June 19, 2013

Is it ever ok to lie?

by Jesse Johnson

PinochioIs it ever not a sin to lie? Or—to let the double negative cancel itself out and get right to the chase—does God ever put you in a position where sinning is the right thing to do?

This question is as bothersome as it is perennial. It invariably comes attached to this hypothetical: say you lived in Nazi Germany, and you have Jews hiding in your living room, and the SS guards knock on your door and ask if you are hiding Jews. What do you do? Do you lie?

Let me give you my conclusion, and then try and walk you there with me. First: GOD HATES LYING. So yes, it is always a sin to lie, and no, it is never ok to lie. Proverbs 12:12-13 explains why:  

“No disaster overcomes the righteous, but the wicked are full of misery.  Lying lips are detestable to Yahweh, but faithful people are His delight.”

Lying lips are one of the seven things that God finds detestable (Proverbs 6:16). Christians are called to let their yes be yes, and lying violates that basic principle (James 5:12). Meanwhile, God is a God of truth (John 14:7), while the devil is the father of lies (John 8:38). Lies are an affront to providence, as they imply that the world would be better if God simply would have worked it out more to our liking. Thus every lie is an attack against the sovereignty of God, and essentially places you in opposition to that which is true. Instead of lying, speak the truth (Col 3:9, Eph 4:22, 24).

It really is that simple.

The philosophical problem

The question is it ever ok to lie comes from a faulty ethical construction. In Christian ethics there are basically two schools: graded ethics, and absolute ethics. Graded ethics says there is a triage to God’s commands, and some are more important than others. When they contradict, always follow the more serious one. For example, they would say the duty owed to the Jews hiding in your living room is greater than the commands against lying. So it is better to lie than to betray those in your living room.

On the other hand, those that hold to absolute ethics (like me, Moses, and Jesus) say that all commands from God are binding, and it is never ok to set aside any of them. God doesn’t grade on a curve, so  we shouldn’t view his commands in some kind of order of importance.

Those that hold to graded ethics use verses like Mark 12:31 (where Jesus says that Loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor are the two greatest commandments) as evidence that God holds some of his commands to be higher than the others. Whereas one who follows absolute ethics would look at Mark 12:31 and say that those commands are greater because the other commands are flow out of them—which to say that violating any command would in some way be an offense to either your neighbor or God, but likely both.

The simple problem with the graded-ethics approach is that it is not taught by the Bible—verses like Mark 12:31 notwithstanding. The first person to be stoned to death in the OT was executed for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, so at the very least that causes some problem for the concept of graded morality. Regardless of absolute vs. graded ethics, the first people God strikes dead in the New Testament are Annanias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. The moral of that has to be: if you are going to rate sins in some kind of order of seriousness, lying should be pretty close to the top.

hipster lierThe Hypothetical Problem

But this takes us back to the Jews hiding in the living room. What then? Well, when scheming up hypothetical ethical dilemmas, you have to remember that hypotheticals are literally problematic. They are contrived precisely because they expose a supposed weakness in a person’s argument.

So if you are going to play the hypothetical game, remember that God is sovereign, and with that comes his promise that every instance of temptation he will always provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13)… and that escape is NEVER going to involve sinning. God does not open your escape hatch through sin. In fact, in the context of 1 Corinthians 10, sin is the very thing that God gives you an escape from.

Thus, in any hypothetical moral dilemma you need to remember that there is an unstated contingent—namely, God will give you a way out that does not involve sin.

Back to the guards at the door

So we are back to the guards knocking on the door, and the Jews hiding in the living room. The ground rules are that you can’t sin, and that lying is a sin, and delivering people over to their death is unloving, which is to say that it too is sinful. What is left to do?

Well, this decision is really made before you took the Jews in. When you gave them refuge in your house, you did so while taking responsibility for their safety. If you are brave enough to hide them, then you better be brave enough to protect them.  How can you hide them but not be willing to physically defend them? If the guards knock on your door, respond by telling them that they have no right to enter your house, and that what they are doing is morally reprehensible—but that Jesus offers forgiveness for their sins, and they need to repent. Then slam the door, and take the hypothetical from there. A person who is brave enough to lie but not brave enough to be a martyr, isn’t brave at all.

What about war time ethics

As absolutist as that sounds, the Bible keeps room in its moral constructs for war time ethics. God uses countries to bear the sword and punish evil doers. It is expected that war includes both deception and violence. An army can fake left and go right, because they are bearing the sword to suppress evil. But that is fundamentally different than a person—a civilian, if you will—who lies because they have a secret moral agenda. Even if their morality is right, it is undercut by lying because (remember) God will never put you in a position where lying is right thing to do.

liesWhat about Rahab

No conversation on lying would be complete without Rahab sneaking on to the set. “What about her?” you ask. “Didn’t she lie?” Well, yes…but that is hardly the point of that narrative. Rahab sided with Yahweh over and against her nation. She heard of God’s work in the wilderness, and when she met the spies, she was soundly converted by faith alone. That faith immediately manifested itself in her devotion to God and his people (James 2:25).

So the point of the Rahab narrative in Joshua 2 is that an idol-worshiping prostitute was radically saved, and that God then used her to help Israel enter the promised land. Did she lie? Yes. She had been a believer for all of ten minutes, so cut her some slack. Is she in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11? Yes. As shocking as it might seem, there are some believers who were both liars and prostitutes (or Sampson, who was a liar while with a prostitute). Yet somehow the gospel is greater than sin, and salvation comes through faith alone. Rahab is always held out as an example of faith for siding with God’s people, and is never held out as an example of lying for the glory of God.


Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Andrew

    Thank you for this analysis of what serves as a perennial ethical conversation piece for us living in peaceful societies and an all-too-real crisis for those in societies where evil governmental powers have been unleashed. ‘Amen’ to your main point: because God exists, it follows that there always is ‘a righteous way of escape’. However, for myself, several important biblical ‘case studies’ are left unexplained in your analysis: what about the parables (didn’t Jesus intentionally present fictive stories in order to facilitate some from being distracted from the truth?) and what about the cross (didn’t God fool the evil powers?).

    I think we need a further distinction between existential and factual truth. Jochem Douma similarly distinguishes deception from lying. Without some distinction like this, I don’t see how we avoid the puritan mistake of saying that writing a novel is a sin since it does not recount factual truth. All the verses you cite are focused on deception in relationships rather than merely on presentation of factual truth. Second, I would be interested in your definition of ‘war time ethic’ – if it were something like, ‘actions and attitudes that are one’s duty or become acceptable when legitimate power becomes illegitimate by destroying rather than protecting life’, would not the ‘Nazis at the door’ legitimate a war time ethic? (That being said, your charge to call for repentance and slam the door is giving me pause as I type this.)

    I sense that your main worry is that this opens the door to allowing individuals to proclaim a ‘war time ethic’ when their teacher asks if they did their homework last night! But to use Bonhoeffer’s famous example, what if the teacher asks in front of the class if your father is an alcoholic (and he is)? To say, ‘it is not your business’ (factual truth) would be to limit the teacher’s authority but expose your father, but to say ‘no’ (factually false) would properly keep the teacher within the bounds of their proper authority while protecting your father. Sorry for the overlong comment, but would be interested in a bit of further help in sorting this out. Thanks and many blessings!

    • Are you saying that the parables were Jesus lying? Or are you saying that inventing a story is like lying? I didn’t follow your point about the parables. Writting fiction is not lying. I can avoid saying it it lying by saying, “fiction is not lying.”

      • Andrew

        Just checked back and saw your reply (from 3 mins ago!). My point was that it must be okay at times to present ‘truth’ in a way that will allow people to be deceived – isn’t that what Jesus’ parables did (matthew 13:11-13)? I then noted that one way to make sense of the parables and thus move away from an overly factual understanding of ‘do not bear false witness’ is with the lying/deceit distinction. Hope that clarifies the comments.

        • Yeah, thanks Andrew. I dont’ think the parables “allowed people to be decieved.” Everyone knew they were stories that Jesus was making up. Most/many of them have some turn in it that is so shocking and unrealistic that they were obviously fiction, and using parables was common in the ANE. Kenneth Bailey has a great book on that called something like Jesus through MiddleEastern Eyes, and Snodgrass has a massive and excellent book on simply called Parables, and the introduction deals with that in a very convincing way. If its something you want to read more about, I’d get that Snodgrass book ($45, so find a seminary library!).

          • Andrew

            Jesse, many thanks for the response. Just curious, what then do you think the ‘concealing role’ of the parables is/was (matt 13:11-12)?

  • jigawatt

    Thanks for the article, Jesse. A few suggestions:

    In addition to addressing Rahab, may I suggest you address the Hebrew midwives and also Jesus’ statement that he was not going to Jerusalem to the feast?

    Also, concerning graded ethics, I’d like to hear a comment on Matt 23:23.

    • On Matthew 23, Jesus is exposing them for “caring” about the small things (mint and cumin? Really?) while neglecting their own family. Paul says that if you neglect your own family, you are worse than an unbeliever. At least they take care of their own parents!

      • jigawatt

        Thanks for the reply, Jesse. I don’t think at all that Jesus’ main point at 23 was about grading morality. It is certainly not the focus of his rebuke. But even still we can glean truth from minor and aside points.

        I hear what you’re saying, and I’m definitely not a pharisee sympathizer – they deserved every bit of the rebukes that the Lord gave. But I still don’t get why the word “weightier” sneaks in there at all. How would this rebuke have been worse if Jesus had said “you have neglected the equally important matters”?


        • zackskrip

          I always struggle with the Hebrew Midwives. I would go there before dealing with Rahab.

          Also, when I was studying under one of my Hebrew Profs, he made the comment that emet meant more of a truthful action than some sort of isolated proposition that accurately represented reality. He argued (and he could be mistaken) that emet meant to act in proper accord with reality.

          If this were true, then the Hebrew Midwives were living accurately in regards to God’s true kingship.

          Either way, Exodus clearly says that God blessed the midwives because of their actions. I’m not sure the narrative allows us to separate their mercy on the newborns with their deception of Pharaoh. Do you think it does?

          Finally, I would want to draw a line that shows how this deception is different than an Islamic understanding of Taqiyya. The only possible presentations in Scripture are those times when the person lied to save lives and, we must remember, were the means of God’s plan of redemption for his people.

          Thank you for your thoughtful article. I’m still not sure where I come down on the issue. I’m not sure how war-time ethics come in to play, or whether they are exclusive to the government, but you’ve given me much to think about.

          P.S. The hypothetical of the Nazis at the door really isn’t hypothetical. It really happened and real Christians had to decide what to do. And to be honest, killing soldiers who’s job it was to round up Jews for extermination comes under self-defense (of another under my authority) and therefore I wouldn’t consider it to be sinful, but lying might be?

  • Bob

    It seems your conclusion about Rahab could also apply to the protector of the Jews. That narrative is not primarily about lying, but someone taking in and protecting the Jews from likely death(a Good Samaritan?). Lying to the Nazis had risk too; if found out by the Nazis, then likely death for the protector. Your solution of slamming the door would likely result in death for the protector, a search of the house, and extermination of the Jews. When they took in the Jews it was with the understanding of protecting them. So, haven’t you “lied” to the Jews when you then failed to protect them? How is this not a war time ethical situation?

    In particular circumstances, no one knows how they’d respond until they’re in that predicament. I would prevail upon the grace and mercy of Jesus for guidance and comfort. I praise God that even my sin in a particular situation can be redeemed for His glory.

    • I’m not a fan of putting quote marks around the word “lying.” If you think taking them in is a pledge to “sin” then don’t take them in. I’d argue that protecting people is not a pledge to sin, but a pledge to actually protect them. By the way, I think your construct above ignores my rule: in every temptation, God will give you a way out. So I could rephrase your hypothetical this way: “pretend you took Jews in, pretend the guards ask if they are there, and pretend that God is not going to give you a way of escape from the temptation to sin…” I’d say that your hypothetical is flawed.

  • Stephen

    I’ve heard it said that the prohibition against lying can also carry the force of “we are obligated to give the truth to whom the truth is due.” As Bob explained, in the hypothetical Jewish situation (which based on history was much more than a hypothetical I might add), the response you offered would almost surely result in the death of yourself and the Jewish people you’re seeking to protect, which is rather problematic for the stated goals of keeping them safe. It does not seem evident to me that we are to go out of our ways to become martyrs, which such a response seems to involve necessarily.

    I also agree that the situation with the Hebrew midwives deserves to be a part of this discussion as stated below. In this situation, even more so than with Rahab (although I don’t think Rahab was guilty either I admit that situation is a bit more nuanced), the Hebrew midwives seem to blessed for their actions. In v.17 & 21 the reasons given for the midwives behavior is that they “feared God” and in v.20 & 21b it seems that the blessing of God is a direct result of the actions of the midwives, which involved either direct lying or “deception” if you will.

    All in all, with both the biblical situations and the Nazi situation I wouldn’t even characterize this is a “justification for lying”, but rather it is/was the moral thing to do (especially with the midwives and the harboring Jews) because to do the “sin” of lying would have a direct corresponding result that would be considered evil in the eyes of God and would make us at the very least complicit with the sin of the murder of those who are innocent (on a horizontal plane that is). Therefor it is not in my mind sin at hand, but the preservation of justice. I think if we take this discussion and insert a pregnant woman in America who is going to be forced to have an abortion by her husband we can see clearer in a more immediate context how this is a complicated matter not answered with a simple, “the Bible says not to lie.”

    I would also agree that as Andrew says, it appears your main worry is to not allow justification for what is clearly the sin of lying, with that I wholeheartedly agree and do believe in virtually every case there is a simple answer, lying is a sin. But there are situations where I do believe that a response that on the surface appears not truthful, is in fact truthful because the person receiving the information is not due the truth thus withholding the information preserves life and is the biblically commendable action at that point.

    • Sweet. I focused on the part where you said that you “wholeheartedly agree” with me 🙂

  • E. Stephen Burnett

    I appreciate the definition of “lying” prope as being only ever a sin, and the distinction between this and wartime ethics, in which deception may be expected.

    However, the writer missed the wartime applications for the rest of the piece.

    As others have pointed out, wouldn’t that “expected wartime deception” apply to Rahab? Or the hypothetical hidden-Jews question? Or the Hebrew midwives? (It takes great interpretive gymnastics to exonerate them of any possible deception of Pharaoh, after which God blessed them. At best the passage leaves the question vague. Far better would be to presume that this was also a wartime situation.)

    About the perennial “Nazis are asking about Jews in your basement” challenge, isntead of the hypothetical and convoluted “slam the door in the Nazis’ face” notion, a “better” argument may have been, “Pshaw, it’s not even World War II anymore.” 🙂

    • Ha. I wish I read your better answer before I answered other comments!

  • James

    Wouldn’t what Rahab did to protect the spies been “right” in some sense even if she had been a believer for twenty years?

  • Jesse – I can tell you are a godly man who loves the scriptures, so I don’t want my question to come off as condescending. But after I read this post, I clicked over to your post about whether Christians are called to pacifism, wherein you justify the use of deadly force. This seems like a contradiction in terms. The Christian is never justified in lying, but can take a life, given the right circumstances (and you use the Old Testament as part of your basis for New Testament believers who aren’t under the law.) By this standard, in the situation of a Christian hiding Jewish refugees from Nazis, shouldn’t the Christian just come to the door with guns blazing to defend those he has taken upon himself to protect? It just seems strange that we can make a blanket statement that all lying is bad in all situations at all times…but sometimes it’s okay to kill someone.

    • Good point Matt. There is a difference between personal ethics and corporate ethics. Personally, you turn the other cheek and let God use the government to avenge evil. Corporately, if a Christian is part of the government, he needs to bear the sword. That’s also how I see the Rahab distinction. Spies lie…obviously. Christians don’t…unless they are spying 🙂
      Does that makes sense?

      • Well, it makes sense, and I thank you for your response, and you’ll just have to give me grace for remaining unconvinced that the contradiction is resolved. It sounds like “Christians shouldn’t lie, unless it’s their job to lie.” 🙂

      • Well, it makes sense, and I thank you for your response, and you’ll just have to give me grace for remaining unconvinced that the contradiction is resolved. It sounds like “Christians shouldn’t lie, unless it’s their job to lie.” 🙂

  • Regarding the Nazis and hiding Jews — I think of the somewhat humorous story told by Corrie Ten Boom, during the years of Nazi occupation before they were discovered and sent to the camps. Corrie and her sister also felt very strongly about not lying, and they were hiding some men that the Nazis were looking for. Corrie and sister were at the kitchen table, and the men were hiding in a room underneath their table. When the Nazis asked them the whereabouts of the men they were looking for, one of them (I think it was Corrie’s sister) smiled and said (truthfully) “they’re under the table.” The Nazis just thought she was joking, and left.

    • Yeah. I had heard that story as well, and was trying to remember the details.

      I talked to a pastor from Egypt last week who told me he gets arrested almost every week for evangelizing Muslims. So far, he has always been released by practicing similar truth telling.

    • Scott C

      This seems to be an example of deceptive truth telling as oxymoronic as that sounds.

  • Hugh Williams

    How does this inform the “does this outfit make me look fat” situation?

    • zackskrip

      Grace abounds!

    • The honest and tacky answer is no, obviously (it has nothing to do with the outfit 🙂 )

  • Mandi

    This is great! I can’t help but wonder about the hypothetical… if the people who quietly hid Jews in their living rooms and lied about it had instead spoken up corporately, how might God have used the righteousness of those people to change the course of history?

  • Also a good point, that the biblical characters who lied are remembered not for their lying but for their faith and belief in God.

    Another well-known biblical incident that involved deception and actions contrary to the normal precepts of God’s word, is the story of David, Abigail and Nabal. No outright lies, but she did act on her own contrary to her foolish husband, and waited until later to tell Nabal the whole story. This story too is more in the category of “war time actions,” not our normal everyday lives. And we remember Abigail for her faith as expressed in action, that she recognized God’s word and the Davidic promise, what God would do what He had promised.

  • Brent

    So I have a much more real-life scenario than wars and killing.

    What if, as a husband, you find yourself staring down the barrel of the question “Do you think she is prettier than me?” I know the way out is to tell her how beautiful you think she is and how blessed you are to have her. But she sees through your tactics and asks for a point blank answer.

    Or your child asks something where an honest answer would hurt or give them anxiety (such as questions of safety)? I have become a master at dodging questions, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

    What it boils down to is it ok to lie if your sole (and I mean sole, not selfish) reason is for that person’s benefit?

    • Diane

      Ultimately doesn’t it come down to God’s sovereignty? Our job is to be faithful to his commands and the outcome is (always) in His hands. If Rahab ad not lied God could have still used another way to accomplish His will which will never be thwarted by man-lies or no lies. Thank you Pastor Jesse

    • Perhaps pursuing better questions is the answer. And clearer definitions. There is no such thing as “objective beauty.” There’s not an official scale. My wife is more beautiful to me because of what she brings to our relationship.
      (Praying women do not freak out here…)
      So, if my wife is worried that she has wide hips, I say they are beautiful because they were part of bearing my children. As Jesse’s post points out, most hypotheticals are erroneous because there are very bad assumptions.

    • pdm

      One route is simply to not answer the question and communicate how you think her question places you in an unfair dilemma. And in the midst of differnenting yourself from getting wrapped into that tangle, you could lovingly ask her the question behind her question…pursue intimacy within the relationship. Tell her how her questions makes you feel cornered and why that makes you feel uncomfortable….and ask her to help you understand why she desires to feel affirmed by you about her physical appearance.

  • kevin2184

    Great post, Jesse.

  • Joel

    I appreciate your desire to call a sin a sin. I think we would all agree that this was not a problem in Paradise and will not be in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Lying is a consequence of sin and the brokenness of this fallen world.


    What do you make of the Lord’s words to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:2 which, while maybe not an outright lie, are at least deceptive? Furthermore, what do you make of Micaiah’s words in 1 Kings 22:22 where a spirit before the Lord committed to becoming a lying spirit, which the Lord then at least tacitly endorsed?

    Finally, I wonder if there is an analogy in this discussion in the events of Genesis 38? There Tamar does something we would all take issue with (pretends to be a harlot and sleeps with her Father-in-law) and yet is described by Judah as ‘more righteous than I’.

    • Didn’t Samuel make a sacrifice?

      And I’m soooo glad you brought up the 1 Kings 22 verse. I’ll probably give that its own post, but the short answer is that it is significant that God uses a demon to lie. God doesn’t tempt people to sin, but he is sovereign over it. He uses demons and he uses Judas and he uses the devil. The Holy Spirit lead Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted…BY THE DEVIL. Don’t switch those, or you end up with God tempting people to sin. Ditto in 1 Kings 22.

  • DanielGillespie

    So flopping in soccer is always a sin?! I knew it!

    More seriously, it seems Scripture distinguishes between two actions of the same kind not with a corporate vs personal but with more of the heart. Killing is not righteous when done by government and unrighteous individually. Many murders have been committed by those in uniform and many (I would argue) righteous killings have been committed by individuals protecting those around them.

    Not all killing is murder and I contend not all deception is lying. We always agree with this on the mundane level- no one calls out Tebow for a play action pass.

    Enough with what I think. In studying through exodus I never came across a quality explanation of the Hebrew midwives. If they didn’t lie and the Hebrew women were miraculously efficient in labor (as my hero and mentor would contend…which is certainly possible with a sovereign God) then why does God praise the midwives. And the text says that God dealt well with them because of what they did. They feared God and demonstrated this fear/faith in deceiving Pharaoh. I believe this is the only fair way to understand Heb 11 as well because all listed are held up as models because of the activity of their faith and in both midwives and Rahab what they DID was deceive.

    So…all lying is sin…not all deception is lying… And soccer players will not inherit the kingdom of God


    • zackskrip

      Interesting historical note. Some Medieval theologians did think it was lying to deceive in war. I remember reading all of the different views when I was teaching the Rahab story to my class. They argued that Christians needed to be perfectly transparent at all times.

      Excellent point about government/private killing/murder.

    • Yeah, and in both the examples (midwives and soccer) some of the blame is certainly on the referee for falling for it.
      The Hebrew midwives were praised like Rahab was praised. They sided with God’s people over and against the riches of Egypt. That is praiseworthy. Lying…not so much.

  • Matt Tarr

    Jesse, I think this was the most thoroughly concise, well-written, and biblical argument I’ve ever read addressing this issue! I had never thought about the categorization of graded versus absolute ethics, but it makes complete sense to me now why so many have such difficulty with philosophical problems of evil. They fail to understand the absoluteness of evil, and that righteousness is defined by the character of God, making truth (whether they realize it or not) subjective. The “problem” we hear is extreme (Nazis pounding on your door), but if we use the same logic, where the ends justify the means, at what point does the end result justify the actions taken to accomplish that result (if that makes sense)? You hit the nail on the head though, in identifying the fear that motivates someone to lie in that situation. Again, this was really really helpful!

  • Baxter


    I appreciate your article and I’m thankful that you’ve gotten a lot of people thinking about this today. That said, I don’t buy your argument as its presented, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. You say that your interpretation of Mark 12:31 is that it is not proof for an absolute ethic (something I can accept), but rather shows that all the commandments flow out of loving God absolutely and our neighbors as ourselves (something I can also accept).

    I think your analysis, as you presented it in your article, of the guards at the door situation in Germany is simplistic. Those that sheltered Jews at the time were not oblivious as to what would happen were they simply to slam the door in Nazi officer’s faces. They would have been arrested, their homes would have been searched, and the Jews would have been found and killed. You may say now that they didn’t ‘know’ this, that God could and would have given them a way out. But with Nazi’s at the door they had to make a moral decision, and they had to do so with the information they had on hand. They knew that sheltering Jews was dangerous, but they had a moral obligation before God to protect them, and the only viable option before them was to lie, just as Rahab and the Hebrew midwives in the situations that have been discussed here.

    I’d appreciate reading more about how you think through this situation, because your premise here seems to be that our highest priority to God is to not sin. I agree that we should flee sin, and I believe God will always provide us with a way of avoiding sin. I’m just not convinced that in each of these cases lying is a sin. The verses you quoted in your article confirm that God hates lying, but none of them actually equate lying with sinning, and there are numerous times in Scripture (Rahab, midwives, Samuel and Saul, etc.) where lying is at the very least ignored for certain purposes, if not explicitly condoned and even praised as an act of faith. However the command to love our neighbors is in the law (Lev. 19:18), confirmed again by Christ in the verses you quoted, and supported again and again in the epistles. I just don’t see the kind of scriptural footing you assume in your article that proves that a lie is always a sin. Lying is most often called a sin in Scripture, but it is not unanimously denounced.

    There’s another difficulty I see in this view as well. If I give priority to the morality of my own actions rather than their consequences, I wind up being primarily focused on whether or not my own action is sinful or not, and the obligations of mercy and love to the others (at least in these cases) become secondary. How does this work its way out when I am commanded to love my neighbor? How do I regard others as more valuable than myself (Phil. 2:3-4), and yet knowingly perform actions that will result in their deaths simply so that I can stand before God and proclaim, “At least I did not lie!”?

    To give my own view (though I’m still working this out), I don’t believe we should cast aside all moral considerations and simply appeal to feelings of ‘love’ and ‘mercy.’ That’s a slippery slope; part of the law’s purpose was to teach us what love for neighbor looked like. But I can’t accept a view of the law that makes it into a straight-jacket that requires me to set aside love and mercy for neighbor and simply ask whether an act of mine is a sin or not, ignoring the consequences for others.

    I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on these issues, clearly you’ve done more thinking here than I have. And I appreciate your admonition to avoid lying – clearly those of us living in the U.S. are not going to face the situations that those in Nazi Germany or in pre-Israel Jericho faced! For us, lying isn’t a matter of life or death, just a matter of our own selfishness and convenience. May we love the God of truth above all!

    • I get what you are saying. Here is Douglas Wilson’s summary of the “lying is sin” view–it is more succinct than mine, and deals with the Nazi situation: “There are some goals higher than preserving life.”

      I also grant that it is waaaay more important to be persecuted for being a Christian than it is for hiding Jews. That’s why in my answer I turned the conversation toward righteousness the gospel, and away from the question of who may or may not be in the other room. After all, if we are making up hypothetical situations, I can make mine one where the conversation becomes about the gospel.

      Finally, as someone else pointed out, Corrie Ten Boom is one of the most well known of the Christians who hid Jews in their homes, and she steadfastly held to the “no lying” view–which is one of the many, many things that makes her story so remarkable.

      • Brian

        It’s odd you quote Wilson, as he seems to disagree with you on this.


        Near the end (bold mine):
        “the Bible plainly states that deception in a state of war is perfectly consistent with holiness. It is not a violation of the ninth commandment to disguise your tank as a bush, when in actual fact, it is not a bush. This may be deceiving enemy aircraft, but it is not “lying” to them — if lying is understood as inherently sinful. It is not an act of dishonesty for a basketball player to fake left and drive right. When the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh about the babies they were refusing to kill, were they being like God? Like Christ? Lying to Nazis about the Jews you hid in your basement is a Christlike activity. And of course, the lake of fire is reserved for liars. All this represents is mere verbal contradiction. Not all killing is murder. Not all deception is a breach of the ninth commandment.”

  • Neal

    Jesse, I don’t think your account of the Rahab situation is actually an argument. “Give her some slack” doesn’t really get at the reasons why people bring her up in the argument. If I want to argue that it’s sometimes good to lie, then I will use Rahab as an example of one of those times. I am cutting her slack. You’re kind of begging the question here: “It’s always a sin to lie; therefore, when Rahab lied, she sinned.” But that’s the very question being raised by the Rahab example. Did she sin when she lied? Or, to put it more broadly, Are there occasions when it’s okay to lie? Are there exceptions to the general rule that lying is a sin? The Bible doesn’t (to my knowledge) say that she did any wrong when she lied. In fact, the Bible commends her faith. So, Rahab seems to provide an example of a deviation from the norm if one is inclined to argue that it’s sometimes alright to lie.

    In other words, you haven’t adequately dealt with the Rahab passage. I only mention it because I read your article in order to see what you said about that passage.

    • Just because the Bible reports things doesn’t mean it condones them. And he already addressed the reality that many people are praised for their faith IN SPITE OF their sins. In fact, that has to be the case for ANYONE who is praised for their faith in the Scriptures outside of our Lord Jesus. Rahab was not commended for her lying.

      • elainebitt

        I sometimes get the weird (and hopefully not real) feeling that people just want to find a way to biblically excuse their own lying, don’t you think? They tend to push the issue to the extreme just to try and see if they can get some/any biblical support.

        As if God did not say, clearly, that lying is a sin.

      • elainebitt

        I sometimes get the weird (and hopefully not real) feeling that people just want to find a way to biblically excuse their own lying, don’t you think? They tend to push the issue to the extreme just to try and see if they can get some/any biblical support.

        As if God did not say, clearly, that lying is a sin.

  • Eric S.

    I don’t find any of your Scriptural arguments, or other arguments, compelling. Here’s why.

    You say that lying is an affront to God’s providence. That argument goes like this:

    (1) Lying is a sin.
    (2) God will never put you in a situation in which it is right to sin.
    (3) Therefore, God will never put you in a situation in which it is right to lie.

    But notice that this argument only works if (1) is true! But you
    haven’t established (1). That’s what this whole debate is about. So, you
    can’t use this argument as further evidence that lying is wrong. You
    have to presuppose that lying is wrong to get this argument off the

    You cite Proverbs 12:12-13: “No disaster overcomes the righteous, but the wicked are full of misery. Lying lips are detestable to Yahweh, but faithful people are His delight.”

    But isn’t the following a reasonable interpretation of that verse?: If that’s right, then Proverbs 12 doesn’t show that any and all cases of lying are sins. It says that a life of continual lying is detestable to God. That’s obviously true, but that doesn’t mean that lying to Nazis is wrong. And it certainly doesn’t show that there COULDN’T POSSIBLY be a situation in which lying is right. The same is true of the Proverbs 6 verse you cite.

    The claim that James 5:12 is an absolute prohibition against lying is a stretch. I don’t buy it. I’m not 100% sure what that verse is commanding, but it seems like it’s something like this: don’t be the kind of person who has to say “I promise” or “I swear” after everything you say. Be the kind of person who people can rely on to speak truthfully. But, obviously, one can be that kind of person and still lie to Nazis at the door or to your wife when she asks if she is the prettiest woman on Earth. A person who tells one lie is not living a life characterized by lying.

    Finally, you say that God loves truth and the devil loves to lie and deceive (John 14, John 8). That’s obviously true. But how does that show that there COULDN’T POSSIBLY be a case in which lying is the right thing to do? Again, just ramp up the stakes on the Nazi case. Suppose there are 1,000 men surrounding your house (in which you’re hiding Jews). The Nazi commander asks you if you’re hiding Jews and says that if you say “no”, they’ll walk away and all will be well. But if you say “yes”, then THEY WILL BURN YOU, YOUR WIFE, all 5 of YOUR CHILDREN, and ALL 10 of the JEWS you’re hiding. Then, they’ll hunt down all of your family members and do the same to them.

    A PERSON WHO REFUSES TO LIE IN THIS CASE IS NO HERO. He’s insensitive to the value of the persons he is protecting. He’s a like Pharisee who doesn’t understand that the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Yes, God commands us to rest on the Sabbath. But if our ox falls into a hole, then it is permissible–indeed, it’s obligatory–that we save the ox. That’s just being sensitive to right reason and to the value of an ox. Similarly, the Bible’s general injunction against lying exists because God knows that, in 99% of cases, lying will destroy human relationships with one another and with God. But that doesn’t mean that we ignore right reason and the value of other persons for the sake of the principle. God gives us general principles to live by, but that doesn’t mean that there are no exceptions. Just as we must use our minds to figure out when work on the Sabbath is permissible, so too we must use our minds to figure out when lying is serving our selfish ends and when it is permissible/obligatory.

    The Christian life is hard. It requires careful reflection, the cultivation of character, and being sensitive to the value of God’s creations. It’s naive to think that we can act rightly and glorify God by mindlessly following rules. THIS IS ONE (OF THE MANY) LESSONS WE SHOULD LEARN FROM THE PHARISEES.

    • Eric S.

      The interpretation of Proverbs 12:12-13 got scrambled. It should go like this: God
      detests a life that is characterized by lying.

    • I would say that the hypothetical example of the 1,000 men surrounding your house etc. doesn’t really support the idea of an instance when it’s okay to lie.

      Really — when you’re dealing with a criminal government such as that, the outcome is not dependent on whether you answer truthfully or not to their question. If 1,000 men were really surrounding your house they obviously already have intent to come into your home, regardless of what you want or what you say. This is kind of like the line about how to respond to some criminal that has taken you hostage and says “do what I say or I’ll kill you.” We realize that it doesn’t matter if you do what they say — the hostage may well comply, out of their fear of being killed, but the thug will end up killing the person (afterward) anyway.

      • Eric S.

        Lynda, your response avoids the issue by denying the example.

        Jesse, the original author, claimed that there couldn’t possibly be a scenario in which lying is the right thing to do. My example challenged that claim by suggesting that there ARE possible scenarios in which it is right to lie. Then, you break in and say, “Well, Eric, it’s likely that the scenario you propose wouldn’t happen that way in the ‘real world’.”

        What you say is true. But I wasn’t suggesting that my scenario is likely to happen. I was suggesting that it is possible. And if it is possible, then Jesse’s claim that it couldn’t possibly be right to lie is false. And that’s what I wanted to argue.

        So, while your comment is true, it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t engage my claim, which is: there are possible scenarios in which it is right to lie.

        • Okay — the point is, there really isn’t such a scenario in which it is necessary to lie. The very fact that an example was provided, and yet that example is such an exaggerated hypothetical that would never happen (not only improbable, but could not happen — given the real nature of man and especially fallen man) — shows that there really is no situation that demands a person must lie. (For further explanation: that situation is not at all probable and quite impossible, because of what happens to fallen man in great power. To those 1,000 people, barbaric human strength, physical, mob behavior, is a far more dominant characteristic of human nature than anything of mere words. And we have the record of history, of how the Nazis did behave, to further prove the point of the relative qualities and strengths of various human behaviors, physical strength versus mere talk etc….)

          • Eric S.

            I can’t tell if you’re saying that my scenario is improbable or impossible.

            If you’re saying my scenario improbable, then, again, you haven’t engaged my argument. My argument was that my scenario is possible. My scenario is one in which it is permissible to lie. Therefore, there’s a possible scenario in which it is permissible to lie.

            If you’re saying that my case is impossible, then you have engaged my argument, but you’ve done so by resting your case on an implausible claim. If you want to rest the full weight of your case against lying on the claim that my proposed scenario is impossible, then be my guest.

            How you would ever justify such a claim is unknown to me. You certainly can’t show that my scenario is impossible by talking about how the Nazis actually acted. That doesn’t show anything about what’s possible. You say some stuff about fallen man and how they react in mobs and positions of power, but it’s unclear what that is supposed to show. Again, how people have actually acted in mobs and positions of power shows nothing about how they could or might act.

            So, if your case against lying depends upon the claim that my scenario literally CANNOT happen, then I think I’m satisfied. I don’t know many people who would accept that claim.

  • Try slamming the door on the face of a Nazi Gestapo in 1941 Germany and see how far that gets you… It gets you, your wife, your kids, and the family you’re hiding all sent to Dachau. These aren’t hypotheticals either. There were actually Christians who hid Jews in Germany and if the Jews were discovered, they were killed.

    Rahab was never rebuked for her lying and it was the act of hiding the Israelites (which came about BY lying) she was praised for. The Hebrew midwives get some credit for deceiving the Egyptians too. Moses (who you try to claim agrees with you) was alive BECAUSE the Hebrew midwives lied to the Egyptians…

    The Bible also makes it clear we are to be in subjection to authorities and honor the emperor, yet we all know Paul and Peter aren’t saying “you should do this all the time, no matter what, without exception”.

    I’m not saying we should treat lying flippantly, but there are plenty of Biblical examples which show the flaws in your hyper-absolutist approach.

    Here are some articles for those who would like to see the other side of this argument, then decide for themselves which makes the most sense Biblically, morally, and philosophically.



  • Jim

    The commandment says “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” Exodus 20:16. Is my enemy my neighbor? Is someone seeking to harm me my neighbor? Who do I have the responsibility to tell the truth to. The midwives feared God, lied to Pharoah their enemy and were rewarded by God

    • “Who is my neighbor?”

      • Jim

        At the time the commandment was delivered it would have been fellow Israelites. Today I would say it would be at least your fellow brothers in Christ.

    • Andrew

      Jesus gives a clear answer to this question in the parable of the good samaritan: your neighbor is anyone that you would want to help you if you were in trouble.

  • elainebitt

    “does God ever put you in a position where sinning is the right thing to do?”

    Really important question.

    thanks Jesse!

  • elainebitt

    “does God ever put you in a position where sinning is the right thing to do?”

    Really important question.

    thanks Jesse!

  • Elizabeth Miller

    “The Hebrew midwives were praised like Rahab was praised. They sided with God’s people over and against the riches of Egypt. That is praiseworthy. Lying…not so much.”

    (Those poor Jews in the basement…can’t they get any peace?)

    Let me substitute Jesse’s above paragraph regarding the midwives and Rahab with those hiding the Jews:

    The German citizens were praised like Rahab was praised. They sided with God’s people over and against the riches of The Third Reich. That is praiseworthy. Lying…not so much.

    I’ve vacillated between the moral clarity of Jesse’s original post and the not-so-clear what-ifs in so many of the comments. However, in Jesse’s paragraph from above, I see no difference whatsoever between the midwives, Rahab and the Germans who lied to save the Jews in their care.

  • Elizabeth Miller

    “The Hebrew midwives were praised like Rahab was praised. They sided with God’s people over and against the riches of Egypt. That is praiseworthy. Lying…not so much.”

    (Those poor Jews in the basement…can’t they get any peace?)

    Let me substitute Jesse’s above paragraph regarding the midwives and Rahab with those hiding the Jews:

    The German citizens were praised like Rahab was praised. They sided with God’s people over and against the riches of The Third Reich. That is praiseworthy. Lying…not so much.

    I’ve vacillated between the moral clarity of Jesse’s original post and the not-so-clear what-ifs in so many of the comments. However, in Jesse’s paragraph from above, I see no difference whatsoever between the midwives, Rahab and the Germans who lied to save the Jews in their care.

  • Jesse:

    Thanks for this, but I need some more persuasion. Simply put, is all deception the sin of lying?

    For example, when we all put “light timers” in our homes during summer travels, we do so expressly to deceive. We are trying to deceive would-be burglars into believing the lie that we are actually home. But if we’re deceiving those who are bent on sin, are we guilty of the sin of lying?

    Personally, I like this formulation: Christians owe the truth to those who deserve the truth.

    Back to my example, burglars do not deserve the truth of our whereabouts when they’re attempting to thieve. Neither was Pharaoh deserving of the truth by the Hebrew midwives nor the men in Jericho by Rahab – I agree with another commenter that since Rahab’s faith was exhibited by her deceit, I’m not sure “the Bible never commends her lying” will cut it as an acceptable response.

    As you know, this is a live and costly issue – especially for many brethren who live and travel to closed countries for the sake of the Gospel. So, contrary to what some in the thread have implied, I’m not looking for an excuse to be other than completely honest on their tax-forms or time-sheets.

    Is it possible for Christians to deceive people who do not deserve the truth without being guilty of the sin of lying? I say yes, though I’m open to hear more.

    • Or what about the guy who puts the home security sign in front of his house, w/o actually having home security?

      Look, there is wisdom, and there is lying. Its never wise to lie. Turning your lights on and off is not lying. Putting a dead bolt on your door is not a lack of faith. Have an alarm. Flash those lights. And, better than stealing a sign, actually pay for home security if you need it. But don’t value this life so much that you’d be willing to sin to extend it–that’s my point.

      • “Don’t value this life so much that you’d be willing to sin to extend it.” Amen. I guess I’m not persuaded that deceit, at least as I tried to outline it, is always a sin.

        The Bible’s absolute prohibitions are not context-less prohibitions. For example, when Jesus says: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back” (Luke 6:30), there’s obvious context to that – the persecution of Christians (see vv. 22-23, 27-28). So when the weird guy at the mall comes up and tells me to give him my son, I do not “give to everyone who begs” at that point. Or if he “takes away” my son, I just don’t stand there and “do not demand” him back.

        My concern with your position is that the contexts to the biblical prohibitions of lying do not seem to be considered. Of course Christians should not value life more than obeying Exod 20:16 and “bear false witness.” But I’m not convinced that the Christians with the Nazi’s at the door, or Rahab, are violating it at all. Neither Pharaoh nor the Nazi’s deserve the truth.

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  • Joel

    Thank you for engaging what is a difficult topic. Like you, I begin with the conviction that lying is sin. It did not exist in Paradise until the serpent showed up. It will not exist in the new heavens and the new earth (not even if we’re asked, “Does this make me look fat”). However, I wonder if you could wrestle with a couple of texts.

    In 1 Samuel 16 the Lord provides Samuel a way out of Saul’s threatening attitude toward the prophet. However, that way out is less then honest. While it may not have been an out-and-out lie, it was certainly disingenuous. (Not incidentally the same could be said about Moses’ words to Pharaoh. When Moses says asks Pharaoh to allow the people to go in order to worship the Lord in the desert he’s not telling the entire truth as the people of Israel were going to go from there to Canaan).

    The second passage is found in 1 Kings 22. In that passage the Lord sanctions the use of lying to accomplish his purposes against Ahab. While not Himself the liar, the Lord yet makes use of a lying spirit.

    I recognize that God is not and can never be the author of sin. For this reason I would hardly suggest that God ‘lies’ in the instances mentioned. However, these passages still require explanation. I wonder how you would explain them?

    Without prejudicing your answer, I wonder if there is an analogy in the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. Judah declares that Tamar was ‘more righteous than I’. To focus the analogy, maybe the words ‘By faith…’ in Hebrews 11:31 help us understanding Rahab’s lie.

    • Eric S.

      You say: “Like you, I begin with the conviction that lying is sin. It did not exist in Paradise until the serpent showed up. It will not exist in the new heavens and the new earth (not even if we’re asked, “Does this make me look fat”).”

      Police didn’t exist in paradise. Ambulances didn’t exist in paradise. Soup kitchens didn’t exist in paradise. And so on.

      That x didn’t exist in paradise does not show that x is sinful, or evil, or whatever. It could be that x is a way to combat evil. Some lies might be like this. (Future commenters: don’t act like I endorsed any and all lies in the previous sentence. I’m suggesting that some lies might be like this. Indeed, I think lying to the Nazis is like this.)

      I still haven’t seen a good argument, from Scripture or otherwise, for the conclusion that lying is always sinful. The original author’s arguments have been dismantled in previous posts. Are there other arguments?

      • Wait: the Lord hates lying lips, and Satan is the father of lies while God is the author of truth. That got “dismantled” somewhere? Uh oh.

        In many ways, this Rene Descartes all over again: If God exists, obviously lies must be against his nature, because if it is in his nature to lie, then everything else we think we know about the universe could be wrong.

        But people get their PhD’s in that kind of thing. Its much more straightforward to say that God hates lies-or at least the lips that lie them.

        • Eric S.

          Yes. Read my original post above. But here’s a more detailed critique of your lying lips argument. Your argument goes like this:

          (1) Scripture says that God hates lying lips.
          (2) Therefore, any and all instances of lying are sinful, or evil, or whatever–no exceptions.

          But if that argument is sound, then so are these (obviously bad) arguments:

          The Sabbath Argument
          (1) God commands us not to work on the Sabbath.
          (2) Therefore, any and all work on the Sabbath is sinful, or evil, or whatever–no exceptions.

          The Stealing Argument
          (1) God commands us not to steal.
          (2) Therefore, any and all instances of stealing is sinful, or wrong, or whatever–no exceptions.

          Obviously the Sabbath argument is unsound. Jesus tells us as much when he says that it’s permissible to save a child or an ox that has fallen into a pit on the Sabbath (Luke 14). Thus, the Sabbath commandment has exceptions.

          The stealing argument is also unsound since there are occasions when stealing is permissible, indeed required. If your child is dying of a reaction to a peanut allergy and the man standing next to you has a box of EpiPens he isn’t using, but refuses to give you one because he likes to see children suffer, then you ought to steal the EpiPen from the man and save your child. It is not heroic or glorifying to God to say “I refuse to steal because it breaks a commandment. I will let my son die.” Obviously, the commandment has exceptions. So, the commandment against stealing, just like the commandment against working on the Sabbath, has exceptions.

          Your lying lips argument is no better than the Sabbath and the Stealing arguments–and those are bad. It doesn’t follow from God’s commanding “Don’t do x” that any and all instances of x are sinful. (It’s not just me saying this. Jesus said this, too.) Obviously, lying, stealing, and working on the Sabbath are generally wrong–99% of the time. No one doubts that. But we’re arguing about whether there’s a 1% in which lying, stealing, or working on the Sabbath is permissible. I’m saying there is.

          Here’s your Author of Truth Argument:

          Author of Truth
          (1) God is the author of truth.
          (2) Therefore, any and all cases of lying are sinful, evil, etc.

          But if that argument is sound, then so is this really bad argument.

          Author of Beauty
          (1) God is the author of beauty.
          (2) Therefore, any and all instances of making ugly things is sinful, evil, etc.

          Author of Beauty obviously unsound. Otherwise, your kid is sinning every time he paints an ugly picture. So neither is your author of truth argument.

          So, unless I’ve made a mistake along the way–and if you think I have, I’d be happy to hear where you think it is–your arguments for the absolute impermissibility of lying fail.

          • Eric S.

            And about the Descartes point. Descartes didn’t argue that lies are against God’s nature. He argued that God would never allow us to have the vivid sense perceptions that we have if the external world didn’t really exist. Descartes’ point isn’t about lying. It’s about the kinds of mental states that God would or wouldn’t allow us to have.

            And even if he did argue that it’s against God’s nature to lie, it wouldn’t show that it’s sinful for us to lie. It’s also against God’s nature to be sexually attracted to men. That doesn’t mean that women are sinning when they are sexually attracted to men. So, pointing out that it’s against God’s nature to x doesn’t show that any and all instances of x are sinful.

        • Eric S.

          I guess you take the right strategy here by ignoring my devastating critiques of your argument. It’s best just to act like you never saw them. That way you and your readers don’t have to be made uncomfortable by those annoying things called “reasons” and “arguments”.

    • I hit on 1 Kings 22 in a response below. I’ll probably write an entire post on that one, but the short answer is that God uses means. Lies are still lies, but it is significant that God has a demon do the lying. In the same way that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Don’t mix up that order, or you end up with God being the tempter. Ditto in 1 Kings 22.

  • Frank

    Jesse, what do think about Matthew 12:3 where David eats the showbread? Doesn’t that seem like graded ethics?

    • Or better yet, how about David lying about it? He said that it was for him and “his men outside” and that they had been consecrated for a holy mission and sent by Saul.

      And of course the result was that all of the priests and their families were slaughtered by Saul. Hundreds (if not thousands) were killed because of David’s lie. And David himself repented of it later (Psalm 52).

      As for why Jesus said what he did in Matthew 12–he was exposing the fact that the Pharisees were after a king like David, while simultaneously rejecting Jesus. Jesus had continuity with David in this: both were Israel’s rightful rulers, and both were persecuted by the usurpers. I think it also makes a point about Jesus’ sinlessness: David lied, Jesus doesn’t. Finally, I think even inherent in the showbread commands, is that it was acceptable to eat that bread. What command did David break? Lev 7:13? Exodus 29:32 forbids “laymen” from eating it, and I think you could argue that the king fits into that exception clause pretty nicely. Finally, sin has consequences, and one of the consequences of Saul’s villainous ways was driving David out of the capital and into hiding, and one of the consequences of that was David eating the bread, and one of the consequences of that was the slaughter of the entire village of innocent priests. I’m not quite ready to step in and blame David for the bread part of that chain–and neither was Jesus. But no way I go from that to “sometimes its ok to sin.”

  • no name

    What about the question Andrew above raised,

    “But to use Bonhoeffer’s famous example, what if the teacher asks in front of the class if your father is an alcoholic (and he is)? To say, ‘it is not your business’ (factual truth) would be to limit the teacher’s authority but expose your father, but to say ‘no’ (factually false) would properly keep the teacher within the bounds of their proper authority while protecting your father.”

    In my case it being making up a story about where I got my black eye to protect my husband’s heavy hand.

    Or when he beats me in front of our child until I confess and repent of something I honestly and truly do not find sinful. How long does he have to beat me before I lie? Or do I hold fast to holding on to the truth, being the ****, ****, *****, until his hand gets tired or my child screams enough or I pass out? Where is the escape that God supposedly provides?

    • Susan Gerard

      No name,

      These are games people play. It is not a fact that God will always save you from lying. In his naive example, a pretty silly one, the “correct” response would get the authorities attention to immediately search the house and get you and your entire family shipped off to camp for hiding Jews.

      I hope you get the help you need to escape this abusive situation.

  • Drew Waller

    Dear Jesse. Thanks for a great article! IBC was such an answer to prayer when I first became a Christian in Annandale and I alway have a soft spot for your church! I struggled with this one and was helped by John Frame’s discussion of this in Doctrine of the Christian Life where he states: “a lie is a word or act that intentionally deceives a neighbor in order to hurt him. It is false witness against a neighbor.” (Frame, 835). He then goes on to cite “substantial number of Bible passages in which someone misleads an enemy.” (Frame, 836) including: Ex. 1:15-21, Joshua 2:4-6; 6:17, 25 James 2:25, Joshua 8:3-8, Judges 4:18-21; 5:24-27, 1 Sam 16:1-5; 19:12-17; 20:6; 21:13; 27:10; 2 Sam 5:22-25; 15:34; 17:19-20; 1 Kings 22:19-20; 2 Kings 6:14-20 Jer. 38:24-28; 2 Thess 2:11. Frame’s discussion of this is worth a read because it provides an alternative perspective and he seriously contends with a lot of what you bring up in the above post. Thanks for starting a really worthwhile discussion and let’s pray that Christians will stand up for right against oppression before it comes knocking on the door!

    God Bless!

    • Thanks Dara. I greatly appreciate Frame’s section on this topic as well. thanks for reminding me of it here, and I’m thankful for IBC’s role in your life. Thanks!

  • Terry Rayburn

    I believe that both the post and the comments are missing the real point by falling into two categories:

    1) Lying is always a sin, and therefore never justified, or

    2) Sometimes lying is not a sin, and therefore is justified.

    Both categories miss the elephant in the room. Here’s the elephant:


    We live in a fallen world, in which we are not only born in sin, but surrounded by it in such a way that many situations involve sinning with EITHER of two choices!


    Using the Nazi/hidden-Jew example, it would indeed be a sin to lie and say there are no Jews hidden in my home. We don’t have to water that down. It’s a lie, and therefore a sin.

    But it would also be a sin to be a party to their murder in exposing them by telling the truth to the Nazi at the door! A clear-cut accomplice to murder.

    Either way, one would be engaging in evil and therefore sinning.

    We don’t have to water sin down, pretending it’s “okay” because of such-and-such. It’s not okay.

    To make these kinds of choices, pretending one of them does not involve sin, merely compounds the sin by adding the sin of pride in “not sinning”, even though in this case you just murdered the Jews hidden in your home — yes, YOU murdered them.

    The more we can comprehend this huge pervasive influence of sin in this fallen world, the more we can comprehend what our Savior has really accomplished in our forgiveness, and fall at His feet in thanks, instead of “justifying” ourselves because we “didn’t sin” — that’s called self-righteousness, and it smells.

    • Drew Waller

      I think that 1 Cor 10:13 would effectively dismiss the idea that God would ordain a situation wherein our only option was to sin. But yes it is a sinful world and often it can seem like we are backed into a corner– and this is why we need to be mindful of the scriptures and stick close to Jesus.

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  • Nate

    Would you be willing to give some thought to the Hebrew women and post an article on it? Thanks for considering it!

  • Eric

    A thought…
    In pre-fall paradise, as with lying, neither divorce nor slavery would have been an option or even a thought. Nor will they be in heaven. Yet, in post-fall earth, God “accommodates” (“hardness of heart” in Mt. 19) both while still condemning them and telling people to avoid them. In a fallen world, divorce, at times is unavoidable yet is condemned. God’s people in both the OT and NT are given instruction on how to handle slavery well. In no way does this “endorse” either divorce or slavery as God-honoring practices. It is, for lack of a better term, an “accommodation” from God in order to function well in a wicked, fallen world.

    Thus, does lying to enemies fall under this same “accommodation” aspect of how to live well in this fallen world? I hope this makes some sense!

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Thank you for an interesting piece. I’d like to apply your principle to another situation: genuine life-of-the-mother abortion crises. I am saddened when I see even pro-lifers reserve this as an excuse for ending an innocent human life. If the principle you’ve articulated here applies to lying, how much more so should it apply to abortion?

    • 072591

      Esther: the problem with that is that while the child is innocent (at least as far as people can be innocent), there is no requirement that the mother cannot protect herself. While it certainly would be noble for her to be willing to die so that her child may live, I find nothing that says that she MUST lay down her life.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        But if you were the doctor, would you perform the procedure? When you get down to it, somebody has to commit murder. And that’s always wrong. There may be mitigating circumstances, but it’s still wrong. However, it might have a limiting effect on any sentence I were meting out, hypothetically. So for example, I would argue that ideally, abortion doctors would receive the death penalty like any other murderer. But I wouldn’t sentence people who performed abortions in these cases to death.

        • Susan Gerard

          Esther, I am a doctor. As 072591 stated, “there is no requirement that the mother cannot protect herself.” This is legally and ethically self-defense. In this case, when the fetus is threatening the life of the mother, the mother does not have the knowledge and/or ability to abort her own child (believe me, many have tried unsuccessfully, with large doses of castor oil, jumping from heights, low doses of poison, having someone kick them in the stomach, etc.) The doctor is acting on behalf of the mother in her defense against her own death. The doctor’s patient, whom he is sworn to protect, is the mother. It is not the fetus. They are not one. While I would grieve the choice of killing one innocent to save the life of another, I would not consider it murder. Please let me give you an analogous situation which is more clear-cut.

          There is a condition which occurs in some pregnancies which is called an ectopic pregnancy. Most of them are tubal, but some are not. about 1% of ectopic pregnancies are abdominal implants of the blastocyst. There have been exceedingly rare cases (about 1 in a million) of carrying these pregnancies to term and birthing by c-section. Almost always instead, the mother dies sometime during pregnancy due to hemorrhage (the abdomen/ovary was never meant to support a placenta. It’s weight separates itself from the now highly vascularized structure and both the mother and the baby die.) So, if a pregnancy is found to be an abdominal ectopic, it is surgically removed to save the life of the mother, even though there is an infinitesimal chance she could carry to term (a tubal ectopic pregnancy is always removed surgically because it will not survive the first trimester, and it could kill the mother).

          Is the surgeon who removes the abdominal pregnancy a murderer? No, he/she is saving the life of the mother, even though there *is* an exceedingly small chance of carrying it to term if it is implanted in a fortuitous spot. The chance of both of them dying is much too great.

          Is the surgeon who is removing an intrauterine fetus which threatens to kill the mother murdering the fetus? No, for the same reason. The fetus is simply in a different location.

          I hope this helps.
          I hope that makes sense.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Yeah, I’ve heard people argue the principle of double effect, and I do understand how it works, I just disagree with the conclusion. I don’t think the doctor who would kill the child under those circumstances is a monster. I just think it’s still killing an innocent being and that’s always wrong. I disagree that the mother is the doctor’s only patient. Two lives are at stake. The mother and the child are both patients and deserve equal treatment.

          • Susan Gerard

            Gosh, if this doesn’t fit meet the criteria of the principle of double effect, I can’t think what does. Also, you are incorrect about the fetus being the doctor’s patient, unless the doctor is an obstetrician, or a fetal surgeon.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Right. I know what the principle of double effect says. I just don’t agree that you can justify the killing of innocents by using it. I agree that there can be mitigating circumstances, and this would definitely be that. But I can’t get past what the doctor actually has to do. Also, I’m confused: Are you saying that the mother and child in a pregnancy can’t both be patients of the same doctor, even though all the other advice a mother follows in a pregnancy is designed to help her child?

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  • Jonathan Huff

    Is deception wrong too? What about the quarterback that deceives the defensive line with a hike call that makes them think that he wants the ball hiked before he truly does? What about the basketball player who pump fakes his jump shot trying to deceive the defender into thinking he is going to shoot when he does not truly intend to? Absolute ethic? Then these guys are sinning against God right?

  • Susan Gerard

    ” If the guards knock on your door, respond by telling them that they have no right to enter your house, and that what they are doing is morally reprehensible—but that Jesus offers forgiveness for their sins, and they need to repent. Then slam the door, and take the hypothetical from there. A person who is brave enough to lie but not brave enough to be a martyr, isn’t brave at all.”

    I don’t know you, Jesse, but this seems to be a very unsophisticated way of thinking. When one takes in a family of Jews, say, one is placing one’s entire family at risk. So your theoretical Nazi’s come by. and you smack-talk them. Like they are really going to go away, tails tucked between their legs, repentant! More likely, they’d push you aside, search the house, find the Jews, and put you and your family on a train to the camps. Now you’ve martyred two families out of a desire not to lie. God does not always give us a handy “out”.

    Jesus healed the sick on the sabbath. David ate of the temple bread. Jesus ate with tax-gathers, touched the unclean without going through the ritual cleansing, and did other things the Pharisees – who knew the Law (and added to it) – thought were sinful. He thought their pride and failure to do the spirit of the law made them sinful hypocrites who deserved a round dressing down. Love thy neighbor as you would love yourself, Jesus said. Well, I sure wouldn’t want to go to the camps to die. Maybe by your (silly) argument, it would be better not to take in any Jews at all than to risk *gasp* LYING about it.

    Furthermore, you are differentiating sins of commission from sins of omission. To “act” as if you have no one hidden is a lie by omission of telling the truth. You may be a teaching pastor, but you are not mature in Christ if you teach this nonsense from the pulpit.

    • Thanks for your comment, Susan. A few things, in reverse order. As others have pointed out on this thread already, you owe the truth to whom the truth is due. In other words, lack of full disclosure does not ammount to lying. You don’t need to tell a burglar “wait, there’s more in that room over there!” So you conscience can be free about that.

      As for the list you gave about supposed sinning that was ok by Jesus– It was not a sin to heal on the Sabbath. The 4th commandment says nothing about healing, and only about working/resting. So Jesus kept the law fully and completely, and did not ever sin. Your comment implies he set aside the fourth commandment on occasion, and I disagree. I talked about the showbread below, but to reiterate–how did David sin? What verse did he break? When all was said and done, hundreds of innocent people were slaughtered because of David’s lie about the bread, and David repented of the whole ordeal later, but I’m more willing to say that the sin was Saul’s than David’s, which was Jesus’ point as well in Matthew 12. Also, Jesus could touch a leper because the Haggai 2 prinicple is reversed with thim. Lepers don’t make Jesus unclean, but Jesus makes them clean, so its kosher for him to touch them. Regardless, that doesn’t really connect to lying (as if its ok to lie if its ok for Jesus to touch a leper?).

      Does that help clear up what I’m saying?

      • Susan Gerard

        No. It shows me that pastors cherry pick verses to support silly assumptions.

        There is a difference between omission in response to someone in authority upon being asked a question, and not encouraging a thief, who is not in authority and who has no right to what you have, to help himself to more. Your analogy makes no sense. “lack of full disclosure does not amount to lying”… the IRS would rightly take exception to that untidy statement.

        Ex.25:30 states that the bread of the Presence was to be placed on the alter, to remain in God’s presence at all times, from Sabbath to Sabbath, and Lev. 24:9 states it was to be eaten only by the Levites in the holy place (the temple). Furthermore, Jesus himself tells us it was a sin: “Jesus said to them, “You have read what David did when he and the people with him were hungry. David went into God’s house. David and the people with him ate the bread that was offered to God. ***It was against the law for David or the people with him to eat that bread. Only the priests were allowed to eat it.*** And you have read in the law {of Moses} that on every Sabbath day the priests at the temple break the law about the Sabbath day. But the priests are not wrong for doing that. I tell you that there is something here that is greater than the temple.”

        See that there? Jesus said, there are some things that are greater than the law. It is the SPIRIT of the law. The Haggai 2 principle was reversed for Jesus? No sir, it is not reversed. It was REPLACED: “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (haggai 2:9) The glory of Jesus replaces the glory of the law, and in this way, God grants us peace from the burden of the law. His yoke is light. Even Jesus states that he did not come to abolish the law but to accomplish *their purpose*. To Jesus, the Spirit of the law was more important than the letter of the law, but he removed the letter of the law for us.

        Now, this is why it’s OK to lie to those Nazis at the door: because Jesus said that there is something greater than the law – the Spirit of the law. Lying to a Nazi to save everyone’s life is in keeping with one of the greatest commandments: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
        It’s exactly like David eating the Bread of the Presence; it broke the law (a sin), but it was not wrong!

        You are wrong, preacher. You would sacrifice the Spirit of the law for the letter of the law.

  • Susan Gerard

    Jesse, you seem to contradict yourself in the above. You say that you, Moses, and Jesus hold to absolute ethics. Yet with Rehab, “that’s hardly the point of the narrative.” The truth is that Jesus did not hold to absolute ethics the way you present them. Jesus stated that the Spirit of the law was greater than the letter of the law. In that way, according to your logic, he was a relativist. I make my point further in my response to your reply.

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