Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
~ Ex 20:26
Technically, this is a commandment against giving false testimony. However, it is based upon a broader principle. First, let’s look at the wording of the commandment.
“‘Anah” means to answer, respond, testify, speak or shout. Therefore, there is a prohibition against speaking in a particular way.
“Sheqer” means lie, deception, fraud or a falsehood (esp. one that results in injury).
“’Ed” means a witness, testimony or evidence.
“Rea’” means friend, intimate, fellow-citizen or can just mean another person in general.
Roughly, the command means to not speak a lie or injurious deception as a witness against another.
There are OT prohibitions against lying, so why not just say “Do not lie”? The wording of this command indicates intent. This command is repeated in other forms in the OT.
Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
~ Ex 23:1
The famous “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” passage comes right after another:
One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;
Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
~ Dt 19:15-21
So, if someone falsely testifies that a certain person committed murder, the false witness could be put to death, as that would have been the penalty had the certain person been found guilty of murder. When you think about it, there really are 2 sins being committed in the act of giving false testimony (perhaps more, depending upon your point of view).
However, it is also true that God hates all lies, and in Proverbs lying is listed twice. Once it is given in connection to a false witness.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
~ Pr 6:16-19
Jesus said that one who is angry with his brother without cause is guilty of murder (Mt 5:21-22) and that one who looks upon a woman to lust after has committed adultery in his heart (vv27-28). Jesus magnified the Law (Isa 42:21). Therefore, even “white lies” are wrong.
Think about it. Are lies ever really harmless? If nothing else, the truth comes out sooner or later. Not only does the recipient then have to deal with the truth, but they have to deal with whether or not they can trust the person who told them the lie. Trust become eroded, and the relationship suffers.
Yet, telling lies is very commonplace today. False claims are made in ads. Investment brokers lie and steal your money. Politicians make all sorts of promises and then break them when they are elected. Yet, this is nothing new. Pilate asked Jesus in John 18:38, “What is truth?”
Lies are from the Devil (Jn 8:44), but the truth will make you free (v32). God’s word is truth (Ps 33:4; Jn 17:17). Jesus was the Word come in the flesh (Jn 1:14). We are to follow His example (1Pe 2:21). Therefore, we too should be truthful so we will be like our Elder Brother (Ep 4:13-15).