What Does it Mean to Give False Testimony?

One of the 10 commandments is “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Other translations of the Bible state this passage as “do not give false testimony” or more simply, “do not tell lies about others.”

We typically think of this as a command to not perjure ourselves, that is to not give false or misleading information in a courtroom while under oath. We would certainly never do that, so we can check this command off our list — right?

What about gossip, of spreading intimate or private rumors or facts about another person, of talking behind their back? Could that be another type of “false witness?”

Perhaps we need to more carefully consider God’s instruction to not bear false witness, by understanding it to mean “don’t gossip.”

[Exodus 20:16]