Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

The ninth commandment states

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour (Exodus 20:16).

In the “errata” for the Ten Commandments, this is expanded upon:

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” (Exodus 23:1-3 ESV).

Bearing false witness has a very broad application, but here we see it particularly connected to judicial and social matters. To bear false witness is to pervert justice. Those who pervert justice are automatically on the wrong side of justice—and God. (He is always on the side of justice. He always combines justice and mercy.)

A false witness may prejudice the decision reached and cause an unfair sentence to be handed down. In Bible times, most decisions were rendered by single judges, but in our day, sentence rendered often via jury. Unfortunately, people in groups do not necessarily render impartial decisions. This very command indicates that a lying witness can bend the facts and sway the outcome.

The commandment reminds us that others—all others—are our neighbors. When we recall the command “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12), we again see that other people are our neighbors. There is a brotherhood. To put one’s hand against another for personal gain is a form of aggression. Since punitive action may be undertaken in a judicial process, to render false witness in support of such action is a violation of the well-known non-aggression axiom: That no one has the right to initiate the use of force against another person or his property.

To bear false witness is to deny this fundamental connection of all humans with all humans. It is not to seek peace with all men, but to seek to exploit judicial processes in a mercenary manner for the benefit of oneself. Some anarchists leave the impression that they see life as an arena in which it is every man for himself and survival of the fittest; the Christian anarchist cannot see himself alone in the world. He sees himself neither as apart from God nor from man. His eyes are wide open to the mischief and injustice so often wrought through collectives, but at the same time he is not blind to the inadequacy of unbridled individualism.

God’s law is seen here, as in many other of the Ten Commandments, to facilitate community. Remember that God’s law is a thumbnail sketch of His character. We are made in His image. The divine character is opposite the satanic character. The very essence of what Satan is, is a liar. He was a liar from the beginning of his apostasy, and made himself an accuser of the brethren. He is the paradigmatic image of one who bears false witness. The contrast is complete; God bears a true witness of others. In Him is only truth, only light; there is no shadow of turning in Him, no hidden dark spots.

To prevail in secular politics, one must be a skillful operator. That circle is a stagnant pool of institutionalized misrepresentation, a school is bearing false witness. Is it any wonder that the outcomes of the state are almost universally corrupting?

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Comments on: "Ten Commandments and the Christian anarchist 9" (2)

  1. Greg,
    That is a vexed assertion you make; however, I do understand that there are some things that people really are not entitled to know, and not to tell them what they are not entitled to know hardly seems like it should be stretched to being lying. It is important, I think, to read this commandment as I have indicated–and not see it as saying “thou shalt not lie.”

    It is common to make many assumptions about the Ten Commandments, vis, taking God’s name in vain = swearing, sabbath = sunday, thou shalt not kill = thou shalt not murder, though shalt not bear false witness = thou shalt not lie, etc. Unless we want to be led around by the nose by persons with ulterior motives, we need to be more careful Bible students. Christians have their share at least of de-linking to do. Truth and error have gotten all blurred up, as in the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7, which I hope to tackle later this year in a substantial paper. We read many ideas into the text (often with the help of the “church”). But Jesus came to set the captives free, even from this!

  2. There are situations where deceit is proper, and maybe even praiseworthy. One of these might be to protect oneself and others from aggression, including aggression from government entities.

    There are biblical examples of this. Rahab, who lied and was praised for it. David who deceived when he wanted to take the shewbread. The Egyptian midwives who protected the Hebrew babies.

    Lying, like causing injury to another, is wrong but might be necessary and right for self-defense or for protecting the innocent. As with violence, however, one must tread carefully here.

    False testimony is always wrong, because it initiates harm on another, unjustly. That is why the Commandment forbids it.

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