Does God Lie?

Although Christian theologians have debated whether it is ever permissible to lie, there has always been universal assent to the proposition that God himself does not lie – at least until the 21st Century. According to one Protestant teacher God does, in fact, lie. “Someone says, ‘God lies.’ Yes, he does.”

This is a hard saying, especially in light of the Apostle’s teaching that God cannot lie. But before we denounce this as impious heresy, let us consider the argument that is offered and see whether there is anything to commend it. The teacher, Steve Schlissel, reasons as follows:

“God freely chose to lie to Ahab [in 1 Kings 22] by an appointed surrogate. He did not wince, did not squeal, did not seek to shift responsibility. In fact, he boasted about it to Ahab and Ahab’s colleagues . . .

“Consider the facts. God solicited the plan [to deceive Ahab], God had his choice of plans, God approved this specific plan, and authorized it, and commissioned the lying spirit. According to the Word of God, presiding judges are responsible for their decisions and commanding generals are directly responsible for the instructions.”

There are two ways to refute this argument. The direct way is to simply amass verses that state without qualification that God does not and cannot lie, recommend the hermeneutical principle of the analogy of faith, and conclude that an interpretation of 2 Kings 22, or any other passage of Scripture, that implies that God lies is faulty. This approach takes the clear teaching of Scripture on a topic and utilizes it as a guide to understanding more difficult portions of Scripture in order to safeguard against the exotic and the unorthodox. Since there are numerous texts that teach God cannot lie, one single passage that possibly implies that God lies given its isolated context, should be interpreted in such a way the brings it into line with other clear teachings from Scripture. As John Murray says, “We would need the most explicit evidence to warrant such deviation and it is the evidence that is wanting.”

The second way is to deal with specific text itself and bracket off the portions of Scripture that teach God does not lie. In other words, given its context, does 1 Kings teach that God lies? Before addressing the argument itself, two preliminary observations are in order.

First, the text does tell us that God sends forth a lying spirit, but it does not say that God lies. This is an inference that Schlissel draws from the text. It may be that he has a good argument for this inference, but it is an inference nonetheless.

Second, evangelical commentators are careful to guard against interpretations of 1 Kings 22 which God is seen as lying. Calvin and Matthew Henry, for example, understand the lying spirit to be Satan and is his (Satan’s) lie and not God’s. C. F. Keil and E. J. Young believe the spirit of prophesy is being referred to. Keil goes on to argue that it is the spirit of prophesy under the influence of Satan. But whether the spirit of prophesy is under such influence or not, both commentators maintain that it is not God’s lie.

Now to the argument itself. Though enthymematic, it appears to have something like the following structure.

(1) If God approves or authorizes a plan which involves a lie, he is responsible for it.

(2) If God is responsible for a plan that involves a lie, he is implicated in the lie.

(3) God approves or authorizes a plan which involves a lie.

(4) Thus God is implicated in the lie.

As can be readily tested, the conclusion follows from the premises. Since (3) is clearly set forth in the text, we can put it aside for now.

But what about (1) and (2)? As it stands, premise (1) is ambiguous. To say one is responsible may mean that he is liable to be called on to give an account. But God cannot be said to be responsible in this sense since nobody is in the position to call him to account for any of his actions. And it is clear from the context of the speech that Schlissel does not think that God is accountable to anybody. Indeed, this seems to be one of the points he is making.

To be responsible may also mean the cause or explanation of something. In this sense of the word, God is the cause of the plan to deceive Ahab. Though this in not how the text of I Kings puts it, it is, nevertheless, true at some level since God approves the plan and he commissions the lying spirit to deceive Ahab. So on this meaning of the word, God is surely responsible. But this turns the first premise into something of a tautology. It, in effect says, God authorizes the plan and so he is the cause of the plan in the sense that he authorizes and implements it through another agent. Premise (1) is, thus, either false or trivial.

In premise (2) the word ‘responsible’ is repeated. Since we have already seen that God is not responsible for his actions in the first sense of the term, let us suppose that Schlissel means that God is the cause of the plan to deceive Ahab. The second premise can be understood as asserting that if God is the cause or author of a plan that involves a lie, then God is implicated in the lie.

To test whether this is true, it is helpful to generalize this principle. The following premise not only captures the essence of (2), but does so in a way that preserves the validity of the argument.

(2′) If God approves or authorizes a plan that involves the violation of his law, then God is implicated in the violation of the law.

Before anyone cries foul, the consequent should not be construed as implying that God is sinful. This would not only be question-begging, but goes against the author’s commitment to God’s impeccability. It should be read as, if God is the author of a plan that involves x, where x is apparently a violation of his law, then God is implicated in x and yet without sin.

We can test the truth of (2′) by giving a couple of examples. If God were the author of a plan in which a man murders another, God would be implicated in the murder. If God were the author of a plan in which a man steals from another, God would be implicated in the theft. That Schlissel implicitly holds to these conditionals should be obvious because he of his commitment to (2). Consistency, in other words, seems to demands it. Thus God could be said to murder and steal if the antecedents were true. But though these conditionals are stated counterfactually, there is biblical support for the truth of both of them. God is the author of such plans in that he approves, for example, Satan’s testing of Job by the means of killing his servants and stealing his property (Job 1:13-19). Thus, we may conclude from this that God murders and steals. (Remember that while God does such things, he does so without sin.)

There are at least two ways for Schlissel to answer this. The first defense is to insist that there is a difference in kind between plans that involve lies and plans that involve murder and theft. For whereas in the case of lying, the one who approves such a plan is himself endorsing the lie and so is lying, the one who approves of a plan that involves murder or theft is not necessarily murdering or stealing. Given such a difference, (2′) is not a legitimate generalization of (2). So if one holds to (2) he is not thereby committed to the more troubling (2′).

The problem with this defense, of course, is that there appears to be no ethical distinction that can be made regarding these different acts. It would be mere special-pleading to say that the authorizing of a plan to lie implies that one lies while authorizing a plan to murder or steal does not imply that one murders or steals. And it would be a useless cavil to contend that God cannot really murder or steal since all life and all things belong to him. For one could equally reason that since all truth belongs to God, he cannot lie. Moreover, the issue is not whether God owns all life and property, but whether those that murdered Job’s servants and stole his herds were justified in doing so.

Second, one can bite the bullet and say that God does indeed both murder and steal, but then go on to explain that these ethical concepts must be understood in the whole context of biblical ethics. Murdering and stealing, as well as lying, are generally wrong, but when God does such things, they are not. But this is, at best, confusing. Do we really want to endorse a view of God that allows us to say of him that he murders and steals? If so, it appears that we have ended up with a theology that promotes one ethical system for man and another for God. Surely God’s ways are not are ways, but are they so radically different? And is not biblical ethics grounded in the character of God himself? For God to prohibit murder, stealing and lying and yet engage in such practices himself (albeit without sin) is troubling both ethically and theologically.

It can be anticipated that some will object to this reductio on the grounds that (2′) assumes a Hellenistic or logo-centric perspective that is foreign to Scripture. The reductio attempts to systematize where we should simply take the text as it stand without trying to push it into so some general theory about God’s actions. Assuming for the moment that we understand what the Hellenistic or logo-centric perspective actually amounts to, this objection appears quite odd; as if forcing a view to its logical conclusion is somehow pagan or rationalistic. And in any case, such an objection would be misguided since the salient feature of (2′) was tested by a consideration of a parallel passage. There is nothing rationalistic about that.

Since (2) is an instance of (2′) and since (2′) seems to be false, (2) is likewise false. And because (1) is either false or trivial, we are left with (3). But (4) does not follow from (3) alone and so the conclusion that God is implicated in a lie (God lies) is not justified by this argument. And if this argument is no good, then Schlissel has no reason to conclude that God lies in 1 Kings 22. This brings us back to the first consideration: that clear and explicit passages from Scripture that teach that God does not lie should guide our interpretation of the passage.

Apart from these considerations, there is another concern about the maintaining a view that God lies. One problem with such a pronouncement is that it comes without requisite ecclesiastical sanction. In making extravagant and novel theological claims one should do so with caution and only after long and thoughtful consideration has been made by teachers and presbyters of repute. But there is no evidence that such has taken place here. This is not to say that one should never put forth an interpretation of Scripture that is novel or contrary to received opinion. But when one does, he should do so with caution and in a spirit of tentativeness (much like a scientist who proffers a radical hypothesis). It is reckless to unilaterally dogmatize such a novel theological position.

To conclude on a positive note, there is something commendable about Schlissel’s interpretation of the passage. Historically many Christian ethicists have taken absolutistic positions based upon a few proof-text, or, worse, by importing non-Christian ethical theories into Scripture. In the tradition of Van Til, Schlissel tries to understand Scripture not in terms of an imposed ethical system, but in terms of Scripture itself. Other students of Van Til such as Greg Bahnsen and R. J. Rushdoony have themselves offered well-reasoned considerations for provocative conclusions. Both of these men have argued, for example, that the prohibition against bearing false witness does not entail truth-telling in situations where so doing would place human life in jeopardy. Their argument is not based on autonomous ethical principles, but on a close examination of the biblical texts. (Both cite the example of Rahab as well as other passages.) Though I consider their view mistaken, the argument they put forward cannot merely be brushed aside. Schlissel is, I believe, taking up this kind of consideration and pressing it one step further.

So we can commend Schlissel’s attempt to understand Scripture on its own terms. When novel interpretations are made Christians should give them a fair hearing and allow Scripture to be the final judge. The problem with Schlissel’s contention that God lies is not that it is novel, but that it is false. The clear teaching of Scripture is that God does not lie. The argument offered by Schlissel is a poor one and, thus, provides no reason to abandon this universally acknowledged doctrine.

39 thoughts on “Does God Lie?

  1. Schlissel tries “to understand Scripture not in terms of an imposed ethical system, but in terms of Scripture itself”???

    I do not think that comparing Scripture to Scripture and deriving ethical imperatives from that exercise amounts to “imposing an ethical system” at all. It is deriving an ethical system from Scripture.

    What you mean is: Give the guy a fair hearing, and don’t assume that just because it SOUNDS heretical that it is–there may be more to it–after all, we mustn’t be fundamentalistic about the Bible. But finally, when all is said and done, we see that Schlissel was wrong…yet, let’s still give the heretic some credit for arriving at the wrong conclusion the right way. What??!!

    (My daughter heard him speak in Newport News at the Worldview Student Conference, and his view–communicated to her directly–is that anybody–God included–may lie unless in court, and not be sinning. “Bear false witness”, in his opinion, does NOT equate to lying, except in court.)

  2. If my dear friend Schlissel is saying,
    God asserts “P”
    “P” says P
    that is, God affirms a sentence “P” the meaning of which is P, yet P is false, then we can refute that position transcendentally, because finally the truth of a proposition must be grounded in God’s attitude toward it. On Schlissel’s view, God must uphold P by his word, and ~P at the same time; so truth itself would self-destruct.

    I can imagine two ways Steve might try to recover.

    1. He might argue that “P” does not say P, because even Ahab recognized he was being played with.

    But then there is an ordinary-language confusion. Things like jokes, irony, sarcasm, and so forth don’t count as a lie, provided that mode is reasonably and publicly ascertainable.

    2. He might argue that those that “need to know” (e.g. the elect) always know when God is lying versus telling the truth.

    This seems very dangerous. That means a word from God can always be nullified by someone saying, “I know this is a lie because I know God.” Then the whole matter comes down to determining who really knows God. Finally, personal and subjective criteria would stand over the word of God to judge it.

  3. ElizaF – We can applaud an effort while still condemning the performance. My commendation is that it is a good thing to try to understand the Bible in terms of itself and not by some imposed theory. Given the Christian principle that we ought to think the best of others, all things being equal, we should assume Schlissel as honestly trying to interpret the text accurately (despite the fact that he concludes that God is dishonest!) I fail to see the danger in this.

    “My daughter heard him speak in Newport News at the Worldview Student Conference, and his view–communicated to her directly–is that anybody–God included–may lie unless in court, and not be sinning. “Bear false witness”, in his opinion, does NOT equate to lying, except in court.”

    Meaning no insult to your daughter, but is this really what he said? If true, it would be a horrible error. But I would have to hear Schlissel confirm it himself before I pounced on him for it.

  4. Well, I’m sure Eliza’s daughter reported accurately, but the question is, was Steve being careful or reckless in his communication at that moment?

  5. I did double check with her before I typed what I did, that that is really what he said, but memories fail over time, and you know what witnesses are–generally unreliable.

    Best for me to stick with his written or taped statements.

    Beyond that, somehow the guy gives me indigestion. He’s always trying to be a funny Jew and I just don’t find him funny.

  6. It’s telling that the following email correspondence never received a reply (he replied to the email, but did not reply to this particular comment):

    “if what you say is true then I have absolutely no reason to believe that what you told me the entire week at CWSC was true. For all I know, you could believe that by lying to us you were serving God’s ends (and denying that you lied to us this week means nothing since I have no way of knowing if it’s true or not, by your own statements).”

    The student also did not get an answer as to why Ananias & Sapphira were killed if lying is not wrong. One of the other students said it was because they stole! Schlissel didn’t answer.

    MRB said “This brings us back to the first consideration: that clear and explicit passages from Scripture that teach that God does not lie should guide our interpretation of the passage.” Interpreting Scripture by Scripture. Nothing new there. This is what most people have done in the past to arrive at the conclusion that God does not lie. This is not the Schlissel approach. His approach is convoluted, indirect, unclear, novel (“when I hear the words Semper Reformanda I reach for my revolver” comes to mind), and provocative.

    If you want further enlightenment on Schlissel’s views (or “endarkenment”) just ask him some pointed questions. I don’t think you’ll like what you hear.

    I’m surprised that you don’t think that what you have already heard and addressed on your blog is horrible.

  7. In the conversation with Eliza’s daughter, Schlissel was undoubtedly making a distinction between speaking under oath versus not. The question is, did he mean to say “all assertions not under oath may be lies” or “no assertion under oath may be a lie.”

    These are quite different.

    If his point was that the prohibition of the ninth commandment is focused on the oath-taking situation, this could be true without necessarily implying that “not under oath” releases from any obligation of veracity.

  8. “So we can commend Schlissel’s attempt to understand Scripture on its own terms.”

    The problem is that Schissel does not attempt to understand Scripture on its own terms. Schlissel begins from an historical account and attempts to deduce a theological doctrine from it, relying on several premises that are, at best, shaky (as you quite thoroughly exposed).

    He ends up with a conclusion that is directly contrary to clear doctrinal statements elsewhere in the Bible on the very doctrine he purports to be investigating.

    What Schlissel’s exposition appears to be is an attempt to justify dishonesty in at least some of our dealings with others. As such, it far exceeds any requirement of Christian charity for you to try to find some basis on which to commend him in his methodology.

    The best that could be presumed for Schlissel is that he had a gut reaction to the historical account, and said: “Hey, it looks to me like God is lying.” Then he (commendably) realized that many clear doctrinal portions of Scripture indicate that God cannot sin. Therefore he concluded, lying must not always be a sin.

    The problem is with his reading something into the passage from his eminently illogical gut. His starting place was wrong, and therefore his conclusion was wrong.

    A side note is that I am a little bit hesitant to accept your rebuttal of his premise 1 (as per your analysis).
    While it is true that no one else can judge God, God judges (and justifies) himself. He is self-regulatory. And He says that all that he does is Righteous and Good.

    However, the flaw in the logic can be observed another way.
    Suppose that (1) and (2) are true. If it was nevertheles acceptable for God to lie, then it was not sinful for his agents to do what it was not sinful for the principal to do. Isn’t that right?
    Ok. Thus, far Schlissel should be willing to agree that the lying was not wrong for anyone involved.
    The problem comes when one attempts to apply this principle to the crucifixion of Christ.
    God authorized the plan, was responsible in whatever relevant sense for the plan (your point about ambiguity is right on the money), and was implicated (again, in whatever relevant sense) in it.
    However, there the Scriptures are clear that the agents were in sin, despite God authorizing and ordaining His Son’s death.

    The fundamental problem with Schlissel’s mindset is that he does not know the moral law:
    “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
    God’s ordination of sin, is not sin.
    As an alleged Calvinist, Schlissel ought to be aware of this. However, it seems he is not.
    If he were aware of the moral law, and of the failure of ordination of sin to consitute a sin in itself, then he would not reach the conclusion he reaches – because he would never have the gut reaction he did.

  9. Mr. Butler,

    I’m curious to know what ways you are in disagreement with Dr. Bahnsen’s view of lying and if it is ever permissible to tell an un-truth. Thanks!

  10. I read this while contemplating the situation Our Lord and Savior Placed me In.Sometimes my despondant friends and neighbors would like nothing better to do than to catch ONE In that LIE!Vanity is reckless,but indeed JUSTIFIED.

  11. One who justifies lying under any circumstance, I believe is guilty of perpetuating “Situational Ethics” irrespective of that they may call it.

  12. Suppose I were a skunk. Then suppose this were a garden party. I really hope not to offend.

    First of all, I would really like to know your source for this quote. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but many who listen to Schlissel just don’t like him and interpret things very … negatively.

    Second, this sermon actually sounds a lot like a sermon by — now don’t get mad — Peter Leithart. You used to be able to find it on, but now it’s not there.

    Third, your very long article could be shorter in that God didn’t lie in 1 Kings 22. The reason why is very simple: Micaiah tells Ahab that God “has put a deceitful spirit” into the mouths of Ahab’s prophets. If God tells you He’s deceiving you, in what way is He actually deceiving you? That was actually Leithart’s point in his sermon (which I can no longer find). Also, Leithart was saying that God was answering a fool according to his folly (dealing deceitfully with the deceitful) and not answering a fool according to his folly (by rebuking and warning Ahab).

    Fourth, you were giving the impression that God only allows things to happen. That’s an Arminian cop-out. God ordains all that comes to pass. He is the First Cause. Nothing has ever happened that He did not ordain (notice that the word ordain is also used of elders and pastors, so this is a strong word).

    Fifth, you use murder and stealing as examples of what God can’t do. This is just plain wrong. God gives and takes away both possessions and life. Therefore, laws against stealing and murdering don’t apply to God. They apply to man because, when man steals and when man murders, he is taking the place of God.

    Sixth, God cannot lie (Titus 1:1-3). The word used there literally means “unfalse.” But God obviously does send out deceitful spirits to destroy the wicked (1 Kings 22).

    Seventh, knowledge is a gift from God. Truth is not something we deserve or necessarily have. Truth is a gift from God (Prov. 1:7; Job 32:8). When we give it up, we are giving it up of our own will and are responsible for that, but in another sense God is taking His truth away as a judgment upon us.

  13. David C. Moody,
    Lest you doubt the veracity of the article posted here, here is the shameless video by S.S.
    the shameless reproduction of S.S.’s comments copied from audiotape:
    Or visit the slippery serpent’s web site and search for “god lie” in the search window and you can find the position (apparently) of the session of the MNYC.

    Or try this reproduction of an email from him:

    Or this account:

    Or email him yourself, his email address is on the MNYC web site.

    I think it is interesting coincidence that both Leithart and Schissel are part of the erosion of the doctrine of justification that is happening in some formally reformed circles.

  14. Mr. Moody – On point four. I don’t think I gave this impression. I avoided the issue of God’s decrees intentionally since it is tangential to Schlissel’s argument. Schlissel was arguing that God lies from a specific text. If he he wanted to make his case on the basis of God’s decree he could have done so. (God ordains all whatsoever comes to pass, lies have come to pass, therefore, God lies.) The text does not deal with God’s eternal decrees, but with a particular action he makes in history.

    On point five. God does indeed take away possessions and life, but when he does so it is not theft or murder. To insist that it is would be to blur the distinction between the serial killer and the hangman.

  15. I’m sorry I missed all the fun, and sorry to give Eliza indigestion. When you are in NYC, Eliza, I’ll take you for a slice of pizza that will transport your mouth and tummy to the land where “indigestion” is an unknown word.

    As for the other matters, I am pleased that several of you recognized that asking Schlissel his opinion will result in your actually getting his opinion, and not a political cartoon. That was gratifying.

    But that it takes 7 folks to screw in a lightbulb, and that only after consulting a Dictionary of Philosophy and Logic, demonstrates with unmistakable clarity exactly why the church is impotent today. When people can go ’round and ’round without recognizing that the only actual issue on the table seems not to have been stated in any post, and that matter concerns the correctness (or lack thereof) of simple definitions. Naturally, this is joined to the question of the right and authority to define.

    Sheesh. This ain’t that hard. But if you’d like more explanation from the funny Jew (Eliza, Jews can’t help being funny, just as you can’t help…whatever it is you can’t help), I’d be honored to have limited interaction so long as it is fruitful/loving. Or funny.

    Blessings, brothers and sisters,

    steve schlissel
    brooklyn, ny
    Feast of St. Sylvester :)

  16. I think Schlissel’s reponse speaks oodles. I only add this post to highlight:
    [*]the non-responsiveness and general (dare I say) “kvetch” nature of the post: none of the points raised was addressed, but several complaints were lodged;
    [*]the poverty of the analogies: tasty NYC pizza compared to the indigestion of blasphemy and lightbulbs as an analogy for who knows what …;
    [*]the false accusation of impotence (popular among juveniles of all ages);
    [*]the hostile tone towards systematic thinking;
    [*]the mistaken claim that the fundamental issues is a question of the “correctness … of simple defintions”;
    [*]the “right and authority to define” issue left hanging on the table; and
    [*]the mistaken assumption that there is something funny about his heresy.

    And, in addition to highlighting those points, to add a brief word of exhortation, feeling encouraged to do so by the Apostle James (whose right and authority are beyond question, for He was inspired by the Holy Spirit), who wrote:

    James 5:19-20
    19Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

    SS, you’re no Seinfeld, and we’re not laughing when you claim that God lies. You shoudn’t be laughing, either. You are confused, and you are causing simple folk who trust you to go astray. Repent and God will forgive!

    Read what this Jew wrote:

    Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;

    That was what Paul wrote to Titus.

    And Paul was:

    Philippians 3:5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

    Perhaps, SS, you think you have a different perspective (dare I say a “new perspective”) because you are from another tribe. But don’t let your circumcision distract you.

    Just remember Simon Peter’s (another Jew, yet one for which the word “funny” just does not seem to come to mind) comments regarding Paul’s epistles:

    2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

    And recall what John, the beloved disciple (but not much of a comedian) warned:

    Revelations 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

    When you call God a liar, you’re the liar, for you do not have the right or authority to judge him. He judges himself, and His judgment is right.

    Psalm 50:6 And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah.

    And His judgment (not yours, SS) is that He speaks the truth, and only the truth, as the Psalmist wrote (good harpist, great shepherd, amazing general, bad – but enthusiastic – dancer, and not really known for his sense of humor):

    Psalm 33:4 For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.

    Or as Moses (known more for his impulsive temper than his ability to write limericks or do stand-up) wrote:

    Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

    Take God at His Word, SS. Repent! Turn unto God! Kiss the Son, confess your sin to Him, and He will forgive you. Honor Him and He will honor you, but dishonor Him with false accusations at your own peril.


  17. I realize that this is an old topic but I read it through again today and noticed something I had not before:

    “Their [Bahnsen and Rushdoony] argument is not based on autonomous ethical principles, but on a close examination of the biblical texts. (Both cite the example of Rahab as well as other passages.) Though I consider their view mistaken, the argument they put forward cannot merely be brushed aside.”

    Some friends and I were discussing the other day this Rahab incident. I would like to hear what you think of such passages and why you think Bahnsen et al are mistaken. Thanks.

  18. Well Steve, ahm thinkin about a critique Darryl Hart had of the gospel song, Tell me the old old story. Darryl´s response:

    Tell it!

  19. Fellow Turretin Fan– your criticms are right if my friend Schlissel thought he was delivering a pitch. However, I think he thought he was only doing the opening windup. T.

  20. Dear fellow TF,
    Perhaps I have prematurely called a balk. Let’s see if SS if follows. Let’s see if SS turns from the sin of calling God a liar, abandons the false notion that not all lies are sin, or adheres to the doctrines of Scripture clearly set forth therein.

    I would be most delighted if he did. However, having heard the audio, seen the video, read the emails, and viewed the web site, I don’t expect to see that.

    Or perhaps it is simply naive of me to expect Paul’s comment:

    Eph 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)

    to mean that God cannot do evil, unrighteousness, or falsehood.

    Let us pray that we can all turn from our iniquities and understand God’s truth:

    Daniel 9:13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.

    And let us join with Nebuchadnezzar in praising the God of Truth:

    Daniel 4:37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

    And let us remember and beware:

    Proverbs 6:16-19
    16These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

    Perhaps you will forgive me if I am overly zealous in defending God’s good, righteous, and truthful character.

    To call my God a liar is a more grevious, heinous, and despicable falsehood than nearly any other insult I could imagine. I would rather be viewed as a raving lunatic (as perhaps the obdurate view me) than to leave the honor of my God undefended on this point.

    So, if the force of my responses is too vehement, please understand that it is because I take personal offense when mere men deny God’s good, righteous, and truthful character.

    To me that aspect of SS’s comments are much more offensive than his exhortation to Christians to lie (depending on the situation).


  21. Steve –

    You don’t need an invitation, but here it is: we’d be honored to have some more interaction as well.

  22. Turretinfan,

    Not wanting to argue the point myself, I know that Bahnsen at one point intimated the legitimacy of deceiving your enemy in such situations as you discussed above (#30) and also in war. I agree that the person you referred to as your example may be stretching the bounds of what is considered Christian, reformed, or faithful, but would you say the same about Bahnsen? He supported his position by pointing to God’s praise of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus and also Rahab in Heb. 11.

    I tend to appreciate your position, but I wonder which is more biblical.

  23. Dear GV,

    War certainly is exceptional.

    Although I disagree with Bahnsen (in more than one area), I wouldn’t write him off as not Reformed simply because he disagreed with me about a particular application of the moral law.

    As for Bahnsen’s reasons, and assuming that you have accurately represented him, I would respectfully disagree.


  24. TF,

    Fair enough, but why do you disagree, and how do you explain God’s praise in both examples? I am really just asking, because I would like to hear your justification.


  25. Rahab is praised for sending the spies out another way. The midwives are praised for refusing to obey the king of Egypt.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that correct in both cases?

    In any event, even if Rahab were praised for lying, it was rather clearly an act of warfare in which she sided with the Israelites. For a similar and more brutal example, see the account of Jael, Heber’s wife, the deceitful and unexpected assassin.


  26. Does God lie? That’s my eternal question. I know for a fact, we all reap what we sow. So if God does send lying spirits to deceive us it is the fact that we lie and reap from our own lies. God orchestras all; our righteousness are as filthy rags to Him. He is a jealous God and does not sin but yet man’s jealousy is sin. There appears to be a double standard between God and man; however man sins (our ways are unrighteous), God’s actions are not sin for they are pure. To understand why God would orchestrate a lie leads me to understand sin. If God CAN NOT sin and does NOT lie then His orchestration is not sin. What is sin? It separates us from God, it is impurity. God is without sin and totally pure and holy. So God’s motives are good to His people, He is a purposeful God. Does He use our weaknesses and sin to orchestrate His purpose; definitely. His principles and precepts stand the test of time, He is the author. Who can understand God, who is God’s counselor? None, He is God and has the right to orchestrate His creation for His end purpose. Yes, the person that God sends a lying spirit to deceive has deception in their heart all ready and thereby, must reap from such deception. God is the Judge, not man what is good and what is evil. To accept one word of the Bible, is to accept all. God does allow deception and evil; Is He evil then, He created it? Who can understand God? We try, but only He can reveal who He is? Is He a cruel God at times? Definitely but He is always Good. The paradox of God is beyond any of us. I find it best to simply say, HE IS GOD and thereby, can do what HE WILLS. Who are we to judge HIM? We only see in part and therefore, can not know or possibly understand God completely until all is revealed which one day it will be-the truth always reveals itself and my God establishes truth. Simply, we are told not to lean on our own understanding because we can not understand not completely or fully the workings of God.

  27. Sherry — I think you are suggesting that (1) what we call “law” is ultimately just a word for “the will of God,” and (2) that will cannot be scrutinized by man, nor judged as if there is a standard for judging apart from His will. Therefore, “whereof we cannot speak, thereof we should remain silent.”

    The question however is whether there is a stability to God’s Will such that we can say that he has a nature (or manifests himself with a stable posture that could be called an analogy to nature).

    To ask it is to answer it: God reveals himself as such stability. “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” Malachi 3:6.

    Therefore, the question makes sense to ask, could it be that God lies, given that lying is contrary to His law (Will).

    In addition, a particular objection goes deeper to the nature of truth’s foundation itself. See comment #2.

  28. MRB: Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

    I’m interested in your take on Rahab and the midwives as well.

    It seems clear that the midwives were praised for their disobedience to Pharaoh which required, at least in their minds, deceitfulness. And it seems clear that Rahab is praised for her actions which also required deceitfulness.

    And it seems clear that neither Exodus, Joshua, James, nor Hebrews speaks a word of qualification concerning their actions.

    So with that in mind, how would you argue that Rahab’s and the midwives’ actions would not constitute some kind of case-law exception to the 9th Commandment?

    @ Ed Enochs (#13): “Situation Ethics” (given formal expression by Joseph Fletcher) is by no means the only ethical system to take into account the situation. One perfectly reasonable example of an ethical system that takes the situation into account is John Frame’s perspectivalism.

    A more striking example is the case law in Exodus, in which killing another (“You shall not kill”) is permitted in certain situations.

    “situation” != “situation ethics”

    Jeff Cagle

  29. re the midwives. They are praised for not murdering Hebrew babies; they are not praised for lying. Clearly, what is noteworthy about their behavior is that they feared God more than they feared Pharaoh, despite the fact that he was a fearsome character, and fearing God induced them to disobey the tangible fearsome one.

    To say that they lied, and that the lie is praised, is shaky. Why would it be more praiseworthy to save the children and lie about it than to save them without lying? Because it would also save their own sorry skins? But that is far from the biblical ethic.

    But moreover, it is entirely possible that they were telling the truth, although perhaps in a manner that concealed the full truth. (But concealment is not at issue ethically.)

    There were approximately 600,000 battle-aged males (Ex 12:37). This would be roughly the same number of females in child-bearing years. However, say the number of married females in solid child-bearing years would be half that, or 300,000. Say a typical woman got pregnant every three years. Then that is 100,000 births per year or about 300 per day. Obviously, that is far too many for two midwives to assist with more than about 4% of the births (and even that would be pretty frantic), of which half on the average would be males, or 2% of the births in which these midwives even could have gotten to them and strangled them. So even if they had cooperated with Pharaoh, it would have been a drop in the bucket. Apparently Pharaoh was too blinded by his rage to “do the math” and so he didn’t realize this. So when Shifrah and Puah said the Hebrew women are “lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them” (Ex 1:19) this would have been even more true than the words seemed to denote. Perhaps at that moment the numbers sank in for the first time, and Pharaoh let them go.

    In view of the numbers, I’m thinking, the “midwives” were actually something more like pre- and post-natal consultants on nutrition and other motherly issues; or perhaps they were summoned just for difficult cases.

    Now, the objection might be: if it either was not a lie, or being a lie, the lie was not praised as part of the situation that is found praiseworthy about the midwives, then why does Scripture mention their statement to Pharaoh at all?

    I don’t know. But here are a few possibilities. There are probably many more possibilities.

    1. With regard to the specifics of this case, note that the lie (if it was one) took place after the actual defiance of Pharaoh’s order. Therefore, it won’t do to say that “the lie was necessary to the end of preserving life, so that the latter cannot be praised without implicitly allowing the lie necessary to its execution.” The lie (if it was one) was not necessary to its execution.

    2. Scripture is full of anecdotal color to which you scratch your head and say, “why is this mentioned?” It is not possible to give a universal answer to that question. Part of the answer is undoubtedly to be found in wisdom, in which the contemplating of strange elements is itself part of the necessary process to be wise. Maybe the midwives’ statement to Pharaoh is meant to teach us that the wicked will often be satisfied with the truth: so try it; do not despair. Or maybe the point is to conclude, “despite the weakness of these women in not being able to look Pharaoh in the eye and say, ‘we will not do it,’ they were still approved by God for doing the right thing in the end.”

    3. Part of the answer may be just narrative integrity. If every story were told stripped of all the color, keeping only those elements needed to make a moral point, then many of the stories would seem more like fiction, or legends. The odd detail confirms its historicity. (C S Lewis made this point in connection with the phrase “and it was night” [John 13:30]).

  30. The text indicates that the midwives either lied, decieved, or engaged in circumlocutory speech. They disobeyed the king in fear of the King, and for this were praised. The question is whether their praiseworthy obedience encompasses not only the act of not killing Hebrew boys, but also their answer to the Egyptions.

    This text is not a strong one to prove the latter, but I fail to see the problem in making a distinction between lying to enemies in circumscribed situations and sinful lying. Sort of the murder/killing distinction, or the fornication/leverate law distinction. I’m with Bahsnen on this one. Why has no one interacted Bahsnen’s argument?

  31. Joshua — the arguments I gave in #34 are an interaction with Bahnsen’s argument. I’m not done yet; but for your part you should also interact with these rather than just assert the contrary.

    Also, I commend to all readers a careful study of the chapter “Sanctity of Truth” in John Murray’s Principles of Conduct. That is actually a sine qua non for any discussion of biblical ethics that would hope to advance the church’s understanding.

  32. TJH,

    I read 34 again, I still think you haven’t interacted with Bahsnen’s principle. That is why I didn’t interact with your comments. When you said in your third sentence, “To say that they lied, and that the lie is praised, is shaky,” you are asserting the debate. It is not shaky when one takes Bahsnen’s principle in view. But I think I know where we are missing each other.

    I was unclear, and I’m sorry. By Bahnsen’s argument I’m not talking about whether the midwives passage is a case in which lies are praised, but the general approach to defending apparent exceptions to the 10 commandments. I don’t find this in MRB’s orignial post, or in any of the comments. Furthermore, MRB’s fifth paragraph of his original post is in effect an assertion to the contary of Bahsnen’s principle, rather than an interaction with it. That’s as close as this post comes to what I think is key to the issue.

    Your readers may want to hear Bahsnen’s principle.

    When God give the 10 Commandments there are apparent exceptions offered to them (in every commandment but one) because the Decalogue is a general summary. We must go into the case laws and the history of God’s people to see how those commandments are flushed out in life and how they are to be understood. In the case of lying, if God’s Word gives us the exception then it is right under such circumstances with no other alternative apparent to us, in the protection of innocent human life, to lie. (This near-verbatim from Abortion and General Questions and Answers, a two-dollar downloadable mp3.)

  33. Correction: should read “fleshed” out, not flushed! …Although sometimes the stiff-necked Hebrews did treat God’s commandments as refuse.

  34. Joshua — no, I’m with you, but to answer Bahnsen’s specific it is going to be necessary to do some exegetical spade work. That’s what I have begun to do in #34. The statement that you claim begs the question should be read more like a thesis declaration. All the considerations that follow are meant to support it.

    In short, there are several ways in which Bahnsen was far too hasty (“they that skate on thin ice had better move quickly”) and as a result the refutation has to go back and do some of the diligence that he skipped, perhaps thinking it was “too obvious” to be worth mentioning. I’m not going to try to defeat his argument with just a couple slick one-liners.

  35. Thanks, TJH. That is helpful. You are suggesting that there is no exegetical case for the category of ‘approved lies’ in the first place. Therefore, a principle to justify such category is needless.

    My church has a copy of Murray’s Principles. Perhaps I’ll check it out again this Sunday for another read of that section.

    As an aside, Dr. Gerstner spoke at our church some years ago on the Decalogue and created quite a stir with that commandment. He was very fair, though, stating that he was departing from some great thinkers, and admonishing the group to search it for themselves. I’m not so sure the ones who got flustered even searched it out at all!

    There’s something about the beauty of Christian brotherhood when we can have disagreements within the context of charity and rigorous study. That is why I really enjoyed MRB’s last few paragraphs this post, and this site in general.

    Thanks again.

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