The Large Catechism HTML version

I.8. The Eighth Commandment
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we have yet
another treasure, namely, honor and good report [the illustrious testimony of an
upright and unsullied name and reputation], with which we cannot dispense. For
it is intolerable to live among men in open shame and general contempt.
Therefore God wishes the reputation, good name, and upright character of our
neighbor to be taken away or diminished as little as his money and possessions,
that every one may stand in his integrity before wife, children, servants, and
neighbors. And in the first place, we take the plainest meaning of this
commandment according to the words (Thou shalt not bear false witness), as
pertaining to the public courts of justice, where a poor innocent man is accused
and oppressed by false witnesses in order to be punished in his body, property,
or honor.
Now, this appears as if it were of little concern to us at present; but with the Jews
it was quite a common and ordinary matter. For the people were organized under
an excellent and regular government; and where there is still such a government,
instances of this sin will not be wanting. The cause of it is that where judges,
burgomasters, princes, or others in authority sit in judgment, things never fail to
go according to the course of the world; namely, men do not like to offend
anybody, flatter, and speak to gain favor, money, prospects, or friendship; and in
consequence a poor man and his cause must be oppressed, denounced as
wrong, and suffer punishment. And it is a common calamity in the world that in
courts of justice there seldom preside godly men.
For to be a judge requires above all things a godly man, and not only a godly, but
also a wise, modest, yea, a brave and bold man; likewise, to be a witness
requires a fearless and especially a godly man. For a person who is to judge all
matters rightly and carry them through with his decision will often offend good
friends, relatives, neighbors, and the rich and powerful, who can greatly serve or
injure him. Therefore he must be quite blind, have his eyes and ears closed,
neither see nor hear, but go straight forward in everything that comes before him,
and decide accordingly.
Therefore this commandment is given first of all that every one shall help his
neighbor to secure his rights, and not allow them to be hindered or twisted, but
shall promote and strictly maintain them, no matter whether he be judge or
witness, and let it pertain to whatsoever it will. And especially is a goal set up
here for our jurists that they be careful to deal truly and uprightly with every case,
allowing right to remain right, and, on the other hand, not perverting anything [by