Those who aren’t following Synod President Matthew Harrison’s blog are missing out. He is still blogging, and well worth reading regularly. Here is a recent post — a translation of Luther on the 8th Commandment:
I think that was the first time that I typed “Synod President” in front of that name!
“… like pigs that roll in the mud.” Luther
The first application of this commandment, then, is that everyone should help his neighbor maintain his rights. He must not allow these rights to be thwarted or distorted but should promote and resolutely guard them, whether he be judge or witness, let the consequences be what they may. 261 Here we have a goal set for our jurists: perfect justice and equity in every case. They should let right remain right, nor perverting or concealing or suppressing anything on account of anyone’s money, property, honor, or power. This is one aspect of the commandment, and its plainest meaning, applying to all that takes place in court.
262 Next, it extends much further when it is applied to spiritual jurisdiction or administration. Here, too, everyone bears false witness against his neighbor. Wherever there are godly preachers and Christians, they must endure having the world call them heretics, apostates, even seditious and accursed scoundrels. Moreover, the Word of God must undergo the most shameful and spiteful persecution and blasphemy; it is contradicted, perverted, misused, and misinterpreted. But let this pass; it is the blind world’s nature to condemn and persecute the truth and the children of God and yet consider this no sin.
263 The third aspect of this commandment concerns us all. It forbids all sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbor. False witness is clearly a work of the tongue. Whatever is done with the tongue against a neighbor, then, is forbidden by God. This applies to false preachers with their corrupt teaching and blasphemy, to false judges and witnesses with their corrupt behavior in court and their lying and malicious talk outside of court. 264 It applies particularly to the detestable, shameful vice of back-biting or slander by which the devil rides us. Of this much could be said. It is a common vice of human nature that everyone would rather hear evil than good about his neighbor. Evil though we are, we cannot tolerate having evil spoken of us; we want the golden compliments of the whole world. Yet we cannot bear to hear the best spoken of others.
265 To avoid this vice, therefore, we should note that nobody has the right to judge and reprove his neighbor publicly, even when he has seen a sin committed, unless he has been authorized to judge and reprove. 266 There is a great difference between judging sin and having knowledge of sin. Knowledge of sin does not entail the right to judge it. I may see and hear that my neighbor sins, but to make him the talk of the town is not my business. If I interfere and pass sentence on him, I fall into a greater sin than his. When you become aware of a sin, simply make your ears a tomb and bury it until you are appointed a judge and authorized to administer punishment by virtue of your office.
267 Those are called backbiters who are not content just to know but rush ahead and judge. Learning a bit of gossip about someone else, they spread it into every corner, relishing and delighting in it like pigs that roll in the mud and root around in it with their snouts. 268 This is nothing else than usurping the judgment and office of God, pronouncing the severest kind of verdict and sentence, for the harshest verdict a judge can pronounce is to declare somebody a thief, a murderer, a traitor, etc. Whoever therefore ventures to accuse his neighbor of such guilt assumes as much authority as the emperor and all magistrates. For though you do not wield the sword, you use your venomous tongue to the disgrace and harm of your neighbor.
269 Therefore God forbids you to speak evil about another even though, to your certain knowledge, he is guilty. All the more urgent is the prohibition if you are not sure but have it only from hearsay. 270 But you say: “Why shouldn’t I speak if it is the truth?” I reply: “Why don’t you bring it before the regular judge?” “Oh, I cannot prove it publicly; I might be called a liar and sent away in disgrace.” Ah, now do you smell the roast? If you do not trust yourself to make your charges before the proper authorities, then hold your tongue. Keep your knowledge to yourself and do not give it out to others. For when you repeat a story that you cannot prove, even if it is true, you appear as a liar. Besides, you act like a knave, for no man should be deprived of his honor and good name unless these have first been taken away from him publicly.
271 Every report, then, that cannot be adequately proved is false witness. 272 No one should publicly assert as truth what is not publicly substantiated. In short, what is secret should be allowed to remain secret, or at any rate be (reproved in secret, as we shall hear. 273 Therefore, if you encounter somebody with a worthless tongue who gossips and slanders someone, rebuke him straight to his face and make him blush for shame. Then you will silence many a one who otherwise would bring some poor man into disgrace, from which he could scarcely clear himself. For honor and good name are easily taken away, but not easily restored.Luther,
Large Catechism, 8th Commandment