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Objections to Holy Deception

Objections to Holy Deception

It should not be surprising that a slew of posts on "why it is okay to lie" might receive some push back. It is time for me to address a couple of objections that went untouched in my posts (On GodOn ManIn Genesis, Defying Evil). I am not dealing with these in any particular order, and some might have a little bit of crossover. 

Deception is Not in God's Nature

This is a really strong objection. This is probably the best objection of the bunch. Before addressing the Biblical support let me make a quick point. Sleep is not in God's nature. Neither is eating. These things are not inherently evil merely  because God does not perform them. They are not automatically sin. The argument solely from God's nature is insufficient. What needs to be clearly articulated is hatred for the characteristic and activity (that will be the next objection).

There also remains to be seen, is deception really against God's nature? Let me answer in the affirmative. But God is not beyond utilizing it for His purposes. The Biblical support though is a little weaker than first glance,

“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Num 23:19; NASB)

The text seems clear right? So why would I say it is weak? When it is read in context it should be clear the sum of the verse is "God makes good on His promises." What He promises He shall do. He will not change His mind or "repent." This is a significantly different subject than deception. But even more the Scripture does say that God repents (Gen 6:6-7). So the authors of Scripture were okay saying that God repented in some sense that is different that the one mentioned in Numbers 23:19. The dangers of this kind of proof texting should be obvious. God did repent in some sense. Explaining the "how" of Genesis 6:6-7 is not the point of this post. So is it okay to say the God could "lie" in some sense? Perhaps. The Scriptures certainly wouldn't be in error if they said God did lie. But the Scriptures do not say such a thing, so I am inclined to say that deception is not in God's nature.

As a formula for understanding, I see deception in a unique category. So let me briefly explain how I can see deception as contrary to God's nature yet not inherently sinful (like eating, sleeping, etc.). There are many things in the law that are not sins but still mark a person as "unclean." These are a special thing ethically. Many people have often read "unclean" as inherently sinful, but this is to misunderstand the holiness laws of the OT. It is also to misunderstand why they are abrogated in Jesus Christ. These holiness laws can, and must, be abrogated in Jesus Christ because they are in fact not sinful.

Despite never having a specific command against it, I believe deception is analogous to this type of uncleanness on a higher level. I know of no place that explicitly forbids deception except for the 8th Commandment (which features heavily in the next objection). But spoilers, the 8th Commandment is not speaking to general deception or lying. It speaks against a certain perversion in this fallen world. As I see it, in a perfect world deception would not be needed. Thus, it is fitting that God in His perfect nature does not lie. Just as in the eternal state I do not expect to need sleep or food (though as created beings we might partake in both...I really don't know). In summary, in a fallen world 'holy deception' is an unfortunate activity, but it is not a sin.

God Clearly States that He Hates Sin

One of the faster objections on the table is the 8th Commandment. This commandment is normally quoted as "thou shalt not lie." But this quotation is not found in the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exo 20; Deut 5). Instead, that commandment prohibits the false testimony. Everything about this proper interpretation is on courtroom judgments. The language of the commandment suggests that context. One is not to bear false witness/lie in a courtroom to subvert justice. This is to use false speech to bring about unrighteousness.

The concept though also expands beyond this. The common "thou shalt not lie" is from Leviticus 19:11. There too though, lying is associated with "stealing" and "dealing falsely." In this context, "lying" is associated with doing harm to one's neighbor. This is a far distinction from deception to preserve justice and save one's neighbor.

Finally, the verb for "lie" in Numbers 23:19 (seen above) is used even less often in the Old Testament. It is hard to argue for an understanding of this particular verb beyond the subverting of justice (Prov 14:5). It certainly might include all forms of deception, but there is nothing in any Biblical text to imply this thought.

In many of the previous examples in this series, deception was used to subvert injustice. It was not used to falsely condemn a man. Nor was it used to falsely vindicate a man. There remains no Scripture to sufficiently prove that God hates deception that saves/preserves a righteous man or damns/condemns an unrighteous man.

That's Arguing the Ends Justify the Means

This little philosophical jab is pretty common. It goes like this "if you will lie to save a life, why not just blow up abortion clinics?" Now, this one is pretty silly once you stare at it for a few seconds. First, it presumes the conclusion. It presumes that lying is wrong such that it needs the ends to justify the "sinful means."

But let's dig a little deeper. What is the assumption about lying being bad? Is all non-factual talk evil? Fiction stories are not true. Children's books are often filled with fictitious stuff that is far beyond belief. What makes these non-truths ethical? Is it the ends? Fictional books are not trying to convince us that they are historically accurate (not all of them anyway). So are we really turning against lying, as a form of non-factual talk, because of it's conclusion? Namely, deception.

What about pranks? Are pranks unethical? They are non-factual talk. They are meant to deceive. But they do so with hopes of a funny outcome. Is it really the funny outcome that makes a prank ethical but deception unethical? That is "ends justify the means" type thinking. So, unless the individual suggests that all non-factual speech is unethical, then they are supplying an "end-justify-the-means" definition to accuse supports of deception. The question and accusation are thus inherently flawed. There is no reason to respond to this accusation. But let me answer it as if it was not.

One might still ask, am I not inherently saying "lie to support righteousness" but don't "lie to subvert righteousness"? Is that not clearly ends justify the means? Well, let me answer first — it isn't. Now let me show by analogy that there is an ontological difference between these two acts, thus disproving the reliance on "the ends."

Sex between a married couple is ontologically different than pre-marital sex or adultery. One supports marriage. The other can destroy marriages. But that is not what makes one good or bad. The acts themselves are different from one another because of the heart and context of the event. Similarly, one does not lie to result in righteousness. One should lie when righteousness is being subverted. The ends of the situation are actually quite irrelevant. If the end of that lie is imprisonment, death, etc. the lie would still be justified. Hence not "ends justify the means."


I hope these objections have been helpful to those who will face criticism for supporting "holy deception." If anyone has or has experienced more developed objections I look forward to feedback.

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