Can the lie be holy?


Dear brother, pastor Vasile! Please help me with your opinion regarding the subject of “holy lie”. Which is your point of view, as a pastor, based on the Bible … If you have time and willingness, I would be grateful? Thank you in advance!

In the Bible we have many cases when righteous people said things which were not true, but I believe we need to take into consideration their intentions. I will make reference below to some of these examples below.

Abraham lied to save his life

Abraham is named in the Bible the parent of all Christians and is a model of faith. When he was called by God, he left his country, his relatives and went following the direction given by God. However, this man of faith has his weaknesses and please see below how he proceeded in some circumstanced, considered by him dangerous for his life:

“And Abraham went on his way from there to the land of the South, and was living between Kadesh and Shur, in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream in the night, and said to him, Truly you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a man’s wife. Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, Lord, will you put to death an upright nation? Did he not say to me himself, She is my sister? and she herself said, He is my brother: with an upright heart and clean hands have I done this. And God said to him in the dream, I see that you have done this with an upright heart, and I have kept you from sinning against me: for this reason I did not let you come near her. So now, give the man back his wife, for he is a prophet, and let him say a prayer for you, so your life may be safe: but if you do not give her back, be certain that death will come to you and all your house. So Abimelech got up early in the morning and sent for all his servants and gave them word of these things, and they were full of fear. Then Abimelech sent for Abraham, and said, What have you done to us? what wrong have I done you that you have put on me and on my kingdom so great a sin? You have done to me things which are not to be done. And Abimelech said to Abraham, Why did you do this thing? And Abraham said, Because it seemed to me that there was no fear of God in this place, and that they might put me to death because of my wife. And, in fact, she is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife: And when God sent me wandering from my father’s house, I said to her, Let this be the sign of your love for me; wherever we go, say of me, He is my brother.” (Genesis 20:1-3)

Abraham did not lie. He just did not tell the whole truth. It was true that Sarah was his sister but he avoided to say that she was his wife as well. He did this to save his live and as we see, he had a plan and an agreement made in advance with Sarah for her to say that she is his sister, for him not be killed. And also before, when it was a hunger and he had to live for a while in Egypt, Abraham did the same and said the same thing to Egyptians to be certain that he will not be killed by them (Genesis 12). In his mercy, God did not leave Abraham in these circumstances. However God did not overlook this and mentioned about this in the Bible for us to learn to put our hope in God in any circumstances. What do you think could happen and what God could have done if Abraham had said that Sarah is his wife?

Midwives lied to save lives

Slavery of Israel children in Egypt was difficult and every day became more and more difficult to support. Pharaoh made a plan to exterminate God’s people. This was the plan:

“And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew women who gave help at the time of
childbirth (the name of the one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah), When you are looking after the Hebrew women in childbirth, if it is a son you are to put him to death; but if it is a daughter, she may go on living. But the women had the fear of God, and did not do as the king of Egypt said, but let the male children go on living. And the king of Egypt sent for the women, and said to them, Why have you done this, and let the male children go on living? And they said to Pharaoh, because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are strong, and the birth takes place before we come to them. And the blessing of God was on these women: and the people were increased in number and became very strong. And because the women who took care of the Hebrew mothers had the fear of God, he gave them families.” (Exodus 1:15-21)

If Abraham said only part of the truth, then midwives Shiphrah and Puah lied and the Bible says that they lied because they had the fear of God. If they said the truth, had the Egyptians and their king allowed them to help the Hebrew women in childbirth? These women lied to be able to help the Hebrew women in childbirth and to save as many lives as they could. We can convict them, however God appreciated their actions (that required a lot of courage) and God gave them families. By lying, these women risked their lives to save the lives of new-borns in Israel.

Rahab lied to save the others’ lives (and her life)

Saint Jacob in the epistle with the same name presents Rahab as a model of faith through accomplishment and refers to the case when she hided the spies:

“Then Joshua, the son of Nun, sent two men from Shittim secretly, with the
purpose of searching out the land, and Jericho. So they went and came to the
house of a loose woman of the town, named Rahab, where they took their rest for
the night. And it was said to the king of Jericho, See, some men have come here tonight from the children of Israel with the purpose of searching out the land. Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, Send out the men who have come to you and are in your house; for they have come with the purpose of searching out all the land. And the woman took the two men and put them in a secret place; then she said, Yes, the men came to me, but I had no idea where they came from; And when it was the time for shutting the doors at dark, they went out; I have no idea where the men went: but if you go after them quickly, you will overtake them. But she had taken them up to the roof, covering them with the stems of flax which she had put out in order there.” (Joshua 2:1-6)

Rahab lied in respect of the spies and she said they left her house, but in reality she hided them. The reason why Rahab did not tell the truth was the faith in God and her wish to save the lives of spies, her family and her life. We can convict her for her lie, but her action required a great courage. Have you imagine what could have happen to Rahab if people sent by the king had find out what she did? God however protected her then and also when walls were demolished, because the wall of her house and the window with rope binded remained entire and Israelites could recognise her house when they were conquering the city.

King David lied to save his life

There are many cases when David had to lie to save his life. Once in front of enemies he had to simulate his craziness, another time he had to tell to pastors that he was sent for a special mission, although he was chased by King Saul to be killed. In all these cases David was not convicted by God, because he did not act maliciously and he did not harm anybody.

But David lied in order to produce harm

After he fell in his desires and committed adultery with Bath-sheba, King David used different lies to hide his sin. By lying he wanted to convince Uriah, the husband of Bath-sheba, to go home and have sexual relationships with his wife, by this hiding the circumstances in which the child was conceived by Bath-sheba. Then from the lie he proceeded to murder etc. His actions came from his bad intentions and God did not like this. When the prophet Nathan came and reprimanded him, David recognised his guilt and repented and because of this God kept his life. But consequences of committed sins did not delay and God presented all consequences in the Bible to be a lesson for us.

Command no 9 from decalogue

The command says:

Do not give false witness against your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16)

The word “against” refers to harming your neighbour. This command refers to a trial when somebody comes and gives false testimonies to harm his neighbour. Do you remember how Isabella proceeded when she wanted to misappropriate the vineyard of Nabot from Israel? She planned for two bad people to come and to say about Nabot that he committed blasphemy against God and against king. Thus Nabot was killed with stones. And Isabella and the other two persons used the lie to kill Nabot. This is a classic scenario when somebody gives false testimonies against his neighbour to harm him.

Daniel said the truth

When they were in difficult situations and in danger from pagans, Abraham, David, midwives, Rahab and others did not say the truth to protect others or to save their lives. Those who lied to save their lives did not act honourably. Unlike these persons, Daniel, that lived his whole life in a pagan context, has not ever used the lie, or at least in the Bible there are no such cases described.

God’s people from the New Testament did not use the lie

I tried to remember if somebody from New Testament used the lie to save his life or to save others’ lives and I could not remember any. If you know such situations described in New Testament, please write about these in the comments to the article. On the contrary, regarding the lie, we are taught to:

And so, putting away false words let everyone say what is true to his neighbour: for we are parts one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25)

Has I used the “holy lie”?

I was asked how I proceeded in this respect. How to explain? Our daughter Tika believed until she was in the 6th class that Santa Claus exists and that in the Christmas Eve he brings her gifts and put these in her shoes or under her pillow, because she is a good girl. When her colleagues were telling her that this is not true and the parents bring gifts and Santa Claus does not exist, she was contradicting them and she was saying that Santa does not visit them because they are bad children. Later on, when Tika grew up, she thank us because we managed to make her childhood nice and that we managed to convince her up to that age that Santa Claus exists. There were also more difficult situations, when the lives of others were exposed or the ministry that we do in countries with a hostile context for Christians or for Gospel and I had to say only part of the truth or I even lied. I would like to have more faith to be able to say only the truth.

However, how it is with the “holy” lie?

From the Gospel, I made my own conclusions regarding the lie:

  • God teaches us and wants that we speak only the truth
  • Intention is the main factor that defines a good or a bad fact in front of God
  • The person who lies in order to harm his neighbour commits a sin in front of God and will be convicted
  • The person who lied in order to save his life was not abandoned by God, however his name was negatively affected
  • Those who lied to save others’ lives, exposed themselves to a higher risk

The last conclusion reminds me about what said the wise man Solomon:

“These two have I seen in my life which is to no purpose: a good man coming to
his end in his righteousness, and an evil man whose days are long in his
evil-doing. Be not given overmuch to righteousness and be not over-wise. Why let destruction come on you? Be not evil overmuch, and be not foolish. Why come to your end before your time? It is good to take this in your hand and not to keep your hand from that; he who has the fear of God will be free of the two.” (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)

Let’s the fear of the Lord to govern our hearts and guide us whenever we want to say something!