They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show its interpretation.” The king answered and said, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm—if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.” Dan. 2:7–9
Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find? Prov. 2:6
Misinformation has been a hot topic in recent weeks. Waves of uncertainty, alarm, loss, and lunacy continue to heave and roll through society, surfacing in an array of bizarre assertions and conspiracy theories. Not that any of this is new! Years of hyperpolarized issues, fake news, and fact-checking have given “misinformation” a shot at being the watchword of the decade. Yet COVID-19 has spotlighted the topic in a whole new way, upping the ante from matters of office and influence to those of life and death. Surprisingly, these high stakes may do us some real good. If we notice that careless comments bear fatal fruit, we may be motivated to call “misinformation” what we should have called it all along: “false witness.”
Defining “False Witness”
Is it too much to categorize all misinformation as sin? The Bible doesn’t think so. Contrary to our own notions, Scripture defines false witness as the testimony of false information, regardless of the intent of the speaker. We often associate sin with willful acts committed with malicious intent. However, the biblical definition exceeds questions of motive, encompassing any act that falls short of what is rightly due to God. This fact is brought before us in the sin offering and the trespass offering, which are detailed in Leviticus 4–7. It is evident throughout this passage that these sacrifices were provided for sins that were committed in ignorance and weakness (Lev. 4:2–3; 6:1–6). The precept is demonstrated with even greater force at the cross, where Christ offered Himself up as the perfect sacrifice for sin:
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34a
So the definition of sin is not a question of motive but one of action. Sins of intent are unquestionably more serious than sins of ignorance—the former being designated in the Scriptures as evil, wickedness, and foolishness—but sin is sin, regardless of the reason. How fortunate to have the salvation provided for us by a flawless Savior!
The Accepted Sin
All that aside, the sad fact is that many of our sins are committed intentionally, including those times when we choose to pass off false information as though it is verified fact. In fact, within the church, the sin of false witness is so common and accepted that the Sunday School Gossip and the Devout Conspiracy Theorist are stereotypes that are easily recognizable and all too relatable in our day. But why is the juicy stuff so addictive? If Christians are disciples of “the faithful and true witness” (Rev. 3:14), if they know “the truth” (Jn. 8:31–32; 14:6), and can “walk in the light” (Eph. 5:8; 1 Jn. 1:7), how do they so easily find themselves listening to empty lies and peddling them on to others? Over the next three posts, we will explore the motives and the means that make being a false witness so tempting; as well as the power that God has provided for us to live lives of honor and honesty in this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).
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