Q: Is every purposeful untruth, or statement of pretense, a sin against the Eighth Commandment?
A: “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful” (Proverbs 12:22). “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9). “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25).
Passages like the above address the subject of lying as a direct violation of God’s commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The proper description of a lie is a statement made with the intention or purpose of misleading in order to hurt or harm another. The wording of the Eighth Commandment indicates the evil intention behind the misinformation: “against your neighbor.”
There are rare cases where the Christian is presented with a moral dilemma. The choice has to be made: Do I purposefully speak an untruth which will in the case at hand protect lives, or do I tell all the precise facts knowing full well that the one to whom the information is given will use it for evil purposes, seeking to harm (even kill) others? Two classic examples come to mind in the pages of Scripture. Rahab intentionally misled the men of Jericho when they came looking for the Israelite spies (Joshua 2:4-5). The Israelite midwives gave a reply of pretense to the Egyptian Pharaoh so that the Jewish babies would not be put to death (Exodus 1:19, 21). In both cases we find commendation for such actions.
Just as a Christian might need to disobey the government in order to keep the higher command of obeying God (Acts 5:29), so also in an extraordinary situation one might have to withhold information or “speak an untruth” for the higher law of demanding love to one’s neighbor. This would include love for the spiritual and eternal welfare of the person to whom such speech (or lack of it) is directed.
Is this an example of “situation ethics”? No. “Situation ethics” suggests God’s immutable laws shift according to cultural norms and circumstances. The Eighth Commandment still stands with all its force. So does Jesus’ summation of the second table of the law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 22:39).