October 11, 1992

What is truth?

Lying vs Deception I said we would deal with what is a lie and what is truth, so here we are. One of the things which I enjoy doing is finding a difficult passage which others might skirt, and pharisaical it.

I must admit that the idea was not original with me. I read something on it some time ago and then as I studied scriptures and came across passages which dealt with this, I kept a file on them.

I am firmly convinced that this is a question which we as Christians must face and maybe sooner than any of us think.

This matter of what is truth is a much discussed and abused matter. I know good people who say they are willing to sacrifice the lives of their families on the alter of what they consider the truth; but what are they doing?

Let's start with the most well known situation in this area: the midwives, Exodus 1:15-21. Because of its implications and prevalent misuse by compromising modernist preachers, we need to go into some depth in order to develop a consistency of thought concerning what the Lord considers truth.

Let's open our discussion by mentioning the ninth commandment, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Clearly, the Lord condemns evil actions toward our neighbor; we must not use words or actions to deprive him of his life, property, or freedom. Although this commandment is commonly understood to forbid all deceit, does it say, "Thou shall not deceive, or thou shalt not lie?"

The fact cannot be avoided; the midwives deceived Pharaoh, the living Egyptian god. Edersheim, in dealing with this difficult situation, quotes from St. Augustine's 420 AD treatises, "Against Lying": "God forgave the evil [deceiving Pharaoh] on account of the good, and rewarded their piety, though not their deceit. (OT Bible History, pg. 34.)"

The modern theology concerning lying seems to have been developed from Augustine's idea, so let's look as just what Augustine said: [1872 translation of St. Augustin's 420 AD treatise, Against Lying. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. III, pg. 495, 6. Eerdmans.]>

But, as for that which is written, that God did good to the Hebrew midwives, and to Rahab the harlot of Jericho, this was not because they lied, but because they were merciful to God's people. That therefore which was rewarded in them was, not their deceit, but their benevolence; benignity of mind, not iniquity of lying. For, as it would not be marvelous and absurd if God on account of good works after done by them should be willing to forgive some evil works at another time before committed, so it is not to be marvelled at that God beholding at one time, in one cause, both these, that is, the thing done of mercy and the thing done of deceit, did both reward the good, and for the sake of this good forgive that evil. For if sins which are done of carnal concupiscence, not of mercy, are for the sake of after works of mercy remitted, why are not those through merit of mercy remitted which of mercy itself are committed? For more grievous is a sin which with purpose of hurting, than that which with purpose of helping, is wrought. And consequently if that is blotted out by a work of mercy thereafter following, why is this, which is less heinous, not blotted out by the mercy itself of the man, both going before that he may sin, and going along with him while he sins? So indeed it may seem: but in truth it is one thing to say, "I aught not to have sinned, but I will do works of mercy whereby I may blot out the sin which I did before;" and another to say, "I ought to sin because I cannot else show mercy." It is, I say, one thing to say, "Because we have already sinned, let us do good, because we have done evil:" but here, "Let us do evil that good may come." And, consequently, there we have to drain off the sink of sin, here to beware of a doctrine which teacheth to sin." [Emph. added.] He goes on to say that the midwives and Rahab should have told the truth, died a righteous death, and left the results in the hands of God.

Notice that St. Augustine argues from his presupposition that God remits, blots out, or overlooks evil if enough good follows that evil. Furthermore, he argues for this remission with no mention of repentance, confession and/or forgiveness from God. Then he draws a fine line between saying, "Let us do evil that good may come" [which he defines as a wrong], and, "Because we have done evil, let us do good to blot it out" [which he defines as a good]. Obviously, he attempts to prevent a conflict with Romans 2 & 3 where the Lord promises to judge everything according to the truth.

Although St. Augustine's inconsistencies are quite apparent, we will mention then anyway:

1) the judgment of God is not based upon a comparison between good and evil works; reward is not determined by the resulting good outweighing the bad required to accomplish that good. In other words, the end does not justify the means, and judgment will not be based on the end results. Judgment will be based solely upon the individual's faithfulness to the principles of the total of God's word, 1 Corinthians 4:2.

2) he destroys his own argument by saying that sin can be atoned for by following that sin with enough good works. The problem with this conclusion is that the midwives (and many other of the saints of God) did their good works, then they deceived the evil men concerning the good which they had done.

Among the many implications contained in St. Augustine's conclusion in the matter of the midwives would be:

1) those who fear God must obey unjust rulers' commands which go contrary to godly principles, meaning the midwives should have killed the babies and left the results in the Lord's hands

2) the greater sin is to incur the wrath of an earthly ruler than to incur the wrath of the Heavenly King; the Lord spoke against this corrupt theology, Mt 10:28.

the church and Christians can do whatever they feel is necessary [compromise and sin] for the cause of Christ [a term we use here facetiously] as long as enough good results to blot out the sin.

St Augustine is one of the primary developers of the argument that the midwives sinned in their deceit, but because of the resulting good God blessed them; this theology is basic to Romanism, and it has been imbibed by modern Protestantism. His theology in this area cannot in any way be defended or justified from the word of God. It has allowed theologians down through the centuries to deal with the situation with the midwives in such a way as to justify compromise by those who profess a Biblical faith.

Even among Baptists, I have talked with people and heard of preachers who, knowingly or unknowingly, hold strongly to St. Augustine's position concerning the midwives; an untenable position in the light of the many other similar passages of Scripture. How much of the earthly glory of Romanism and Protestantism has been accomplished with the time and finances of people trying to blot out a preceding sin by doing good works? St. Augustine's position in this area is very profitable.

There are a great many OT illustrations which must be used to develop a proper application of the ninth commandment; in fact, it is impossible to develop a proper doctrine in this or any other area without tracing it through the law, prophets, and the psalms, 2 Timothy 3:19. We will look at only a few of the many passages which deal with deceit.


Let me point out some distinct common threads woven throughout the following passages:

First, when there is no other means of protection, deceit is used to protect the godly from the evil desires of those with power, and, at times, from those in authority over them. There is usually a life or death situation involved somewhere in the issue.

Second, notice who used deceit for their protection.

Third, there is a noticeable lack of God's condemnation for the deceiver under certain circumstances. In addition, keep in mind that the ninth commandment deals with false witness against our neighbor.

1. Because St. Augustine uses Rahab so much in his argument, we will start with her. Joshua 2:4, 5, Rahab deceived the men of the city who were pursuing the spies which Joshua had sent into Canaan. She told them that the spies had already fled, and, if they would hurry, they could overtake them.

Rahab's deception of the men took place after she hid the spies, not before, although she subsequently let them down over the wall and told them how to escape. Her reward for her action was that she and all of her household were spared. Furthermore, she was placed in the lineage of Christ, Matthew 1:5. Twice Rahab's action is mentioned in the NT, and both times she is commended, Hebrews 11:31 & James 2:25. Part of that hiding was by deceiving the men of city.

St. Augustine, in dealing with Rahab, remains consistent to his argument that God remits or overlooks sin if enough good is done after the sin. He says that Rahab sinned in deceiving the men of the city, yet the Lord blessed her because of the mercy which she showed to God's people.

Preferably, says Augustine, she should have said only: "I know where they are; but I fear God, I will not betray them," leaving the results in the Lord's hands. Furthermore, he compares what she did to protect her guests from the evil men of Jericho with what Lot did to protect his guests (angles, unbeknown to him), Genesis 19:5-11. He commends Lot for being honest about the men in his house and his subsequent offering of his daughters to the Sodomite men of Sodom, but condemns Rahab for protecting her guest from the evil desires of the men of Jericho with deceit.

His argument is destroyed by two facts: The good that Rahab did was before she deceived the pursuers. Although a believer, Lot compromised his faith and is never held up as an example of righteousness; on the other hand, Rahab is used twice as an example to the believers.

2. Genesis 12:11, 12; 20:11, Abraham twice deceived the civil authority of the nations in which he found himself. The reason for his deceit was fear that he would be killed and his wife taken.

It has been a common practice throughout history for men of influence and power to take any woman whom they desired. (The rulers of NT times did this.) If there was any objection from anyone, husband, father, brother, &c, that objection was dealt with by killing the objector.

There is in the British Museum an ancient Egyptian "papyrus," which, although of somewhat later date than that of Abram, proves that his fears, on entering Egypt, were at least not groundless. It relates how a Pharaoh, on the advice of his councilors, sent armies to take away a man's wife by force, and then to murder her husband. Footnote, Edersheime, vol. I, pg. 79. A more complete treatment of this is given in vol. II, pg. 11, 12.

Even though Abraham was a mighty prince, the nations in which he found himself were stronger; therefore, Abraham rightly feared that if he objected to the king taking his wife, then he would be killed. Accordingly, the only means available for Abraham's protection against a perceived evil civil authority was deceit. When Abraham used deceit, rather than rebuking him, God protected him and his family.

Romans 13:1-5, the purpose of civil government is to provide conditions where good is protected and evil repressed. God's judgment is against the society which does not provide this protection, not against the ones who are trying to do good in such a society. Truth follows God's definition of justice and good, not man's. Thus, God rebuked both kings for permitting a lawless society which forced Abraham to use deceit for his protection. God required both kings to give restitution to Abraham for the anguish which their evil society caused him. God will do the same against evil civil governments of our day.

3. Genesis 38, Tamar deceived her father-in-law, Judah, because he did not keep his promise to her. God held Judah at fault in the matter; Tamar was placed in the lineage of Christ.

4. In passing, we need to mention Joseph, who's story is so well known that we will not develop it.

1) Genesis chapters 42-44, he deceived his brothers. 2) 46:32-34, what Joseph instructed his family to tell Pharaoh was not according to the whole truth. 3) Although I know of no good explanation for Joseph's actions, we are confident that he acted according to the perfect will of God in all he did, 45:7.

The Book of 1 Samuel contains many instances of deceit used to protect the righteous from the misuse of power by the wicked in authority.

5. Because King Saul saw David as a threat to his throne, he tried to kill David on several occasions. 1 Samuel 19:14-17, Michal's (David's wife and Saul's daughter) only defence against the evil desire of her dad against her husband was deceit.

6. 1 Sam 20:5-8, knowing that King Saul would inquire concerning David's whereabouts at meal time, David and Jonathan, Saul's son, agreed together to deceive the king. This agreement was considered a covenant of the Lord, and the deception is carried out against Saul in vs. 28, 29.

21:1-9, while fleeing from King Saul, David deceives the priest in order to get the show bread (which only priests were permitted) to eat and a sword to carry. This reference is interesting in that the Lord uses this as an illustration that the law is for man's benefit, not man for the law's benefit, Matthew 12:1-8. In this reference, the Lord makes not even a passing reference to the fact that David used deceit to get the bread. In fact, He places His approval on David taking the bread to the shame of the Pharasees. It is the pharisaical attitude which would sacrifice a life to wicked men on the alter of their deffinition of the truth.

The point that the Lord makes with this action by David when he deceived the priest is the very point that the "pious" forget: the law is for the protection of the righteous; its purpose is not to lay them open to destruction by the wicked. When the wicked try to use the law, which is meant for good, against those who are trying to do good (righteous), the wicked lose all right to the "truth" as we might define truth. Furthermore, the righteous do not owe the 'truth' to those who desire to use it against them. Truth is in terms of the righteousness and justice of God, as well as the spirit of the law, not in the terms of man's ideas.

Consider this: If the "truth" is given to an enemy of God which enables that enemy to destroy an innocent person's life, liberty, or property, the question arises, "Who has broken the ninth commandment which was given to protect that life, liberty, and property. The enemy who did the action, or the person who supplied the tools of destruction?"

In a word, Abraham did not owe the "truth" to the evil rulers who would use that 'truth' to kill him.

9. 1 Sam 21:13, while hiding from Saul and fearful of Achish the king of Gath, David deceived Achish, 21:13. No doubt some would say that David didn't trust the Lord to take care of him. Again, Christ pulls the illustration He uses in Matthew 21, out of the middle of 1 Samuel 21, to illustrate that truth is in terms of the spirit of law, not its letter. The law was given to preserve the life of the righteous, not take it.

10. 1 Sam 22:9, 10, Doeg saw the truth of what transpired between David and the priest when David asked for the bread. Doeg lies to Saul, saying that the priest inquired of the Lord for David (he knew David had not asked the priest to inquire for him); he tells the truth concerning the priest giving David the bread and sword. David considers Doeg an evil wicked liar, Psa. 52.

11. 1 Sam 27:10-12, while David was living in the part of the land of the Philistines ruled by Achish, he mounted raids against the enemies of Israel. In order to protect himself from Achish, he leaves no one alive in his forays to dispute his deception of Achish.

12. 1 Sam 29:1ff, David has carried out his deception of King Achish very well. When the kings of Philistines unite to fight against Israel, David goes with King Achish to join with the consolidated Philistine army. As the many Philistine armies pass in review, the princes of the Philistines recognize David with Achish. They call Achish before them and ask him what he thinks he is doing by bringing David with him in battle against David's own people. The Philistine king, Achish, knowing of the song which Israel sung in honour of David's past victories over the Philistines, defends David as a man who had been faithful to him even against David's own people, Israel. The Philistines rejects the story and make King Achish send David back home.

Achish calls David before him and explains what the princes said. David swears undying allegiance to Achish, impeccably playing the part of a faithful servant. Although Achish believes David, he yields to the demands of the princes and sends him home.

The point is that although David lived a flawless deception before King Achish for over a year, we have no record of God's condemnation of David's actions. On the contrary, it appears that God prospered David as he defended Israel while he was living this deception. God even protected David by Divine Providence so that he didn't have to unite in battle with the Philistines against Israel. David's deception of Achish is remarkable, v. 8.

2 Samuel also contains several accounts of deception which we should consider.

13. 15:34, after David became king of Israel, one of his sons, Absalom, rebels against God and the King, usurps the throne, and forces David to flee for his life. Hushai, who had been a faithful advisor to King David, longs to flee with David, but David tells him to return to Absalom in Jerusalem. Furthermore, David tells Hushai to deceive Absalom into thinking that he now has the same loyalty to the new king, Absalom, as he had to the former king, David. The purpose of the deception is to gain Absalom's confidence and then give him bad advice in David's favor. Hushai effectively deceives Absalom, 16:18.

There are two clear points in this passage:

First, the usurper now has the power to pursue and kill David; David's only defence is deceit. David has no desire to take his neighbor's life, liberty, or property; rather, he is protecting his own.

Second, as the wicked work their wickedness, they have no right to the truth which will help them accomplish their evil desires. Truth is always in terms of God's righteousness and justice. Would it have been justice for Absalom to kill his father David? (I realize the prophecy which is being fulfilled here; ie., David's sin with another man's wife and his subsequent murder of her husband.)

God caused Absalom to reject the good advice of his honest counselor, Ahithophel, for the deceit of Hushai, 17:14.

14. 17:20, Hushai sends word to David about Absalom's plans to pursue and kill David. Absalom hears that some men have fled out of the city to David, so he sends others to overtake them before they reach David. The two men are hidden in a well by a woman, a cover is placed over the well with grain spread on the cover, and the woman who hides them clearly and successfully, by her words and actions, deceives the men who are in hot pursuit.

Again we see this fact: The wicked have no right to the truth in order that they might destroy the righteous.

We see further examples in the Book of 2 Kings.

15. 6:19, the king of Syria is at war against the king of Israel. Every time the king of Syria tries to make plans against Israel, the Lord reveals those plans to Elisha who tells them to the king of Israel. The king of Syria inquires and finds that Elisha is the one revealing the secrets, so he sends a great army by night to take Elisha. We all know the story.

When the army moves against Elisha, Elisha asks the Lord to smite the men with blindness, which He does. Elisha meets the army in v. 19, And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria.

Obviously, Elisha deceived the Syrian army and led them into a trap at Samaria, not Jerusalem.

16. 10:19ff, Jehu deceives the worshipers of Baal to get them to gather in one place so he can kill them. The Lord compliments Jehu for his actions.

In order to develop the consistent thread concerning deceit, we need to look at a few passages where deceit is used in a bad context, thus reaping the judgment of God.

1a. Gen 27, Jacob, whose name meant deceiver, deceived his father to gain his personal desires. He bore false witness so he could take what was not rightfully his. Obviously, he was not blessed for his deceit, and he paid the price many times over for what he did: eg., Laban deceived him several times.

2a. Gen 49:5-7, the sons of Jacob, in response to Shechem's defilement of their sister Dinah, deceived the men of the city of Shechem. They bore false witness against the pagans for the purpose of personal vengeance; they killed the entire male population and spoiled their city. The result was that the sons who led in this deceit were cursed by their father, 49:5-7.

Gen 37:32, 33, Joseph's brethren deceived their father about Joseph's fate after they sold him into slavery. 44:17, they paid the price for this deceit.

4a. 2 Sam 11, David deceived one of his mighty men, Uriah, in order to take his property and his life; ie., Uriah's wife, and subsequently, his life. The judgment against David for violation of the ninth commandment was swift and sure.

5a. 2 Sam 13, one of David's sons, Amnon, loved one of David's daughters, Tamar. Amnon used deceit in order to get the opportunity to defile her. The judgment against Amnon was his death at the hands of Absalom.

In addition, we will mention a couple of questionable uses of deceit; can they be used to develop a Biblical doctrine of deceit? First, Joshua used deceit to take the city of Ai, 8:5, 6. Second, the Gibeonites used deceit for their protection against Israel, and Israel was held to the covenant which they were deceived into making, ch. 10. Furthermore, David used deceit while hiding from Saul to destroy Israel's enemies just as Joshua did to capture the city of Ai; one cannot be condemned without condemning the other. Consistency must prevail in our thinking as we study Scripture.

As a final illustration let us mention the parallel between the actions of the midwives and Moses' parents. The midwives were not afraid of the king's command; they feared God and kept the babies alive contrary to the king's command, Exodus 1:17. Moses' parents were not afraid of the king's command; they hid Moses contrary to his command, Hebrews 11:23. Can we justify one without justifying the other? [I am fearful that the vast majority of modern professed Christians, if they would follow the prevailing teaching of our day concerning Rom 13, would obey the king's command and kill their babies.]

The consistent thread in the above passages is that truth is always in terms of the ninth commandment (ie., protection of the innocent person's life, liberty, and property), a fact which very few Christians will admit.

The Scriptures present deceit as a legitimate means of self-protectionfrom the evil desires of wicked men in authority in an evil society; furthermore, rather than holding the ones who had to use deceit responsible, God holds the evil society and its leaders responsible for permitting the evil society where deceit is the only means of protection for the righteous.

Therefore, we are faced with only two options: The first option is Augustine's view that God remits, blots out, or overlooks evil if enough good follows that evil. On the other hand, the second option is that deceit is a legitimate means of self-defence against the wicked who are in power and when deceit is the only means of defence against the evil desires of the wicked who seek to destory the righteous.

The ninth commandment says Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Therefore, when deceit is used for personal gain at the expense of another's life, liberty, or property (1a-5a), it has God's wrath against it as a clear violation of the commandment of God. The law is given for man's benefit and protection; it is not given for his destruction.