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What does the Bible tell us about bearing false witness?

iStock/SvetaZi
iStock/SvetaZi

We live in an era of great deception and manipulation, where people have no issue with lying, especially if it serves their own selfish interests. Of course, this has always been the case, as mankind has been sinful since the fall. But in our digital media-driven society, the opportunity for bearing false witness, and destroying someone’s reputation through lies and slander, has proliferated fast and furiously alongside the dozens of social media apps that put a microphone, camera, and keyboard into the hands of billions around the globe. 

As Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

An excellent example is the lie of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” from Ferguson, Missouri, that birthed the Marxist Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

After extensive investigations, Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post reported that this “narrative was called into question when a St. Louis County grand jury could not confirm those testimonies. And a recently released Department of Justice investigative report concluded the same.”

No matter. This piece of fake news has now been baked into our national consciousness. Worse, its wide acceptance as “truth” has led to a spate of horrific societal impacts, including the “defund the police” movement and rising crime in cities and minority neighborhoods; the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools and universities and its Marxist notion that all minorities are oppressed and everyone else a racist oppressor; the deconstruction of American history and culture; and a massive setback in racial harmony to the detriment of all Americans.

So how should Christians think about their speech and how to avoid bearing false witness in the digital age?

The Bible, the only infallible standard and rule for our faith and practice as Christians, provides valuable insights into all aspects of human life and morality. Among the many moral principles it imparts, the prohibition against bearing false witness is a fundamental one. This commandment is a cornerstone of ethical behavior and integrity in both the Old and New Testaments.

This article will explore three key points about what the Bible says about bearing false witness.

1. The prohibition against false witness

One of the most significant references to bearing false witness can be found in the Ten Commandments, a set of moral and religious guidelines provided in the Old Testament. The Ninth Commandment, as found in Exodus 20:16, ESV, is explicit in its instruction:

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

This commandment underscores the importance of truthfulness and honesty in human relationships. It serves as a foundational principle for ethical behavior in society, emphasizing the need to avoid falsehoods and slander that could harm others. Bearing false witness not only damages one’s reputation but also has the potential to lead to injustice. The Bible teaches that honesty and integrity are vital for maintaining a just and righteous society.

The significance of this commandment can be further illustrated by considering the wisdom of King Solomon, whose writings in the Book of Proverbs offer valuable insights into human conduct. Proverbs 19:5, for example, warns:

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.”

This verse warns against the consequences of bearing false witness. It emphasizes that dishonesty and false testimony will not go unnoticed and that individuals who engage in such behavior will eventually face retribution. Thus, the prohibition against false witness serves as both a moral guideline and a deterrent against deceptive actions.

2. Jesus’ teaching on truthfulness

While the Old Testament provides a firm foundation for the prohibition against bearing false witness, the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus Christ further emphasize the importance of truthfulness and integrity.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus addresses the topic of bearing false witness in His famous Sermon on the Mount:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by Heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” – Matthew 5:33-35

In these verses, Jesus not only reaffirms the prohibition against bearing false witness but goes further by advising against making oaths in the first place. His message emphasizes the need for honesty in everyday communication and interactions. Jesus’ teaching encourages believers to let their yes be yes and their no be no, indicating that their words should be trustworthy without the need for elaborate oaths.

Additionally, in the Gospel of John, Jesus asserts the significance of truth in a broader sense when He says:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”– John 8:32

These words of Jesus highlight the liberating power of truth. The truth not only serves as a moral imperative but also as a source of freedom. By bearing false witness, individuals enslave themselves to dishonesty and deception, whereas the pursuit of truth leads to spiritual and moral liberation.

3. The consequences of bearing false witness

The Bible also provides numerous examples of the severe consequences that can result from bearing false witness. An illustrative case is the story of Naboth’s vineyard from the book of 1 Kings. In this account, King Ahab wanted to acquire Naboth’s vineyard, but Naboth refused to sell it. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, devised a plan to have Naboth falsely accused of blasphemy and executed. However, this deception did not go unnoticed by God. Through the prophet Elijah, God pronounced judgment on Ahab and Jezebel for their false witness:

“Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel.” – 1 Kings 21:21

This story serves as a powerful warning about the consequences of bearing false witness. It underscores the divine disapproval of such behavior and the ultimate judgment that may befall those who engage in deceitful actions.

Well-known English Bible commentator and pastor Matthew Henry once said:

“It is required of us that we be tender of the good name of our brethren; where we cannot speak well, we had better say nothing than speak evil; we must not take pleasure in making known the faults of others, divulging things that are secret, merely to expose them, nor in making more of their known faults than really they deserve, and, least of all, in making false stories, and spreading things concerning them of which they are altogether innocent.

What is this but to raise the hatred and encourage the persecutions of the world, against those who are engaged in the same interests with ourselves, and therefore with whom we ourselves must stand or fall?”

Henry is rightly pointing out that when Christians bear false witness against other Christians, they invite the persecutions of the world on their brothers and sisters in Christ. This should not be.

Conclusion

The Bible is unequivocal in its condemnation of bearing false witness. And there are no exceptions for social media “clickbait” headlines or personal posts.

This prohibition is not only a fundamental moral principle but also a cornerstone of ethics and integrity. From the Ten Commandments to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Bible emphasizes the importance of truthfulness and honesty in human interactions. The consequences of bearing false witness are also made clear through both moral teachings and biblical narratives.

The prohibition against bearing false witness underscores the significance of truth in human relationships and society. It serves as a guide for maintaining just and righteous behavior, and it is a powerful reminder that dishonesty can lead to severe consequences. The Bible’s teachings on this subject continue to be a source of wisdom and moral guidance for individuals and communities today, emphasizing the enduring importance of truth and integrity in our lives.


Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center. 

William Wolfe is a visiting fellow with the Center for Renewing America. He served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe

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