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In its original context in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:16) the prohibition of speaking falsely about a person before a tribunal, whether as a witness for the defense or prosecution. When a witness was found to have lied, he was subjected to the same punishment allotted for the crime for which he falsely testified against another person. In time, already before the Christian era, this commandment was understood to forbid all telling of untruth.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.