The Apple Of God's Eye

May 14, 2009

Do Liars Always Lie?

Epimenidis said, “The Cretians are always liars” (Titus 1:12). But Epimenides was a Cretan! Was he lying or telling the truth about Cretans?

If he were telling the truth, he was a liar. If he were a liar, he was telling the truth. What is the answer?

The resolution of this ancient paradox clarifies several misunderstandings about the Bible. It explains why Satan (and his ministers) quote true scriptures (Matt. 4:1-10; II Cor. 11:13-15), why the false prophet Balaam uttered true prophecies (Num. 22), and why the demon who impersonated Samuel seemed to be so “honest” (I Sam. 28:3, 12-20).

The answer hinges on a principle — someone who is always a liar does not always lie! Once this is understood the paradox vanishes. (Fenton violates this principle in giving a logically absurd translation of Titus 1:12. Also, many of the commentaries seem to be unaware of the paradox connected with this verse.)

If a liar could be “depended upon” to lie consistently, one could always extract the truth from him. Consider the story about a logician who is captured by a tribe of savages (Kemeny, Snell, and Thompson, Introduction to Finite Mathematics, 1957). The tribal chief decides to give the logician a “sporting chance” to escape. He places the logician in a jail having two exits and two guards. One exit leads to freedom, the other to death. One guard is always truthful, the other always lies. He is allowed to ask only one question of only one guard. The logician asks, “If I ask the other guard whether this exit leads to freedom, will he say yes?” No matter which guard he asks, he can determine from the answer which door leads to freedom. So, he escapes!

A little thought will show that if the guard says “yes,” the logician has picked the wrong door; if the guard says “no,” the logician has selected the correct door. In any case, no matter which guard he asks, the truth can be determined and thus he escapes. However, if the lying guard — like Satan — sometimes told the truth, the logician would be hopelessly confused. “Effective” liars do not always lie!

In order to be “effective,” liars often mix truth with error. The statements of Satan in Genesis 3:4-5 are an excellent example. Many people use these verses as an argument that human beings cannot be born into the Family of God. They reason that since Satan is a liar (John 8:44) and since Satan said, “Ye shall be as gods …” (Gen. 3:5), then men shall NOT be as gods. WRONG! Satan told the truth about the ultimate destiny of mankind. Jesus Christ said so! (John 10:34-35.) But Satan lied about HOW to become as God (Gen. 3:4-5).

Keep in mind that a quotation from the Bible may be false, if the one quoted is a liar, but it should not be assumed to be false just because the one quoted is a liar. Just as Epimenides spoke the truth when he said (by implication) that he was a liar, someone quoted in the Bible also spoke the truth when he said, “I will be a lying spirit” (I Kings 22:22).

Source: Tomorrow’s World, October 1971

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