Is Lying an Acceptable Sin?

What does the Bible say about lying?

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From business to politics to personal relationships, not telling the truth may be more common today than ever. But what does the Bible say about lying? From cover to cover, the Bible disapproves of dishonesty, but surprisingly, it also lists one situation in which lying is acceptable behavior.

First Family, First Liars

According to the book of Genesis, lying started with Adam and Eve. After having eaten the forbidden fruit, Adam hid from God:

He (Adam) answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10, NIV)

No, Adam knew he had disobeyed God and hid because he was afraid of punishment. Then Adam blamed Eve for giving him the fruit, while Eve blamed the serpent for deceiving her.

Lying caught on with their children. God asked Cain where his brother Abel was.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:10, NIV)

That was a lie. Cain knew exactly where Abel was because he had just murdered him. From there, lying became one of the most popular items in humanity's catalog of sins.

The Bible Says No Lying, Plain and Simple

After God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he gave them a simple set of laws called the Ten Commandments. The Ninth Commandment is generally translated:

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." (Exodus 20:16, NIV)

Before the establishment of secular courts among the Hebrews, justice was more informal. A witness or party in a dispute was forbidden to lie. All the commandments have broad interpretations, designed to promote right behavior toward God and other people ("neighbors"). The Ninth Commandment prohibits perjury, lying, deceit, gossip, and slander.

Several times in the Bible, God the Father is called "the God of truth." The Holy Spirit is called "the Spirit of truth." Jesus Christ said of himself, "I am the way and the truth and the life." (John 14:6, NIV) In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus frequently prefaced his statements by saying "I tell you the truth."

Since the kingdom of God is founded on truth, God demands that people speak the truth on earth as well. The book of Proverbs, part of which is attributed to wise King Solomon, says:

"The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful." (Proverbs 12:22, NIV)

When Lying Is Acceptable

The Bible implies that on rare occasions lying is acceptable. In the second chapter of Joshua, the Israelite army was ready to attack the fortified city of Jericho. Joshua sent two spies in, who stayed at the house of Rahab, a prostitute. When the king of Jericho sent soldiers to her house to arrest them, she hid the spies on the roof under piles of flax, a plant used to make linen.

Questioned by the soldiers, Rahab said the spies had come and gone. She lied to the king's men, telling them if they left quickly, they might catch the Israelites.

In 1 Samuel 22, David fled from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. He entered the Philistine city of Gath. Afraid of the enemy king Achish, David pretended he was insane. The ruse was a lie.

In both instances, Rahab and David lied to the enemy in time of war. God had anointed the causes of both Joshua and David. Lies told to the enemy during a war are acceptable in God's eyes.

Why Lying Comes Naturally

Lying is the go-to strategy for broken people. Most of us lie to protect other people's feelings, but many people tell lies to exaggerate their achievements or hide their mistakes. Lies cover other sins, like adultery or stealing, and eventually, a person's entire life becomes a lie.

Lies are impossible to keep up. Eventually, others find out, causing humiliation and loss:

"The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out." (Proverbs 10:9, NIV)

Despite the sinfulness of our society, people still hate a phony. We expect better from our leaders, from corporations, and from our friends. Ironically, lying is one area in which our culture agrees with God's standards.

The Ninth Commandment, like all the other commandments, was given not to restrict us but to keep us out of trouble of our own making. The old saying that "honesty is the best policy" is not found in the Bible, but it agrees with God's desire for us.

With nearly 100 warnings about honesty throughout the Bible, the message is clear. God loves the truth and hates lying.

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Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "Is Lying an Acceptable Sin?" Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, Fairchild, Mary. (2020, August 27). Is Lying an Acceptable Sin? Retrieved from Fairchild, Mary. "Is Lying an Acceptable Sin?" Learn Religions. (accessed June 8, 2023).