Christianity 201

May 10, 2013

The Ninth Commandment as Israel Understood It

If you read the comments here, you’re familiar with the author of Meeting in the Clouds. I visit her blog occasionally and always enjoy the use of illustrative stories to teach scriptural principles. It’s a great starting place for someone who wants to develop an online devotional habit.  While there yesterday however, I click on a link to another blog I hadn’t noticed before, Christian Blessings to which she is a contributor.  That’s where today’s devotional — written by a different author — comes from, where it appeared under the title Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16, KJV)

We all recognize this. It’s the 9th commandment. It’s often understood today as “don’t lie.” Let’s take a look at this commandment and why it was included, why it was so important in the world of the Israelites.

During the time of the Exodus the Israelites didn’t have the court systems that we have today for settling disputes like we do today. May other things were also missing. The people didn’t have many of the means of gather evidence like we do today. Limited written records, no forensic science. Disputes were settled via testimony those involved in or witnessing. One of Moses’ main responsibilities was to judge these disputes. It took so much of his time that, eventually, he delegated these tasks to tribal leaders and priests for all but the most important disputes.

For most disputes, the testimony of two or more witnesses was required to settle the case. The penalty for giving false testimony was to receive the same penalty that would have been given to the charged party had he been found guilty. This could even include death for the person bearing false witness in a capital case. Keeping civil order among the people depended very heavily on honesty in court cases and settlement of disputes. The “against thy neighbor” was extremely important in the application of this commandment in the time of the Exodus.

In explaining this commandment and its application, Jesus expanded its meaning to include all lies or (knowingly) untrue statements. Very simple, in Jesus’ explanation, knowingly making an untrue statement is an offense to God. Lying separates us from God and is, therefore, a sin.

Today we place much less emphasis as a society of being truthful. Whether in business negotiations, when preparing our taxes or even in court cases, lying is commonly accepted and even perjury in court cases is seldom prosecuted. The oath to “tell the truth” is often given little value.

Perhaps our society would benefit if we returned to the practice of applying the same penalty to a person who lies to what the accused would have received if found guilty!

Shalom, Art  Alive in The Word


  1. Thanks for referencing & reblogging my blog on the 9th commandment. ChristianBlessings is a GREAT site. I’m proud to be a contributor. Meeting in the Clouds is a good friend from down under.

    Shalom, Art
    Alive in The Word

    Comment by aliveintheword — May 10, 2013 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  2. Good background to the 9th commandment. Christians need to know this court testimony principle because it is important in other ways. ‘A fact is established in the mouth of two or three witnesses.” Check out our legal system and the basic principle of empirical science. Same idea. Important idea.

    Comment by George Hartwell — May 12, 2013 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks for the addition, George. Violation of this commandment was shown in Jesus trials, both before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate when He was convicted on the lies of 2 or more witnesses.


    Comment by aliveintheword — May 12, 2013 @ 10:41 pm | Reply

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