“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
Welcome to the Foundational Tutorial lessons on the Ten Commandments! These lessons are intended for you to learn what you need to learn; they are not meant as a condemnation or judgement. As born-again followers of Jesus, we’re all still here on Earth because we’re all still learning about the Kingdom and how to live in it. As much as he was the Messiah, Jesus was also a teacher during his time here. His followers are likewise expected to teach others, after they themselves have learned what they need to learn, and practiced it.
We aren’t expected to be perfect (even Jesus wasn’t perfect), but we are expected to strive for perfection (“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect”) and to constantly work at improving ourselves.
The foundation of Jesus’ teachings was the Ten Commandments and everything that stemmed from the Commandments, so we clearly need to focus on them. They are the lifeline for staying on God’s Way, particularly in times of trouble and temptation. You’ll note that there are no asterisks (*) on any of the Commandments. That means there are no exceptions to these ten rules. You break them, you pay the price.
For an overview of the blessings that come from keeping the Commandments and the curses that come from not keeping them, see Deuteronomy 28.
LESSON TWO CONTENTS
- BEARING FALSE WITNESS: A DEFINITION
- WHY DO PEOPLE BEAR FALSE WITNESS?
- WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BEAR FALSE WITNESS, AND WHY IS IT WRONG?
- EXAMPLES IN SCRIPTURE OF BEARING FALSE WITNESS
- THE TEMPTATION TO FALSELY ACCUSE OTHERS
- SAMPLE LIST OF BREAKING THE COMMANDMENT ON NOT BEARING FALSE WITNESS AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOUR
- tl;dr: SUMMARY
1. BEARING FALSE WITNESS: A DEFINITION
It’s important to note that the Commandment does not say that you shouldn’t lie. The Commandment not to bear false witness has been paraphrased over the years as that you shouldn’t lie, but that’s an inaccurate representation of it. God does not tell us not to lie; he tells us not to bear false witness.
So what is false witness, and how does it differ from lying?
Bearing false witness and lying are not mutually exclusive acts. In fact, bearing false witness against someone necessarily includes lying on some level, whether a little white lie or a big black one. At the same time, bearing false witness involves implying and imputing blame that doesn’t belong. It’s essentially falsely accusing someone for something they didn’t do.
2. WHY DO PEOPLE BEAR FALSE WITNESS?
Why do people do that? Why do people falsely accuse others?
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does cover most of the major reasons why people break the Commandment:
- Sometimes they do it out of ignorance. They believe that someone has done something wrong, and they (whether consciously or not) misrepresent evidence to support their accusation.
- Sometimes they do it without knowing they’re doing it. That’s actually the most common reason and the one that many born-again believers (myself included) are guilty of.
- Sometimes they do it purposely, either because they’re jealous or want to get back at someone, or they want to deflect blame from themselves or from someone else they’re trying to protect.
- Sometimes they do it to support their ideology, believing that collateral damage is necessary to achieve their desired end.
- Sometimes they do it because they’re following orders or simply following the crowd.
- And sometimes they do it for money.
We’ve probably all been the victim of false accusations and also likely perpetrators of them, whether consciously or not. Jesus certainly was a victim of false accusations throughout his ministry years, particularly at the end. At the same time, he lived his life under the shadow of his mother being falsely accused of fornication for having become pregnant before consummating her marriage. Jesus well knew the impact of false accusations, as he not only perpetually lived with them, he was killed because of them.
3. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BEAR FALSE WITNESS, AND WHY IS IT SO WRONG?
When you falsely accuse, you misrepresent the truth. You claim an alternative reality that has no bearing in truth. It is the realm of lies, which is the realm of Satan and his hordes. This is an abomination to God, which is why it is a Commandment not to bear false witness.
Furthermore, when you falsely accuse someone to save your own skin or to spread the blame, you’re doing the same thing Adam and Eve did in the garden when God confronted them with their disobedience. Instead of owning up to it, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. The outcome was the loss of a personal relationship with God, which is as bad as it gets on Earth. The only thing worse is eternal damnation.
4. EXAMPLES IN SCRIPTURE OF BEARING FALSE WITNESS
Scripture is full of scenarios where individuals or groups falsely accuse each other. As mentioned, Jesus had the worst of it during his ministry years. From the outset, he was falsely accused of blaspheming God and misinterpreting scripture. Can you imagine how messed up a human you’d have to be to accuse Jesus of blaspheming God and misinterpreting scripture? The mind boggles at the level of confusion that would require, considering that Jesus spoke by the power of God’s Holy Spirit and also interpreted scripture by God’s Spirit. To accuse Jesus of blasphemy and misinterpreting scripture is to accuse God of the same, which is absolutely ridiculous. And yet Jesus lived that reality of messed up humans and was ultimately killed because of it.
We born-again believers will also suffer the same; Jesus warned us we would. Our worst enemies on Earth – that is, those who are subverting the Gospel message more than anyone else – identify as Christians, just as Jesus’ worst enemies identified as children of Israel. Our worst enemies aren’t atheists (although they are our enemies, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re not) or those who put their faith in some spiritual being other than God – our worst enemies are dressed up as sheep and even believe themselves to be sheep. These will be our undoing, just as they were Jesus’.
Paul also suffered from false accusations, particularly at the hands of those who stood to gain from getting rid of him because he was interfering in their local commerce, or so they claimed. Stephen was falsely accused of blasphemy, Peter and John were falsely accused of blasphemy in the weeks following Pentecost – in fact, all of the early church was outlawed and condemned based on false accusations of blasphemy. The same accusations were leveled at Bible-believing Christians who refused to bow down to the authority of the Pope during the several centuries of the Inquisition. Torture and death were their reward. Blasphemy appears to be the go-to false accusation favored by those in positions of authority who say they know God but clearly don’t.
5. THE TEMPTATION TO FALSELY ACCUSE OTHERS
But we won’t only be falsely accused, we’ll likely also be tempted to falsely accuse others. We may already have been so and done so. It’s crucially important that we understand what a false accusation looks like so that we don’t fall for it and inadvertently break the Commandment about not bearing false witness.
As I mentioned at the outset of this lesson, the tutorials on the Ten Commandments are not about judging anyone (including ourselves), but about learning what we should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes we break a Commandment without even knowing we’re breaking it.
Here are some examples of violating the Commandment against bearing false witness. I can tell you that, based on this short list of samples, I myself have been guilty of breaking the Commandment on more than a few occasions without realizing it. These tutorials are as sobering for me as they are for most people reading them. At the same time, they’re also an opportunity to learn from them and to do our best to do better in the future.
How many times have you broken the Commandment over the past week or so?
I stand before you and God guilty, penitent, and doing my best to do better next time.
Let’s see how you do!
6. SAMPLE LIST OF BREAKING THE COMMANDMENT ON NOT BEARING FALSE WITNESS AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOUR
- Blaming others based on hearsay.
- Believing someone is guilty of something because they’ve been guilty of similar things in the past.
- Knowing you’re guilty of something, but not wanting to be the only one to take the fall for it, and so ratting on others, whether or not they’re actually guilty.
- Saying things like “All politicians are liars” or “All men are violent”.
- Imputing guilt based on race, sex, or other inherent quality that one is born with.
- Imputing innocence based on race, sex, or other inherent quality one is born with.
- Blame-shifting, like Adam and Eve did.
- Outright lying because you’re trying to protect someone, for whatever reason.
- Leading others to arrive at the conclusion that someone is guilty without actually stating that the person is guilty.
- Refusing to come to a person’s defense when requested, because doing so might cause you harm.
I don’t know about you, but I find it to be a very sobering list, and it’s only a partial one. Finger-pointing comes very easily to bossy people like me who are always right (lol). If nothing else, it spurs me to want to do better and be better the next time a temptation lures me into falsely accusing someone.
7. tl;dr: SUMMARY
As with all of the Commandments, the best way to avoid breaking this one is to do the following:
- Treat others as you would want to be treated.
- Follow the example set by Jesus.
If we follow these two rules in everything we do, we will not break any of the Commandments.
Most of us aren’t there yet, but we’re well on our way, and we’re doing our best every day to be better.
And that’s what counts with God.
“I hate vain thoughts; but thy law do I love.”
(Psalm 119: 113)