Posted in Ethics

Is Ethical Deception a Fiction? (Part 3 of 3)

By Mac Deaver

On September 22, 2013, Gary Summers presented to his reading audience his third installment critiquing my article on ethical deception. In my final piece here, I wish to say a few things about his last article.

I find no fault with most of the article. Gary gives great attention to word study and treats us to passages that surely show that, generally speaking, the concept of deception is usually a negative one. It is true that in most passages where the concepts of deceit or deception occur, that they are condemned or discussed so as to imply divine disapproval. That is certainly so, and I would not argue against such at all.

But Gary knows, as I do, that if only one passage uses the concept in a favorable way, then that changes things. In fact, I submit that the word itself does not have to be found used in a favorable way as long as the concept is plainly advocated.

Now, most of us realize that the word “lust” is usually used in the New Testament in a negative sense. That is, it is something that is evil (cf. Ps. 78:18; 81:12; Matt. 5:27, 28; John 8:44; 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.). I would assume that most of us Christians upon hearing the word “lust” normally think of it as unauthorized or impure desire. However, that is not always the case, as Summers surely knows.

First of all, let me observe that the locating of one thousand passages that condemn “lust” is not sufficient to disprove one passage that uses the word in an innocent way. But notice, please, how the New Testament does use the concept of “lust” in referencing an authorized activity in the mind of God. We do not usually think in terms of God’s lusting after or against anything, do we? The word “lust” is not a normal word that surfaces in our minds when we think of God’s mental state. However, please notice that in Galatians 5:17 Paul wrote, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh….” The word for “lust” is explicitly used with reference to flesh and is implicitly used with reference to the Spirit. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, but when Paul wrote of the tension between the two, if he wrote by inspiration (and he did; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13), then he expressed it in the exact way that the Holy Spirit wanted it to be written, and so we find that Paul implied that “lust” was going on in the Spirit rather than his explicitly saying so.

Summers will not dare to deny that the Spirit lusts against the flesh (Gal. 5:16-18)! The context disallows his viewing “Spirit” in verse 17 as merely human spirit. But even if it did, the human spirit would be then lusting against human flesh, and the legitimate and innocent use of “lust” would still have to be maintained. And, as Summers well knows, the concept of “lust” applies to good desire as well as to evil desire. It is simply the case, that the word in the New Testament is used almost all of the time in referencing evil desire.

Second, when we think of Jesus in his life on earth, we do not normally consider the fact that he lusted. Because of the way that the New Testament usually treats on the concept and then because of our usual mentally negative response to the word “lust,” we do not usually associate the activity with the Lord. However, as Summers knows, the Lord lusted. How does Summers know this? He is well aware of the nature of temptation as described by James. James tells us that “each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed” (Jas. 1:14). Now, according to Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was certainly tempted (cf. Heb. 4:15). Well, if a man’s temptation begins by that man’s being drawn away by his lust, then obviously Jesus lusted. He certainly did not allow it to conceive (Jas. 1:15), because when lust conceives sin occurs. So, the Lord’s lust ceased before sin was committed (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22).

But my point is that not even in the case of Jesus’ own temptation was the word “lust” ever explicitly used, even though the activity itself is most certainly implied. By deduction we know that “lust” occurred in Jesus.

My point is that the normal negative connotation of a word because of its usual use in Scripture cannot and does not of itself negate the fact that the word or the concept referenced by the word can be used in rare instances where the word or concept is innocent.

Now, as before stated, I find nothing wrong with most of what Summers in his final article says about deceit. But “most” does not cover everything. He takes us to many passages where deceit is obviously wrong and condemned. But then Summers admits three passages for consideration where he says, “There are three verses that assign deception to God, which someone might cite in a misguided effort to establish that on occasion deceit is acceptable. Such could be attempted, however, only by ignoring the context.”

The first passage is Jeremiah 4:10 where we find, “Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! Surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.” Summers responds by going to Jeremiah 14:13 and concluding that “Since the false prophets spoke lies while God spoke the truth, then it may be that in Jeremiah 4:10 that Jeremiah is actually lamenting—not that God had deceived the people –but that He allowed the false prophets to deceive the people.” My response is:

1. True or False? When God allowed the false prophets to deceive the people, he in some sense was said to be deceiving them himself.

2. True or False? When God allowed the false prophets to deceive the people, he in no sense was said to be deceiving them himself.

If we take Summers’ explanation to be basically accurate, we still have to look at the way the language appears. It is rather like the case of God’s hardening Pharoah’s heart. While different verses ascribe the hardening to (1) God, (2) Pharaoh, and (3) the plagues (Ex. 7:13, 14; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 14, 34; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8), still we know that the whole arrangement was set up purposely (not merely allowed to take place) by God as both Moses and Paul report (Ex. 3:19-22; 6:1; 7:4, 5; Rom. 9:17, 18). Either God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in some sense or he did not. The Bible says he did. You cannot read the whole context attentively without receiving the impression that God wanted Pharaoh to resist the demands Moses was giving him until the land was destroyed. So, at least in this case, the mere idea of “allowance” won’t work.

Now, if the historical situation in Jeremiah 4:10 is not like that in Exodus, and if we allow the concept of mere “allowance” (per Summers) to work in Jeremiah 4:10, since, however, we are told that it was God who had deceived the people, still in some sense the deception is clearly being ascribed to God. Summers rightly contends that God cannot lie and that God cannot sin, but he nowhere in his analysis proves that God can in no sense deceive! This is the very point that he must prove to sustain his accusation against me, and yet it is the very point for which he gives no proof! Listen to him: “God, of course, can neither sin (1 Pet. 2:22) nor lie (Titus 1:2). But He can give Satan the liberty to do certain things, as in 1 Kings 22:22.”

Yes, but where is the passage that declares that God cannot in any sense deceive? And where is that in light of the fact that in the very passage that Summers is trying to explain, the text plainly says that the inspired writer claimed that God had deceived? Again I point out that Summers has a tendency to conveniently rewrite Scripture to support a contention that is his. Consider:

1. True or False? According to Jeremiah 4:10, God in no sense deceived the people.

2. True or False? According to Jeremiah 4:10, God in every sense deceived the people (this would include lying).

3. True or False? According to Jeremiah 4:10 God in some sense deceived the people.

First, Summers’ own comments show that he does not believe that God deceived anyone but that he merely allowed deception through lies that the false prophets told. But this contradicts what Jeremiah plainly affirmed in the passage. Second, since “deception” is plainly ascribed to God by Jeremiah, then Summers would have to answer the above True-False questions by saying that #1 is true (in outright contradiction to what Jeremiah by inspiration affirmed), and that #2 is false (and I would completely agree), and that #3 is false (again in complete contradiction to what the passage states). I affirm that #1 and #2 are false and that #3 is true.

Next, Summers takes us to consider Jeremiah 20:7 where we find, “O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.” Here to explain this passage, Summers first suggests that—

it is a highly emotional passage, the one in which Jeremiah says he will no longer make mention of God or speak any more in His name, although he could not go through with that intention (Jer. 20:9). What Jeremiah says here, therefore, comes from frustration and depression; therefore, if the KJV gave us the best translation of the Hebrew term, we could easily understand how that Jeremiah’s perspective on things was a little skewed.

Dear reader, did you follow that? According to Summers, inspiration is no assurance that the truth is being spoken by the alleged inspired man! Do you believe that? My response is that this passage is no example of the writer’s merely telling us that he is feeling low (which he certainly could have done if the Holy Spirit wanted that simple fact to be reported), but the writer is actually making what is, if not true, a false accusation against God. In other words, God by inspiration, is moving the writer to make a false accusation against the One by whom the writer is being moved to write. Believe it who can! If such were so, that would be a case of God (by the Holy Spirit) lying, the very thing that both Summers and I know he cannot do!!!

Then Summers suggests that we have no information to show that God had ever deceived Jeremiah. But do we have to have more than we have in the passage? No. Then Summers says that according to Gesenius, the word means “to persuade anyone,” but that it also can mean “to entice, to seduce, and to deceive.” Summers opts for “persuadeth” as is given in some of the translations, but he fails to comprehend that whether “deceived” or “persuadeth” is used, he still must face the fact that Jeremiah is saying that the Lord had made the impression on the people that they would have peace, whereas what they got was the sword. The chosen new translation does not remove Summers’ difficulty.

1. True or False? Jeremiah 4:10 says that God either “deceived” or “persuaded” the people.

2. True or False? Jeremiah 4:10 says that the devil “deceived” or “persuaded” the people.

3. True or False? Jeremiah 4:10 says that false prophets “deceived” or “persuaded” the people.

Clearly, the Holy Spirit could have written the passage another way had he chosen to do so. But Summers’ challenge is to explain the passage so that #1 is retained as true.

Summers’ final passage on—what might first appear to a reader to be—divine deception is Ezekiel 14:9 where we find, “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.” Summers then likens this passage to 1 Kings 22:22 and then says,

God will allow the false prophet to say what his heart is inclined to say, but He ‘will stretch out His hand against him and destroy him also.’ God is not verbally lying to such men, He is simply allowing them to do what it is they want to do anyway—just as He allowed Balaam to follow the inclination of his covetous heart. Then He destroyed him (Num. 31:8).

But did you notice, dear reader that in his comments Summers grants what no one denies. God does not lie! He and I and you all know that! But that is not the issue!! The passage says that God claims that in some sense and somehow he will deceive the prophet. He does not say that he will lie to the prophet! Summers concludes that God merely allows something to occur, but the text does not say that, does it? The text affirms that God is in some way behind the deception. Read it again, “…I the Lord have deceived that prophet.” So, again, Summers refuses to accept the language, attacks the concept that God can lie, and says that it is another case of God’s merely allowing something to occur.

But why can’t it be the case that instead of (1) God’s merely allowing something to occur that it is rather the case that (2) God in some sense actually contributes to the deception that the prophet had experienced. That is what the passage plainly states. Doesn’t God know the hearts of all men? If such a prophet had turned away from God, why couldn’t God provide that prophet with circumstances conducive to his further reception of more falsehood? God’s providence is being affirmed in this case. Clearly, the text states that in some sense God was deceiving somebody God wants it known that when false prophets do their work, he is still in complete control of the situation, and not simply by “allowance” but by a positive arranging of circumstances that somehow conduce to the prophet’s reception of his own deception! The passage takes no responsibility away from the false prophet and certainly takes no responsibility away from the devil involved in temptation, and it takes no responsibility away from those who believe the false prophet’s lies. But the passage still is claiming divine involvement which Summers’ explanation does not admit. This is no way to handle the Bible! Consider the following True-False questions:

1. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord wants the false prophet’s own personal deception in some sense attributed to him.

2. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord wants the false prophet’s own personal deception to be attributed only to and completely to the devil.

3. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord wants the false prophet’s own personal deception to be attributed only to the false prophet.

Or we could simply look at the matter this way:

1. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord claims to be in some sense responsible for the false prophet’s own personal deception.

2. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord claims to be in every sense responsible for the false prophet’s own personal deception.

3. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord claims to be in no sense responsible for the false prophet’s own personal deception.

Again, if the reader reads the text, he can plainly see that #1 is true and that #2 and #3 are false. Summers must—to maintain his position on ethical deception—deny the truth of #1. He contradicts what the text plainly declares. Obviously, the text does not say how God will accomplish such, but God is not under obligation to explain himself. Since we know he cannot lie, we know that any deception that can in any sense be attributed to him must be a non-lie deception.

Summers says, “ God does not deceive any more than He lies,” but Summers rewrites Scripture in order to support such an erroneous position. The Bible teaches that God can deceive but that he cannot lie! There is a difference which Summers simply does not admit.

Summers claims that I have used the Bible wrongly. “Perhaps it is deceitful, but not ethical, to use the Word of God the way Mac has in his article.” Well, I ask the reader, “Is it ethical to rewrite Scripture so that a passage that plainly affirms that God deceived someone in some sense actually means the contradiction of the affirmation?” Now that would have God lying!

1. True or False? I the Lord have deceived that prophet (Ezekiel 14:9).

2. True or False? The Lord never deceived anyone (Gary Summers, period).

Gary takes this position on the alleged grounds that all deception is unethical, (1) a position that is not Scriptural but (2) a position which Summers desperately wants to be true. Surely, the reader can see the logical contradiction that obtains between statements #1 and #2.

Near the end of his article Summers makes some remarks that, in my judgment, do not require a response, given all that I have already written. He simply indicates his continuing failure to ignore plain Bible statements that simply do not suit his purposes. But let me, as I near the end of this piece, comment on a New Testament passage relevant to our study.

Summers did refer in his final article to 2 Thessalonians 2:11 while he was discussing Ezekiel 14:9. I present here verses 11 and 12: “And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

We know from verse 9 in this very context that Satan is the direct agent behind “lying wonders” or “wonders of a lie.” They are also described as “powers” and “signs.” They contain “deceit of unrighteousness.” These are events which cause wonder and which are in support of a lie. The lie believed causes those believing to perish. These people to whom Paul refers “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” He doesn’t say they didn’t know the truth. He does not even say that they did not believe the truth. He refers to some who simply did not love the truth. Now, we know from other passages that God himself in behalf of truth has in the past supported truth with wonders (cf. Heb. 2:4). But in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12, another thing is being affirmed.

People have two very important categories of information to consider. We will accept “the lie” (v. 11) or “the truth” (v. 11, 12). Definite articles appear in reference to both cases. The point being made is not simply that (1) the devil supports the lie while (2) God supports the truth, but we are being informed in this very important passage that since God is in complete control of the total situation involving man and his salvation or damnation, that he is the one (and certainly not Satan) who has the upper hand. Man cannot be saved without the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 1 Tim. 2:4).

And God alone is in position as the controller of all things to arrange means and circumstances for the circulation of truth and for the promotion of error to those who do not love truth. We are informed that God will send “an operation of error” or “working of error” (a work in behalf of error) to those “who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Surely, anyone who knows Scripture knows that the devil is the father of lies (Jno. 8:44) and that God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2). But God can providentially act so that lies are circulated where men who want them can have them. Will Summers deny this?

Of course “the lie” (all doctrine in contradiction of the gospel) is something that God cannot say or write. And a lie is certainly one form of deception. But God as the omnipotent and omniscient One even controls in his marvelous providence the circulation of all lies. And he knows who wants them (cf. 1 Jno. 4:5, 6). So consider the following argument:

1. If (1) God sends a working of error to those who are perishing that they should believe a lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness, and if (2) God cannot lie, then God without lying contributes to the deception of those who believe the lie.

2. (1) God sends a working of error to those who are perishing that they should believe a lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:11, 12), and God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18: Tit. 1:2).

3. Then, God without lying contributes to the deception of those who believe the lie.

If the reader has paid attention, he should comprehend the following easily:

1. True or False? God in every sense contributes to human deception (False; because lying is a form of it and he cannot lie).

2. True or False? God in some sense contributes to human deception (True; 2 Thess. 1:11, 12).

3. True or False? God in no sense contributes to human deception (False; 2 Thess. 1:11, 12; cf. 1 Kings 22:22, 23).

Gary Summers means well. And I appreciate his sending me his articles wherein he critiqued my article, “Ethical Deception.” But Gary’s response, while well-intentioned, amounts to an attack on the providence of God. And I have already been in public debates that entailed a discussion of prayer and providence. And I have listened as my opponents unknowingly and unintentionally have attacked the very concepts of the effectiveness of prayer in its relationship to providence. And I have listened as they have denied that God does anything in answer to prayer in a direct and personal way. So, while granting that Gary’s critique of my article on ethical deception is well-meaning, it amounts to an unintended attack on the providence of God. Gary does not mean for it to be, but it is. The providence of God is not attacked by Gary in the same way that some of my debate opponents have attacked it, but it constitutes an attack anyway. It is a new approach in our brotherhood or, at least, new to me.

I would caution Gary, however, because it does seem to me that if he handled Acts 2:33 in a way that is consistent with his handling of Bible passages that clearly identify divine deception as a feature or aspect of providence, he will have to conclude that Peter in that passage (1) did not identify any positive contribution that God actually made for our salvation at the cross, but that (2) God merely allowed certain things to occur.

Posted in Ethics

Is Ethical Deception a Fiction? (Part 2 of 3)

By Mac Deaver

In Gary Summers’ second installment (September 15, 2013), he takes up the case of Abraham and Sarah, a case that I had referred to in my earlier article, and a case that I am convinced that most of us have mishandled badly. I took the position in my article that Abraham did not lie with regard to Sarah. Gary in his first paragraph asserts that I am as wrong on this as I am on the positions that I hold on the Holy Spirit. Of course, Gary cannot and has not yet proved my claims on the Holy Spirit wrong, but in unmerited confidence and having made another false accusation against me, he proceeds.

Summers refers to the agreement that Abraham and Sarah reached in Genesis 12 with regard to the strategy they would use as they, under divine obligation, traveled around. They both agreed that they would both identify Sarah as Abraham’s sister without any reference to her being his wife. This was done on the basis that Sarah and Abraham were the children of the same father. In Genesis 12 this strategy was employed in Egypt, and Pharaoh was deceived by it. Now, after referring to the fact that I had said in my earlier article that God in the situation had plagued Pharaoh and not Abraham, Summers then boldly asserts, “Although this observation is true, it does not alter the fact that Pharaoh was lied to and that harm had resulted.” Dear reader, do you plainly see that Summers is assuming his case rather than proving it. In logic, what he has done is referred to as “begging the question.” He has asserted a conclusion not yet established, a conclusion that he states as the contradictory of the position I had taken in my earlier article. According to Summers, Abraham lied. How do we know that he lied? Summers asserts it. But the issue is whether or not Abraham did lie. And as I will now establish, Summers’ assertion is inaccurate.

Summers then goes into a lengthy discussion of why God did plague Pharaoh instead of Abraham, and he tells us that God holds the deceived responsible for being deceived and that “Abram is the man He has chosen and just made the three great promises to earlier in Genesis 12.” Yes, but that doesn’t prove that Abraham lied to Pharaoh, does it? Not at all.

Then Summers takes up the second case involving Abraham’s and Sarah’s use of their deception strategy in Genesis 20 when in Gerar Abraham claimed once again that Sarah was his sister. In this second case, God plagues Abimelech’s household as he had plagued Pharaoh’s household because Abraham’s wife is taken from him again. In a dream God confronts Abimelech in which he explains to God that he had taken Sarah “in the integrity” of his heart (Gen. 20:5). And that is why God responds that God had prevented Abimelech from sinning against him in his relationship to Sarah (v.6).

Now, when Abimelech asks Abraham why Abraham had claimed that Sarah was his sister, Abraham explains his strategy and why he had used it (v. 11-13). Summers says, “Deaver thinks that Abimelech accepted this explanation and even referred to Abraham as her brother (4). He has missed the irony here. Abimelech is using sarcasm by referring to Abraham as her brother. Verse 16 makes this clear when it closes with Divine commentary: ‘Thus she was reproved.’”

First of all, it is not clear from verse 16 that Abimelech is using irony. Instead of the words “Thus she was reproved,” (KJV), we find in the ASV the following: “and in respect of all thou art righted.” The Berkely Version renders it: “and before all, your name is totally cleared.” The RSV translates it, “and before every one you are righted.” Second, as far as establishing whether or not Abraham did or did not lie to Abimelech, whether Abimelech used irony or did not use irony is beside the point. All I am saying here is that Summers never established his case on the point of irony. That’s all.

Summers theorizes that in their traveling Abraham and Sarah should have trusted God on these two occasions. I say that they did. In my earlier article, I had pointed out three reasons why it appeared to me that Abraham was doing the best that he could under the circumstances. The strategy entailed “(1) truth-telling as far as they dared, (2) some hazardous fact concealment, (3) faith in God to protect Sarah when Abraham simply could not do it.” Furthermore I had written,

Of course, someone could counter that since God had already told Abraham that he would make of him a great nation, that Abraham should have run the risk of telling powerful men that Sarah was indeed his wife. Perhaps this is correct. However, lest we be too hard on Abraham, we might simply raise the point that he (1) could not know what powerful men would do, (2) he was afraid that they might kill him and take Sarah, (3) he knew that he could not protect her himself, and (4) he simply would leave the protection for her to the One who made them both leave their homeland.

Nothing Summers offers alters my thinking regarding what happened a bit. I assert that the strategy that Abraham suggested to Sarah which she accepted as a plan for their safety was a plan based on their faith in God. I take the cases as instances of faith fulfillment—not faith failure! Summers knows that this couple, generally, were people of great faith (Heb. 11:8-19; Rom. 4:16-25; Jas. 2:21-24; 1 Pet. 3:5,6). Summers asserts that they simply did not trust God on the occasions chronicled in Genesis 12 and 20. I disagree! And I know that in his article he did not prove that their faith failed. He assumed it.

Next, Summers takes up the crucial matter of trying to prove that Abraham and Sarah lied. He writes, “They never lied? Yes, they did in that they withheld vital information.” Can you believe this, dear reader? He claims that the “lie” was in the withholding of vital information, after already informing us in his first article that concealment of information is not necessarily a bad thing. In the final paragraph on page one of his first article, he plainly takes the position that concealment of information does have its legitimate place.

He claims that (1) all of us in conversations at times know more “than we are willing to impart,” (2) we may keep certain information to ourselves “so long as it does not put anyone in jeopardy,” (3) we can retain “confidential” information, and (4) there are times when in response to a specific question, “we always reserve the right to answer, ‘I’m not at liberty to say,’ or ‘I think it would be better not to comment on that right now.’”

Regarding the second reason for concealment, I raise the question, “But what if you are already in jeopardy or consider yourself to be?” Has Summers really established his point that “so long as it does not put anyone in jeopardy” is an actual limitation on the proper use of concealment of information? He does not do so in his article. I contend that in Egypt and Gerar, Abraham and Sarah were acting in self-defense.

Then at the top of the second page, Summers writes,

But if an answer is required, we are under obligation to give a truthful one. The withholding of information (concealment) may be a definition of deceit, but it is not necessarily so; concealment may be a matter of privilege (choosing not to tell), but deceit is intentionally misleading someone. In other words, if God withholds information from us regarding a mystery to be revealed later, that is concealment, but not deceit. If He withheld a vital part of the plan of salvation so that we remained lost, that would be capricious and deceitful (if we thought we had all we needed).

In response, I would say that in both Egypt and Gerar, the situation being as it was, there was certain information (Sarah was Abraham’s wife) that was not by God required to be given in order for Abraham’s and Sarah’s integrity to be maintained. What was said was so. And the situation did not obligate them to reveal all that they knew. Even though the concealment was surely for the purpose of deception, the deception initiated was not a lie (truth was, in fact, told) nor was the truth presented with evil intention. None of us can prove that either Abraham or Sarah meant “evil” by their deed (cf. Gen. 50:20).

Now as we go back to Summers’ second article, as he tries to prove that a lie was, in fact, told by Abraham and Sarah, he contends that the lie was by withholding vital information. He claims that in telling part of the truth and only part of the truth, they lied. He says, “Concealing vital information makes their statements a lie. Withholding information that is not vital is not a lie, nor is it deceit.”

But what determines what constitutes the “vital” information? Summers does not tell us. It cannot be simply information that someone demands because he has already conceded that there are times when someone has no right to certain information, and he has told us that there are circumstances where someone simply is not under obligation to tell what he knows. The use of the word “vital” is not adequate to support his contention that Abraham and Sarah lied. It cannot in and of itself establish the point that he is most concerned to prove. Abimelech’s interest in the “full” account of the relationship between Abraham and Sarah does not and cannot in and of itself establish an obligation on the part of Abraham and Sarah to reveal all that they know about their complete relationship because Abimelech simply is in no position to place them under such obligation. As long as what they say is true, if they say anything at all, then truth is truth and integrity is maintained.

If Abimelech had asked whether or not Sarah was “only” Abraham’s sister (so as to ask whether or not that was the complete extent of their relationship) or if he had asked whether or not she was his wife, and if Abraham had said, “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, both answers would obviously have been lies. But this is not what occurred! And we cannot rewrite Scripture to make it appear that these lies were told.

Next, regarding God, Summers contends that “If he could bless Isaac despite the lie, then surely he could do so for Abraham as well.” Yes, he could, but Summers has never established that Abraham told one while it is perfectly clear from the text that Isaac did.

Then, Summers claims that really I had, in fact, argued against myself in that I had referred in my first article to the fact that Abraham was aware of certain promises that God had made to him and that, according to Summers, “then Abraham had to know that God would protect him from those who might want to kill him in order to have Sarah. It was not necessary for Abraham to deceive.” And my contention is that the strategy that Abraham and Sarah employed was their way of doing what they could and leaving the rest to God. Would Summers argue that if we know by faith that God will provide our daily bread (Matt. 6:11) or our food and clothing (Matt. 6:25-34), that we then can receive such without any personal effort? No, he will not! So, the effort that Abraham and Sarah expended in self-protection has got to be condemned on some ground other than a lack of faith!

Next Summers refers to my claim that God found no fault with the plan that they used to deceive Pharaoh and Abimelech. And while admitting that, Summers declares that God “expressed no approval of the plan, either.” Oh? I know that he did not explicitly approve of the plan (that is, in so many words), but do not the facts as revealed show that he approved? Consider:

(1) Abraham received wealth from Pharaoh after he took Sarah into his house (Gen. 12:16);

(2) God greatly plagued Pharoah and his house because he had taken Sarah (Gen. 12:17);

(3) Abimelech was considered by God “a dead man” for taking Sarah (Gen. 20:5,6);

(4) Abimelech was prevented by God from sinning against God since he took Sarah “in the integrity of” his heart (Gen. 20:5);

(5) God tells Abimelech to restore Sarah to Abraham and to call on Abraham to pray for him since Abraham is a prophet. Abimelech’s life was dependent upon these two conditions being met (Gen. 20:7);

(6) Following Abraham’s explanation concerning why he did not reveal the complete account of his relationship to Sarah, then Abimelech restored Sarah and added to Abraham’s wealth (Gen. 20:14, 16);

(7) Abimelech then tells Abraham that he can dwell anywhere he wants to in Abimelech’s land (Gen. 20:15);

(8) Abimelech makes sure that all is all right between him and Sarah (Gen. 20:16).

Now, I know that we have accounts of action where men commit sin and yet where there is no account of divine disapproval explicitly given (cf. Gen. 9:21; 19:30-38, etc.), but with regard to Abraham and Sarah, it is not simply that we face the textual omission of any explicit statement of approval or disapproval regarding their deception, but that (1) there are “blessings” that they are given in the accounts of Genesis 12 and 20, and that (2) these blessings stand in contrast to the “plagues” which Pharaoh and Abimelech and their households suffered, and that (3) the blessings were granted as a result of the situation in which the deception on the part of Abraham and Sarah placed them, and finally that (4) later we learn in Genesis 14:23 that Abraham turned down the spoils of war offered by the king of Sodom, “lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.” If Abraham willingly took from Pharaoh and Abimelech but would not take from the king of Sodom given the reason offered, then is it not, at least plausible that Abraham rightly interpreted the blessings as approval of himself and Sarah in the situations in which their deception had placed them?

Abraham’s reason for refusing what was offered by Sodom’s king shows that the blessings he received in Egypt and Gerar he took neither as (1) mere fortunate chance (good luck), nor (2) coincidences, nor (3) anything based on mere natural law that any man might obtain, nor as (4) mere gifts from the two kings.

Furthermore, God’s favor of Abraham and Sarah throughout the “deception situation” is clear from God’s comment to Abimelech in Genesis 20:7 where God calls Abraham a “prophet” and tells Abimelech to have Abraham pray for him. God does not call him a false prophet, unfaithful prophet, or lying prophet. He at the time was a prophet whose prayers were acceptable to God! You might compare this to Job 42:7, 8 where God tells Eliphaz to have Job pray for him and his friends, for they had not spoken correctly regarding God (while trying to defend God) as Job had done.

However, even if Summers could prove that the blessings bestowed on Abraham and Sarah in the two situations could not be taken as absolute proof of divine sanction for the deception, the fact remains that Summers has not and cannot prove that a lie was told.

These accounts in Genesis 12 and 20 are not the same as the case of Rahab in Joshua 2:4, 5 where clearly a lie was told following which Rahab was divinely blessed. Her faith is what is commended and neither her lie nor her harlotry (Heb. 11:31). But in Genesis 12 and 20, we have no lie told.

Summers then suggests that in Genesis 26:6-7 “God did not find fault with Isaac’s plan, either.” It is true that there is no account of explicit disapproval, but certainly Summers would admit that God disapproves all lies, at least ones told in peace time.

Next Summers refers to brother Thomas Warren who used to emphasize that “Every precisely-stated proposition is either true or false.” Amen! But then Summers does a strange thing. In my article under Summers’ review, I had said, “The proposition, ‘she is my sister’ is either true or false.” In response, Summers grants that it is a precisely stated proposition. “Mac does present a precisely-stated proposition when in this paper he writes: The proposition, ‘she is my sister,’ is either true or false.” But then Summers begins to explain that the proposition isn’t so precise after all since, he claims, the word “sister” is somewhat ambiguous and stands in need of further clarification. He uses “half-sister,” “full sister,” “adopted sister,” and “step-sister” as illustrations of the fact that “sister” is not a precise enough term in my sentence. So Summers at first grants that the sentence “she is my sister” is a precisely stated proposition (and thus either true or false), but then and in utter self-contradiction, he takes it back by declaring that since “sister” could have at least four meanings, he claims that the sentence is ambiguous. I do not know how Summers could fail to see what he was doing. He takes the following two positions:

(1) The sentence, “she is my sister,” is a precisely stated proposition, and

(2) The sentence, “she is my sister,” is not a precisely stated proposition.

Furthermore, since he concluded that the sentence, “she is my sister,” was ambiguous due to the imprecision of the term “sister,” that means that the sentence is not either true or false. Well, if it is neither true nor false, then it certainly can’t be a lie! And then after discussing situations in which there is a need for precise definition, Summers concludes regarding “sister” as used in Abraham’s deception that “Sister is too broad of a category; half-sister is accurate.”

But here where Summers could have dealt with what I had said about a “half-sister” in my earlier article, he does not. The reader of Summers’ critique doesn’t know that I had dealt with this point in a very clear and conclusive way. I had written, “Now, if a half-sister is a sister when Abraham and Sarah claimed that she was his sister, they told the truth. If a half-sister is not a sister, then when Abraham and Sarah claimed that she was his sister, they told a lie. The proposition, ‘she is my sister’ is either true or false. Which is it?” And Summers does not answer the question in his response except by way of concluding, as already noted, that the sentence is ambiguous and, therefore, not a precisely stated proposition, which means that it is not true and it is not false. And that means that if it is not false, it certainly can’t be what Summers concludes: a lie! This one colossal blunder ought to be a warning to the reader of the way that Summers is handling the issue.

In my previous article I had suggested that looking at the situation from a different angle might be helpful in understanding whether or not a lie was told. I had written,

Look at it this way. What if Abraham and Sarah had found themselves in a different kind of difficulty that included risk to them if she were a known sister instead of a known wife? In the cases reported in Genesis, Abraham is afraid someone will kill him if he thinks that Sarah is his wife. But what if the case were such that Abraham was afraid that someone would kill him if they found out that Sarah was his sister? If someone had asked Abraham, “Is Sarah your sister?” and he had responded, “No, she is not,” would that have been true? Some of us might accuse him of lying in this situation. (She was more than a sister, but being more than a sister cannot in and of itself mean that she was not, in fact, still a sister). But if we would rightly accuse him of lying in this case, then we ought not to accuse him of lying in the other cases as recorded by Moses. And God never accused him of lying at all! We preachers who have accused Abraham of lying have been wrong.

She is not my sister” would have been a lie just as “she is not my wife” would have been one. But these statements are not at all the same as the statement that he gave! Consider the following True-False questions.

1. True or False? Sarah was Abraham’s sister.

2. True or False? Sarah was Abraham’s wife.

If we claim that the first one is true (as it surely is), that affirmation cannot in and of itself render the second statement false! Both statements are true. Sarah was both a sister and wife to Abraham.

Now consider the following True-False questions.

1. True or False? Sarah was not Abraham’s sister.

2. True or False? Sarah was not Abraham’s wife.

Dear reader, knowing the relationship that obtained between Abraham and Sarah, how do you answer? You would, as I would, say that each statement is false. And if each statement is false, then the first two statements are both true, and Abraham told no lie!!

Summers concludes his second installment by reiterating his unwavering position that those who have been accusing Abraham and Sarah of lying have been correct since (1) they withheld vital information and (2) for the purpose of deception. Furthermore Summers takes comfort from their alleged momentary lapse because it shows that even these people, as generally faithful as they were, were still human like the rest of us.

First of all, I admit that I used to think that a lie was told myself. However, in further more careful consideration of the facts involved, I came to realize the error of my accusation. Second, I have proved that Summers completely failed to establish his case that the withholding of what is “vital” information in all conceivable situations constitutes sin, and I have shown clearly that there are situations in which God himself authorizes deception and sanctions it. Summers declares, “Authorized Ethical Deception is an invention of man—not a Scriptural principle.” Here he merely asserts what he already had clearly failed to prove.

Posted in Ethics

Is Ethical Deception a Fiction? (Part 1 of 3)

By Mac Deaver

Gary Summers of Winter Park, Florida, in September 2014 responded in a three part series in his church bulletin, “Spiritual Perspectives,” to my article, “Ethical Deception.” Summers thinks that I do greatly err in contending that some deception is authorized by the Bible. If the reader wants Summers’ three part series, he can call the church office at (407) 657-0657. Let us see if Summers has proved me wrong.

In his first article, “Authorized Ethical Deception?” (September 8), Summers in his second paragraph informs the readers that I, Mac Deaver, have already taken “several positions that are contrary to what the Scriptures teach on the subject of the new birth, Holy Spirit baptism, spiritual gifts, and related matters.” Of course, Summers is merely asserting rather than proving anything, but it can well serve the purpose of prejudicing the reader against what I do teach about ethical deception. I have already been in four public debates on the Holy Spirit. I am quite satisfied with what I believe and teach regarding such. I know that Summers has not and cannot overcome what I teach. I have tried to get him to attempt it in public debate. But he has been unwilling. He was willing to engage me in a written debate, and I was unwilling. He would not engage me in a public debate, and that is what I wanted. So, there has never been a debate between us on the Holy Spirit.

But has he found something about “deception” that I have written that he can use to expose me as a taker of positions contrary to Scripture? To be fair, Summers in paragraph two does say that my position on authorized deception is merely “questionable” rather than his saying that it is downright and clearly false. However, he does link it to the other alleged “troubling” views of mine that he asserts “cannot be successfully defended.” I beg to differ.

Accurately, Summers points out that what I am arguing for in authorized ethical deception is to be distinguished from lying. The Bible makes it plain that all lying is sinful. Liars will not enter heaven (Rev. 21:8). And, as Summers rightly points out, I do distinguish between ethical and unethical deception. But Summers takes issue with my word choice. Since the word “deception” is linked with other words such as “Imposture, trickery, double dealing, dissimulation, craft, artifice, treachery, subtleness, wiliness, cunning…,” Summers thinks that perhaps the word “deception” is not the word that I need to use. However, my dictionary does tell me that the word “may or may not imply blameworthiness, since it may suggest cheating or merely tactical resource” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 213). I think I’ll retain the word.

And Summers notes that I correctly point out that there are times when we are not under obligation to reveal everything we know. There is a time for proper concealment of certain facts. Summers readily grants this point. And he observes that one can conceal information without intending to deceive. That is certainly true. But it is also equally true that one can conceal information in order to deceive. And this latter point is what Summers calls into question.

Summers rightly declares that I am not trying to justify “situation ethics,” but he finds fault with me in my use of 1 Samuel 16:1-5 as supporting my claim. This is the passage where God assigns Samuel the task of going to Bethlehem to anoint a new king (even though Saul, the current king, is very much alive). God had rejected Saul, but at Bethlehem, the person to be the next king, will be located. Samuel is reluctant because of the danger involved in such a mission. “And Samuel said, How can I go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee” (1 Sam. 16:2, 3). Summers claims that my “interpretation” of the text is “slanted.”

In my own article I took the position that the basic purpose for Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem was to anoint the next king. But a secondary purpose was contrived to camouflage the real purpose and so to deceive Saul if Saul became aware of Samuel’s presence and was curious as to the reason for his visit. Summers says, “One could put this kind of ‘spin’ on the situation, but there is another way to look at it.”

Summers’ attempt at a different angle of “interpretation” is to emphasize God’s omniscience. Of course, I was all the while aware of and basing my remarks on my awareness of God’s omniscience. I never thought that God was simply “working something out” as he went along in his conversation with Samuel. I well knew that God already knew everything about what he and Samuel and Saul were going to do.

Summers then suggests that God already had the sacrifice in mind before telling Samuel to go anoint a king. Yes, that is certainly true and granted. But it changes nothing about what I claimed in my article. Listen to Summers:

Second, as it related to 1 Samuel 16:1-5, He addressed Samuel on the basis of his mourning for King Saul’s disobedience and let him in on the rest of the plan only when he objected to Saul’s likely reaction. God could just have easily spoken to Samuel in this way: “I want you to go to Bethlehem and offer a sacrifice.” Samuel might have responded by asking: “How will that do any good or change anything?” The Lord may have answered, “While you are there engaged in that task, I want you to anoint a new king.” “Oh, I see,” the prophet says, as the entire plan dawns on him.”

Yes, God could have told Samuel to go to Bethlehem in order to offer a sacrifice as the primary purpose of his visit, and that, by the way, while he was there already he might as well go ahead and anoint a new king since he could do so conveniently. But, while Summers is willing to rewrite Scripture in support of his theory, the way that it is written affirms unmistakably that the real point of the trip was not the sacrifice at all, but rather the anointing of a new king! And Summers knows this. Summers has no right whatever to rewrite the Bible in order to uphold a point of view that he already has developed! One simply cannot do that with an Old Testament passage any more than he can with one in the New.

Then, Summers says that when the people of Bethlehem asked Samuel the purpose of his visit, he simply mentioned the sacrifice because they didn’t need to know about the other purpose. So, Samuel simply withheld information (he concealed it), which both Summers and I both agree is ethical in that situation. And Saul did not inquire. Summers concludes that information was merely and rightly concealed from those who did inquire and that since Saul never asked, he was never intentionally deceived. But that is not the whole account.

We have already been told that God had said to Samuel that if Saul did get wind of Samuel’s visit that Samuel could keep Saul “in the dark” by saying, “I am come to sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 2). God told Samuel that he had rejected Saul (v. 1). This was the topic that God was addressing. Samuel was to get over his mourning for Saul and get to Bethlehem to anoint a new king. God was not, as the text clearly shows, concerned with Samuel making a sacrifice at Bethlehem to him. The priority of the moment was to anoint a new king. The secondary reason for going was one clearly to camouflage the real purpose. And if Saul did ask Samuel as to why he did come to Bethlehem, Samuel can then rightly and with a clear conscience say that he was “come to sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 2). The sacrifice was never the basic or most important reason for the trip! Summers’ twisting the passage cannot make it say what it clearly does not say!

So, if Saul had confronted Samuel and had asked him, “Samuel, why are you here?” Samuel, with God’s authority, could have responded, “I am come to sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 2). That was what he was told that he was to say! And since it was not the real or basic or fundamental reason for the trip (though it was one of the purposes of the trip), such would have been an authorized ethical deception presented to Saul. It would not have been a simple withholding of information to which he had no actual relevant interest, but rather a deception as to the main or real purpose of Samuel’s being there, so that he would be intentionally deceived by the words (which were true but not exhaustive). It was not mere concealment, but deception, since the words authorized were intended to mislead. God can conceal by silence (Deut. 29:29) or as in this case by misleading. God was authorizing Samuel to say such things to Saul as would “throw him off the track” or prevent suspicion and prevent further inquiry. Both silence and misleading are kinds of concealment (Prov. 25:2). Summers grants the first kind but denies that the second kind is ethical. But here we have it authorized in 1 Samuel 16.

Summers leaves off responding to what I say about Abraham and Sarah till later and so takes up my use of the battle of Ai where I stated that God authorized military deception by means of the ambush that he arranged. Basically, Summers’ response to my position is that “When a nation is at war, normal rules of conduct do not apply, such as ‘Love thy neighbor.’” Again, “The point is that the ethics of war are different than those by which we normally operate.” So, we have Summers’ brand of “situation ethics” now on display. What is unethical in peacetime can become ethical, according to Summers, in wartime. He doesn’t prove his case; he merely asserts his case. But even given what Summers asserts, I do not think that he would claim that “lying” is acceptable behavior even in wartime. I do not think that Summers would contend that adultery or fornication entailed in wartime in espionage work would be forms of acceptable behavior. His response to what I said about God’s authorization of deception by means of the ambush is not adequate at all.

Then Summers takes us to 2 Kings 6:8-23 where we find the account of Elisha’s encounter with the Syrian army, and in my article I had taken the position that Elisha used authorized ethical deception in dealing with that army. And what does Summers do? He goes to the Pulpit Commentary and finds where the commentator on this text claims that Elisha lied, and then Summers attacks that position, a position that I never took and one that I deny is true.

The king of Syria sends spies to find Elisha (v. 12, 13). Summers says that the Syrians were not truly trying to find Elisha, though the text says that they plainly were. It is certainly true that the king of Syria wants to find the king of Israel, and that is why he is trying to locate Elisha. This is another instance where Summers tries to rewrite the text to support his position.

When the king was told that Elisha was the one who had been warning the king of Israel, the king of Syria then said that he wanted Elisha found. He was then told that Elisha was in Dothan, and that is the place to which the king of Syria then sent his army. And that is where Elisha was found. The king of Syria evidently assumed that the king would be found where Elisha was. So, in verse 19, when Elisha says, “This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek,” though Elisha was the secondary man of concern (second to the king of Israel whom the king of Syria was fighting), Elisha was still the primary person of concern on this specific visit since the king knew he was in Dothan and did not and could not know for sure that the king of Israel was there. Elisha’s speech does seem to refer to the king of Israel and Samaria, though the Syrian army would not necessarily take it that way, given the person they were at the moment trying to find. They would be thinking of Elisha and Dothan; he was speaking of the king of Israel and Samaria. I take it as a case of authorized deception. But whether it is or not, Elisha tells no lie!

Summers rejects the Pulpit Commentary’s claiming that Elisha lied in deceiving “the public enemy.” I do, too. However, Summers had already told us that in wartime, ethical conduct rightfully changes! So, since this account of action is in an historical context of wartime (and it is, v. 8), why won’t Summers allow for a situational lie? This is curious, isn’t it?

However, again I say that my position in my previous article was never that Elisha lied, but that he in a justified way, attempted with words to deceive the Syrian army. Yet, Summers spent the bulk of this section of his article trying to refute the claim that Elisha lied, a position that was never mine! Was Gary paying attention?

Summers ends his first article by referring to my comment in my earlier article that before preachers assail the concept of authorized ethical deception, they should first give up carrying their sermon outlines into the pulpit and attempting to leave the audience with the impression that they are not using outlines. Summers says of me,

First he accuses all preachers who carry such outlines as being dishonest in their motives, which is an assumption, not a fact. Second, even if it were true, it is the tu quoque fallacy of logic. All that this Latin phrase means is: “Likewise you” or “you, too.” In other words, “I’m guilty but you are, too.” The application would be: “Elisha was guilty of lying, but you are, too. We all use Authorized Ethical Deceit.” No, all of us do not.

In response, let it be noted that I never said—

(1) that a preacher’s merely carrying a sermon outline into the pulpit constituted any kind of deception, period or

(2) that using a sermon outline constituted by itself deception or dishonesty.

What I said was that if a preacher uses a sermon outline while attempting to leave the impression that he is not using an outline, that such is a form of deception. Furthermore, Summers has no way to successfully deny that fact! I now use a sermon outline all the time, but I am not trying to leave the impression that I’m not. But I have used a sermon outline trying to leave the impression that I was not or at least not using it as much as I was. If my attempt at concealment is coupled with my intention that the audience thinks that I am speaking without looking at all at a written outline, such constitutes a deception. It is certainly no sin. But, in looking at the situation of a preacher’s using a written outline, we face two possibilities:

(1) A preacher uses a sermon outline without trying to conceal the fact that he is, or

(2) A preacher uses a sermon outline trying to conceal the fact that he is so that his audience does not know that he is using it and thinks that he is not.

This second case is a form of deception because we have not only (1) concealment, but we have (2) the preacher’s intention that a certain impression is made on the audience which impression is an impression out of harmony with fact.

Regarding Summers’ second claim of my allegedly committing the tu quoque fallacy, such is really quite pathetic. Summers says, the application of his reference to the fallacy as having been committed by me would be that “Elisha was guilty of lying, but you are, too. We all use Authorized Ethical Deceit.” This is really pitiful. I never accused Elisha of lying! So the alleged likeness disappears. Elisha didn’t lie, and a preacher’s use of notes constitutes no lie either. This was not Gary’s finest moment. Please notice—

(1) One can conceal information from others without intending to leave an erroneous impression.

(2) One can conceal information from others while intending to leave an erroneous impression.

The second case allows for authorized ethical deception. I say “allows for” instead of “is equivalent to” ethical deception because of the following:

(1) One can conceal information from others while intending to leave an erroneous impression, the intention itself being immoral; or

(2) One can conceal information from others while intending to leave an erroneous impression, the intention itself being moral.

I contend that neither God nor man has a right to act ever from an immoral will. A man’s intention always has to be with love of God and man (Matt. 22:37-40). And even in wartime, one does not have the right to hate his fellowman, to commit adultery, to lie, or to murder. It is possible for the one responsible for warfare to “murder” in wartime, but such is still wrong (2 Sam. 12:9). I do not agree with Summers’ handling of ethics within the context of war, and his confusion regarding wartime ethics may help us to consider that he may not be as clear as he needs to be regarding ethics within the time of peace.

Posted in Ethics

Ethical Deception

By Mac Deaver

There is one aspect of Biblical Ethics that has too often been ignored or overlooked as to its identification and its authorization. That is the area of authorized ethical deception. While all of us practice it to a degree, we do not always realize what is happening. Or, if we know we are, in fact doing such, we do not know how to describe the event so as to distinguish it from unethical deception. We may not even know the difference between deception in general and lying in particular. So, just here we will briefly treat on the matter.

Most Bible students will agree that lying is sinful. According to Revelation 21:8, “all liars” shall experience the second death. Lying is a form of deception for sure, but not all deception is lying. Lying is articulated deception by proposition. That is, a statement is made that is false, and it is known by the maker of it to be false. Webster says that to lie is “to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive…to create a false or misleading impression…” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 487). The writer of Revelation also informs us that “every one that loveth and maketh a lie” will be on the outside of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 22:15). And the noun for “lie” in that verse is pseudos which means, “a lie; conscious and intentional falsehood…in a broad sense, whatever is not what it professes to be: so of perverse, impious, deceitful precepts…” (Thayer, p. 676).

The thing about lying is that some otherwise good folk at times lie. The Bible chronicles for us cases where usually fine people lie or where not so fine people in the doing of something honorable lapse into a lie. Furthermore, the Bible often passes over these events without the writer’s pausing to point out that sin was actually just committed. The lack of immediate description of the deed as sinful has caused some to conclude that some lying is acceptable, but it still is the fact that “all liars” will be lost. Those guilty must then repent. Such indisputable cases of lying include David’s lying to priest Ahimelech (1 Sam. 21:2), Rahab’s lying about the spies (Josh. 2:4-6), Isaac’s lying about his wife (Gen. 26:7-11), and Peter’s denial of the Christ (Matt. 26:69-75). Known falsehoods were indeed told, and there is no justification for them. If someone counters by saying that there are times when the “emergency” situation ethically allows for lie-telling, we respond that there is no more such thing as an ethical lie than there is ethical murder or ethical adultery. The way the good Book tells it, all lying is sinful. If one says that he had rather lie in order to produce a good result than to tell the truth and produce a bad result, we respond by saying that (1) there are times when one is under ethical obligation just to be quiet and not to say anything, and (2) if he is, in fact, under absolute ethical obligation to speak at all, he cannot be held responsible for the immediate harmful effect that obligatory truth telling produces.

Situation ethicists have long tried to make the case for the telling of some lies, just as Joseph Fletcher tried to make the case even for a justifiable adultery, but there can be no such thing as a good lie or moral adultery. But I imagine that we would all be shocked if we knew the degree to which people in our society have bought into the “white lie” or the “emergency lie” or the “well-meaning” lie policy. In fact, we might be surprised to know the number of brethren that have utilized the concept of “situation ethics” in their description of some events in the New Testament. Some have concluded that in some situations it becomes ethical to do what in less extreme conditions would be unethical. For example, when the Lord’s disciples were criticized for plucking ears and eating grain on the Sabbath, Jesus defended them, but in his defense, he referred to David’s doing that which was “unlawful” (Matt. 12:3, 4). Some have concluded that the Lord’s use of David’s deed posed a justification of doing the “unlawful” when the situation becomes somewhat of a desperation or an emergency. The Lord did not justify David. David sinned when he ate the showbread just as he sinned when he told the lie. But, as J. W. McGarvey has well pointed out, the Pharisees usually justified David (who was guilty for doing the unlawful thing) and criticized the Lord’s disciples (who were not guilty for doing the lawful thing). McGarvey declared, “If Christians may violate law when its observance would involve hardship or suffering, then there is an end of suffering for the name of Christ, and an end of self-denial” (A Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 104).

So, when we claim that there is such a thing as authorized deception, we must be clear that we are not claiming that there is such a thing as a biblically authorized lie, because there is not. So, the deception in whose behalf we write, cannot, then, be the equivalent of the lie that we have just condemned. They are not the same at all. And the authorized deception of which we speak cannot be a form of sinful behavior whereby one attempts to skirt his duty of truth telling or of abiding by other obligatory ethical principles. But that such an authorized deception exists, one simply has to resort to a single passage of Scripture.

In 1 Samuel 16:1-5 the Lord commissions Samuel to go and anoint the young David as the next king in Israel. The problem for Samuel is that the first king, Saul, is very much alive. Samuel knows that if Saul gets word that he is going to Bethlehem for the purpose of anointing a new king that Samuel’s life will be in jeopardy. “And Samuel said, How can I go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee” (v. 2, 3). And that is what Samuel did. And at the sacrifice, Samuel anointed David (v. 13).

But notice carefully, that no falsehood was told, but a deception of a kind was enacted. That is, the real purpose for Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem was camouflaged by the assignment of a secondary purpose, a sacrifice. But Samuel was not originally commissioned to go and offer a sacrifice. The sacrifice became the means of preventing Saul from knowing the basic purpose for the trip. God used the sacrifice to deceive Saul. It was an ethical deception in that it was ethical for Samuel to sacrifice. It was ethical for Samuel to call Jesse to the sacrifice. And it was ethical for Samuel to claim the sacrifice as a purpose for his trip. It was ethical for Samuel to protect himself by being in a position such that if Saul found out about Samuel’s being in Bethlehem that Samuel could rightly say that he had gone to sacrifice. God made the sacrifice a purpose for his trip, and if Samuel referred to that purpose as a purpose, he would be telling the truth. If Samuel were to say that the sacrifice was the only purpose for his trip, then he would have told a lie. But the way that God arranged his assignment was such that he could correctly cite purpose without giving himself away.

Deception is a kind of prevention. It keeps something from showing or from being revealed. It keeps something hidden. A given concealment does not necessarily have to entail deception. One can choose simply not to reveal something without deceiving anyone (Deut. 29:29), but deception is a kind of concealment. Whether the deception is authorized or unauthorized would have to do with the intention behind or the purpose of the deception itself. The purpose or motive would have to be Scriptural and the deception itself would have to be ethical (entailing no lie or any other violation of biblical ethics). The purpose behind the divine deception in Samuel’s case was to prevent Saul from learning what was going on and thus to prevent the death of Samuel. Samuel had no obligation to reveal everything that was going on to Saul. He had no obligation of unconditional loyalty to the kingship of Saul. He did have an obligation to God’s instructions, and he certainly was under obligation to tell the truth. Had Saul learned of Samuel’s trip and had Saul asked Samuel as to the purpose of his trip, and if Samuel had said that he was only going to sacrifice, he would have lied. But if he had said that he was going to sacrifice, he would have been telling the truth. If Samuel had been in a situation such that he was under ethical obligation to admit “all” the truth surrounding his trip, then of course he would have had to state the complete purpose for the journey. But there was no such encompassing obligation. In fact, the divine commission for a sacrifice was the very means whereby God gave Samuel the ethical right to have a non-hazardous purpose, to be able to state a right non-hazardous purpose, and to forego mentioning the original purpose which was extremely hazardous. And the secondary purpose of sacrifice was to conceal the primary purpose which was to anoint David as king. Saul simply did not need to know about that.

Another case that I want to discuss briefly is the case of Abraham in Genesis 20. When God gave Abraham the assignment of leaving his homeland and traveling to a then non-named location, Abraham faced a certain difficulty. The problem was that he had a very pretty wife, and he knew that his life would be at stake if some Godless individual decided to kill him and take her. So, since Sarah was a half-sister as well as a wife to him, he suggested to her that they both claim on their journey that she was his sister. They would not mention the fact that she was his wife (Gen. 12:11-13). When they came into Egypt, Pharaoh took Sarah. But God plagued Pharaoh, and Pharaoh then asked Abraham, “What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister?…” (12:18, 19). Notice please that in the text, God plagued Pharaoh and not Abraham. The next such deception takes place in Gerar, when the king, Abimelech, takes Sarah. But in a dream God said to Abimelech, “Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou has taken; for she is a man’s wife” (Gen. 20:3). Interestingly, in the dream Abimelech responds to God by saying that Abraham had claimed her as his sister, and that she had likewise said the same. Abimelech then says that “in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this” (v. 5). “And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her” (v. 6). Furthermore, God commands Abimelech to give Sarah back to Abraham and tells him that Abraham is a prophet. Furthermore, he tells him that Abraham will pray for him. Furthermore, if Abimelech refuses to return the woman to her husband, he and all his will die (v. 7).

When Abimelech asked Abraham as to why he deceived him by merely claiming Sarah as sister instead of wife, Abraham affirmed, “Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (v. 11). But then to justify what he and Sarah had claimed, Abraham refers to facts. He informs Abimelech that Sarah is indeed a sister. She is a half-sister, sharing the same father but not the same mother with Abraham (v. 12). Interestingly, when Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham, he refers to Abraham as “thy brother” (v. 16). Then, he gave much money to Abraham for a “covering of the eyes” of Sarah (v. 16). Then Abraham prays for Abimelech, and God, who had closed the wombs of all the women in Abimelech’s house, “healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants” (v. 17, 18).

Given the full account, the problem is not so much Abraham and Sarah and their plan to conceal some of the truth about their relation and reveal part of it, but the problem is that there were men who, whether rightly or wrongly, thought they could take Sarah to themselves. We are not told what would have happened had the full truth been given. Would it have stopped Pharaoh and/or Abimelech? It would seem that in Abimelech’s case, it would since God prevented him from harming himself further because of his integrity. We are not told so much about Pharaoh. But, regardless, there was no way for Abraham and Sarah to know what kind of men were in positions of power in areas where they were but traveling strangers. And please notice, that God always protected Abraham and Sarah.

This makes me wonder about Abraham’s thinking in the first place. Notice these points: (1) they had to travel in strange places, (2) they did not know whether in some places there was “the fear of God” or not, (3) God had already told Abraham that he was going to make of him a great nation [Gen. 12:1-3; give a certain land to his seed [Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 15:18-21], and that he would give him an heir [15:1-6]. It seems to me that the arrangement that Abraham made with Sarah was simply the best that he could think of because it entailed (1) truth-telling as far as they dared, (2) some hazardous fact concealment, (3) faith in God to protect Sarah when Abraham simply could not do it. Of course, someone could counter that since God had already told Abraham that he would make of him a great nation, that Abraham should have run the risk of telling powerful men that Sarah was indeed his wife. Perhaps this is correct. However, lest we be too hard on Abraham, we might simply raise the point that he (1) could not know what powerful men would do, (2) he was afraid that they might kill him and take Sarah, (3) he knew that he could not protect her himself, and (4) he simply would leave the protection for her to the One who made them both leave their homeland.

Furthermore, whether we question the plan or not, when we look at the way that God evaluated the situations that engulfed Abraham and Sarah as they utilized their plan, we do see that God was on their side each time and found no fault with the plan. He did find fault with the two men who took Sarah.

Now, if a half-sister is a sister, then when Abraham and Sarah claimed that she was his sister, they told the truth. If a half-sister is not a sister, then when Abraham and Sarah claimed that she was his sister, they told a lie. The proposition, “she is my sister” is either true or false. Which is it?

Look at it this way. What if Abraham and Sarah had found themselves in a different kind of difficulty that included risk to them if she were a known sister instead of a known wife? In the cases reported in Genesis, Abraham is afraid someone will kill him if he thinks that Sarah is his wife. But what if the case were such that Abraham was afraid that someone would kill him if they found out that Sarah was his sister? If someone had asked Abraham, “Is Sarah your sister?” and he had responded, “No, she is not,” would that have been true? Some of us might accuse him of lying in this situation. (She was more than a sister, but being more than a sister cannot in and of itself mean that she was not, in fact, still a sister). But if we would rightly accuse him of lying in this case, then we ought not to accuse him of lying in the other cases as recorded by Moses. And God never accused him of lying in any case at all! We preachers who have accused Abraham of lying have been wrong.

It is true that Isaac later, fearing for his life, did lie about his wife (Gen. 26:1-11), but we have no right to accuse Abraham and Sarah of lying. What they said was true. The reason that they only told what they told was that they intended to deceive. They told the truth for the purpose of deception, and in both cases, God plagued the one who removed Sarah from Abraham (Gen. 12:17; 20:3, 17, 18), and he blessed Abraham and Sarah.

Finally, let me simply refer to a few other authorized deceptions. The divine “ambush” set for the inhabitants of Ai is a case of military deception (Josh. 8). I would take the case of Elisha (with miraculous intervention employed) against the Syrian army as authorized deception. When Elisha says that he is not in Dothan, evidently at that point he is not, but he deceives the Syrian army with God’s help so that the army is taken to Samaria where God now opens the eyes of the hitherto blinded army, and they see the man before them for whom they had been looking (2 Kings 6).

If a gospel preacher disregards plain cases of authorized deception as reported in the Scriptures, at least let him be forced to answer this question first: Is it ever ethically right for a preacher to hide his sermon outline in his Bible while preaching, hoping that the audience will not know that he uses one? Is all subtlety unethical? No.