[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Context: This is the ninth of the 10 Commandments.
Analysis: When we bear false witness, we harm others. Whether we do it in a court of law or in daily life, the innocent pay a price while the guilty go free and sin again.
Exodus 23:1, “You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.”
Context: This is one of many laws that follow the Ten Commandments.
Analysis: We don’t always bear false witness in the heat of the moment. When it comes to situations that have a significant impact on others’ lives or our own, we plan our lies ahead of time. And we even conspire with other liars when our lies benefit multiple people whose interests we serve.
Exodus 23:2-3, “You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute.”
Context: This is one of many laws that follow the 10 Commandments.
Analysis: This verse opposes lawsuits in which groups of poor people attempt to steal from the wealthy by making false claims. Not all lawsuits are evil, but we must only sue with just cause and honest testimony.
Leviticus 5:1, “Now if a person sins, after he hears a public adjuration to testify, when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt.”
Context: In this chapter, God describes sins that required a guilt offering. These offerings are no longer necessary if we believe in Jesus.
Analysis: As a long-time sales rep, I’ve had managers, frustrated with my refusal to lie, tell me that they weren’t asking me to lie; they were asking me to withhold the truth from potential customers. This verse teaches us that withholding the truth is just as bad as lying. It’s called deception.
Leviticus 5:4, “Or if a person swears thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good, in whatever manner a man may speak thoughtlessly with an oath, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty of one of these.”
Context: Same as verse one above.
Analysis: This “swearing” is not the use of a bad word, but the uttering of an oath. When we give our word, we are obliged to keep it. To give our word and not keep it turns our words to lies.
Leviticus 19:11-12, “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Leviticus.
Analysis: Lying and dealing falsely are the same in God’s eyes. To lie is to say something that’s untrue, while dealing falsely involves any form of deception.
Since this verse forbids swearing falsely by God’s name, it brings to mind the saying, “I swear to God…” However, any time we Christians deal falsely with others, we do it in God’s name and disobey this verse, because we represent God in all that we do.
Psalms 10:7, “His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression; under his tongue is mischief and wickedness.”
Context: The psalmist beseeches the Lord to bring justice upon the wicked and rescue the oppressed.
Analysis: Here the evil man of whom the psalmist speaks oppresses the poor with his speech. We do the same today when we conduct scams which rob the unsuspecting and when we defame others with lies.
For most of my Christian life, I believed it was a sin to lie simply because it’s a sin to lie. Verses like this one, however, imply that deception is a sin, because it’s usually used to take advantage of others. So it may not be a sin after all to lie about an upcoming surprise party so that the recipient is actually surprised, but it is a sin to lie or deceive in order to trick someone out of their money or possessions.
Proverbs 4:24, “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put devious lips far from you.”
Context: Almost all proverbs have no context; they are an assortment of wise sayings.
Analysis: Are we to put away from us the deceitful mouths and devious lips of others? Or are we to put deceit and deviousness far away from our own lips? We would almost have to isolate ourselves in caves to avoid hearing the deception of others, since there are few people who are consistently honest. But we know from the rest of the Bible that it’s a must that we refrain from deceit and deviousness, so the later interpretation is likely to be the correct one.
Proverbs 6:16-19, “There are six things which the lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”
Analysis: Three of these seven evils are sins of speech: lying, bearing false witness and spreading strife. In God’s eyes, they are on the same level as shedding innocent blood. That’s a powerful concept. Just about any American sees the shedding of innocent blood (such as abortion) to be the worst of all sins. But God sees lying arrogance, and the division that comes from strife to be just as wicked.
How can this be? In our society, we see death as the worst thing there is, but the truth is that everybody dies. Not everybody, on the other hand, has to suffer. Lying, arrogance, wicked plans, false testimony, and strife ruin people’s lives. God hates when we do that as much as He hates death.
Proverbs 10:18-19, “He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool. When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”
Analysis: As I mentioned in the slander section, this concealing of hatred is probably flattery rather than peacekeeping. In flattery, we hide our true feelings toward others so that we may benefit from their positive impression of us. In the case of a politician, that benefit is a vote in his or her favor. In the workplace, that benefit may be a promotion. We also tend to flatter when we secretly stab someone in the back, so that they least suspect us of wrongdoing.
Proverbs 12:19, “Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment.”
Analysis: According to Revelations 22:15, “everyone who loves and practices lying” will be barred from heaven. Only the truthful will enjoy eternal life. That’s not to say that anyone who tells a lie is barred from heaven. We all sin. It’s when we fail to turn from our sins that we find no forgiveness.
Proverbs 12:22, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are his delight.”
Analysis: As a long time sales rep, when I think of dealing faithfully, I think of business deals. To deal faithfully is to tell the truth and refrain from concealing unpopular facts that might make the deal fall through. Unfortunately, American businessmen see promoting the good (even if the good is not always true) and hiding the bad as nothing more than the way business is done; and it’s okay since everyone else is doing it. I’ve even known devout Christian sales reps to think the same way, because they follow an Americanized version of Christianity where greed is good. This mentality, however, is an abomination to God and a misrepresentation of His name.
Proverbs 17:4, “An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.”
Analysis: How do we know which advice is good and which is evil? We must know the Bible well – all of it, not just the verses we like. Once we know the Bible, we can discern between good and bad counsel.
Proverbs 17:7, “Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool; much less are lying lips to a prince.”
Analysis: This verse’s message is similar to Jesus’ message of, “…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” A fool is unable to speak brilliantly; someone who’s noble in God’s eyes cannot lie. Most of us Christians are unaware that this and many of Jesus’ other teachings were inspired by the Old Testament.
Proverbs 19:5, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will not escape.”
Analysis: This verse must speak of God’s punishment in the afterlife, because many liars go unpunished in our society. It’s the liars who come out on top in a cut-throat economy. Some of the most severe liars are caught and punished, but lying is such an accepted form of business practice, that those who choose honesty experience business failure.
Proverbs 19:22, “What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar.”
Analysis: I’ve known many Christian sales reps to lie or withhold important information from potential customers in order to make a sale, and I’ve known many managers to encourage them to do so. The excuse they give is, “I have to provide for my family,” or, “I have a big mortgage to pay.” These excuses are unacceptable. God would rather have us be poor than to prosper by lying.
Proverbs 20:14, “‘Bad, Bad,’ says the buyer; But when he goes his way, then he boasts.”
Analysis: Like deceptive business practices, many of us accept “the art of negotiation” as a standard way of doing business. That, however, doesn’t make it right in God’s sight. To Him, it’s just another way of deceiving others in order to put their money in our pockets.
Proverbs 21:6, “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.”
Analysis: Our earthly wealth accounts for a tiny percentage of eternity. It’s not worth God’s eternal wrath. Also, as the old saying goes, money doesn’t buy happiness. While God doesn’t desire poverty for His people, He knows that beyond a certain point, the wealth we acquire creates little enjoyment. So why be dishonest to gain wealth when it’s both fleeting and pointless?
Proverbs 24:28-29, “Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips. Do not say, ‘Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.’”
Analysis: Deception is often used as a means of getting revenge. We believe that our deception is justified in these instances, because the other person has wronged us, and it’s okay to get even with them. But getting even is not our right. God is in charge of justice.
When we bear false witness as a means of getting even, we expose ourselves as liars and misrepresent Christianity. Also, our fighting back escalates conflicts with our neighbors. When we get even with them, they fail to realize why we’re doing it, especially if they feel they were right when wronging us initially. They simply use our deceptive revenge as a reason to launch another attack on us, prompting us to seek revenge yet again.
Proverbs 25:14, “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely.”
Analysis: While many of us prefer sunny days to rainy ones, people in arid regions like Israel looked forward to rain, because without it their crops would fail and famine would ensue. Dark clouds and the breeze that normally precedes rain were a welcome sight. Their optimism turned to despair when the rain failed to follow.
We feel that same disappointment when people promise that their superior abilities will guide us to a better life, and then they don’t deliver. Politicians who fail to fulfill campaign promises are the most obvious example. Also, corporate leaders assure their employees bright futures only to their increase their workloads, lower their compensation, and cut their jobs. Even in our personal lives, potential mates offer us hope of a better life only to make our lives more difficult.
Proverbs 25:18, “Like a club and a sword and a sharp arrow is a man who bears false witness against his neighbor.”
Analysis: What do clubs, swords and sharp arrows have in common? They hurt and even kill people. Bearing false witness, especially against somebody on trial, isn’t any better than attacking them with deadly weapons. Either way, the life of the person you attack is ruined if your attack succeeds.
Proverbs 26:18-19, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘was I not joking?’”
Analysis: Most of us will say anything when caught in a lie. Well say that we were kidding, or even worse, we’ll deny ever having lied at all. We’ll say, “I never said that.”
Proverbs 26:28, “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
Analysis: We can only deceive others if we first consider their well-being to be of lesser importance than our own. Since lies harm others, and we seek to protect those whom we love from harm, then we only lie to those whom we hate.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”
Analysis: Any vow not fulfilled is the equivalent of a lie.
Jeremiah 9:3-7, “‘And they bend their tongue like the bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord. Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor, and do not trust any brother; because every brother deals craftily, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. And everyone deceives his neighbor, and does not speak the truth, they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity.”
Context: Jeremiah prophecies of Judah’s infidelity toward God.
Analysis: These verses reveal some of the reasons why God imposed judgment upon Judah. He hates deceptive behavior. He even goes as far as to say that deceivers do not know Him. In other words, they are not His people and have no inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.
Jeremiah 23:32, “‘Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,’ declares the Lord, ‘and related them, and led my people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people with the slightest benefit,’ declares the Lord.”
Analysis: God also hates false prophecy, so be careful to avoid following someone who predicts future events that fail to occur.
Micah 6:12, “For the rich men of the city are full of violence, her residents speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.”
Context: God opens this chapter with a recall of past events like the exodus from Egypt. He then uses verse 12 as a reason to bring judgment upon His people.
Analysis: Here we see that wealth and deception go hand in hand. Unfortunately, many American Christians see wealth as a reward for honest, hard-work. The reality, both in biblical times and today, however, is that deception and exploitation create wealth, especially in the corporate world.
Zechariah 8:16, “These are things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates.”
Context: God promises future blessings for the Jews.
Analysis: Here we see the Bible associating truth with judging. Whether this verse speaks of legal judgments or personal ones, we don’t know. If it’s legal judging, then this verse is a call to speak the truth in a court of law.
Matthew 5:33-37, “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is The City of the Great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil.”
Context: Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount.
Analysis: Why does Jesus command us not to make oaths to God? It may be that, by doing so, we create additional opportunities to sin. In other words, if we make no oath to God, then we can’t sin by breaking that oath. We are effectively adding laws to God’s laws when we take oaths, and as we know from Paul in Romans 7, sin finds opportunity in the law, so adding to His law increases sin. For more on how God’s hates when we add laws to his laws, read the Christian Freedom study on the Bible Studies page.
Romans 3:14, “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness….”
Context: Paul uses Old Testament quotes to demonstrate that all people sin and, therefore, need justification through faith in Christ.
Romans 16:18, “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
Context: As Paul closes the letter to the Romans, he warns them to keep an eye on those who teach false doctrines.
Analysis: Flattery is yet another form of lying. It’s more complicated than the heat of the moment lying we do when caught in a difficult situation. Flattery is a lie that sets someone up so that we can take advantage of their favor. Some people do it to take advantage of others sexually. Others do it to gain favor and upward mobility in the workplace. Regardless of the circumstances, we flatter out of selfishness and disregard for others.
Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”
Context: Throughout chapters 4 and 5, Paul instructs the Ephesians on proper conduct.
Analysis: What does it mean to be “members of one another?” It’s hard to say, exactly. But it implies close personal relationships with our fellow human beings. Trust is essential to such relationships. When we lie to one another, trust vanishes. We reason that if a given person lies to us once, there’s no reason they won’t lie to us again. Without trust, relationships become distant, because mistrust forces us to hold back our feelings.
1 Timothy 1:10, “…and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching….”
Context: Paul lists the types of people the law was created for; the law was not created for the righteous, but for the unrighteous (verse 9).
Analysis: Other translations, such as the New King James Bible, translate “immoral men” as “fornicators” and “homosexuals” as “sodomites.” Regardless, most Christians see these sins, as well as kidnapping, to be the worst of all sins. Sexual sins are issue number one to so many of us today. But here in the Bible we see that lying (as well as perjury) is every bit as sinful as sexual immorality in God’s eyes.
James 3:14, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”
Context: James encourages believers to bear the fruits of the spirit and avoid sins of a demonic nature.
Analysis: I must admit that I have no idea what specific “truth” James is referring to. Whatever it is, it’s the opposite of jealousy, selfish ambition, and arrogance.
1 Peter 3:10, “For, ‘Let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile (‘deceit’ in the NRSV)….’”
Context: In verses 8-9, Peter encourages Christians to live in harmony with each other.
Analysis: Living in harmony with others is essential to having an enjoyable life. This harmony cannot be achieved, however, when we commit acts of evil toward others and deceive them. Lies and selfish deeds create strife which leads to stress and misery which, in turn, makes us hate life.
Revelation 21:9, “…the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Context: Chapter 21 reveals the new heaven and earth that we will experience upon our own resurrection. It will not be open, however, to those listed here in verses 8 & 9.
Analysis: Here we have 36 passages that oppose deception. I think that’s enough to label deception as a mega-sin. Yet many of us take it lightly. We lie to make money, to get jobs, to get people to like us, to get out of dates (A-ha! Take that! – all you women who lied to get out of dates with me.), etc. It’s human nature, yet still a sin, to lie to get out of trouble. What’s worse than that, however, are pre-meditated lies.
Why do we practice lying when the entire Bible forbids it? Most of us are unaware that the Bible forbids it so frequently, because our churches fail to address the issue. Many of them would rather lecture us on how we must believe in a 6000-year old universe or why we can’t touch alcohol—things that that Bible never says.