The Ninth Commandment

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” is something that many faiths are taught, but this is not about general lying, it is a very specific form of lying known as perjury.  The criminal offense of perjury consists of making a false statement under oath, either in writing or verbally, that one knows is false, and that is material to the proceedings in which the statement is made.  It seems that God does not want you to lie with your neighbor’s wife, or to tell lies about them, but it is not a sin to tell a lie.  People have a tendency to classify lies into categories of either being big fat lies, blatant lies, or insignificant white lies.  Some people feel that if they cross their fingers behind their back that anything can fly, because this gesture will cover up any lie.

There are a number of scriptures that seem to condemn lying, but the truth can be told in such a way that it gives someone the wrong impression, like when President Trump took Dr. Fauci words out of context to mislead everyone.  Trump has been very dishonest about the Coronavirus and the way he played down how deadly this pandemic was, and that was sinful, because it caused unnecessary death among people who believed him.  If you tell a lie to protect somebody, or if you mislead somebody to about your own private information, that should be OK, as it is not harmful to others, even though this may be frowned upon in the Bible.  There are cases when lying is acceptable and there are situations where telling a lie may be the right thing to do.

People holding certain positions have a duty not to lie, but everyone tells lies, as this is a fundamental part of our social life.  If you tell your wife that those jeans don’t make her look fat, that could be a lie, but it would be an acceptable response to avoid trouble.  It would be better than saying, “Fat compared to whom”, or “Not as fat as you look in the other outfit”, or “No, they are fine, it’s the pint of ice cream you eat every night that makes you look fat.”  Married men must learn how to avoid those loaded questions and if you have to lie to keep your wife happy, then it is for the best.  If you are fine with the way your wife looks, then don’t treat this as a question where you are expected to give a yes or no answer.  Tell her that you love her and tell her what you love about her and that will make her feel better about herself.  If you want to have a better life, it may be necessary to tell a few lies.

Written for Fandango’s Provocative Question #91 which asks, “Is it even possible to live a normal life and to not ever tell a lie?”

12 thoughts on “The Ninth Commandment

  1. Yeah. The Ten Commandments in the earliest extant Hebrew versions have differences from what we usually see today. Furthmore the Jewish tradition uses the Talmud, a collection of writings by ancient Jewish scholars to expand upon a simple commandment and resolve disputes over interpretation. The Talmud is to the Torah like Supreme Court cases are to Constitutionl law.

    “Thous shalt not kill” isn’t in there. It is “Thou shalt not murder.” All killing is not murder. Self-defense, military combat, and criminal execution are not considered murder. How much negligence is necessary for an accident to be murder is up for debate. Following the instructions of your High Priest (who got it directly from God and not a secular source) to kill isn’t murder. This becomes problematic when your priest is corrupt or nuts or you are corrupt or nuts.

    Another way to look at murder is any unnecessary but intentional death. The Torah does give very specific instances where killing is acceptable, sometimes even required. But you don’t get to just execute people. There has to be a trial with multiple witnesses and a very large jury. The death sentence has an extremely high bar to pass. There is always an option for mercy.

    Public shaming and humiliation is also a kind of murder in the Jewish tradition. You don’t get to drag out someone’s private secrets and shortcomings put them on display. So hurtful truths that affect nobody but the persons involved are to stay secret. Privacy counts.

    The King James Bible has a verse indicating “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The original Hebrew is not the word “witch,” it is “poisoner.” Original text goes more like “Thou shalt not keep a poisoner alive.” Big difference, eh? I suspect the change in the text had a political purpose.

    “Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor” has somehow morphed into “Thou shalt not lie.” Slander, libel, perjury are covered but so are lesser things like initiating gossip. “False witness” is attesting or implying the truth of something you do not have evidence for. Any time you’ve made a false statement that hurts another person, even if it isn’t about that person, you have weaponized your lie and have used it against them.

    If you are just passing on something you heard (gossip) you can be an accessory to false witness even if you say what you heard was just a rumor. Your neighbor is any identifiable human being or group of human beings.

    An unintentional false statement can be a lie depending on the negligence involved. I say a particular medicine is safe and effective but have not done due diligence to confirm the truth. A person buys it. It turns out to be unsafe and/or ineffective. I’ve borne false witness regarding that medicine – you can’t know it is safe and effective until you have tested it – and I did it against my neighbor who was counting on the veracity of my claim for their well being.

    OTOH if you did test it thoroughly and in good faith but got inaccurate results or this is a rare side effect that couldn’t have been detected, you haven’t borne false witness. It is just an unfortunate turn of events.

    This leaves wide open the possibility of uttering falsehoods that are not harmful. Even lies told to avoid receiving punishment. They can be neutral in effect or beneficial to all. That is the “white lie” that civilization would collapse instantly without.

    Not that I am asserting superiority of one Bible translation over another. But there are plenty of ways it was changed in going from Aramaic (ancient Hebrew) to Greek to Latin to modern English.

    Liked by 1 person

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