False witnesses are liars, persons who, often knowingly, say what they know to be untrue. We do not expect to find such persons among those who profess to love God and who claim to act in response to God’s love. But here we are among the religious people.
False witnesses arose in response to Stephen’s Spirit-guided and wisdom-filled speech. There were some ringleaders who could not deny the wisdom and truth of what Philip was saying so “they secretly instigated some men to say, ‘we have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God”. These liars managed to stir up the elders and scribes as well.
When their other enlisted false witnesses said, “we have heard him say that this man Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us,” did they even understand what they were saying? Or were their eyes blinded to the truth? Did they have the faintest awareness that they had misunderstood Stephen, and Jesus? Or were they bent on currying favour with the power brokers who controlled them?
Stephen’s vocal accusers, that is, the talkers (spokespersons) who actually spoke the charge against him, were recruited by misguided persons who knew that they were fighting against truth, and they misguided others.
We need to learn from this, that we must open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and avail ourselves of the wisdom that the Spirit gives, thereby protecting ourselves from the tendency of the power-crazy to fight against truth. We need such wisdom, too, to avoid being used by others to say things that will ultimately harm the innocent. Let it not be that acting in ignorance, or ignoring the discernment which the Spirit gives, we align ourselves with the wrong side.
Yes, false witnesses arise in the very setting that we least expect them to. Let us not be among them in the sense that we are so keen on explaining what we do not understand that we instigate others into saying things that corrupt the truth, and so lead them into error.
Holy Spirit, truth Divine,
Dawn upon this soul of mine
Word of God, and inward light,
Wake my spirit, clear my sight.
Samuel Longfellow, 1819-92