Pages 5-7: spring 1992
IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE? AN ANSWER
Michael P. Hughes
Quite often those who wish to discredit the Bible form an idea, then do
their very best to find "proof" to support that idea. This is what Mr. Till
has done many times before, and it is what he has done in his article "Impos-
sible For God to Lie?"
Mr. Till has decided that the Bible cannot be true. Since it claims to be
true, he must find something that "proves" that it is not true.
In this supposed contradiction, though, I don't believe Mr. Till has made
an honest attempt to explain the verses in question at all. He has simply
quoted passages and said, "See, God lies." This, of course, requires no
amount of study whatsoever. I must say that this doesn't seem to be a method
of study that would be used by a "critical thinker," yet here we have it.
Farrell, just a question. What if scientists approached their studies in the
same manner that you approached your "study" of the Bible? We would
probably still be flying kites to discover (use?) electricity!
Between his diatribes about circular reasoning and using the Bible to
support the Bible, (by the way is it also wrong to use science to support
science), Mr. Till brought into question three biblical passages that he main-
tains prove that God lies, therefore proving that the Bible is not inerrant.
The first of these that I wish to deal with is the account in Judges 20.
He is particularly concerned about two verses, 18 and 23, in which Israel
asked counsel of God. God first told Judah to go against Benjamin, and they
were defeated. They then asked God if they should persist in their actions.
God told them to continue, and again they were severely defeated. This, we
are told, is proof that God lies.
Mr. Till is not happy with the idea that God did not say that they would
be successful. He uses the "what if" scenario of someone who can see into
the future giving bad advice about stocks. I hate hypothetical "what if"
scenarios like this. They are usually not very relevant, and this one is no
different. Since no one has the ability to see infallibly into the future except
God, the example is totally invalid!
Let me ask one question though. Suppose that Mr. Jones knew that I was
going to do whatever I wanted regardless of his "advice," and his response
to me was in a resigned manner. Would he then still be guilty of lying, if
indeed he was to begin with?
This certainly seems to be the case in the account under question. I call
your attention to Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel:
every man did that which was right in his own eyes." This was not the first
time that the writer of the book of Judges made this observation. He stated
the very same thing in Judges 17:6 and 18:1. Actually, this seemed to be
the attitude of the general populace of Israel all through the book of Judges.
That same attitude seemed to be quite prevalent in this account also.
Note the attitude exhibited in verse nine, "(B)ut now this shall be the thing
which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it." One can see the
obvious attitude here. There is no counsel with God, no question of whether
they were right or not; they just decided to act.
They did finally seek counsel with God, but not until the eve of the
battle. Even then it was not truly to see what God wanted, but simply to
ask Him which tribe should go first. This also showed their attitude. They
needed only one tribe for this little affair, so what did they need God for
except as arbitrator as to who should have the privilege of being the dis-
With this type of attitude it really would not have mattered what God
said, since, as so often happens, Israel would not have listened had they not
liked the answer. What better way to teach them a lesson than to let them go
their own way.
This is not an implausible answer to explain the occurrence here and allow
the inerrancy of the Bible to stand. Of course, one can be like those Israel-
ites and believe (or do) that which is right in their own eyes, in which case
the only plausible explanation will be that which they chose to believe, in
spite of anything that sincere study might suggest!
The other two accounts that Mr. Till presented as evidence of his allega-
tions concerned a lying spirit. In these two passages, 1 Kings 22:19-23 and 2
Kings 19: 6-7, something was allowed by God; therefore, says Mr. Till, He is
guilty of sin.
We, of course, recognize the significance of these accusations. If God
has lied, then (1) He can't be God, for God can't sin, and (2) if He lied,
then the Bible is not inerrant, for it says that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2;
Mr. Till has already been given one explanation of these two passages,
which he did not like. That explanation is basically that God allowed some-
thing to happen and is therefore accredited with the attribute of having
done that thing.
A good example of this is the account of Israel's exodus from their captiv-
ity in Egypt. Several times throughout this account, we are told that God
either intended to or actually hardened Pharaoh's heart.Yet no one who seri-
ously studies the Bible with a desire to know God's truth would venture forth
with the idea that Pharaoh's heart was literally hardened by God so that he
would not do as God wished. It is understood that God allowed Pharaoh to
exercise his will and thus ignored God's wishes.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11, we read, "And with all deceivableness of
unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of
the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them
strong delusion, that they should believe a lie." In this passage, we read
that God will send strong delusions so that people will believe a lie, yet in
James we are told, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of
God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but
every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed"
Now how does one reconcile these two passages and the ones of the Old
Testament so that all is in agreement? Naturally, Mr. Till would say that it
cannot be done. I disagree.
God allows things to happen. He allows men to choose which path they will
follow. He allows men to be deceived by others. He allows Satan to have a
foothold in this world at this present time and in the past.
Since God is omnipotent, it is often said that he does something when in
fact he has simply allowed man to exercise choice.
What we read in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Kings 19 is nothing more than that.
These passages do not prove that God is a liar; rather they prove that man
has a choice, that God in His wisdom has allowed that choice regardless of
Farrell, you also have made a choice. God allowed that choice, even
though it pains him. Many of us pray that you will repent of that choice and
return to the truth that you once embraced.
(Michael Hughes' address is Route 3, Box 924, Camdenton, MO 65020-
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Hughes' accused me of first forming an idea about the
Bible and then looking for proof to support that idea. I must remind him
that I was once a preacher and missionary for the same church that he is a
member of. At that time, I had an idea about the Bible, which was the same
as the one he presently has. I believed that the Bible was the inspired,
inerrant word of God. Despite what he and his colleagues may accuse me of,
I did not suddenly decide one day to see if I could find proof of errancy in
the Bible. In my case, the Bible condemned itself. I studied it intently. The
discrepancies were there for me to see, and I saw them, to such a degree
that my conscience would not permit me to continue preaching something I
knew wasn't true.
Can Mr. Hughes truthfully say that he has examined the inerrancy issue
from both sides, as I have done? I seriously doubt that he can. How then
can he accuse me of first forming an idea and then looking for proof to
support it? If anybody has done that, he has. Does he expect us to believe
that his article was objectively researched? Did he not approach the task of
writing that article with a view to finding something--just anything halfway
sensible--that he could say to keep his precious inerrancy doctrine intact?
Of course, he did. He knows it, I know it, and the readers know it too. So
until he can present proof that he has objectively and impartially studied the
inerrancy issue, he has no room to accuse me or anyone of unobjectively
trying to prove preconceived ideas and opinions. If scientists approached
their studies in the same manner that I do, he asserted, we would probably
still be flying kites to discover electricity, but I fear that we would still be
making stone tools, if scientists had used the same approach that Mr. Hughes
and his inerrancy colleagues apply to biblical interpretation.
Hughes claimed that the key to understanding the story in Judges 20 that
seems to present Yahweh in a bad light is as simple as understanding the
manner in which Yahweh was speaking when the Israelites asked for his
advice. He was speaking with resignation to people who had already made up
their minds and would probably have carried out their plan regardless of
what Yahweh might have said to them. So, according to Hughes' scenario,
Yahweh was simply saying, "Yes, yes, go ahead and go against Benjamin;
you're determined to do it anyway, so just do it."
The problem with Hughes' solution is that it depends upon his having
properly interpreted the tone in which a written statement was said. I have
taught college literature courses for over twenty years, and, as any experi-
enced teacher of literature knows, I know that correct interpretation of tone
is difficult when the writer has not expressly stated that the tone was sincer-
ity, sarcasm, resignation, etc. Mr. Hughes hates hypothetical scenarios, but
his interpretation of this biblical scene is about as hypothetical as any could
be. It depends entirely upon an arbitrary assertion that the tone of Yahweh's
statements was resignation.
The text itself gives no support to this interpretation, because it indi-
cates that the Israelites had not yet made a definite decision the first time
they asked counsel of Yahweh:
And the children of Israel arose, and went up to Bethel, and
asked counsel of God; and they said, Who shall go up for us first
to battle against the children of Benjamin? And Yahweh said,
Judah shall go up first (V:18, ASV with Yahweh substituted for
Notice that they did not ask, "Shall we go up against Benjamin?" In other
words, they were not asking for divine approval of what they had already
decided. They were asking Yahweh to designate or choose a specific tribe to
make the attack. In this respect, they were doing exactly what was customar-
ily done in Israelite society when a course of action was under consideration.
They asked for advice from their tribal war god, and the advice that he
gave them resulted in the death of 22,000 men.
Hughes sees support for this interpretation in the fact that the book of
Judges says three times that "every man did that which was right in his own
eyes" in those days, but the context of this story hardly supports his theo-
ry. If these were people determined to do what was right in their own eyes,
why would they have sought the counsel of Yahweh? The fact that they did,
not just once but three times, indicates that they were typically superstitious
Israelites who believed that the advice of Yahweh should be sought in every
important aspect of life, and especially in a matter as important as a battle
plan. (Examples of seeking the counsel of Yahweh can be found in 1 Samuel
10:22; 22:10,13; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19,23 and other passages too numerous
to list.) If Phinehas, the priest through whom the counsel of Yahweh was
being channeled in Judges 20 (v:28), had told the people that Yahweh had
said not to go up to battle, they would have superstitiously acquiesced. They
in fact indicated a willingness to do so on their third visit to Bethel: "Shall I
yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or
shall I cease" (v: 28)? If what they were doing was wrong, why didn't God
just tell them to cease? Furthermore, if their conduct was so terribly wrong,
why did God eventually allow them to succeed? These are questions Mr.
Hughes' interpretation fails to answer.
He applied the same principle to the fanciful little yarn about the "lying
spirit." God didn't deceive Ahab and Jehoshaphat; he simply allowed them to
fight a battle they had already made up their minds to fight. Well, his
theory won't hold up here either. Jehoshaphat was so undecided about what
to do that he had rejected the advice of 400 prophets. He insisted on con-
sulting at least one more. That hardly sounds like the conduct of a man
whose mind was already set. Furthermore, the prophet Micaiah plainly said
in concluding his story that "Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of
all these prophets of yours" (1 Kings 22:23). In the incident involving the
king of Assyria, the message of Yahweh clearly said, "I [Yahweh] will put a
spirit in him, and he shall hear tidings, and shall return to his own land;
and I [Yahweh] will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land" (2 Kings
19:7). To argue that these were simply matters of God letting people do what
they had already made up their minds to do is ridiculous. The obvious intent
of both these statements was to convey the impression that God had inter-
vened in the affairs of these men to lure them (see NOTE, P. 15) by decep-
tive means to their deaths.
The last biblical example that Hughes should cite to shore up his theory
is the one about the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. If he thinks that no
serious student of the Bible would "venture forth with the idea that Pharaoh's
heart was literally hardened by God so that he would not do as God wished,"
then he should read the story again:
Then Yahweh said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for it is I who
have made his heart and his courtiers stubborn, so that I could
work these signs of mine among them; so that you can tell your
sons and your grandsons how I made fools of the Egyptians and
what signs I performed among them, to let you know that I am
Yahweh" (Ex. 10:1, Jerusalem Bible).
If I can understand simple language, this passage is saying that Yahweh
himself hardened Pharaoh's heart to give Yahweh the opportunity to show his
stuff and leave the Israelites with some fireside tales to tell their children
Hughes resorted to the old fundamentalist ploy of pitting scripture against
scripture. "Your passage can't mean what you say it means, because over
here in another place it says thus and so." We have repeatedly pointed out
that this tactic is an attempt to prove inerrancy by assuming inerrancy. It
proves nothing except that we are right when we say that the Bible contra-
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