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Deceit, Deception, Guile

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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1. Words and references.—Mark 7:22, John 1:47 (δόλος, ‘bait,’ ‘stratagem,’ ‘guile,’ ‘craft,’ ‘treachery’; cf. Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 12:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:1; 1Pe_2:22, Revelation 14:5); Matthew 13:22 (ἀτατη, ‘trick,’ ‘fraud,’ ‘deceit’; cf. Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 2:8, Hebrews 3:13); Matthew 24:4, John 7:12 (τλανκω, ‘lead astray,’ ‘deceive’; πλάνος, ‘deceiver’; πλανη, a ‘leading astray,’ ‘cheating’; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 John 1:8).

2. Pfleiderer in Early Christian Conception of Christ (1905) devotes a chapter to the subject of Christ as the Conqueror of Satan—‘that old serpent, called the Devil, which deceiveth the whole world’ (Revelation 12:9). His aim is to find parallels to Christ in various nature myths and heathen religions, and by so doing to explain the Gospel story as only a special embodiment of a universal tendency. While rejecting Pfleiderer’s theory, we admit that one of the most suggestive aspects under which the life of our Lord may be considered is to regard it as a deadly conflict between the Divine Representative of the Truth, and the instruments and agents of the spirit of deception and guile. Such a conflict was inevitable. The coming of One who had the right to say, ‘I am the light of the world,’ ‘I am the truth’; ‘every one that is of the truth heareth my voice’ (John 8:12; John 14:6; John 18:37), was bound to stir into bitter hostility all the forces of untruth and craft. The antagonism is set forth in universal terms in John 3:19-21. At every stage of the Divine drama we see that those ‘who loved darkness rather than light’—the men of perverted mind and crooked ways—turned from Jesus with aversion and sought His destruction. The whole significance of the struggle may be said to have been summed up and symbolized in our Lord’s conflict with the Pharisees. Their hostility to Him began in self-deception. Wedded to their own ideas and standard of character and duty, they resented His teaching. They could not conceive the possibility of a revision of life in the light of a larger and nobler ideal of righteousness. But the vision of moral beauty must either captivate or blind. Before long the Pharisees brought down on themselves the severest denunciations for their moral obtuseness, duplicity, and hypocrisy (Matthew 23, John 8:12-59). The estrangement was complete. To destroy Jesus they now ‘plumed up their wills in double knavery’ (Iago). In almost every glimpse we get of them they are moving in a murky atmosphere of craft, intrigue, and hate. They do not hesitate to resort to every artifice and stratagem which unscrupulous cunning could suggest. They endeavour, by subtle questions, to entangle Him in His talk (Matthew 22:15); they attempt to deceive the people as to His true character (Mark 3:22-30, John 9:24); they plot together as to how He may be put to death (John 11:53); they enter into a covenant with Judas to betray Him (Matthew 26:14-15); they set up false witnesses, and pervert and misrepresent His teaching (Matthew 26:59-62, Luke 23:1). It was by deceit and guile that they obtained Pilate’s permission to crucify Him (John 19:12).

3. We gain a heightened impression of their character and conduct by contrast. While the men of deception and guile hated the Light, we see another class attracted by it. From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus drew to Himself the sincere, the childlike, the men of ‘honest and good heart’ (Luke 8:16). The first Apostles of the Lord were by no means exempt from serious faults and frailties of character; but, with the exception of Judas, they were singularly honest and upright men; men with a genuine enthusiasm for goodness. One of them drew from Jesus on His first approach the suggestive exclamation, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile’ (John 1:47). In the teaching and training of these first Apostles and disciples, our Lord especially emphasized the necessity of those virtues of character in which the Pharisees were so singularly deficient (Matthew 5:8; Matthew 7:1-4; Matthew 10:16; Matthew 11:25; Matthew 18:3, Luke 12:1-3). In this connexion it is of vital importance to bear in mind Matthew 6:22-23. There are various degrees and stages of deception and guile, beginning with over-intellectual refinement, and passing finally into deliberate fraud and treachery. But in every case it means the lack of the ‘single eye,’ or perfect sincerity, and simplicity of nature. And, therefore, if Christian men and women are to keep themselves free, not merely from ‘fleshly lusts,’ but also from the more subtle forms of ‘spiritual wickedness,’ they must be continually testing and reviewing their ideals and conceptions of character and conduct in the light of their Master’s life and teaching. Unless they do this, the light that is in them will turn to darkness.

‘There is, I believe,’ says Bishop Gore, ‘nothing to which in our time attention needs to be called more than to the fact that conscience is only a faculty for knowing God and His will. It is certain, unless it is educated, to give wrong information. And the way to educate it is to put it to school with the “Light of the world.” Alas! there must he multitudes of respectable and self-enlightened people of whom it is true that the light which is in them is darkness’ (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 147). The testimony of the late Dr. Dale is not less emphatic. ‘I doubt whether most of those who have been formed by the faith and traditions of the Evangelical movement are sufficiently impressed by the necessity of educating the conscience.… This partly explains how it is that some Christian people are worse men—morally—than some who are not Christians. The faculty of conscience requires a great deal of education if we are to distinguish between the right and the wrong in all the details of life’ (The Evangelical Revival, p. 98).

Literature.—In addition to the books already referred to, the reader may consult Newman Smyth, Christian Ethics; Prof. Knight, The Christian Ethic; F. D. Maurice, The Conscience and Social Morality; J. R. Illingworth, Christian Character; H. Wace, Christianity and Morality; R. W. Church, Discipline of the Christian Character.

Arthur Jenkinson.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Deceit, Deception, Guile'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​d/deceit-deception-guile.html. 1906-1918.
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