By Vexen Crabtree 2015
In many religious traditions, God is said to be perfectly good and an embodiment of truth itself. As a pure being of benevolence, where everything associated with it is pure goodness, then, God cannot lie, nor spread untruth, nor cause deception. Many verses from the Christian Bible say so - see Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, 2 Samuel 7:28, Psalm 119:89,160 and 2 Timothy 2:13. Yet, the waters are muddied immediately by the fact that God created suffering and pain, disease and disaster, and that these things appear to have existed as long as the Universe itself. So, clearly, it seems that such a multifaceted God could of course lie to us, too. And in the Bible, contradicting the verses that say God doesn't lie, are many verses where God does lie. It sends delusions and spreads non-truths: See 1 Kings 22:23, 2 Chronicles 18:22, Ezekiel 14:9, Jeremiah 20:7, Jeremiah 4:10 and 2 Thessalonians 2:11, amongst other verses. So it may have been humility that lead Saint Augustine to despair "Lord, if we are deceived, it is by thee!"1, but for all those who happened to be born in the wrong country and raised in the wrong religion (or raised with none), it is God that is ultimately responsible for failing to make the truth universally apparent. The authors of the Bible did not have a particularly joined-up approach when it came to saying if God lies or not. You would think that authors who are in touch with God would have a more consistent message about its character!
In several different ways, the Christian Bible says that God cannot lie. In Numbers 23:19 it says God doesn't lie because God is not a human being. In 1 Samuel 15:29, Titus 1:2 and Hebrews 6:18 it says God will not deceive. 2 Samuel 7:28 and Psalm 119:160 say that God's words are true for all time. But God does lie in the Bible, in a few different ways.
Causing Deception: In 1 Kings 22:23 God's "lying spirits" are put into people's mouths, causing them to lie. This is a double deception: firstly, God is causing (additional) non-truths to prosper. But more than that, God is lying to us, the reader by pretending (through the use of "lying spirits") to be innocent of the lies. The same occurs in 2 Chronicles 18:22 and Ezekiel 14:9. In Jeremiah 20:7 God lies to one person and in Jeremiah 4:10 it lies to a whole community. And finally from the New Testament, God is still at it in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie". Some of those verses are cases where God is punishing/effecting false prophets and the unfaithful, but, the fact remains that in all those cases, God itself is preventing truth from being known - or - more succinctly - God lies.
The Pretence of Testing People: Sometimes, it is said in the Bible that God tests people. In Deuteronomy 8:1-2 God reveals that the 40-years in the wilderness was a test done by God to find out what was in people's hearts - whether they would still obey orders. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 God sends some false prophets and wonder-workers as tests to see if people will follow other gods, and in 2 Chronicles 32:31 God is doing similar fact-finding tests. In Genesis 22:1 God tempts Abraham, and Job lost everything as part of a horrible series of tests done by Satan and God in collaboration, of Job's loyalty to God. Yet an all-knowing God, creator of all time, knows exactly who will pass any tests, and knows exactly what is in everyone's heart. So either God is lying about his reasons, or, god is not actually all-knowing. Strangely, in James 1:13 it says that no-one can say that God has tempted them with evil, because "God tempteth no man". These contradictions to logic, and, contradictions to other verses, clearly indicate that the authors of the Bible did not have a particularly good grasp of theology or philosophy, and could not have been inspired by God to write what they wrote!
Feigning Ignorance: Several times in the Bible, God pretends not to know things. Sometimes this is for the point of making light conversation. But sometimes rather than feigning ignorance, it reads as if God actually doesn't know. It is up to you to what extent you count all the following examples as lies or as non-omniscience.
The Bible says God is perfect in knowledge, knows all thoughts, all secrets, sees all and no-one can hide from God. See: 1 Samuel 2:3, Job 28:24; 37:16; 42:2, Psalm 44:21; 139:4,7-8; 147:5, Proverbs 15:3, Jeremiah 16:17, 23:24, Acts 1:24, Hebrews 4:13, Matthew 10:30 and 1 John 3:19-20. Yet there are plenty of times when God doesn't know things, such as where people are. Check these verses:
God appears to not know where Adam is in Genesis 3:8-9, and, to not know if they have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (3:11). Either that, or God is deceiving them by making them think that it doesn't know, by asking them questions. If Adam and Eve knew God, though, surely they would know that God is all-knowing. Therefore the proceedings here do not seem to make much sense.
Genesis 18:20-21 - "20Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”"
Genesis 32:22-30 - In this obscure story, Jacob wrestles with God in bodily form and sees God face-to-face. God asks Jacob what Jacob's name is; yet an all-knowing god would surely know!
Numbers 22:9 - Balaam and some Moabite officials spend a night waiting for God, who duly pops down for a visit, "And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?" An all-knowing God would have known.
Some of the above verses are listed by the Skeptics Annotated Bible, and, they link to a Christian response on LookingUntoJesus.net (2007), however, the response is merely to assert that because some of the recipients of the deceits of God were the unfaithful, and those who were already deceived, that the extra deceptions do not count as lying. Needless to say, it still does count, especially if you are (as is God, in scripture) the ultimate pinnacle of morality and truth.
Current edition: 2015 Nov 12
Last Modified: 2016 Jun 20
Parent page: There is No God: Theological, Philosophical and Logical Problems of Theism
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The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
James, William. (1842-1910)
(1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience. Subtitled: "A Study in Human Nature". 5th (1971 fifth edition) edition. Originally published 1960. From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902. Quotes also obtained from Amazon digital Kindle 2015 Xist Publishing edition. A paperback book. Book Review.