What does the Bible say about bearing false witness?

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In the OT, the Lord placed His command “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) as one of the Ten Commandments which He wrote with His own finger on stone (Exodus 31:18). And in the NT Jesus, quoted the Ten Commandments (mentioning this commandment) to the rich young ruler, when the latter asked “what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19: 16). The Lord commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9) for by doing this, a Christian fulfills God’s law (Matthew 22:39-40).

Perjury has always been considered a serious offense against society, and has been punished accordingly. This commandment may be transgressed in a public manner by untruthful witness borne in a court of law (Exodus 23:1) but it could not be confined to courts alone.

In Egypt, the penalty for lying was amputation of the nose and ears. In Athens, a false witness was seriously fined. If convicted three times of this same wrongdoing, the offender lost his civil rights. In Rome, a law of the Twelve Tables judged the wrongdoer to be thrown headlong from the Tarpeian Rock.

This prohibition of the ninth commandment is often broken by also speaking evil of another person and slandering his character and reputation. Sadly, people find pleasure in pointing to character defects in others and judging their motives. Anyone that twists in any way the truth, in order to achieve personal gain is guilty of bearing “false witness.” Likewise, the withholding of truth that might result in injury to oneself or others—this too is considered bearing “false witness.”

The Bible is clear that lying is a sin (Proverbs 6:16-19, Colossians 3:9,10; John 8:44). Christians need to remember that they “will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12) and will give account to their words (Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13). Therefore, they need to develop the spirit of honesty, justice, and fair dealings with others that they may be blessed by God (Romans 13:9; Ephesians 4:28).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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