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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

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 3:1

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. 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 try to innocently 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 in his words to Eve 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 tempt Eve to question God’s forthrightness 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 will soon conclude God’s

prohibition to be 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 that Eve might 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 being diligent in his new position, and of 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 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.

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