What does the Bible say about lying? Should believers lie?

A study regarding lies, liars and self-deception

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Is there any biblical guidance concerning lies and deceitfulness? This article contains a study regarding lies, liars and self-deception (the latter is the same as lying to oneself). Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments will be considered here. In short: The subject of this study is, what does the Bible say about lying? Should believers lie? What about “white lies”, lying by omission, exaggeration, and so on? Let us take a closer look at this matter.

Genesis 3:4 records the first lie that we know of.

Genesis 3:4 And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die (AKJV)

Consider the enormous consequences of that lie. Indeed, much evil comes from lies and lying.

John 8:44 states that Satan is the father of lying.

Jesus said to a certain group of people:

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell you the truth, you believe me not. (AKJV, highlighting added)

Some lying-related passages in the Proverbs.

Proverbs 6:16 Six things are hated by the Lord; seven things are disgusting to him: 17 Eyes of pride, a false tongue, hands which take life without cause (BBE)

Proverbs 12:19 True lips are certain for ever, but a false tongue is only for a minute. (BBE)

Proverbs 12:22 False lips are hated by the Lord, but those whose acts are true are his delight. (BBE)

Proverbs 21:6 He who gets stores of wealth by a false tongue, is going after what is only breath, and searching for death. (BBE)

(False tongue, false lips = pretending, deceiving, lying.)

Even the rules of the Old Covenant were against lying.

The Decalogue warned against lying:

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


Leviticus 19:11 Do not take anyone’s property or be false in act or word to another. (BBE)

Leviticus 19:16 Do not go about saying untrue things among your people […] (BBE)

Those principles are valid even today.

All too many people spread lies or bad things about others. Spreading lies further, is the same as telling lies. In order to avoid doing that, one must not spread things that one does not really know personally. Also: Spreading evil talk is never the thing to do, be the matter true or not. There are things which should be exposed – one must not protect crime or wickedness – but most faults, mistakes and sins should be covered, forgiven and forgotten, and not spread around as gossip or slander.

There are many forms of lying.

Giving false witness or false statements, attestations or declarations, is the same as lying. Producing false appearances is lying. Also cheating, such as at study tests, is lying. Even betrayal of trust is lying. That is: If one has promised something, then one must keep the promise. (But, sometimes one makes stupid promises, and sometimes new circumstances arise and make it hard or impossible to keep the promise. In such cases, one should discuss the situation with the person whom one made the promise to.)

Sometimes, the act of not telling the whole story can add up to lying (lying by omission). On the other hand, many a time it is better to keep quiet. This is because truth can hurt, and because many things simply must be kept private and not spread to others. Sometimes, instead of simply remaining quiet, it may be more fitting to say, “I cannot discuss this matter”, “I am not saying anything about this”, or something similar.

What about “white lies”? Well, lie even just once, and you are a liar. And, who would trust a liar?

Believers must not lie. They are to be honest and dependable. Others must be able to trust them.

God can forgive one’s lies if one leaves the way of lying and asks for forgiveness, but that does not have to mean that one can escape the practical consequences of one’s lies.

Being honest and true is an integral part of being righteous.

Lying is not reconcilable with righteousness. A righteous person does not lie. Believers must always be honest and dependable – trustworthy and faithful – as a mate, parent, friend, at work, and in all situations.

Proverbs 13:5 The righteous hate lying, but the wicked act disgustingly and disgracefully. 6 Righteousness guards people of integrity, but wickedness undermines the sinner. (HCSB)

Here, it can be good to know that the word “righteousness” comes from the Old English rihtwisnes, right-wise-ness, which simply means “right-ways-ness”. If one lives in the right way, one will not lie.

The article rga083.htm has more on the matter of righteousness.

Being truthful in love. Love rejoices with the truth, but it also knows how to be silent and keep things secret.

Consider this passage:

Matthew 22:37 And he said to him, Have love for the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest rule. 39 And a second like it is this, Have love for your neighbour as for yourself. (BBE)

Verse 39, “have love for your neighbour as for yourself”. If one follows that rule, then one will also see to it that certain things, regardless how true they might be, will be left unsaid and kept secret.

Lying is disrespect, but even “telling the truth” can be that. It is not respectful to go around telling a lot of hurtful “truths” about others or about things done by them or connected to them.

Proverbs 17:9 Whoever conceals an offense promotes love, but whoever gossips about it separates friends. (HCSB)

Nor should believers disclose their own private matters to others, just because someone demands to know “the truth” about something.

Ephesians 4:15 talks about “being truthful in love” (ACV). Let us also consider something the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love suffers long and is kind; love envies not; love makes no parade, is not puffed up, 5 is not rude, nor selfish, nor easily provoked. Love bears no malice, never rejoices over wrong-doing, 6 but rejoices when the truth rejoices. 7 It knows how to be silent, it is trustful, hopeful, patient, enduring. (CT)

“[Love] knows how to be silent”, verse 7 – the Greek text has stegô which literally refers to “covering over” and idiomatically to “keeping silent”, “keeping secret”.

The principles of 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 are valid even today. One must first and foremost have love. If one has love, then one will not lie, and also, then one knows when to keep quiet about things.

Should believers lie, in order to evade taxes?

It is true that the so-called “authorities” do not have any God-given right to dig into people’s wallets. (The article rwa023.htm has some notes on the rulers and governments of this world.) But, believers must not lie, and also, it would not be wise to get into trouble with this world’s governments.

If one signs a tax return (declaration of income and so on), one must see to it that that document gives correct and truthful information.

What about court-cases? That is, should one always tell all one knows?

In some countries, when people are called to witness in a court of law, they are told to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, or something like that. But, in many cases the laws allow one to remain quiet, either without saying anything, or without commenting some specific matters. (For instance, in order to protect one’s own interests, or those of one’s close ones or relatives.)

When it comes to legal things, it is best to get advice from experts who know the local laws.

Regarding oaths (swearing).

Consider this passage:

James 5:12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment. (NKJV)

See even Matthew 5:34–37.

A note, regarding the phrase “lest you fall into judgment” in the above-quoted translation of James 5:12. Some Greek texts have

ina mê hupo krisin pesête, “so that you will not fall under judgment”, but some have

ina mê eis hupokrisin pesête, “so that you will not fall into hypocrisy”.

Whichever; that does not change much in this context. Hypocrisy is really a form of lying, and thus wrong.

In the field of religion, there is especially much deception.

Jesus warned his disciples about deceivers. The article roa092.htm has some notes on that matter.

In the book of Revelation, we find this:

Revelation 2:2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars (NKJV)

Now, that was written to the certain people in the first century. But, even in our day, the world of religion is infested with lies and deception, liars and deceivers. It is important to personally find out what the Scriptures actually say, what God really wants of us. It is only in that way that one can avoid being deceived, and avoid helping deceivers to spread their lies further. In that connection, one must keep in mind that all bible-translations and “biblical” lexicons and commentaries and so on, have been produced by dogmatic, biased men, and contain error and all too often even purposely twisted things.

(If you have been subjected to dogmas which claim that some particular bible-version has all things right and has no errors, make sure to read the article rsa032.htm.)

A quote regarding lying to oneself and to others.

The following is a translated citation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. Please read this short quote slowly and with care:

The important thing is to stop lying to yourself. A man who lies to himself and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognise the truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself as well as for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in order to divert himself, having no love in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest forms of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal, in satisfying his vices – all this being caused by that man’s continual lying to himself and to others.

Dostoyevsky noted that all those evils came from lying; lying to oneself as well as to others. Please note that he also mentioned respect, towards oneself as well as others. If one lies to oneself, in the end one loses respect for oneself, and even for others. In short: Lying is not reconcilable with love.

(A note: The rest of that book is rubbish. But, that little bit certainly is worth thinking about.)

What should one’s action program against lying be?

Simply: One must not tell lies (not to oneself, either). One must not exaggerate in a wrong, lying way. One must not “colour” one’s speech with untrue things, and one must not use empty superlatives. One must not use “white lies”, either. (Lie even in the smallest way, and you are a liar. And then, who would trust a liar?)

So, one must not lie, but often one must use wisdom and diplomacy and carefully select ones words, or keep quiet, or simply change the subject. There are many things that must be kept private and secret. And, there are many things that must not be said.

Let us consider something the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Ephesus and in Colosse.

Ephesians 4:24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. (NKJV)

Colossians 3:8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (NKJV)

Again, believers must keep away from lying, while at the same time acting in love and with respect and keeping certain things private and secret.

If one calls oneself a believer but does not love one’s fellow humans, then one is a liar.

Among others, the apostle John wrote about loving others.

1 John 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (NKJV, highlighting added)

Verse 20, “hates his brother” – that can even consist of lacking love towards other people.

So, loving one’s fellow humans is a part of being true before God. That love can be made real through good works.

If one calls oneself a believer but does not care about one’s fellow humans and their needs, then one deceives oneself and becomes through that a liar. Let us consider how the epistle-writer James warned some people, regarding self-deception of that kind. Please read all of the following scripture-quote with care.

James 1:22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; 24 for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts—this person will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious, without controlling his tongue but deceiving his heart, his religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (HCSB)

Believers must live as God wants one to live, in all things.

Being true to God includes having love towards other people and helping those who are in need – yes, good works. Again, if one calls oneself “believer” but does not through one’s actions show love towards one’s fellow human beings, then one deceives oneself and is a liar.

The article rga083.htm contains a study on the matter of righteousness, including good works. See also the article rma072.htm.

Attending and supporting a church can make one a living lie.

We all know that the field of religion is full of lies. Of course, the deceived ones do not realise that they have been fed with lies. Instead, they think that they have been taught “the Truth”, and are proud of that.

If one echoes someone’s lies to others, that is the same as lying. Thus, supporting a deceiving religious organisation, even by simply being present at its meetings, makes one a liar.

Believers must not allow themselves to be deceived by lies or liars in the field of religion. Because of this, they must personally study the Scriptures. They must not follow men or men’s teachings. Only deep, personal bible-study can help one to know which things are lies and which not.

The article rsa062.htm takes a closer look at the matter of “spiritual authority” – the question, who can speak for God?

The article rsa052.htm considers the question, whom should one listen to, in regard to spiritual matters?

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please tell others about this site. Please also link to it. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → rga083.htm

Are the rulers and governments of this world appointed by God? Also: Some writers have talked about “the divine right of kings”, but is there such a thing? → rwa023.htm

Jesus warned his disciples about deceivers. He told them that many would be deceived. → roa092.htm

On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga022.htm

Religion must not be skin-deep only. Believers must take the matters of faith seriously. → rba112.htm

How the saints took care of the elderly and the poor. → rma072.htm

What does the Bible say about authority? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority? Who can speak for God? → rsa062.htm

Whom should one listen to, in regard to spiritual matters? → rsa052.htm

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