Why Lying Is Always Wrong : The Uniqueness Of Verbal Deceit -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 75:1 (Spring 2013)
Article: Why Lying Is Always Wrong : The Uniqueness Of Verbal Deceit
Author: Vern S. Poythress


Why Lying Is Always Wrong : The Uniqueness Of Verbal Deceit

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

I think it is always wrong to lie (to state what one knows is not true). But my friend John Frame and a number of other theologians make exceptions in extreme cases, such as in war and to save life. The debate includes the classic moral dilemma that arises in the case where Nazi soldiers come to your door, asking whether you are hiding Jews.

Recently Wayne Grudem argued in favor of never lying in the festschift to John Frame; and Frame responded briefly in the same festschrift.1 This exchange builds on earlier work by John Murray and John Frame.2 Taken together, these writings lay out the arguments on both sides. Neither side has succeeded in presenting an argument that would convince everyone on the other side. Frame indicates that he has “gone back and forth several times”3 on the issue, which illustrates the difficulty. Is there anything more to be said?

The arguments in favor of lying in exceptional cases include three prongs, which focus respectively on normative, existential, and situational aspects of the issue. I myself think that together these prongs have plausibility. Like Wayne Grudem, I want to stress that I respect John Frame and others who allow exceptions. And yet they have not convinced me. Why not?

I. Scriptural Instruction

The normative prong in favor of exceptions includes positive instances of deceit in Scripture, and the negative observation that nowhere does Scripture directly and clearly prohibit all lying whatsoever. Cases of lying naturally fall

under the Ninth Commandment, which says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod 20:16). At its heart the Ninth Commandment focuses on false testimony in court, which is clearly a situation where telling only the truth is mandated. But what about the many other situations in which we find ourselves? Ephesians 4:25 says, “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” This commandment is much broader in scope, but still focuses on fellow Christians, who are “members one of another.” Other verses are more general: “You destroy those who speak lies” (Ps 5:6); “lying lips are an abomin...

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