THE 9TH COMMANDMENT:
'YOU SHALL NOT GIVE FALSE EVIDENCE AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOUR'
This commandment is primarily aimed at people who are asked to give evidence in court. When someone is accused of a crime, the judge asks people who saw or heard the incident, to stand up in court and tell him exactly what actually happened. They are made to swear an oath that they will only speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The judge has to decide what actually happened by listening to a number of witnesses, asking them questions, and comparing their accounts, until he is satisfied that the accused man is either guilty or not guilty.
Now, if someone has an enemy who is being accused of a crime, he might be tempted to invent an untrue or distorted account in order to have the man punished, even though he is not guilty. Or a rich man might pay witnesses to change their story so that he escapes being condemned. A typical case was the trial of Jesus. The High Priest wanted to have Jesus put to death. So he paid men to say that they had heard Jesus say he would destroy the temple and then build it again in three days. Under Jewish law this would be blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. Of course, Jesus did not say those words. He said ‘Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days’. But the false witnesses distorted his words.
Under the Law of Moses, a man (women were not allowed to give evidence) who deliberately told lies in court to get his enemy condemned, and who was later proved to have told lies, was given the same punishment he hoped to have brought upon his enemy – see Deuteronomy 19:16-19.
It was obviously very important if justice was to be done that people accepted the responsibility to speak the truth in court. Otherwise the country could be reduced to anarchy.
Although the precise wording of the Eighth Commandment is aimed at the situation in a court of law, in other places it is clear that God always expected his covenant people to speak the truth. See Leviticus 19:11, 12. Note how the Law refers you back to God himself. ‘I am the Lord’, it says in verse 12. God himself does not tell lies, or hurt or injure innocent people. He is kind, and absolutely reliable. If he says something, we know it is true.
That is the big problem with telling lies. Once people have discovered something you told them was a lie, they will never know whether you are telling the truth in the future. They will not feel able to trust you. Even if you swear an oath that this time you are telling the truth, they will have a nagging doubt that you could be trying to deceive them.
That is why when we come to the New Testament this Ninth Commandment is repeatedly laid upon Christians. It is a fundamental aspect of Christian life that we love truth. We even call the system of doctrine that we believe ‘The Truth’. There is so much error out there in the field of religion, some of it quite deliberately false, for example the Book of Mormon. We are only satisfied with truth in what we believe, and we must always speak the truth to each other. Here is what the Apostle Paul has to say in Colossians 3:8-10. It is the same metaphor that we saw in Ephesians (it was written at the same time as Colossians). We put on the new man, which is in the likeness of God himself, and he always tells the truth.
When we first came to East Europe this was something we really noticed – that people tell lies and deceive if they think they can gain something from it. It was the result of 70 years under Communism, where you were taught there is no God, and so there was no Christian morality. Of course, there were people in the West who told lies. But generally we were taught from school upwards that it is wrong to deceive other people. You wanted to be trusted. And we always felt we could trust a Christadelphian brother or sister. This aspect of the Truth is very important, and we all need to take it to heart. In Revelation 21:8 the Apostle John says that liars will find themselves condemned to the Lake of Fire, which is the second death. They will not be found in God’s Kingdom.
(NEXT MONTH: 'YOU MUST NOT COVET ANYTHING THAT BELONGS TO YOUR NEIGHBOUR'