Is telling a lie ever the right thing to do?

The Bible clearly teaches lying is a sin. In Exodus 20:16, for example, a prohibition against lying is listed as one of the Ten Commandments. But is it ever appropriate to lie?

Two specific biblical examples give us clues regarding the answer to this question. The first is found in Exodus 1. The evil Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to throw all newborn boys into the river to kill them. When these midwives refused to comply because they feared God, the Pharaoh summoned them to answer for why they allowed the male babies to live. They responded, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them" (Exodus 1:19). God blessed the midwives for their fear of Him (vv. 20-21).

In Joshua 2, an example is given regarding two Jewish spies in Jericho. These two men had been sent to spy on the city prior to Israel's military attack. When discovered, they fled and hid in the home of a prostitute named Rahab. She lied to the men searching for the spies in order to save their lives. As a result, the spies spared her family when Jericho was destroyed. Hebrews 11:31 later stated, "By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies." Her action was clearly noted as the right choice.

It should be noted that the lie in each of these cases is not specifically condoned. However, it does seem they led to positive results. So why does the Bible seemingly approve of these two lies but elsewhere condemns lying? In both cases, a lie was told in order to save innocent lives. While not explicitly stated, it appears God would honor someone still today placed in a similar situation of telling a lie in order to protect an innocent person from death.

This does not make lying an acceptable habit, but does deal with the reality of a fallen, sinful world in which a difficult action must sometimes be taken to spare human life. A similar parallel can be found in the history of Nazi Germany. Many Germans (among others) provided refuge to German Jews and then lied to the Nazis in order to save the lives of those they had hidden.

In American history, some abolitionists helped to smuggle and hide African slaves to protect them from death at the hands of authorities or their slave holders. These actions sometimes included lying to those searching for these former slaves. This helped to save many lives during a dark time of slavery in America.

In both cases, people sought to save lives from the hands of people attempting to kill them. Such people would not have viewed lying as appropriate at other times, but clearly did so in these extreme examples to save lives, something considered a higher priority.

Considering these examples, it may be right to lie in order to prevent a greater evil. However, it is unlikely that most people will ever find themselves in such an extreme situation where lying is the right thing to do.

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