God-Approved Deception?

David P. Brown

I have never taken the position or taught that all anonymous actions are sinful. If such were the case no one could make or accept an anonymous gift. For instance, no private institution could receive an anonymous gift.

In public “Question and Answer” sessions I, along with other preachers, have answered numerous anonymous questions. In our work (and this is not peculiar to us), we have received material with the request from the provider to remain anonymous. All other things being scripturally equal, such anonymity is not sinful.

At one time a brother and I briefly discussed an anonymous debate in which we would be the participants. This type of debate is not new. The aim of an anonymous debate is to keep personalities out of the discussion, thereby promoting a more objective study of the subject. Again, with all other things being scripturally equal, anonymity does not necessarily imply sin.

Not all withholding of information is sin. If the fact that something is withheld makes it deceptive, God practices deception in not revealing to us everything He knows. “The secret things belong unto him” (Deu. 29:29). Again, if it is deceptive under any and all circumstances and situations not to reveal certain things, then our Heavenly Father deceived Jesus while He was on the earth regarding the time of the end of this present age (Mat. 24:36). Moreover, all withholding of information would mean that Jesus also deceived the apostles for a time when He withheld certain matters that pertained to them. At the time He uttered these words, Christ knew that the apostles could not “bear” the information He was withholding from them. Hence, for a time He withheld certain matters pertaining to them (John 16:12). We understand, therefore, with all other things being scripturally equal, deceptiveness does not necessarily inhere in anonymous acts or in withholding of information.

In order for such actions as just noted to constitute sin, there must be at least one other factor, element or component part present besides anonymity and withholding of information. The following statement sets out an element that is in addition to anonymity and withholding of information. When anonymous acts or withheld information hinders or prohibits the discharge of one’s obligations to God and/or man as revealed in God’s word, such acts and withheld information constitute sin.

The following is an example of an anonymous action that is always wrong. It is wrong, not because it is anonymous, but because of other elements involved therein. Person “A” anonymously sends to person “B” material charging person “B” with sin. Person “B” has no way of responding to his critic (person “A”). What is wrong with person “A’s” action?

  1. Person “A” did not practice the golden rule of doing unto others as he would have them do unto him (Mat. 7:12). In such cases, there is no way available for the one criticized to properly answer his critic.

  2. Person “A” violated the inspired directive to “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17; 2 Cor. 8:21).

  3. Person “A’s” conduct violated Matthew 5:23,24; 8:4 and could have violated Matthew 18:15-17.

Thus, on the very face of this kind of activity the person who engages in such criticism commits sin.

Tortured Scriptures

The following Scriptures are used by certain brethren in their attempt to justify withholding information when such information is wholesome and necessary for the good of the people from which it is being withheld. They teach this under their own term of “ethical deceit”—God approved deception.

Genesis 12:14-20; 20:1ff: These passages record the fear and cowardliness of Abraham (Gen. 12:11-13; 20:2). Because Sarah was Abraham’s half sister, Sarah and Abraham agreed to tell only that part of their relationship. They agreed not to tell that Sarah was Abraham’s wife. Twice Abraham was asked if Sarah was his wife. Twice he told the truth when he said that she was his sister—she was his half sister (Gen. 20:12). However, Abraham knew that he was not giving Pharaoh and Abimelech the information they were seeking. Both men wanted to know if Sarah was eligible for marriage. Abraham knew that. By his insufficient answer he put these men’s lives, their families’ lives and these men’s nations in jeopardy. Pharaoh and Abimelech were hurt and humiliated by Abraham’ action (Gen. 12:17-20; 20:3-18). Because Abimelech was a man of integrity God intervened to supply the necessary information concerning Sarah that Abraham refused to give him. Furthermore, God instructed him in his later dealings with Abraham (Gen. 20:3-6). When Abraham approached Abimelech the first thing Abimelech asked him was, “What hast thou done unto us? And what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? Thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done” (Gen. 20:9). After demanding from Abraham why he treated him in such a way and hearing Abraham’s story, Abimelech understood Abraham’s fear and he (Abimelech) acted in accordance with God’s orders (Gen. 20: 10-18). Abraham withheld information, the absence of which caused hurt to come to innocent people. The effect in their lives was the same as if Abraham had overtly lied to these men. Pharaoh and Abimelech honestly and forthrightly sought the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth regarding Sarah’s relationship with Abraham. Moreover, Abraham knew by their questions that Pharaoh and Abimelech were considering taking Sarah for their wife. However, due to his fear he refused to supply them with the information necessary for them to act honestly toward Abraham and Sarah. Again, as Abimelech said to Abraham concerning his failure to supply the needed information, “thou hast done deeds that ought not to be done.”

Joshua 8:2-8: This account of Israel’s action pertains to Joshua’s battle plan and the false assumption made by the people of Ai concerning it. Joshua and Israel told no falsehood. Some think this scripture authorizes them to purposely and with premeditation falsely identify themselves and thereby attempt to pass themselves off to others as someone they know they are not. This kind of activity perpetrates a falsehood. 1 Samuel 16:1-4: Indeed, Samuel did not perpetrate a falsehood when he told Saul he was going to offer a sacrifice, for that was the truth. Some think that this Scripture authorizes them to purposely and with premeditation impersonate and attempt thereby to pass themselves off to others as someone they know they are not. Such action perpetrates a falsehood.

2 Kings 6: 19-23: This account concerns Elisha leading the Syrian army that God had blinded to the king of Israel without their knowing he was doing it. Elisha told no falsehood. Some think this Scripture authorizes them to purposely and with premeditation falsely identify themselves and thereby attempt to pass themselves off to others as someone they know they are not. Thus, a falsehood is perpetrated by such action.

Jeremiah 38:24-27: This account pertains to a prediction Jeremiah made to King Zedekiah. Fearing that the “princes” of the people would learn of this and kill him, Zedekiah told Jeremiah to inform the princes in generalities that they would not know the details of his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (vs. 17- 23). Jeremiah told no falsehood. Some think that this scripture authorizes them to purposely and with premeditation impersonate and attempt thereby to pass themselves off to others as someone they know they are not. This action would perpetrate a falsehood.

Luke 24:17-19; 28; John 8:6: These passages from Luke and John record the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection to two of his disciples who were walking to the village of Emmaus. For a time Jesus withheld his identity from them to see how they were reasoning and what their conclusions were regarding the events pertaining to his crucifixion and resurrection. Unlike the information withheld from Pharaoh and Abimelech by Abraham, the identity of Jesus being withheld did no harm to the two disciples. Moreover, it was the Lord who was in control of the events. He knew when and where he would reveal himself. The two men traveling to Emmaus could not correctly say of Jesus as Abimelech said to Abraham, “thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.” To the contrary, after Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples and following His vanishing from their sight “they said one to another, did not our heart bum within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). They then returned to Jerusalem and the eleven, declaring the resurrection of the Lord. The Lord perpetrated no falsehood on the two disciples. John 8:6: Jesus did not perpetrate a falsehood when He “pretended to write on the ground.” Where is there any deceit found in the record of the same? Some think these Scriptures authorizes them to purposely and with premeditation impersonate and attempt thereby to pass themselves off to others as someone they know they are not. Thus, by such actions they perpetrate a falsehood. The Scripture prophesied that no deceit was to be found in our Lord’s mouth (Isa. 53:9). Why then is it the case that those who claim to be our Lord’s friends would say at least some kind of deceit was found in the Lord and, thereby, fly into the face of the Scriptures that teach directly the opposite from what these people advocate about Christ?

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Author: Editor

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