Is There Such A Thing As Righteous Lying?

At times, members will get upset when they discover that a prophet of God lied. They will either reject the restored gospel as a whole or enter a level of cognitive dissonance, which leads to a denial of the facts. They will proclaim something like, “He wasn’t involved in hypocrisy, lying, or acting like a two-faced deceiver!” If we know the scriptures, however, we will understand that the prohibition against things such as lying or killing (see “Nephi’s Honorable Execution of Laban“), are principles with nuance. We need to gain a grasp on them so we don’t call righteous men evil simply because we lack proper perspective.

The commandment we think of, given to Moses on Mount Sinai, was actually NOT “Thou shalt not lie”, but “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Then again in Deuteronomy, where the commandments are explained more clearly, “Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Deuteronomy 5:20). As we read through the Old Testament, it is all about not accusing others of doing something they did not do, in an effort to get them in trouble when they did not deserve it.

It’s a universally excepted idea that “it is not always wise to relate all the truth” (Joseph Smith, 27 June 1844, “Historian’s Office, Martyrdom Account,” p. 52, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/historians-office-martyrdom-account/54).

If you were hiding individuals in your home who were being persecuted—for no other thing than their religion, would you be rightfully condemned as a “liar and two faced deceiver”?  Clearly that is an unreasonable and even wicked judgement. There are times throughout history where the Lord either commanded His prophet to tell, or that He Himself, told a falsehood or untrue thing.

This exact scenario occurred during the life of the Savior. We read in John chapter 7 that Jesus’ half brothers told Him to,

“[G]o into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.” John 7:3-4

Jesus responded to them saying,

“My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.” John 7:6-8

Jesus told His half brothers that He would not be going to the feast, but that they should themselves go. After this, the record tells us,

“then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.” John 7:10

On another occasion when a High Priest Pharisee asked the Savior about His teachings, the Lord answered,

“I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.” John 18:20

Here He says he taught openly to the world and that he never kept anything a secret. However, the Lord told his disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Savior:

“Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.” Matthew 16:20

 

“And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.” Mark 8:30

 

“And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing” Luke 9:21

In another instance the Savior said to keep the events of the Transfiguration a secret:

“And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.” Matthew 17:9

“And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.” Mark 9:9

Are we going to claim the Lord was a “two-faced deceiver” for telling His brothers He wasn’t going to do something that he then did, but in secret? As his brothers said, “there is no man that doeth any thing in secret”. Or are we going to call Him a hypocrite for saying He didn’t say anything in secret when He clearly did. Or are we going to act like a petulant child and say “Jesus would never lie! The record is false!” Clearly not, obviously the Savior knew “it is not always wise to relate all truth”.

Before His mortal ministry, the Savior told His prophet, Abraham, to tell an untruth to Pharaoh when He said,

“Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon; Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.” Abraham 2:22-24

Here the Lord God Himself reveals a plan for Abraham to lie to the Egyptians. No reasonable believer is going to call either the Lord or Abraham of being “involved in hypocrisy, lying, deceiving, and acting the two-faced deceiver”.

We also read all throughout the Book of Mormon the righteous use of deception, such as when Heleman used it to defend the liberty of the people,

“Now when we saw that the Lamanites began to grow uneasy on this wise, we were desirous to bring a stratagem into effect upon them; therefore Antipus ordered that I should march forth with my little sons to a neighboring city, as if we were carrying provisions to a neighboring city.” Alma 56:30

It is an established fact, and should be common sense, that it is not always wise to reveal all truth, and sometimes that means not only leaving out facts, but telling things that are blatantly false.

Like the Savior, Joseph Smith said he didn’t teach any “strong” doctrines privately,

“I am bold to declare I have taught all the strongest doctrines publicly, and always teach stronger doctrines in public than in private.”
Discourse, 16 June 1844–A, as Reported by Thomas Bullock, p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-16-june-1844-a-as-reported-by-thomas-bullock/1

Some have used this to say that Joseph taught nothing in private, that all of his teachings were public and open for the world to see. This does not match the history.

Joseph taught that the ability to keep the sacred things of the Lord were of extreme importance, and was essential to our receiving revelation from the Lord.

“The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us, is because we do not keep them but reveal them; we do not keep our own secrets, but reveal our difficulties to the world, even to our enemies, then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord? I can keep a secret till Doomsday.” DHC 4:478-479 History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 Addenda, p. 46, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 31, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-addenda/46

While giving some examples of virtues to emulate and how we should treat one another, Joseph said,

“I never stole the value of a pin’s head, or a picayune in my life; and when you are hungry don’t steal. Come to me, and I will feed you.

The secret of Masonry is to keep a secret. It is good economy to entertain strangers—to entertain sectarians.” Discourse, 15 October 1843, as Reported by Willard Richards, p. [134], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 31, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-15-october-1843-as-reported-by-willard-richards/7

Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed is a perfect example of a body that Joseph revealed more private doctrines not meant for public consumption. It is in this quorum that the private and sacred doctrines of the Temple were first revealed, and where its private rights were first performed.

Most members of the Church weren’t even aware of the Anointed Quorum until the utterly evil and vile John C. Bennett wrote his “exposé”, “History of the Saints; An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism”, where he also wrote about the highly secretive Council of Fifty/Kingdom of God organization as well as Plural Marriage. Did Bennett lie about details and intent? Clearly, but no serious individual questions the reality of Joseph’s introduction of, and the existence of these bodies.

“It is not always wise to relate all the truth”, and sometimes one has to employ deception against Babylon or the uninitiated in accomplishment of the purposes of the Lord. We would be wise to ignore the words of those that would want you to condemn the Lord and His servants for employing this stratagem. Instead, we must cling to the revelations.

 

22 thoughts on “Is There Such A Thing As Righteous Lying?”

  1. Guys, let me be frank. This is an important topic. But those of us that would actually discuss and engage you on it and other topics don’t bother. Why? Because our comments get edited for message and meaning when there is nothing inappropriate about them. Think of it like you are the fact check censors that manage the conversation so only a controlled narrative gets highlighted. People that are crass, vulgar, and just plain angry add little if anything to the discussion. That’s fine to moderate. But in past articles you guys have either edited my comments or simply not allowed a differing view at all. That hurts your attempt to get any engagement. People just tune you out. Changing the name to faithful saints is evidence that you are trying to get beyond the way you ranked the name of Mormon chronicle already. But how can you rebrand to any purpose if you just do the same thing? Anyway it’s tour website you can do what you like. But the minimal engagement you are seeing is for a reason. Also, you guys do a poor job hiding your fundamentalist roots. It bleeds through at every post in multiple places. Maybe you would do better to use josephs admonition not to disclose everything al at once. That’s a common fundie problem. They go for the throat, as they see it, and simply alienate the target. That method doesn’t work anywhere very well.

    1. Your attempt at undermining others with name calling such as “fundamentalist” shows you don’t have an actual argument to make that would stand scrutiny. Editing slander, spam and inappropriate content is the job of a moderator. You have 37 approved comments, so your criticism falls flat

  2. This new name for your website, sounds like this website is run by someone associated with the Stoddard family and the Joseph Smith Foundation. Am I correct?

    1. We are friends with the Stoddard’s and love a lot of what the Joseph Smith Foundation does, but that is the extent of the association.

  3. There’s a difference between lying and carefully choosing your words. He said I go not up yet. He went later when he could go undetected. He didn’t lie. He waited and went later which is in line with saying it’s not time for me to go, you go ahead, it isn’t time for me to go yet. He didn’t lie in that instance. Also, it wasn’t a lie to say that Sarah was his sister. She was his sister. He just withheld the fact that she was his half sister and that he was married to her. It’s not the same as telling a bold face lie. I don’t believe that the prophet lies. I think he chooses his words carefully, and withholds information, but he doesn’t lie.

    1. The intent was to deceive for a variety of reasons. Even if there were some technical truths, the intent was to distract and make the others believe something that wasn’t true.
      All of these examples were righteous. We do not believe the Lord nor His servants sinned in any of these cases.

      1. I agree that they didn’t sin in any of those cases either. I also agree that the intent was to cause the listener to come to a conclusion that wasn’t true for one reason or another. I just think there’s a difference between that and outright lying. I think I remember a time in the old testament when the prophet was told to blind the eyes of the people and put up a stumbling block because of their wickedness.

    2. Most deceptions contain truths to lend credibility to the intended receiver of the message. If you or I do it, we would be called a liar, but we tend to offer prophets and even the lord special privilege in this matter. If they have a special privilege, then we are not judged fairly by God if we are held to a different standard.

  4. Yes there is a difference between deceiving and bearing false witness. Nephi deceived Zoram when he put on his clothes and spoke in his voice. I just think there are rare times when lying is justified, and we need to be careful to not fall into the habit of justifying our own dishonest actions by saying that Jesus did it.

      1. It just feels to me like this article was written in order to justify in the heart of it’s author, lying. It has felt like that to me from the first time I read it. It is not ok to lie. Even if you think it’s for a good cause. For example, here’s a hypothetical situation. If you had a friend who was in the middle of a messy custody battle, and you felt that your friend would be a more fit guardian of the children than the other parent, you might feel that you’re justified in stretching the truth, or even outright lying about the other parent in order to help your friend gain full custody. You would not however be justified in your dishonesty, even if you felt that you were. It’s a dangerous and slippery slope to begin justifying dishonesty. It’s also not a good idea to start promoting lying to your readers. If your little child came up to you and asked you where babies come from, you would not be a liar to say that babies come from heaven. Your child might come to some false conclusions based on what you said to them, but your intent was not to deceive. It was to withhold information that wasn’t appropriate for your child to have. I believe that when prophets and maybe even God, withholds information, it’s for the same reason we might tell a young child that babies come from heaven. It’s not a lie, and while it’s only a half truth, the intent is to withhold information that the person/people are not ready for yet, or that’s inappropriate for the person to have for one reason or another. God does not lie.

    1. Like lying to any government official or on government docs. It’s good and righteous to lie then. Always lie to theives and murderers.

      1. I think it’s a valid comment. And also, thank you for sending me the discs that I ordered. I received them in the mail yesterday.

    1. Not relevant because God doesn’t deceive in order to lead someone down the wrong path nor lead them astray. If anything, it would be to fulfill a righteous purpose.

  5. I just read this in D&C 129 in our family scripture reading tonight. I thought of this article when I read it. “7 Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.”

      1. Nephi was commanded to kill Laban, even though we’ve been told thou shalt not kill. Just because Nephi was commanded in this instance, to kill Laban, it doesn’t mean we can now go around saying it’s ok to kill if it’s for a righteous cause. In the same way, just because Nephi put on Laban’s clothes and spoke in his voice, that doesn’t mean we can now go around saying it’s good to lie for a just cause. Jesus withheld information, and asked his disciples to do so also. He did not tell them to tell falsehoods. Abraham was commanded to tell a half truth and withhold the other half of the truth. He did not lie. Sarah was his sister. Withholding information is not deception, it’s not lying. Nowhere in the commandments of the Lord, do we hear ” thou shalt not withhold information.”

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