God Can Neither Deceive Nor Be Deceived [Akin]

Does the Bible indicate God is a deceiver?

Recently I was contacted by a reader who was looking for a response to claims made by a Muslim apologist concerning instances in Scripture where God appears to use deception.

Let’s talk about that.

What the Muslim apologist was doing

The Muslim apologist was responding to Christian apologists who have argued that in the Qur’an, God is depicted as using deception and thus the “God of the Qur’an” isn’t worth worshipping.

The Muslim apologist asserted, in essence, that if that argument works then it would equally well disqualify the God of the Bible from worship as well.

In other words, the argument would prove too much.

Frankly, the Muslim apologist has a point. Too often, Christian apologists make apples-to-oranges comparisons with Islam, where they criticize something in Islam without stopping to ask themselves if there is parallel in Christianity.

The same thing can also happen in reverse. Muslim apologists can do the same thing.

If there is a parallel to the thing an apologist wants to critique then he needs to stop and ask himself, “Am I handling the evidence in a fair or an unfair manner?”

This is a question every apologist needs to ask himself, regardless of his position—whether he is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, or anything else.

We all need to be fair, even when debating people of another perspective.

We shouldn’t use double standards.

As someone once said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Not All About Deception

Not all of the passages the Muslim apologist brought up involved deception.

For example, he cited John 16:25, where Jesus acknowledges that he has said some things in a figurative manner.

He then cited Mark 4:10-12, where Jesus says that he uses parables so that certain people might not understand and repent.

Neither one of these passages involves deception.

Speaking figuratively isn’t deception, and while the Mark passage is puzzling, it also doesn’t involve deception. Not understanding what Jesus says when he uses a parable is not the same thing as being deceived.

For a discussion of what the passage does mean, see Benedict XVI’s volume 1*Jesus of Nazareth, * or my own Mark: A Commentary.

Similarly, the apologist cites two passages from Isaiah that also do not involve deception.

The first—Isaiah 19:14—says that God has made the Egyptians confused or dizzy, not that he has deceived them.

And the second—Isaiah 37:6-7—says that God will give the Assyrian king Sennacherib a disposition such that, when he hears a certain report, he will return home, which will lead to his death, which is what then happened (see Isaiah 37:37-38).

There are some interesting questions one can ask about these passages, but they do not portray God as deceiving people.

Verses Involving Deception

The Muslim apologist does cite some verses, though, where the issue of deception is on the table, such as where Jeremiah says:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life” (Jeremiah 4:10).

Or when the prophet Micaiah sees a vision of heaven in which:

[T]he Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’

And one [spirit] said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’

And he said, ‘I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’

And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so’ (1 Kings 22:20-22).

Or when Ezekiel reports an oracle, saying:

And if the prophet be deceived and speak a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel (Ezekiel 14:9).

Or when Paul says:

Therefore *God sends upon them * a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

These verses do make it sound like God uses deception.

So how do we explain them?

The Christian View of God

The Christian Faith holds that God is an all-perfect Being. As a result, he is all-holy and is not capable of sinning, which I have written about before.

This has implications for God’s truthfulness. As early as the book of Numbers, we read:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it? (Num. 23:19).

The same view is expressed in multiple other passages (e.g., 1 Sam. 15:29, 2 Tim. 2:13, Tit. 1:2). Jesus even declares himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

Passages like these express the fundamental conviction that God is always truthful, and they reveal that passages which appear to suggest otherwise must be taken in a different sense.

This is not surprising. Scripture often uses non-literal language when discussing God.

Thus we sometimes read about God sheltering people with his wings (Ps. 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 64:1, 63:7) or we read about “the arm of the Lord” (Is. 53:1) or “the hand of God” (1 Sam. 5:11, 2 Chron. 30:12, Job 2:10) or “the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19, 31:18, Deut. 9:10).

These are not literal, for “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “a spirit has not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).

We thus have to sort between literal statements—like God is a spirit and God does not lie—and figurative ones which portray him as having body parts or using deception.

Direct Attribution

One of the things you discover when you study the modes of language used in the Bible is that the ancient authors frequently attribute things directly to God, although their causation is actually less direct.

We may call this mode of speech “direct attribution.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on it:

[W]e see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes.

This is not a “primitive mode of speech,” but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him [CCC 304].

A consequence of this mode of speech is that the authors of Scripture sometimes speak as if God actively caused things that he merely allowed as part of his providence.

This was, as the Catechism explains, their way of emphasizing God’s absolute Lordship, even though the figure of speech is not to be understood to mean that God literally caused something.

The literal truth is that he allowed it to happen, but this is expressed in figurative language that speaks as if he caused it.

The Key to the Deception Passages

This is the key to understanding the passages involving deception.

The literal truth is the one expressed in Numbers 23:19—“God is not man, that he should lie.”

But since God allows deception to take place on some occasions, the direct attribution mode of speech can be used in Scripture to speak *as if *God caused the deception.

Thus in Jeremiah’s day the people had become convinced that they would have peace when this was not the case. God allowed this to happen, but—per direct attribution—Jeremiah speaks as if God deceived them.

In 2 Kings, Ahab was deceived by false prophecies which God allowed to occur, and in Micaiah’s vision this is depicted—per direct attribution—as if God himself sent a lying spirit.

Ezekiel discusses the well-known phenomenon of false prophets, which God has allowed to appear, and—per direct attribution—speaks as if God himself deceived these prophets.

And Paul comments on those who “refused to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10), who God *allowed *to “not believe the truth but [have] pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11). God then allows them to embrace “a strong delusion,” but—per direct attribution—Paul speaks as if God sent this delusion.

The “Why” Question

A natural question is why God would allow these things, and here we are confronted by what philosophers and theologians refer to as “the problem of evil.”

If you’d like to learn more about it, check out my video on The Problem of Evil. (It’s also covered in brief in my book A Daily Defense).

In some cases, we can see why God allows evil.

For example, Ezekiel 14:10-11 indicates that God allows false prophets as part of a long-term process of purifying his people, so “that the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, nor defile themselves any more with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God.”

In other cases, we can’t know in this life why God allows a specific evil.

However, the Catechism, quoting St. Augustine, explains:

[A]lmighty God. . . because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself (CCC 311).

We can thus have confidence that, no matter what evil happens he allows to occur in the world—whether it is deception or anything else—God will ultimately bring good out of it.



Here are two modern deceptions:

  1. Our Lord’s Holy Burial Linen now known as the Shroud of Turin.

This 14 foot long cloth appeared in a small French church in about 1357. The owners refused to say how they had acquired it or where it had come from.
The local bishop condemned the cloth as the clever work of an artist and ordered the exhibition at Lirey shut down. To top all of this off, in 1988 a small piece of the linen was cut off and subjected to carbon fourteen dating analysis.
That result was publicized as “1260 to 1390,” indicating that the linen was at the most 800 years old.

It is truly amazing to see how our Creator has managed to present to the modern world the miraculous image of our Messiah in such a way as to allow it to be easily dismissed by atheists and skeptics.
Some members of CAF do not believe that the Shroud of Turin is authentic, and you do not find its pictures in many churches.

  1. The Prophecy of the Popes

This list of 113 papal mottoes was published in 1595 by the Benedictine monk, Fr. Arnold Wion who attributed the mottoes to St. Malachy.
In 1624 it was edited and shortened to 112 mottoes by Fr. Thomas Messingham, and that is the version that has been used ever since.*
In 1880 Fr. M.J. O’Brien proved that the list of papal mottoes could not have been made prior to 1557, and, therefore, that St. Malachy did not author this so-called prophecy.**
Catholic Answers staffers condemn the list as a forgery, even calling it “tomfoolery.” Most people agree.
A 21st century analysis indicates that the original list of 113 papal mottoes has merit. It predicts that there will be only one more pope after our blessed Francis.
The confluence of the list of papal mottoes with the vision of Pope St. Pius X may soon prove the validity of the Prophecy of the Popes.


God was decieved by Judas

Betrayed, not deceived.

Thessalonians is pretty clear imo…God sends a strong delusion. so strong it will even fool the elect. The proof of this is pretty obvious in the times we live.

I don’t think so Mike. The passage you refer to actually says ***"******False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect." (Matthew 24:24)

[FONT=Georgia]So that does not support your statement. :shrug: And this chapter is actually in a very specific context. Contrast that with [FONT=Palatino Linotype]John 16:13 [FONT=Georgia]where Christ says[/FONT] "***[/FONT][/FONT] But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming."

I don’t think so Mike. The passage you refer to actually says ***"*****False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect." (Matthew 24:24)

[FONT=Georgia]So that does not support your statement. :shrug: And this chapter is actually in a very specific context. Contrast that with [FONT=Palatino Linotype]John 16:13 [FONT=Georgia]where Christ says[/FONT] "*[/FONT][/FONT] But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming."***

Here’s the context of the verse you mention from 2nd Timothy 2. It seems you have blended them all together and got confused.

***1 We ask you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, 2 not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For unless the apostasy comes first and the lawless one is revealed the one doomed to perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god— 5 do you not recall that while I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. But the one who restrains is to do so only for the present, until he is removed from the scene. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord [Jesus] will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming, 9 the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie, 10 and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved. 11 Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power so that they may believe the lie, 12 that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned. ***

This reminds me of our arguement

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