The Orthodox Leader

The Christian Understanding of Bearing False Witness

“These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: … A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” –Proverbs 6:16,19

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen! (Lest we forget with the hubbub over the past few days.)

No time for a lengthier article today (or for the next couple of days, in all likelihood). But, since some readers (well, one reader, I guess) have suggested that I have characterized the Truthers unfairly, I’d like to explain that my standard for bearing false witness is that of the Church.

That standard finds its origin in Exodus 20:16, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,” a.k.a. the Ninth Commandment. Deuteronomy 19:15-21 goes on further, in establishing that accusations are made only “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses.”  The point of the witnesses is that known individuals (more than one of them, so someone has to agree on something) in the community, with personal reputations to uphold, stand up and make their accusations. Rumor and innuendo are tossed aside in favor of faithful maturity. If there’s any room for doubt or misunderstanding, it’s better for no accusations to be brought than to risk a loss of credibility face.

Beyond that, the prohibition on bearing false witness achieves its fullness in the light of Christ, as explained  its fullness in the Christian profession given by St. Paul:

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. –Romans 13:9-10

Thus, “false witness” cannot be reduced to “did what I say, technically, turn out to be a lie?” as the world would have it, but must be understood in terms of that and more. False witness is also found in attributing evil motives to others, in casting aspersions on our enemies’ character absent any proof, in making unsupported statements about others’ beliefs, and in misrepresenting what our adversaries say.  As I’ve written previously, avoiding false witness is central to those in leadership. We must seek to present others in the most honest and charitable light, not the light in which we want them to stand or the light that makes them look as bad as possible.

With that, I’ll close with something I’ve quoted before (see preceding link) because leaders really need to be able to answer righteously to this particular set of questions for self-examination before confession:

Ninth Commandment – You shall not bear false witness.

Have I told lies, or added to or subtracted from the truth? Have I made careless statements or spoken evil of anyone? Have I told any secrets entrusted to me, or betrayed anyone? Have I gossiped about anyone or harmed their reputation? Have I concealed the truth, assisted in carrying out a lie, or pretended to commit a sin of which I was not guilty? Have I tried to see the good in others rather than their shortcomings?

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 5th, 2011 at 5:48 pm

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