Biblical Examples of Deception
There are some biblical examples of deception and lying that were not openly condemned. In fact, some of them even appear to have God’s approval on them. Some examples of such instances include the following:
Samuel plainly withheld information and deceived Saul’s men (1 Sam 16:1-5). Michal helped David escape from Saul and used a deceptive decoy, as well as a lie to cover for him. (1 Sam 19:11-17). David told Jonathan to lie to King Saul (1 Sam 20:5-7). David lied to Ahimelek the priest (1 Sam 21:2,8). David pretended to be insane in front of Achish, King of Gath (1 Sam 21:13). Abraham lied to Pharaoh (Gen 12:13; for wider context see verses 10-20). Abraham lied to Abimelek king of Gerar (Gen 20:2; for wider context see entire chapter). Isaac lied to Abimelek king of Gerar (Gen 26:7; for wider context see verses 6-11). Jacob deceived his father and received the blessing (Gen 27:1-38). Joseph hid his identity from his brothers, and told numerous lies to them (Gen 42:7,12,14-16,18-20; 43:27,29-30; 44:4-5,15,17). Moses did not tell Pharaoh it was a permanent exodus (Exo 5:3). Rahab lied to protect the Israelite spies (Jos 2:4-5; Heb 11:31). Joshua used a deceptive military tactic to ambush and destroy the city of Ai (Josh 8:1-29). The prophet Jeremiah lied to the officials who came to him and asked him why he was speaking with King Zedekiah. He gave them the false alibi that the king had ordered him to use, in order to protect his life (Jer 38:24-27). Nevertheless, just because someone in the Bible did something, it does not give us the right to do the same thing.
Lying is a Sin
In ancient times, it was not a crime to tell a lie in order to save a life. A man named Diphilus or Diphilon (possibly Philo), once said, “I hold it right to tell a lie for safety: nothing should be avoided to save life.” An unbeliever may say that, but a Christian cannot act that way and save his soul, even though he may save his own life. The Ten Commandments are clear that lying is wrong (Ex 20:16). We must not make lies our refuge and hide ourselves under falsehood (Isaiah 28:15,17). “No lie is of the truth” (1 Jn 2:21). God is the God of Truth (Is 65:16). He cannot lie (Tit 1:2). Jesus is the Truth (Jn 14:6), and He never once lied, not even to save His life. It was declared of the 144,000 worshipers in Revelation that "No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless." (Rev 14:5). The Spirit is the Truth (1 Jn 5:6). The Scriptures are "the Word of Truth" (Psa. 119:43; 2Co. 6:7; Col. 1:5; 2Ti. 2:15; Jas. 1:18). God hates a lying tongue (Prov 6:17). He hates liars (Prov 12:22). He will stop the tongue of liars (Ps 63:11). We are not to lie to each other or deceive one another (Lev 19:11; Col 3:9), but to lay aside all falsehood and speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15,25). No one who practices deceit will dwell in the Lord's house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in His presence (Ps 101:7). All liars have their part in hell (Rev 21:8,27; 22:14-15).
The devil is a liar and the father of lies. Jesus said, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44-45). The devil does not hold to the truth. So we must not speak his native language and carry out his desires.
Now what about omitting certain truth in order to save a life? Is that a sin? Jesus taught us, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mat 7:6). There are two things he referred to here. One is that which is holy and the other is our pearls. We are not to give that which is holy to dogs or throw our pearls before swine.
The meaning of this is clear. Dogs are unclean animals and will not treat with reverence anything holy. So in the natural realm, if you give what is holy to dogs, they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces. Also in the natural realm, if you throw your pearls before swine, which are also unclean animals, they will quickly realize it is not something they can chew, enjoy the taste of, or fill their bellies with. They too, will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Neither the dogs nor the pigs can appreciate the great value of such things. The interpretation of this is that these are people who do not really want to know the truth, but simply want to use what you say against you. The Lord wants us to avoid such an outcome, not wanting us to be torn to pieces by dogs or pigs, because He cares about us.
To the Jews, Gentiles were considered dogs. And they did not eat pigs, which were detestable to them. The dogs and pigs that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7 stand for unclean people who do not have regard for the holy and precious things of God. If we share such things with them in answer to their questions, or in an effort to force such things on them to make them understand, they will only use them against us or attack us with them.
There are various applications of this teaching. One application is regarding Truth. Jesus illustrated this in His own life. There were times when He withheld the plain Truth from people. For example, when the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him and demanded to know by what authority He was doing these things, like cleansing the temple, and who gave Him this authority. Jesus first asked them a question to prove whether they were sincere or whether they were actually pigs and dogs seeking a way to tear Him to pieces. He said to them, "I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. "The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?" And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' "But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet." And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mat 21:23-27). You see, the Lord tested them first to see if they were sincere or pigs, and then He withheld Truth from them (also see Jer 6:27, NIV).
The Lord also withheld information from people at other times. He always spoke in parables to the masses. In fact, He did not speak to them without a parable. “He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything." (Mk 4:34; cf., Mat 13:34-35). The reason He did not explain the parables to the masses was so that they would not be able to turn to God insincerely and be forgiven, if God was not drawing them to Christ. “He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mk 4:11-12).
Jesus did not tell people He was born in Bethlehem. Therefore, His critics did not know He was the Christ, since they assumed He was born in Nazareth. They scoffed saying, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?" (Joh 7:42).
Jesus told people not to tell anyone He was the Christ. “Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.” (Mat 16:20).
The Lord did not tell everything He knew, in the various situations He encountered, but only spoke what the Father gave Him to say. He said, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.” (Jn 12:49; cf., Jn 5:19; 8:28)
The Lord kept silent when questioned by certain people. “The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’ But He kept silent and did not answer.” (Mar 14:60-61a). He was also silent before Herod. “Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing.” (Luk 23:8-9)
Another application of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:6 is with regard to holy and precious people. When He spoke of what is holy and of pearls, these may also apply to people who are holy and precious. The saints are holy people. So if someone comes to us demanding to know where such people are located, and we determine that the inquirer is a dog or pig, we are not under any obligation to disclose that information. We are not required to speak that particular truth to them. In fact, we must not speak it, according to Jesus. Aren’t people precious to God just as much as any sacred truth? If the person inquiring only wants to do harm to them, it would be wrong to tell them where those people are located.
There are many examples in history of godly people hiding innocent people who were in danger. Corrie Ten Boom comes to mind immediately. She and her family hid the Jews in their home and helped them escape the Nazis who wanted to kill them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer also helped Jews escape Germany to freedom. But there are also biblical examples. Obadiah hid a hundred prophets of the Lord from Jezebel in caves, and provided them with bread and water (1 King 18:4,13). Jezebel was destroying the prophets of the Lord, and because Obadiah greatly feared the Lord, he helped those prophets by hiding them from the evil queen Jezebel and her evil husband Ahab. What Obadiah did was an act of righteousness, not a sin. He did not give the holy prophets to dogs or throw these precious pearls before swine.
The Scripture commands us: "Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, 'See, we did not know this,' Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?" (Pro 24:11-12)
So we are not under any obligation to say everything we know or tell people all the Truth we possess. We must first determine if the person is sincere or whether he is a dog or pig. If he or she is a dog or pig, meaning they are evil or vile, then we must not give such a person what is holy or throw our pearls before such a one. Otherwise they will trample that which is sacred or those precious pearls under their feet, and turn and tear us to pieces.
More Examples of Casting Pearls
Here are some more examples of not giving what is sacred to dogs or casting pearls before swine. The Magi did not go back to Herod and tell him the location of baby Jesus (Mat 2:12). The baby was holy, His life was precious, and Herod was a dog or swine. He only wanted to know where Jesus was so he could kill Him.
Another example is refusing to associate with immoral people who call themselves brethren. “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (1 Cor 10:10-14). (For more on this topic, see Purge the Evil from Among You).
The immoral person who claims to be a Christian is essentially a dog or swine. “Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.’" (1 Pe 2:22). Therefore, we must not associate with such a person, or in any way give such a person what is sacred or cast our pearls before them.
When Peter escaped from jail, he told the brethren to be silent, so as not to disclose his location (Act 12:17). Again, Peter was a saint (holy one), his life was precious, and his location was a pearl not to be thrown before swine.
Paul was lowered in a basket from a window in a wall, in order to escape from the governor. “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.” (2 Cor 11:32-33). Is it wrong to lower a person covertly in a basket through a window in a wall, rather than have them go publicly through the gates and inform the guards who are looking for him that he is leaving the city? The governor of Damascus was a dog or swine, and Paul was holy. The brethren secretly helped Paul escape without the knowledge of the guards at the city gates, in order to save his life.
Jesus initially refused to deliver the daughter of the Syro-Phoenecian woman from demons. “The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’” (Mt 15:25-26). The woman was not a Jew and the Father sent Jesus to the lost sheep of Israel. So he called her a dog. His statement was a test to prove whether she genuinely believed in Him, and when He saw that she did, He delivered her daughter. Had it not been for her sincere faith, He would not have done so, because healing is sacred and is considered the children’s bread.
So we should be wise as serpents when dealing with people. We should seek to find out, for example, by questioning them, whether they truly want to know or just want to use our words against us, slander us, hurt us, or falsely accuse us. Once you discover a person is a dog/swine, you should be careful not to give them what is sacred or cast your pearls before them. It is in everyone's best interest. If you do cast your pearls, knowing they are swine, then 1) it will only increase their damnation, and 2) it will only bring hurt upon your own head, and we are not to seek out persecution, but flee from it, and 3) it will grieve the heart of our Father, God, since it is His pearls they are trampling, and His child they are tearing to pieces. So for the best interests of the Father, of you, and of the swine, we refrain from casting the pearls. This is why the Lord spoke in parables, too.
We as disciples are commanded to preach the gospel to sinners (Mt 28:18-20), not to plainly teach them all of the sacred truths of Scripture. And ministers are supposed to preach and teach the whole counsel of God to the saints (Ac 20:27).
Lying to Save Yourself
There are some instances in Scripture where certain people lied or deceived for the sake of self-preservation. Some examples are Samuel, David, Abraham, Isaac, and Jeremiah. God overlooked the times when people didn’t know any better, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Ac 17:30). This is one of those things that changed under the Lordship of Christ. There were many other such things where the Lord said, “You have heard that the ancients were told,” and then in contrast to what they had heard in the past, He would declare the new and higher standard He now requires. Just look at the Sermon on the Mount for many examples, in which the Lord taught the higher, spiritual meaning of the Law (Mt 5:21-22,27-28,31-35).
Indeed, we have heard that the ancients lied or deceived to save their own lives. But now Jesus says to us that the only way to save your life is to lose it. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8:35; cf. Lk 9:24; Mt 16:25).
Therefore, it is a sin to lie in order to save your own life or for any selfish reason. That is what the apostle Peter did when he denied knowing Christ, and that was considered a sin (Luke 22:54-62).
Other Situations When It’s Appropriate to Withhold Truth
There are some situations when it is not a sin to withhold the truth. You must still be truthful, but must speak the truth in love. You must also withhold information that would endanger another person’s life. You must never do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life (Lev 19:16).
The Lord Jesus is our perfect example. He did no violence and no deceit was found in His mouth (Is 53:9; 1 Pe 2:22). Yet He sometimes withheld the truth in order to test people. There are many such examples of this in the Bible. When He was about to multiply the loaves, He asked Philip where they would be able to buy bread for the large crowd to eat. “This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.” (Joh 6:6). The Greek word for “test” in this verse may also mean to “scrutinize, discipline, examine, prove, or try.” He did something similar on the other occasions when He fed the multitudes, initially instructing His disciples to give them something to eat (Mt 14:16; Mk 6:37; Lk 9:13).
Another incident was when He approached the two men on the road to Emmaus, and prevented them from recognizing Him. As they were discussing all the things that had happened to Him regarding His passion, crucifixion, and empty tomb, He asked them "What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?" (Luk 24:17a). When they asked Him if He was the only one in Jerusalem who was unaware of the latest events that had just occurred, He replied as if He didn’t know what they meant, by saying, “What things?’ (Lk 24:19). Then He proceeded to explain to them all the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with Moses and with all the prophets. And when they approached the village where they were going, He acted as though He were going farther. (Luk 24:28). But in fact, He intended to go inside with them, recline at the table, break bread together, and reveal His identity to them before disappearing in front of their eyes.
Therefore, based on the Lord’s own example, it is sometimes appropriate to withhold truth in order to test, scrutinize, discipline, examine, prove, or try people. The Lord's example also confirms that withholding truth is not considered lying. And since He sometimes withheld truth from certain people, we may conclude that it is not a sin to withhold truth in order to save lives. In fact, it may be necessary to do so.
A Truthful Witness Saves Lives
Some people believe that it is sometimes necessary to lie in order to save lives. However, the Scripture says, "A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful." (Pro 14:25, NIV). So according to God's Word, it's not the liar who saves lives, but the truthful witness who does so. The Young's Literal Translation has it like this: "A true witness is delivering souls, And a deceitful one breatheth out lies." (Pro 14:25, YLT). So this proves that it is not necessary to lie in order to save lives.
The Holy Spirit Will Teach You What to Say
At this point, you may be wondering how you would handle a difficult situation, in which you may be brought before authorities for the sake of righteousness, and the time comes to defend yourself or other innocent people. Jesus taught us, "When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." (Luk 12:11-12). Therefore, give no thought beforehand what you will say. Then when that moment comes and the Holy Spirit teaches you what to say, you will not be guilty of sin, as long as you say what He tells you to say.
Buy the Truth and Sell it Not
The Scripture also teaches us to “Buy the truth and sell it not.” (Pr 23:23). This means that we must get truth at any cost. Since God and His Word are the source of Truth, then we must seek it from Him through prayer and reading His Word. On the other hand we must never sell it for any price. We must never agree to give truth in exchange for money. One example is when a person will preach for a fee or sell their sermons on CD, DVD, or in books. Another example is giving prophecies for a price.
Likewise, we must never withhold truth for the sake of money. For example, if a pastor neglects to preach the whole counsel of God, and refrains from unpopular topics like righteousness and holiness, because he does not want to offend people or lose members and their money, that is selling the truth. It is a serious sin. Another application is that we must not lie in exchange for a bribe or any payment or blackmail. The Roman guards who watched over the Lord’s tomb did this. The Jewish leaders paid them to tell a lie (Mt 28:11-14). We must not lie in exchange for money, such as when an employer requires an employee to lie, mislead, exaggerate, or deceive customers in any way. No amount of money they could pay you is worth losing your own soul.
Biblical Examples of Sinful Lying
After Cain murdered his brother, he lied to God: “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Gen 4:9)
Sarah lied to the Lord, too. “Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, I did not laugh. But he said, yes, you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:15). Even something as simple as saying she didn’t laugh is considered a lie in God’s sight.
Joseph’s brethren lied to their father, after they sold their brother into Egypt: “Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.” (Gen. 37:31).
The Gibeonites sinfully deceived the Israelites that they came from far away, so that the Israelites would make a peace treaty with them. But in fact they were near neighbors (Josh 9).
Perhaps the most shocking example if that of Ananias and Saphira, who were immediately struck dead by God for lying to Him (Acts 5:1-11).
Putting it All Together
So I hope this has helped to show what the Bible says about lying and deception, how it is clearly a sin, but that there are instances where it is appropriate and even virtuous to withhold information, and not tell everything you know, or to hide innocent people for their protection. I also hope it has helped to explain what it means to give dogs what is sacred or cast our pearls to swine, and why we must not do so.
The ninth commandment does not require us to give full and exhaustive answers to any and every question we may be asked, especially when asked by someone who is evil or seeking to do violence to another human being other than oneself. We must not say or do anything that endangers our neighbor’s life. The ninth commandment is not intended to aid and abet evil. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Gal 5:14).
Attribution notice: Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's Note: I recommend you read the following articles: Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, What is Truth?, Hiding Place, The Cost of Discipleship, Purge the Evil from Among You, The Sale of Christian Music and Art -- A Robbers' Den?, Is Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?, Is Obedience Optional?, Restored Truth, Aim for Perfection, and The Straight and Narrow Path. You may access my complete blog directory at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.