Exo 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Deu 5:20 Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
One little commandment, with huge implications to believers throughout Scripture. As given here, it could simply refer to perjury in legal matters, but it goes much further. Perjury would also include taking the Name of the Lord in vain (some say that this and false professions of faith are the major thrust of the third commandment, not directly swearing). Bearing false witness could also include violations of the sixth (killing) and eighth (stealing) commandments.
It is interesting that this is not a simple prohibition against lying as some choose to interpret it, but then it can be necessary to lie when that lie covers a greater sin. A classic Scriptural example would be in Exodus 1, when the Hebrew midwives reported to Pharaoh that Hebrew women were giving birth before the midwives could get there. They prevented the murder of innocents by being less than truthful, but is this bearing false witness? No. As we will see, false witness covers the area of lying to do injury to others and/or to try to make oneself seem more important or righteous in the eyes of men. Not only can this be done in court, but in everyday life. Loving your neighbor as yourself includes wanting to maintain his good reputation even as you maintain your own.
Slander, spreading rumors, equivocating, gossiping, telling partial truths, remaining silent while others bear false witness and all other forms of lying come under this prohibition and in some ways they can be considered worse than perjury since there is no appeal or formal way to refute this form of false witness. The lies can simply be repeated over and over again. Even worse, the slanderers and rumormongers can tell their tales and claim to be pious while doing so, think of those who “share” too much information in a prayer request so that one can “pray more effectively”. Look at the scribes and the Pharisees in the NT as they attack Jesus and the apostles while claiming to be righteous. In this way, so do those claiming to be Christian also indulge themselves while claiming to be righteous.
Exo 23:1 Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
Exo 23:2 Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
Notice the expansion beyond a purely legal court sense to cover a wider area. Slander, going along with the crowd and “the end justifies the means” thinking are addressed here. One comment I read implies that 23:1a include receiving a false report, we may hear it, but we should reject it.
Exo 23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
Keeping far from a false matter goes along well with the concept of rejecting the false.
Lev 19:11 Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.
Lev 19:12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Lev 19:16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
Notice how false witness twist into violations of the other commandments mentioned above. Also, gossip and rumors are also covered.
Psa 15:1 LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
Psa 15:2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
Psa 15:3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
This Psalm gives indicators of how you can identify the righteous, firstly by their walk, work and speech. Notice that in answer to the questions in verse 1, the lack of false witness is mentioned twice in both a positive and negative manner to reinforce it. Again, the implication is here that other commandments are violated by the one bears false witness.
Psa 36:3 The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.
This appears to be formerly godly man who has become wicked as he has left being wise and doing good, but the false tongue again shows itself among the other markers.
Psa 40:4 Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
This seems to refer more to the “lies” of earthly things, positions and power although flattery and pandering to the “better” people appears to apply also.
Psa 50:19 Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit.
Psa 50:20 Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son.
This portion of the Psalm (vv. 16-21) is addressed to those who sit in the congregation claiming to be faithful and righteous, but again, the bearing of false witness in its many forms give an indicator of their walk. Even those they should have closest of relationships with will be attacked by them
Psa 52:1 Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually.
Psa 52:2 Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.
Psa 52:3 Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.
Psa 52:4 Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue.
Psa 52:5 God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah.
Here David is rebuking one who lied to Saul, provoking Saul into killing the priests of the Lord. Jealous and hating David, Doeg the Edomite reported to Saul in such a way as to make Saul think that the priests were in rebellion against them, when they were simply helping the trusted servant of the king.
Psa 58:1 Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?
Psa 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
The question of speaking the truth (righteousness) also includes remaining in silence while hearing gossip and slander. It is also noted that even infants lie before they can speak (as any parent can testify), which makes lying closely related to our fallen state and may be considered a good indicator for the validity of a profession of faith. It must remain only an indicator and not a positive sign one way or the other since most of us are not instantly transformed, but must renew our minds and work out our salvation with fear and trembling as we grow in Christ.
Psa 62:4 They only consult to cast him down from his excellency: they delight in lies: they bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Selah.
In context, the false witnesses seek to destroy the righteous, loving both the gossip behind the back and false flattery to the face.
Psa 101:3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.
Psa 101:4 A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person.
Psa 101:5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.
The rules of the king as ruler. All sorts of evil and evildoers will be shunned and banned from the court. It also applies to anyone in relation to those they turn to for counsel. Notice that slander is prominently mentioned as a specific trait of those to be removed.
References: Proverbs 10:16-18; 12:17; 14:5, 25; 19:5,9,28; 21:28, 24:28, 25:16
These are short snips again confirming that the Lord is against the false witness.
References: Proverbs 11:1; 16:11
These are about true scales and measure which refer to false witnessing in combination with stealing.
Pro 6:16 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
Pro 6:17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
Pro 6:18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
Pro 6:19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
The references are easily read and need no comment, but this one passage is quite interesting. Here seven things are listed that are abominations to the Lord and four of them directly involve bearing false witness and the other three are possibly connected to it by being related in the other passages with lying as a strong indicator of a false witness or professor of the faith.
Isa 59:3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.
Isa 59:4 None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.
A catalog of sins that keep prayers from reaching the Lord, i.e. signifying the unrighteousness of the one praying. Notice the multiple references to false speech.
Jer 9:3 And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD.
Jer 9:4 Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders.
Jer 9:5 And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.
Jer 9:6 Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the LORD.
Jer 9:7 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?
Jer 9:8 Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait.
The Lord speaks of why He will judge Judah, again, repeated references to the various ways of bearing false witness along with hints of other issues such as theft and coveting. Notice that they “weary themselves” or work at it. Again the use of false witness as an indicator of true righteousness.
Eze 13:8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD.
Against false prophets who claim to have a “word from god” and deceive the people with their lies.
Zec 8:16 These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates:
Zec 8:17 And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.
Speaking to the returned exiles about what they have to do to restore Jerusalem and their nation. Notice what the Lord requires them to do. Real simple stuff, but which again points strongly to the indicator of bearing false witness as an outward sign of the unrighteous.
Ok, that was just a bunch of OT stuff, what about the NT?
Act 5:3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
Ananias and Sapphira’s lies brought instant punishment, for the crime of lying to God. Notice that it wasn’t the keeping of part of the money that was the sin, it was the attempt to puff up their reputation by keeping part back while claiming to give all the money. Notice also the link between false speaking and stealing again.
Rom 1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Rom 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Rom 1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Notice how many variations of speaking falsely make up this list of traits along with some that usually include sins.
Rom 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Rom 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Rom 3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Rom 3:13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
Rom 3:14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
Rom 3:15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:
Rom 3:16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
Rom 3:17 And the way of peace have they not known:
Rom 3:18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Again, a listing of traits, with multiple mentions of false witnessing.
Eph 4:25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.
Eph 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
Eph 4:31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
Col 3:8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
Col 3:9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
Snips from these passages about those who convert to Christianity, again with multiple references to the various forms of bearing false witness. James 3 is also instructive about this.
Rev 21:27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.
The description of the new Jerusalem, with those that make lies specifically prohibited from entry. Other translations say “does what is vile or false” and “practices falsehood”, which along with “maketh a lie” implies those who bear false witness in all its forms deliberately.
As is shown above, those who bear false witness tend to freely break other commandments, cloak themselves with righteousness and cause disruption in the congregation. We should steer clear of them and examine ourselves since we must also purge ourselves of these old tendencies to destroy others, cause discord and puff up ourselves vainly by our own words. Those that cannot be faithful in a few things, cannot be trusted with many, so to from this study it becomes clear that those who bear tales, slander and gossip should be looked at very carefully, because from Scripture the evidence is strong that they are just professors and not true believers, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Like those of Berea, we must study to find the truth of matters. They did not simply study Scripture, they studied Scripture (here the OT) to compare it to what Paul and Silas were teaching them that was outside the Old Testament.
Wait, am I being too legalistic here? A bit on the Pharisee side? I don’t think so.
1Ti 1:4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
1Ti 1:5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
1Ti 1:6 From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;
1Ti 1:7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
1Ti 1:8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;
1Ti 1:9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
1Ti 1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
1Ti 1:11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.
However, let’s make it clear. What did Christ Himself say about this matter of bearing false witness?
Joh 8:44 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.
Rev 22:13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Rev 22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
Rev 22:15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Argue with Him.