Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mis-Reading The Ninth Commandment

"Thou shalt not bear false witness" - The Ninth Commandment - Exodus 20:16

Many, many Christians would agree with the above statement. It is from God, after all, and should be obeyed. It is applied to life in so many different ways. It is used by preachers, teachers, parents, friends, authors, commentators and many Christians in general to remind us to always tell the truth. As Christians we should be truthful in our speech. In fact, it is sometimes used to tell us not to conceal part of the truth either.

But, do you see anything wrong with the above quote from Scripture? Astute grammarians might rightly note that I left out the period at the end of the quote. The quote above is a complete sentence after all. But I left out the period for a reason. The reason is because the above is only a part of the Ninth Commandment. It is a truncated version, and sadly, far too much of our popular theology comes from this taking away from God's Word. Taking away from God's Word is prohibited. So let me now quote the Ninth Commandment in its entirety:

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

Notice the difference? God does not give us a blanket prohibition of bearing false witness, merely the bearing of false witness against our neighbor to his harm. I've heard many debates amongst Christians as to whether it is ever okay for a Christian (or anybody for that matter) to ever utter something that isn't perfectly true. Even when instances of believers telling lies in the bible are brought up, then further backing that up with God's blessings upon them for lying as a part of faith, many Christians can't see the righteousness of the situation.

Rahab lied to save the skin of the spies, and is set forth as an example of faith. Yet many Christians, completely indoctrinated with a false view of the Ninth Commandment, still label her action as sin. Oh, yes, they say, God used her sin in accomplishing His purposes, but even that never grants us the authority to sin. The Hebrew midwives lied to the Egyptians to save the lives of newborn babies. God pronounced His blessings upon them! But why?

There's something our popular theology is missing. Let me ask this question: if somebody wants a piece of truthful information from us in order to commit an act of evil, is it our responsibility to give them that truth? Or what if not answering at all or giving wavering body language tips that person off to the answer? Is it still our responsibility to not lie? Well, of course not. If telling a lie or "untruth" thwarts evil intentions of others, have we sinned? If God's own words of blessings in the bible aren't enough to help us answer this question, nothing else will.

Then there are the things that are nobody else's business. Even close Christian friends, sometimes. We have no responsibility to inform anybody else of anything that will lead to evil. Jesus instructed us to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves, and there's a reason He chose to use the serpent in His instruction.

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