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. , 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. , 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.