Is it Always Wrong to Lie?

I recently taught through some Sunday school curriculum that covered the story of Rahab found in Joshua chapter 2.  In the story, Rahab protects two Hebrew spies by lying to those seeking the spies concerning their whereabouts.  The Bible praises Rahab and paints her as the heroine in the story.  The Bible also gives Rahab praise later in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:31).  The curriculum I was using explained the situation like this:

The Bible praises Rahab not for her lie, but because of her desire to help the spies, who were God’s people.  Even though Rahab’s lie was wrong, God overlooked her sin and used it for good.

This understanding of the story of Rahab is pretty typical in the Sunday school curriculum I have come across.  But is it true?  The Bible never seems to hint that Rahab’s lie was wrong, in fact it praises Rahab for the actions she took to hide the spies (which was primarily to lie for their protection).

If one takes a view that lying is always wrong, you must come to a similar conclusion as found above concerning Rahab.  She cannot be praised for wrong-doing.

Is it possible that there are times when lying is okay?  Are there times when lying may even be the best option?

If we define a “lie” as “an intentional deception”, then all of the things below are lies:

  • telling your wife she looks good in a dress even if you are not particularly pleased with it
  • a quarterback acting as though he were going to throw the ball in one direction, only to actually throw it somewhere else
  • telling your 10 year old daughter that you are stopping by the house to pick up something you forgot, only to surprise her with a birthday party
  • if a stranger asks a teenage child if they are home alone and they reply that they are not (when they truly are home alone)

All of the above things are intentional deceptions and therefore they are technically lies.  Should we stop doing them?  If lying is always wrong, how can we justify our continued use of lying?

What are your thoughts?  I plan to post more on this topic, but want to get your feedback first.

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8 Responses to Is it Always Wrong to Lie?

  1. Kelsey says:

    We recently covered this in some of my religious studies classes, as well as my communication classes. My professor, Trempor Longman, tends to hold to the belief that you are not obligated to tell the truth if the recipient of the lie has forfeited their right to the truth. So he would say that the people looking for the Israelite spies in Jericho had forfeited their right to the truth because they were trying to get in the way of God’s plan for his people. I think I have to agree with him.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    Kelsey:

    I tend to agree with Tremper Longman. I’ll explain my view in my follow-up post. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jeff says:

    … And who besides God (and Trempor Longman) is able to judge if someone has forfeited their right to the truth? Of course, Rahab was committing treason when she lied to the local law enforcement officers and hid the spies? What if I did likewise today? Can I lie to the Immigration authorities and I hide some illegal immigrants in order to keep their family together? What if I hide them because they work cheaper than union? This seems like a good argument for situational ethics.

  4. Tim Farley says:

    Jeff:

    That is a good and legitimate question. I do not want to respond here since I already promised a follow-up post, but I think I understand Longman’s position – assuming it is the same as the view held by myself and many others. I will explain my thinking tomorrow if I can get Sarah to nap long enough to write it up.

  5. Jeff says:

    What about People that never tell a lie yet are very deceptive? I know a few dedicated Christians that will never tell a lie but feel okay about misleading someone by omitting the facts or bending the truth. To me, deception is deception whether a lie is involved or not.

  6. Pingback: A Case for Justified Lying « Theology Meeting Life

  7. aaron says:

    It sounds like Trempor Longman’s reply is a bit gray. I am not familiar with the passage he is speaking of, but, using his justification, were the Israelite spies told of God’s plan in advance? If so, how, if not, then can they be subject to the law? Next, where does it say that you can forfeit your right to the truth.

    The truth is from the sender of the message, not the receiver. The receiver may be wrong, bad,etc., that does not give you (the sender) the right to lie.

  8. Tim Farley says:

    Aaron:

    To be fair, Longman did not make the statement. Kelsey is a student of Longman’s and told us how he feels about this topic. I am sure he would have much more to say if he were a part of this discussion. However, I am familiar with the basic argument that he is likely using. It basically says that if a person is going to use the truth as weapon against someone else, the person forfeits his/her right to the truth. An example would be if a person is seeking another with the intent to harm and you knew where the person was hiding, you would not be obligated to tell the seeker. It is a little less satisfactory (in my opinion) than the approach I give.

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