What Does The Bible Say 
About Lying And Deceit?

As the moral climate of our society has been deteriorating, lying and deceit have become major problems. The business world is particularly plagued by this problem-men’s dishonesty with each other, meetings “forgotten”, company theft, promises not kept, contracts broken, etc. Lawyers have increased in numbers over the last decade, mainly because of irresponsibility and broken contracts among men due to lying and deceit.

The Lord has put on my heart the past few weeks a desire to learn more about the subject of lying and deceit. In the brief time I have studied it I have discovered that there have been volumes of material written on the subject of lying, not to mention the ethics and moral issues regarding lying. Therefore, in the time we have tonight, I can only scratch the surface on the subject of lying. What I have to say can no means be construed as the final say on the subject. I am not an expert, but the goal of my instruction tonight is to:

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Look at the definition of lying

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Determine at least one principle truth about lying which everyone would agree. We will do that by examining Scripture and looking at a couple of illustrations, one secular and one biblical

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Show how applying this principle of truth can help us guard against a couple of common mistakes as to what constitutes a lie

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Offer a couple of points of application

 Definition

What does the Bible say about lying?

Col 3:9-10
9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,
10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him

Lev 19:12
12'And you shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.

 Prov 25:18
18 Like a club and a sword and a sharp arrow Is a man who bears false witness against his neighbor.

Zech 8:17
17'Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,' declares the LORD. "

Prov 14:5
5 A faithful witness will not lie, But a false witness speaks lies.

1 Kings 22:16
16 Then the king said to him, "How many times must I adjure you to speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?"

Prov 19:5
5 A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will not escape.

Deut 19:17-19
17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days.
18 And the judges shall investigate thoroughly; and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely,
19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.

Rev 21:8
8 "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Prov 19:9
9 A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will perish.

Prov 24:28
28 Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, And do not deceive with your lips.

Ps 58:3
3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.

James 3:14
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.

Ex 23:1
1 "You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.

Prov 12:19
19 Truthful lips will be established forever, But a lying tongue is only for a moment.

A lying tongue is not only something God hates, it is also something that is an abomination to Him.

Prov 6:16-19
16 There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil,
19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.

So, if a lying tongue is something that is an abomination to our LORD, then would it not behoove us to understand what constitutes a lie?

Let us first give a definition as to what a lie is according to Webster’s dictionary:

  1. To make a statement that one knows is false, especially with the intent to deceive.

  2. To give a false impression or action or false statement, especially with the intent to deceive.

  3. To make a false statement in order to evade the truth.

  4. The invention of a false story or excuse in order to deceive.

lie2

lie (li) noun

  1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.

  2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.

verb
lied
, ly·ing (li ing), lies

verb, intransitive

  1. To present false information with the intention of deceiving.

  2. To convey a false image or impression: Appearances often lie.

verb, transitive

To cause to be in a specific condition or affect in a specific way by telling falsehoods: You have lied yourself into trouble.(1)

de·ceive

de·ceive (di-sev) verb
de·ceived, de·ceiv·ing, de·ceives

verb, transitive

  1. To cause to believe what is not true; mislead.

  2. Archaic. To catch by guile; ensnare.

verb, intransitive
To practice deceit.

Synonyms: deceive, betray, mislead, beguile, delude, dupe, hoodwink, bamboozle, double-cross. These verbs mean to lead another into error, danger, or a disadvantageous position, for the most part by underhand means. Deceive involves the deliberate concealment or the misrepresentation of the truth: “There is a moment of difficulty and danger at which flattery and falsehood can no longer deceive” (Letters of Junius). Betray implies faithlessness or treachery: “When you betray somebody else, you also betray yourself” (Isaac Bashevis Singer). Mislead means to lead in the wrong direction or into error of thought or action: “My manhood, long misled by wandering fires,/Followed false lights” (John Dryden). Beguile suggests deceiving or misleading by means of pleasant or alluring methods: They beguiled unwary investors with tales of overnight fortunes. To delude is to mislead to the point where a person is unable to tell truth from falsehood or to form sound judgments: The government deluded the public about the dangers of low-level radiation. Dupe means to delude by playing upon another's susceptibilities or naiveté: Gullible shoppers are easily duped by unscrupulous advertisers. Hoodwink refers to deluding by trickery: It is difficult to hoodwink a smart lawyer. Bamboozle less formally means to delude by the use of such tactics as hoaxing, befuddling, or artful persuasion: “Perhaps if I wanted to be understood or to understand I would bamboozle myself into belief, but I am a reporter” (Graham Greene). Double-cross implies the betrayal of a confidence or the willful breaking of a pledge: New members of the party felt they had been double-crossed by the old guard.(2)

Augustine, Aquinas, and many early church fathers defined lying as a statement at variance with the mind. In discussing the ethics of lying they found it helpful to make a distinction between (1) injurious, or hurtful, (2) officious, and (3) jocose lies. Jocose lies are told for the purpose of affording amusement. It is implied that what is said in a joke cannot be a lie: in order to have any malice in it, what is said must be naturally capable of deceiving others and must be said with the intention of saying what is false. An officious, or white, lie is such that it does nobody any injury: it is a lie of excuse, or a lie told to benefit somebody (these are the types of lies that give the most problems to ethicists and moralists). An injurious lie is one which does harm. (www.newadvent.org/cathen/09469a.htm; Catholic Encycopedia: Lying)

Now, according to these definitions, what would you understand to be the basic, defining characteristics of a lie or deception?

Perhaps it would be helpful to compare the malice in lying with the malice in hypocrisy. A hypocrite pretends to have a good quality which he knows that he does not possess. A hypocrite acts out that which he knows not to be the truth in his inner person. There is the same relation between a man’s intents and his external expression of it that constitutes the essence of a lie.

Illustrations of a principle truth

This can be illustrated with a current political debate that is taking place. John Dean, a FindLaw Columnist, says in a June 6, 2003 Special column on CNN.com

Read excerpts from cnn.com printout.

Hopefully, you can see that even the secular press recognizes that the challenge it faces is that in order to call President Bush a liar, it must be proved that he “deliberately misled the nation”; that his “misstatements may actually have been intentional lies”; that he manipulated or deliberately misused national security intelligence data to defraud the United States.

A biblical example of lying and deceit is given in Acts 5

Acts 5:1-11
5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet.
3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?
4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God."
5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it.
6 And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price."
9 Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out as well."
10 And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11 And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.

 Now, according to these illustrations, what would you understand to be the basic, defining characteristics of a lie or deception?

Common mistakes

So, I now ask the question: Is it true that anything that is not the truth is a lie? Let me ask it another way. Is it always a lie when we speak an untruth?

Augustine doesn’t think so. Augustine wrote quite extensively on the subject of lying. He says,

For which purpose we must see what a lie is. For not every one who says a false thing lies, if he believes or opines that to be true which he says. Now between believing and opining there is this difference, that sometimes he who believes feels that he does not know that which he believes, (although he may know himself to be ignorant of a thing, and yet have no doubt at all concerning it, if he most firmly believes it:) whereas he who opines, thinks he knows that which he does not know. Now whoever utters that which he holds in his mind either as belief or as opinion, even though it be false, he lies not. For this he owes to the faith of his utterance, that he thereby produce that which he holds in his mind, and has in that way in which he produces it. Not that he is without fault, although he lie not, if either he believes what he ought not to believe, or thinks he knows what he knows not, even though it should be true: for he accounts an unknown thing for a known. Wherefore, that man lies, who has one thing in his mind and utters another in words, or by signs of whatever kind. Whence also the heart of him who lies is said to be double; that is, there is a double thought: the one, of that thing which he either knows or thinks to be true and does not produce; the other, of that thing which he produces instead thereof, knowing or thinking it to be false. Whence it comes to pass, that he may say a false thing and yet not lie, if he thinks it to be so as he says although it be not so; and, that he may say a true thing, and yet lie, if he thinks it to be false and utters it for true, although in reality it be so as he utters it. For from the sense of his own mind, not from the verity or falsity of the things themselves, is he to be judged to lie or not to lie. Therefore he who utters a false thing for a true, which however he opines to be true, may be called erring and rash: but he is not rightly said to lie; because he has not a double heart when he utters it, neither does he wish to deceive, but is deceived. But the fault of him who lies, is, the desire of deceiving in the uttering of his mind; whether he do deceive, in that he is believed when uttering the false thing; or whether he do not deceive, either in that he is not believed, or in that he utters a true thing with will to deceive, which he does not think to be true: wherein being believed, he does not deceive though it was his will to deceive: except that he deceives in so far as he is thought to know or think as he utters (Augustine, Retractions, Book 1. last Chapter, from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Vol 3).

 

 

There is another question that confronts us in this issue of understanding what it means to lie and deceive. Are we guilty of lying when we do not keep our word?

It is certainly true that if we knowingly tell someone that we are going to do something while at the same time knowing that we have no intentions of following through on our promise or commitment, then, we are guilty of lying - there was intent to deceive that person. But if we do not follow through on a commitment or promise, it does not necessarily mean that we lied. Too often we are just too quick or rash with our mouth. One who is “hasty in word or impulsive in thought” doesn’t take enough time to think about what they are saying. They usually don’t have too much thought behind their words.

Prov 10:19
19 When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.

Eccl 5:4-5
4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!
5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.

Usually making senseless vows or commitments is a result of talking too much. We tend to think in financial terms when we think of making vows, especially since Solomon says to “pay what you vow”. But much more is in mind here. The point in verse 4 is to warn us not to delay in fulfilling commitments we make to God or to other people. It’s especially dangerous for a person to make vows, especially to God, if the person has no intention of keeping the vows.

The instructions concerning vows were given by Moses in Deuteronomy 23:21-23 and Numbers 30:2-5.

When vows are made to God, there should be no delay in paying them; God has a right to require payment in full, and to not pay is considered sin before God. It is better not to vow, in which case the person will not be held guilty.

Matt 5:33-37
33 "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.'
34 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' {or} 'No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil.

James 5:12
12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment.

The point is that our words should mean something. Our words should be well thought out and our words should be few.

For example, if we tell someone that we will call them back tomorrow, and we have no intention of calling them, then we have lied. This excuse is often used with a deliberate intent to deceive. The person does not call back at the appointed time and will call back at a much later date with excuses of why they were unable to call which usually goes something like: “I just was so busy, I meant to call , but did not get around to it.” We all have been guilty of this, but we need to realize when we say we will do something we need to keep our word. We do understand there are legitimate reasons that make it impossible at times to keep our word and in those circumstances we are not guilty of lying. But it might be better not to make this promise or to say, “I will try to call you back tomorrow.” (What does the Bible say about Lying?, www.bible.com/answers)

I could list numerous examples. The point is any time we say the words “I will” we need to be responsible to do it. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have lied if we fail to act. We all, on occasion, fail to do the things we have good intentions of doing or we are hindered in some way and can’t do them. However, if we are unable to keep an appointment we should be thoughtful enough to call and cancel, or tell of our delayed arrival. We are living in an age when there are so many uncaring attitudes expressed. Too often, these careless attitudes, if left unchecked for too long, can be construed as lies and deceit. As Christians, we can be good witnesses by being different.

Application

None of us likes being lied to. None of us likes being falsely accused of lying. The reason is because truth is primarily a self-regarding virtue. In other words, it is in our own best self-interest to see things as either being true or untrue. If we wish to walk carefully through life, to do so we must be able to calculate our true position. When you lie to me, you know your position but you have given me false data which obscures mine. When I lie to you, I create a situation in which you have a false view of reality and you may lose your way. (Jonathan Wallace, Lying, The Ethical Spectacle, May 2000, www.spectacle.org)

 The implication of this is that no one who has any regard for his own dignity and self-respect will be guilty of the immorality of a lie. Even a liar does not like to be lied to. The one principle of truth that I have tried to demonstrate tonight, is that lying must always involve malice (the desire to harm others). In addition, it is possible for an honest man to understand truth such that he might make an error without any intention of deceiving. Such an honest man may prove himself to be inept, but not a liar. Just as the hypocrite is justly detested and despised, so should the liar be. However, as no honest man would ever consent to play the hypocrite, so no honest man will ever be guilty of a lie.

What kind of witness are we to those around us? As Christians we need to ask the Lord to forgive us if we are guilty of lying or deceit. Not only do we not want to lie, but we also want to keep our word so that people know we are honest and trustworthy. On the other hand, before we point our finger at another for being a liar, we need to make sure that we can prove malice or intent, lest we be deceived and become liars ourselves. As Christians, we want to represent our Father well in this life and be honest and free from fabrication and false accusation. We can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit as we seek to be like Jesus.

Jesus always kept His Word. God still keeps His Word and is faithful to keep every promise He makes in the Bible. That is why He is reliable and we can trust Him. We are called to be like Him.

1. Excerpted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products N.V., further reproduction and distribution restricted in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved.

2.Excerpted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products N.V., further reproduction and distribution restricted in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved.