Some Thoughts About Lying- Part 1, by ShepherdFarmerGeek

[Editor’s Note: It is the position of the editor’s of SurvivalBlog that the end does not justify the means. Deuteronomy 16:20 states “That which is altogether just shalt thou follow” (KJV), though a more accurate word-for-word translation would be “Righteous justice you shall pursue.” We believe that we are to model our Lord and Savior who did not lie.]

There are six things the Lord hates and seven that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family. (Proverbs 6:16–19)

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 12:22)

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)

Truth is Complicated

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul says to “put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts” (4:22). Then he says, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors” (4:25).

Judging from these verses (and others) and the many shallow “Christian” articles online, a Christian may never, ever lie; it is a sin condemned by God. But that is not only a simplistic conclusion, it’s not Biblical in any way. The truth is more complicated:

From Paul Copan

The following is entirely an excerpt from Paul Copan’s Enrichment Journal article called “Is It Ever Morally Permissible to Deceive?…

God is True and Hates Lying Lips

“First, Scripture affirms the trustworthiness of God. God is true (Romans 3:4). He is faithful and keeps His promises (Deuteronomy 7:9). And He hates lying lips (Proverbs 12:22). Jesus calls himself “the truth” (John 14:6). Indeed, the being who qualifies as God would have to be worship-worthy and, therefore, trustworthy rather than faithless.

Some Duties Are Absolute

Second, some duties are absolute and inviolable— that we should love and worship God— and God would never command us to hate Him or to worship a God-substitute. Nor would God command us to rape someone or torture babies for fun. Although God’s commands in Scripture are sometimes difficult, God would never order us to do what is intrinsically evil (Jeremiah 19:5).

Distinction Between Absolute Duties and Prima Facie Duties

Third, philosophers make a distinction between absolute duties and prima facie (Latin: “on first appearance”) duties. This is helpful as we read Scripture as well. All things being equal, moral demands, such as, “Keep your promises” or “Do not deceive”, are generally binding for all people (prima facie). We are generally to tell the truth and “not withhold good from those to whom it is due” (Proverbs 3:27).

But, note well, such duties are not absolute and without exception. For example, it is generally wrong to take innocent human life. However, what if terrorists hijack a plane to use as a destructive weapon to fly into a building full of innocent civilians? Is a president who orders the passenger plane with innocent people on board shot down morally justified?

If a woman has an ectopic pregnancy (a fertilized egg trapped in a fallopian tube), both she and the unborn baby will die unless this young human life is removed. Unfortunately, the child will not survive either way. In this case, is it better to spare one human life rather than lose two?

Deception Morally Permissible in Cases of Supreme Emergency

Fourth, deception, which is generally wrong, is likewise morally permissible in cases of supreme emergency, as when Nazis are hunting down innocent Jews. Not all Christians agree on this point. However, I believe we can make a reasonable, Biblical case. In my forthcoming book, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom (IVP Academic, May 2014), my co-author and I go into more detail on this topic. For this article, I’ll sketch out the case for why deception is morally permissible under certain specific conditions warranted by Scripture.

A Hierarchy of Moral Duties

Fifth, this view assumes that there is a hierarchy or an ordering of moral duties. For example, some loves are more important than others. Loving God is more central than loving family members, and when loving family members comes into conflict with Christian discipleship, the follower of Christ should express greater allegiance to Christ (Matthew 10:37). And while we should love the stranger in our midst, we have a greater obligation to care for family members, whom God has entrusted to our care (1 Timothy 5:8).

Conditions Under Which Deception is Morally Permissible

When is deception permissible? There are three main conditions under which deception is morally permissible.

1. Inconsequential Social Arrangements

After a long walk with two unknowing friends to Emmaus, Jesus acted as though He would go on, though He did not intend to do so (Luke 24:28,29). This was not deception. Rather, Jesus was displaying modesty; He didn’t force His presence on His two friends. Rather, He gave them opportunity freely to invite Him in.1

Also, Jesus instructed His disciples to use “makeup” of sorts so as not to appear as though they had been fasting (Matthew 6:17,18). Keeping such information private — between you and God — is not sinful.

We also assume a degree of deception in light, everyday social arrangements. When we tell jokes, deception is often involved — deception that makes the punch line especially funny. Quarterbacks in football and pitchers in baseball routinely deceive; the better they are at deception, the better they perform in a game. This is simply part of the mutually agreed upon arrangement in participating in such sports.

Even in our greetings, we don’t tell everything about our psychological condition to people who ask us, “How are you?” Typically, there’s no expectation on the part of the friendly greeter to receive from us a detailed clinical description of our inner state. We shouldn’t assume full disclosure in such circumstances is essential to maintaining our integrity. In fact, if we did tell everything, people would simply stop asking, “How are you?”

So we have some Biblical evidence, as well as the support of common sense considerations, that furtiveness is permissible when it comes to such inconsequential social arrangements.

2. Deception in War

War, by its very nature, calls for an array of available weapons, including psychology and stealth. God himself waged war this way. In Joshua 8:2, God told Joshua to set an ambush. God also set an ambush in 2 Chronicles 20:22.

God instructed Moses to send spies— the quintessential form of stealth— into the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:2). Likewise, two Israelite spies went to Jericho, where Rahab hid the spies and deceived the local troops (Joshua 2:2–6). Yet God commended and rewarded her for this act (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).

Some argue that God commended Rahab for her faith, not her deceptive activity. Apart from the fact that all three of the relevant passages commend her actions, how is it possible to divorce faith from works?

Paul himself condemns the dangerous mindset of sinning that grace might increase (Romans 6:1,2). It is morally and theologically misguided to say that we may commit a sinful act for a good cause and be rewarded for such “faith”. Don’t sinful acts deserve reprimands rather than rewards, especially when the motivation is as ignoble as self-preservation?

By contrast, Rahab acted in the faith that the God who was with Israel was mightier than the gods of Jericho. In response, she did the right thing by siding with God’s people. In what we might properly call an act of war, her actions and words deceived others. Some argue that the hiding of the spies was acceptable but that she sinned when she spoke untrue words. However, this dubious description of “the sin of deception,” in which words are sacrosanct but actions are not, is both theologically vague and morally inconsistent.

If there can be just wars (and my co-authored book, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, defends this view), then ambushes, camouflage, spying, deceptive strategy, communicating in code, as integral parts of such wars, would also be legitimate.

3. Deception in Opposing Criminals

Another area where deception is Biblically (and perhaps philosophically) permissible is in resisting a criminal or an enemy in war. [A variation of #2 above.]

Here we come to the classic question: Are you morally obligated to tell the Gestapo at the door that you are harboring Jews in your cellar?

We answer, “No.”

Consider Sophie Scholl, a committed Christian and university student who was an active participant in “The White Rose,” a German resistance movement during World War II.2 She and her friends devoted their lives to exposing Nazi propaganda and lies by quietly publicizing the truth to her fellow Germans. The Nazis captured Scholl and her brother on February 18, 1943. Under interrogation, she sought to deceive her captors to protect her innocent comrades-in-arms. She refused to say anything that might endanger her friends. Few would question whether she did the right thing.

We have similar scenarios in Scripture. The Hebrew midwives resisted an ungodly and oppressive regime through civil disobedience and deception. The result was that “God was kind to the midwives” and “gave them families of their own” (Exodus 1:20,21). How can it be said that their faith was good and their subversive activity bad? Or how can it be said that their disobedience was good and their deception bad? The Bible does not make those distinctions. It simply says that God rewarded them.

See Also:

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  1. I will hide Jews in my basement. I never thought I would have to type those words in America. Of course if things get bad enough to hide Jews, I will be feeding Nazis to Brown bears.

    1. There is a real life example of this in Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place. Her Christian sister, was hiding two Jewish women in her home. One looked Jewish, the other looked Dutch. She dressed the one who looked Dutch as a maid, so she would have some freedom of movement.

      When the Nazis conducted a surprise raid, the “Dutch” maid, not realizing they were there, walked into the room. The Nazis asked Corrie’s sister is she was Jewish. The sister said “Yes,” because she believed that the obligation to tell the truth was absolute. The Nazis arrested her.

      It was this incident that made me decide that my understanding of telling the truth was too simple to fit reality, and I began to think, and study Scripture more closely.

      The virtues are hierarchical, not equal, or Jesus would not have said that there was a greatest commandment.

      Love is higher than truth. It was not loving to turn the “Dutch” Jewish woman over to the Nazis. (The other woman, hearing the betrayal, jumped out the window.)

      Furthermore, we are not obligated to tell the truth to someone who has no right to know. We are not obligated to tell the truth if this means cooperating in violating the law of God.

  2. From Part II: “A Christian who lies habitually, who lies for selfish reasons or whose lies hurt other innocent people is in the wrong.”

    But Part II goes on to say basically that we may, morally, oppose an evil in war or when confronted by criminals, by lying or deception. The general principle is “Don’t lie.” The rare *exception* is we have a moral obligation to oppose evil when deception is necessary to protect innocent others.

    Strict adherence to a “you-must-tell-the-evildoer-everything-you-know, truthfully, if-asked” rule is going to get good people killed.

    It’s really early in the morning and I’m just brainstorming: Is it “lying” if we tell a story to someone who KNOWS we’re “spinning a yarn” for fun? Why not? Isn’t this the essence of many of our jokes and kidding?

    Is it still “lying” if we tell a deception to someone who has *no moral right* to know what we know, because they will act evilly with that information? Do evil persons have a “right” to know our truth? Is it a “lie” to lie to an evildoer? Or is it actually something else? We need to much more carefully define our terms!!!

    More brainstorming: What *is* a lie? I’d suggest it is an attempt to deceive someone who has a reasonable expectation to be told the truth by us. Or someone who has a need to know what we know. Or maybe a lie is a “lie” if we deceive someone who will be harmed or could conceivably be harmed by believing what we have said???

    God looks on the intent of our hearts, right? What is our *intent* for lying? To save our sorry butts, to make ourselves look good, to stroke our ego or gain some advantage that we do not deserve? Or is it to save innocent lives? Is it to stop or stall or otherwise oppose an evil outcome?

    Can we say there’s a moral hierarchy? Is “oppose evil” more important than “don’t lie”?

    These are issues for philosophers and clever arguments. I just propose that Christians and people of goodwill consider these theoretical situations and answer with our heart. And then steel ourselves for the struggle ahead because there is a real Storm to come!

    1. You freely use the label “evil” without definition. I submit that each of us has our own definition of “evil”, with considerable overlap, I imagine.

      Yet, I know people who consider our president evil. Based on that opinion, one might choose to lie to someone representing the president, perhaps to “protect” a person who hates Donald Trump.

      So, perhaps,my friend you have opened the can of worms of defining evil.

      Carry on.

  3. If someone threatens my life and LIBERTY, and I KNOW without a doubt that person is EVIL, I will lie through my teeth and/or use whatever defense I have at hand. Especially to protect an innocent person. No. 1 rule in my book, a GOOD person does NOT use force or fraud. That is the basis of GOOD Government, which of course, has never happened. At best a mixed bag. Otherwise, tell the truth, even if embarrassing. Use the Golden Rule, and if those around you, good people so called, do some minor crime, speak out. It can make one feel like the “odd duck”, but as my Dad would say, “Remember, the man (or woman) you look at in the mirror every morning.” One can NEVER run away from that little voice that says, “you did wrong.”

  4. Jokes involving deception are not lies because it is mutually understood that there is no real world intention to deceive. The same is true of novels, plays and movies, all of which are not factually true.

    1. 1. Do these agencies have a right to pass a law to punish people who for conscience sake before the Lord refuse to give information because they know it will be used to do harm or evil in violation of God’s law? No. This law may be “legal” but it is altogether lawless before the Lord. 2. Do these agencies have a right to the truth should they intend to use it to do evil or harm to others in violation of God’s law? No.
      3. In obeying the laws of men in passing on the truth knowing that it will be used to harm others, no matter how “obedient” it appears, is to be complicit in that harm before the Lord. But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29, NKJV)

    2. Unless you’re a DEMO-rat! Then the law doesn’t apply to you and lie all you want.

      “Did I have sex with woman…NO! [as the question was referring to Monica Lewinski]” Bill Clinton before being let off Scott-free.
      “Did I bit bleach my server…like with a cloth… NO!” Hillary Clinton before her innocence was declared by the FBI for having top secret information on a private server in a household basement.
      Diane Feinstein having a Chinese Spy driving her around and let off Scott-free while Trump is investigated for the third year in a row for Russian collusion in the election.
      Lois Lerner of IRS let off Scott-free for unjust auditing and demure non-profit status for only conservatives and she receives full retirement pleading the Fifth… as Trumps attorney [Michael Cohen] goes to Jail for criminal negligence for three years.
      Lisa Page and lover Stoic let off Scott-free with no jail time being cleared by the FBI of any wrongdoing in fabricating pushing Hillary Clinton’s case to closure-fraudulently while Michael Flynn goes to jail under the Trump Administration.
      LaVoy Finicum murdered by FBI Agents, along with Waco Texas Branch Divideans, and Ruby Ridge–Randy Weaver’s wife, son, and dog. The Bundy Ranch standoff. Laws are to be followed by Conservatives or else. The Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, Black Lives Matters, and Women’s marches demanding the governmental right to abort babies and live single without men, are all given a free pass, even though they’ve occupied more public land than the Bundy Wildlife Refugee holdout, killed more law enforcers than Ruby Ridge or Waco, have caused billions of dollars of damage throughout Trump’s presidency including destroying public property at college campuses.

      When are the Democrats and their political groups ever go to JAIL?

      Not anytime soon-laws are for the Christian Conservative party and so is jail time for breaking those laws.

      The LEFT are exempt from breaking laws at all times!

      Furthermore does anyone ever seeing a woman going to jail. I mean Stormy Daniels is guilty of the same adultery as Trump but Trump is the one smeared. Same goes for the ME#2 movement—aren’t these women willfully giving their bodies in sex to these Hollywood moguls for a change at the limelight? Do the number of men going to jail for sexual harassment, domestic violence, marriage rape laws, discrimination, and the entire host female legislated laws to ensnare manhood equal the number of women going to jail????

      We have a selective justice system which targets “certain” individuals whether conservatives or men—it’s not justice but injustice! This is why there will be a civil war in this country.


  5. Another thought: What about the case of someone who relays false information without realizing it? “The meeting is Monday at 1”, when the meeting is actually Tuesday at 2? Technically the person “lied”: they communicated false information.

    Would we condemn this person as a “liar”? Only if we KNEW they were trying to screw with us. Otherwise we’d just conclude, “That’s Bob. He never gets the details right.” Or “He’s always out of the loop.”

    Would *God* condemn a man who mistakenly relayed inaccurate information? Not if he did it unINTENTIONally…

    Does this not also point to the fact that “lying” is a matter of *intent*? That not all “deception” is “lying”?

    If this is so, then how can it be morally wrong to oppose evil by lying???

  6. You are never under any obligation to help someone harm you. Period.

    Taking the example above, of the woman telling the Nazi official that she was Jewish;
    you are not taking the moral high ground by helping someone who neither respects the truth, nor your right to live.

    This is the principle of non-initiation of force or fraud. If someone attacks you, you are justified in defending yourself. Self defense includes deception when necessary.

    1. Agreed! and well said, Professor.

      It’s been a general principle in Jewish circles (I believe) that we have a moral obligation to defend the innocent. Right? And that includes ourselves.

      This obligation is simply a higher duty than our obligation to tell the truth. There will be times when these two things are mutually exclusive.

  7. So, JWR, you put this comment at the beginning of the article: “[Editor’s Note: It is the position of the editor’s of SurvivalBlog that the end does not justify the means. Deuteronomy 16:20 states “That which is altogether just shalt thou follow” (KJV), though a more accurate word-for-word translation would be “Righteous justice you shall pursue.” We believe that we are to model our Lord and Savior who did not lie.]

    I read the article wondering what your response would be to the arguments presented point by point by this author.

    You were military. What about counter-intelligence? Hiding maneuvers? Would you have ratted out your Jewish sister to the Nazis in 1940? What will you tell the LE officer who comes to your door in 2022 asking about your bump stocks and 100 or 1000 30-round PMAGS which the Dems outlawed nationwide. Will you point to your hidden underground caches, if asked?

    1. Bearing false witness is a sin. Silence is not. If and when they come for my guns and magazines, I will exercise my 5th Amendment right to remain silent. Although my rifle might be a little noisy.

      1. With all due respect, Captain,

        (Soldier at the door) “Sir, are you hiding any Jews in your house?”
        (Me) “I refuse to answer your question.”
        (Soldiers proceed to tear apart the house looking for the Jews)

        (Soldier at the door) “Sir, are you hiding any Jews in your house?”
        (Me) – complete silence –
        (Soldiers proceed to tear apart the house looking for the Jews)

        (Solder at the door) “Sir, are you hiding any Jews in your house?
        (Me) “They snuck up to our door in the early morning and asked if we could spare some water. We told them “no” and one of the young men got angry and threw this rock (holding) through that little windowpane there (pointing). After hanging around in our yard out of sight they took off and went down that street there (pointing). If you hurry you might catch them!”
        (Soldier) “Thank you, sir! Squad! pursue them!”

        Note: Most of us will be unable to repel a full-on attack on our home by SWAT or National Guard with military-grade weapons. And any attempt to do so will result in our fairly rapid demise.

        I’m prepared to die for Jesus. But there is nothing “good” about dying pointlessly. (Rather than suicide by soldier I’d like to hold out the possibility of escaping while in transport, escaping while in custody, or being a witness for Jesus until my death.)

        Also note: I’m *pretty sure* that silence in the face of hostile questioning will be *universally* interpreted by the enemy (looter, rapist, zombie, etc.) as an admission of guilt or at least defiance.

        Agreed: “Bearing false witness against your neighbor” IS definitely a bad thing:

        I’m just contending that it’s not the whole picture and there are other factors to consider, particularly *intent.* In any event, we each must be convinced in our hearts what God expects of us and obey that. I respect your position, and can readily see how it is based in Scripture and how your came to your conclusions.

        That said, I must simply disagree. I’m sorry…

        1. I whole heartedly disagree with this comment. I usually like your posts. You’re resounding Tories in the Revolutionary War… “Oh we’re friends of the British government! We would never take up arms and fight for anything! Protect us LEFTist government!”

          May a say in brotherly love friend, that you ARE witnessing Christ by taking up arms. Look what Jesus stated in the bible, “Sell you cloak and buy a sword!” What Jesus is stating is to purchase a couple of handguns for your protection. I know that some bible commentators illustrate Peter was scolded that evening for using his sword against the roman official in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus mentioned that those who, “take to the sword will die by the sword.”

          Jesus is not referring to self-defense, but instigators of violence that will die by the sword. In fact in common law and modern law there is a criminal defense of self-defense in using the sword—you will be off the hook in killing someone if that defense is found sufficient. Now a judge might never allow self-defense or defense-of-others executing SWAT team members—but I believe the Lord would if what your saying is your next move….

          You and your family will look extremely pathetic on the six o’clock news… giving up your cache of ammunitions and twenty guns including all your stock in food/water and medical supplies just to have all your family members sent to a reeducation camp—for what???? “Witness the Lord to your captors in the concentration camp?”

          My friend, are you out of your mind [I say this in the nicest way]. No one likes a coward. It’s like the Nazi soldier surrendering to the Americans so he can preach and convert the American guards into socialist party doctrine. You’ll never preach to anyone about Jesus, unless you stand for Jesus! Surrendering all you have to the “authorities” albeit SWAT/UN/ US military or local and state police will just galvanize the LEFTs doctrine as fact and prove Christianity has no leg to stand on.

          God bless you my friend and as for me and my family we will be the ones on the six o’clock news making the SWAT look bad by obliterating a family in a gun fight for their human right to be left alone.

          My family stands with JWR… If he chooses to fight, we’ll be right there as a family to set the tables straight in Christian principles!

      2. So was Rahab sinning when she knowingly misled the authorities who were in pursuit of the spies? “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? “(Jas 2:25, NKJV)

        Were the nurse midwives sinning when they hid the children from being murdered and lied about it? They were commended. “Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?” And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.” (Exod 1:15-21, NKJV)

        Bottom-line, no one, not even kings and others in authority, have a right to the truth if they intend to use it to do harm or evil to others in violation of God’s law.

  8. Certainly protecting a Godly person from those that would kill them is a righteous act…

    Joshua 2:1
    Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.

    and we know Rahab deceived (lied to) their pursuers to save the lives of the spies. So even given her actions what did the brother of Jesus say of Rahab?

    James 2:25
    Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?


    The Catechism is fairly comprehensive:

    2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

    2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.283

  10. The problem is not these edge cases.
    We can say Aboriton is murder, but then substitute hiding Jews or Guns with “someone suspected of arson or assassination”.
    Note the language of the commandment – “Witness”. The simple interpretation is that it is a serious sin to lie, but also to withhold a significant truth to those who deserve to know it (e.g. a court deciding a case), and even to not add the accuracy or certainty to the assertion.
    That is worse than you might think. There are theological unknowables – e.g. paedo v.s. adult baptism – that have caused wars and persecutions until such things were brought under the tent of tolerance.
    Beyond that, only free speech, and even offensive speech (that isn’t slander or an incitement) is how we discuss to find the truth.
    In any case the bears are hibernating now so they won’t witness anything.

  11. What about voting for the lesser of two evils?

    And paying taxes to support Planned Parenthood?

    How will these acts such as these play on our Day of Judgement?

    I don’t know but I’d like to hear the opinion of others?

  12. What is truth? Truth is a person, Jesus Christ. If you are a true believer in Jesus, then you know Truth only comes from God. He said before He went to His Father that he would send us the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us the answers we need. Do not be deceived by the thoughts of men. Ask your Heavenly Father for the correct answer through the power of the Holy Spirit. You will not be disappointed. Remember, Satan is the father of lies and deceit. Read your Bible and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom.

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