Summary: Bearing False Witness is a lot more than just lying - its bringing disrepute to a good God
There was some big news at the CIA last week. Christine Axsmith, a 42 year contractor was fired from her job because of her blog. If you’re not familiar with what blogging is, think of it as a journal that is posted on the Internet for everyone to read. In her case, this one was internal, but you get the idea. You see, even though she was just a software tester, she somehow thought she was qualified to speak for the CIA when it came to the policy on torture. She even claimed to have seen some documents about it in a previous job, and just started writing about that. Talk about taking on the air of authority.
Now, you can imagine why the CIA might have a few qualms about anyone who would take it upon themselves to write something that might make people think she spoke for them. She was a software tester. What did she know about the reputation of the CIA? And yet, her blatant disregard for it ended up costing her job.
Now, I have no knowledge of what she wrote. She may have written with journalistic integrity and had the truth on her side. Equally as likely, this being a blog, she may have just made stuff up. It doesn’t really matter now – the point is, in publishing her private views in such a public fashion, she was acting as an ambassador to an organization that did not ask her to do that.
Now, you might wonder why I’d be talking about that when the commandment we’re covering this week is: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” After all, what does that have to do with lying? Well, I want to suggest to you this week that there’s more to bearing false witness than lying. They’re definitely related, but you need to understand the fullness.
You guys know I don’t like to throw around a lot of Greek, but this week’s word is really good. When the Hebrews first translated the Old Testament into Greek, into something called the Septuagint, they believed that the 72 translators who did it were every bit as inspired as Moses himself. The translators used an interesting word to translate “No false witnessing.” The word was pseudo-martyr.
Let me break that down for you. You know what a pseudonym is. Samuel Clemens never had a birth certificate that said “Mark Twain.” Mark Twain was a false name for Sam. Technically, it was a lie. It was a fiction – a pseudo-name that everybody accepted when he wrote. Anything pseudo is just that: false.
As for martyr, I know you first impulse is to think about Christians tied to a stick in the coliseum. But realize what it was those faithful witnesses were doing. They were testifying with their lives, and ultimately their deaths, as to who Jesus was. They were witnessing with all it was that they are.
So, when the Lord told Moses ‘No false witnessing,’ he was saying something pretty bold. He was saying, “Don’t misrepresent me!”
Now, if you’ll indulge me here, I want to give you my translation of the whole text – Because I don’t want you think I’m making this all up. In Greek and Hebrew, the verb is something understood – it’s not in there, you get to figure it out. You could translate it two ways: “No False witnessing in regards to those near you” or you could say “Don’t be a false witness according to those near you.”
In the first case, it’s almost exactly what we think of as lying – or more specifically, perjury. Don’t lie in court if you don’t have a good lawyer. It’s a bad idea, and it can land you in jail. But, I’ll tell you, I think I like the second one even better, because it conveys the general principle better. Don’t be a false witness.
Possibly the most famous case of possible perjury in recent years depended on what your definition of “is” was. Now, regardless of what that man’s jury ever decided as to the exact facts of the case, the public figured out pretty quickly he wasn’t being truthful – he was acting falsely. And that’s not a good idea. Legally, he may have been right. Politically, he was toast.
There was a TV show on many years back where a guy decided to become a priest . Now, it was a comedy, but what struck me was their perception of what a priest does. The running joke was that the guy wasn’t terribly bright, and yet the job of priest was thought to be that of a lawyer or a judge who could supposedly tell you what the “ethically right” thing was in any given preposterous situation. It was as though they thought the Bible was nothing more than case law that needed to be applied in legalistic fashion.