Most Christians agree that when you are a Christian, you should not lie. But where in the Bible does it say this? If asked, most would point to the 9th Commandment and translate it as “Do not lie.” But is this what the commandment actually says? Actually, no. The 9th Commandment is talking about testifying about your neighbor, in front of others or in a legal proceeding.
The Hebrew word “עד” means 1) witness 1a) witness, testimony, evidence (of things) 1b) witness (of people). It is rendered by popular Bible translations as follows:
NET© 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
NIV© 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
NASB© 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
ESV© 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
NLT© 20:16 You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
MSG© 20:16 No lies about your neighbor.
BBE© 20:16 Do not give false witness against your neighbour.
NKJV© 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
NRSV© 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
KJV© 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Don’t believe me? Then let’s see what Jesus had to say about the 9th commandment.
19:16 Now someone came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” 19:17 He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 19:18 “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony , 19:19 honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” -Matthew 19:16-19
The same passage is found in Luke 18:20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
In Greek ψευδομαρτυρησεις – to utter falsehoods in giving testimony, to testify falsely, to bear false witness.
So if the 9th Commandment doesn’t prohibit us from lying about anything other than our neighbor, what does the Bible say about general falsehood? Well, Proverbs is always a great place to start.
6:16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
even seven things that are an abomination to him:
6:17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
6:18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are swift to run to evil,
6:19 a false witness who pours out lies,
and a person who spreads discord among family members.
12:19 The one who tells the truth will endure forever,
but the one who lies will last only for a moment.
12:22 The Lord abhors a person who lies,
but those who deal truthfully are his delight.
Need it in more of a commandment-type NT verse?
Colossians 3:8 But now, put off all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth. 3:9 Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices 3:10 and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.
What about theologically?
Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:44 You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.
In other words – all lies are from the devil.
On the flip side, it is not in God’s nature to lie. He cannot lie because He is truth.
Titus1:2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began.
John 1:5 Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
So what about Rahab? She lied in Joshua 2:4-6 yet she was saved from the destruction of Jericho and was mentioned in Hebrews 11 – the biblical Hall of Fame for faith – in 11:31 “By faith Rahab the prostitute escaped the destruction of the disobedient, because she welcomed the spies in peace.”
While it’s not clear my guess is that like all of us, Rahab was a sinner. It wasn’t whether or not she told the truth that saved her, it was her faith in God. In other words, it was the condition of her heart that was important to God, not her adherence to rules (works). Does that mean it’s OK for us to lie? No, but I think it means that when we sin (which we will), God is faithful to judge us by our heart condition instead of by the law, assuming that Jesus Christ is our Lord. Instead of focusing on whether or not lying is OK, we must focus on our relationship with Him.