PMT 2013-016b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
See below for part 2 of a study on the ethics of justifiable lies.
In my last study I opened the question whether the Christian can ever justify lying. I posed several situations in which it appeared we would almost certainly lie. In this installment I will provide biblical evidence for justifiable lying.
The classic case involves Rahab in the OT. In Joshua 2:1-6 Rahab took two Jewish spies into her home and hid them. When asked by city authorities, she claimed not to know who they were; she even intentionally sent the authorities chasing off in the wrong direction so that the spies could safely escape.
Was she sinning in these actions? According to Scripture, she was not.
Joshua 6:25 informs us that God blessed Rahab for that lie. There we read that she was spared by Joshua: “FOR she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent.” The very act of hiding the spies was the very reason which led Joshua to spare her life and accept her into Israelite society.
The NT commends her for this action as that which gave evidence of her faith in God. This act allows her to be placed in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (Heb 11:31). This act is used by James as a demonstration of her faith: “And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (Jms 2:25).
Sending them out “by another way” is a different way from which she sent the city officials. It was a lie.
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The Egyptian Midwives
The Egyptian midwives are even earlier samples of justifiable lying. In Exodus 1:15-21 we read:
“Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other was named Puah; and he said, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?’ And the midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous, and they give birth before the midwife can get to them.’ So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them.”
Notice the facts: (1) The king of Egypt spoke directly to the Hebrew midwives and ordered them to kill the Jewish sons when they were delivered. (2) The passage informs us: “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king had commanded them.” (3) And when the king asked why they allowed the sons to live, the midwives lied about the Jewish women being vigorous and having the children too quickly.
Then we read in the very next verse: “SO God was good to the midwives.” Instead of taking their punishment from the king by confessing the truth, we read that they planned in advance to disobey him, and then intentionally lied when they were discovered. There is no word of condemnation of them. There is even an explanation that “SO God was good” to them.
In Judges 4 and 5 we read of Jael’s lie to Sisera. Sisera was fleeing from Barak after a battle. When he stumbled onto the tent of Jael, Jael went out to meet him and said: “Turn aside, my master, and do not be afraid” and then covered him with a rug (Jdg. 4:18). After winning his confidence by her urging him not to be afraid, she drove a peg through his head while he slept.
Then Judges 5:24-27 records a song of praise for her in God’s Word. She is called “most blessed of women” because when Sisera asked for water, she drove a peg through his head. She is praised for that very fearsome act, after she had assured him he need not fear.
In 1 Samuel 16:1 God directs Samuel to go find David and anoint him as king. But Samuel fears King Saul will kill him if he arrives for that purpose (v. 2). So God himself directs Samuel to tell Saul that he has come to sacrifice (v. 2b-3). God, the very one who could miraculously deliver Samuel, told him to deceive Saul. God was sending him for the express purpose of anointing David; Samuel knew that Saul would kill him if he found out; God told him if Saul asked why he came (which in that context was for the purpose of anointing David), then he should misdirect him regarding the real reason. It is certainly true that he did offer a sacrifice (v. 5), but this was not the reason he came.
Consequently, we find in these Scriptures that certain, limited serious circumstances allow us to lie and deceive. In fact, we are not obliged to tell the truth to those who would kill and maim, when they themselves are going to use the truth to destroy.
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Tagged: Jael, justifiable lies, lies, midwives, Rahab, Samuel
Thanks for probing this question, Ken, it is the kind that needs reflection and disciplined analysis.
The examples are pretty self evident, although I am not so sure that the analysis is. Dealing with this issue requires the lens of an “ethicist.” I am not skilled in the paradigms of ethical discourse. I have asked a colleague who teaches in this domain for an opinion.
I think it is a valid dictum to say, “Every lie contains an element of deception, but not every deception is a lie.” For example, the military tactics of Joshua were “deceptive”…as is a quarterback every Sunday (some do not succeed at it, however!!). But it is much more sophisticated to delineate this difference in ethics. It would be nice to have a paradigm approach so one could do such evaluation. I am sure that is in the literature of Christian ethics, I just do not know it (yet…and the indices of several books I do have do not help!! I can’t believe “lie” is not in them).
Another issue is how exegesis works. Was Rahab’s praise related to her level of belief or was it related to her lie? Neither of your text examples connect it to the lie but to the belief. We cannot assume that just because the lie is in the context that it is the focus. There are times when I regret that my library is in Houston !! I have no interest in theodicising (sp?) the accounts but to probe how literature means.
Thanks again, and I “may” be back.
Thanks for your interaction, Gary. Much appreciated.
One strange side-effect of this debate is: Christians can end up allowing the killing of someone in self-defense while forbidding the victim to lie to the assailant.
Yep… but the problem and challenge is to frame answers to such seeming contradictions that are academically sound and ecclesially functional. If it is not easy for we who are trained, it must be totally confusing to the lay level.
As you well know (and to provide some info for other readers), the “ethical theory” domain for conservative/evangelical Christians has sort of broken out into at least three categories (citing some reps):
1. non-conflicting absolutism (John Murray)
2. conflicting absolutism (Carl F. H. Henry)
3. heirarchicalism (Norman Geisler)
Each paradigm has an answer to each of your questions (lying…with the classic illustration of the Nazis at the door and the Jews in the attic; killing). The above categories tend to provide answers that are philosophically and ethically based. Then you have biblical scholars who chime in more from a biblical text base (Richard Hays, Dennis Hollinger, R. E. O. White). The literature gets overwhelming real fast.
I have banged around in the literature, but I have yet to write the paper. But one thing I do know, one cannot posit an answer until they can delineate the field of answers…so it is a process of much reading and the hard work of putting it down.
I am going to prod a few friends to chime in on this blog.
None of the examples that are cited “provide justifiable evidence for lying.” These texts are simply reporting what occurred.
I raise this issue every semester in Syst 1 because of the biblical examples above. Gary, Rahab is in Hebrews 11 not despite her lie but because of it. Her lie is how she demonstrated her faith. She hid spies, who by definition are a living lie. And they were God’s idea.
By the way, to refute a popular example, even Corrie Ten Boom lied when she hid Jews under her kitchen table. She is often praised as an example of telling the truth, but if she was completely honest she would have told the Nazis that she was serious, and pulled away the rug to reveal the trap door. The minute she hid the Jews she was already engaged in deception, or a nonverbal lie.
The key here is to find some ethical criteria that make a lie, or deception, culpable. This is a difficult thing to do, but my best guess is that a lie is culpable if a rational person who knew the entire context would expect to be told the truth. Rahab’s neighbors would not have expected her to trot out the spies for all to see, Pharaoh wouldn’t have expected the midwives to come clean, etc. I believe this definition works in a courtroom, because when placed under oath a rational person knows he is expected to tell the truth.
Your simple two-sentence dismissal will not do. Each of the biblical situations I present clearly show that God allows (and even blesses) lying in certain circumstances. Of course, some of the texts are clearer than others. And the examples do not cover the whole range of possible applications. But they do cover the circumstances presented which clearly involve lies I do not see how you can get around it. These are not simple historical records, but historical records about lying actions that received God’s approval and are recorded in Scripture.
Consider Rahab. She is known in both testaments as the one who protected the Jewish spies. And the way that she protected them was by lying to the authorities who sought to kill them. Had her method of protecting the spies been reprehensible and immoral in the eyes of God, the Scripture surely would have mentioned this. But instead it repeatedly praises her for this one episode in her life. When approached by political authorities, she sent the spies out “another way,” i.e., another way than the one she told to the authorities.
Consider the Egyptian midwives. The text shows the midwives disobeying a direct order of the king of Egypt to kill the children. But the Scriptural record goes on to show how they resisted this evil command: they intentionally spared the children and then lied about why they were spared. The context directly links their lie (Exo 1:19) with the blessing of God: “So God was good to the midwives” (Exo 1:20). In fact, he blesses them bountifully for it (Exo 1:29). There is no statement of disapproval by God for their method. In fact, the text extols them for it.
Consider Jael. She expressly told Sisera not to fear, and then invited him to lie down and hide under the rug. But when he fell asleep, she drove a peg through his temple, killing him. And what does Scripture say about this? It presents a song that was sung in praise of Jael, calling her “most blessed of women” (Jdg 5:24). It sings of Sisera’s asking for water and food, then speaks of her smashing his head — quite the opposite result than the comforting words Sisera received from Jael.
Consider Samuel. The same is true in his case, although no death occurs as a consequence (though a murder is prevented). But in this case, God himself directed Samuel to lie to Saul. Notice the facts of the narrative: God instructed Samuel to go and anoint David. But Samuel was worried that King Saul would kill him if he knew of the reason he came (the very reason for which God sent him). So God tells him to lie to Saul in order side-step Saul’s concern. God does not tell him to look in the mountains for thousands of fiery chariots that would come to his aid. The Creator of the Universe tells him to give the wrong reason to Saul.
It is certainly true that the field of ethics offers a wide range of ethical approaches, including naturalistic objectivism, intuitionism, subjectivism, process theory of ethics, pragmatism, emotivism, prescriptivism, existentialism, and more. And even the Christian world is divided over ethical theory.
But in the final analysis we must look to God’s revealed word to provide us direction. In God’s word we discover the divine authority that must underlie all ethical reasoning. We must let God be true, though every man a liar.
The absolutistic theories of ethics are on firm ground but must take into account the situational perspective. Though we don’t believe in situation ethics (allowing the situation alone to control ethical evaluation), we must include the situational perspective. There is a fundamental, moral difference between an accidental killing and cold-blooded murder. But that situational perspective cannot be divorced from the rule of God’s law. The Bible is quite situationally oriented. It provides case laws for examples. It is the voice of God speaking, blessing, and threatening in our various situations.
I believe the situations as presented in the texts cited in my article, sufficiently justify lying in some dangerous situations.
These kinds of questions require research. For those who are interested, here is some bibliography that I surfaced. Unfortunately, only one item had a pdf available. The Poythress article would reflect Murray. I do not currently have access to the others.
Poythress, Vern S. “Why Lying is Always Wrong: The Uniqueness of Verbal Deceit.” Westminster Theological Journal, 75 no 1 Sp 2013, p 83-95.
Du Preez, Ron. “A Holocaust of Deception: Lying to Save Life and Biblical Morality.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 9 no 1-2 Spr-Aut 1998, p 187-220.
Freund, Richard A. “Lying and Deception in the Biblical and Post-biblical Judaic Tradition.” Scottish Journal of Theology, no 1 1991, p 45-61.
Sumner, Sarah. “The Seven Levels of Lying….” Christianity Today, 55 no 5 My 2011, p 50-53. [full-text available on ATLA]
See Augustine’s “treatises on lying” (search this for a number of items)
Wylie-Kellermann, Jeanie (Editor). “Is it Ever OK to Lie?” Witness, 79 Ap 1996, p 5- 20.
Ken, when you say, “But in the final analysis we must look to God’s revealed word to provide us direction. In God’s word we discover the divine authority that must underlie all ethical reasoning. We must let God be true, though every man a liar.” I think you have over-simplified the issue. No one [here] disagrees with the ultimate authority of Scripture, but HOW Scripture teaches has a whole lot more to say.
For example, the decalogue commands “thou shalt not lie” and your examples cite recorded examples of lying. These two items have to be reconciled or explained in a way that keeps them from being contradictory. The “theories” of ethics under the broad evangelical umbrella try to do that. This is not a simple proof-text subject, there have to be paradigms and lines of reason to account for all of the information.
John’s “simple” statement actually offered one explanation … the text is descriptive not prescriptive. Another explanation is Mike’s… Rahab is in Heb 11 because she lied (I don’t follow Mike here, a bit too much of SysTheo for my taste). And on and on it goes.
So Ken, I think your conclusion that texts “sufficiently justify lying in some dangerous situations” is not the end of the research project to clarify this field. Also… who is the guru of when those situations arise?
To say that “God blesses the lie” is going well beyond what these texts say. It seems to me that there is an underlying assumption that had the truth prevailed in these situations disaster would have occurred. If God could stop the waters of the Jordan River, he could have delivered the spies even if Rahab had “told the truth.”
Well then, let me put it this way: God blessed liars when they lied. Indeed, God could have intervened directly in their behalf. Perhaps they are examples of unfaithfulness: they did not trust God enough to depend on him. And even God did not encourage Samuel to trust in his power to deliver. This speaks to the issue, I believe.
Yes, I recognize that among evangelicals God’s word is recognized as the ultimate source of ethics. And I recognize that it is a matter of HOW Scripture teaches us. What I attempted to point out here, though, is that Scriptural ethics involves a situational perspective. And in the instances recorded in the several examples given, we find that lying is justified in situations such as acts of war and potential murder.
I also agree that this is not the end of the research project, because we have to apply the results in other contexts than those found in Egypt and under a command to kill Jewish children, and so forth. This is similar to the occasional nature of, say, Paul’s writings: Though he writes to particular churches or people regarding their own situations, the Scriptural principles embodied in his letters apply beyond the first-century people and circumstances.
But my point in my original article and follow-up explanations is that at least in SOME circumstances lying is justified by clear biblical warrant. In other words, I do not believe an absolute divine command exists that forbids us from all lying. Even God’s absolute commands have contextual and situational factors that must be taken into account. And in the examples from Scripture that I list, we find some important situational factors.
John’s two-sentence answer may in his opinion be all that he needs to sweep away my argument. But I don’t think so. The cited contexts seem strongly to involve justifiable lies. One even directed to Samuel by God himself.
Ha! I have these little secondary articles to draw people to my eschatological blog, but my secondary articles are getting the most traffic! Woe, is me. 🙂
Gary, thanks for the bibliography. When I get a chance I will look at these. Unfortunately, I am on a time-sensitive project and don’t have the opportunity just now.
I looked quickly in my files to see if I could find the article by Greg L. Bahnsen on the ethics of lying. I studied ethics under him at Reformed Theological Seminary. He handed out his article in that class. But that was long ago and far away, and the article is apparently buried under an avalanche of old papers!
However, I am aware of Jim West’s defense of justifiable lies in Gary North’s Tactics of Christian Resistance, which is good — though non-technical. See: http://garynorth.com/TacticsCR.pdf
Another good study on the matter is: John M. Frame, “rsponses to Some Articles” in John J. Hughes, Speaking the Truth in Love (Presbyteian & Reformed, 2009), 973-74.
If I can get to it, I will try to provide some more.
I started this blog to promote postmillennialism, and decided to use secondary issues to draw folks to the site. Now it seems my secondary issues are getting the most attention! Wait until I post an article on pictures of Christ. I am sure all heaven will break loose!
Consider the possibility that God “blessed them” in spite of their deception, not for having been deceptive.
Then he left us a bad example.
I think the disagreement between Ken and John Lawlor is more related to what is the sovereignty of God. On one side, John seems to be equating the arguments of Ken as if God would be encouraging people to lie, even if in very specific and rare situations. On the other side, Ken is more showing us that in His omniscience and eternal decrees God can be active even when an evil act of men is in motion.
The problem is this. An action may be call sinful ONLY when it is initiated by man, the one who does not know everthing. But when God’s decree is involved, there is no sin at all.
Let us take some other examples in the Bible to illustrate my point. First, was it sinful to offer a human being in sacrifice? Yes. Yet, it was God who asked Abraham to offer his son Isaac. It was not even a sinful temptation since it was from God who is sinless.
Second, was it sinful to send Joseph in Egypt when we do know that his brothers hated him? Yes, it was. But later, Joseph looked at this episode and saw, throught the lens of the sovereignty of God, that his “selling” was the act of God himself (Gen. 45:5: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”)
Third, the best of all example. Who killed the Lord Jesus? The Jews, the Romans, our sins? In fact, all the three are true, but they are the instruments (Jews and Romans) and the cause (our sins). Was it a sinful act? The most terrible of all human history. But the real “killer”, the one who made Jesus die is first and foremest God the Father when we read Isa. 53:10 and Zach. 13:7.
I think we should read Ken’s post in this perspective. He is not saying that God allows us to lie as if lying was not too bad in some circumstances. He is rather showing that God, in His decrees, allows many things to happen, even those tainted by the sins of men. The bottom line in Ken’s post is this: The glory of God.
Thanks to Ken for the post. Thanks to all the participants. And thanks to Richard for the clarification: “in His omniscience and eternal decrees God can be active even when an evil act of men is in motion.” Thus “an action may be call sinful ONLY when it is initiated by man, the one who does not know everything. But when God’s decree is involved, there is no sin at all”!
I emailed Vern Poythress and he sent me a link to read his article (it is too recent in WTJ to be in ATLA). Here’s the link…enjoy.
I would add the following. Ken is not so much defending a justification to sin when he calls it justifiable lies in the Bible. I think we must all understand that brother Ken is more telling us that, in the Bible, there are occasions when lying was another way of seeing God’s activity to achieve His holy plan through imperfect human beings. It is not “justifiable” in the sense that God condone or encourage lying. But there is surely justifiable situations when, in an imperfect world, these lies may be God’s tools to justify “His” actions. Another title of it might have been “When lies may be justifiable in God’s viewpoint in an imperfect world.”
I think that, as for John Lawlor, the issue is not presupposing that Ken is teaching us that God condones lying, but to see that in an imperfect world, God is able to use a lie to make His work advance. As simple as that. The article of V. Poythress you sent us is a very good one, but it just does not deal with the issue Ken has in mind.
Richard and Ken, there is no question that God can use a lie to fulfill his will… I think one could muster biblical illustrations that God uses physical and moral evil (e.g. the Fall) to do so. He uses earthquakes, storms, pagan kings, and even drunk drivers. The problem for me is to delineate what God uses and the issue/s of causality.
This discussion has surfaced for me a number of models that address this question that I have not had the opportunity to study (e.g. Poythress vs. Frame seems to propose new paradigms different than the ones I earlier noted). I would, however, expect theses paradigms to be like all creative constructs…driven to read texts through predisposed lenses.
I live to pursue these kinds of questions…but alas, isolated retirement hampers my desires to chase the details, especially in the philosophical-ethical-SysTheo domains.
I think, however, what John L is after and is a concern to me is biblical exegesis and theology. The literary nature and meaning of texts have their own conventions and the results are often missed with a simplistic, non-literary reading, controlled by SysTheo lenses. I am sure of this but lack the immediate ability to unpack it. But I am now stimulated to broaden my research.
Ken … can you briefly delineate Frame’s view? Or maybe give some focused bibliography that informs your view.
Gary: Due to my having read Frame’s study a long time ago, and due to my suffering from Random Access Memory, I cannot immediately answer your question. But because of the intense interest in my posting (based on research from years ago!), I do plan on trying to write a response to Poythress’ paper (Lord willing!). This posting received the largest number of hits than of all my postings. And I am not lying. 😉 I struck a nerve, apparently! Perhaps you will conclude that I struck the nail with my head!
Ken, I thought that all lying is sin YET God can use evil for good. Isn’t lies in general a contradiction towards reality and the state of affairs, or what is actually going on in the world hence giving bad testimony to the one made in His image? Isn’t lying a contradiction of truth? Lying in any way shape or form doesn’t reflect God if I’m not wrong. Sure Rahab lied, but wouldn’t you say that it was still a sin, whether a “light” one or not?
Just curious. I’ve never heard of this idea of lying under certain circumstances not being a sin though the verses cited are not foreign to me.
Under normal, everyday circumstances Christians are obligated to speak the truth. But when the Father of Lies moves someone to attempt to kill another person, I believe we may used his own weapon against him. I believe the examples I gave demonstrate that. Lying is not always a sin, that is, when used as a weapon to thwart horrendous evil.
This is much like kissing can be either good or bad. It is good if you kiss your wife; it is bad if you kiss another man’s wife. The lying condemned in the Bible is lying in normal daily circumstances.
I originally learned this view while studying in Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s class on Christian Theistic Ethics. It startled me at first, but it began to sink in as he explained the case. Dr. John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary is another advocate of this view. There are many other published advocates, including Dr. Gary North, R. J. Rushdoony, and many others.
so then doctor Gentry are you saying that you are a moral relativist? i find this view especially ironic since that Greg Bahnsen believed there are times when lying is okay because he constantly claims that atheists cannot account for moral absolutes ! Well guess what by saying there are times when lying is okay, he shot himself in the face!
To make matters worse, he believed “thou shalt not kill.” And yet he simultaneously believed there are times you may kill: self-defense, war, and capital punishment. Because the Bible told him so. This is not moral relativism. This is the application of moral absolutes in a fallen world. He also believed that God ordained civil government and that whoever resists the authority opposes the ordinance of God. And yet he also believed in the legitimacy of resistance to evil civil government, that we should obey God and not man. Because the Bible told him so. The absolute standard of the Bible.
Biblical absolutes are ultimately situational as well as deontological. In our normal lives we are under an absolute obligation to tell the truth. But when threatened with death by someone doing the will of the father of lies, his tools are turned against him.
Sure, Ken, post this on thksgvng when we all traveling and busy. What a strategy!!
I think you are lying.
“To make matters worse, he believed “thou shalt not kill.” And yet he simultaneously believed there are times you may kill: self-defense, war, and capital punishment. Because the Bible told him so. ”
The bible said thou shat not MURDER its a little different then thou shalt not kill,so killing is not actually against the bible, and it thing about lying, well that IS moral relativism NOT absolute if you believed in absolute morality then lying would be wrong no matter what- absolute morality means unchanging standard- something is wrong no matter what part of time or space you are in. Which means you cant actually claim to believe in absolute morality if you really believe its okay to lie to save your own or someone else’s life, if under “normal” circumstances its not okay to lie, which means you cant actually call the morality in the Bible to be “absolute”
Emmanuel Kant would never have agreed that a lie is justified, even in such extreme circumstances. Did he take the position that all would come right in the end? Perhaps that’s why I’m not a Kantian.
青蛇: Somehow you do not realize what you are doing! You are defining “thou shalt not kill” to speak of murder. Which of course is correct. However, it is correct by definition, a definition distinguishing killing people in self defense, in war, and capital punishment from “murder.” The same is true of lying. By definition, to lie to someone who is seeking to kill you is not the same as lying as a matter of daily interaction and communication. One is a defensive act, siding with a righteous concern. If someone is seeking to kill you, and they are not sure who you are and ask: “Are you 青蛇?” You can lie to them and tell them you are not 青蛇. You have acted defensively . . . and morally. Just like all the examples I cite from Scripture. This is not relativism.
By the way, does your name 青蛇 mean “green snake”?
BLUE snake actually…. but the thing is though by definition lie is a false statement to a person made by another person who knows it is not the truth,intentionally and if God says thou shalt not lie and he that he HATES liars which would mean well.. a lie is wrong no matter what… So it is NOT correct trying to distinguish different “types” of lies a definition that separates “regular” lying from “life-saving” lying doesn’t exist! this would be considered relativism because it would mean there is no one standard on how you should behave across space and time
Was Rahab a sinful liar when she sent the spies out another way? Or was she an example of faith in Scripture? Were the Egyptian midwives sinfully wrong for lying about the Jewish mothers so that they would escape death? Was Jael a liar deserving of rebuke for her faithless sin in persuading Sisera to turn aside and be not afraid, after which she drove a tent peg through his head? Was God a sinful liar when he sent Samuel to anoint David as king, but then told him to tell David simply that he had come to sacrifice.
Distinguishing between forms of lying is the same as distinguishing between forms of killing. Or consider sexual relations with a woman. Do you distinguish between marital bliss, adultery, and rape? But don’t they each involve the same identical act, only the circumstances differ, in such a way that the moral evaluation of each act differs?
but the problem is that in the Bible God declares certain forms of killing to be okay and certain forms of sexual relationships to be okay, but he never made any separations of different forms of lying
Re-read the article to which you are referring, and my previous replies. I am citing Scripture as evidence. I am not simply declaring it as a practical concern.
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The commandment is not “Thou shalt not lie”, but “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”. See Luke 10:36-37. These examples in the Bible weren’t bearing false witness against their neighbours, but actually protecting them, just like the Good Samaritan.
Context is clearly the answer, but context can also be somewhat ambiguous at times. In such a case, Romans 14:23 applies, “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” I think motive is closely related to context. Rahab, for instance, believed in her conscience it was her duty and responsibility to protect the two spies, so her action proceeded from faith. She had the right motive.
God’s laws are given with a context in mind. We are not to murder, which can be defined as an unjustified killing, but God was not talking about warfare, in which certain types of killing are justified. God’s law commanded the keeping of the Sabbath, but God did not mean no healing or saving an animal that fell in a pit (as Jesus showed us). Lying is forbidden by God, but God did not mean lying and deception were not appropriate strategies in warfare (or dangerous situations). Leviticus 19:11, for instance, says, ““You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.” This was obviously given in the context of typical relationships in society. It does not apply to warfare. Clearly, Scripture usually allows the stealing of booty from a captured city during warfare, as well as deceiving enemies and using tactics such as ambushes. Ambushes are sort of like a lie since an army is lying about their location by hiding. I guess it depends if the definition of lying requires the use of words.
Not everyone will agree on the clarity vs ambiguity of a passage, but again, Romans 14:23 applies in those cases. Also, Jesus clearly taught the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law as in the times He was accused by the Pharisees of violating the Sabbath.
I do not think Christians should judge one another too harshly on these matters, but instead take Romans 14:22 to heart: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” This verse is not to say we should not study and research to show ourselves approved. This is not a verse permitting one to be lazy or negligible regarding God’s law and commandments, but sometimes ambiguity overtakes due diligence, and we have to use our best judgment in a situation.