John Piper on “Is It Ever Right to Lie?”

John Piper explores the question, “Is it ever right to lie?” After affirming that the Scriptures clearly present lying and falsehood as sin, Piper reviews the lies that the Hebrew midwives told to Pharoah in Exodus 1 and that Rahab told to the king’s men in Joshua 2. He notes that both the midwives and Rahab were faced with extreme, life-threatening situations. He also notes that, although the midwives were commended for not obeying the king, and Rahab was commended for her faith, Scripture nowhere condones their actual instances of lying. And yet neither does Scripture come right out and condemn their lying in these specific instances either.

Rather than give a direct “yes” or “no” answer to the question, Piper concludes:

“What I’ve simply decided to say is this: There are worthy and godly saints who have in their struggle with evil felt constrained to lie in order to oppose life-threatening wickedness. And they were not condemned for it. That much I can say on the authority of Scripture.”

I remember first being exposed to this difficult question when seeing the film, “The Hiding Place.” The specific situation faced there was, “Should Corrie Ten Boom (or was it Betsy?) have told the Nazi soldiers that they were hiding Jews in the home?” What are your thoughts on this? Scripturally, is it ever right to lie?

8 Comments

  1. Margaret says:

    I thought of Corrie ten Boom when I read this article, and then saw he mentioned it at the end. I believe it is OK in cases of life or death, because to tell the truth would be like murder. Surely murder is worse than lying.

    I believe God, who sees into our hearts, would know the reason for lying to save a life. He would understand that we would not be lying for any selfish motive, but only for love. I hope I never have to face something like that. But I don’t think I could knowingly give someone up to be killed.

    Would be interested to know how others feel about this.

  2. Ed Pomelear says:

    I agree with you guys and Piper as well. Saving a life seems the lesser of two sins.

    What about two other where lying seems to be “okay”?

    First, God commands the Israelites to set up an ambush against Ai. Is that not deceit? Would it then follow that for just military actions and law enforcement lying would be “acceptable”? Or are camouflaged soldiers and undercover cops in sin?

    Second, Scripture is silent in what I’ve heard termed “socially agreed upon situations.” My best examples of this come from the sports. Are signs between the catcher and pitcher, or faking left then driving right for the basket, or even football huddles all sin? In each case the purpose is to deceive.

  3. Ray Fowler says:

    You raise some interesting points, Ed. I had never thought about an ambush being a possible example of lying. I think both of your scenarios fall under the common thread of strategy, whether military or sports strategy. Is there a difference between lying and strategies designed to trick your opponent? I think so, but certainly some strategies could cross the line from accepted fair play into lying or deceit.

  4. Ntakirutimana Jean Bosco says:

    Is it ever Right to lie? This is a difficult questions. However, I don’t think whether God justifies lies in any cirmumsctances. The reports the people who lied. However, There is instantances that point out the negative results for those who involved in the lies.

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    Hello Ntakirutimana,

    Welcome to the blog, and thank you for commenting. Yes, this is a very difficult question when pressed to extreme situations, although fairly easy for most of our day to day decisions. (Thankfully!)

  6. Mike says:

    I actually came to this site, trying to answer this question. If you read Daniel 3. you see that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were commanded to worship the God of King Nebuchadnezzar or get thrown into the fiery furnace…. they denied King Nebuchadnezzar’s god and worshipped the true God Almighty and were thrown into the fire, but, were not burned.
    This tends to anwer my question. They could of lied, but, didn’t because of their faith. It was clear that God approved of their choice. What my question is, is, is there ever a situation where God would want me to lie… after seeking his anwer through prayer according to Proverbs 3:5-6
    Any qualified comment would be appreciated Thank You

  7. Mike says:

    Please email me at surfpro900@yahoo.com if you have an answer. Thanks, Mike

  8. Darren Chan says:

    I would appreciate some wisdom to this question. My 86 year old Father who has Alzheimer’s, sometimes many times does do the what is good for him such take showers, take his medications, go for walks etc etc. To get him to do these things, I found myself lying to him to get him to do the things he needs to do. Is this wrong?

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