On courtroom dramas there are a couple of crimes that seem to be more serious than the original crime. One is jury tampering, the bribing or intimidation of a jury member. The other is witness tampering. This crime even has different classifications. There is the making of threats to get the witness not to testify. There is even the kidnapping or killing of a witness to prevent their testimony. And then there is suborning perjury, offering an inducement to make the witness lie on the stand.
If one of the big lies we tell people is saying we are fine when they casually ask, “how are you?” (Minutes With Messiah, January 2021), is it not possible that we tell that lie because others have made that lie the expected answer? Do we say we are fine when we may not be because others have in one way or another suborned this perjury?
The idea of taking or giving bribes has been condemned throughout the Bible. As early as Mount Sinai,If ignoring the plight of the homeless was one of the leading sins of Israel, doing so for a bribe was much worse. God has spoken against it. “And thou shalt take no bribe: for the bribe blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.” (Ex 23:8) This does not specify whether it is bribing the judge or the witness; either one is unacceptable. Moses repeats this in his final speech to Israel.
Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a bribe: for a bribe doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. (Deut 16:19)
In that verse Moses seems to address both jury tampering and suborning perjury. Bribes blind judges, but they also cause witnesses to speak untruths.
“Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men: In whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes.” (Ps 26:9-10) David equates bribes with murder.
One of the reasons the Israelites demanded a king when Samuel got old was that his sons were taking bribes to “pervert justice.” (1 Sam 8:3) As a result, God allowed them kings, and that ended up in the destruction of the whole nation.
By the time of Isaiah that destruction was well on its way. One of his first complaints was that the princes of Israel were taking bribes. If ignoring the plight of the homeless was one of the leading sins of Israel, doing so for a bribe was much worse.
Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth bribes and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them. (Isa 1:23)
Perhaps the most vile examples of suborning perjury are recorded in two New Testament trials. Stephen was a successful preacher of the gospel. Some men objected.
Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. (Acts 6:11-14)
Stephen made a brilliant defense. Nevertheless, those who had suborned perjury prevailed and he was stoned to death.
Even more heinous, perhaps, was the suborned perjury against the purest of defendants. When Jesus was being tried, they could find nothing on which to convict him. They even had to suborn several witnesses just to get two to agree. (It’s pretty bad when you bribe multiple people and tell them what to say, and they still say different things.)
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. (Matt 26:59-61)
Suborning someone to mislead others about how they are feeling or what they are facing may not seem as serious as lying about the Son of God. If there are degrees of seriousness in sin, it probably isn’t as serious, but God still objects to the crime. Perhaps it is because it got his Son crucified that he objects so strenuously.
One way we encourage others to lie is through indifference. We ask a question, but don’t even wait for an answer, and would be shocked if we got a truthful answer.
Psychologists say this is a conditioned thing. Most of the time someone asks how we are doing and we make an automatic reply. Often we do not even realize what we said. Somebody could say, “How ya doing?” and you reply “monkey business” and neither party would realize what was said, just that something was said. All you know is that you greeted the other person.
Such a conditioned response may not seem that important. After all, we may not even realize what we said. Jesus, however, addresses even the lies told through indifference.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Matt 12:36)
We should be aware of everything that we say. If we ask a person a question, we should be aware of their answer. Otherwise we encourage others to speak idle words, unto their own hurt.
One of the classic ways to suborn perjury is witness intimidation. On the crime dramas this can run the gamut from threatening the witness to kidnapping the family members of the witness. In the church, suborning perjury through witness intimidation often takes the form of a history of gossip, whether perceived or real.
In a congregation it may begin fairly innocently. One person tells another something seemingly inconsequential. The recipient of the information, not seeing it as something that needs to be held in confidence, shares it, thus hurting the feelings of the originator. Soon the word gets around that the recipient of the confidence is untrustworthy. But so are those who shared the information. Then someone shares something that might have significant consequences, and the same thing happens. Maybe it even reaches outside the congregation itself. Now people are afraid to “confess your faults one to another” (Jas 5:16), lest the matter spreads beyond all bounds.
There is another form of intimidation that suborns perjury. It makes people afraid to confess their sins because they will be judged. This form of intimidation is an inflexible adherence to teaching against our pet sins.
Sin is sin, and should be pointed out as such. Paul upbraided the Corinthians for not pointing out sin in their midst.
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. (1 Cor 5:1-2)
The point of identifying sin, though, is to induce repentance. We tell the world what is sin, but if they don’t repent we move on to someone who will. Within the church we expect repentance. Sometimes, though, when we get repentance we still intimidate the one who had sinned.
Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. (2 Cor 2:6-8)
When we fail to forgive when one repents, we set an example for others. Too often we suborn the perjuryIn the church, suborning perjury through witness intimidation often takes the form of a history of gossip. that they are fine and not in need of repentance because they have seen that repentance bears no fruit within the church.
Often we tell others that we are fine, even though we are not, because we are embarrassed to admit the truth. Sometimes that embarrassment is self-inflicted. We lie of our own volition. But sometimes the embarrassment comes from the reaction of others. It may be in the form of, “I can’t believe you did that.” Or it may come in other forms.
There have been a number of times that a congregation has been compiling a prayer list and one of the children asks for prayers for a sick pet. What is the most common reaction by the adults? Laughter. The child has asked in all seriousness, and the adults embarrass them. What is that child going to do the next time they have a serious concern? Many times they will choose not to make a request because the adults have made them think their concerns are insignificant. As they grow up the memory of this incident prevents them from admitting a need or a concern. The adults of the congregation have suborned perjury through laughter.
We are supposed to “Confess faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” (Jas 5:16) That means we have to be willing to open ourselves up to the congregation. That becomes more difficult if the congregation has a habit of suborning perjury.