The Charge of Lying

What does it mean to lie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I am a stickler for something in a debate or conversation and that is a charge of lying. Too often, when someone says something that is untrue, it is said that that person is lying. Actually, someone could be lying and in an odd way telling something that is entirely true. It depends on what is meant by lying. If we use the definition of telling something that is untrue, then any time you took a test in school and didn’t get 100 on it, you were lying on it.

To lie is to say something that you believe to be true and yet saying that it is not true or to say something that you believe to be false and saying that it is not false. If I sincerely believe that Jesus rose from the dead and I say that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then I am lying. If I sincerely do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead and I say that Jesus did rise from the dead, then I am lying.

This is important because the claim of lying involves a claim of moral turpitude with it. It is saying that the person who is saying something untrue is not only getting the facts wrong, but they are saying something with a malicious intent of some sort behind it. Of course, that could also be disputed at times. We can consider cases such as the Hebrew midwives, Rahab, or the question about if the Nazis ask you if you’re hiding Jews.

When it gets to that point, then the debate or discussion will often become a moral discussion instead of, ironically, focusing on what needs to be the main issue of discussion, whatever the truth is. It’s much harder to listen to the other side when you have already decided that that side has intent to mislead. It also puts the other person unnecessarily on the defensive.

If we accuse someone of lying, we need to be able to have reason to suppose that they know otherwise than what they are saying to us. If I believe X and you show me non-X is true, it does not mean that when I claimed X, I was lying. It could be I was just ignorant of some information or perhaps it could be that X is really right, but you present me with information that leads me to think it isn’t and I change my mind wrongfully from a true position to a false position. Either way, it does not follow that someone is lying.

And fellow Christians, we especially need to be careful of this. We are supposed to walk as Jesus walked and if we throw around the liar accusation too much, we won’t gain any grounds. Just consider people like Richard Carrier who constantly states any negative reviewer of his work is lying. After awhile, most of us have just stopped listening. Let’s make sure people don’t stop listening to us.

In Christ,
Nick Peters