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Sproul on lying

June 16, 2011

Rahab the harlot, the Hebrew midwives, and others throughout the Old Testament supposedly lied to protect others, and God, in turn, blessed them. Does this mean that Christians today may have occasion to lie with God’s blessing?

The short answer I would give to that is yes, there may be occasions when God-fearing people are called upon to lie in the sense of speaking something that is not the truth.

There are many Christian ethicists who believe that the prohibition against lying is absolute and that there is never any justification for the so-called white lie. Others point to Rahab and the Hebrew midwives as examples; their lies are reported and later on they’re included in the roll call of heroes. It doesn’t explicitly say that God blessed or sanctified them for lying, but it seems to imply that there’s not a word of rebuke for their blatant dishonesty in these situations.

There are other occasions in Scripture where we see people lying in ways that I think are clearly contrary to the Word of God. For example, some have tried to justify Rebekah’s involvement in the deception of her husband so that Jacob could receive the blessing instead of Esau. She was involved in this conspiracy to deceive her own husband, and some have tried to defend her by saying that if God had willed that the elder should serve the younger, then it was God’s plan for Jacob to receive the patriarchal blessing rather than Esau. All that Rebekah was doing was making sure the will of God came to pass. All that Judas was doing when he betrayed Jesus into the hands of his enemies was making sure the will of God came to pass—and God held him eminently responsible for his treachery. I’m sure that Rebekah, though she may have been blessed of God, was blessed in spite of her lying and not because of it. Some would place Rahab in the same category.

Over the centuries, in the Christian church, there has developed an ethic of truthfulness that is linked to justice. The Christian is always to give the truth and to speak the truth to whom the truth is due. The question now becomes, Is there such a case for the so-called just or justified lie? I would say so, and the situations falling most clearly into that category would involve war, murder, or criminal activities. If a murderer comes to your house and he wants to know if your children are upstairs in bed and you know that it’s his intent to murder them, it’s your moral obligation to lie to him, to deceive him as much as you possibly can to prevent those lives from being taken. I think that would also be true in cases of war. I don’t think a person is required to tell the enemy where his group is concealed any more than a quarterback in a football game is required to announce to the defense what the intended play is. He can use faking and deception in order to execute that play. That’s sort of a war game on the football field. Numerous Christians lied to the Nazis in order to protect Jews from capture and extermination. I think that in cases in which we know that lying will prevent such evil, it is legitimate. — Now, That’s a Good Question.

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