Former President Donald Trump brought the term fake news to prominent usage, referring to the way that the mainstream news media reported things about him in ways that were, in his opinion, untrue or slanted to give the wrong impression. If a person reports something, it is news. If the reports are false or exaggerated or edited in such a way as to make the person involved look bad or to give the wrong impression, then it is fake news. Essentially, “fake news” is the same as lies and propaganda.
Of course, the term fake news is not in the Bible. Likewise, there were no media organizations at the time. However, there have always been lies and propaganda. The Bible condemns the presentation of falsehood as if it were the truth. “Do not spread false reports” (Exodus 23:1).
The serpent gave Eve the “fake news” that she and Adam would not die if they ate from the forbidden tree. In fact, it said, their situation would dramatically improve (Genesis 3:4–5). Since Adam and Eve’s fall, people have been engaged in spreading “fake news.”
False prophets in Israel delivered fake news in Jeremiah’s day, saying that God would deliver Israel from the Babylonians. Jeremiah had to provide the true news that no deliverance was coming. In Jeremiah 28, Jeremiah faces off against the purveyors of fake news, led by a prophet named Hananiah.
In the temple in Jerusalem, Hananiah prophesied that within two years the power of Babylon would be broken and that the exiles would return to Judah along with all the articles of the temple that had been stolen (Jeremiah 28:1–4). This was a false prophecy. Hananiah was basically telling the people what they wanted to hear. It was fake news, of a sort.
Jeremiah replied to Hananiah by reminding the people that “the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true” (Jeremiah 28:9). Hananiah doubles down on his message of good tidings (verses 10–11).
Later, God sent Jeremiah to Hananiah with a new message: “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.’ In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died” (Jeremiah 28:15–17).
Many times, people would rather hear fake news than the truth. Fake news often confirms people’s biases and targets their emotions. And accepting fake news is easier than doing independent research. Purveyors of fake news construct a facade of credibility and can gather quite a following. Second Timothy 4:3 says that the time will come when people will accumulate teachers who tell them only what they want to hear.
In some cases, a person claims that something is “fake news” because he disagrees with the tone or the perspective of the one reporting. In these cases, the charge is subjective but may still be partially or completely valid. In other cases, the “fake news” is completely manufactured falsehood and propaganda. In all cases, the Bible enjoins people to speak the truth.
Proverbs 22:20–21 tells employees to tell their employers the truth.
Jeremiah 9:5 laments the loss of truth in Israelite culture in his day.
In Zechariah 8:16–17, the Lord says, “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this.”
Ephesians 4:25 tells believers, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”
The antidote for fake news is truth and humility. Humility is necessary because those who are sharing news can have a tendency to make themselves sound better than the facts warrant.
Anyone who listens to news today would probably do well to expect a large part of it to be fake. All people, but perhaps especially Christians, should learn evaluate the news with discernment. They would do well to get their news from a variety of sources with varying viewpoints. When a viewpoint or worldview is apparent in the reporting, the Christian should evaluate that viewpoint in light of Scripture and ask how the reporters’ worldview might slant the report. They should also try to find the larger context for “sound bites” that may not give the whole story. (With today’s technology, it is often possible to find much longer video and audio clips that will give fuller context to the sound bite reported.)
Christians should also be careful about posting news stories and quotes on social media without fully investigating them to make sure they are accurate. Even a source that is largely in agreement with biblical values (or even explicitly Christian) can still slant the truth on occasion. Posting and reposting without investigation and verification can greatly contribute to the spread of fake news.
Ultimately, the answer to fake news is the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again and that we can be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in Him.