The “Necessary Lie”

This article is in response to a question about the “necessary lie,” for example of Christians hiding Jews from the Nazis.  Some examples of lies told in the Bible:

The Hebrew midwives refused to kill the male Israelite children as commanded by God. When asked why, they lied to the Pharaoh (Exodus 1:19). In the very next verse they are commended for their action as a whole, and the midwives are said to have “feared God.” This statement appears not to simply refer to their general state, but specifically to this action- they feared God in saving the Hebrew children, an action which included the lie to Pharaoh. After all, if they told the truth, they would have simply been replaced with others who would do what Pharaoh wanted. The lie was a necessary part of the whole action to preserve the Hebrew boys. They are commended and blessed for it.

Rahab lied to the guards to preserve the Israelite spies in Joshua 2. Again, the lie was a necessary part of the action taken to preserve those spies. Hebrews 11:31 ranks her as a hero of the faith for receiving the spies with peace. James 2:25 calls her action a good work. The lie to the guards cannot be separated from the peaceful reception of the spies as a whole, since she was specifically told to send them out and lied about their whereabouts. If she had not done this, they would have died presumably.

In Joshua 8, God commands Joshua to engage in a deceptive military maneuver to trick the city of Ai into attacking Israel and leaving their city undefended, to be burned by the rest of Joshua’s army.

We are to be people of truth, and to advance God’s truth in all our lives. Each of these above actions, though narrowly involving a deception, are living and acting according to the truth of God. Egypt was an oppressor and Israel was blessed, so when Egypt engages in an act of genocide against Israel, the Hebrew midwives rightly side with Israel, including using deception to defend them. Rahab knows that Jehovah has given Israel the land (Joshua 2:9), so she sides with this truth and advances this truth, including the use of deception against Jericho, a wicked people whom God had rejected and judged. Likewise, when Christians during WWII hid Jews from the Nazis, they acted according to God’s truth, rejected the lie that was Nazi ideology, rejected their totalitarian claims to have the right of life or death over all, and so deceived them. Their deception advanced God’s truth that the Jews were not to be killed when they had committed no crime. Therefore their deception is praiseworthy, as it was necessary to advance the truth of God in that situation, and to preserve innocent life.

The Scriptures call us to be mature in our understanding of God’s truth and to advance that truth in our lives. God does not want mere rule-followers, He wants mature and wise people of faith who promote His truth and His kingdom. In most normal circumstances this will involve speaking the truth to all men, but when men set themselves at war with God’s truth, it may become necessary to deceive them to protect others, and this is right, just as most of the time God’s people should not kill, but in certain cases taking life may be necessary, for self-defense or the defense of others, or for the rightful execution of the death penalty. The ninth commandment calls us not to bear false witness. If Christians in Europe had cooperated with the Nazi ideology and turned over Jews to their deaths, that would have been the lie. It would have been bearing false witness by giving credibility to the Nazis’ wicked claims about the Jews and about their ideology of the power of the state.

” 20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.” (1Co 14:20 NKJ)

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