The devil is the father of liars, deceivers, slanderers, and false accusers. But our God is the God of truth. Who do you believe and obey?
Several years before World War II, a Jewish family fled from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands because they saw increasing persecution against Jews. When the war broke out, the father hid his family of eight in the upper rooms of his office in Amsterdam. But after two years, they were betrayed by an unknown person, and deported to concentration camps where all of them died except for the father. After the war, a friend gave him the diary that one of his daughters kept during their two years in hiding. Later, her diary was published in a book entitled Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. She was only 15 years old when she died of typhus in a concentration camp.
Anne Frank’s story became the basis of a theoretical question about so-called “white lies” or “righteous lies”: If you were one of those people hiding the Frank family, and the Nazis came and asked if there were Jews in the house, would you tell the truth which would mean certain death for eight people? Or would you lie to save them? Worse, if you were found hiding Jews, you would also get the death penalty.
The Ninth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod 20:16), is in the context of a Jewish court. It prohibits making false statements as a witness in a courtroom before the elders of the village. But is this commandment only against lying as a witness against your neighbor in the court of law? And is the neighbor only those who are being accused in court?
Our text and Scripture readings tell us that this commandment also has a bearing also outside the court, most especially in the church, but as well as in the home, office, school and wherever we are. The neighbor could be your brother or sister in Christ, a relative, an officemate, or a friend. Together with the Heidelberg Catechism, “bearing false witness” not only prohibits lying, but all kinds of other false witness: twisting words, backbiting, slander, rash judgment, and deception.
Jesus told the Pharisees that their lying words and actions come from none other than Satan himself, because the devil is the “father of lies.” In contrast, all that Jesus spoke and did came from his Father, the God of truth. He also told the Jews the reason why some believed him, and why they did not believe him.
Focusing on the Ninth Commandment, today’s theme is, “Lies, Truth and Faith,” in three parts: first, The Father of Lies; second, The God of Truth; and third, Who Do You Believe and Why?
The Father of Lies
Our text finds Jesus speaking to the scribes and Pharisees very harshly and in a condemning way. Jesus had told them that he speaks what his Father had told him, so the Jews proudly declared that Abraham was their father. But Jesus countered by saying that they are not Abraham’s children because they do not have his faith, and they do not evidence the good works that Abraham did. He tells them that if God was their Father, they would love him because he came from the Father. Then in a shocking condemnation, he tells the Jews, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (v 44).
Most evangelicals think that they have been saved because of their “freewill” decision to “accept Christ into their hearts.” Jesus belies this thinking. If all of Adam’s children are born sinners, then all are under the power of Satan: not only all unbelieving Jews, but also all unbelieving people. Does any unrepentant sinner have free will? Not a chance! Because the devil is his father, his will “is to do [the devil's] desires.” Paul knew exactly what Jesus had taught him: All unbelievers are “dead in the trespasses and sins … following the prince of the power of the air,” the devil, and are “sons of disobedience … by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:1-3). How can unbelievers have free will when they are “slaves of [sin] … whom [they] obey”? (Rom 6:16) Are there slaves who are free? Slaves are owned by their masters, and they obey only the commands of their masters.
But why is the devil called “a murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies”? His wickedness came into the world back in the Garden of Eden. To deceive Eve, he lied to her, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? … You will not surely die” (Gen 3:1, 4) When she was deceived, Adam too was deceived, and sin came into the world. Not only that, death came into the world. Satan killed all human beings with his lie! So he was a murderer from the beginning, causing the death of every person who would ever be born into this world.
And because he introduced lies to mankind, he is “the father of lies.” “Satan” is an Old Testament word that means “adversary” or “enemy” (1 Chron 21:1; Job 1-2; Zech 3) In the New Testament, he is often called as the “deceiver” (2 Cor 11:3; Rev 12:9; 20:3). Thirty-two times, he is also called the “devil,” which means one who slanders or accuses falsely.
So Satan the devil is the father of liars, deceivers, slanderers, and false accusers.
Against Satan’s urgings, we are not to “bear false witness against no one.” In Biblical times, there were no lawyers, detectives, crime scene investigators; just two witnesses. King Ahab and Jezebel schemed to murder Naboth by using two lying witnesses (1 Kgs 21:13). Jesus was crucified and Stephen was stoned based on the false testimony of witnesses (Matt 26:60-61; Acts 6:13-14). So the life of an accused person depended on the truth or lies of witnesses. This is why lying is a very serious offense against God. Ananias and Sapphira both fell dead after Peter condemned them for lying to the Spirit and to God (Acts 5:3). Paul warned often against lying (Eph 4:25; Col 3:9; 1 Tim 1:10).
In his first epistle, John gives several examples of people who are liars: those who say they are not sinners (1:10); those who say they know Christ, but do not keep his commandments (2:4); those who deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:22); those who say they love God, but hates their brothers (4:20); those who don’t believe in God and the Son of God (5:10). John says that all these liars are destined to the lake of fire (Rev 21:8).
But inside or outside the courtroom, the Catechism broadens the Ninth Commandment into several violations.
Besides lying with our tongue and giving false witness, what are other forms of lying? According to the Heidelberg Catechism, we are not “to twist anyone’s words.” Libel is often done by twisting the words said by another person. It is openly and intentionally lying about someone’s words or actions. We do this all the time when we exaggerate, misquote, and take words out of context. Pastors and teachers are often guilty of taking passages out of context.
And this was how Satan deceived Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve answered that God said yes, but added to God’s words, “Neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” Then Satan lied to Eve, “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:1-4). Both Eve and Satan twisted God’s Word. Remember also the two false witnesses against Jesus? One of them testified that Jesus said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days” (Matt 26:61). But Jesus did not say he is able to destroy the temple, because his actual words to the Jews were, “You destroy this temple … in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). And Jehovah’s Witnesses are also guilty of twisting God’s Word in adding the little article “a” in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God,” to prove their heresy.
The Ninth Commandment also prohibits backbiting or slandering. This has to do with preserving the good name or reputation of our neighbor by not gossiping. A righteous person “does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor” (Psa 15:3). Among those whom Paul condemns in Romans 1:28-30 are gossips and slanderers. Gossip destroys not only the good name of others, but good relationships as well. When we discuss the mistakes, faults, and bad behavior of another person, we might not be lying because they are true, but it degrades the person’s name. In one sense, gossiping is a form of idolatry because we know that people will pay attention to new and interesting stories.
The Bible knows this human nature very well, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov 18:8). Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the oldest child of President Theodore Roosevelt, once was famously quoted, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”
Another form of false witness is condemning others rashly without first hearing them. Jesus’ disciples were often guilty of this. When they saw a blind man from birth, they rashly judged him or his parents as sinners (John 9:2). Or when 18 people were killed when the tower of Siloam crashed on them, they asked if they were worse sinners than the rest of the people (Luke 13:4). Jesus answered them that these things happened so God’s glory will be revealed, and for people to repent of their sins.
We also often make rash judgments in regards to our family and friends. If we see or hear some things that we don’t like, we are quick to condemn, without hearing the other side. When a suspect is arrested, in our minds, he is already guilty based on newspaper, radio and TV reports. This is what’s called “trial by publicity.”
But this warning does not preclude churches judging false teachers. Most evangelicals wince in unease when we condemn false teachers, such as the typical prosperity gospel pastors and Oneness Pentecostals, and criticize megachurches that are nothing but entertainment and amusement centers. They say Jesus warned against judging (Matt 7:1). True, we are not to be harsh and rash in judging others, and our judgment should not be unfounded. But Jesus is not prohibiting the condemnation or criticism of false teachers. He himself not only criticized, but condemned and even pronounced woes on the scribes and Pharisees who were leading the people to hell (Matt 23:15). To expose heresies and false teachings, Paul named names: Hymenaeus, Alexander (1 Tim 1:20), and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17). John warned his readers of Diotrephes (3 John 9) and of the Nicolaitans ((Rev. 2:6; 15-16). Peter devoted a whole chapter condemning false teachers (2 Pet 2). In the same way, faithful pastors and teachers are duty-bound to expose false teachings and teachers to protect the church.
All of the above are the works of the devil, who Jesus said is the “father of lies.” But our God is the God of truth.
The God of Truth
In addition to being perfectly holy and righteous, God is perfectly truthful in his nature, so his Word is also perfectly truthful. “The sum of your word is truth … Your law is true” (Psa 119:160, 142). Paul says God never lies (Tit 1:2). He is called the “God of truth” (Isa 65:16), in complete opposition to Satan, the “father of lies.”
Because God is truth, he is trustworthy. He does not change (Numb 23:19; Jas 1:17). He never deals falsely with anyone (Psa 89:33). We can be sure he fulfills his covenant promises (Psa 89:28; 105:8; Isa 55:3). His teachings are always true (Psa 119:142). God always assures us that because his words are true, he will always do what he prophesies and promises, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isa 9:7; 37:32).
Since Jesus was sent by his Father in heaven, he is also the Truth. In his conversation with the Jews, Jesus told them that if they remain with him, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” from the guilt of sin and sinful living (John 8:32). He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” And not only the Father and the Son is Truth; the Spirit is also Truth. As Jesus assured his disciples that he will spend the Holy Spirit to them after he departs from them, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). It is the Spirit who opens our minds and hearts to the truth so we may live according to the truth of his Word.
And since God is truth, he requires his people to be truthful as well. We are sinners who believed because the Holy Spirit opened our hearts so that we “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in [Christ]” (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5). Thereafter, we are to “speak the truth in love” so we may mature in Christ (Eph 4:15). We are to “put away falsehood” and ”speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25).
Jesus himself prayed to his Father for his people, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). It is God’s will that his people will be sanctified by his true word. As we have believed, we are to live our lives according to the Bible, all of which is “the truth.” Even our worship should be according to God’s truth (John 4:24).
Since we are commanded to speak the truth and not falsehood, is there any room for so-called “white lies”? Theologians classify lies into three kinds: the malicious lie, the jocular lie, and the lie of necessity. 1 We have discussed malicious lies above, which are done with evil intent.
The jocular lie refers what we call “jokes,” statements and stories that are not true, but are told as if they are true, for the purpose of amusement and entertainment. “Just kidding!” Laughter from good humor and wit is part of human relationships, as long as they don’t hurt, offend, or slander anyone.
The lie of necessity is the most complicated of the three. We usually call these “white lies” or “pious lies.” We can think of a few Biblical examples. The Hebrew midwives, to save the Hebrew babies, told the Egyptians that Hebrew women gave birth so quickly that the babies were already born and hidden by their mothers before they came. This was lying, but the midwives were described as God-fearers and blessed with families by God (Exod 1:15-21). Rahab hid the Israeli spies and lied to the king of Jericho (Josh 2:4-6), but she was praised as a hero of the faith for doing so (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). Abraham, together with his wife Sarah, told Abimelech a half-truth that Sarah was his sister to save his own life, because Sarah indeed was his half-sister. But in so doing, Abraham endangered Abimelech if he had committed adultery with his wife.
The story is told when the Mennonite Hans Busscher was fleeing from his pursuers in a cart full of other people. When the passengers were asked by his enemies if Hans Busscher was in the cart, Busscher stood up and asked the others if Hans Busscher was sitting among them. Good thinking! But was he lying? 2
Some of our words in everyday life are unintentional lies, and we don’t even think about it. When someone greets us, “How are you doing?” we answer almost always, “I’m good!” Isn’t this a lie when at the same time, we are suffering from loneliness, stress, anger, or bitterness? But our answer is a matter of courtesy, a cultural norm.
Therefore, we can conclude from these that in dire and desperate situations, when they are a matter of life and death, lying, misleading or hiding the truth may be justifiable. 3 So if you knew where the family of Anne Frank were hiding, and the Nazis asked you where they were hiding, the “lesser of two evils” is to say that you don’t know.
In summary, you have a clear choice: to speak lies as Satan urges you, or to believe God and speak the truth of God. Who do you believe, Satan who is the “father of lies,” or the God of Truth?
Who Do You Believe and Why
Even with all the miracles and signs that Jesus performed before their eyes, the Jews did not believe in him. All his words of truth had no effect on them. But a few believed. What is the difference between those who believed and those who didn’t? When the gospel of truth is preached before an audience, there are those who respond in repentance and faith, but the rest do not. Do they have more knowledge, or are they better than the others?
Jesus answers these questions in our text. In fact, he explains to the Jews exactly the reason why in several ways. In verse 37, he says they seek to kill him “because my word finds no place in you.” They don’t believe his teachings, and worse, they hate his words. An unregenerate person is an enemy of God, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” His mind is “hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 5:10; 8:7).
In verse 43, Jesus asks them, “Why do you not understand what I say?” and answers his own question, “It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” Because they hated him, they could not stand his teachings. Not only that, they are unable to understand because God has not given them understanding. Remember what he said to his disciples as the reason why he used parables? He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Then he quoted Isaiah, saying, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” God will keep the hearts dull, the eyes blind, and the ears deaf of those whom he had not chosen (Matt 13:10-15).
In verses 45-46, Jesus says that they cannot stand to hear the truth, “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me … If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” Mankind is always opposed to the truth. Paul says that unbelievers, who are under Satan’s power, have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie … by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18, 25). We see these everywhere today. Most people hate the Bible, so when we speak the truths from it, the reaction is unbelief, ridicule, and hate. Talk to them about their sinfulness and their need for salvation through repentance and faith in Christ alone, they will even brush it off, “I don’t believe in your Bible, I am a good person so I don’t need a Savior, and I don’t believe in your kind of God.” All they want to hear is the twisted half-truth, half-lie that God is good, and God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives.
Then in verse 47, Jesus summarizes the condition of an unregenerate person: “The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The ones whose hearts hate him, who are deaf to his words, and blind to his truths are simply “not of God.” They don’t belong to God because they were not ordained by God for salvation. Luke tells us that when Paul preached to the Gentiles in Antioch in Pisidia, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). He did not say, “as many as believed were appointed to eternal life,” a lie popularly taught today. Paul summarizes the condition of an unregenerate person, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).
What happens to the one chosen by God from before the creation of the world? He believes because God opens his heart, as in the story of Lydia, a seller of purple goods in Philippi, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Did she open her own heart? No, the Lord did, because she was chosen to be saved before the creation of the world.
Jesus concludes this part of his conversation with the Jews by a positive saying in verse 47, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” The only ones who hear and accept the words of God are those who belong to God.
Beloved friends, the Ninth Commandment emphasizes the difference between speaking falsehood and speaking truth. Since you are children of God, you are to be truthful in all your ways, and in all your relationships with your family, friends, and especially with your brethren.
Because God has chosen you to be saved, you are able to understand and accept his words. You are able to be truthful because the Spirit is in you to guide you into all of God’s truths in the Bible. Rejoice that you are able to understand and speak the truth because God has chosen you!
But those who do not understand and accept the truth of the gospel of Christ, pray that God will give you understanding. Because, who knows, you might be one whom God has chosen to grant his mercy and grace. Persevere in this prayer because God is patient and kind, abounding in steadfast love.
- J. Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1996), transl. Nelson D. Kloosterman, 324-6. ⇧
- Douma, 328. ⇧
- John Calvin and Augustine differ. In his commentary on Joshua 2:4, Calvin wrote:
As to the falsehood, we must admit that though it was done for a good purpose, it was not free from fault. For those who hold what is called a dutiful lie to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God. Therefore, although our purpose, be to assist our brethren, to consult for their safety and relieve them, it never can be lawful to lie, because that cannot be right which is contrary to the nature of God. And God is truth. And still the act of Rahab is not devoid of the praise of virtue, although it was not spotlessly pure. For it often happens that while the saints study to hold the right path, they deviate into circuitous courses.
Rebecca (Gen 27:1-46) in procuring the blessing to her son Jacob, follows the prediction. In obedience of this description a pious and praiseworthy zeal is perceived. But it cannot be doubted that in substituting her son Jacob in the place of Esau, she deviated from the path of duty. The crafty proceeding, therefore, so far taints an act which was laudable in itself. And yet the particular fault does not wholly deprive the deed of the merit of holy zeal; for by the kindness of God the fault is suppressed and not taken into account. Rahab also does wrong when she falsely declares that the messengers were gone, and yet the principal action was agreeable to God, because the bad mixed up with the good was not imputed. On the whole, it was the will of God that the spies should be delivered, but he did not approve of saving their life by falsehood (emphasis added).
It seems that in the Rahab question, Calvin considers lying as the “lesser of two evils.” According to Douma (326), Augustine, as well, does not support lies of necessity:
[Augustine argues] God destroys everyone who speaks falsehood (Psa 5:6). No lie proceeds from the truth (1 John 2:11) … Is Augustine then telling us simply to tell the truth and lead the questioner to the fugitive we were protecting? No, we may not speak falsehood, but neither may be betray anyone. We avoid both by being silent or by declaring that we will not tell the questioner whether or where we are hiding a fugitive.
He appeals to a number of Bible verses that he considers to be absolutes. But he does not handle these verses the same way he handles others. For example, when Jesus says that we must not swear any oath at all (Matt 5:34), Augustine argues that there times when we must swear an oath. Sometimes we need not turn the left cheek when our right cheek is struck. For various examples or stories in the Bible show us, says Augustine, how we should interpret the words or verses.