What is the Ninth Commandment?


Introduction

The answers below come from Luther’s Small Catechism. The Lutheran church numbers the commandments differently than most Protestant denominations1, which is why the title of this article refers to the ninth commandment, but the answers below list indicate eighth.

Ninth Commandment

  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16 ESV)
  • And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Deuteronomy 5:20 ESV)

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean?2

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

What does God forbid in the Eighth Commandment?3

  • God forbids us to tell lies about our neighbor in a court of law or elsewhere, that is, to lie about, lie to, or withhold the truth from our neighbor. (Proverbs 19:5; Ephesians 4:25)
    • Bible narratives: False witnesses testified against Jesus. (Matthew 26:59-61) False witnesses testified against Naboth. (1 Kings 21:13) Gehazi lied about Elisha and then lied to him. (2 Kings 5:22-25)
  •  God forbids us to betray our neighbor, that is, to reveal our neighbor’s secrets. (Proverbs 11:13)
    • Bible narratives: Doeg betrayed Ahimelech. (2 Samuel 22:6-19) Judas betrayed Jesus. (Matthew 26:14-16)
  • God forbids us to slander our neighbor or hurt our neighbor’s reputation. (Matthew 18:15; Luke 6:37; James 4:11)
    • Bible narrative: Absalom slandered his father. (2 Samuel 15:1-6)

What does God require of us in the Eighth Commandment?4

  • We should defend our neighbor, that is, we should speak up for and protect our neighbor from false accusations. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
  • We should speak well of our neighbor, that is, we should praise our neighbor’s good actions and qualities.
    • Bible narratives: Jonathan spoke well of David. (I Samuel 19:4) The people of Capernaum spoke well of the centurion. (Luke 7:4-5) Jesus spoke well of the woman who anointed Him. (Mark 14:3-9)
  • We should put the best meaning on everything, that is, we should explain our neighbor’s actions in the best possible way. (1 Corinthians 13:7; 1 Peter 4:8)

Footnotes

  1. Why Are The Ten Commandments Numbered Differently?
  2. Luther’s Small Catechism (1529)
  3. Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), Question 61.
  4. Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), Question 62.

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