Truth matters. This is something I imagine we would all agree upon and yet we seem to rarely get to the truth. Why? Because we bicker with and debate those who see things differently based on our different versions of the truth. Enter exaggeration. It is a tool of language to make a point, sway an opinion, build up our ego and embarrass others. Exaggeration by definition has within it seeds of truth, but they are suffocated by the fabrications built upon and around them. The ninth of the Ten Commandments is focused on not lying about others. It is about the necessity for truth on all of our interactions. When God said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” did He also mean, “You shall not exaggerate about anything your neighbor has said or done”? Do we need to be on our guard when it comes to exaggeration?
At first glance, this ninth Commandment sounds like its primary application is in a legal sense. Don’t lie about your neighbor when they could suffer unrighteous punishment because of it. While this is a necessary application of “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” it only scratches the surface. This Commandment is, in actuality, a sweeping statement about our standards of behavior in everyday life.
Slander is a part of this
As God’s Law to Israel is further explained in Leviticus, we see that slander was absolutely included as a forbidden action in this ninth Commandment. We can easily think that we are safe here. As Christians, we would never slander anyone, no matter how much we may dislike them. But let’s think further. When you slander, you speak an untruth about another person or group. Is there a difference between this and when we exaggerate as we talk about someone?
Exaggeration can be good or bad
Let’s be clear, all exaggeration is not bad. We can exaggerate as we embellish a story for the purpose of making someone laugh. Laughter is good, and as long as we are not misrepresenting someone in our humor, bring it on. We can exaggerate when we tell our spouse our love for them is as "deep as the ocean" or as "bright as the sun in the sky." Such poetic proclamations can be powerful bonding expressions, so long as we are genuine about our affection. It is when we exaggerate about someone and it misguides other’s impressions and conclusions about them that gets us into trouble. It is here that exaggerated responses can degrade into bearing false witness.
Check out our May 17, 2021 podcast, “Is There a Difference Between Exaggerating and Lying” for more. The subtleties of lying and exaggeration are examined so we can better put our speech in order based on scriptural principles. We discover a biblical account that shows how “bearing false witness” can even be insidiously accomplished without words. We discuss how minimizing can be a tool of exaggeration and bearing false witness. To exaggerate can be fun and upbuilding or it can be utterly destructive to our Christianity and to others. Join us and learn the difference!
Study the rest of the Commandments with us to see how they are still valid for Christians today.