Russell and Duenes

You Shall Not Bear False Witness

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“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.”  ~ Deut. 17:6

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  ~ Exodus 20:16

I wonder how much play the Ninth Commandment gets today. I suspect we have tended to turn it into a general prohibition against lying, while leaving the “false witness against your neighbor” at the margins.

But just think how important it would be to testify truthfully at a trial when your neighbor’s very life is at stake. In other words, if a person in ancient Israel could only be put to death “on the evidence of two or three witnesses,” then those witnesses had better be telling the truth.

This came home to me several years ago when I saw the movie, The Stoning of Soraya M. Her neighbors had borne false witness against her as a pretext to stoning her, and the viewer sees what a great evil this is, but worse, the false witnesses cannot be gainsaid if the community is willing to take their lies as true. Justice depends on the virtue of the community that dispenses it. Indeed, God commands His people to thoroughly investigate any “malicious witness” who would “rise up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing.” (Deut. 19:15-21). “If the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you.”

The prohibition against bearing false witness does not seem confined to formal judicial proceedings either. God recognizes, and enshrines in law, the importance of justice on the human level, adjudicated by human beings. There is no flourishing community without it. There is also no healthy community where false testimony, neighbor against neighbor, is accepted and tolerated.



Written by Michael Duenes

November 1, 2014 at 10:04 am

Posted in Deuteronomy, Duenes

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