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Still More on Lying

In the April 15, 2003 issue of the Standard Bearer Rev. Garrett Eriks’ article, “God’s Hatred of Lying,” raises some interesting questions.

For example, Eriks says, “… a murderer may be caught with a smoking gun at the crime scene with a motive for the murder. He knows he committed the crime. But when he is asked in court what he pleads, he responds ‘not guilty.'” Eriks calls this lying.

But had the defendant pleaded guilty, he would have forfeited any right to counsel, and to a trial by a jury of his peers, rights that are guaranteed by our laws. A trial might have uncovered any number of extenuating circumstances, and he might have been exonerated completely, or perhaps found guilty only of second or third degree rather than first degree murder.

Had the defendant been threatened by his victim? Did he have a history of mental illness? Was the victim armed? Could it have been self-defense? These factors would be brought out at trial, and could establish the extent of culpability, hence the appropriate level of punishment.

Our laws provide for degrees of both guilt and punishment, just as Old Testament laws did (e.g.,Deut. 22:23-28).

If Rev. Eriks considers a plea of “not guilty” to be lying in his hypothetical case, that is his prerogative. But a guilty plea would not allow any extenuating circumstances to be considered, and would be very unwise given our system of jurisprudence.

“The authorities that exist have been established by God,” we are told, and they in turn have established our system of jurisprudence. Even Old Testament Israel had judges to hear matters brought before them.

Eriks also says that “When men teach that God loves all men and desires to save all men, they lie.” And again, “The teaching that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father is a lie.”

Now while I agree with his theology, I am reluctant to call these statements “lies.” They are expressions of a wrong-headed understanding of the Bible; they are hermeneutical error, but if we begin calling all men liars who disagree with our theology, on reasoned grounds, we are being far more strident than is called for. We must remember that those who disagree with us are not necessarily idiots, and are deserving of a certain measure of respect.

Eriks reminds us that we are to “speak the truth in love,” but there is not a great deal of “love” apparent in these pronouncements.

Ralph W. Hahn

Glenns Ferry, ID

Response:

I appreciate very much the questions and comments the reader raises about lying. But I do not agree that the two statements called into question are in error. Allow me to explain.

I can appreciate the comments and questions of the reader concerning my example of a murderer who lies. However, my example was not meant to include all men who might be on trial for murder and plead “not guilty.” The example is specific. If a man knows he has killed another man for whatever reason and he pleads “not guilty” and denies any involvement in the murder, this is lying. It could be a man pleads not guilty to a certain charge of murder (first degree or second degree) because he thinks he has not broken that particular law, but then he should not deny killing that man. To do so is to lie. Or maybe there is a man who pleads “not guilty” to murder because he was defending himself. If the man does not acknowledge what he has done, then he lies. The reader is correct that entering a plea of “not guilty” under these circumstances is not necessarily lying. But a man ought not to attempt to free himself from the punishment he deserves for a crime by lying. This was my point. There may be extenuating circumstances, but very often men abuse our legal system by lying in an attempt to dodge the punishment they know they deserve. This I call sin because Scripture calls it sin.

Secondly, I stand by the statements, “When men teach that God loves all men and desires to save all men, they lie,” and “The teaching that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father is a lie.” These teachings are lies because they are not in harmony with God’s Word, which is the word of truth (John 17:17). A teaching that is opposed to the Word of God is a falsehood or a lie. There is room for some differences of opinion on those things that are not clearly revealed in God’s Word. But it is clear that the above statements are lies.

Those who teach such things lie. This is not my conclusion but the conclusion of God’s Word. In II Thessalonians 2:11, 12 the truth and the lie are contrasted in connection with the coming of the Antichrist. This same contrast is found in Ephesians 4:14, 15: “That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Before stating the calling of the Christian to speak the truth in love, Paul warns the church against those who teach false doctrine. This is what he means by “every wind of doctrine.” These winds of false doctrine come “by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Those who teach false doctrine are tricky and desire to deceive. They lie. Now I am not calling into question the salvation of those who might teach such lies. But Scripture clearly shows that those who teach false doctrine are especially responsible for teaching the lie. They are responsible because of what the reader said: they are “not necessarily idiots.” This is exactly right. They have the clear testimony of Scripture before them. They don’t just have a “wrong-headed understanding of the Bible,” or a “hermeneutical error,” but they promote the lie. We must call false doctrine what it is according to Scripture.

But understand also, I do not call all men who disagree with my theology a liar. In this connection, we should know that it is not about my theology or “our theology,” but the doctrine of God’s Word. Those who teach what is opposed to the Word of God are responsible no matter how they came to understand that false doctrine. The truth is before them in the Word of God.

The reader is right when he says that false teachers “are deserving of a certain measure of respect.” In fact, we must love even those who teach these doctrines. We don’t love them by tolerating their errors, but we speak the truth in love by pointing out those errors. We speak the truth in love by pointing out to the church the false doctrines being promoted in the church world.

May God preserve His truth!

— Rev. Garry Eriks