Questions on God, lying, and deception...

[draft: Dec 22/2012]

I got this thoughtful email from a reader (my initial replies in BLUE):

I'm reading your women and in the heart of God series and I must say it's all very detailed and interesting. I'm having to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about women in the OT.


[it certainly forced ME to re-evaluate it! I had no idea of where the research was going to take me…]


I do have two questions, though (least important first)

1. From what you've written, it seems that the OT women were portrayed very positively, very much valued and enjoyed a high status. In fact, it almost seems to good to be true. I haven't read all of it yet, but I began wondering if you weren't weighting the data in some way. I can't tell, since I'm not very knowledgeable about the OT and I haven't seen anything in your writing to support the idea. It just seems rather implausible that any women in that age could have been treated so well. I mean Deborah's case alone is astonishing. Weren't the ancients supposed to be backwards or something, thinking of women as dirty and evil and unintelligent and stuff like that? I guess the last question is my question.


[their portrayal in the law and the documents is certainly higher than in the law/documents of other cultures. But I do not believe that the law was ‘followed’ by the leadership in Israel much. E.g, the leaders did not seem to GENERALLY follow the good-hearted commandments on treatment of widows, orphans, the poor, the foreigner, the slaves… the record shows that very clearly. But that does not detract from the intent of God’s instruction on the matter. It was very clear, and was at least SOMETIMES obeyed and respected. But I should add that the cases of powerful women like Deborah were not unique to Israel—we have cases in other Mesopotamian cultures where women leaders show up in the record.


But, I would agree with you in that the normal populace PROBABLY lived ‘below the standard’ God set out for how women were to be honored and valued.


2. the second thing concerns your position on deception. You said concerning Rebecca's trickery in getting Jacob Esau's blessing,

"This 'trickery' or 'deceit' was a VERY ACCEPTABLE way of dealing with authority figures that were attempting to thwart God. When the Pharaoh tried to kill all the male babies of the Israelites in Egypt, the midwives lied to Pharaoh and God blessed them (Ex 1). When the Israelites were about to attack Jericho, Rahab deceived the rulers of the city by hiding the spies and telling a lie, and was listed in the heroes of faith for this (Heb 11). When Judah failed to keep up the levirite law, Tamar disguised herself and was declared 'more righteous than' him. So, Rebekah's deception was in perfect line with acceptable practice in such a difficult situation."

I don't know if deception in itself is wrong, I'm still thinking about it. But to say something that you know is definitely not true just doesn't feel right. So, I think Tamar's case might pass if she never actually said anything that was not true. (e.g stating that she was a prostitute instead of letting Judah get the false impression). The other two, however, did lie. Are you saying that was okay? I mean, Rahab is never specifically praised by the Bible for the lie (to the best of my knowledge) and lying is specifically condemned as wrong (I'm sure I don't have to tell you where) and so I've never seen any reason to think her lie was okay although her desire to help the spies was praiseworthy. I'm trying to understand your position on the issue. Was it okay for the midwives to lie? What of Rachel's instruction to Jacob and the midwives?


[I arrived at this perspective probably coming from the same direction as you: even ‘white lies’ are wrong (generally), and anything untrue is morally culpable. There were two major factors that changed my thinking over 40 years: the presence of deceit/camouflage in warfare and nature; and the use of makeup by my wife (smile). As a newly minted ‘fundamentalist’ in the early 1970s, anything that was an attempt to ‘hide something’ was deceit (eg, women's makeup, men shaving, even deodorant!). It took God YEARS to get me to change my perspective on this—sigh. Hiding a blemish or wearing deodorant  became an act of social kindness to others—who would be distracted and/or disturbed by it. It forced me to rethink my definitions of deceit.


But the dominant shift was in the accounts of warfare in the bible and anti-predation in nature. Joshua set an ‘ambush’ (by hiding troops) and luring them out with just a few troops. God made animals with camouflage, where a moth’s coloration looks like an owl’s eyes, or a mother loon can use a ‘wounded loon sound’ to distract a predator from her baby. I saw countless cases of trickery that was either ordered by God (in biblical warfare settings), or developed by God (in nature, through natural-but-directed means). But ALL OF THESE were in the context of war, combat, or fighting oppression or misuse of power. Hence my arrival at the conclusion that: “ACCEPTABLE way of dealing with authority figures that were attempting to thwart God”…


Anyway, I have to get back to work, but this last perspective is one that I am still developing (eg, the role of civil disobedience, ethically—should David have not hidden from his King Saul, and let himself be executed?)


Hopefully you can develop the ‘camouflage/ambush/feinting’ model in your thinking through this—


I hope this helps some, friend—sorry again for the lateness/brevity--glenn


Thanks a lot.

I hope you have the time to answer this.


They responded with this:

Dear Glenn


Thank you for your response. It wasn’t late at all because it wasn’t on a schedule.


This isn’t something that you need to respond to. It’s just me thinking out loud about things you might be interested in knowing. You’re very right in that I could probably find the answers for myself. I just get lazy sometimes. I’m sorry for trying to push my work onto you.


On the topic of lying, your response makes very much sense. If God commanded deception, then it can’t be intrinsically wrong. That would make it a valid method for advancing God’s kingdom (at least in some ways). But following that path I ran into quite a conundrum: If God can command Joshua to use deception, then he can use it Himself. He could use it on us or others when we or they try to thwart his plans. The two obvious problems with this are:

1.       God doesn’t lie! At least that’s what my Sunday School teacher said. And what I read in the Bible. He abhors it.

2.       The fact that God does not lie is the reason we can trust that He will make good all the promises he has made to us. (Heb 6:18)


Given the truth of those two facts (actually, the second one is an appeal to consequences), it would seem that my assumption is wrong. God can’t lie.


So, if we assume that your thesis is correct, there must be some reason that God can command us to use deception, but can’t use it himself. But I can think of no such reason so I’m just going to keep thinking about it.


Like I said, you don’t need to respond to this so don’t unless you can give a very quick response.




P.S. You don’t need to apologize for lack of detail. It’s always a good thing to have but sometimes it’s just not necessary.


I pointed them to another resource:
I assume you already worked thru , right?


And they responded with this:

Yes, I have. I might be able to swallow the idea that God lets someone else lie and also tells the person being deceived that he is being deceived. But the idea that God himself could lie to us, I can’t accept that. The Biblical witness is unanimously against it. And how would we trust God if it were true?


It then did some more research/thinking and replied with this:

A couple of points:


* We do not have any reason to believe that God can (or, ‘does’) lie in His communications. As you/we point out, Scripture is clear on this point. I don’t know anybody who believes differently on this (within traditional Judeo-Christianity, that is)


* We can trust what God says to us, because He doesn’t lie to those He speaks to/ communicates with.


* If people do NOT want to hear God or His truth, He may (eventually) respond and punish them by letting them believe what they want to (eg, about Him), and perhaps even empowering them to believe their ‘chosen lie’ strongly (the Thess passage, below, and the ‘handing them over’ passage in Romans 1). This is very clear in scripture, but is not called/considered to be ‘lying’ to someone. God simply ‘stops speaking’ and lets the anti-listeners believe their chosen-untruth (eg about His character, His existence, His Son, etc).


* In most cases of ‘handing them over to untruth’, there are secondary causes (eg, Satan, anti-Christ, false prophets) involved—like there are in cases of violence against His people. But the use of evil secondary causes (e.g. Assyrian armies) to punish people (e.g. His wayward people in the Old Testament) does not make God the author of evil. And this plays into the use of deception in the cases of 2 Thess, Romans, and other passages.

* Every such passage (but there are only 2-4 of these) are judicial – they are NOT in the context of ‘communication’ but of ‘condemnation’ (as in the lying prophets). So, they sort of don’t fall into the ‘lying versus telling the truth’ dichotomy. They are in a different context (of judgment of enemies of the truth/God).


So, here are some of the discussions on the 2 Thess passage, for your reference:


“So here, God sends them a powerful delusion (lit. “a working of delusion,” energeion planes…). But such a statement presents us with a difficulty. Can it be true of God that he deludes? In discussing a passage like this, we must recognize that the biblical writers were far less concerned with secondary causes than we are. Such was their belief in the sovereignty of God that they attributed to him directly, rather than to their actual source, a range of activities which, being true to his nature, he could not have done. But being God he could turn them to his purpose (e.g., the lying spirits in the mouths of false prophets, 1 Kings 22:23; Ezek. 14:9; cf. esp. 1 Chron. 21:1 with 2 Sam. 24:1 where the same action is attributed to Satan as to God). God does not delude. Much less does he do so, so that they will believe the lie (see disc. on 1 Thess. 2:12 for eis with the infinitive expressing purpose). Notice the definite article, “the lie”—the denial of the truth. Such denial is the work of Satan who blinds “the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). But God is sovereign and even this serves his purpose (hina) to condemn all who have not believed the truth (cf. 2:10, 13 and see disc. on 2 Thess. 1:8) but have delighted in wickedness. The juxtaposition of ideas in this description is significant. Not to believe the truth (the construction with the dative, used nowhere else by Paul except in quotations, means “to give credence to,” “to express as true”), to say nothing of loving the one in whom that truth is embodied (see disc. on 2:10), has moral consequences (cf. Rom. 2:8; 1 Cor. 13:6). The verb eudokeo means “to give consent to,” “to delight in.” Those who do not believe, delight in adikia, every kind of evil.” [Williams, D. J. (2011). 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (130–131). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


For this reason” links the unbelievers’ rejection of the truth (v. 10b) with their subsequent deception and ultimate condemnation (vv. 11–12). Specifically, it explains that God’s act of sending a “powerful delusion” to “those who are perishing” is the result of their choice to reject the truth. Once the truth is rejected, the only alternative is to trust in that which is false. By refusing to receive the truth (v. 10) and then choosing to “believe the lie” (v. 11), unbelievers compound their culpability and make plain the justice of their condemnation. God does not cause their unbelief, but he does set the stage for them to demonstrate it and thus openly earn their own condemnation. Genuine believers will not be deceived in this way (vv. 13–14). Paul expressed confidence in the salvation of the Thessalonians through their “belief in the truth” (v. 13). As a result of adherence to the truth, they will share in the glory of the Christ (v. 14) rather than in the condemnation of the son of perdition.” [Martin, D. M. (1995). Vol. 33: 1, 2 Thessalonians. The New American Commentary (247). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]


“Because those who are perishing have “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10), God “sends them a powerful delusion.” Both in the Old Testament (2 Sam 24:1–25; 1 Kgs 22:19–23) and in Paul (Rom 11:7–12), God is presented as using human evil for divine purposes. The hardening of the Pharaoh’s heart, for example, is attributed alternately to Pharaoh’s own rejection of God’s message and to the active intervention of God (Exod 9:34–35; 10:20). When pagan Gentiles refused to acknowledge God (Rom 1:28–29), he “gave them over to a depraved mind,” permitting unrestrained exercise of “every kind of wickedness” (adikia; cf. v. 10). Although the thought of God permitting or even capitalizing on the performance of evil is on the surface disturbing, it is consistent with the absolute sovereignty of God. A sovereign God must be sovereign over evil as well as good, otherwise he is not really sovereign at all. Christianity (as Judaism before it) does not present a dualistic struggle between good and evil gods. It presents the working out of the divine will so that even those who exercise their freedom to do evil will ultimately discover that their actions have paradoxically served the divine economy. In this light it is not surprising that Paul should tell the Thessalonians that as the plan of God unfolds, he sends a “powerful delusion” to those who have rejected the truth. … This “powerful delusion” may be understood in two ways. It is most commonly taken as a new element in the passage, a revelation that God, in the last days, will actively confuse the reasoning of the lost and guarantee their condemnation. Thus the delusion sent by God represents some sort of mental and spiritual confusion that prevents the lost from recognizing the truth as truth, changing their minds, and being saved as a result. It is also possible, however, to see the “powerful delusion” as a reference to the coming of the lawless one. In Paul’s sentence it is not “delusion” (planes) but energian (translated “work” in v. 9 but used in v. 11 as an adjective, “powerful”) that is the object of the verb “sends.” Planes (“of error”) is a genitive modifying “work.” Thus the phrase (energeian planes) indicates that God sends to those who have rejected the truth a “work of error.” The phrase is reminiscent of the earlier comment that the coming of the lawless one will be according to an energeian tou satana, “work of Satan” (v. 9). The lawless one as an agent of deception makes any further “delusion” redundant. The perishing have rejected the true Messiah already. A deceptive, satanic messiah arises. The unbelievers’ decision to follow this one whose coming is according to the working of Satan, whose intent is to deceive, confirms their rejection of the truth and fully justifies their condemnation.” [Martin, D. M. (1995). Vol. 33: 1, 2 Thessalonians. The New American Commentary (248–249). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]


“With the two clauses of this final sentence Paul goes on to offer the divine response to “those who are perishing because they refused to love the truth.” One should note that all of this is a continuation of Paul’s elaboration on the coming of the Rebel (vv. 8–9). And once again the reader must also remember that all of this is intended not as a threat to the Thessalonians, but as comfort for them in the midst of present persecution. Because people such as those who are persecuting them have already committed themselves to “loving” falsehood rather than the truth, “God sends them [literally] a working of delusion.” The present tense of the verb needs to be noted. People’s own failure to love the truth results in a divine response. God thus sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie; that is, what they receive from God is a delusion of such power that they will believe in what is utterly false. And this is not about just any falsehood, but the lie, the ultimate falsehood generated by the Evil One, that has caused them to reject the one and only God, who has been revealed in his Son, the savior of the world.” [Fee, G. D. (2009). The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (295). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


And for this reason God sends them a power working to delude them. The kai (“And”) has a consecutive force, “and so,” further strengthened by dia touto (“for this reason”). It is because of their refusal to love the truth that God acts in the way he does. God’s action is thus in consequence of theirs (cf. Rom 1:24, 26, 28; Richard, 353, in addition refers to Rom 11:7, 25; Mark 4:11–12; Rev 9:20–21; 16:9, 11). … The phrase “a power to delude” renders energeian planes, literally, “a working of error.” As the work of the Lawless One is both future and present (vv 9, 7), so is that of God. The conditions that will eventuate have their roots in the present, and everything takes place according to God’s scheme of things. Because they did not love the truth, God designs them to be deluded on eschatological matters (plane, exapatan [v 3], and apate [v 10] are synonymous; see NOTES). … so that they should believe the lie. Paul makes quite clear what God’s purpose (eis to plus the infinitive) is: Because they did not deign to love the truth (tes aletheias), God sends a power to delude them into believing the lie (to pseudei), which is not falsehood in general, but specifically the claim by the Lawless One to be God (v 4), who will come, empowered by Satan to perform supernatural works of falsehood (pseudos, v 10; the article with pseudos also appears in Rom 1:25, where Paul also speaks of rejecting the truth about God). … 2:12. that all should be judged who had not believed the truth but delighted in wickedness. Love of the truth would have resulted in salvation (v 10). When that did not happen, God worked out the balance of his purpose, that all people be judged according to whether they believed or not. This is the final purpose (hina pantes krithosin [“that all should be judged”]). Judgment here is condemnation, without any of the nuance with which it is treated in chap. 1. That “all” will be judged lends weight to the warning. … Those who had not welcomed the love for the truth, who had believed the lie, are now described as those who had not believed the truth. The force of the statement lies in the second member of the antithesis, which once again stresses their volition (eudokesantes [“delighted”]). Paul used forms of eudokein in 1 Thess 2:8; 3:1 of decisions he made freely about his ministry, and in 2 Thess 1:11 he used eudokia for the Thessalonians’ free resolve to do good. We see here the antithesis to 1:11–12: the free decision to indulge in the wickedness that will characterize the coming of the Lawless One will earn divine condemnation and ensure perdition (v 10).” [Malherbe, A. J. (2008). Vol. 32B: The letters to the Thessalonians: A new translation with introduction and commentary. Anchor Yale Bible (426–427). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]


“The words -- (“and for this reason”) refer back to the second part of v. 10 (cf. 1 Thes. 2:13; Rom. 1:26), where Paul explains that people perish because they have not accepted the gospel. From this he draws an inference concerning God’s dealings with these people, thus showing the correspondence between their guilt and its punishment by God (cf. Frame, 271). … The idea that -- (“[God] sends to them [i.e., those mentioned in v. 10] a deluding influence”) may seem strange to readers today. How can God intentionally create a situation leading to people’s delusion and ultimately to their condemnation? Both in the OT (cf. 2 Sa. 24:1; 1 Ki. 22:23; Ezk. 14:9) and elsewhere in Paul’s letters (cf. Rom. 1:24–32) the idea is found that God actively intervenes in human experience to exacerbate situations of sin and disobedience among those who should know better. In our passage God’s sending of the “deluding influence” appears to be a direct response to people’s refusal to accept the gospel” [Wanamaker, C. A. (1990). The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (261–262). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]


and therefore God sends them a working of delusion”; a power is set in operation within them which makes them prone to embrace error or be led astray. The same process of judicial blinding is traced, as has just been said, in Rom 1:21–28 (). cf. Rom 11:8 where Paul, quoting Isa 29:10, tells how God has given unbelieving Israel “a spirit of torpor, to prevent eyes from seeing and ears from hearing.” Here God sends “a working of delusion” in the sense that to be misled by falsehood is the divine judgment inevitably incurred in a moral universe by those who close their eyes to the truth. But the true God is not the deliberate author of this infatuation; it is, as Paul puts it in 2 Cor 4:4, “the god of this aeon” (cf. the “activity of Satan” in v 9 above) who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”” [Bruce, F. F. (1998). Vol. 45: 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary (174). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


“As a consequence of unbelievers following the false signs and wonders of the man of lawlessness (2:9) and their refusal to love the truth (2:11), God acts: “And for this reason God sends them a work of deception so that they believe the lie” (2:11). Although such divine action may seem perplexing and even troubling, it is similar not only to Paul’s statements elsewhere that God gives sinners over to their own sin (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; 11:8; cf. 2 Tim. 4:4), but also to certain OT texts where God employs evil spirits to inspire false prophets and so carry out his just judgment against the wicked (2 Sam. 24:1 with 1 Chron. 21:1; 1 Kings 22:23; Ezek. 14:9).” [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (888). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.]


* Now to me, this is very different than the use of camouflage, deception, disguise, hiding, confusion, etc in a warfare, natural predation,  or anti-social context.


“Later OT stories also sometimes hinge on deception and disguise. The Gibeonites dress as travelers from a distant land in order to gain a peace treaty with Israel (Josh 9). King Saul disguises himself when he consults the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:8). Both Ahab (2 Chron 18:28–33) and Josiah (2 Chron 35:20–27) undertake futile disguises as they go into their final battles. David’s son Amnon pretends to be ill as an aid to his raping his sister Tamar (2 Sam 13:1–14). On the positive side, the crafty lefthanded Ehud carries his homemade sword on the unexpected right side where it avoids detection, in effect providing Ehud with a disguise during his daring assassination of the Moabite king Eglon (Judg 3:15–30). Jael is equally adept at deception when she lulls Sisera into a false sense of security with acts of hospitality (Judg 4–5). … But stories of deception can also be happy stories of divine deliverance. One thinks of Joseph’s concealing his identity from his visiting brothers until the opportune time for disclosure (Gen 42–45), the Hebrew midwives’ lying to Pharaoh (Ex 1:15–21), Moses’ family hiding him in a basket in the Nile and even getting paid for caring for him (Ex 2:1–10), Rahab’s hiding of the spies (Josh 2:1–14), Michal’s arranging a household idol with goat’s hair to aid David in his escape from Saul’s executioners (1 Sam 19:11–17) and the wisemen’s tricking Herod by returning home by a different route (Mt 2:12). --- In the Bible, then, deception can be either good or bad. It can be God’s means of deliverance and retribution on evil kings or nations. But it can with equal ease be the doomed stratagem used by an evil person in a bad cause.” [Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. (2000). Dictionary of biblical imagery (electronic ed.) (200). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


There are numerous examples of this in Bible, which would not be considered ‘lying’ (eg. Jesus going up secretly to the Feast so He would not be recognized, Paul being hidden in a basket to escape capture, David faking insanity, David hiding from Saul). But these are not cases of ‘communication’ or ‘exchange of information’. The social context of ‘shared information’ is missing.


One way to summarize this might be this way:


*In any social context (warm, neutral, or polemical—as in some prophetic denunciations), deception is not allowed—because the value/issue is that ONLY/Mainly of communication. Eg, false witnesses and false measurements are condemned; the lies of Ananias and Saphira


*In any anti-social context (ie, in which social/community truth/value is being attacked in order to destroy it—as in warfare or God’s judgment on anti-truth treachery), deception is allowed—it is no longer ‘personal communication’ in its nature—it is ONLY a ‘tool’ or ‘weapon’.


That’s the best/closest approximation I can come up with to distinguish between the two ‘cases’: one is which deception/ruse is accepted (in the Bible), and one in which it is forbidden.


I hope this gives you some extra material to work with—


Warmest holiday greetings, friend!



[ .... deceptionx.html ........  ]
The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)