Orthodox views on it state that any sort of lie is a sin by itself. More liberal Christians will say that it doesn't really mean that much provided it doesn't hurt anybody. But more importantly than personal opinions; what does the Bible have to say about white lies?
In the sermon of the mount, Jesus teaches about the sixth through tenth commandments, deepening their meaning. For example, "Don't kill" he expands to "Don't have unresolved anger or conflict". "Don't commit adultery" becomes "Don't lust".
For "Don't bear false witness", Jesus says (not quoting one of the ten commandments directly, but a related passage about making vows):
The idea is that you should always follow through with what you say. In other words, be trustworthy. The same applies to the commandment: people should be able to trust you, whether that is in a courtroom, or in daily life.
White lies are not compatible with being trustworthy, because it tells others that you will lie for the sake of convenience.
Whether white lies are ok in the context of helping another, I don't know. That leads to: "can the ends justify the means?"
The answer is... "sort of". It seems the admonition against lying would be better explained as "Do not bear destructively false witness". While some might point to the ten commandments and leave that as their answer, saying that the rule is, "don't lie... ever" is easily refuted:
Would Christ condemn these? Doubtful. Especially since Exodus says,
The question then becomes, "What is actually prohibited?" and the Bible becomes very ambiguous. Yes, the weighted scale (Prov. 20:23) and the lying tongue (Prov. 6:17) are prohibited, but considering what is said above, we cannot say that God is condemning all deception. Rather, we must say that only the deceptions which arise out of desire for profit or are destructive should be considered forbidden. Now, this could include white lies which are told for flattery, but not necessarily.
In this matter, I have always (well, since I became Catholic) deferred to Chrysostom's Treatise on the Priesthood.
No, it is not the Bible. But where there is ambiguity in the Biblical text, that is where the Church's guidance is the most important.
As a side note:
It should also be remembered that "false witness" does not necessarily mean lying. Half-truths and gossip can be particularly destructive. Imagine someone saying of St. Paul, as he entered a new town, "This man has persecuted us. He has done much to damage the Church and should not be trusted." Technically, whoever said that would be right. Paul even gave tacit endorsement of murder. BUT, he had reformed. The first two parts of the statement were 100% true, and the third part was completely subjective. Yet, that "truth" would be destructive and demonstrate a complete lack of charity.
There's no Biblical distinction between little or big lies. Nowhere in Scripture does it distinguish between types of lies. That's a human construct based on the idea that the ends justify the means. A white lie is a lie.
There's an article here that goes into depth, but in short, a lie is a lie is a lie.
However, I will agree that there is often a need to choose between the lesser of two evils. I have difficulty with this because of James 2:10 (KJV)
However, we don't live in a perfect world, and I understand that sometimes we need to choose between two evils out of necessity. We may need to lie to save a life, as some of the other answers point out.
I would argue, however, that those examples are not within the scope of the question. The question asks about "white lies" which are understood as small lies that have no consequence and are often used to spare someone's feelings or avoid unnecessary conflict.
Ananias and Sapphira were killed for telling a "white lie." They sold a piece of land and told everyone that they were giving all the money to the church. However, they actually kept back some. Peter says they were punished not for keeping their money, but for for lying about it.
The Bible speaks to lies in the 9th Commandment:
If a lie is a "false witness" (which it certainly is), then it is forbidden.
Jesus called Himself "the Truth", and as CHRISTIANS, we are to be emulating Christ in everything we do.
Lying is characteristically condemned in general, but in a few rare specific cases it's actually the right thing to do. A notable example is when Rehab directly lied to her people for the protection of the Jewish spies.
The morality of her lie was never even questioned. The Bible commends her as trusting God.
This fits very well with Jesus' explanation that the law and the prophets are fulfilled in the command to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.
It is exceedingly rare that telling a lie is loving to your neighbor and proceeds from a heart that isn't being self-serving, but it can happen and at that point it is appropriate to lie.
This is a perfect example of the distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
In Islam, for example, charging interest is completely prohibited. The spirit of that law is to prevent usury, which abuses the poor who might take a loan in desperation only to find themselves enslaved by it to a merciless lender. Yet because of the nature of law in Islam, regardless of the spirit of the law, there is no interest allowed, period. It neglects the fact that loans can be a mutually beneficial and necessary arrangement to fund business transactions or allow a person to buy a house with enough time to actually live in it. Muslims had to invent an entire banking system that relies on shareholding rather than interest in order to be compliant with the laws of Islam.
Christianity is completely different. Jesus regularly violated the letter of the law regarding the Sabbath, but never once violated the spirit of it. Jesus regularly made himself unclean by kosher and temple standards through his interaction with people with skin diseases, adulterers, and so on, but never violated the spirit of cleanliness. His "uncleanliness" was to make many clean!
By extension, this means that there will be places where lying must or should occur, and even places where lying is simply inconsequential. For example, actors must "lie" by profession as a part of getting into character who will say things they don't mean or believe, yet acting is a morally neutral event. You can take pedantic views of lying out to the nth degree. What about getting an answer wrong on a test and incidentally saying something false? What about saying something that is true at one level of precision but false at another, like "I live 5 miles away" when you really live 4.9685744834 miles away? Let's get more ridiculous! That distance is constantly changing on a quantum level. It's actually a logical impossibility to create an air-tight falsehood-free statement in every scenario. By this point I hope I've reduced that idea to absurdity.
So to bring it all back together,
Thus the conclusion is: Lying is permitted when it actually serves to love God and neighbor, which is very rare. Additionally, if the falsehood was spoken in good faith without intention to deceive it's probably not sin either.
Ultimately, this is detailed for the sake of answering the question, but on a practical basis, the average believer probably would be best served by seeking the grace rid themselves of uncontroversially sinful dishonesty, and confessing and receiving forgiveness for those instances when they do sin.
Actually, there is nothing like white lies. 'lie' is 'lie'. Or do you want to say that white lies are small lies. The bible says ' do not lie'; it didn't say 'do not lie big lies/small lies'. No matter how big or small it is, it is still a lie. The hell those who lie a big lie will go that is the same hell those who lie a small lie will go. If you want to say about actors who lie in a movie, watch out, they do not end well in the movie and their secrets exposed.
This is what Jesus had to say on the matter:
We cannot say that we are acting in accordance to God's will when we act in accordance to the nature of the devil, the "father of lies". As others have already pointed out, there is no such thing in the Bible as a "white lie", and Jesus commands our "yes" to be "yes" and "no" to be "no". Since a "white" lie is still a lie, and the Bible condemns lying, and specifically, liars:
we cannot say that it is OK to lie.
Also, in case it was not immediately evident, no Christian has a "part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone", no Christian will experience the second death,
so therefore a Christian cannot also be a liar. A person who goes around telling lies, or even approving of the practice is by the above not a Christian. Diminishing the gravity of the sin of lying by saying there is such a thing as "white lies" is finding an excuse for sin, and certainly not a practice condoned by God either.
The examples above of certain lies not having been condemned are misleading. Many actions in the Bible do not receive an immediate notice of condemnation, because it is not necessary for the Bible to say "Rahab/Abraham/etc lied, and that is a bad thing, even though it was for a good reason and the result was good". The Bible is clear in other places in saying that lying is not good, and we should not argue otherwise from silence.
Hope that helps.
As a person working in a social services field I must say that most people lie to themselves. They live in denial or a false perception of themselves or others. So what is a lie? I think we need to be real careful. It is often said lying to protect Jews from Nazi's was acceptable yet we frown upon a parent lying on a resume to keep her kids fed and the rent paid. We all know good lies from bad lies. Bad lies are a betrayal they are personal. Good lies protect others. I believe the Hebrew meaning of lie is betrayal, to fail, to deceive. Our hearts will tell us if we are doing right or wrong. God's love for us is bigger than any lie you could ever tell,even the lies you tell yourself.
protected by David Stratton♦ Jun 22 '13 at 5:15
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