To Tell the Truth

If you are of a certain age, you may remember the television game show, “To Tell the Truth.” Three challengers would be asked to introduce themselves—they would all say, “My name is X.” Two were lying. Celebrity panelists tried to guess who was telling the truth. When the time for questions was over, the announcer would say, “Would the real X please stand up?”

The lies were all in fun, of course. And we laughed without giving it any thought.

But in reality, lying is not a laughing matter. One of the commandments is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

Does this mean only that we are to tell the truth in court? Not at all. Christian commentators through the centuries have seen the commandment as having a very broad scope. Here’s how Ellen White explains it (PP 309):

False speaking in any matter, every attempt or purpose to deceive our neighbor, is here included. An intention to deceive is what constitutes falsehood. By a glance of the eye, a motion of the hand, an expression of the countenance, a falsehood may be told as effectually as by words. All intentional overstatement, every hint or insinuation calculated to convey an erroneous or exaggerated impression, even the statement of facts in such a manner as to mislead, is falsehood. This precept forbids every effort to injure our neighbor’s reputation by misrepresentation or evil surmising, by slander or tale bearing. Even the intentional suppression of truth, by which injury may result to others, is a violation of the ninth commandment.

Her thoughts are in keeping with those of Martin Luther, who said in his “Small Catechism” (Kolb/Wengert translation of The Book of Concord):

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Some debates on different webpages sparked it, I think, along with some anonymous (of course) attack letters that were circulating around my conference prior to the most recent constituency meeting. In the latter case, the attackers claimed high and holy and pure motives; they justified their anonymity by further attacks on the character and integrity of those they sought to bring down. When some personnel changes were made, they gloated, claiming their anonymous attacks had been vindicated.

And what about when we speak of other Christians? Some folks continue to say that the pope’s tiara has “Vicarius Filii Dei” written on it, and that the pope has claimed to be “Lord God the Pope,” even though these were proven false back in W. W. Prescott’s day. And we slide over differences between Christian groups, lumping them all together as “Sunday-keepers” (even if, like the Lutherans, they don’t actually “keep” Sunday as if it were the Sabbath).

We tell untruths about ourselves, as well. Some evangelists still advertise their programs without mentioning that they are Seventh-day Adventists; they say their meetings will be held at a “Prophecy Center” or “Church Auditorium.” Some even claim not to be Adventists when pressed. (

All such misrepresentation of ourselves and others can only hurt our own reputation as Christians who claim to honor all ten of God’s commandments. I’m not asking for much: Let us just speak about others in a way they acknowledge is truthful. Let us speak honestly about ourselves, and not try to hide. “Let us walk honestly, as in the day” (Romans 13:13). Let us love the truth, and live the truth, and tell the truth.