Orthodox Lying?

Genesis 12:10-20

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. But the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now, therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.’ So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.

Genesis 20:2-7

Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands, I have done this.” And God said to him in a dream, “
Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now, therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Exodus 1:15 Then the king of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth, look at the child when you deliver it. If it’s a boy, kill it, but if it’s a girl, let it live.” 17 However, the midwives feared God and didn’t obey the king of Egypt’s orders. They let the boys live.

18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. He asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women. They are so healthy that they have their babies before a midwife arrives.”20 God was good to the midwives. So the people increased in number and became very strong. 21 Because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

See also Joshua 2 & Rahab’s lie to save the Hebrew spies


Typically we fault Abraham for lying twice regarding Sarah being his sister and not his wife to Potentates. Yet, in both cases, God honored Abraham’s lie. In both cases, Abraham was enriched by his lie. In both cases, God punished the Kings temporarily to support the lie by sending sanctions upon those Kings. In both cases, God holds the Kings responsible even though they were lied to by Abraham. In neither case do we see God upbraiding Abraham for the lies.

In all three cases (Rahab, Abraham and the Hebrew midwives) they lied in order to save innocent lives. It is therefore clear that the implications of the sixth commandment trumped the ninth in these cases. This makes one also think about whether there may actually be cases where lying under oath in order to save innocent lives would be permissible (perhaps even obligatory).  In such cases, wisdom would require us to weigh the intent of the law. Clearly, wisdom would dictate that lying would be preferred over against the loss of life.

Further on this score the eighth commandment requires “rendering to every one his due.” It is often said in these circumstances that we are not required to put the instrument of our death into our enemies’ hands. All protests aside, the Potentates never controverted Abraham’s assertion that he would be killed for having a beautiful wife. Abraham was also a Prophet, and the LORD used these situations to enrich the godly, bring the fear of God to pagans, and establish a boundary between a wicked race and the Line of the Messiah. This sort of ethical resolution has saved many persecuted Christians. It may also be said that the weightier matter of the Law was to preserve life, which is the positive side of the Lord’s injunction against Murder. We must realize that telling the truth, if it implies unnecessary and immoral consequences, may in the hierarchy of goods, fall subordinate to other considerations, such as the preservation of innocent life.

Looking at history Augustine and Aquinas both argue about the intent of lies. They make the distinction between jocose lies or “officious lies” and “malicious lies.” They argue that jocose lies are playful and not harmful. These officious lies have no intent to harm while malicious lies intend to do harm and as such are the only real type of lie. I would call the examples cited officious lies not malicious and thus justifiable.

Now some will object that this could be interpreted as clothing Joseph Fletcher’s situational ethics with the cloak of virtue. However, I would contend that this is NOT Joseph Fletcher because we are insisting that Abraham acted in concert with God’s law when he lied just as the Hebrew midwives did and just as Rahab did when they lied. In each case, they were being observant to God’s 6th Word. Fletcher, to the contrary, insists that right and wrong are totally determined by the person themselves without any reference to an outside standard. In the end, allowing the murder of innocents because you have to make full disclosure of all things is an ultimate example of “using the law unlawfully.”

In terms of Abraham, the text nowhere gives us any indication that God was displeased with Abraham for his words to the potentates in Gen. 12/20. In point of fact, in Genesis 20 God blesses Abram with material blessings as a result of Abram’s speech to Abimelech.

As touching Rahab she is held up as an example of faith in both Hebrews and James. Can we possibly believe that God disapproved of Rahab’s words that protected the Hebrew spies and at the same time, by the Spirit’s inspiration, hold Rahab up as an example of faith in action?

Rushdoony clinches it here;

“We do not owe the truth to men who seek to do evil. A court of law requires truth, and we must pray there for God’s justice. But when confronted by evil men, we owe them nothing, for such men want our truth to further their evil. Abraham told the truth only up to the point.”

Commentaries on the Penteteuch
Gensis — pg. 126

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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