Is Lying Always Wrong?

Now, specifically on the topic of lying, Sacred Scripture has clearly and definitively taught that lying is one of those types of deliberate acts that is always immoral.

{20:16} You shall not speak false testimony against your neighbor.

{5:20} Neither shall you speak false testimony against your neighbor.

{19:11} You shall not steal. You shall not lie. Neither shall anyone deceive his neighbor.
{19:12} You shall not commit perjury in my name, nor shall you pollute the name of your God. I am the Lord.

The same verse that forbids lying, also forbids deceiving. So the claim of some misguided teachers today that a lie is only a lie if it includes the intention to deceive one’s neighbor, is refuted by Sacred Scripture. Lying and deceiving are separate sins.

The Magisterium teaches that there are three fonts of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. The intention to deceive or to lead into error, is the intended end in the first font of morality. The deliberate assertion of a falsehood, the act itself of lying, has an evil moral object, so it falls under the second font of morality. The Magisterium teaches that, for an act to be moral, all three fonts must be good. So, even though the typical lie, as asserted by Saint Augustine and quoted by the CCC, “consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving”, lying is intrinsically evil and therefore immoral regardless of intention.

Therefore it is not true, as some foolish persons have claimed, that a lie is only immoral if both disorders are present: the intention to deceive (or to lead into error) and the deliberate choice of the inherently disordered act of expressing a falsehood. Intrinsically evil acts are immoral regardless of intention or circumstances. Scripture condemns the act of lying, regardless of intention:

{6:16} Six things there are that the Lord hates, and the seventh, his soul detests:
{6:17} haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,
{6:18} a heart that devises the most wicked thoughts, feet running swiftly unto evil,
{6:19} a deceitful witness bringing forth lies, and he who sows discord among brothers.

{12:22} Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. But whoever acts faithfully pleases him.
If lying were sometimes moral, it could not be called an abomination to God.
{13:5} The just shall detest a lying word. But the impious confound and will be confounded.

If lying were only immoral depending on intention or circumstances, those who are just would not detest lying. Notice also that, in the above two examples, lying is condemned in itself. The word is called lying, without reference to the intention of the person who lies, such as the intention to deceive, and without reference to the circumstances, such as whether a person has a right to a particular truth.

{4:2} Slander, and lying, and killing, and theft, and adultery have overflowed, and bloodshed has brought more bloodshed.

Not only slander, but also any type of lying is condemned by Scripture. Lying is related to slander because both acts have the same evil moral object. Lying is related to murder, theft, and adultery because all these acts are contrary to the love of neighbor.

{7:13} Do not love a lie against your brother, nor should you act the same toward your friend.
{7:14} Do not be willing to devise a lie of any kind. For the practice of lying is not good.

Lying is not moral when directed toward anyone: your brother, your friend, your enemy, a person who has no right to a particular truth. No lie of any kind is moral. For the practice of lying, that is to say, the intentional choice of the act itself, is contrary to goodness.

{1:7} For the spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and he who contains all things, retains knowledge of every voice.
{1:11} Therefore, keep yourselves from complaining, which benefits nothing, and refrain your tongue from slander, because secret conversation will not pass into nothingness, and the mouth that lies kills the soul.
{1:15} For justice is perpetual and immortal.

{4:25} Because of this, setting aside lying, speak the truth, each one with his neighbor. For we are all part of one another.

See my booklet:
Is Lying Always Wrong?

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Gallery | This entry was posted in ethics. Bookmark the permalink.