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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(prop. כָּזָב , ψεῦδος), an intentional violation of truth. In Scripture we find the word used to designate all the ways in which mankind denies or alters truth in word or deed, as also evil in general. In general the good is in it designated as the truth, evil as its opposite, or lie, and consequently the devil (being the contrary to God) as the father of lies, and liars or impious persons as children of the devil. Hence the Scriptures most expressly condemn lies (John 8:44; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15). When, in Romans 3:4, it is said that all men are liars, it is synonymous with saying that all are bad. The Bible nowhere admits of permitted, praiseworthy, or pious lies, yet it recommends not to proclaim the truth when its proclamation might prove injurious. Hence Christ commands (Matthew 7:6) not to present the truth of the Gospel to those who are unworthy when he recommends, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine." In John 16:12 we see that he could not tell his disciples all that he would have wished to tell them on account of their weakness. He did not answer the inquiries of Pilate (John 19:9), nor of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63). But we nowhere find that either in levity, or to do others good, or to glorify God, Christ ever spoke an untruth. Peter, on the contrary, denied both Christ by word in the moment of danger (Matthew 26:69 sq.; Mark 14:66 sq.; Luke 22:56 sq.; John 18:17 sq.) and the evangelical truth by his actions (Galatians 2:12; Galatians 2:14).

But Paul, in Acts 23:5, made use of an implication to clear himself, or, at any rate, concealed part of the truth in order to create dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and thus save himself. Strict truthfulness requires that we should never alter the truth, either in words or actions, so as to deceive others, whether it be for pleasure, or to benefit others or ourselves, or even for the best cause. Yet, although there can, absolutely considered, be no injurious truth. it is not expedient to tell all truth to those who are not able to receive or comprehend it. Thus evil might result from telling everything to children, fools, mischief-makers, spies, etc. But this does not imply that we I may tell them that which is not true, only that we are to remain silent when we perceive that the truth would be useless, or might result in inflicting injury on ourselves or others. This, of course, does not apply to perjury, as this is positive lying, and indeed, by its calling on God, becomes diabolical lying, the Father of truth being invoked to confirm a lie, and the highest attribute of man, his consciousness of God, is made use of to deceive others, and to gain an advantage. (See OATH).

But there are varieties of untruthfulness which do not belong to the domain of ethics, but to aesthetics. Such are parables, jests in word or deed, tales and fables, the usual formulas of politeness, mimicry (ὑπόχρισις), etc., which are not calculated to deceive. But the aesthetic untruthfulness or suppression of the truth can also be abused. In morals, however, all depends on the improvement of conscience, and a correct, firm consciousness of God's presence and knowledge. These cannot be obtained by mere commandments or moral formulas, but by strengthening the moral sense, fortifying the will in fact, by awakening and strengthening the moral power. Morality is an inner life; those only call be called liars who willfully oppose the truth by word or deed, or by conscious untruthfulness seek to lead others into error or sin; in short, to injure them physically or spiritually. As regards so-called "necessary" lies, they also are condemned by the God of all truth; nor even in this world of imperfection, where there are so many ingenious illusions, is there any just occasion for their use. That truthfulness is a limited duty must necessarily be conceded, since the non-expression of the truth is in itself a limitation of it. The Bible mentions instances of lies in good men, but without approving them, as that of Abraham (Genesis 12:12; Genesis 20:2), Isaac (Genesis 26), Jacob (Genesis 27), the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:15-19), Michal (1 Samuel 19:14 sq.), David (1 Samuel 20), etc. Krehl, Neutest. Wosrterbuch.

There are various kinds of lies.

1. The pernicious lie, uttered for the hurt or disadvantage of our neighbor.

2. The officious lie, uttered for our own or our neighbor's advantage.

3. The ludicrous and jocose lie, uttered by way of jest, and only for mirth's sake in common converse.

4. Pious frauds, as they are improperly called, pretended inspirations, forged books, counterfeit miracles, are species of lies. 5. Lies of the conduct, for a lie may be told in gestures as well as in words; as when a tradesman shuts up his windows to induce his creditors to believe that he is abroad.

6. Lies of omission, as when an author wilfully omits what ought to be related; and may we not add,

7. That all equivocation and mental reservation come under the guilt of lying?

The evil and injustice of lying appear,

1. From its being a breach of the natural and universal right of mankind to truth in the intercourse of speech.

2. From its being a violation of God's sacred law (Philippians 4:8; Leviticus 19:11; Colossians 3:9).

3. The faculty of speech was bestowed as an instrument of knowledge, not of deceit; to communicate our thoughts, not to hide them.

4. It is esteemed a reproach of so heinous and hateful a nature for a man to be called a liar that sometimes the life and blood of the slanderer have paid for it.

5. It has a tendency to dissolve all society, and to indispose the mind to religious impressions.

6. The punishment of it is very severe, the loss of credit, the hatred of those whom we have deceived, and an eternal separation from God in the world to come (Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15 : Psalms 101:7).

See Grove's Moral Philos. volume 1, chapter 11; Paley's Moral Philos. volume 1, chapter 15; Doddridge's Lect. lect. 68; Watts's Sermons, volume 1, serm. 22; Evans's Serm. volume 2, serm. 13; South's Serm. volume 1, serm. 12; Dr. Lamont's Serm. volume 1, serm. 11 and 12. (See TRUTH).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Lie'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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