I love every bit of the Heidelberg Catechism, mostly for its Christ-centered comfort. But when read carefully, the Catechism is also tremendously challenging.

No more so than in its explanation of the ninth commandment. We may think of if as a prohibition against lying, but the Catechism rightly sees it as much more. In fact, when I read Q/A 112 of the Heidelberg Catechism I count nine things we are to do in obedience to the ninth commandment.

1. God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone.

2. I twist no one’s words.

3. I do not gossip or slander.

4. I do not join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.

5. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.

6. I should love the truth.

7. I should speak the truth candidly.

8. I should openly acknowledge the truth.

9. I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

Yikes. Count me convicted. Am I really like the devil when I reinterpret every story to benefit me and purposefully reconstruct the facts of every narrative to make my point? How easy it is to assume the worst about those I don’t like or don’t know, especially people who seem bigger than me (athletes, politicians, celebrities), unlike me (different faith, different color, different politics), or far from me (in physical or relational distance). How challenging it can be in pressure-packed moments to speak the truth candidly and openly acknowledge it. How unpopular and difficult it is to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

In our digital age of pervasive punditry, instant analysis, and perpetual outrage, surely the breach of the ninth commandment is one of our besetting sins.

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27 thoughts on “The Ninth Commandment is About Much More than Lying”

  1. Andy says:

    “Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.”

    We often wish to act as prosecutor in God’s court. I think you have to ask yourself if that is what we are doing now and again.

  2. Jacob Goff says:

    If you were *really* convicted, you might mention our only hope… Christ!

  3. Words fitly crafted. Thanks for the, ouch, reminder.

  4. Great thoughts Kevin. Sadly it is so easy to take God’s Word lightly when it should run deep in our hearts.

  5. Matt says:

    Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll? (0_0)

  6. Mark VanDyke says:

    Sadly, this is one of my most-referenced sections of the catechism. The final part about guarding and advancing my neighbor’s good name is particularly difficult as people will believe all sorts of lies about their neighbor out of jealousy, self-righteousness, or downright hatred.

  7. Martin says:

    One of the most subtle ways of ‘bearing false witness’ is speaking ‘partial truth’. In other words, being selective in what you speak about another.

    This is played out every election season when special interest voter guides are distributed highlighting issues and voting records that condemn a particular candidate. They reflect only partial truth and are, therefore, slanderous. They are driven by an agenda that only uses facts that serve them best. When most Christian-generated voter guides are distributed, I want to vomit. As a Christian, I expect my brothers and sisters to be committed to disclosing all truth, not just agenda-driven truths. If you don’t believe me, watch what happens next election season.

  8. Shayne McAllister says:

    An interesting side note: is it always wrong to lie? What if the Nazis are asking if you have any Jews in your house, which you do? Is deception always wrong? Why would soldiers paint their tanks with camouflage? Doug Wilson has a really interesting sermon where he goes into what the 9th commandment means. We are not to bear false witness against our neighbor. We are to be at peace with our neighbor and to lie would be to go to war with him. But if we are in a state of war, it is perfectly acceptable to lie, and indeed encouraged. He uses the illustration of a woman running screaming past you and a minute later a man with a butcher knife runs up to you and asks “which way did she go?” You should lie and point the other direction.

  9. anaquaduck says:

    The catechism has a way of expounding a depth of teaching that has really helped & challenged me as a Christian. Its a great place to get a grasp of much of Scripture in summary. Building on the Rock & small beginings. appreciate what Shayne McAllister shares also.

  10. a. says:

    ” 1. God’s will ”

    the Lord states it even stronger….

    There are 6 things which the Lord HATES, yes, 7 which are an ABOMINATION to Him:
    haughty eyes,
    a lying tongue,
    hands that shed innocent blood,
    a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that run rapidly to evil,
    a false witness who utters lies,
    and one who spreads strife among brothers.
    Proverbs 6:16-19

  11. Eric F says:

    You do realize that the above is a law. In fact, it is an extrapolation from law demonstrating it’s far reaching applications. It holds condemnation for all who try to live by it. Is that the point of this article?

  12. Martin says:


    Your question is answered by the story of Rahab in Joshua 2 and the mention of her righteous action in James 2:25.

    But, more importantly it is answered by common sense … what you know is ‘right’ in your gut. We do not always need a Scriptural verse to tell us what is right and wrong – that is the danger for those hold the Bible to be inerrant. The correct response is right before us staring us in the face.

    I once heard a well-known preacher say that it was wrong for the Dutch (I believe) to lie to the Nazis during WW II as to the whereabouts of the Jews they were hiding. He went on to say that God blessed them anyway. If this isn’t false teaching wrapped in legalistic, strait jacket thinking, then I don’t know what is.

  13. a. says:

    Eric F. not sure what you are saying but maybe you’d like to join the discussion of a John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation book every Thursday at Next week is the continuing of great insight into the Lord’s word/heart from Owen including from Chapter 2 ….

    “Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work. (sin purification) And the apostle tells you what was his practice: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27). “I do it,” says he, “daily; it is the work of my life: I omit it not; this is my business.” And if this were the work and business of Paul, who was so incomparably exalted in grace, revelations, enjoyments,privileges, consolations, above the ordinary measure of believers, where may we possibly bottom an exemption from this work and duty while we are in this world? “

    “the most foolish thing in the world: to bind him who fights for our eternal condition and to let him alone who seeks and violently attempts our everlasting ruin. The contest is for our lives and souls. Not to be daily employing the Spirit and new nature for the mortifying of sin is to neglect that excellent succor which God has given us against our greatest enemy. If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. His graces, as well as his gifts, are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and trade with. Not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has furnished us with a principle of doing it.”

    what a prayer to the Lord hat unprofitable, worthless, foolish controversies, strifes, disputes about the’ law’ now cease, and with clarity together, we pursue the royal law of liberty of the Spirit and more and more fully glory His holy Name.

  14. Eric F says:

    I appreciate your response. I think you did indeed understand what I said. I said that the above is a law. I was then asking the question of why we are left at the end of the article with a law and nothing more. It is by the promise of God that we believe and by faith he will manifest his good works in us. So by faith can and will fulfill this law because God has promised that we will. So I stand strongly with Owen on this matter, that we should be practicing and doing righteousness. It is an important thing though that one should not approach a law with their own effort. But rather they should approach it with prayer and faith and then walking they will walk by it without falling.

  15. a. says:

    and I appreciate your response Eric F

    believe, faith, prayer, promise, practice, walk… and you didn’t mention studying, knowing, understanding the word – VITAL

    also you say ‘walk without falling’ and how good to know we will fail and we will get up; no condemnation

    so His word is what this post provides – the very thing the Spirit uses; and it is only by the Spirit that even these things mentioned in the post can happen :count me convicted ;challenged ;speak the truth candidly; openly acknowledge it

    about your concern too -maybe every Christian post ought end …”remember… GRACE – His power – for apart from Him, we can do nothing” ;again how ’bout join in next Thursday at and hide some of His word in your heart together with some others.

  16. Alan says:

    The Bible is very clear that all lying is sin. We always bring up the Nazi/Jew question as a defense of the “moral lie.” But it just doesn’t fly. The reason people in Nazi-controlled areas were put in a situation where they felt compelled to lie is because when the Nazis were coming to power, they did nothing. The sin of allowing evil is not undone by the sin of lying. Interestingly enough, there is Biblical permission to physically defend the weak by using force, but never does the Bible permit lying. Of course, the result of standing up to the Nazis would probably be death or a trip to the concentration camps. This question of “do we lie to the Nazis or capitulate?” is really a red herring. Neither is an acceptable answer.

  17. Shayne McAllister says:


    Does the Bible condemn all forms of deception?

  18. Martin says:

    Alan, regarding the Nazi question; standing up to the Nazis meant that you would hide those who would be put into concentration camps. If you did not lie and turned over those who were being persecuted, you would indeed be acquiescing to evil in order to save your own life. Not only is that cowardly, but it is failure to protect the oppressed.

    Read James 2:25 and you will find that Rahab was proclaimed as “justified” by her “lie”. And I hardly think Rahab was in any position to use force. You fail to hear the overarching message in Scripture to stand in the breach when it comes to the powerless … i.e. Jews in Nazi Germany. Go ahead and call it lying, but it was the right thing to do. Hence, the Bible does not forbid all lying – or else James was wrong. However, this is an extreme case.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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