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M3. Telling the Truth.    [Make a Comment]

We are to tell the truth and not lie.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 20:13(16) (Maimonides RN285; Meir MN39; Chinuch C37)
Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false evidence against your neighbor.

Leviticus 5:1 (Maimonides RP178; C122)
If a person who is a witness, sworn to testify, sins by refusing to tell what he has seen or heard about the matter, he must bear the consequences.

Leviticus 5:21-24(6:2-5) (Maimonides RN249; Chinuch C226)
If someone sins and acts perversely against ADONAI by dealing falsely with his neighbor in regard to a deposit or security entrusted to him, by stealing from him, by extorting him, or by dealing falsely in regard to a lost object he has found, or by swearing to a lie - if a person commits any of these sins, then, if he sinned and is guilty, he is to restore whatever it was he stole or obtained by extortion, or whatever was deposited with him, or the lost object which he found, or anything about which he has sworn falsely. He is to restore it in full plus an additional one-fifth; he must return it to the person who owns it, on the day when he presents his guilt offering.

Leviticus 19:11-12 (Maimonides RN249; Meir MN30; Chinuch C226)
Do not steal from, defraud or lie to each other. Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God

Leviticus 19:14 (Maimonides RN299; Meir MN76; Chinuch C232)
Do not speak a curse against a deaf person or place an obstacle in the way of a blind person; rather, fear your God; I am ADONAI.

Leviticus 19:35-36 (Maimonides RN271; Meir MN83; Chinuch C258)
Don't be dishonest when measuring length, weight or capacity. Rather, use an honest balance-scale, honest weights, an honest bushel dry-measure and an honest gallon liquid-measure; I am ADONAI

Deuteronomy 5:17 (Maimonides RN285; Chinuch C37)
Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false evidence against your neighbor.

Deuteronomy 18:20 (Maimonides RN27; Meir MN175; Chinuch C517)
But if a prophet presumptuously speaks a word in my name which I didn't order him to say, or if he speaks in the name of other gods, then that prophet must die

Deuteronomy 19:14 (Maimonides RN246; Meir MN85; Chinuch C522)
You are not to move your neighbor's boundary marker from the place where people put it long ago, in the inheritance soon to be yours in the land ADONAI your God is giving you to possess.

Deuteronomy 19:18-19 (Maimonides RP180, RN285; Chinuch C37, C524)
The judges are to investigate carefully. If they find that the witness is lying and has given false testimony against his brother, you are to do to him what he intended to do to his brother. In this way, you will put an end to such wickedness among you.

Deuteronomy 25:13-16 (Maimonides RN272; Meir MN84; Chinuch C602)
You are not to have in your pack two sets of weights, one heavy, the other light. You are not to have in your house two sets of measures, one big, the other small. You are to have a correct and fair weight, and you are to have a correct and fair measure, so that you will prolong your days in the land ADONAI your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who deal dishonestly, are destestable to ADONAI your God.

Proverbs 6:16-19
There are six things ADONAI hates, seven which he detests: a haughty look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet swift in running to do evil, a false witness who lies with every breath, and him who sows strife among brothers.

Proverbs 12:22
Lying lips are an abomination to ADONAI, but those who deal faithfully are his delight.

Proverbs 13:5
A righteous person hates lying, but the wicked is vile and disgraceful.

Colossians 3:9-10
Never lie to one another; because you have stripped away the old self, with its ways, and have put on the new self, which is continually being renewed in fuller and fuller knowledge, closer and closer to the image of its Creator.

Supportive Scriptures

Proverbs 14:5
An honest witness will not lie, but a false witness lies with every breath.

Proverbs 14:25
A truthful witness saves lives, but a liar misdirects.

Proverbs 19:9
A false witness will not go unpunished; whoever breathes out lies will perish (also, Proverbs 19:5)

Matthew 15:19-20
For out of the heart come forth wicked thoughts, murder, adultery and other kinds of sexual immorality, theft, lies, slanders ... These are what really make a person unclean, but eating without doing n'tilat-yadayim does not make a person unclean.

Ephesians 4:25
Therefore, stripping off falsehood, let everyone speak truth with his neighbor, because we are intimately related to each other as parts of a body.

Revelation 21:8
But as for the cowardly, the untrustworthy, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those involved with the occult and with drugs, idol-worshippers, and all liars - their destiny is the lake burning with fire and sulfur, the second death.


It is clear from the foregoing Scriptures (and others not cited) that truth-telling is a commanded virtue, and that the opposite of truth-telling (lying) is a sin. We know that truth-telling is a godly attribute because in Numbers 23:19, when under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Balaam said to Balak:

God is not a human who lies or a mortal who changes his mind. When he says something, he will do it; when he makes a promise, he will fulfill it.

In complete contrast to God who does not lie, John 8:44 quotes Yeshua (scolding a group of Judeans out to kill Him) as saying that Satan is the original liar; we read:

You belong to your father, Satan, and you want to carry out your father's desires. From the start he was a murderer, and he has never stood by the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is speaking in character; because he is a liar - indeed, the inventor of the lie!

This appears to be a reference to Genesis 3:2-4 where Satan (in the form of a serpent) lies to Eve about eating from the tree "in the middle of the garden" and says to her:

It is not true that you will surely die ...

In my stating categorically that lying is a sin, I believe I should address the often-debated Scripture passages in which Abraham and Isaac were less than candid in admitting that Sarah and Rebecca respectively were their wives; they are:

Genesis 20:2
Avraham was saying of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister"; so Avimelekh king of G'rar sent and took Sarah.


Genesis 26:7
The men of the place asked him about his wife, and out of fear he said, "She is my sister." He thought, "If I tell them she's my wife, they might kill me in order to take Rivkah. After all, she is a beautiful woman."

Apologists for Abraham sometimes use Abraham's convoluted explanation in Genesis 20:12 to try to show that Abraham didn't lie because Sarah was not only Abraham's wife, but also his half-sister. The same explanation cannot, however, be made for Isaac and, the truth be told, both men lapsed in their faith, fearing for themselves and for their wives. Then there is the occasion where Rebecca and Jacob conspired to deceive Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. It is one of the unique aspects of the Scriptures, that God allows us to see the foibles of even the greatest of the patriarchs.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch listed mitzvot on various aspects of honesty, but did not write one that generalizes that we must tell the truth and not lie. For example, Maimonides listed (1) not withholding evidence from a court; (2) not bearing false witness and punishing those who do; (3) not prophesying falsely; (4) not committing fraud by moving land boundaries; (5) not swearing falsely to avoid paying our debts; and (6) not using or keeping dishonest weights and measures.

The closest that the classical commentators come to writing a general mitzvah on truth-telling is their use of Leviticus 19:14 to say that we must not cause anyone to stumble by giving misleading or wrong advice. Leviticus 19:14 actually speaks of not cursing a deaf person or placing an obstacle in the path of a blind person; therefore, in constructing their respective mitzvot, the commentators have not treated deafness and blindness as physical disabilities, but rather as conditions of lacking sufficient information to make safe and appropriate judgments.


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