Connected with the idea of a lie are those who live a lie or convey a lie—a false brother (2Cor.11.26), a false apostle (2Cor.11.13), a false teacher (2Pet.2.1), a false witness (Matt.26.60), a false prophet (Matt.7.15), and a false Christ (Matt.24.24). In each of these cases the Greek word begins with pseudo (“lying” or “false”).——PT
Meaning and related words.
The sin of making an untrue statement or acting in such a way as to leave a false or misleading impression, esp. with the intent to deceive. (1) “A false witness that speaketh lies” (Prov 6:19, KJV) (2) “The proud have forged a lie against me” (Ps 119:69), (3) “they trust in vanity and speak lies” (Isa 59:4), (4) “Ephraim has encompassed me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit...” (Hos 11:12 RSV). In the NT the words derived from the family ψεύδω convey the meaning “to speak deliberate falsehoods.”
Characteristics of lying.
Lying is everywhere condemned in the Scripture. Satan is designated as the source of lies: “When he [the devil] speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44 KJV). The emissaries of Satan are denoted as using lies delivered through human agents (1 Tim 4:2). On the other hand, it is impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:18). In the final analysis, it is sin against God (Acts 5:4); but the Gr. verb ψεύδω, meaning lie, appears only in the middle voice in the NT, denoting perhaps that the liar deceives himself, thinking to gain an advantage.
No doubt can be entertained that the Scriptures bear uniform testimony to the absolute wrong of lying. Several problems arise, however, as to the degree of condemnation of untruth under certain circumstances. Sometimes even good men become enmeshed in lies: e.g. Abraham (Gen 20:2), David (1 Sam 21:2), Peter (Matt 26:72). This is no more excusable in their lives than in any life, but it was the exception rather than the pattern of their lives. On the other hand, one notes that no word of condemnation is leveled at Rahab for lying about the whereabouts of the Heb. spies (Josh 2:4ff; cf. Heb 11:31; James 2:25). Micaiah explained to Ahab that God sent a lying spirit to speak lies through the false prophets (1 Kings 22:23).
Paul wrote that God will cause the deceivers to be deceived in the last days (2 Thess 2:11). One should note that: (1) Although God does not lie, He does allow others to use lies and at times applies this to further His own plans; (2) those who are used in this way are those who have already committed themselves to such a role in life.
These examples, however, point up ethical questions relevant to present conditions. Is there such a thing as a lie of expediency? Does the situation sometimes remove the stigma of sin from the lie? Can a physician in all good conscience give temporary relief to a dying patient by telling him he will recover? Can a husband seek to protect his wife and family from the assaults of a marauding criminal by lying about their whereabouts? Do the conditions of war justify the soldiers’ or the spies’ use of untruth or the government’s misrepresentation of the facts to the world or to its own people?
Those who maintain that truth is relative, shifting with the change of time and place, are naturally inclined to deny anything absolute about the condemnation of lying. Each instance, they insist, must be judged upon its own merits, whether it is acceptable or to be condemned. The law of love and the impulse of self-defense can justify untruth in some situations is their claim. Contextual ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “What Does It Mean to Tell the Truth?” in Ethics ) and koinonia ethics (Paul L. Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context , pp. 124ff.) oppose the absolutist’s position (Immanuel Kant, “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives,” in Kant’s Ethical Writings, ed. Lewis E. Beck ); but to do so, they attempt to assume the place of God in judging the intentions and principles involved in each situation. The Scripture, however, does teach the existence of absolutes, but under extenuating circumstances allows for a middle ground between absolute right and absolute wrong where only God can declare the wrong or right of a deed. It seems obvious that He would take into consideration: (1) Is the statement of an untruth deliberate? (2) Is it given with a calculated intent to deceive? (3) Is it intended deceit for the malicious purpose of bringing misery upon another or for the selfish end of one’s own advantage? (4) Are the character and intent of the one to whom untruth is directed basis for such measures in defense? (5) Can the polite untruth demanded by etiquette be differentiated from the morally unjustifiable lie? It is impossible to say that lying is ever right, but certainly the situation may make it less wrong on some occasions than others.
The penalties for lying are severe. At times there is the recoil of the evil upon the liar (Deut 19:19; Gehazi and the leprosy of Naaman, 2 Kings 5). The liar disqualifies himself from worshipful approach to God (Ps 24:4). The liar forfeits any promise of eternal salvation (Rev 21:27; 22:15).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
li, (sheqer (usually, e.g. Isa 9:15; Zec 13:3), or kazabh verb (Job 34:6; Mic 2:11); pseudos (Joh 8:44; Re 21:27), "to speak falsely," "to fabricate," "to make a false statement"; pseudomai, in Ac 5:3,1):
1. Lying Defined:
In its very essence, a lie is something said with intent to deceive. It is not always a spoken word that is a lie, for a life lived under false pretenses, a hypocritical life, may be a lie equally with a false word (Jer 23:14). A vain thing, like an idol, may be a lie (Isa 59:4), as also a false system (Ro 3:7). Error, as opposed to truth, is a lie (1 Joh 2:21). The denial of the deity of Jesus Christ is regarded as "the" lie (1 Joh 2:22).
The origin of lies and lying is traced to Satan who is called "a liar, and the father thereof" (Joh 8:44; Ac 5:3). Satan’s dealing with Eve (Ge 3) furnishes us with a splendid illustration of the first lie, so far as we have any record of it.
2. A Racial Sin:
The whole race is guilty of this sin: "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies" (Ps 58:3). It is a part of the old Adamic nature, "the old man" (Col 3:9), which the believer in Jesus Christ is called upon to put off. So prominent a factor is it in the experience of the race that among the condensed catalogue of sins, for the commission of which men are finally condemned, the sin of lying finds its place: "All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" (Re 21:8 the King James Version).
3. God’s Attitude to It:
4. The Penalty:
The punishment to be meted out to liars is of the severest kind. They are positively and absolutely excluded from heaven (Re 21:27; 22:15), and those who are guilty of this sin are cast into the lake of fire (Re 21:8). We are reminded of the awful fate meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they lied to God and man (Ac 5:1-11). God will "destroy them that speak lies" (Ps 5:6), and "he that uttereth lies shall not escape" (Pr 19:5), yea "a sword is upon the liars" (Jer 50:36 the King James Version). The liar is thereby debarred from rendering any true and acceptable worship unto the Lord (Ps 24:4).
The Scriptures abound with illustrations of lying and the results and penalties therefor. A careful study of these illustrations will reveal the subtlety of falsehood. Sometimes a lie is a half-truth, as set forth in the story of Satan’s temptation of Eve (Ge 3). Cain’s lie (Ge 4:9) was of the nature of an evasive answer to a direct question. Jacob’s deception of his father, in order that he might inherit the blessing of the firstborn, was a barefaced and deliberate lie (Ge 27:19). The answer which Joseph’s brethren gave to their father when he asked them concerning the welfare of their brother Joseph is an illustration, as well as a revelation, of the depth of the wickedness of hearts that deliberately set themselves to falsify and deceive (Ge 37:31,32). Even good men are sometimes overtaken in a lie, which, of course, is no more excusable in them than in the wicked; indeed, it is more shameful because the righteous are professed followers of the truth (David in 1Sa 21:2). What more striking example of the heinousness of lying in the sight of God can we have than the fate which befell Gehazi who, in order to satisfy a covetous desire for possessions, misrepresented his master Elisha to Naaman the Syrian whom the prophet had healed of his leprosy: "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow" (2Ki 5:22-27)? The story of Peter’s denial of his Lord, and his persistent asseverations that he did not know Him and was not one of His followers, makes us shudder to think that it is possible for a follower of Christ so far to forget himself as not only to lie, but buttress lying with swearing (Mt 26:72).
5. Pseudos United with Other Words:
See False Christs; False Prophets; FALSE SWEARING, FALSE WITNESS.