Question: Jesus lied. But he never sinned. So sometimes lying isn’t a sin? I’m referring to John 7:8-10, where Jesus said, “You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come. After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.”
Answer: It does seem that lying is not always a sin. When Rahab lied to protect the Israelite spies in Jericho she was rewarded with safe passage when the attack came. The Israelite midwives lied to Pharaoh about Israelite women giving birth before the midwives got there so that they could not kill the babies as Pharaoh commanded, and they were honored for this by God. When God told Samuel to anoint a son of Jesse as king and he complained that if Saul found out why he was going to Bethlehem Saul would kill him, God told Samuel to say that he was going to offer a sacrifice (not the whole truth, but true). When David realized that the Philistine leader he was seeking sanctuary from as he fled from Saul was against him and would kill him, he feigned madness and was sent away and he wrote a Psalm about how God delivered him (Ps 34).
In each of these situations the lives of good human beings were at stake. It seems that when we lie to protect innocent human life it is okay. For example, if a gunman came to your door and your family was hidden away in the house, and he asked you if you were alone, would you be obligated by God to tell him the truth? Some situations and some people do not deserve the truth. We may suppose that though lying is prohibited generally in Scripture, yet when a higher absolute (the protection of a human life) comes into play, that absolute takes precedence over the absolute against lying (similar to the absolute of obeying human governments takes a backseat to the absolute of obeying God, Acts 5:27-29).
It doesn’t seem, however, that this is the same kind of situation in Jesus’ life where he would need to lie to save someone or save himself. Though going up publicly to the festival was dangerous, he didn’t need to go. So it makes more sense that at the moment his time had not come, as he said, but then later the Spirit directed him to go in the manner he went. He did face a dangerous situation then, but God protected him.
I love the fact that Gospel of John presents Jesus this way because it is another confirmation that the Gospels are factual accounts of Jesus’ life. If the Gospel writers were only trying to present Jesus in some trumped up positive light they would not have presented him this way and left him open to a charge of lying. But this is how it really happened and so they told it like it was.
- Godly Deceit? (birdandbabe.org)