Guile

GUILE (מִרְמָה, H5327, deceit; רְמִיָּה, H8245, deceit, slackness; δόλος, G1515, deceit, cunning, guile, bait). Guile is a restricted type of deceit. In some Biblical contexts, features of its use are the following: (1) No harm is intended toward the one addressed, even though he is deceived. (2) The personal interest of the deceiver is the motivating factor calling forth the deception. (3) The method of deception employed is cunningly and subtly persuasive.

Jacob’s deception of Isaac by placing the skin of an animal on his arms is a clear example of the three features above, which both the ASV and RSV tr. rightfully as “guile” (Gen 27:35), but which the KJV describes more indiscriminately as coming “with subtilty.” Other OT appearances of the word “guile” are not clear instances of “guile” as described above because they are hortatory or promissory in nature (Pss 32:2; 34:13; 55:11 in both KJV and ASV, but not in RSV). Strangely, the RSV has the word “deceit” in Psalm 34:13, but when this v. is quoted directly in 1 Peter 3:10, the tr. uses “guile.” The sons of Jacob promise friendship with the defilers of their sister if they will practice circumcision (Gen 34:13). The ASV calls this promise “guile,” but the KJV and RSV are more accurate in speaking of this as “deceit,” because clearly from the start vengeful evil was intended.

In the NT, the major Eng. trs. agree in six places where “guile” is preferable to the more common “deceit” as a tr. of δόλος, G1515. Illustrative of the above criterion is Paul’s evaluation of the charge against him of being insincere and crafty in his presentation of Christianity to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:16). Paul contended that even if he did use guile (which he denied), it was because he loved them and wanted them to love him. Admitting he wanted to persuade men of the truth of Christianity, Paul claimed his appeal was always honest and without guile (1 Thess 2:3). But the tr. “deceit” would have sufficed (1 Pet 2:1; 3:10) for this list of sins and exhortations because they are presented without precise differentiations.

“Guile” as a word is best known in the Bible where Jesus says of Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). This is a common laudatory phrase without the connotation of sinlessness; only of Christ could it be said “He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips” (1 Pet 2:22).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


Paul’s words in 2Co 12:16 have sometimes been quoted in justification of "guile" in religious work, etc.; but he is not describing his actual procedure; but that which the Corinthians might have attributed to him; the lips of the Christian must be kept free from all guile (Ps 34:13; 1Pe 2:1, etc.; The Wisdom of Solomon 1:5 "A holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit" (dolos), the Revised Version (British and American) "A holy spirit"). "Guile" does not appear in Apocrypha; dolos is frequently rendered "deceit."

The Revised Version (British and American) has "guile" for "subtilty" (Ge 27:35; Ac 13:10); "cover itself with guile" for "is covered by deceit" (Pr 26:26); "with guile" for "deceitfully" (Ge 34:13); "spiritual milk which is without guile" for "sincere milk of the word," the English Revised Version, margin "reasonable," the American Revised Version, margin, Greek "belonging to the reason" (compare Ro 12:1; 1Pe 2:2); "guileless" for "harmless" (Heb 7:26).