Simple Liberty  



God is an Anarchist

Rahab the Harlot

Written by Darrell Anderson.

The Biblical story of Rahab the harlot is fascinating and raises some curious questions. Traditionally, readers are taught that Rahab lied to the city-state king of Jericho but nonetheless Rahab is honored for her actions. People generally are taught that Rahab’s lie was wrong, but through God’s grace and her commitment to God and the Hebrew people, she was forgiven of her act. Perhaps such an interpretation is incorrect. Furthermore, can lying can be condoned for any reason? Many people are taught that the Bible teaches lying is wrong.

Perhaps the prohibition against lying is a flawed teaching. As a lifestyle lying probably is hazardous, but are there some unique situations when lying might be overlooked or condoned? The story of Rahab seems to indicate as much.

What exactly is lying? Minimally, lying is knowingly telling a falsehood. Is lying merely the absence of fact? Hardly, or all jokes, fictional stories, and tall tales would be lies. Perhaps a good criterion is whether the liar is attempting to deceive. However, a tall tale, “fishing story,” or practical joke is an attempt to wittingly deceive. Are such efforts lying? Probably not.

What about a statement thought to be true but later proven false? Often there is no intent to deceive and the individual making the statement usually does so because of limited knowledge. Further knowledge might later add a new perspective, but during the moment the statement is provided the statement is subjectively true.

The key is not just an effort to deceive, but a desire and willingness to trespass boundaries. Within the context of any social system where people accept the concept of property rights, telling a lie, either knowingly or with an understanding that the lie might adversely affect or trespass property rights, is nothing but further trespass. Lying when no property rights are at stake is merely a false statement and nothing more because there is no trespass. At worst, when no trespass occurs, lying is only a conscious disregard for facts. When property rights are at stake, lying could result in a infringement of those rights and is false testimony. The coerced taking of property is called stealing, even under the color of law.

The traditional foundation for not lying is found within Moses’ Decalogue, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments or the Moral Law. The commandment is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20). A straightforward reading, however, reveals nothing about lying, only that there is a prohibition against providing false testimony against other people. Other Biblical verses often cited include Exodus 23:1–3, Proverbs 19:9, Acts 5:1–11, Ephesians 4:25, and Colossians 3:9.

Yet, read and notice that these verses are concerned with property rights — knowable boundaries. Thus, the prohibition against providing false witness or testimony is to protect the boundaries of people.

Nobody should be deprived of property without due process of law. To protect property rights against false or fiat accusations, the Mosaic Law required at least two witnesses, preferably three or more (Deuteronomy 19:15). According to Mosaic edict, disputes were settled by at least two witnesses providing testimony to the elders of the city. The elders occupied the role of judge. The testimonies had to reconcile in order to provide a foundation of consistency. If there was only one witness, or the testimonies of the multiple witnesses did not reconcile, then the accusation was rejected. The process depended greatly upon testimony. False testimony would corrupt the adjudication efforts and would damage lawful property rights. False testimony would upset the expectations of people in the community. So serious was the requirement for due process of law and correct testimony, that if a witness was caught providing false testimony the individual was sentenced to the same punishment sought against the accused (Deuteronomy 19:15–19). Simply put, as with the other commandments of the Decalogue, the commandment not to provide false witness was a protection of property rights.

From where then do people derive the teaching that lying is wrong? Like many misdirected Biblical teachings, the idea is derived from an incorrect interpretation and extrapolation of the text. A straightforward reading of the commonly cited verses only reveals an intent to protect property rights.

Consider the situation where a German hides a Jew during Hitler’s reign, or during the mid 19th century a white American hides a runaway Negro slave. Upon questioning, the German and American deny the presence of any other human within their house. Did those people lie?

Of course they lied. However, the more important question to ask is whether the lying was wrong.

Such a lie does not violate the property rights of any individual. Second, the people doing the questioning represent illegitimate causes.

Did Rahab act wrongly? Much is taught that Rahab acted out of faith for the God of the Hebrews. Perhaps she did act accordingly, but a straightforward reading of the text indicates Rahab primarily acted to save her own skin (and her family’s). The text implies that the inhabitants of Jericho were familiar with previous events regarding the Hebrews. Second, even a casual scouting process would inform the Jericho inhabitants that the Hebrews were camping close by, and had recently been successful militarily. The two Hebrew spies lodged with Rahab, and undoubtedly Rahab was therefore curious about what might soon happen. Rahab found time to question the spies. More than likely Rahab acted first out of a desire to survive, and only later, perhaps by witnessing the fall of the city, she then converted to becoming a part of the Hebrew community. Seeing is believing.

The story of Rahab provides an interesting challenge for people who place faith in the Bible. Is lying wrong? Certainly there is no simple Biblical commandment or rule dictating as much. There is no rule or commandment that, “Thou shalt not lie.” All Biblical sanctions against lying are worded with respect to protecting property and not providing false testimony.

However, the principle drawn from the various sanctions against providing false witness can be applied generally to lying. That is, property rights always must be protected. When lying results in a loss or trespass of property rights, then lying is wrong. For example, generally, lying to an employer is wrong because the employer owns the property, equipment, and tools where the employee has been contracted to provide labor or certain deliverables. The employer has standing to protect his or her contractual status with any employee. For many actions and events, the employer has the right to be fully informed in order to protect his or her property rights. In that sense, lying is indeed providing false witness and wrong.

The key is property rights. If the intent or effect of the lie is to wrongfully deprive or trespass property rights, then the lie is trespass and false testimony. If the individual being lied to has a legitimate concern for the outcome — to protect property rights, then an individual should not lie. Property rights must prevail. Lying is an act of trespass when the other individual has a legitimate claim to know the truth. However, when the individual being lied to has no legitimacy, such as described in the previous examples, then lying is not wrong.

An individual could argue that telling the truth is a noble policy and generally is a good thing to do. The simple reason is that more often than not, property rights are at stake. Not lying is a good principle, but that is all. Any individual who lies repeatedly probably asks for eventual trouble. Trying to defend too many lies is impossible, as many habitual liars have discovered. Furthermore, the old adage that honesty is the best policy has certainly proven wise advice. Many people also will agree that truth tellers are considered people with high moral fiber and character, and are to be trusted.

An individual should not develop a utilitarian attitude toward lying, but should always consider what property rights might be violated, and by whom.

Lying on your own behalf is usually a straightforward process. Lying to protect another individual is sometimes challenging and should be avoided in many situations. For example, suppose your employer asks you questions regarding the behavior of a fellow employee who also is a good friend. More than likely, you will not know all the facts concerning the reasons for the questioning. Every human is a creature of limited knowledge. No human is omniscient. Thus, lying to protect your friend is an understandable desire, but without adequate knowledge, your lie might infringe upon the employer’s lawful property rights. Such an action could be false testimony. Notice the difference between this example and the previous examples of the German and American. (An argument could be offered with the runaway slave that the slave “owner” had standing, but any individual who believes in fundamental property rights believes that the claim is illegitimate because no human can own another human.)

Self-interest acts to mutually benefit all parties in a free voluntary exchange. Greed is distorted self-interest and acts to deprive other people of property.

When is lying wrong? The elements are:

  1. A desire to deceive.
  2. A desire or willingness to trespass or violate another individual’s property rights.
  3. The individual being lied to has a legitimate claim to know the facts in order to protect property rights.

An illegitimate actor has no lawful standing to demand anything. Essentially, although existing physically, lawfully the illegitimate claimant does not exist. An individual cannot lie to something that does not exist.

In some situations, there will be no doubt about intent or legitimacy. Lying to a hold-up robber is not wrong because the robber has no legitimacy. Likewise, lying to politicians and bureaucrats is not wrong because statism has no legitimacy. Statists are a collection of robbers, all acting under the color of law.

Rahab lied to the city-state king. Although nobody knows for sure, that king more than likely represented an illegitimate political society.

Yet, do not be fooled. Lying to the statists presents certain dangers, and because the actors within statism believe they have legitimacy, they hardly will hesitate to prosecute or attack people who choose to lie to them. Martha Stewart learned that hard lesson. Rahab likely understood the dangers she faced if caught in her lie about the Hebrew spies. That is the more probable reason her faith was honored by later writers.

Furthermore, if an individual chooses to voluntarily play the statists’ game, then fully expect the statists’ rules to apply. However, understand that statists act arbitrarily and might attack the actions of any individual at any time for any reason.

Similarly, when an individual utters a statement while under oath or under the penalties of perjury, that individual has voluntarily agreed to play by the other individual’s rules. A better approach is to not commit to such sanctions. Notice the Biblical recommendation of not taking oaths or swearing to tell the truth — let your Yea be Yea and your Nay be Nay.

Some people develop a Pinocchio reaction when lying. Such people either need to improve their communicative skills or learn to provide non-answers. According to the Biblical stories, Jesus of Nazareth was a master of not answering questions. (Politicians and bureaucrats are too, but notice that few politicians and bureaucrats are held to be people with high moral fiber and character. Actions do mean something, not just words.)

For example, consider the question, “How many people live in your house?”

Does the individual have a legitimate reason for knowing the answer? Maybe, maybe not. A census taker represents an illegitimate organization of people. An insurance representative contracted to protect your home has a vested concern in both your property rights and those of the insurance provider. If the individual represented an illegitimate organization, and the threat of violence was minimal or non-existent, you might refuse to answer or reply, “None of your business.” Or you might have fun and respond, “Everybody in my house lives. There are no dead people in my house.”

Few people can repeatedly lie and not become addicted to lying. Few people can avoid subsequent conflicts and challenges when facts do not align correctly. Thus, one probably could conclude that lying is dangerous. That does not mean lying is always an inappropriate action, however.

Rather than develop a habit of lying, the more healthier approach would be to learn how to remain silent. Only a handful of people know how to truly remain silent. Silence can be a very powerful defense and strategy. Unfortunately, many people like to talk, and often many people think they can always outsmart their adversary.

Although statism has no legitimacy, no true standing, no foundation at all, recognize the inherent danger involved. Live your life as you see fit, but as the sergeant used to say on Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”


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