Prejudicing the Truth
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1NKJV
Today we begin to study Question 145 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?” The first part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature.” Question and answer 145 of the Larger Catechism is – by about a sentence or two – the longest section of the Catechism’s 196 questions. I believe one of the main reasons for this is because the sin of lying allows for such subtlety and nuance. Accordingly, the Westminster divines had to use more ink to address the myriad of ways humans can bear false witness.
The first sin listed is “all prejudicing the truth.” What does it mean to prejudice the truth? A good example is the Scripture quoted at the head of this article. Satan asked Eve what was supposed to sound to her like a legitimate question. Satan, as the serpent, gives the impression that as he was just innocently going about down by the old watering hole, minding his own business, he thought he heard the hippopotamus saying something to the ostrich about God, some fruit trees, and whatnot. And so being the completely upstanding serpent and all of that, he immediately came to Eve to simply try to learn what really was said so that he can go out and clear up any misconceptions among the creatures and be the great defender of truth and uprightness that he actually is and always wants to be!
What Satan does not reveal is that he knew full well exactly what God had said, and so his question is not innocent or legitimate at all, but is carefully framed to get Eve to transgress the commandment of God. As Jesus said of Satan some four thousand years later, “There is no truth in him,” (John 8:44). Satan did not ask this question out of sincere motives or in order to discover the truth, but to prejudice the truth. He deliberately spoke words designed to cause Eve to begin to question God’s veracity in issuing the prohibition against the single tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Did God really put you in this luxurious garden and not allow you to eat from any of the trees? Wow, how unfair of God to do such a thing! How cruel is that?” Eve corrects Satan’s “error” in her response, but the seed has already been planted. Eve has begun to see God’s prohibition as less than good. Satan has prejudiced the truth and God’s good name. His question suggests that the God of all grace is somewhat stingy with His possessions. He has borne false witness of God and Eve has begun to see God in this false light.
To prejudice the truth in public judicature is to do this same thing in the courtroom or some similar official setting. I remember a case before the church courts where a person was giving testimony to the effect that he had been unfairly treated by his supervisor. His statement was something like, “And when he spoke to me he used words like, ‘lazy,’ and ‘careless.’” Upon further investigation, we discovered that his boss had not called him “lazy,” or “careless,” as the testimony implied, but the supervisor had written to him about the importance of diligence in his new position and the Christian duty to guard against being “lazy” or “careless.” Though he had not technically lied, the employee purposely framed his words so as to create a negative impression of his supervisor, as being an unfair or insulting person. This impression was false and was brought about by prejudicing the truth of his words. We can also prejudice the truth by being silent or holding back information from a court that would make someone we like look bad, or someone we do not like look good. Whenever we do these kind of things, though we utter no false words, we show ourselves to be on the side of falsehood, and therefore against the God of Truth! May the Lord, who is the Truth, cause us to never seek to prejudice the truth.