In scripture, there are instances where individuals erred in their presentation of the truth. The interesting thing is that the immediate response from God was not one of condemnation, but rather one of blessing. Does God approve of ‘The Righteous Lie’?
We must be careful in our reading/studying of scripture not to impose our desire for ‘a thing to be so’ in order to justify why we may practice a particular act. Such an example can be seen in John chapter 7:
1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do.4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him. 6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee. 10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. (New International Version)
Did Jesus lie? It might appear that He did. Let’s look at a few of these verses again:
8 “You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.” We don’t know how long He stayed in Galilee. Also, 10 “However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.”
We don’t know how much time elapsed until His brothers left for the festival. It is a grave assumption to say that Jesus lied. It is certain that it is not a lie when a person says he or she is going to do one thing and then later changes his or her mind to do another. A lie would mean that Jesus knew He was going to do one thing but deliberately said he would not with the intention of deceiving people. This does not seem to be the case and the text doesn't support it.
I’ve struggled for a long time with how to think and teach about borderline cases where we may feel compelled to lie, for example to keep a secret that may protect a loved one’s/ friend’s reputation and maybe even to save a life. If I were placed in such a situation, it would be very difficult. In fact, I could never be sure what I would do, especially if it were a loved one.
Examples in scripture of lying for a cause are found in Exodus 1 and Joshua 2. In Exodus 1, the Midwives who were delivering Hebrew babies were instructed by Pharaoh to kill the male babies. The Midwives disobeyed the king and when he asked them why they had done this they lied and said the Hebrew women were vigorous in giving birth and delivered the babies before they could get there. Their statement is meant to lead Pharaoh to believe a falsehood—namely, that the Midwives were doing their best to obey but just couldn’t get there in time. Does their dishonesty displease God? It doesn’t SEEM like it, according to Exodus 1:20 which says “God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.” They were not rebuked; they were blessed. In Joshua 2, Rahab the prostitute saved the lives of two Israelite spies. The men went to Jericho to view the land and lodged at Rahab’s house. This was reported to the king of Jericho and he asked Rahab to bring the men out but she stated, “The men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them” (Joshua 2:4–5). The rest of the chapter tells how she believed in God’s power and that the two men promised that she and her relatives would be delivered when Jericho was attacked. So the biblical interpretation of her action is that it was done from a heart of faith—even though she lied. I conclude from these two stories that it is ‘possible’ to be a person who fears the Lord (like the Hebrew midwives) and who acts in faith (like Rahab) and yet feels constrained in extreme situations to oppose evil by lying.
Again, do these examples provide justifications for us to tell ‘The Righteous Lie’? In neither of these cases (nor anywhere else in Scripture, that I am aware of) does the Bible explicitly approve of lying itself.
So it is ‘possible’ to be a person who fears the Lord, walks by faith and yet feels constrained in extreme, life-threatening situations to oppose evil by lying? And on the flip side…a person can be a complete unbeliever and not tell any lies or ever feel compelled to do so.
Additionally should we determine, on occasion, whether or not we should tell a lie for the greater good? At least based upon the examples above?
I started thinking about the Commandment which states “You should not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Maybe it can be argued that if we bear false witness in order to trick, deceive or cheat our neighbour, then that would be wrong and if it is to protect someone then maybe it’s okay. However, bearing false witness is lying. According to the Hebrew language the word used for “false” in the Ninth Commandment in Exodus 20:16 is sheqer, which literally means “lie.” It is derived from the Hebrew word shaqar, which means “deal falsely, be false, trick, and cheat.” There are many verses in the Bible that reaffirm the Ninth Commandment, such as Leviticus 19:11 which says “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” — and this one basically covers both of the Hebrew words and condemns them.
While the Bible instructs us not to lie it is possible that in some instances God permitted lying in scripture. Consider Acts 4:27 which says "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
God the Father predestined the death of Jesus at the hands of Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews. Yet God was not the one who forced them to sin. When we say that God ordains, or that He predestines something bad to happen, we're saying that He is allowing it to happen by His sovereign will. We call this his permissive will. It is His will to permit it, because it is part of His greater plan. He plans to permit it. He could alter it, but He decides not to do so.
God did not force the Hebrew Midwives or Rahab to lie. Yet, He permitted it because it was part of His greater plan.
In spite of this we should remember that the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44) . Scripture also shows that God severely punished Ananias and his wife Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit – they both died (Acts 5). Paul even points out that if he were to lie for the glory of God, he would be deemed a sinner for such an act. In Romans 3:7 he says, “For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?”
Consider for a moment that we are all already sentenced to die because we are sinners.. If a lie helps keep a loved one or a complete stranger alive or saves a friend’s reputation for a matter of moments (which is a very short period of time compared to the length of time we will spend in eternity), is the lie, which is high treason against the Creator, worth it? It would be like sitting in a cell on death row and when the guards come to take your roommate to the electric chair, you lie to the guards and say you don’t know where the person went—while your roommate is hiding under their covers on the bed. Does it really help? Since we are all sinners, death is coming for us, and there is an appointed time for each person to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2.) Sometimes we think that noble acts will grant us mercy from God. (Is the point being made that this is not the case? (If so this should be stated and a scriptural reference should be given). I find this paragraph a bit confusing in light of the points being made in the rest of the article.
Proverbs 12:19 says “The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” It is good to want people to trust us; ‘but a lie told is a liar made’ — even if we only lie to protect people. Can we really be trusted if we are known to lie, despite how ‘small’ or ‘righteous’?
I am not convinced that scripture really gives Christians the freedom of determining when it is permissible to lie There is definitely no explicit statement in scripture which makes lying in any circumstance right Instead of lying we might have to suffer loss for God’s glory like Stephen in Acts 7 . This may result in the loss of friends. But God will be pleased with us. I know it’s a hard decision to make and sometimes we may choose the side of protecting our friends, and God’s grace may abound there. I believe though that we should make every attempt to not induce that grace, but trust that God will take control of a situation.
Acts chapter 6 shows that Stephen did not compromise by lying when he was persecuted for the sake of the gospel:
Acts 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
At this point, Stephen could have endorsed “The Righteous Lie” to save his life so that he could have many more years to preach the gospel. (what is the righteous lie could Stephen have endorsed?) However, Stephen laid a long and appropriate foundation for Christ—then preached Christ. And they killed him.
We should count it a great opportunity to serve God and to be obedient to Him, to the point that we would give up anything for Him. God hates sin because He is holy; holiness is the most exalted of all His attributes (is there a reference for this?). His holiness totally saturates His being. His holiness epitomizes His moral perfection and His absolute freedom from blemish of any kind.
Some believe that the lesser of two evils would be to lie to save a life—hence the phrase “The Righteous Lie.” This is often justified by appealing to the command to love our neighbour. But how does God who discerns motives view this?, From God’s point of view, lying with a selfish motive made Ananias deserve death. But, in fact, just one sin is worthy of death according to Genesis 2:17. (Genesis 2:17 referred to a specific sin in a specific situation). This should be a reminder that we should continually praise God for His grace that is bestowed upon us when we fall. But let’s look at Scripture again.
Mark 12:28—31 “Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus tells us that all the commandments can be summed up into these two statements. But of these two, the first is to love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. So, this would trump the second. Our actions toward God should trump our actions toward men. Peter also affirmed this in Acts 5:29 “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
If we love God, we should obey Him according John 14:15 which says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” To love God first means to obey Him first—before looking at our neighbour. So, is the greater good trusting God when He says not to lie or trusting in our fallible, sinful minds about the uncertain future? It is certain though that God hates sin for the simple reason that sin separates us from Him. Isaiah 59:2 says “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (see also Jeremiah 5:25). It was sin that caused Adam and Eve to run away from God and hide “among the trees of the garden” in Genesis 3:8. Sin always brings separation, and the fact that God hates sin means that He hates being separated from us. His love demands restoration, which in turn demands holiness.
Choose obedience. Choose holiness. Choose God.
Author: Paul Singh
https://carm.org/bible-difficulties/luke-john-acts/did-jesus-lie-and-go-feast-or-not https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/speak-truth-with-your-neighbor https://www.gotquestions.org/can-God-lie.html