Justifiable Lies in Biblical Ethics (Part 1)

PMT 2013-015b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Below is a part 1 of a study on justifiable lying according to Scripture:

As Christians we are fundamentally committed to the truth. After all, our God is a God of truth:

“Into Thy hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth” (Psa 31:5; cp. Isa 65:16).

And our God morally obliges us to live truthful and honest lives. He condemns the bearing of
false witness (Ex 20:16) and urges the speaking of truth to one another (Zech 8:16). In fact, we are to “lay aside falsehood and speak truth, each one with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25).

We also discover another motive to truth-telling in Scripture. We learn that Satan is the “father of lies” nd we surely are not to follow his methods (John 8:44).

So then, it seems inarguably true that we must tell the truth at all times and that we must never intentionally deceive anyone, if we are to be the images of God that we should be. It would appear that we must never engage in a knowing falsehood.

Covenantal Theonomy
In this book I respond to recent criticism against theonomic ehtics by Klinean scholar Dr. T. David Gordon. Covenantal Theonomy ably handles Gordon’s philosophical, exegetical, and theological objections, showing not only that theonomic ethics is within the mainstream of Reformed, Confessional theology, but is firmly rooted in the covenantal Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

But questions arise: May a Christian ever be a spy for his country? After all, the spy lives a lie everyday he is engaged in his mission. And yet spies are needed for the important security they help provide (consider the Israelite spies in Joshua 2).

May a Christian ever be an undercover policeman? He has to pass himself off as someone that he isn’t, in order to deceptively uncover criminal actions.

Was Corrie ten Boom acting as a Christian when she told the Nazis that she did not know where any Jews were hiding, when they were hiding in her house?

These, of course, are rare circumstances. But they are actual historical issues that must be approached in a biblical manner.

Less rare are questions of home invasions, rapists, bank robbers, and other such violent criminals. If they invade your home and ask if your children are in the house, stating that they will kill you and your wife if you do not tell them, are you obliged to betray your children’s hiding place?

If a rapist attacks you, may you feign carrying AIDs in order to turn him away?

If a robber enters your store, can you deceptively act like a policeman is entering the door so that you can distract him and over power him?

What does the Bible say about the possibility of lying in certain, limited situations? Are we really obliged ALWAYS to tell the truth and to avoid intentional misinformation? This is akin to asking the implications of “Thou shalt not kill.” Obviously Christians are to  promote life and to avoid killing. But does this universal principle forbid killing in self-defense? as a state sanction against capital crimes? in a just war situation?

The answer to each situation is obvious: despite the apparent universal negation of killing, there are biblically warranted circumstances that do allow killing another human being. The same is true with the general moral obligation to tell the truth: there are justifiable situations where we might lie without sinning.

In my next article on this subject I will survey a few clear examples of justifiable lying from Scripture.

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One thought on “Justifiable Lies in Biblical Ethics (Part 1)

  1. Jeremiah October 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Thanks for beginning to write about this subject, Dr. Gentry. I have discussed this issue before with some of my friends at church. Working through those similar questions you asked above, I currently have hypothesized what makes a lie “sinful”. I would suggest that lies are wrong in the eyes of God if 1) They are said to hide sin, 2) They are used for selfish gain (not to be confused with protecting loved ones – which is not an issue of selfishness) and 3) They could later result in harm/tension in a relationship. Although I am not for sure if these 3 points captures the entire spectrum of how to decipher between sinful lies and “justifiable lies”, I do believe they do not go against Scripture.

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