Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Semantics

One of the Ten Commandments in every version of the Ten Commandments is "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness."

I grew up understanding this to mean, roughly, "Thou Shalt Not Lie," which I'm sure many people grew up understanding this to mean.

Today, while studying for national security law, my friend and I took a break and had a discussion on what exactly this means. It seems that "Thou Shalt Not Lie" is a little too simplistic. If nothing else, the bible itself demonstrates that Lying is not something absolutely condemned by God.

If one reads the story of Rahab, a harlot in Jericho, you will find that she lied to the Gentiles to protect the jewish spies who took refuge in her home. She told the Gentiles who were searching for the jews that 1. two men came to her house, but she did not know if they were jewish. This may or may not be the truth, historically. The version I read is mum on the spies identifying themselves as Jews, though they did say that God would save her house. The second line, though, when she said that the men had left and went off in some direction, urging the mob by saying they were moving slowly, and the Gentiles could catch them. This was certainly a lie, as she had hid the two men in her roof.

As retribution for the harlot lying, God spared her house when the walls of Jericho came a'tumblin' down.

So the question I have, essentially, is, what does it mean to not bear false witness, if it doesn't mean "Don't lie?" Or, is this an ethically fuzzy subject, where, as so many people approach it, it's sometimes necessary or excuseable to lie? In the case of Rahab, she lied in the name of God - is that justifiable? Can you expand that to other deific theories, such as Allah?

I'd like to hear your input. I'm going to keep studying, and probably won't consider this again until Saturday afternoon, or so.

2 comments:

Just Wondering said...

Absolutely one of my favorite subjects (aren't you sorry now you asked). Abraham was a well-documented liar; he always lied about the status of his wife Sarah when meeting "locals" for the first time. Anyway, bearing false witness, to me, has much more "consequence" attached than a mere lie. To lie under oath in court accusing your neighbor of a wrong you know they did not commit - that is bearing false witness. Your lie carries more weight, because of the circumstances under which it is told, and therefore has far more severe consequences for the person against whom you have borne false witness. At least, that is my understanding. Also, persistent, vicious and well-placed gossip might also fall into this category. False witness definitely has a specific victim, I think.

jae said...

I tend to agree with Just Wondering... but that's not what I was originally going to say. :)

I've always heard false witness referring to lies, too. But I have since come to view it as something more of an integrity issue... don't misrepresent yourself, who you are as an identity issue, perhaps along similar lines as the Gospels later talked about hypocrisy. It's a sense of congruency of the self. I 'm certainly no Bible scholar but that's how I tend to apply it and in the end, it seems to work out the other issues of lying and testimony.

At least in my mind.