Can it be Good to Lie?

Richard Anthony

Do you believe someone would be guilty of lying in the following situation?

A Christian couple lived in a country that was occupied by a hostile army. This army was intent on killing all the Christian men and their leaders. This couple had been warned that armed men were looking for the husband with intentions of shooting him on sight. So, he hid in the attic. Soldiers knocked on the door, but before the wife could open it they broke it down. Then they roughed her up and threatened to kill her on the spot if she did not tell them where he was hiding. She convinced them that he had left earlier.

Some would say, "yes, she is guilty of telling a lie." Some would say that white lies are no better then any other kind of a lie. Some would say she did not have to answer when they threatened her. Others would say that "a lie is a lie" and circumstances do not dictate morality, because if they did, then we would have situation ethics. Some claim that a lie is an evil lie no matter what, or why, or the motive, or the results.

Our opinions on this matter are irrelevant. We must go to the Word of God for Truth.


Here, Rahab hides the Israelite spies.

Joshua 2:1-6, "And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, 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. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof."

It may be asked, "Did not Rahab lie in the account she gave to the officers of the king of Jericho?" The answer is, She certainly did; and the inspired writer sets down the fact merely as it stood, without making the Spirit of God responsible for the dissimulation of the woman. But wasn't Rahab rewarded? Yes she was; for her hospitality and faith, not for her lie (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25). But could she have saved the spies without telling a lie? Yes, she certainly could; but what notion could a woman of her occupation, though nothing worse than an inn-keeper, have of the nicer distinctions between truth and falsehood, living among a most profligate and depraved people, where truth could scarcely be known?

There is a philosophy in the world that recommends a lie rather than the truth, when the purposes of religion and humanity can be served by it. But when can this be? The religion of Christ is one eternal system of truth, and can neither be served by a lie nor admit one. Words of truth must always be spoken.

Though the hand of God was evidently in every thing that concerned the Israelites, and they were taught to consider that by His might alone they were to be put in possession of the promised land; yet they were as fully convinced that if they did not use the counsel, prudence, and strength which they had received from him, they should not succeed. Hence, while they depended on the Divine direction and power, they exercised their own prudence, and put forth their own strength; and thus they were workers together with him, and did not receive the grace of God in vain. The application of this maxim is easy; and we cannot expect any success, either in things spiritual or temporal, unless we walk by the same rule and mind the same thing.

This was a palpable deception On Rahab's part. But, as lying is a common vice among heathen people, Rahab was probably unconscious of its guilt, especially as she resorted to it as a means for screening her guests; and she might deem herself bound to do it by the laws of Eastern hospitality, which make it a point of honor to preserve the greatest enemy, if he has once eaten one's salt. Judged by the divine law, her answer was a sinful expedient; but her infirmity being united with faith, she was graciously pardoned and her service accepted (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25). Therefore, there is no excuse for Rahab's prevarication, for God could have saved his messengers independently of her falsity. God never says to any, "Do evil that good may come of it."


What about the example of Abraham? In the following passage, Abraham expressed fear that, because his wife was so beautiful, that the Egyptians would kill him in order to bring her into Pharaoh's house.

Genesis 12:11-15, "And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house."

Abram did not wish his wife to tell a falsehood, but he wished her to suppress a part of the truth. From Genesis 20:12, it is evident she was his step-sister, (i.e., his sister by his father, but by a different mother). The grace Abram was most eminent for was faith, and yet he thus fell through unbelief and distrust of the divine Providence, even after God had appeared to him twice.

Sarai's complexion, coming from a mountainous country, would be fresh and fair compared with the faces of Egyptian women which were sallow. The counsel of Abram to her was true in words, but it was a deception, intended to give an impression that she was no more than his sister. His conduct was culpable and inconsistent with his character as a servant of God: it showed a reliance on worldly policy more than a trust in the promise; and he not only sinned himself, but tempted Sarai to sin also.

Some may ask, "Should he not have serious apprehensions for the safety of his life?" Sarai, his affectionate wife and faithful companion, he supposes he shall lose; her beauty, he suspects, will cause her to be desired by men of power, whose will he shall not be able to resist. If he appear to be her husband, his death he supposes to be certain; if she pass for his sister, he may be well used on her account; he will not tell a lie, but he is tempted to prevaricate by suppressing a part of the truth. Here is a weakness which, however we may be inclined to pity and excuse it, we should never imitate. It is recorded with its own condemnation.

He should have risked all rather than have lied. Here his faith was deficient. He still credited the general promise, and acted on that faith in reference to it; but he did not use his faith in reference to intervening circumstances, to which it was equally applicable. To him who follows God fully in simplicity of heart, every thing must ultimately succeed. Had Abram and Sarai simply passed for what they were, they had incurred no danger; for God, who had obliged them to go to Egypt, had prepared the way before them. Neither Pharaoh nor his courtiers would have noticed the woman, had she appeared to be the wife of the stranger that came to sojourn in their land. The result of Abraham's lie sufficiently proves this.

Genesis 12:18-20, "And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had."

This is a most humiliating rebuke, and Abram deserved it. The Pharoah basically said, "What an ill thing; how unbecoming a wife and good man!" The Pharoah had purposed an honorable marriage with her, but had not accomplished it. Pharoah said that if he had known that she was his wife, he would not have taken her. It is a fault, too common among good people, to entertain suspicions of others beyond what there is cause for. We have often found more of virtue, honour, and conscience in some people, than we thought there was; and it ought to be a pleasure to us to be thus disappointed, as Abram was here, who found Pharaoh to be a better man than he expected.

True Story

Here is a true incident, to help answer the question posed at the very beginning of this article. This story is taken from the book "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom. In the eighth chapter, Corrie's sister, Nollie, is hiding two Jews (Katrien and Annaliese) from the Nazi's. This takes place during World War II. Here is the story edited for length.

"Standing a few feet away, seemingly immobilized by some terrible emotion, was old Katrien from Nollie's house!"

"I bolted down the stairs, threw open the door, and pulled her inside. "Katrien! What are you doing here? Why were you just standing there?"

"She's gone mad!" She sobbed. "You're sister's gone mad!"

"Nollie? Oh, what happened!"

"They came! she said. "The S.D.! I don't know what they knew or who told them. Your sister and Annaliese were in the living room and I heard her!" The sobs broke out again. "I heard her!"

"Heard what?" I nearly screamed.

"Heard what she told them! They pointed at Annaliese and said, 'Is this a Jew?' And your sister said, 'Yes.'"

I felt my knees go weak. Annaliese, blond, beautiful young Annaliese with the perfect papers. And she'd trusted us! Oh Nollie, Nollie, what has your rigid honesty done! "And then?" I asked.

"I don't know. I ran out the back door. She's gone mad!"

Nollie, we soon learned, had been taken to the police station around the corner, to one of the cells in back. But Annaliese had been sent to the old Jewish theatre in Amsterdam from which Jews were transported to extermination camps in Germany and Poland.

It was Mietje who kept us in touch with Nollie. She was in wonderful spirits, Mietje said, singing hymns and songs in her high sweet soprano. How could she sing when she had betrayed another human being! Mietje relayed another message from Nollie, one especially for me: "No ill will happen to Annaliese. God will not let them take her to Germany. He will not let her suffer because I obeyed Him."

Six days after Nollie's arrest, the telephone rang. Pickwick's voice was on the other end.

"The Jewish theatre in Amsterdam was broken into last night. Forty Jews were rescued. One of them, a young woman, was most insistent that Nollie know: 'Annaliese is free.' Do you understand this message?"

I nodded, too oversome with relief and joy to speak. How had Nollie known? How had she been so sure?

There are other possible replies that Nollie could have given the Nazi's. She could have even said nothing! But the point is that she did what she believed was God's Will, and put her faith in Him to deliver her, if it was His Will. She did not knowingly choose to do that which the Word of God clearly says is wrong to do; lie.

Some may ask what other possible responses could have been in a similar situation in Nazi Germany. Well, in Nazi Germany, when the storm troopers demanded someone to turn over any Jews that were hiding in their house, one could have replied with a question such as, “What's a Jew?” And after the Nazi's describe a Jew to them, they could have told them that they have nobody fitting that description in their home (for everything they say would be all presumptions). Or, another possible reply would be to ask the Nazi's, “What makes you think there are any Jews here?” This places the burden upon them. If they search the house and found so-called Jews in their home, there was no way the Nazi's could prove they were Jews. One cannot tell they are a "Jew" just by their outward appearance, for this is presumptuous. The Nazi's can ask them for their papers, but they can show them the scriptures! "These are my papers, her Leutenant," and then proceed to tell them who you and they are according to the Word of God.

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