“What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness … ?” the Apostle Peter enquires in 2 Peter 3:11 (NASB). One of the purposes of Scripture is to give us, as God’s developing family, instruction (both by direct teaching and by examples positive and negative) which will help us to live lives that embody that “holy conduct and godliness”. One aspect of such a life is surely that we are to be people of truth and honesty.

God Hates a Lying Tongue

Scripture abounds with clear teaching on the matter of lying. The Apostle Paul advises “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25). And in Colossians: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (3:9). Doubtless these statements draw on Old Testament precedent. For example we read in Proverbs 6:16-19: “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue … A false witness that speaketh lies.” This is strong language – simple and clear. When we are tempted to engage in a ‘little white lie’ or an ‘innocent’ deception, such expressions should make us pause and think.

We are all aware of the negative examples of lying in Scripture. Remember the letter from the self-serving Claudias Lysias: “Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting. This man (Paul) was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman” (Acts 23:26-27). Ah, noble Claudius, protector of the good citizens of Rome! But of course his statement was a blatant lie, as a quick review of Acts 22:24-30 will reveal. Perhaps he’s not the greatest example – he was an unconverted Gentile after all – but we all will have observed such casual bending of the truth. This must not be our practice ever: we have surely learned a better way.

A more telling example is that of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. We understand these two. They wanted what we all want sometimes – to have their cake and eat it too. ‘They sought the kudos that came from a large, public donation to the work of the Truth. But they wanted to keep a large part of the cash for themselves, while having their brothers and sisters believe they had donated it all. “’Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” was Peter’s stern comment. And their lives were forfeited, to remind us yet again that God really does mean what He says.

“So can we also lie expecting what seems in Rahab’s case to be not condemnation but praise?”

But Faithful People Lied or Told Half Truths

So we have clear statements exhorting us to eschew lying; to be honest in speech. And we have the appalling example of Ananias and Sapphira to make it absolutely plain. And yet, we also have examples of half-truths. Even wonderful Abraham was reduced to this: “…yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife” (Gen 20:10-12). We turn our face aside in embarrassment, but we understand him, oh yes, we understand. ‘The examples do not stop there. Dear Rebekah, deceiving her husband Isaac to promote the cause of Jacob (Gen 27). ‘The midwives who we are told “feared God” (Exod 1:17) and “saved the men children alive”, but when challenged by Pharaoh blatantly lied: “the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them” (Exod 1:19). “’Therefore God dealt well with the midwives…” is the very next phrase in the record, not we suggest because they lied, but because they “feared God” and “saved the men children alive”. So “faith wrought with (their) works”. ‘Their lie was neither noted nor specifically condemned, but it was a lie nonetheless.

The Example of Rahab

What of Rahab then? ‘There is no doubt that she lied to the king’s men: “there came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were. And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them”. Again the lie is neither noted nor specifically condemned, but scripture honours Rahab for her faith and deeds on that notable day. Five women (including Mary) are noted in the genealogy of our Lord in Matthew chapter one and Rahab is in that company. Hebrews 11:31 includes her in the roll call of the faithful: “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace”. James adds his words of praise in 2:25: “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?”

Conclusion – Don’t Lie, Even in a ‘Good’ Cause

So can we also lie (in a good cause) expecting what seems in Rahab’s case to be not condemnation but praise? Surely not. Keil in his Commentary on Joshua declares that her lie cannot “be excused … as a lie of necessity to accomplish a good end”. He adds “a lie is and always must be a lie”. And finally “the course which she adopted was a sin of weakness, which for her faith’s sake was graciously forgiven her”. Brother John Ullman makes a similar comment: “However noble her intentions, she lied. God never states that evil should be done that good might result. Yahweh could well have provided circumstances to favour the two Israelites, without Rahab’s lie.”1 Brother AT Jannaway in commenting on these circumstances poses theoretical questions and then answers them: “‘Rahab was untruthful yet the scriptures praise her.’ True, but the scriptures do not praise her for her untruthfulness, but for her great faith. ‘Then why was Rahab’s lying sanctioned?’It was not sanctioned it was overlooked. Her failing … was not particularly noted, owing to her much larger virtue.”2

Let us not seek excuses, but rather listen to the Apostle: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour”.

Footnotes

  1. John Ullman, Joshua His Life and Times, Christadephian Scripture Study Service, 1984, p30
  2. AT Jannaway, Meditations No 115, The Christadelphian (Vol 53), 1916, p360