[June 29, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Legalists and Pharisees reason from the ninth commandment that it is always a sin to utter a lie. And because Pharisaic types do not interpret God’s Word with the Spirit, they end up with gnat-straining rules which they impose on others, resulting in ludicrous strictures and condemnations.
For example, some of them make an inordinate distinction between uttering a lie and misrepresenting a situation without actually uttering a verbal falsehood. They say that it is always sinful to lie, but it’s not necessarily sinful to misrepresent a situation so long as one actually does not utter an untruth. The spoken lie is the big no-no. And they polish up the brass buttons of their supposed righteousness by guilefully misrepresenting situations without actually uttering lies. When I read their arguments, I am reminded of the scholastics who in pre-Reformation days would argue how many angels could occupy the space on the head of a pin.
But God’s law is always good, and if it leads to ludicrous results, then it is being interpreted wrongly.
(1 Timothy 1:8-10)
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.
Three days’ leave — Really?
If it were always sinful to tell an untruth or mislead someone, one would have to argue that God was sinning when He instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh something that would create a false impression in Pharaoh’s mind:
God also said to Moses, “….Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’
God told Moses to say to Pharaoh that the Israelites wanted three days’ leave to go out and worship in the desert, when in fact God’s plan wasn’t for the Israelites to take three days’ leave to engage in worship. God’s plan was to rescue them altogether from the tyrant’s slavery and to take them to the Promised Land.
Hebrews 6:18 says it is impossible for God to lie. The impossibility of God sinfully dissimulating is confirmed in the Epistle to Titus —
in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies [The Greek literally translates as un-lying God.], promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2)
God is immutable; in Him there is no shadow of turning, no shadow due to change (James 1:17). Yet, the un-lying, immutable God told Moses to tell a falsehood to Pharaoh, a falsehood that misrepresented God’s true intention and plan for the Hebrew people. How are we to reconcile these things?
Humbly, I propose that the only way to reconcile them is to say that yes, God instructed Moses to lie to Pharaoh, and therefore there are some situations where lying is not wrong, not a sin that needs to be forgiven, but a righteous and good strategy to use when helping the oppressed escape from tyrants — when helping the innocent and endangered to obtain safety.
And Ephesians 5:1 tells Christians to be imitators of God, as beloved children.
So when the Christian is being persecuted by an abusive spouse (one who seeks to control and systematically disassemble her on the altar of his self-idolatry) she may imitate God by
- withholding the truth from her husband when she anticipates he will only use the truth against her to intensify her affliction;
- dissimulating or saying things to her husband which will give him a misunderstanding of her true intentions.
In saying things that will disguise or misrepresent her true intentions, she will of course do so humbly before God, not presumptuously like her abuser does. But she may rest assured that in interacting with her abuser, disguise or misrepresentation of her true intentions or actions will not be sinful, because God does not exact rigid adherence to duties when that adherence would sacrifice the innocent.
A victim of domestic abuse is not duty bound to tell the truth when telling the truth would result in the innocent and vulnerable (herself and her children) being treated mercilessly, or being unjustly condemned, or being kept in bondage and enslavement to tyranny.
Of course, if she has taken an oath in a court of law to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that is a different matter. But I’m not talking about that here, I’m talking about how the victim of abuse may speak to her abuser (and his allies) in day to day interactions.
Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die! Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord! But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
[June 29, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to June 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to June 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to June 29, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (June 29, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Posts in this series
Part 1: Is this post.
Part 2: When is it okay to not tell the truth?
Part 3: Contriving a test to probe whether a hardened heart has repented
Part 4: Did Abraham order Sarah to be dishonest?
Part 5: Joseph tested his brothers by falsely accusing them
Part 6: The second test Joseph gave his brothers
I have ideas for more posts in this series. Lord willing, I will have the time write them.
33 thoughts on “Is it always sinful to tell an untruth? (Part 1)”
I take from this passage that when we are living true in our own hearts and conscience, with the Holy Spirit abiding in us seeking to do God’s will, it is not against God to deliberately misrepresent a situation – much as the midwives did here – in order to obey God. This could apply to many situations, but often – in the case of abuse – I would say it’s in order to protect God’s children and/or the young. That protection may be spiritual and emotional or mental as opposed to physical, but it is protection nonetheless.
FWIW, contemporary Israeli soldiers do this all the time, misrepresenting themselves as, say, Arabs in occupied territories or foreign countries for the sake of protecting the nation of Israel. One such individual rose to the second highest in power in Syria; His name was Elie Cohn, and his story is told in the book “Our Man in Damascus.” The point being that I find that to be totally justifiable as righteous in defending others from evil.
I would also recall the hiding of the Israelite spies in Jericho by Rahab. That was “deception” of a sort, but for God’s purposes and therefore righteously done without guilt. God spared Rahab AND her family for such actions – so it’s reasonable to think that God approves of this kind of misrepresentation or “hidden good.”
This always bothered me especially after I left and was one of the ex’s favorite things to throw my way. It took a long time on my knees before God before the guilt and condemnation lifted.
No, I was not just like him. I lied, prevaricated, danced around the truth, and wiggled all over the place to protect my children. He lied to continue in sin and present a facade of self-righteousness to his family and potential allies. Until I fully realized that I was a prisoner of war, it never made sense.
The flip side of this– after leaving, it took time to realize that we were safe and begin walking in truth. Sometimes I’d have to go back to a friend or colleague and clarify something because I did not want to live that way any longer. I still expected the sky to open and the rocks to fall any minute.
Now I understand that it’s a heart issue. The one that loves will not allow another to suffer if it’s in their power to protect them.
I think lying is deception with the intent of harm. And the commandment is against false witness rather than lying, false witness being with intent to harm.
Deception for proper reasons, for protection, is not lying. In fact, during war time all sorts of deception is used to prevent the enemy from causing more harm or for protection in general. As a combat engineer, I was trained in all sorts of forms of deception with camouflage, etc. The “purist” or Pharisee would say my job was then lying.
As you pointed out, deception (even if an outright lie) can be righteous. “Are you hiding Jews”? asks the Nazi with intent to send them to their death? “Absolutely not” replies the Christian with 7 or 8 hidden away. Was that sin? Did the Hebrew midwives sin by lying to save the children? Of course not.
So righteous deception is not a sin.
Glenn, this was my thought exactly. Many great Christians had to lie their way through the Nazi horrors to protect the Jews. When I was a baby Christian I was one of those purist Pharisee types until I was confronted with this very hard choice to save lives and I learned quickly that there definitely are times we are justified to do so.
Great post Barbara!
In John 7:6-10, the brothers of Jesus are mislead by His statement that he was not going to the festival. Whether this is Jesus telling a lie is hotly debated, but the fact is that the brothers believed it to be a truthful statement. Jesus needed to arrive unannounced in order to gain access to the temple and teach.
Jesus had a righteous plan and did not allow the actions or ignorance of others get in His way.
Loren, wow, I never thought about that story as Jesus lying before. Great insight! Thanks for sharing.
I know of at least one person who left our church when the pastor taught about this. I would not call it lying. Maybe a better option when the full truth would cause harm?
Yes, Loren, the text doesn’t give us enough information to be absolutely sure, but I tend to think it’s an example of withholding some or all of the truth, rather than lying.
Those who ridicule and mock the work of Christ (as Jesus’ half-brothers were doing at that stage) are not necessarily entitled to the whole truth. This is even more so for wicked people, enemies of God, enemies of God’s people: those who plan and carry out evil deeds are not entitled to know the whole truth, because they would use it to hurt the righteous and the vulnerable.
I have recently spent much time reading this wonderful, sanity-saving blog and many of the articles as well. Thank you for your work on behalf of people, often women & children, who find themselves in the grip of an Abuser. At present I am still living with my abuser H and am prayerfully trying to determine what to do and what my future should look like. I so often feel trapped in his vortex of manipulation, lies and twisted perceptions of everything and everyone. I am now trying to determine if what he has done to me in our marriage is abuse, that warrants separation / divorce. He has been highly controlling in subtle ways and is now trying to separate me from my extended family and making it very difficult for me and our child to have any kind of relationship with them, even though they love us deeply and have only ever been kind and welcoming to him. He says my parents and siblings are “abusive” – and he uses that word. I believe that he has realized that he has very little ability to control a larger group of people, like an extended family. They don’t feel obligated to jump at all of his demands and this makes him LIVID with anger (to the point of saying horrible, vicious things about them and what he’d like to do to them). My child and I are another matter, we must comply in order to live in the situation,
This article rang a bell with me today so I decided to comment. Anyone who opposes my H-Abuser is branded a “Liar” by him, even people who simply have a different viewpoint or opinion. I suppose this allows him to feel that he’s morally superior to anyone who doesn’t stroke his ego, promote his agenda, or who opposes him in ANY way. In a recent counselling session, I challenged him on this, I said, “you do agree that just because someone disagrees with you that does not make them a liar”. H-Abuser then said, “They are liars if they don’t agree with me because they are refusing to see reality as it really is”. Seriously?! Stunning arrogance!
Thanks again for the wisdom, care and compassion you’ve shown in creating this website. It is so needed!
Welcome to the blog! That was one of my ex- tactics; trying to separate me from my family by falsely accusing them of wrong doing, limiting me and the children from seeing them.
Continue to read and learn. An excellent book on abusers, their mentality and tactics is Lundy Bancroft’s, Why Does He Do That? which can be found on our Resources page.
And if you haven’t already, may I suggest you read the New User’s page found on the top menu bar. It gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog.
So glad you’re here!
Thank you. I have already taken a look at the New Users page.
I can relate too much of what you have said! If I disagreed with my ex he would say “don’t call me a liar!” I hated when he said that. To me, it only meant, I have no right to my opinion. He expected me to believe his lies.
As for my family, my ex degraded and insulted them to the point of calling them demon possessed because they believed me when I told them about my ex abusing me. That I know of, only one of my family stood up to him and told him what the Word of God says about how to treat his wife, and searching for women friends in Facebook while he was still married to me with an intent to have a relationship was wrong. He called my family a liar, even though this person read all his posts in Facebook!
Being that I found out that before my ex asked me to marry him, (I was deceived) he did not tell me he was in a relationship with another woman. I found this out a few months ago. He does not know that I know about this woman. I intentionally did not tell him I knew about this to protect those who told me. I no longer have any contact with him. I still struggle with our divorce, but I know God is faithful and He will see me through. I pray the same for you and your child…
Thank you so much for your comments. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot! It’s so affirming to know that others understand and have “been there”. My H has declared that he will never have anything to do with my family again. It hurts me deeply and when I told him that, he laughed and said “I don’t care”. And I believe him … But how do you have a true marriage with someone like that? These are the questions I struggle with now.
How do you have a true marriage with someone like that?
Short answer: you don’t. There is no true marriage and no possibility of one. When one spouse contemptuously needles, scoffs at, picks on and torments the other spouse, there is no marriage. There is a prisoner of war situation.
Indeed. I know it’s true. I now need to find a way out …. With Gods help and guidance.
Sonflower, you are recognizing the abuse in the relationship and calling it for what it is…good for you! I was concerned for you as I read about going to couple’s counseling. I endured “couple’s counseling” for years before I realized it was actually doing nothing to decrease the emotional abuse and only escalating it. I mistakenly thought that if I made myself vulnerable during counseling by sharing the things that were making me die inside that this mediator in the room would help him to see how destructive he was being. However, the things revealed were only data he was keeping in his memory bank to know how he could control me better. Oh, so she was hurt when I did X…and then he hones in on what he now knows to be hurtful. If you haven’t already I would encourage you to read posts on this blog about why couple’s counseling is not recommended in abusive relationships. I’m not sure if it is still active but counselor / author Leslie Vernick also has YouTube video clips addressing this specific topic as well.
Thank you for your comments. I fully can see the pitfalls of couples counselling, now that I’ve been in it for awhile! I actually wanted to go for individual counselling, rather than together, but H refused to go unless I would go with him. I wanted to give every possible avenue a chance, I decided, so that I don’t wonder later if I should have tried this or that …
Interestingly, after our exchange about liars in the counsellors office, H stormed out and I took that opportunity to ask counsellor to see me alone. Counsellor agreed and I’ve been to one session alone, which was so very validating! He told me he sees many abusive behaviours / tendencies / attitudes in H and gave me many safety warnings. That isn’t nice to hear but it confirmed to me that what I was seeing and sensing was real, and not just me “blowing things out of proportion” as H says.
Thank you for your advice and recommendations. Any insight is much appreciated, I have felt so alone, overwhelmed, and confused – all at once!
I hate lying and I don’t lie unless I’m in danger and have no other option. My ex is a master of deception and he lies all the time. But he calls me a liar. He had to try very very hard to find any grounds at all to justify calling me a liar, and in two decades of knowing me, he could only find a single incident. That happened when he was asking after one of the children and I innocently said something that he misunderstood. Then he ended the conversation. If he was anyone else, I would have contacted him again to clear up the misunderstanding. I didn’t do that because I never feel safe to initiate contact with him. If it’s absolutely essential to make contact I always do that through a third person. Well I was feeling guilty about not putting my safety at risk, just to ensure that he understood the truth of the situation in that one incident. But now I don’t feel guilty. Thanks!
God values life. Evil has always wanted to destroy life. God looks at the heart. Often, humankind only looks at the outward appearance. When one looks through the lens of saving life, it is right to lie to save oneself or others. God knows what is going on. He knows why a “lie or misrepresentation” is used. We honor those who have lied to save lives because it was the right thing to do. So when a wife or mother “lies” to keep herself and children from abuse, it is a righteous act that protects life. To be clear though, God does look at the intentions and He knows why a lie is used.
My mom likes to explain it in the terms of “weightier matters”. What is the right, the just, the compassionate thing to do in abusive situations? Tell the truth so that the abuser will have fuel to use for more abuse? (I found my abuser creating scenarios where he could draw me near and vulnerable so that he could pounce.) Or is it better to lie or withhold emotions, words or events because letting them be known will cause the abuser delight and yourself pain. I think it is evident that the weightier choice to make is lie/misrepresent and protect and not “tell the whole truth” and become vulnerable to cruelty. However, one must be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. It takes a lot of work to escape an abuser. It takes a lot of faith and trust in Jesus that he loves you very much and is angry at your abuser. It takes a lot of reading and affirming the Scriptures that speak to God’s love and His anger at selfish liars, manipulators and destroyers. Begin by knowing that the “still small voice” speaks to you in your pain. You might just think it is your own thoughts (and sometimes it can be) but the Holy Spirit will confirm the real truth in Scripture, in words of others, and in ways that speak to you individually. God wants to deliver each one of us that has been deceived by an abuser. He will make a way. Thank you Barbara for your work and encouragement.
I like your Mom’s expression, Kaycee. 🙂
What you’ve said anticipates the next post in this series, which is coming tomorrow.
Barb, thank you for this article. I’ve always thought that if we tell the truth no matter what, God would take care of rest. But as you point out in the scriptures that there are instances where not all the truth is revealed or God intentionally deceived Pharoah. Living with an abuser, I can see where this is necessary. I have a question, how do I teach this to my kids- when I tried to tell them to omit something that happened, tell only half the truth, they asked me “isn’t that lying”.
I guess you teach it to your kids in the same kind of way I’m trying to teach it in this series.
In part 2 of this series I explain the ethical principles, and under what circumstances it is okay to not tell the truth.
The ethical principle:
The occasions when the duty to tell the truth can be left done (omitted, passed over) may be discerned by asking oneself these questions:
Would telling the truth result in mercilessness?
Would telling the truth result in harm or hurt to the afflicted, the oppressed, the vulnerable?
Would telling the truth unjustly endanger or condemn the innocent?
If it would, truth-telling can be left undone — omitted on that occasion — because to do it would violate the over-arching principle of God’s justice, mercy and steadfast love.
Put that in simple language to your kids. Then give them examples they can relate to. Here is a simple example to start off with:
If a timid and shy girl comes to school with a new haircut, and she says to you “Is my haircut okay?” and you privately think her haircut doesn’t suit her, you need not tell her the truth. You can say “Yes, it’s fine.” The reason that fib (lie) is okay is because telling the truth would be merciless. It would hurt her feelings unnecessarily. It does no harm, telling that lie, and it recognises that mercy and justice can override the principle of truth-telling.
Then you can give the classic example: Suppose a robber with a gun got into our house and was saying he would kill mum. And suppose you and the other kids were hiding in the wardrobe in your bedroom. And suppose the robber said to mum “Are you alone in this house? Is anyone else here?” Should mum say “Yes, my kids are here, they are in the bedroom in the wardrobe.” NO! Not at all. Mum should lie to the robber, because justice and mercy override the principle of telling the truth.
I’m really grateful for this post and discussion, Barb. It has instigated a few conversations with my daughter about the importance of truth and truth-telling, but the wisdom of discernment in situations that call for upholding her own personal safety and that of others even if it involves what might be considered to be “lying.” She reminded me of the domestic violence public service announcement that was shown during the Super Bowl here in America, when a woman feigns to call a pizza delivery service but in fact calls 9-1-1 in search of help. She had forgotten the details of the commercial, but remembered that it involved a woman “lying” to keep herself safe, so we re-watched it together, because my daughter wants to know ways to protect herself if need be in the future. We’ve been discussing strategies such as the one in the commercial for her own safety in the future, so thank you!!!!
Yes, that’s a great public service announcement, isn’t it? Could you share the link here?
Listen: 60 (NO MORE’s Official Super Bowl 49 Ad)
Added the blurb from video:
Added the Our Story from the No More: Together We Can End Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault website:
Thank you for this post pastor Jeff.
It confirms what the spirt of truth has been telling me for years.
I have been withholding truth from my abuser for the reasons of self protection for me and my children for a long time now.
There are alot less hits on me due to this lifevsaving strategy.
The less he knows about anything that can be sabbatoged in my life, the better and more predictable my life becomes.
Even his knowing about a job interview is fair game for his destructive actions.
The less I tell him, the less he can destroy.
Pretty much we are like 2 ships passing in the night, and thats the way I like it.
Nothing offered, nothing sabbatoged.
Ida Mae, your statement: Until I fully realized that I was a prisoner of war, it never made sense. That is it in a nutshell. Abuse is spiritual warfare. And in war, all is fair.
Glenn E. Chatfield commented:
I have read this post a few times over the last few months – I understand what is written, but still have difficulty agreeing.
I keep bouncing back and forth in the vaults of my mind, knowing times I have told the truth, other times I have lied. The consequences were not consistent.
I have vague memories of being hit associated with the inconsistency, but not enough upon which to hang my hat. To say I knew they were true would be lying. 🙂
Attempting to identify an individual by name might be perceived as bearing false witness.
Adding on to my own comment….
NOW I understand the inconsistencies. I was never lying….I was being punished for not learning how to lie.
I feel relief in writing the truth of the circumstances.
Thank You, God, for clearing away some spider webs of fog.
Adding on to my own comments….
In a world of liars, I am a “misfit”.
Even the so-called “little white lie” is beyond my capacity. Including me in one’s circle of associates or support can be difficult, as I can be an uncomfortable person for some (not all) people to be around.
I cannot imagine how I would survive if the legal system said I needed placement in some sort of witness protection program.
I KNOW there are others like me, and I KNOW the people like me are not friendless.
I am not friendless, and I am not (for the most part) lonely.
Friends add richness and depth to life, a different colour to weave into my tapestry.
My tapestry is missing some threads.
I’m pondering your comments, Finding Answers. I gather that you never lied, but your family punished you for not learning how to lie. Since your family were all abusive, that makes sense. They did their best to make you be like them, they tried to overtake your mind….and that must have included them trying to get you to be liars like them.
And if even the so-called ‘little white lie’ is beyond your capacity, that does indeed make you rather unusual in this world. But I believe you. Isn’t this a trait that some people on the autism spectrum have? People on that spectrum are often very literal in the way they understand what is said, and that would make it hard to lie. Correct me if I’m wrong.
I’m glad you say you are not friendless!
Hoping I get this nested correctly, replying to Barbara Roberts 30TH MARCH 2019 – 6:00 PM.
Yes, Barb, I have been led by the Holy Spirit to understand I am high-functioning Asperger’s, which is considered ASD.
Again, I am a “misfit”.
And anyone who has followed the breadcrumbs of my story throughout the ACFJ blog might now call me a liar, although at the time(s) of my writing my comments, I was writing what I knew to be truth.
In this comment, I am omitting MANY details from all my other comments, otherwise THIS comment would be FAR too long and repetitious.
Due to the gift of healing, I am able to feel empathy.
Due to the gift of healing, I am able to discern my emotional boundary blank spots, though the ability to discern them still does not keep me safe.
I am grateful the Holy Spirit physically silences me when I might otherwise blurt out the truth.
I CAN be very literal, especially when distressed. And again, I am grateful the Holy Spirit (slowly) leads me to understanding what I originally misunderstood when such occasions occur.
I can become overwhelmed by sensory overload, and when added to the all-day internal mini-triggers, life can be a challenge.
VERY few would believe me, though the progression of my fog-lifting and healing can be evidenced in my writing. MUCH has changed since my walls crumbled less than two years ago.
To God be the glory.
In a word….Rahab….