The Belt of Truth 3

I didn’t do anything illegal.’

Over the last few years, as various officials in high office have been accused of criminal behaviour, I’ve listened carefully to their language.

Their defence is never ‘I didn’t do it.’ Instead it’s the subtly nuanced ‘I didn’t do anything unlawful.’ Or some variation on that theme which emphasises legality rather than morality.

This reaction is fascinating. No one has been prepared to add public lies to secret sins. There’s obviously a paramount desire to retain some personal integrity through a carefully–edited version of the truth. In fact, I’m sure many of the officials concerned would feel able to state with perfect conviction that they are scrupulously honest!

These situations highlight the importance of individual perception when it comes to the law.

Oftentimes I’ve read that the Ten Commandments are not substantially different from a multitude of ancient (and earlier) legal systems such as the Code of Hammurabi, Code of Ur–Nammu or Laws of Eshnunna. That the laws Moses gave the Israelites had precedents all the way across the Middle East.

Joel Hoffman, however, in his significant book, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning (with which I disagree passionately in parts) makes a very shrewd point. The Ten Commandments are unique. They are one–of–a–kind because they simply say: ‘Don’t lie.’ ‘Don’t kill.’ ‘Don’t steal.’

Because it’s wrong. Period. No arguments. No excuses.

The other ancient legal codes specified particular punishments for those who were caught breaking the law. It was the punishment that defined the crime.

Not so for the Ten Commandments.

Their austerity seems harsh to most of us. Surely if we accidentally kill someone, it is not as bad as if we deliberately commit murder. The Ten Commandments sets this attitude in perspective. Action trumps intent. Killing is simply wrong.

Nonetheless, while killing is an offence against God regardless of intention or circumstances, His justice meets His mercy through the establishment of cities of refuge. Anyone involved in an accidental killing could flee to safety. Only on the death of the high priest would the transgression of those guilty of manslaughter be wiped out, so they could return home and resume their lives.

As for the command, ‘Don’t lie,’ you might think its utter simplicity would leave no wiggle–room when it came to the truth. But, as our various public officials facing the courts in recent years have shown, society leans much closer to the Code of Hammurabi than to the Ten Commandments. And this is not a recent development. It was also true in the time of Jesus.

Andrew Reid in Exodus: Saved for Service discusses these words of Jesus: ‘Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.” But I say to you, do not swear at all… But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.’ (Matthew 5:33–37 NKJV) He points out that Paul took oaths so this is not against oath–taking per se. Rather it was directed at the lawyers who had created an entire scheme of legal loopholes: the plain meaning of vows and promises could be set aside by various verbal subterfuges.

Doesn’t that sound like the situation we have today where our public officials hide the plain meaning of their words as they try to project their innocence?

So a massive challenge exists with the Belt of Truth that Paul tells us to gird around ourselves. Jesus is just as uncompromising when it comes to truth and falsehood as the Ten Commandments. This shouldn’t be a surprise. God does not change.

We, on the other hand, tend to ignore His words to give ourselves some leeway. We’ve got a theology of grace, not law, after all. So we like to take account of intention.

But the reality is that, where ‘grace’ throws aside the words of Jesus in favour of our own interpretation of ‘truth’, we’ve become just like those slippery lawyers of the first century.

I find this a staggering challenge. How often have we Christians evaded truth, just as so many public officials have? I don’t like to think.


  1. A thoughtful and challenging post about truth Annie. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Dale. I’ve been challenged lately to realise that in an age dominated by law, grace has the shape of mercy and peace. But in an age dominated by lawlessness, grace has the shape of justice and truth.

  2. It seems more and more that justice and truth have taken a back seat in politics, law and the church. You only have to watch the news — almost on a daily basis — to see yet another politician breaking the law, but claiming they’ve done nothing wrong. Then there’s the deals made constantly in premeditated murder trials and don’t get me started on the catholic church/schools and its blatant protection of paedophiles!!

    Telling the truth is considered old fashioned and the notion that whatever benefits you is okay.

    • Hi Lyn –
      I read many years ago that “law” in the British Commonwealth – based as it is on English law – has less to do with justice than with legality and technicalities of prosecution and precedent. Apparently in Europe, a court is more concerned with justice than ours. Surprising! But it makes sense when we look at our legal system.

  3. I’ve come to appreciate the framework of the 10 Commandments more and more over last few years. I read somewhere that Christians should be able to rephrase “You shall not…” with “I do not…” because of my relationship with Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

    Because we live in a world whose intent is to dethrone Christ and demolish His word, truth has been confused and compromised. No absolutes reduces Christ’s authority (I think.) Therefore without this belt (and I liked a previous comment on this you made elsewhere)we become more caught up trying to hold our ‘uniform’ together than fighting the foe.

    Anyway. Thanks again for the insights.

  4. Hi Ray –
    That’s such a brilliant thought: to be able to say ‘I do not’ because of my relationship with the Saviour.

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