Deuteronomy 5:1–31; Matthew 26:57–62; Acts 6:8–15 (read online ⧉)
Perjury is a crime. Knowingly providing false witness under oath is a criminal offense, as it should be. Knowing our system, however, perhaps the penalty is not severe enough. People speak “white lies” thinking they are doing the right thing (again, in a court case). People speak blatant falsehoods to change the results.
Depending on the falsehood can result in a guilty man being freed and an innocent man being sent to death. One of the other oldest legal codes—Hammurabi’s Code—sets the penalty for such perjury as death.
There is no question that bearing false witness was a sin according to God. Yet, in the 2 instances that we read today—Jesus and Stephen—that “minor” sin, that could easily be blotted out with a “minor” sacrifice, resulted in the death of innocent men.
Matthew and Luke (the author of Acts) make it a point to state that the witnesses are knowingly bearing false witness. Was this an incidental miscarriage of justice, or was this a systemic one? While we really can draw too firm a conclusion, this is an indication that justice and truth were often not met.
We often wonder why we have so many laws, and then we read stories like this (and these are not that unique in human history). There were the false witnesses. Those who either paid or otherwise recruited the false witnesses. There were those who were the “lawyers”. Then there were those who were the leaders of this travesty.
All were party to it. All had culpability in it. By the letter of “the Law”, only those who were “actual” witnesses would be “guilty”. This would also assume that those who knew they were guilty actually did something about it. Of course, they didn’t for they achieved their goals.
We all struggle with those who lie. It is that which empowers the lies that is the greater issue. With no culture of lying, lying becomes rare. A culture that disgraces the truth encourages lying. A power structure that encourages lying creates a culture that sends innocent people to death or punishment.
This is also a culture that ceases to honor God. Instead, it uses God to strengthen the perception of itself, so that no one will struggle or oppose it. God becomes a word—a tool—and the relationship that the word is supposed to represent dies.
Holy Spirit, as we walk through this life, counsel our hearts and tongues to speak truth and to be truth-seekers. Guide our hearts and minds to bring the light of Jesus’ Truth into our lives and the lives of others. May all that we do bring honor and glory to you, oh, God. Amen.
1) Why is it important to talk about more than just the lier? How does its relative importance to the commandment of false witness mean for you?
2) What do you think other tribunals in front of these people were like for day-to-day things?
3) How can and will you encourage a culture of truth?
Ian is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, and is currently Co-Lead Pastor at Enumclaw Nazarene Church in Enumclaw, WA, USA.
He has previously served as Online Campus Pastor at Generations Community Church in Marysville, WA, USA; Associate Pastor at Snohomish Church of the Nazarene; College and Young Adult Pastor at Moscow Church of the Nazarene in Moscow, ID, USA.
Ian also writes at Starlyth.info (personal) and Nazarene.Digital (On Digital Transformation of the Church)