Old heresies come back in new clothes but that does not alter the fact that they are still heresies. The view that lying can be justified on some occasions is just a rehash of the old Machiavellian philosophy of deceit and dishonesty and another foul flavor of what Paul was slanderously reported to have said, “And why not do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8). The strongest support for this view on lying comes from just-so stories which presuppose the only answer is to lie. In this article we will address the reasons advanced to justify lying and refute them. For those for whom the Bible is their final authority, there is no question that lying is never justified.
In the summer of 2015 I read an article written by a respected conservative Christian in which he said it was acceptable to lie to your enemies, for they did not always deserve the truth. Needless to say I was shocked and told the author so in no uncertain terms. It should come as no surprise when worldlings behave like this but I was amazed to find how widespread this opinion was among those who claim to be evangelical Christians. Ironically most of the thoughts in the article were plagiarized from Rushdoony’s Biblical Institutes which was published in the early seventies. I guess if it is acceptable to lie, you can steal too! Rushdoony stated:
“But does God require us to tell the truth at all times? Such a proposition is highly questionable. The commandment is very clear: we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor, but this does not mean that our neighbor or our enemy is ever entitled to the truth from us, or any word from us, about matters of no concern to them, or of private nature to us. No enemy or criminal has any right to knowledge from us which can be used to do us evil. … No one who is seeking evil, to violate the law in reference to us or to another, is entitled to the truth.”1
If what Rushdoony says is true, think how many martrys died needlessly and could have lived if they had only lied about their faith!
We digress to mention that Islam has held similar beliefs but ironically these are not based directly from the Quaran but on liberal interpretations that Islamic clerics have placed on several passages in the Quaran, (e. g. Sura 3:28 and Sura 16:106). For the most part the Quaran, like the Bible, strongly condemns lying. The technical name for the Islamic teaching is Taqiya. Originally it was “an Islamic term referring to precautionary dissimulation or denial of religious belief and practice in the face of persecution.” According to modern Shia doctrine, “Taqiya is permissible in situations where there is overwhelming danger of loss of life or property and where no danger to religion would occur thereby.”2.
As far as I can tell Rushdoony was the first conservative Christian to advocate this heresy which is nothing more than a subset of the old heresy of Antinomianism.3 His justification was long on just-so stories and short on biblical support. Most of the so-called biblical support consists of situations on which the Bible is silent and neither condemns or condones the specific situation! An argument based on silence is very weak indeed! It is difficult to know which commandment gets the most negative coverage in the Bible, either the one dealing with adultery which covers all kinds of sexual immorality, or the one on bearing false witness which covers all kinds of lying and dishonesty. This article will deal with the idea that under some situations it is acceptable for a Christian to lie.
One does not have to be a theologian to discover how God feels about lying. All one needs is a concordance and one will find an abundance of verses where God condemns lying. Here is a small sample.4.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another” (Leviticus 19:11).
“You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Psalms 5:6).
“Let the lying lips be put to silence, Which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous” (Psalms 31:18).
“The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psalms 58:3).
“He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence” (Psalms 101:7).
“Deliver my soul, oh LORD, from lying lips And from a deceitful tongue” (Psalms 120:2).
“Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, But those who deal truthfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22).
“A faithful witness does not lie, But a false witness will utter lies” (Proverbs 14:5).
“A true witness delivers souls, But a deceitful witness speaks lies” (Proverbs 14:25).
“A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who speaks lies shall perish” (Proverbs 19:9).
“Getting treasures by a lying tongue Is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death” (Proverbs 21:6).
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:9).
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).
“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” Revelation 21:8).
Positively we find God commending honesty.
“Blessed is that man who makes the LORD his trust, And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies” (Psalms 40:4).
It should be obvious that God hates lying in any and every form, considers it a heinous sin, the fruit of our old nature and the product of the devil who was a liar from the very beginning. The old Westminster Larger Catechism5 devoted several pages to expounding the ninth commandment of bearing false witness and included scores of proof texts to justify each point. Those who advocate lying in some situations would do well to study what those godly divines wrote so that they would better understand the spiritual scope of that commandment.
There is no verse in the Bible where God condones lying. Consider the following indirect proof.
Suppose there was a situation where it was acceptable to lie. Then it would be acceptable for God or Jesus Christ to lie in that same situation. But we read in Hebrews:
“That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).
Therefore there exists no situation in which God can lie.
Further he has promised in his Word deliverance from all forms of temptation that may beset a Christian so that he will not have to be overcome and yield to sin.
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Note, it is God—the omnipotent, omniscient God—who will preserve us in our times of temptation not our own wits and wisdom. Further note that this promise is unconditional. No matter how badly you may have failed and sinned in the past, this promise still stands true for every believer. Do not let past defeats rob you of a present victory! I have claimed this promise personally many times and God has never failed to deliver me from the temptation that would otherwise have lead me to sin against him. Only when I have been foolish enough to rely on my own strength, have I sinned. If one claims this verse when tempted there is no excuse for any of our sins, including lying. Oh how far short we fall from God’s standard of holiness!
Also note that Jesus was tempted in all points as we are (including lying), yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15); and God has promised to provide a way of escape for every temptation, not just some temptations but all temptations, so that we may not sin against him (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Therefore, there exists no situation in which a Christian is not sinning by lying, for God has promised a way of escape from all temptations. Oh for grace and faith to avail ourselves of the promises God has made to us.
For those who accept the Bible as their ultimate authority and rule of practice, what we have said already should be both necessary and sufficient to prove that there is no excuse for lying under any circumstances.
Three cases are used by those who claim it is acceptable to lie in some situations. The first is the case of the Egyptian midwives as found in Exodus chapter one.
“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” (Exodus 1:15–21).
The midwives did two things. First they arranged matters so that the Hebrew boys were spared and not executed at birth. Exactly how they did this we are not told. Secondly, when Pharaoh saw that his plan to control the population was not working, he called the midwives to explain why they were not carrying out his orders. We are expressly told that God blessed them for sparing the Hebrew boys. Those who claim that God blesses lying must first show that the midwives lied to Pharaoh. This is not at all obvious for if Pharaoh had the least suspicion that he was being lied to, the career of the midwives would quickly come to an abrupt and bloody end.
Let us assume that the midwives did lie to Pharaoh and were not caught in their lie. Then those who advocate lying must show that God blessed them for both lying and sparing the Hebrew boys. We have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt what God’s view of lying is. Therefore the blessing must be the result of their sparing the boys, not for lying about it. The Abrahamic blessing confirms that it was not for lying (which God hates), but for sparing the boys, that God blessed their actions.
“I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3).
Now consider the case of Rahab as found in Joshua chapter two.
“And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, ‘Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.’ So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.’ Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.’ (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.)” (Joshua 2:2–6).
This example is similar to the case of the midwives except that we know that Rahab, in addition to hiding the spies, lied concerning their whereabouts. The Holy Spirit sheds light on this situation in the New Testament.
“By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:31).
“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25).
The Scriptures are silent on the lie she told to the king’s men, but do commend her faith in receiving the spies and the practical demonstration of that faith by sending the spies out so they would not be caught. For this we read later that she was married to the leader of the tribe of Judah and became an ancestor to our Lord Jesus Christ. She was indeed blessed by God for her care of the two spies. However, concerning her action of lying the Scripture is silent. God has made it abundantly clear what he thinks of liars and lying so it is inconceivable that she would be blessed for lying.
In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary we find this helpful comment on Rahab’s actions.
“Though excuses may be offered for the guilt of Rahab’s falsehood, it seems best to admit nothing which tends to explain it away. Her views of the divine law must have been very dim: a falsehood like this, told by those who enjoy the light of revelation, whatever the motive, would deserve heavy censure.”
This thought is echoed by Paul:
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Although God may wink at our sin, we will still be judged for it according to our degree of knowledge.
“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47, 48).
Rahab’s good deed, like all our good deeds, is tainted with sin. Spurgeon, in commenting on the phrase “the iniquity of the holy things” (Exodus 28:38 NKJV), quoted Dr. Payson when writing to his brother:
“ ‘My parish, as well as my heart, very much resembles the garden of the sluggard; and what is worse, I find that very many of my desires for the improvement of both, proceed either from pride or vanity or indolence. I look at the weeds which cover my garden, and breathe out an earnest wish that they were eradicated. But why? What prompts the wish? It may be that I may walk out and say to myself, "In what fine order is my garden kept!" This is pride. Or, it may be that my neighbors may look over the wall and say, "How finely your garden flourishes!" This is vanity. Or I may wish for the destruction of the weeds, because I am weary of pulling them up. This is indolence.’ So even our desires for holiness may be polluted by bad motives. Under the greenest sods worms hide themselves; we do not need to look for long to find them.”6
Another example used to justify lying is found in 1 Samuel 16. The Lord tells Samuel to go down and anoint David as king. Samuel says that if Saul finds out he would be killed. The Lord tells him to go down and make a sacrifice in Bethlehem and invite Jessie and his sons to the sacrifice. When Samuel went, the elders were afraid and asked him why he came and he said he had come to make a sacrifice. Later he anointed David as the new king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:1–13). In this case Samuel did not lie, but on the other hand he did not volunteer additional information. You cannot tell a lie if you keep your mouth shut! If someone misconstrues your actions, you are not accountable for his faulty conclusions or thoughts. Jesus says:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Just because we are Christians does not mean we kiss our brains goodbye. We are to act wisely and prudently in our dealings but honestly with others.
Almost everything we do has the taint of sin on it. Fortunately God has punished the sins of all believers on Christ so that they do not die. He looks at our desire for holiness and accepts our work for him. He honors these good intentions of our heart and our desire to please him even though we often sin in the process. To say that we may deliberately lie to do good is a travesty of God’s justice. Rahab was not blessed because she lied but because she had faith in God, and that faith resulted in good works towards God’s chosen people. We sin far too often now without deliberately doing so.
Star Trek fans will remember the Kobayashi Maru training exercise in the fictional Star Trek universe, which was designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario. Only Captain James T. Kirk passed the test by secretly rewriting the training exercise! Those who advocate lying in some situations use this following no-win situation to justify their unbiblical position. Suppose a Jew comes to your house in Nazi Germany and seeks refuge. Shortly thereafter the SS knock on your door and demand that you turn over any Jew who is in your home. Will you lie to the SS or tell the truth? This example is cleverly constructed to solicit the response that you will lie to protect the Jew in your home. Using the Jew in his argument is designed to illicit the maximum emotional response. The Nazis also hunted down sexual deviants like homosexuals, transvestites, and lesbians as well as the mentally retarded or physically impaired in their eugenical quest for the “master race.”
Let us examine this example in more detail. When the Jew first seeks refuge he asks you if you will lie to protect him. If you say “Yes,” he should likely look elsewhere for a refuge since you have already confessed that you are a liar and will lie to protect him. That being the case, he has no reason to think that you will not also lie to protect yourself also and turn him over to the SS if needs be.
If on the other hand, you say that you will not lie to protect him, he can deduce that you are a person of integrity. You have character that is consistent with that of a Christian: one of honesty and integrity. In the days of the Roman Republic, when a Roman was challenged concerning his integrity, a necessary and sufficient answer was Romanus sum or “I am a Roman.” If the Jew asks why you will not lie to protect him, you have an opportunity of witnessing to him of the transforming power of the Christian life. You are a new person and not like others who would do anything to save their own skin but do what is right and for God’s honor no matter how unpleasant the results may be for you.
Having said what you would not do, you can explain what you would do for the Jew. Jesus was faced with many no-win situations so let us look at one example and see how Jesus handled it. By so doing we can gain insight on how to handle our situation with the Jew. In Matthew 22, the Pharisees thought they had really entrapped Jesus.
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do you care about anyone, for you do not regard the person of men. "Tell us, therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"’ But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, ‘Why do you test me, you hypocrites? "Show me the tax money."’ So they brought him a denarius. And he said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him and went their way” (Matthew 22:15–22).
In all languages there are two types of statements from which you cannot draw any logical inferences, and you cannot be guilty of lying if you use these statements. These are an interrogative statement and a statement of command. If anyone draws conclusions based on these two types of statements, he needs a course in logic! In the preceding passage, Jesus answered the Pharisees using both types of statements. First he asked a question, and then he issued a command. By so doing, no one could accuse him of any wrongdoing, and he only spoke the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
In our situation with the Jew in our home, the time to think of what to do is not when you hear the knock on the door. You must either provide a good hiding place or have a good escape plan when trouble comes knocking. There is one other possibility, however, which requires nerves of steel. Sir Edgar Allan Poe said that you should always hide things in plain view. For example, hide a book in a library and a car in a large parking lot. When the Nazi SS comes knocking, have both you and your fugitive answer the door together. When asked if you are harboring any Jews, rather than lie, ask the question: “Do you think we would be so stupid as to do such a thing?” Then both of you absolutely demand that the SS come in and search the place. The last place someone would look for the Jew is at the front door and demanding that the place be searched!
It is amazing how well reverse psychology works! When I was a boy, my mother, aunt, and I made regular shopping trips to Buffalo in the mid-fifties. In those days the Canadian dollar was high and clothing prices were cheap in the US compared to Canada. My aunt was a grand-master when dealing with Canada customs. We always wore our oldest shabbiest clothing when going down to the US and wore the new clothing back. She removed all the new labels and the new clothes were scruffed up a bit so they would not look so new. She then packed all the new clothing we were not wearing back into the bottom of her suitcase and put her dirty undergarments on top. She hid things in plain view! When asked at the border if we had bought anything, she did not lie but demanded they search the car and held out the car keys to the custom guard. The guard was always taken aback by her bold action and never searched the car. Her reverse psychology never failed her. However, if he ever searched through her luggage, he would have had to wade through all her dirty clothes before he could even hope to find anything. That alone would be enough to discourage anyone from searching too thoroughly. So she successfully used both the principal of reverse psychology and of hiding things in plain view while maintaining her integrity.
If the advocates of lying are not satisfied with the above answer, then let us change the example slightly. Suppose, instead of you answering the door, Jesus in human form answered the door. Do they think he would lie when the Scriptures expressly say that he would not? He might handle the situation just as he handled the trick question of the Pharisees, first by asking a question and then issuing a command.
Proponents of lying say that you do not love the Jew if you do not lie to protect him. They cite the verse:
“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39).
You are labelled as being unloving if you do not lie to protect the Jew. First of all it is not at all obvious that any answer you gave at the door would satisfy the SS and the house would be searched anyway. Also you do not know the mind of God. Affliction is often the means God uses to drive sinners to seek a Savior. How do you know that being sent to a concentration camp may not result in the salvation of the soul of the Jew in your home? It may be the same camp that Corrie ten Boom or some other Christians were in, and God may use one of them to witness to your fugitive about Jesus.
Consider also that this commandment is not the greatest commandment. The greatest commandment is: —
“ … ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38).
Just as federal law trumps provincial or state law, so this first commandment trumps the second commandment. You are not loving God in any way by doing the sinful action of lying, which God has expressly stated he hates and abhors. Further, exactly how are you showing Christian love by being a liar to or for your neighbor? Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). How are we showing love to God by deliberately breaking one of his commandments by lying under the pretense of loving our neighbor? One duty must not be stained by the blood of another in our service to God.
The doctrine of “We must live,” carries far too much weight with Christians and is used as an excuse for all kinds of dubious actions. The correct doctrine is “We must die,” and if we pay our debt to nature sooner by telling the truth and honoring God, then so be it. Consider also, how many martyrs would have been spared a cruel death if they had only told a lie and recanted. In the times of Queen Mary, a pastor was burned to death at the stake. He died bravely. Many of the youngsters from his church were present at the burning, and when their fathers asked why they went, they replied, “We went to learn the way lest we should have to die in the same way ourselves!”7 They knew that their day would likely come soon enough, and they wanted to see how a real saint of God should behave in such a circumstance. We have no idea how God will work good out of what seems to us to be seemingly hopeless circumstances, but he has promised he would for those who love him. (Romans 8:28).
Those who are of the opinion that lying is sometimes acceptable cite many cases in the Bible where people lied and everything seemed to work out acceptably for them. However, circumstances are no guide to what is right or wrong.
Sometimes God in his abundant mercy prevents a full harvest from our sowing of lies. David lied to King Achish and so deceived Achish that David would likely have had to fight Israel had not God intervened and made the Philistine rulers prohibit David’s men from joining their army (1 Samuel 29). What David did was clearly wrong and was likely the low point in his faith. However we soon find David brought to his senses when Ziklag was destroyed and everyone talked about stoning him. We read that he encouraged himself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6). His faith in God was restored and he did not trust in his own devices but trusted fully in God.
The Psalmist in Psalm 73 bemoans the prosperity of the wicked until he considered their latter end. Wealth and prosperity were no indications of God’s approval of wicked conduct until he considered their latter end. Likewise Jonah must have thought God really had changed his mind about going to Nineveh when he just happened to go down to the harbor and just happened to find a ship going to Tarshish which just happened to have room for him as a passenger. Surely God was blessing his trip to Tarshish, but God soon set him straight. Someone wryly remarked, “If everything is going your way, you are probably going in the wrong direction.” God’s providences never lead one into sin whereas ones from the devil always do. Good circumstances resulting from sinful actions as recorded in the Old Testament are no indication of God’s approval of those actions. The history of the Old Testament was written for our instruction and admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11), not necessarily for our imitation!
According to the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, “an Antinomian is one who maintains that the moral law is not binding on Christians, under the ‘law of grace.’ spec. One of a sect which appeared in Germany in 1535, alleged to hold this opinion.” Their favorite worship ditty is: —
Free from the law, oh happy condition,
I can sin as I please, and still have remission.
We all harbor this sin in our hearts to varying degrees. We lie to manipulate circumstances rather than trust God to work things out for his glory. Unfortunately we are all guilty of saying that the end justifies the means, if not in so many words, then by our actions. The argument that under some circumstances it is acceptable to lie is a subtle form of Antinomianism and should be justly condemned by the church just as Antinomianism was.
Our tendency to take matters into our own hands rather than to trust God often gets us into much trouble. We have a God who has promised to take care of us in the best possible way when viewed from eternity, but we are such short-sighted people. Lying or breaking any other of God’s commandments is bound to get us into more trouble than if we trusted God. God still works miracles!
Consider what Jesus says about breaking the commandments:
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
Surely no commandment in the decalogue would be considered among the “least of the commandments.” How much greater than will God’s disapproval be on those disobey one of the ten commandments of God by advocate lying under some circumstances.
We have shown that: —
Therefore we have no excuse for lying or committing any other sin.
Those who advocate lying under certain situations are guilty of the following: —
We have shown that those who advocate lying under certain situations do not understand the precepts of God’s Word, which expressly prohibit such actions. Further they do not trust in God’s providence to work matters out, but, by lying, they take matters into their own hands. They undermine the authority of the Scriptures by advocating what seems to them to be the breaking of a “little” commandment so that good may come. The end DOES NOT justify the means (Romans 3:8). Remember that a small crack in a dike, if left unchecked, will quickly flood a whole province. Should not those who advocate lying in some situations be rebuked by the church if not severely disciplined lest they corrupt the church with their devilish teachings?
There is no better way to conclude this article than this comment by C. H. Spurgeon on Psalm 63:11, “[B]ut the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.” Spurgeon stated, “If they cannot be stopped by reason, or by repentance, they shall be stopped with a shovelful of earth, for God will stop the mouths of all liars in one way or another.”8.
Oh! What a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!9.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16).