In objection to a post of mine, a commenter said:
"According to Scripture, liars–among others–are cast into hell. And Satan is portrayed as the arch-deceiver, and the father of lies."
Let's examine that. Let's run through some examples:
8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev 21:8).
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn 8:44).
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 Jn 1:10).
4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 Jn 2:4).
22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son (1 Jn 2:22).
20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar (1 Jn 4:20).
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 Jn 5:10).
1. The Bible doesn't formally define what constitutes a lie. Therefore, readers typically plug into these statements their own rule of thumb definition. The traditional definition of lying has at least two conditions:
i) The statement is false
ii) The communicator makes a false statement with the intention that others mistakenly believe the falsehood is true.
The purpose of (ii) is to distinguish unintentional falsehoods from intentional falsehoods.
My immediate objection is not to assess the merits of that definition. But in my experience, that's the operative definition Christians use who think lying is always wrong.
2. Lying is a recurrent motif in the Johannine writings. In Rev 21:8, does John mean that Rahab and the Hebrew midwives will burn in hell? I seriously doubt that.
Counterfeit religion is a major theme in Revelation. In the context of the narrative, "liars" are pagans or apostates who practice or promote idolatry. Indeed, there can be a twofold deception. Take the False prophet who uses deceit to facilitate false worship. The methods are deceptive and the object is spurious.
To construe Rev 21:8 as a statement about "liars" in general rips the statement out of the specific setting in which John frames that conduct.
3. Why does Jesus call the devil a liar? I assume he's alluding to Gen 3, where the Tempter brazenly said God's prohibition was an idle threat.
4. That dovetails with what John says in his first epistle. When the apostle talks about "liars" or making God out to be a liar in 1 John, he isn't using the traditional definition of a lie. He doesn't operate with the twofold condition. For John, a "lie" is a statement or action at variance with God's testimony. It isn't confined to false propositions. It can include behavior that's inconsistent with divine testimony.
Moreover, John doesn't make the intention to deceive a necessary condition of lying. Rather, it's sufficient that the liar, in word or deed, contradicts God's testimony.
Presumably, John's heretical opponents don't intend to call God a liar. They don't consciously deny the truth, as they understand it.
But John doesn't distinguish between intent and implication. For him, it's s enough that their teaching or conduct is objectively at odds with God's testimony. There is, of course, an element of willfulness here.
That's because, for John, the deceivers are self-deceived. False teachers may be sincere, but self-deluded. A Satanic self-deception. Their minds are enslaved by sin.
5. The upshot is that John isn't referring to "liars" in general. He doesn't have in mind cases like Christians who lie to Nazis to shield Jews. He is using a "lie" or "liar" in a narrow theological context, in reference to those who blindly and willfully deny God's self-witness, or the Father's witness to the Son, or the Spirit's witness to the Son.
6. To generalize from John's usage would be counterproductive for those who think lying is intrinsically wrong, because John doesn't distinguish between intentional and unintentional falsehood. That would make any false statement, or any action that's inconsistent with the facts, to be a lie. But surely that's too strong. If someone unwittingly makes a statement that deviates from the truth, we don't automatically brand them a liar. If someone acts under the misimpression of what is true, we don't automatically brand them a liar. It's slipshod reasoning to ignore or overlook the framework in which John uses this terminology.