold the judicial system. The judge must be fair and impartial, the witnesses must be honest and truthful, the lawyers must act in good conscience (not call good evil or evil good, just to win the case) and the accused should admit his guilt, if indeed he is guilty.
Of course, we can harm others outside the courtroom. How? By lying, slandering, twisting the words of others, misrepresenting, even making rash judgments! Ephesians 4:25 is addressed to Christians: Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. The same apostle also said: Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
Like the earlier 8 commandments, there is both a negative and a positive aspect. The Heidelberg Catechism, in answering the question as to what is required in the 9th Commandment, gave a clear and succinct answer:
That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man's words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God. Likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it; also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my
If we are honest, then we have to admit that we have a hard time being truthful. Inherently, we are NOT truthful. We lie, we twist words, we misrepresent, we slander and we backbite more easily, more quickly, more naturally than we care or dare to admit! Why?
We start with John 8:44: You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. Lying lives very deep in us because we have believed the lie and because we have exchanged the truth of God for the lie, daily.
To John 8:44, we now add Jeremiah 17:9: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. We speak out of the abundance of our heart. Because our heart is deceitful above all things, it is therefore no surprise that our throat is an open tomb, and with our tongues we practiced deceit!
In simple words, unless we are joined to Jesus the Truth, unless we are new creatures in Jesus Christ, lies and deceit will be found in great abundance in our life because that’s our nature!
[A] Is courtesy and following the rules of etiquette a violation of the 9th Commandment? For example, you don’t like this person but you still start your letter/email with “Dear XXX . . . “ or you don’t really like the dinner but you don’t think you should hurt the feelings of your host?
[B] You told an untruth as part of a joke and then said, “I am just pulling your leg.” Is that permissible or is this a violation of the 9th Commandment?
[C] Is there such a thing as lies of necessity/white lies? Are there any circumstances whereby lies may be justified?
[D] What about military strategy that aims to deceive the enemy or “false action” in sports to deceive the opponent? Are these allowed or violations of the 9th Commandment?
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