The 9th Commandment

The Ninth Commandment

This page may be considered an extension to the overall forum and blog rules for the PuritanBoard.  It may appear unnecessary to spell out proper Chirstian conduct in an online forum as the forum rules already outline generally exhibiting a charitable and Christ like attitude online.  Yet, prudence has demonstrated that many do not appreciate the full import of the 9th Commandment as it governs our interpersonal attitudes and communications toward our fellow man.  The internet is especially prone to the most rank violations of this Commandment and, while men love to revel in satire or misrepresent for tactical purposes in winning a debate, the Commandment is trampled wantonly underfoot.  The standards are higher here and will be upheld by the moderators.  The following guidelines apply:

What Does God Positively Require of us in our Conduct Toward our Neighbors?

Consider what the Westminster Catechism teaches concerning the Ninth Commandment:

Q143: Which is the ninth commandment?
A143: The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.[1]
1. Exod. 20:16

Q144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A144: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man,[1] and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own;[2] appearing and standing for the truth;[3] and from the heart,[4] sincerely,[5] freely,[6] clearly,[7] and fully,[8] speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice,[9] and in all other things whatsoever;[10] a charitable esteem of our neighbors;[11] loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name;[12] sorrowing for,[13] and covering of their infirmities;[14] freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces,[15] defending their innocence;[16] a ready receiving of a good report,[17] and unwillingness to admit of an evil report,[18] concerning them; discouraging talebearers,[19] flatterers,[20] and slanderers;[21] love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth;[22] keeping of lawful promises;[23] studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.[24]
(1. Zech. 8:16 2. III John 1:12 3. Prov. 31:8-9 4. Psa. 15:2 5. II Chr. 19:9 6. I Sam. 19:4-5 7. Josh. 7:19 8. II Sam. 14:18-20 9. Lev. 19:15; Prov. 14:5, 25 10. II Cor. 1:17-18; Eph. 4:25 11. Heb. 6:9; I Cor. 13:7 12. Rom. 1:8; II John 1:4; III John 1:3-4 13. II Cor. 2:4; 12:21 14. Prov. 17:9; I Peter 4:8 15. I Cor. 1:4-5, 7; II Tim. 1:4-5 16. I Sam. 22:14 17. I Cor. 13:6-7 18. Psa. 15:3 19. Prov. 25:23 20. Prov. 26:24-25 21. Psa. 101:5 22. Prov. 22:1; John 8:49 23. Psa. 15:4 24. Phil. 4:8);

The framers of the WCF wisely noted something about the commandments that many men do not oft consider these days:  even as God forbids us from sinning by bearing false witness, the exact opposite is required. That is, we are required to uphold the truth and others' good name. All conversations, regardless of media, (oral or written) ought to be carried out in a truthful manner, preserving the truth and the good name of all parties.  All our communications must be “from the heart”—that is, free from deceit, hypocrisy, or ulterior motive, in keeping with Psalm 15:2 “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend”. Therefore, our words must be sincere, spoken freely, and with clarity (without insinuation, confusion, and devoid of a manner, or intonation that hides or blurs the truth).

Remember, as well, the Biblical principle that a witness or testimony is only taken as true on the basis of at least two witnesses: meaning, it must be two who can testify with the same clarity as to the actuality of the matter. This principle is not only for “legal or court testimony” but also “in all other things whatsoever”. The Divines continue by stating: “a charitable esteem of our neighbors”; showing that the Scriptures require the disposition of the mind must be first and foremost “charitable”.  We must always put forward a posture of love to our neighbors, to desire a good name for them, and to rejoice in that good name. However, this is not enough, as the WCF notes, for the Scriptures require of us a: “sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities”; This requirement is difficult, but it is founded upon the lawful principle of love for our neighbor and concern for his good name. Rather than exposing his infirmities through sinful speech to others, or criticizing him and defaming his good name, either publicly or privately, our love must cover his infirmities. While it is our duty to humbly and privately reprove and warn him of his sin and help him to seek repentance, we must use great care when speaking to others to protect their reputation.  We are required to defend them when they are falsely accused. Defending those who are innocent is our duty at all times; however, the inference here is greater because even when we know their infirmities and shortcomings we are to remain constant in their defense, and avoid communicating their faults to others!  Many times it is easier to receive an evil report of them than a good report, and then compound that sin by repeating the evil to someone else. This is exactly why we must be unwilling to receive an evil report.

It is our duty to discourage any conversation and/or attitude we might see in others, or ourselves, which does not edify the body of Christ as the Spirit of God, through the Apostle Paul required in: Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

When wrongfully accused we do have the right to defend ourselves. However, it is not a requirement, especially when a previous covenant has been made between individuals which would keep us from defending ourselves. We are required to keep our covenant promises and not break them, even if it causes us hurt and gives us grief.

In conclusion, consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” Our life’s example will demonstrate that what we meditate on will be witnessed by what we practice in our daily lives.

What Does God Forbid?

Having first addressed the positive statement of the Ninth Commandment’s requirement, let us continue by asking what is forbidden.

LC Q 145: What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A145: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own,[1] especially in public judicature;[2] giving false evidence,[3] suborning false witnesses,[4] wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth;[5] passing unjust sentence,[6] calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked;[7] forgery,[8] concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause,[9] and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves,[10] or complaint to others;[11] speaking the truth unseasonably,[12] or maliciously to a wrong end,[13] or perverting it to a wrong meaning,[14] or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice;[15] speaking untruth,[16] lying,[17] slandering,[18] backbiting,[19] detracting,[20] tale bearing,[21] whispering,[22] scoffing,[23] reviling,[24] rash,[25] harsh,[26] and partial censuring;[27] misconstructing intentions, words, and actions;[28] flattering,[29] vainglorious boasting,[30] thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others;[31] denying the gifts and graces of God;[32] aggravating smaller faults;[33] hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession;[34] unnecessary discovering of infirmities;[35] raising false rumors,[36] receiving and countenancing evil reports,[37] and stopping our ears against just defense;[38] evil suspicion;[39] envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any,[40] endeavoring or desiring to impair it,[41] rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy;[42] scornful contempt,[43] fond admiration;[44] breach of lawful promises;[45] neglecting such things as are of good report,[46] and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering: What we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.[47]

(1. I Sam. 17:28; II Sam. 1:9-10, 15-16; 16:3 2. Lev. 19:15; Hab. 1:4 3. Prov. 6:16, 19; 19:5 4. Acts 6:13 5. Jer. 9:3, 5; Acts 24:2, 5; Psa. 3:1-4; 12:3-4 6. Prov. 17:15; I Kings 21:9-14 7. Isa. 5:23 8. Psa. 119:69; Luke 16:5-7; 19:8 9. Lev. 5:1; Acts 5:3, 8-9; II Tim. 4:6 10. I Kings 1:6; Lev. 19:17 11. Isa. 59:4 12. Prov. 29:11 13. I Sam. 22:9-10; Psa. 52:1 14. Psa. 56:5; John 2:19; Matt. 26:60-61 15. Gen. 3:5, 26:7, 9 16. Isa. 59:13 17. Lev. 19:11; Col. 3:9 18. Psa. 1:20 19. Psa. 15:3 20. James 4:11; Jer. 38:4 21. Lev. 19:16 22. Rom. 1:29-30 23. Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29 24. I Cor. 6:10 25. Mattt. 7:1 26. Acts 28:4 27. Gen. 38:24; Rom. 2:1 28. Neh. 6:6-8; Rom. 3:8; Psa. 69:10; I Sam. 1:13-15; II Sam. 10:3 29. Psa. 12:2-3 30. II Tim. 3: 31. Luke 18:9, 11; Rom. 12:16; I Cor. 4:6; Acts 12:22; Exod. 4:10-14 32. Job 4:6, 27:5-6 33. Matt. 7:3-5 34. Prov. 28:13; 30:20; Gen. 3:12-13; 4:9; Jer. 2:35; II Kings 5:25 35. Gen. 9:22; Prov. 25:9-10 36. Exod. 23:1 37. Prov. 29:12 38. Acts 7:56-57; Job 31:13-14 39. I Cor. 13:5; I Tim. 6:4 40. Num. 11:29; Matt. 21:15 41. Ezra 4:12-13 42. Jer. 48:27 43. Psa. 35:15-16, 21; Matt. 27:28-29 44. Jude 1:16; Acts 12:22 45. Rom. 1:31; II Tim. 3:3 46. I Sam. 2:24 47. II Sam. 13:12-13; Prov. 5:8-9; 6:33).

We begin with the basic principle that we ought to protect our neighbor’s good name. In applying this principle, we must not prejudice the minds of our brethren against others in such a way that would lead to the defamation of our neighbor’s good name. Consequently, we must not disclose anything to others who have no reasonable interest in a matter of sin, or of supposed sin, thus clouding objectivity and leading to the surmising of evil. Further, a Christian must never have a haughty or high minded attitude when others’ names are being defamed, and ought never to derive secret satisfaction from an evil report concerning his neighbor. It should also be noted that Christians are forbidden to conceal the truth, to keep silent, or to withhold Biblical correction, according to place and station, if they witness their neighbor’s good name being unjustly defamed. We are also forbidden to make complaints to others who are not a party to the issue. Christians are not permitted to speak the truth inappropriately, or to speak the truth maliciously to a wrong end, perverting the matter to a wrong meaning. We are also forbidden to speak or write in a way that brings in doubtful and equivocal expressions which prejudices the truth and justice or would cause others to be swayed to such a prejudicial view. This type of speech would include sinful hyperbole and ridicule.

We are forbidden to speak untruthfully, because this is tantamount to lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, or harsh. The Scriptures define as sinful any unjust censuring or condemning of an individual wherein he might be deprived of his good name and reputation, unless the accused is permitted proper means and due process to ensure a right and proper defense. Also we are to be careful not to misrepresent our intentions, words, and actions to the detriment of our neighbor by the use of flattering, vainglorious boasting, consequently then, thinking or speaking too highly or too shamefully of ourselves or others. We must also be careful that we do not become involved in exaggerating smaller faults, and then hiding, excusing, or justifying such sins. When appealing for a confession, we are not to reveal further infirmities as a means for inflicting additional injury on our neighbor. We are not to be engaged in raising false rumors, receiving and approving sinful reports, or refusing to listen to a just defense in the proper venue as ascribed by God’s Word. Christians must avoid raising suspicions about their neighbor. They must not be found rejoicing in the disgrace and ill repute that has been brought to bear on those who have been the object of said sins by those seeking to injure their good name and reputation.

Therefore, a Christian is always required to follow the proper God-ordained method of dealing with such issues, and those in authority are duty bound to insure that all procedure be conducted according to the Scriptures. To allow such a sin to continue would be a sin for us. God has set up appropriate means within the church or civil government where these matters should be handled with proper procedures that are not open for sinful, public interactions, where the use of false and/or misleading language could lead to a perverting of the truth or use words that promote misunderstanding, thus leaving people with the impression that there has been sin committed when there is no true evidence of such.

The Ninth Commandment broken in the Heart, Gesture, Right, and Word (by James Durham)

The following is excerpted from James Durham's Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments (Naphtali Press, 2003) page 388.  In is one of the shorter lectures but very searching.

That we may sum up this command (which is broad) into some few particulars, we may consider it: 1. First, as it is broken, (1) In the heart. (2)
In the gesture. (3) In right. (4) In word.

(1) First, in heart a man may fail,

[1] By suspecting others unjustly; this is called evil surmising (1 Tim. 6:4), or as it is in the original, evil suspicion; which is when men are suspected of some evil without ground, as Potiphar suspected Joseph, or it is jealousy, when this suspicion is mixed with fear of prejudice to some interest we love, so Herod was jealous when Christ was born, and the neighboring kings when Jerusalem was abuilding. There is, I grant, a right suspicion, such as Solomon had of Adonijah, and wherein Gedaliah failed in not crediting Johannan’s information about Ishmael’s conspiracy against his life.

[2] By rash judging and unjust concluding concerning a man’s state, as Job’s friends did; or his actions, as Eli did of Hannah, saying that she was drunk, because of the moving of her lips; or his end, as the Corinthians did of Paul, when he took wages, they said it was covetousness, and when he took it not, they said it was want of love (see Rom. 14:4 and 2 Cor. 12:4, etc).

[3] By hasty judging, too soon passing sentence in our mind from some seeming evidence of that which is only in the heart, and not in the outward practice, this is but to judge before the time, and hastily (Matt. 7:1).

[4] There is light judging, laying the weight of conclusions upon arguments or midses [means] that will not bear it, as Job’s friends did, and as the Barbarians suspected Paul to be a murderer, when they saw the viper on his hand (Acts 25:4). Thus the King Ahaseurus trusted Haman’s calumny of the Jews too soon.

[5] The breach of this command in the heart may be when suspicion of our neighbor’s failing is kept up, and means not used to be satisfied about it, contrary to that, Matt. 18:15, If thy brother offend thee, etc; and when we seek not to be satisfied, but rest on presumptions, when they seem probable.

(2) Secondly, in gesture this command may be broken, by nodding, winking, or such like (and even sometimes by silence) when these import in our accustomed way some tacit sinister insinuation, especially when either they are purposed for that end, or when others are known to mistake because of them, and we suffer them to continue under this mistake.

(3) Thirdly, by writing this command may be broken (as Ezra 5:6; Neh. 6:5), where calumniating libels are written, and sent by their enemies against the Jews and Nehemiah; in which respect many fail in these days.

(4) Fourthly, but words are most properly the seat wherein this sin is subjected, whether they be only or merely words, or also put in writing, because in these our conformity or disconformity to truth does most appear.


Please enjoy the Puritanboard and engage in rigorous debate within.  We enjoin you, however, to honor God in the way you do so by obeying what He has to say with respect to the way we not only refrain from slandering our neighbor but also in the way we work to uphold his good name.  Refrain from posting or spreading articles from other web-log sites in which the authors’ or contributors’ manifest a hatred of others through slander and gossip, even upon the pretence of humility, excusing their actions with feigned concern for their reclamation, do sin against them and against God. Further, the Ninth Commandment permits those who have been injured publicly by slander and gossip, by the unrighteous actions of those who seek to defame their good name, to publicly defend their cause for establishing the truth. For this reason such actions are considered just and good according to the Law of God.

In the Grace of Christ,

Puritan Board Moderators & Admins