Ex 20:16; Deut 5:20, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Cf. Ex 23:1-3 in the Sundry laws.
The 9th Commandment calls for sanctity of truth in all areas of life, even though the vocabulary primarily reflects the legal process in Israel. In this Commandment, not only are the neighbor’s life, 6th Commandment; marriage and sexuality, 7th Commandment; and property, 8th Commandment; to be protected and honored, but so is his reputation, 9th Commandment. Therefore, the 6th through 9th Commandments acknowledge a person’s right to his life, home, property, and reputation.
As we have noted, all ten of these principles are about relationships. The first four are primarily about one’s relationship to God, the vertical Commandments, which then transforms our relationships to others, detailed primarily in the final six; the horizontal Commandments.
The progression from murder, to adultery, to theft, to perjury, is clearly one of decreasing violence, but nonetheless, they are common egregious infractions against the integrity of mankind. A reversal of this list shows the progression of a society’s degradation.
The Hebrew of Ex 20:16, reads, LO ANAH BE REA ED SHEQER, שֶׁקֶר עֵד רֵעַ בְּ עָָנה לֹא,
“You will not answer against your neighbor a witness of a lie.”
The Hebrew of Deut 5:20, reads, WA LO ANAH BE REA ED SHAW, שָׁוְא עֵד רֵעַ בְּ עָָנה לֹא ו,
“And you will not answer against your neighbor a witness of deceit.”
The differences in these two passages are first, the WAW Coordinating Conjunction added to the last 4 Deuteronomy horizontal commandments, and second, the ending word SHEQER for “lie” is changed to SHAW for “deceit,” which we will note below.
The phrase, “bear false witness,” comes from three Hebrew words, ANANH for “bear,” SHEQER and SHAW for “false,” and ED for “witness.”
“Bear” is the Hebrew verb ANAH, עָָנה that has several root meanings. But here it means, “to answer or respond.” The basic concept is a response of some kind, typically a verbal response to something that has been said, whether a question or statement. In this case, we can understand it to be a question asked by a judge or attorney in a court of Law, Job 9:15.
Job 9:15, “For though I were right, I could not answer; I would have to implore the mercy of my judge.”
In this commandment, it means, “to testify,” as in a court proceeding, 1 Sam 12:3; 2 Sam 1:16; Micah 6:3; Isa 3:9; 59:12, etc.
“False” uses two Hebrew nouns, SHEQER and SHAW that are the last words in the Hebrew of these passages.
“False” in Ex 20:16, uses the Noun SHEQER that means, “lie, deception, or false,” that is used 110 times in the OT. It is used to describe words or activities that are “false,” in the sense of being without basis in fact or reality, cf. Lev 19:12; Deut 19:18; Job 13:4. Occasionally, it also means, “vain or worthless,” 1 Sam 25:21.
Lev 19:12, “And you shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.”
Deut 19:18, “And the judges shall investigate thoroughly; and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely.”
Job 13:4, “But you smear with lies; you are all worthless physicians.”
It is used with particular reference to false testimony, as in court. God considered it such a serious sin to give testimony ungrounded in truth that He forbids it in the Decalogue.
Zechariah warned against false oaths or perjury, Zech 5:4; 8:17, and Jeremiah prohibited swearing falsely, Jer 5:2. Such deceit is listed in Psalms as the act of an adversary, Psa 27:12, motivated by arrogance, Psa 119:69. The purpose is to destroy someone through slanderous words, Isa 32:7.
Isa 32:7, “As for a rogue, his weapons are evil; He devises wicked schemes to destroy the afflicted with slander, even though the needy one speaks what is right.”
This word was also used to describe false prophets and idols, 1 Kings 22:22; Jer 10:14f. So, we see the vertical aspect of this command as well.
“False,” in Deut 5:20, is the Noun SHAW that means, “worthless, falsehood, or vanity,” in the OT. In fact, SHAW is the word used for the 3rd Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. Yet, SHEQER is used for the 3rd Commandment in Lev 19:18, as we noted above. So, we see the interchangeability of these two words, and as for the 9th Commandment in Deuteronomy, SHAW implies the meaning of, “falsehood, lies, and deceit.”
SHAW means more precisely, “empty or without substance.” There is no basic difference, with SHEQER, for if one is accused on no valid or substantial grounds, he is accused falsely.
Prov 30:8, “Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion.”
With the nuance of the main meaning of “worthless and vain,” we see what a false witness is in a court of law.
Lies most commonly take the form of willfully inaccurate words, often described as lying lips or lying tongues. Such deceit is one of the seven things God hates, Prov 6:17.
Lies only achieve their objectives for a short time, Prov 12:19; 21:6.
Deceptive speech is often connected with hatred, Prov 10:18; 26:28, and animosity, Psa 109:2.
Those who are righteous reject falsehood, Prov 13:5, and pray to be delivered from it, Psa 120:2.
Falsehood is particularly reprehensible for a leader, Prov 17:7, and David declared that no one guilty of it could serve him, Psa 101:7.
Deception can also be expressed in actions, rather than words. God described Israel as a nation of thieves, who took what they wanted, even though they had no basis for claiming ownership, Hosea 7:1.
Likewise, the individual thief can be described as one who deals falsely, Prov 20:17; 11:18.
God’s Word demands that accusations must have substance; they must be grounded in fact.
“Witness” is the Hebrew Noun ED, which is used 70 times in the OT. Its root verb UD means, “to testify.” Sometimes a witness can be an object, but mostly ED refers to a person, including God, who has first-hand knowledge concerning the truth or falsity of a thing. The term is most often used with regard to legal matters and in deciding cases.
According to God’s Law, a witness was required to testify on the basis of what he has seen and has knowledge of. When he fails to come forth to do so, he himself is considered responsible, Lev 5:1. This is what we call in our laws today, aiding and abetting a criminal or harboring a fugitive, which are crimes.
That is why false testimony is specifically prohibited in the Decalogue. According to the Torah, a person who lied, having malicious intent toward another, would be liable for the same punishment the innocently accused would have received, Deut 19:15-21. His guilt would be determined by the judges on the basis of the evidence, vs. 18.
On the other hand, a reliable witness is one whose character is such that he can be counted on to clarify an issue when there is doubt, Isa 8:2.
Under Jewish law, more than one witness was required to find the accused guilty, particularly with respect to a capital case, Deut 17:6; 19:15-20. This would make it much more difficult to convict someone based on false testimony, as it would take two or more liars to convict.
Deut 17:6, “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”
In the case of the Law of Jealousy, Numb 5:13, as noted above under the 7th Commandment Adultery, if there was no witness of the wife’s adulterous act, she was brought to the Temple before the Priest and God Himself for judgment.
ED or “witness” is also used in the stories of the kinsman of Boaz and Jeremiah, where witnesses were necessary to purchase back the land, which were typology for Jesus Christ purchasing our sins upon the Cross., Ruth 4:9ff; Jer 32:10-25. Jeremiah’s action was also prophetic in that Israel would return from exile, Jer 42:45.
YHWH alone is the true and faithful Witness, Jer 42:5; 29:23; Mal 3:5. The Lord is a God of truth; His words are true, Psa 119:142, 151. He loves truth, because He loves Himself, and He “hates every false way,” cf. Psa 119:104, 128; Prov 6:17-19. Lying is a denial that truth is always right. It is a denial of God’s character and of His attributes.
Therefore, this Command forbids:
- Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing to deceive your neighbor.
- Speaking unjustly against your neighbor, to the prejudice of his reputation; (i.e., gossip and rumor).
- Bearing false witness against him, accusing him of things that he does not know, either judicially, upon oath, (by which the third commandment, and the sixth, as well as this, are broken), or extra judicially, in common conversation, slandering, backbiting, tale-bearing, aggravating what is done wrong and making it worse than it is: Exaggeration. It includes any endeavor to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of your neighbor’s.
In the Decalogue, the lie or false testimony in view is “against your neighbor,” BE REA.
The Preposition BE means, “against,” among other things, and REA means, “kinsman, fellow countryman, friend,” or as we call it, “neighbor.”
In general, this word falls into three categories:
- A friend, or someone belonging to an inner circle of close companions.
- A neighbor, or someone who lives in close proximity or is simply a fellow human being.
- Someone with whom no intimacy is intended (usually denoted by the pronoun “another”), but who is in the community fellowship of the people.
Therefore, the prohibition is not limited to slander of a fellow Israelite, because REA can refer to an Israelite, Lev 19:18, an alien, (GER), Lev 19:34, or even a pagan, Ex 11:2.
The root word for REA is RA’A that means, “to feed, shepherd, pastor, keep, a companion, company, etc.” So, the root for neighbor means, “one of the herd or flock, a fellow sheep.”
This is the first commandment to use the word REA and underscores the horizontal commandments that affect one’s “neighbor.” Here it is the general juridical sense of “anyone else you happen to come in contact with,” rather than the more narrow sense of “someone living near you,” Cf. Ex 3:22; 11:2; 12:4. In laws and formal rules, “neighbor” has nothing to do with proximity or familiarity; your “neighbor” connotes any other human being you may have dealings with, actually or potentially.
The first time this word is used in the Bible is in Ex 11:3, 7 for the account of the Tower of Babel regarding their fellow man, “one another.” We will see this word again in the 10th Commandment, where we are not to covet our neighbor’s property.
- The immediate concern of this command is fairness and honesty toward those with whom we may appear at a court action or legal investigation of any sort. It is directly connected to the idea of legal testimony and the witness. Rather than providing false testimony, the individual should give truthful and honest testimony.
- Keeping this law helps maintain stability in a society by protecting individuals’ reputations. Speaking the truth and honoring promises is the cement that holds society together. A decent society requires a reliable court system and court processes. Because crimes and disputes do occur, it must be the case that they can be adjudicated and the criminal behavior or unfairness thereby stopped. If witnesses in a trial, whether civil or criminal, do not tell the truth, it is extremely difficult for judges to render proper decisions. In other words, the court system of a nation depends on the honesty of its people.
- This also involves maintaining integrity before the Lord, who of course does know the truth about the matter under investigation and will ultimately hold accountable before His judgment throne those who have resorted to falsehood to protect themselves from harm or in order to maliciously injure the other man in the court action. Integrity and truthfulness are to characterize God’s people.
“Not only false oaths, to deprive a man of his life or of his right, are here prohibited, but all whispering, tale-bearing, slander, and calumny; in a word, whatever is deposed as a truth, which is false in fact, and tends to injure another in his goods, person, or character, is against the spirit and letter of this law. Suppressing the truth when known, by which a person may be defrauded of his property or his good name, or lie under injuries or disabilities which a discovery of the truth would have prevented, is also a crime against this law. He who bears a false testimony against or belies even the devil himself, comes under the curse of this law, because his testimony is false.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary.)
- To tell lies in court is to undermine the very law itself, which explains why Moses required the witnesses to be the executioners in capital crimes, Deut 17:6-13. It is one thing to lie, but quite something else to kill in order to protect your lie.
- The basic issue at stake is personal integrity in all interpersonal relationships, as we see in Lev 19:11, where stealing, the 8th, dealing falsely and lying to one another, the 9th, are linked together.
- This commandment also prohibits slandering people, Ex 23:1; Prov 10:18; 12:17; 19:9; 24:28; Titus 3:1-2; James 4:11; 1 Peter 2:1. That is why “bearing false testimony” is closely related to theft, because it robs people of their good reputations. Therefore, character assassination in any of its forms, legal or casual, is another form of killing or theft and constitutes false witness that is a violation of this Commandment.
- To resort to false accusation or testimony is to dishonor God and give aid and comfort to Satan.
- Typically, a first lie must be protected by a second, and the moral weakling before long finds himself tangled up in a spider’s web from which he can hardly extricate himself.
- The liar loses fellowship with the Lord, who has called him unto a holy life.
- This alienation becomes even more disruptive to his own self-respect when he adds to his lying testimony an oath in God’s name to tell the truth that additionally results in violating the 3rd He has taken the name of YHWH in vain.
- From this command we recognize God’s attribute of truthfulness. It is impossible for God to lie, Ex 34:6; Deut 32:4; Psa 31:5; 71:22; Zech 8:8; Titus 1:2.
Deut 32:4, “He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are justice: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”
Psa 31:5, “Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth.”
“The reason the Christian world came to believe that there are things that are “true” despite personal interest or desire is that it encountered a God who is absolutely true, that is, absolutely dependable. God calls his people to mimic that same behavior in their treatment of one another: They are to be true to one another, even at cost to themselves. Thus, the person who is in covenant with God does not need to destroy another person’s reputation in order to make himself or herself look better or to gain some advantage over that other person. Knowing that God is the supplier of their needs, covenant people can afford to treat the reputation of the other with the same kindness with which they would like their own reputations to be treated.” (John N. Oswalt, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary)
- Nothing but the truth, the whole truth, was the standard for the Israelites, who were to reflect their relationship with “the God of truth,” Isa 65:16.
Isa 65:16, “Because he who is blessed in the earth shall be blessed by the God of truth…”
New Testament Usage:
The Greek verb for “bearing false witness” is PSEUDOMARTUREO, ψευδομαρτυρέω that means, “bear false witness, or give false evidence or testimony,” which is equivalent with the Hebrew ED SHEQER or SHAW ANAH, as it is used in the LXX of Ex 20:16 and Deut 5:20, for this Commandment. It is a compound word from PSEUDOMAI that means to, “lie or deceive,” and MARTUREO that means, “bear witness, be a witness, or testify.” Our word “martyr” comes from MARTUREO. Combined, it generally means, “to be a false witness,” or to “bear false witness,” usually in a legal context. Thus, it could be translated “to perjure.”
The emphasis of PSEUDOMARTUREO is on the act of deception or distortion. It is not contested that the one testifying is a “witness,” rather he is a “false” witness, because he is incorrect in his assertions. Whether he testifies as a MARTUS or a PSEUDOMARTUS, depends on whether or not he tells the truth.
The Noun cognate is PSEUDOMATURIA, ψευδομαρτυρία that means, “false witness or false testimony.” In classical literature, this term appears primarily in legal contexts and is translated “perjury” or “false witness.” It is used only in Mat 15:19 and Mat 26:59 that we will note below.
The first time this commandment is mentioned in the NT is in the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mat 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-25, who wanted to know how to gain eternal life, which we have noted in the previous Commandments as the 7th adultery, the 6th murder, the 8th stealing, and the 5th Commandment, honoring your father and mother, are all mentioned by Jesus along with the 9th, “Do not bear false witness,” in this discussion.
As we know from Scripture, salvation never was, is, or will be based on keeping the commandments or doing good deeds, but is based on faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, Eph 2:8-9; Acts 8:37; 16:31; 19:34. It is not even based on “loving your neighbor,” Mat 19:19, as commanded under the Mosaic Law, Lev 19:18, that is also applicable to all believers in the Church Age, Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8.
This Commandment is also used in some Greek manuscripts of Rom 13:9, (yet most do not have it and is therefore not translated in the NASB). Here, in Paul’s discourse on civil obedience for the Church Age, he mentions several of the Commandments including, the 7th, “You shall not commit adultery,” the 6th, “you shall not murder,” the 8th, “you shall not steal,” and the 10th, “you shall not covet.” The manuscripts that include it place it after “you shall not steal.” Paul then states that “if you love your neighbor as yourself,” cf. Lev 19:18, the whole law is summed up in your life, as also noted in vs. 8b. He justifies this statement in vs. 10, by stating, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Other Scriptures that use the verb PSUEDOMATUREO included Mark 14:56-57, and there are others that use the Noun PSEUDOMATURIA, which includes, Mat 15:19; Mat 26:59.
In Mat 15:19, the noun is used as one of the evil emanations of the human heart that defile an individual.
Mat 15:19-20, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
The “evil thoughts” Jesus referred to here are not the only ones that can be present in the heart of individuals, as He gave only a few examples based upon the Ten Commandments. The general nature of these examples is also apparent in the use of the plural in this listing. Cf. Eccl 8:11; Jer 17: 9; cf. Mat 12:34.
Jer 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Jesus was emphasizing two truths. One was the importance of the thought life. Before any of these sinful deeds are committed, they are conceived and planned in the mind. Second, in contrast to the teaching of the Pharisees, which emphasized external religion, Jesus showed that it is the internal condition of a man’s heart which is most important. Decent people will not eat with hands that are soiled. Jesus was not condoning filthiness; however, a dirty heart is far, far worse than eating with dirty hands.
Jesus implied that the heart is where the cleansing must be applied. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse the heart as it is applied by the Spirit when one first believes in Jesus Christ as their savior, Heb 9:22-28; 2 Peter 1:9, and after salvation, if he confesses his sins and walks in the light, 1 John 1:7, 9, by means of the Filling of the Holy Spirit, Eph 5:8b-9, 11, 15, 18.
In Mark 14:56-57, the verb is used and in Mat 26:59 the noun is used to continue the legal sense of false testimony. In both cases, we see those who desired to have Jesus executed, so they purposefully sought out false testimony that could be used to build a case against Him. In Mark 14:56-57, we see those that gave false testimony against Him.
Mat 26:59, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death.”
Mark 14:56-57, “For many were giving false testimony against Him, and yet their testimony was not consistent. 57And some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him.”
Here the high priest and the Council, seeking to find sufficient reason to execute Jesus, brought many who gave false testimony about Him. The result was not the accumulation of overwhelming evidence but the confusion of many lies.
The hypocrisy of these Pharisees was that they applied the Law when convenient to meet their desired results, (e.g., trying to find two or more witnesses, Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; 19:15), but ignored other parts that were not expeditious.
Yet, even outside the court room, “lying,” PSEUDOMAI, is forbidden by the Word when comparing Mat 5:11; Acts 5:3-4; Rom 9:1; Col 3:9; Heb 6:18; James 3:14; 1 John 1:6; Rev 3:9.
Col 3:9, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices.”
1 John 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
Rev 3:9, “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie– behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”
Mat 5:11, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.”
Having slanderous accusations or lies towards our fellow man are also prohibited in Titus 3:1-2; James 4:11; 1 Peter 2:1, cf. Ex 23:1; Prov 10:18; 12:17; 19:9; 24:28.
Titus 3:1-2, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
James 4:11, “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.“
1 Peter 2:1, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
Lying is not just in our words, but can also be in our actions.
Acts 5:3-4, “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land’.”
Paul used PSEUDOMAI to prove he was telling the truth in his witness and letters, and not lying, 2 Cor 11:31; Gal 1:20; 1 Tim 2:7.
Telling the truth demonstrates the God-like or Christ-like nature we are to adorn here on earth.
Heb 6:18, “In order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.”
Titus 1:1-2, “Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, 2in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.”
Yet, the one who lies is of his father the devil and practices lying, PSEUDOS, “lie, lies, falsehood, or lying,” John 8:44; Rom 1:25; Eph 4:25; 2 Thes 2:9, 11; 1 John 2:27; Rev 14:5; 21:27; 22:15.
John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar (PSEUSTES), and the father of it, (lies).”
The Antichrist to come follows in Satan’s footsteps.
2 Thes 2:9-12, “That is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, 12in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
For those who follow the lies of Satan and His cosmic system, and reject salvation in Jesus Christ, they will remain in their lies and deceptions, and not be given entrance to the eternal kingdom of God.
Rom 1:25, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
Rev 21:27, “And nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Rev 22:15, “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”