On Facebook, someone asked the question, “Is it ever right to lie?” Some people answered “no.” Others who are more familiar with the Bible noted that there were times when people did lie to save lives.
There are numerous stories about how Gentiles lied to the Nazis by hiding Jews, like the way Rahab hid the spies from the king of Jericho (see below). In Give Me the Children: How a Christian Woman Saved a Jewish Family During the Holocaust, Pola Arbiser describes how her nanny defied the law and hid her and her sister from Nazi officers. The Jewish community of survivors has described these resistors as “righteous gentiles”1 or simply “Christian rescuers.”2
These actions were considered moral even though they violated Nazi Reich law and included a great deal of deception (lying). Thomas Kineally’s book Schindler’s Ark (later made into the film Schindler’s List) shows the highest praise for those who defied what was a “legal” government policy. Schindler was engaged in a massive lie to save 1200 Jews, having “spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers.” Was Oskar Schindler wrong to lie? “He was named Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1963.” (Wikipedia)
In times of war and the rise of tyranny, deception is often the only way to survive. Are prisoners of war always required to tell the truth? Should a group of prisoners planning to escape reveal their escape plans? If you are someone who claims that it’s always wrong to lie, would you counsel your fellow POWs not to deceive your captors?
The Hebrew midwives were commanded by “the king of Egypt” to put to death all the male children being born to the Hebrew women (Ex. 1:15‑16). The Hebrew midwives disobeyed the edict of the king: “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (1:17). The midwives had to make a choice. Did God’s law overrule the command of a king, even “the king of Egypt”? God shows His approval of their actions: “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them” (1:20‑21).
How is what they did morally right given from what Paul (Rom. 13:1-5) and Peter (1 Pet. 2:13-16) write about obeying those in authority? How do we explain Peter’s statement, “We must obey God rather than men”? (Acts 5:29) and his earlier statement:
And when [the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees] had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:18-20).
Under certain very limited situations, lying (not bearing false witness: Ex. 20:16) is permissible.
Rahab hid the two spies of Israel and lied about their location. When a route for escape became available, she led them out another way from that of the pursuing soldiers. The king issued a command to Rahab: “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land” (Josh. 2:3). She disobeyed a direct command of the “king of Jericho.” Some want to maintain that Rahab was right in “welcoming the spies in peace” (Heb. 11:31), but she was wrong in lying about the location of the spies…