Is lying always sinful?

I am a mentor in an RCIA class. One of the other mentors declared that "the Church teaches that lying is always a sin. I said, "No it isn’t. Sometimes lying is morally required. The other mentor asked for a hyporhetical where lying is morally required. I said, "It’s not a hypothetical. It happened in thousands of cases in the Netherlands, after the Nazi takeover in World War II. Thousands of Netherlanders hid Jewish husbands, wives and children in their homes. The Nazis sent the SS out to ever citizen’s house. When you answered the door, the stormtroopers gave you a choice: If you had Jews hiding in your house. and you admitted it, they gave you money, and killed the Jews. If you had Jews hiding in your house, and you denied it and they found them, you died. That simple.

Thousands of people told the brave lie: “No, I don’t have Jews.” I said that their lies were Christian love in motion. They were exactly what Christ referred to when he said, “Greater love than this…” If the Nazis managed to find the Jews, and slaughtered the homeowners, the homeowners were martyrs and went to Heaven for their lie.

I don’t know how God dealt with those who turned in their Jewish guests.

This has been discussed a number of times in the forums and I believe that situations such as the one you presented are not in fact lies. I believe in order for a lie to exist, the person(s) seeking an answer to an unknown must in fact have a right to know the answer. Did the Nazi’s have a right to know if there were Jews hiding in a private residence? No. Therefore, to deny an honest answer in this case is not lying in my opinion.

Ladies, the same cannot be said concerning weight related questions. You do have a right to know whether or not a specific dress makes you look wider… so don’t ask. :smiley:

I think it’s important to emphasize that lying is a sin.

It’s so common, but does that justify it? When I went to work with people of a lot of different backgrounds, I couldn’t believe how much lying there was.

In Genesis, Cain lies to God. God says, “where is your brother?” and Cain replies “I don’t know.”

Lying is always lying to God.

Sometimes the best response is not answering the question. Why does this person or that person have the right to an answer?

I think the commandment refers to lying in a legal sense, bearing false witness about our neighbor, i.e. anybody.

I’d hate to make a case for teaching kids to lie.

As with any sin, the worst things are the consequences of the sin.

Read the Psalms and you will find a number of references to lying and how it is abominable to God.

Peter, you are correct in my opinion. It takes great faith and total trust in God to open the door, gaze into the eyes of death, and coolly say, “There are no Jews here.”

It is those with weaker willingness to work for God who could be pulled into aiding the death squads — “Yes, they have hidden on the roof under some stalks of flax.”

Churchill’s famous quote on truth is:
"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."
And the minimum I would admit on this topic is that I hope that one day that I might be included with the Rahabs of this world of whom it is said in their service to God:
“Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.” See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” James 2:23-26

Lying is always sinful, BUT in the case of those hiding Jews from the Nazis is WWII, to tell the truth would make them an accomplice to murder. Which is the greater sin, lying or murder. If the lie results in the saving of lives I would say culpability is significantly diminished, but I am no moral theologian either…

St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas certainly were NOT of your opinion, Peter.

To them a lie is always and in every circumstance a sin, only question is whether it was venial or mortal.

A lie (as the Catechism defines it) is simply the telling of an untruth. The idea that the telling of an untruth (and the Catechism is careful to distinguish lies from silence and half-truths which are permitted in some situations) is EVER not a lie is laughable. I’d like to see your evidence from Magisterial teaching for that conclusion, Peter.

The fact that a good is achieved from a sinful act doesn’t give us permission to commit it.

Barzillai, I heartily disagree with you. To lie in such a situation indicates a supreme lack of trust and faith in the God who provides for His own, Who can even raise from the dead when He wills, and Who alone has the authority to decide that those Jews in your attic are supposed to live, or perhaps that they are meant to die a death which serves a purpose, as did the deaths of Anne Frank, St Max Kolbe and St Edith Stein.

If it is the appointed hour of those Jews then no lie that you can tell will save them, they will be found anyway (as if Nazis would believe you and just walk away anyway!)

And lying is particularly offensive to God who is Truth - St Paul tells us that liars will have their share in Hell alongside fornicators etc. Yes, love others, but FIRST we must love God (meaning you must love truth) - with all our hearts, minds and souls.

My only concern to so harsh an opinion comes with how you would then explain the story of Judith. Here we have a Jewish widow who loves God and her story involves God helping her to deceive Holofernes by lying to him concerning the weakness of the Hebrew Army. In the end, she uses lies to get close enough to him to behead him. All this, as the Bible says, was the will of God.

I’d like to point to a post Fr. Serpa responded to in the “Ask an Apologist” thread. Here’s the link. It addresses law enforcement’s use of deception in order to protect society and asks whether or not it is morally permissible to be a law enforcement officer who uses such tactics. :thumbsup::onpatrol:

CCC 2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

CCC 2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

CCC 2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

CCC 2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

CCC 2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationship.

I think CCC 2484 clearly shows that lying to the Nazis would not constitute a mortal sin.

I don’t agree with the lesser sin analysis. I think that failing to lie, in the case I cite, is a sin.

I think that the liars will be treated as heroes, by God.

At best, those who avoided the “venial sin” by telling the truth will get a cold reception – “Congratulations. Now, get out of here – we are throwing a party for the liars over here.”

:rolleyes: I think ANYONE who expects to get a party in heaven for anything they’ve done on Earth will get a very cold reception indeed - including your liars who thought they were doing such a wonderful thing by offending His truth. In loving and serving God and neighbour we’re doing no more than our duty, as scripture says, and that poorly at the best of times.

Heck -

I am the #1 hater of lies (ok that is hyperbole - just read on lol) but what DO you do in this situation?

What if, say, you are hiding someone in your house (this is really hypothetical) and someone rings the doorbell asking if you know where this person is and you know that the person is a dangerous person and that if the whereabouts of the person you are hiding are disclosed, the person you are hiding would be killed?

You can stay silent. You can make a non-commital answer that isn’t a lie (‘you’re looking for Jane Doe? Who the heck is Jane Doe and why on earth would she be in my house - I haven’t got room to hide a cat in here!’) Invite them in for a drink and get them drunk or spike their drinks. Fight them if need be. Lots of things you can do.

The first trap people fall into here is thinking that there is any likelihood that their lying is going to save anyone. No self-respecting bad guy is going to just take your word for something like that and give up and not search your house.

The second trap is thinking that we are obligated to preserve life at all costs in all circumstances - while it is a noble thing to do in some situations (such as that of a Max Kolbe who offered his life in the place of another who was due to be executed by the Nazis), in others (such as agreeing to worship the Roman Gods in order to save your life or that of your family) it is most inappropriate to sin - by lying or anything else - in order to save even another’s life.


My wife is left this thread open on her computer and I though it was interesting. Thought I’d comment while I wait for her to get back.

I think it is pretty safe to say that there are scenarios where we are only given a choice of evils and where lying is the lesser evil. People sometimes forfeit their right to the truth, and while the lie you are forced to tell them is not a “good” thin in and of itself, it is the best option available.

Here’s a crazy scenario but it proves a point. Some nut job captures you and your family. He says “If this is your wife and kids I am going to kill them (in various nasty ways). If you remain silent or say anything at all that doesn’t answer my question with a simple ‘yes’ or no’, I will assume they are your family and do what I would do if you answered ‘yes’. If they aren’t your family, then they all go free. You have 10 seconds.”

You have every reason to believe that he will do just as he claims because he happened to capture your neighbor and just made good on his word. You are also completely tied up so that there is no possibility of a physical confrontation.

What would be the morally right response? Though it is a whacky scenario. It illustrates the point that there are at least some circumstances where we have a choice of evils and the lesser choice is the lie.

Lastly, you mentioned that these scenarios assume death is the greatest evil when it certainly is now (“precious in the eyes of the lord is the death of his saints”) but allowing the perpetrator to mar his own soul with the murders is definitely a great evil that seems disproportionate to the evil of the lie. In the end, it is really a lie to protect your enemy here and not so much your own interests.


Again, you make the mistakes of thinking a) there’s ever a situation where God requires you to merely choose between evils, even though there may be situations where doing the right thing is very difficult, and b) that lying will save anyone from a determined thief or criminal. :shrug:

I know about the “dirty rags” business, I think in Jeremiah? But I was talking about works generated by grace accepted by the individual, not theoretical works by man in his unsaved state. God DOES throw parties, in effect, for those who say “Yes” to grace. Functionally, it is in the gospels again and again and again.

OK my last post since this is my wife’s account.

You do a good job of identifying some of my presuppositions. However, I think you’ve confused identifying the presuppositions with actually constructing an argument against them. I could just as easily say, "You make the mistakes of thinking a) there’s **not **ever a situation where God requires…etc… :shrug: "

In any serious debate you have the obligation to construct an argument or counter example that shows why my presuppositions are wrong. Simply identifying some of them (you haven’t identified them all) and tacking on “you make the mistake” is not exactly a compelling refutation.

A good place for you to start would be with my example described above. What, in your opinion, is the best course of action our victim could take? Why is the course of action you describe more righteous than the victim claiming that his wife and kids are not actually his?

Finally, I see you have “catholic” in your signature. What do you make of the church’s teaching on “Just War”? The same moral principles that apply in any just war would apply in this situation as well. If you want to just cut to the chase, you could examine those principles directly and see what you think is wrong with them.


If you assert against me, in a debate, that I am say, male whereas I’m really female, I don’t need to do any more than assert ‘you’re wrong, I’m female’. My gender will, for the most part, be beyond dispute to anyone who looks at me and hears me.

In regard to God never putting us in a situation where all the choices are evil - well, to do so would go against His trait of omnibenevolence (that is, that He wishes good to all men). And He is omnibenevolent - that is constant Church teaching from the very beginning, and the Jews believe the same. He can’t be omnibenevolent and at the same time place us in a situation where the only ways out are all evil to some degree.

It also goes against the idea that all evil (including the evil of lying) is abhorrent to God - clearly evil can’t be so very abhorrent to Him if He ever permits us to be cornered into choosing evil in one form or another. His utter hatred of all evils, all wrongs, is another constantly taught trait. Both of these facts - His omnibenevolence and His hatred of evil - should probably be obvious enough that they don’t have to be stated by me.

A good place for you to start would be with my example described above. What, in your opinion, is the best course of action our victim could take? Why is the course of action you describe more righteous than the victim claiming that his wife and kids are not actually his?

I’ve given several possible courses of action - and there are others (if there is more than one person in the house, for example, one person can distract the guards while the other sneaks the Jews out of the house and to a place of safety). One could tell the truth and appeal to their better nature - it’s worked for me in many situations, and I know has worked on occasions for people in similar situations to the one you describe.

Which one is the best course of action would have to depend on so many individual factors of the situation - the character of the soldiers, how good an actor the householder is, loads of other things - that one couldn’t hope to know which one is ‘best’ until you’re nearly or actually in the situation. But put it this way - they’re all as good as, or better than, lying. If you value, as Jesus seems to value, truth as much as life, since He is both the truth AND the life. Liars, as St Paul says, will have their share in the lake of fire alongside adulterers fornicators etc. Which means we are to take lying seriously. Don’t see truth tellers (where the truth is slightly or extremely problematic for self or others) listed there.

Abraham did what you suggest with Sarah - claimed she was not his wife on several occasions because he thought she would be safer that way. On every occasion they got into no end of trouble - someone else wanted to marry her and Abraham got in Pharoah’s bad books among others for his lie.

Methinks that’s God’s way of teaching us not to lie, and of telling us that the goods we ignoramuses think we can achieve by lying are nebulous and unreliable enough that we shouldn’t resort to it.

Finally, I see you have “catholic” in your signature. What do you make of the church’s teaching on “Just War”? The same moral principles that apply in any just war would apply in this situation as well. If you want to just cut to the chase, you could examine those principles directly and see what you think is wrong with them.


I’ve seen the same just war principles used to argue in favour of contraception - that the sperm are ‘unjust aggressors’ in some circumstances (literally, that term was used about them) and therefore a woman could ‘defend’ herself against them with contraception. I rightly pointed out that by that logic the same could possibly be said of an unwanted pregnancy - that if innocent sperm were ‘unjust aggressors’ that there’s no real reason then why an unwanted embryo or fetus was not also an ‘unjust aggressor’ against the mother’s body.

The principles relating to ‘just war’ simply don’t transfer over to situations other than the ones in which they are specified to apply. This is obvious in the case of a pagan Roman, out to persecute Christians, who could save their skins by lying about their faith or the faith of others around them. Many rightly refused to do so - since to deny the truth is a sin.

If the principles of just war did apply in situations other than those in which they are specified to apply, the Church would either explicitly say so in discussing those other situations, or would use the same terminology in framing exceptions to the teachings against lying, contraception or what have you. It’s hardly like the question you raise has never been considered before, after all.

Very interesting thread.

I suppose my concern would be, would lying about the presence of Jewish toddlers (innocents) in your house to protect them from certain murder, be considered the type of lie that is condemned by God? Is not the act of hiding them there in the first place a form of deception? Is it sinful to hide them there? Perhaps I must come to terms with the fact that if an evil person asks me a question, even if my untruthful answer does not deny my faith, nor Christ, nor His teachings, but would most likely protect an innocent from evil…that it is still judged as an offensive sin. I’m open to that idea, but I’m not convinced yet.

Lily, earlier on, you said this…

You can stay silent. You can make a non-commital answer that isn’t a lie ('you’re looking for Jane Doe? Who the heck is Jane Doe and why on earth would she be in my house - I haven’t got room to hide a cat in here!

Do you not consider these lies themselves? “who the heck is Jane Doe” is an obvious attempt to deceive, indirectly. Is that not a lie?

God Bless

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