Thou shalt not bear false witness

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Ten Commandments
Protestant numbering
1st 6th
2nd 7th
3rd 8th
4th 9th
5th 10th
Catholic numbering
1st a b 6th
2nd 7th
3rd 8th
4th 9th
5th 10th

Exodus 20:16 Bible-icon.png:

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Deuteronomy 5:20 Bible-icon.png:

20 Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Exodus 34:26 Bible-icon.png:

26 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

The 9th commandment is commonly interpreted as a injunction against lying in general. Better interpretations are that it is an injunction against bearing false witness and accusing your neighbor of something he or she did not do.

Generally prior to innocent before proven guilty most cultures used a guilty until proven innocent approach. The act of accusing somebody of a crime was a serious step and unless they could prove their innocence they could be executed for the crime. The crimes of perjury or filing a false police report are probably more accurate than lying. Due to improvements to our legal code, this commandment has little application to today.

Counter Apologetics

  • We have adequate laws against perjury and false advertising, but we all know that it is sometimes necessary to tell a lie in order to protect someone from harm. Lies in wartime are considered virtuous. The biblical prostitute Rahab was considered virtuous because she lied to protect Israelite spies (Hebrew 11:31).
  • If a person knew the whereabouts of a woman who was being hunted by her abusive husband, society would consider it a moral act to lie to the man. True morality is being able to weigh and compare the relative merits of the consequences of one action against another. It is flexible. The bible, on the other hand, makes absolute statements without admitting the possibility of ethical dilemmas. As with killing and stealing, most cultures through history have made honesty a high ideal, with or without the Ten Commandments.

In United States law

  • The 9th commandment is only a part of U.S. law if you agree with the interpretation that this refers to Perjury. Most interpretations consider this as a general injunction against lying. If this view is taken, then it is not law. Providing no other person is harmed, a person is free to make up any story they see fit.
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