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Have you ever told a lie? (be careful, you might be on the verge of doing it again) Is it ever right to tell a lie? The fact that we lie so easily might influence our answer here. What does the Bible say about lying? When viewing the story of Rahab, the harlot, the subject of lying comes to the front.
Reviewing the story: We remember the events surrounding the fall of Jericho. Joshua sent spies to the city to assess its strength. These spies were lodged in the house of Rahab, a harlot. She had become convinced of Jehovah’s ability to destroy the city, and made an agreement with the spies for her and her family to be spared. In addition, when she was confronted by the king of Jericho and his men about the whereabouts of the spies, she lied. Josh 2:4-6 – Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.” 6 (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.)
God did spare Rahab and her family. Also, she is mentioned in a favorable sense in two N.T. passages; Heb. 11:31 & James 2:24-26. Both of these passages praise Rahab for her faith.
I. A Moral Contradiction? Critics of the Bible have often cited this event and charged God with a moral contradiction. How could God commend and bless one who told a boldface lie? Did God bless as a direct result of her lie? Does this teach that it is permissible to lie under certain conditions, when the greater good would be served?
A. It certainly must be admitted that Rahab lied, and that God blessed her and her family. But the question to be addressed is “did God bless her as a direct result of her lie?” Is the morality of lying situationally determined?
II. What Does the Bible Teach About Lying?
A. Lying is universally condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.
- The ninth commandment stated, You shall not bear false witness (lie when giving testimony).
- Leviticus 19:11 – 11 ‘You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.
- Of the 7 abominations listed in Prov. 6:16-19, two of them spoecifcally mention lying. (“a lying tongue”, “a false witness who speaks lie”)
- Ephesians 4:25 – 25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. NKJV
- Colossians 3:9 – 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
1. Just as there are no exceptions to the law against adultery or murder, so there are no indicated exceptions to the law prohibiting lying. Revelation 21:8 – 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
III. What are facts Concerning Rahab’s Lie? Let’s review the event in this context.
A. The spies never asked Rahab to lie. In fact, there is no indication that they even knew she had lied. (They were hiding out on the roof at the time) Therefore, the decision to lie was her own, and not by the plan or design of God. She did not lie in order to obey God, or exhibit her faith in God.
B. It is wrong therefore to suggest that Rahab was blessed as a result of her lie. She was blessed in spite of it.
C The two New Testament passages that mention Rahab do not commend her for the sin of lying, but for her faith in God.
- Hebrews 11:31 – 31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. There is no doubt that she displayed faith in God through her activity of receiving and hiding the spies. Her words to the king are not mentioned or considered in this commendation.
- James acknowledged that she was “justified by works when she received the messengers” (2:25).
- Nowhere in Scripture is Rahab’s sin of lying spoken of approvingly. Instead, it is her faith and her righteous works that are commended and approved.
- One author writes: “What she is commended for is her faith or that which prompted her to deliver the spies from her townspeople, not the means by which she accomplished it. She had heard about God’s dealings with Egypt and how He had delivered Israel through the parting of the Red Sea. So, the word of hearing profited her, because it was united by faith (Heb. 4:2). James did not write, “…was not Rahab the harlot justified by lying, in that she spoke an untruth to the king’s men and sent the spies out another way?” Her faith was evidenced in the work of receiving the spies and sending them out another way (Lloyd, 1990, p. 357, emp. added).
D. Lying corresponded to her pagan lifestyle and moral persuasion. It was sinful, but she had many sins in her life, including her occupation. God was no more commending her lies, than commending her prostitution. Wayne Jackson has observed: “The case of Rahab is an example of where God honored a person due to their obedient faith in spite of a personal character flaw.” Should we be surprised that a prostitute, living in pagan surroundings, would lie to governmental authorities? Hardly. But she was not saved because she lied— but because she believed and acted upon her faith in receiving the spies. She, no doubt, had to learn the application of God’s law in many areas of her life.
E. The fact that she is later included in a list of faithful people (Hebrews 11) would seem to imply that she did change her lifestyle, and learned to apply God’s law more extensively. She did not remain in her sinful state. One writer states “her repentance is implied since the New Testament writers commend only those Old Testament characters whose lives as a whole reflect an obedient faith” (Grizzell, 1986, 15:70, emp. in orig.). The operative phrase here, of course, is “lives as a whole.” Rahab was not mentioned favorably by the writers of the books of Hebrews and James because she told a lie at one point in her life. Rather, she was commended for a lifetime of righteousness that followed a previous life of sin.
F. Others included in Hebrews 11 also committed sin at times. God’s commendation of their faith is not to be construed as an approval of that sin, or to teach a relativistic definition of their sinful act. (Noah got drunk; Moses struck the rock, Abraham decieved to Abimelech; David commited adultery and murder, etc)
III. Is it Always Wrong to Lie? There are some who contend that lying would not be wrong under certain circumstances.
A. Religiously there are called “graded absolutists”. The graded absolutist believes that there are many moral absolutes in the Bible (such as the law against lying), but that they sometimes come into conflict with each other. He believes there are higher moral laws taught in the Bible and when moral laws conflict, one is under obligation to follow the higher law. Therefore, according to those who hold this position, lying is sometimes right because showing mercy to the innocent is a greater moral duty than telling the truth to the guilty. The graded absolutist would use Rahab in defense of their position. She lied to save her family – the higher good.
1. Allan Turner mentions one denominational preacher he heard make his case for sitiuationally approved lying: “Suppose there was someone chasing after me with a shotgun threatening to kill me. Here you come walking down the street and here I come running around the corner and pass you by. Soon, here comes the man with the shotgun. He stops and asks you which way I went; I hope, for my sake, you’ll tell him a lie.” What this teacher wanted those who heard him to think was that they were under a higher obligation to show mercy to him than they were to tell the truth to the man with the shotgun.
a. The example makes some assumptions:
- We are made to assume that one would be under obligation , morally or otherwise, to give an answer to the gunman. Jesus did not sin by refusing to answer some questions asked of Him (cf. Matthew 27:11-14; Luke 23:8,9), and neither do we!
- Secondly, we are to assume that there is nothing else that could, or should be done to help him In this case, one might prevent or subdue the potential assailant in some other manner other than telling a lie to protect him. But under no circumstances is one under any Biblical obligation to aid, answer, or assist the evildoer.
B. The only biblically tenable moral position on lying is to be an unqualified absolutist. Lying is always wrong. God’s law is consistent, and never puts one under the obligation to do wrong that good may come. The only moral obligation one is under with reference to lying is not to do it. This, and this alone, is the clear teaching of God’s Word.
1. Doing what is right may put me in a difficult circumstance. But the Bible clearly teaches: “No temptation has overtaken [us] except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow [us] to be tempted beyond what [we] are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that [we] may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13).
a. The Lord is at work in our lives and simply will not allow us to be tempted without a way of escape. This “way of escape” necessarily involves following His commands no matter what. But it also includes the promise that God will do something in response to my temptation. He will make a way of escape. Do you believe this? I do. This demands that I exhibit my trust in Him by always obeying every command. Let us be of the mind to do His will in all things and then trust in His power to take care of us. When we pray, let us pray: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13).
Conclusion: Is it ever right to lie? Absolutely not! The Christian must recognize lying for the evil it is and never try to justify it under any circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be. Nothing will destroy our influence quicker. No confidence can be placed in a liar. The Christian is instructed: “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth” (Ephesians 6:14).
We must find the confidence to always tell the truth in the fact that God has never lied to us, under any circumstances.