The Ninth Command

What is the ninth command?

לֹֽא־תַעֲנֶ֥ה בְרֵעֲךָ֖ עֵ֥ד שָֽׁקֶר׃ס

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)


What is a more literal translation of these words?

You shall not answer against your neighbor to falsehood.


What is meant here by “answer”?

It refers to testifying as a witness in a courtroom.


What is meant by “against your neighbor”?

It means that we are bringing testimony against a person which will result in a guilty verdict.


What is the word “falsehood” here?

This refers to false or deceptive testimony given under oath. source


What are these sins which this command forbids in its original intent?

The following sins would have been forbidden by this command:

  1. Giving false testimony in a course case;
  2. giving true testimony but exaggerating it or concealing some of it;
  3. keeping silent in a legal case where we know we have evidence that would lead to a more just verdict;
  4. refusing to speak when we see an injustice being perpetrated;
  5. summoning witnesses whom we know will give false testimony;
  6. handing down an unjust verdict (assuming we are the judge);
  7. forgery.


What example do we have in Scripture of such sins?

Here examples pertaining to each of the numbered list above:

  1. In Matthew 28:13-15, the guards were told to bring false testimony;
  2. In Matthew 26:60, we have the witnesses at Jesus’ trial who gave true testimony but twisted it to fit their evil purpose;
  3. Leviticus 5:1 is a law pertaining to keeping silent when one should speak;
  4. Here there are many instances, as those who participated in David’s plot against Uriah and Bathsheba;
  5. In 2 Kings 21:10, Jezebel summoned false witnesses who testified against Naboth;
  6. There are many instances of this in the Bible two already being mentioned; i.e. Pilate against Jesus & those who condemned Naboth.
  7. In 2 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul warns the Thessalonians against being alarmed by a letter claiming to be from him but not actually written by him.


Does this command speak only to the above sins of giving false testimony in a judicial proceeding?

No, this command is based on the principle of the sanctity of truth.


Does this command forbid all lying?



What is a lie?

A lie is when we assert something to be true which we know to be false.


Is a lie the same as telling a falsehood?

No, telling a falsehood or being in error is not a sin since at the time we were not aware that what we were saying was inaccurate.  A lie is different since in this case we are saying to be true what we know is false.  Every time a student gets a wrong answer on a math assignment, he tells a falsehood, but this is not sinful.


Why is this such an important distinction?

Because many times we accuse people of lying when in fact they were simply in error. Failure to make this distinction leads us to falsely accusing people of sin.  This itself is a sin against the ninth command.


In what other ways do we sin against the truth, and therefore against the ninth command?

One of the most common sins against the ninth command is the sin of detraction.  Note the words “against your neighbor” in the command itself.  Detraction is when we speak negatively about another person for no good reason.


Is it always wrong to speak negatively about another person?

It is not.  Jesus called the Jewish leaders “hypocrites,” (Matthew 23:13) “blind guides,” (Matthew 23:24) “whitewashed tombs,” (Matthew 23:27) and a “brood of vipers.” (Matthew 12:34)


What is detraction then?

Detraction is speaking negatively about others for no good reason.  We must ask ourselves the difficult question of whether any greater good is to be had from what we hope to say or if we are repeating this information simply for our own pleasure or even worse, from malicious motives.  Police officers, teachers, church elders, and even parents could not do their work if it were always sinful to speak negatively of other people.  Obviously, there is a greater good to be had from these conversations which justifies there use.


What other principle is in play here?

As in all our choices, we should check our motives.  If we sincerely desire to help our neighbor and minister to his well-being, then our negative remarks may be appropriate.  If our motive is “to bite and devour” (Galatians 5:15), then our negative remarks are detraction and violate the ninth command.


How is the sin of detraction further sub-divided?

Detraction can be either the sharing of negative information about others that is true or sharing negative information about others that is false. The first is gossip; the second is slander.


Is gossip condemned under the ninth command since this command seems only to forbid those remarks which are false.

True, the sin of gossip would fall under the sixth command while slander is condemned in the ninth command.


What is equivocation?

Equivocation is when we use words to communicate something to another person even though in our own mind we mean something quite different.  A drunk might say to an officer, “I had only a few beers!” which to him means a twelve pack but to the officer means two or three.  A child might claim that he “finished” his homework which to him might mean something very different than how his mother understands it.


What is the sin of censoriousness?

This is the sin Jesus warned about in Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”


What is Jesus teaching here?

Jesus is certainly not forbidding all judging (see 1 John 4:1).  Rather, He is warning against all sinful judging just as previously we had to distinguish between right and wrong ways of speaking negatively about others.


What is sinful judging?

Sinful judging is when we judge rashly, harshly, or partially:

Rash judgment is when we condemn someone without proper discernment.  For example, when we conclude that someone who is not able to pay their bills is lazy, or when we condemn a rich man assuming he is greedy and not charitable with his wealth.

Harsh judgment is when we condemn someone with unnecessary harshness.  For example, we might label a person who differs from us on a point of theology as a “heretic.”

Partial judgment is when we condemn someone or some people, not on biblical principles of right and wrong, but based on the group to which they belong.  The sin of claiming ethnic superiority and/or racism are such sins.  Also, those who condemned the woman caught in the act of adultery had no concern for finding and condemning the male participant in the sin.


What does Jesus mean by “…in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you“?

By these words, Jesus teaches us that we use different “yardsticks” depending on who we are analyzing. When assessing the actions of others, we use a very strict measure. When we assess our own actions, we use a much looser standard, and we make every concession possible.  Jesus then announces here that He will find a way to have us measured by the standard we use to assess the actions of others, not the standard we use to assess our own actions.  How exactly this happens, He does not explain, but we know that Jesus’ word never fails.


What is the sin of misconstruing intentions, words, and actions?

This is an especially pernicious form of sinful judging since it pertains to things that no person can possibly know.  No one can know the motives of another person unless that person tells him.  In spite of this, people often condemn the motives of other people.  Some condemn preachers for doing ministry for ease or money; others condemn police officers for being racist; or politicians for wanting to destroy the country.  Whenever we claim to judge someone’s motives, we are on very dangerous ground since we can’t possibly know with any certainty what their real motives are.


How should we aim to glorify God in this matter of judging people’s motives?

We should always aim to put the best possible construction on a person’s motives. We should eagerly credit a good report about any person and at the same time be slow to believe a negative report.  Even when we see a person failing in some way, we should not claim to know their motives.  When a person differs from us on a point of theology, we should not conclude that they hate Scripture and despise the truth.  We should assume that their motive is sincere and that they love the Bible and the truth as much as we do.


Is boasting a sin against the ninth command?

Yes, when we claim things for ourselves that are not true, we sin against the truth.


What is flattery?

Flattery is when we praise others in order to win their favor or gain some other end.  Usually, flatterers are not concerned with the truth and thus fall under the censure of the ninth command.

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