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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.

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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.

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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:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 80 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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Round 80 ends on January 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.



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