\"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour\" (Exodus 20:16) is one of the Ten Commandments, widely understood as moral imperatives by Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant scholars.
You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.
The Hebrew Bible contains a number of prohibitions against false witness, lying, spreading false reports, etc. For a person who had a charge brought against them and were brought before a religious prosecution, the charge was considered as established only on the evidence of two or three sworn witnesses. In cases where false testimony was suspected, the religious judges were to make a thorough investigation, and if false testimony were proven, the false witness was to receive the punishment he had intended to bring on the person falsely accused. For example, since murder was a capital crime, giving false testimony in a murder case was subject to the death penalty. Those eager to receive or listen to false testimony were also subject to punishment.
The witness who hid what he had seen or what he knew bore his iniquity; if he realized his guilt, he had to confess his sin, brought to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock (or two turtledoves or two pigeons, or a tenth of an ephah of fine flour) for a sin offering as his compensation for the sin he committed.
Many testified falsely against Jesus, but their statements did not agree. At last two witnesses said they had heard Him saying He would destroy that temple and in three days built another, not made with hands, (He really had meant the resurrection of His body, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, destroyed by others but raise it up by Him). Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.
570. Anybody who knows evidence must testify in court (Leviticus 5:1)571. Carefully interrogate the witness (Deuteronomy 13:15)572. A witness must not serve as a judge in capital crimes (Deuteronomy 19:17)573. Not to accept testimony from a lone witness (Deuteronomy 19:15)574. Transgressors must not testify (Exodus 23:1)575. Relatives of the litigants must not testify (Deuteronomy 24:16)576. Not to testify falsely (Exodus 20:16)577. Punish the false witnesses as they tried to punish the defendant (Deuteronomy 19:19)
Maimonides (the Rambam) further explained that if false testimony was calculated to occasion a monetary loss, the court should inflict a monetary loss of equal value on the false witness. Likewise, if the false testimony was calculated to result in death, the false witness is to suffer the same kind of death. In Sefer Hachinuch, one who fails to testify when one is aware of evidence is compared to one who stands idly by the blood of one's neighbor. The severity of breaking the ninth commandment is reflected in a midrash:
According to the New Testament, Jesus explains that obedience to the prohibition against false testimony from the ten commandments is a requirement for eternal life. According to Jesus, false testimony comes from the sinful desires of the heart and makes people unclean.
The Acts of the Apostles describes the disciple Stephen being seized and brought before the Sanhedrin. Those who opposed Stephen persuaded false witnesses to testify that Stephen was guilty of blasphemy against Moses and against God. Stephen used the occasion of his trial to remind the Sanhedrin of the Old Testament testimony of rebellion, idolatry, and persecution of the prophets that culminated in the murder of Jesus. The crowd was so angry that Stephen was stoned to death.
The New Testament depicts the Apostles as being appointed as true witnesses to the ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul uses the Old Testament prohibition of false testimony to describe his fear of God if found to be a false witness about God regarding the resurrection.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
In Romans 13:9, Paul lists a number of the ten commandments which can be summed up in the saying \"You shall love your neighbor as yourself\". The Textus Receptus and the King James Bible include \"You shall not bear false witness\", but this commandment is missing from some early manuscripts containing Romans 13 and the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges suggests that it is \"perhaps to be omitted, on documentary evidence\".
The Roman Catholic Church interprets the command against \"false witness\" more broadly than the Jewish historical context of perjury, and considers it as a broad prohibition against misrepresenting the truth in one's relation with others. This commandment enjoins truthfulness and respect for other's good name, even the dead. It prohibits detraction (true faults), calumny (false faults), gossip, rash judgment, lying, and the violation of secrets.
Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause unjust injury. One is guilty of rash judgment who assumes the moral fault of a neighbor without sufficient foundation. One is guilty of detraction who discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them without objectively valid reason. One is guilty of calumny (a misrepresentation intended to harm another's reputation) who harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them by remarks contrary to the truth. These sins violate both the commandment against false witness, as well as the command to love one's neighbor as oneself.
The Catholic Church teaches that \"A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.\" According to the Bible, the Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: \"You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.\" (John 8:44) Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord. Lying is a mortal sin when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity. Lying is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray. By violating the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.
Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we have yet another treasure, namely, honor and good report [the illustrious testimony of an upright and unsullied name and reputation], with which we cannot dispense. For it is intolerable to live among men in open shame and general contempt. Therefore God wishes the reputation, good name, and upright character of our neighbor to be taken away or diminished as little as his money and possessions, that every one may stand in his integrity before wife, children, servants, and neighbors. And in the first place, we take the plainest meaning of this commandment according to the words (Thou shalt not bear false witness), as pertaining to the public courts of justice, where a poor innocent man is accused and oppressed by false witnesses in order to be punished in his body, property, or honor.
God therefore would have it prohibited that any one speak evil of another even though he be guilty, and the latter know it right well; much less if he do not know it, and have it only from hearsay. But you say: Shall I not say it if it be the truth Answer: Why do you not make accusation to regular judges Ah, I cannot prove it publicly, and hence I might be silenced and turned away in a harsh manner [incur the penalty of a false accusation]. \"Ah, indeed, do you smell the roast\" If you do not trust yourself to stand before the proper authorities and to make answer, then hold your tongue. But if you know it, know it for yourself and not for another. For if you tell it to others, although it be true, you will appear as a liar, because you cannot prove it, and you are, besides acting like a knave. For we ought never to deprive any one of his honor or good name unless it be first taken away from him publicly.
John Calvin taught that the commandment against false witness prohibits all calumnies (gossip and slander) and false accusations which might injure our neighbor's good name, and any falsehood which might impair his fortune. Christians must assert only the truth with pure motives for the maintenance of our neighbor's good name and estate.
In the end, readers of Bearing False Witness will have a more accurate history of the Catholic