“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Seems easy enough. I think any mature believer in the Bible has wrestled with the idea of lying–when its permitted and when its not. The easiest example is Rehab lying about the spies hidden on her roof, for example. It was done with a righteous goal, so the means justify the ends. Scripture is intentionally filled with moral dilemmas and examples of situational ethics.
Bearing false witness, however, isn’t the same as lying, especially white-lying. “Oooo. I like your new haircut!”… that could be biblically permissible. The prohibition about being a false witness is one where the lies work against someone else. “Did you hear [insert lie here] about [insert common acquaintance here]?” That’s a big enough no-no to be set in stone.
Here’s the details of how that law plays out, as it pertains to a court proceeding.
Deuteronomy 19:16-20 “If an unrighteous witness rise up against anyone to bear perverted witness against him; then both people, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before Hashem, before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days. And the judges shall inquire diligently; and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and has testified falsely against the other; then you shall do to him, as he had purposed to do to the other; so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you. And those that remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil in your midst.”
The penalty of being a false witness is the same sentence that would have been passed upon the original accused individual. I don’t know a better example than that of biblical justice, nor a better one for sewing what you reap. I can’t imagine that such a reasonable penalty would be mandated in court, but there would be no similar “natural” ramifications for similar offences outside of court, in our daily lives.
We all know that Messiah didn’t come to “do away with” the Law, but to fulfill it. By fulfill, he meant he came to live it and teach it to it’s fullness–not its emptiness. Murder, he said, was bad, but harboring anger in your heart was just as bad–as those are the hidden roots of murder. He continued in Matt 5:22, “But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice against him shall be guilty before the court; and whoever speaks [contemptuously and insultingly] to his brother, ‘Raca (You empty-headed idiot)!’ shall be guilty before the supreme court (Sanhedrin); and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fiery hell.”
I know I’m not alone in my concern about how easy social media makes it to be a false witness. We see a post, or a headline, or a meme, and our knee-jerk reaction is to like it, or share it. That may be a fine response if it’s about a kitten being rescued from a tree, but the “if it bleeds, it leads” rule of the major media seems to also be the default setting of most of we “mini-publishers” with our own friends and followers. This seems to be especially true with the two types of online conversations that as a society we used to intentionally avoid with the honorable goals of courtesy and peace-keeping: Religion and politics.
Once upon a time, an agreed to ‘code of honor’ would essentially force a duel when one party slandered another. Once upon a time, the worse sort of politics only seemed to rear its ugly head on a 2 or 4 year cycle, but as fundraising for every side has become a 24/7 business, so has the business of stirring up perpetual strife. As is obvious to America’s enemies, the discourteous and angry posture of our politics is a vulnerable spot in our society. The Russians, for example, created thousands of fake Facebook accounts, made anger-inducing memes, and lob them like racquet balls into our electronic court. The anger in our own hearts causes the evil fruit of a lack of self-control to swing away at every ball, with our neighbors swinging just as hard. That’s not a sport, that’s just a black-eye waiting to happen. Sewing what we reap.
Look again at core words of the command in Deuteronomy, “the judges shall diligently inquire…” Before you shared that meme did you personally fact-check it, or did it just align with your viewpoint, so the facts themselves didn’t matter. Did you simply assume the facts to be true because everyone else has been saying it? If our “leaders” or the leaders of “the other side” started it, does that justify slanderous and libelous speech? Even if it’s speak covered by the 1st Amendment, does that exempt us from the 9th Commandment?
It seems obvious in retrospect that the authors of the 1st Amendment naively assumed that Americans would always honor the 9th Commandment.
Here’s both an extreme and extremely common example. Have you ever shared a meme calling Hillary (or Donald, for that matter) a murderer, an accessory to murder, or a mastermind behind various murders? If not, you’ve certainly seen those accusations spreading like a wild-fire over the last decade or two. According to the spirit of the Deut 19 commandment, if a court of law does NOT find Hillary guilty of murder–then the creators of that meme are liable for the death penalty themselves.
How about about provably false videos of “Bill Gates” boldly declaring his goal to lower the population via vaccines (i.e. murder)? What about accusing people or entire political parties of child trafficking, or demon worship? What about simply calling a politician or a celebrity a fool, or endorsing that sentiment with a ‘like’ or a ‘smile’–or, don’t say it… a heart? Who is “the accuser” in the scriptural narrative, anyway? Whose work are we actually doing as we continue to be complicit in spreading these accusations literally around the word, all with a simple and thoughtless click? Do we justify it all because we think the ends justify the means–or is it just our own subtle anger and pride resonating with the anger and pride of the accuser.
So what is the fate of the sharers of those meme’s and posts? What about just the likers? What about those who just read the post, and then smile silently inside themselves? Who will hold everyone accountable? On earth, in the short term, the law of sewing and reaping will take care of this–it’s a law after all. Many are already seeing the fruits of this harvest in poisoned personal relationships and further disintegration of the family, and we are currently devouring these bitter fruits as a nation as well.
As far as our eternal fate, if publicly calling someone a fool puts us in danger of “the fiery hell”, it would seem prudent to avoid posting, sharing, or liking anything even CLOSE to an allegation where you first didn’t “diligently inquire” first, so as to be a trustworthy witness…a witness worthy of being called Yah’s. The 144,000 witnesses in Revelation, are called virgins, and are dressed in white. Certainly the purity implied in that image doesn’t harmonize with the muck and mire of digital mud-slinging. Certainly we who desire to live in a righteous Kingdom can control ourselves during our temporary exile in this democracy.
Just because its not being said with our literal tongues, how do these verses not apply?
James 3:3-18: “Now, if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well. Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. Does a spring send out from the same opening both [i]fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, free of hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”