What is deceit?

Question
What is deceit? I’m preparing a lesson on the topic. What are some biblical examples. How bad a sin is it?
Answer
Deceit is the intentional misleading of another. It is to not tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is often defined using many other words such as disguise, error, falsehood, guile, hypocrisy, perjury, and ruse. We see it in society from individuals that tell lies on their taxes to corporations that employ deceptive schemes and marketing practices and withhold the truth from their own employees. While truth is the servant of justice, whenever there is deception, or the misrepresentation of truth, the moral order of society is injured. Deceit is a sin.

Here are some biblical examples that involved deceit: Satan deceived Eve (Gen. 3:1-7). Abraham and Sarah told a half-lie (half-truth - which is no truth) concerning their relationship (Gen. 12:10-20; 20; 26:6-11). Jacob deceived his father by means of a disguise to steal Esau's birthright (Gen. 27:1-46). Tamar pretended to be a prostitute to fool Judah (Gen. 38:1-30). Laban tricked Jacob with a substitute bride (Gen. 29:21-25). Jacob's daughter Dinah was raped by the men of Shechem and her brothers later misled the men into being circumcised and killed them while they were recovering (Gen. 34:1-34). Joseph's brother lied to Jacob (Gen. 37:12-36). The Gibeonites dressed as travelers from a very distant country in order to obtain a peace treaty with Israel (Josh. 9:1-27). King Saul used a disguise when he consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:8). Both Ahab (2 Chron. 18:28-33) and Josiah (2 Chron 35:20-27) used disguises and were killed in their final battles. Amnon, David's son, pretended to be sick as a ruse in raping his sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-14). Judas the traitor was a deceiver (Mark 14:44; Luke 22:48). Peter lied when he stated he did not know Christ three times (Matt. 26:69-75). Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit and died (Acts 5:1-11).

Deceit was also used in a positive manner to attempt to justly save lives: the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh; Rahab lied to save the spies; Michal assisted tDavid to help him escape from Saul's executioners; the wise men's returned home by a different route. However, deceit is mostly frowned upon.

The Bible speaks negatively of a deceitful tongue (Psa. 36:3; 50:19; 109:2; 120:2) and the workers of deceit (Job 15:35; Psa. 52:2; Jer. 9:6; cf. Amos 8:5). The Psalmist writes, "No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psa. 101:7).

Deceit defiles a person (Mark 7:20-23). Scripture speaks of deceitful spirits (1 Tim. 4:1), prophets (Jer. 23:26), and doctrines (Col. 2:8), of the beast that deceives (Rev. 13:14; cf. Dan. 8:25). The reprobate are full of deceit (Isa. 57:4; Rom. 1:29; Acts 13:10). We are all affected — "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). God hates deceit and deceivers (Prov. 6:16-19; 12:22).

There is only one who can deliver anyone from this sin of deceit. His name is Jesus. In him there is no deceit (Isa. 53:9; 1 Pet. 2:22). Indeed, persons delivered by Christ will continue to pray to be kept from such sin and strive to keep themselves from it (Psa. 120:2, cf. Psa. 34:13; Prov. 31:30; 1 Pet. 2:1; 3:10). They will study to show themselves approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15). They won't remain mere infants, and they won’t be tossed back and forth by the waves or be blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).