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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Liar liar pants on fire, #1 (1 Samuel 16:1-4)

1 Samuel 16:1b-4a. “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘. . . .Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’ But Samuel said, ‘How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.’ The Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.’ Samuel did what the Lord said.”

Exegesis and Application

The Bible teaches that mutual understanding is a requisite consideration in human discourse, and we are under obligation to do our utmost to insure that we speak or act in terms of the understanding of others.  Indeed, except in times of war, mutual understanding is a Biblical criterion of truthfulness. My late professor at Fuller Seminary, Louie Smedes wrote, “The primary reason for truthfulness . . . is for the sake of the neighbor . . . truthfulness is . . . . honesty between us and our neighbor” (Mere Morality). Truth is the power of friendship. The law of love requires truthfulness with our neighbor (Eph. 4:25; Zech. 8:16-17).

Having said this, it is also true, that the Bible teaches that some people forfeit their right to know the truth, and we are under no obligation to convey it to them. As another former teacher of mine put it, “To insist on verbal truthfulness in such circumstances is manifestly against the purposes for which God has given us speech. The radical disruption of human relationships alters the nature of the case” (David Clyde Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics). Not even the Lord binds Himself to uniform straightforwardness, irrespective of circumstances (2 Sam. 22:26-27; 1 Thess. 2:11-12).

In our 1 Samuel passage we have the Lord God clearly instructing Samuel to conceal the real purpose of his visit to Bethlehem. Call it a divine authorization to lie, to evade, to give partial truth, to mislead, to hide the truth, or to suppress the facts. What we do know is that the triune God told Samuel to conceal from legal authorities the real reason he is making the political pilgrimage. The issue is this: Was a perfect God telling Samuel to lie, if questioned by the authorities?

Four points are to be made concerning this example of the biblical ethics on truth-telling for the Christian journalist.
1) Concealment is not lying. To conceal something from someone is not lying to someone.
2) Partial truth is not lying. It is a fine, but biblical distinction. Jeremiah records the same approved distinction being commanded by Zedekiah in Jer. 38:24-28
3) Samuel told the truth to the Bethlehem authorities. His statement was completely factual and truthful.
4) The Bethlehem authorities, representing Saul, had no right to the whole truth. And Samuel had no ethical obligation to disclose the entire truth to them.

John Murray (Principles of Conduct) points out that 1 Samuel 16 is unique because “there is the explicit authorization of the Lord as to the method of concealment.” Thus, we Christian journalists must “guard jealously the distinction between partial truth and untruth. . . .if we do not, we are not sensitive to the biblical ethic.”

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