Can God Lie?

Mar 6th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

When I was younger, I used to think that God actually could lie if He wanted to, but He simply chose not to because of His goodness. I didn’t realize, and I think many people still don’t, that He literally cannot lie. Some theological errors can be avoided by understanding that God cannot lie. For example, imputed righteousness entails God saying something is true when it really isn’t. But if we knew that such a thing is impossible for God, then we would know that imputed righteousness is false.

The reason that God cannot lie is simply this. There is nothing which exists except that which God has created, and things exist solely and uniquely by God’s declaration of their existence. God did not say “Let there be light” and then subsequently create light. God said “Let there be light” and by that very act, there was light. It would have been impossible for God to say “Let there be light” and light not exist. Men can say things that are not true or will not become true, but God cannot do such a thing because God is truth. 1 If God could lie, it would contradict His very essence, which would make Him incoherent with Himself which is impossible. Further, a lie is a corruption of goodness, and no corruption of goodness (evil) comes from God whatsoever; neither can God do any evil.

This truth has a wide range of implications. Among the most prominent is the doctrine of Transubstantiation. For in the same way that a private becomes a captain by the very words of his general, “You are a captain,” so too does the bread become the Body by Christ’s words, “This is My Body.”

But while God cannot lie, He can speak metaphorically. But if He speaks metaphorically of a thing, then its result or consequence must be understood metaphorically.  Obviously it was metaphorical when Jesus spoke of gathering Jerusalem as a hen does her chicks, and so if Jerusalem actually did comply, it would only be metaphorically that the “chicks” (Jerusalem) would be gathered under His ‘wings.’ Likewise, if Jesus spoke metaphorically when He said, “This is My Body,” then it is only metaphorically that we shall receive His Body. i.e. We will not receive His Body any more than Jerusalem shall be gathered under His “wings.” And if God the Father speaks metaphorically when He declares us righteous, then we shall only metaphorically go to Heaven. i.e. We will perish in our trespasses.

But clearly God cannot be speaking metaphorically when He speaks of justification. He is therefore either saying something true (you are justified) or something false (you are Simul justus et peccator). Now we know the second is impossible since God cannot lie, so it must be the case that God’s declaration of man as justified is true. God did not look on man and find him to merit initial justification by anything in him. In the same way that light came into existence by God saying “Let there be light,” grace comes (is infused) into man by God declaring Him righteous because God cannot lie.

  1. cf. John 14:6 []
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  1. You said this so very well. Would you mind giving the translation of “Simul justus et peccator” for those of us who don’t know enough Latin? (Guessing… “both justified and sinful”?)

  2. Sarah – excellent guess! I’m not a Latin scholar but I’ve heard it translated as “simultaneously righteous and sinful.” I guess that’s the most accurate but if anyone more knowledgeable wants to chime in, please do. Thanks for bringing that up; my fault for not defining it.

  3. Thank you! I have to figure out Latin based on what I pick up at mass (not Latin mass) and what sounds like something I know in English or the little bit of Spanish I know, and context, if there is any. Sometimes it works well, sometimes not so much.

  4. Technically, I would have to argue that Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 involve similes and not metaphors.

    “…how many times I yearned to gather your children together, AS a hen gathers her young under her wings…”

    emphasis mine.

  5. Peccator is a noun, so a more literal translation would be “righteous and a sinner at the same time.”

  6. There is an important detail which is often overlooked by Catholics when quoting “simul iustus et peccator,” and that is the legal-ontological distinction. Too often, Catholics interpret the phrase to mean “at the same time righteous and unrighteous” – which is a plain contradiction, and (rightly) denied by Protestants. The truth, however, is that it is more of an equivocal statement than a contradictory one, for the first instance of ‘righteous’ refers to legal-righteousness, while the second (sinner) refers to a ontological-(un)righteousness.

    A good example of properly understanding this ‘simul’ is a man on trial for murder, who though is found legally ‘not-guilty’ of murder by the judge, nonetheless in his heart hates the murder victim. The judge cannot look into the man’s heart, nor does the law judge one’s feelings or heart, only actions. So ‘legal-righteousness’ is solely a matter of whether one has outwardly kept the law or not. The lusts of the heart are not considered at all, and in fact are another issue. In classical Protestantism, one’s legal standing was formally separated from one’s ontological status of his soul – this is popularly termed by Protestants as the justification-sanctification distinction, which they believe Catholics conflated and thus ended up with a heretical gospel.

    When it comes to justification, Protestants say God is *only* considering man’s ‘legal-righteousness’ (which they define as a track record of perfect law keeping). Since man is legally-unrighteous (both due to Adam’s law-breaking and their own), God cannot find them legally-righteous (i.e. justified). This is where “Christ’s Righteousness” comes in, which Protestants see as Christ’s perfect law-keeping track record, which is graciously imputed to the sinner, and at which point God graciously grants the sinner the legal status of “righteous”.

    While Protestants think this has gotten them out of the “God cannot lie” problem, the fact is, it still exists. The reason is because God knows full well the sinner has failed to keep the law (even post-conversion), yet God is still going ahead and granting him the legal-status of “perfect law keeper.” The sinner’s own legal track-record never changes, instead, it is only graciously ‘overlooked’ by God. A good example is a man who is in $1,000,000 debt to the bank, but wants to be seen as having a ‘good credit record’. The Protestant view states the banker ‘graciously’ puts a post-it note on the debtor’s file saying “see Christ’s bank account instead,” and on this basis (because Christ has ‘good credit’) proceeds to grant the debtor the status of having “good credit.” The problem is, the debtor’s actual credit record shows bankrupt.

    But what of the popular Protestant proof-text, Romans 4:5, which says God “justifies the ungodly”? Carefully examined, this is actually a devastating passages against Protestantism. Obviously, God cannot be declaring a legally-unrighteous person to be legally-righteous, which is both a contradiction and injustice (cf Prov 17:15), so the Protestant must say the “ungodly” refers to ontological unrighteousness (ie sanctification). The problem now is that they have mixed justification and sanctification, the very thing they accuse Catholics of doing!

  7. This is my question. If God “cannot lie” then does that mean that he is not omnipotent (all powerfull)?

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