Monday, November 24, 2014

Bearing False Witness

This is our last stop on our tour of the Old Testament in our series of fragments from my D.Min project showing how I arrived at my definition of gossip. We've been learning about phenomenon in the Old Testament we might call "gossip" even when a technical term is not used. Today's post is about the fourth of four important and related concepts, along with exposition of key texts.

Thou Shalt Not

4. Bearing False Witness. The ninth commandment is “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod 20:16, cf. Exod 23:1, Prov 3:30). We have seen that gossip often involves falsehood on some level (even when the facts being recounted are accurate). Reformed Christians have long understood the ninth commandment to prohibit gossip.49 It is fitting to end our study of the Old Testament50 by observing what question 144 of the Westminster Larger Catechism teaches about the obligations of the ninth commandment:

The duties required in the ninth commandment, are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.51

[49] Question 145 of the Westminster Larger Catechism says, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are . . . speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering.” Johannes Geerhardus Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, ed. G. I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 394.

[50] Much more could be said about gossip in the Old Testament, including a survey of stories of gossip in action in the Pentateuch, History Books, and Prophets. All of the principles we have learned so far are illustrated in the garden, the land of promise, the wilderness, the conquest, the kingdom, and the exile.

[51] Johannes Geerhardus Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, ed. G. I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), 394. I find this kind of ethical extrapolation from the 10 Commandments to be helpful for moral instruction even if I do not share all of the hermeneutical assumptions of covenant theologians.

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