Ask a Priest

Lying and the 8th Commandment

Mar 02, 2015


What is the Church’s teaching about Lying? Is lying sinful in itself? How about white lies?

Can you please share Scripture passages on this topic?

Thank you very much.

Asked at 08:34 am on March 02nd 2015

Dear Vince:

I suggest you start with the section in the Catechism on the Eighth Commandment. You will find in the footnotes some references to Scripture. The whole section is worth reading, but particularly that part which deals with lying from no. 2482 onwards.

Lying is considered sinful, although over the centuries there have been some contrasting opinions among theologians when it comes to dealing with enemies. This article provides some useful background.

Then, I recommend this chapter from Germain Grisez’s Vol. 2 of the Way of the Lord Jesus.

In point no. 6, titled ”Lying and Other Deceptions in Communication Are Always Wrong” he goes into a detailed explanation about lying and other forms of deception. In relation to Scripture among other passages he quotes is this.

“In his deepening of the commandments, Jesus calls for such perfect truthfulness that oaths would be unnecessary: “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Mt 5.37).”

Regarding white lies he does say in 6. d that not all deceptive actions are dishonest:

“Again, a waiter who is politely pleasant to boorish, irritating customers, or a teacher who is grieving for a recently deceased parent but tries to smile cheerfully in class does not express his or her present feelings but does honestly manifest something else: the will to relate to others in an appropriate and constructive way.”

Earlier in section 3.c he said that “Courtesy need not be incompatible with truthfulness.”

He gave some examples.

“For example, dinner guests can follow customary form in expressing appreciation for hospitality by saying that it was a “fine meal and enjoyable evening” even if they think the food was poor and the conversation boring. Indeed, such expressions and practices usually should be used for courtesy’s sake, and someone generally may use them appropriately even though foreseeing that, as a side effect, people unfamiliar with the conventions may be deceived.”

It is important, however, not to expand the category of white lies too widely and to be careful not to cross over the line to an outright lie.

Replied at 01:28 am on March 03rd 2015

Thank you very much Father for the enlightenment and providing these links.
God bless.

Replied at 08:12 am on March 05th 2015