Examining the Biblical Basis of Shincheonji’s Doctrine on Lying (or “Wisdom”)

Why do Shincheonji members believe it's OK to lie or deceive others when recruiting? A former member explains.

When answering this question, it is important to understand what Shincheonji (SCJ) teaches about this, the methods which they use, and how they justify this. We will have a look at some of the scriptures SCJ uses to explain this and why I believe they are being taken out of context. We can also look at what other parts of the Bible say about lying.

When discussing SCJ’s approach, it’s important to address their use of deceptive tactics to evangelise. SCJ recruiters have been known to lie and justify it by claiming that the ends justify the means. This may include tactics such as hiding their true identity or the church they are affiliated with, having people pretend to be new learners during classes, and withholding information about some of their more controversial teachings and doctrines.

It’s worth considering how SCJ reconciles their promotion of lying (or “wisdom”) with the biblical commandment to not lie (Eph. 4:25, Prov 6:16-19). While SCJ acknowledges that lying for personal gain is wrong, they argue that the type of lie that truly matters is a lie against God’s word (Prov 30:5-6, Rev. 22:18-19). They believe that lying to achieve God’s will is acceptable and cite various biblical examples to support this viewpoint, including: Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22), Jacob deceiving his father Isaac (Gen. 24-27), God approving a lying spirit to deceive King Ahab (1 Kings 22), Jesus hiding things from others, Jesus coming like a thief (Rev. 16:15, Matt. 24:43, 1 Thess. 5:2, 5:4, 2 Pet. 3:10), and Paul becoming all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:20-22).

Based on these passages, SCJ teachers argue that lying is acceptable when it serves God’s will, which they believe includes recruiting people to their church. Additionally, SCJ believes that since they are engaged in a spiritual war against Satan, it is necessary to lie and conceal the truth to prevent Satan from hindering God’s will. To support this argument, they draw a comparison between concealing information in war using codes and concealing information in the spiritual war against Satan. According to SCJ, just as it is acceptable to use codes in physical warfare, it is acceptable to use lies and deception in spiritual warfare against Satan.

Before we delve into specific biblical passages that SCJ uses to support their doctrine on lying, it’s important to note that just because there are instances of Biblical characters lying in the Bible, it does not mean that lying is acceptable to a Holy God. There are numerous verses that explicitly condemn lying, and it’s not accurate to interpret these verses as referring only to lying about God (Ex. 20:12, Lev. 19:11, Ps. 101:7). SCJ will interpret these as spiritual lying. However, when we selectively interpret biblical passages to suit our agenda, it can be dangerous and lead to misinterpretation. Therefore, in the following sections, we will examine some of the key biblical passages that SCJ uses to justify their doctrine on lying and provide a correct interpretation of these passages.

Abraham and Isaac

Abraham was instructed by the angel of the Lord to sacrifice his son Isaac. SCJ states that because he did not tell his wife Sarah (got up early in the morning to avoid her in verse 1), lied to his servants about what they were doing on the mountain (Gen. 22:5), and told Isaac that God would provide the lamb (Gen. 22:8), that God did not care about the lies he told and still blessed him. They would use this example that it is fine to lie if the end justifies the means. Then they make the connection that since it is God’s will for you to learn the bible, you should not tell people that you are learning the bible, because it is God’s will, and you don’t want Satan to interfere.   

Response to Abraham and Isaac 

One important thing to consider, which will be a point used in other responses, is that our primary character model is Christ. Abraham, Jacob, or any other biblical character, is not who we should model our life on. It can be dangerous to make any comparison between a character’s actions and say that is how we should live our life. The bible is for us to see Christ and have our lives changed through the gospel, not to see what Abraham does and live like that.

Another note is that God never commended Abraham for his lying, but rather for his faith in the promise to him (Heb. 11:17-19). God can still use a wicked person to fulfil his purpose. We see this with Abraham, Jacob, David and Simon Peter.

Jacob and Esau

It is well known that Rebekah devised a plan together with Jacob to trick Isaac to believe that Jacob is Esau (Gen. 27:11 – 18). Jacob pretended to be Esau and tricked his father to give him the blessing of the eldest son instead of Esau. He even lied and cheated his father and stole the blessing from his brother, Esau (Gen. 27:19 – 27). 

SCJ will teach that even though this seems wrong in man’s eyes, God was pleased with Jacob and granted him the blessings. Even though Jacob did these things, God’s will was fulfilled just as He had instructed Rebekah many years ago (Gen. 27:28 – 29). A similar situation to Abraham is created: Jacob had to fulfil God’s promise, he had to lie about it to achieve that, and God did not care and was pleased with Jacob. 

Response to Jacob and Esau 

An important thing to mention is that God never says that lying is okay. An equally, if not more, convincing argument could be made that this text is showing that despite who we are and our failings, God can still use us. God blessing Jacob is not an approval of his lying. God had made a promise to Abraham to bless the world through him, and both of Abraham’s grandsons were problem children. God was blessing Jacob in spite of Jacob.

SCJ also claims that Jacob’s life was wonderful after he lied and that he is blessed by God (Gen. 32:9-10, Gen. 35:9-12). Sure but they forget that his life was also difficult. His Grandfather Abraham and father  Isaac lived to “ripe old ages”, while Jacob described the years of his life as “few and evil” (Gen. 47:9). 

One key interpretive note related to the Abraham story and the Jacob story is to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive text which the genre and context will determine. For example, historical narrative (found in much of the Old Testament, the New Testament Gospels and the book of Acts) is largely descriptive. In contrast, most parts of the epistles will be prescriptive.

There are plenty of examples of the Bible describing the historical actions of people lying. But that’s all it is. It’s describing something that took place. We must never confuse this with prescription. The Bible does describe many examples of people lying. It’s just describing events in history. It also describes murder, rape, polygamy, adultary, and slavery. In no way does merely describing something mean that it’s being approved of. It is clear that the bible is prescribing that we must not lie. Keep this in mind when looking at other passages that SCJ uses to justify lying. Other examples, which we will not go into include Rahab and the spies (Josh. 2), Abraham lying to Pharaoh (Gen. 12:10-20), and the story of Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38).

Lying spirit in 1 Kings 22

Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.  And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that.  Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said. “‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’ “So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”” 1 Kings 22:19-23

SCJ uses this passage to explain that God is gathered with his angels and they are discussing how to  . This appears to be a troubling passage at face value, and SCJ instructors take advantage of this by not understanding or applying the context. To answer this, we need to learn a little background about King Ahab, and also understand something about the sovereignty of God.

A response to the lying spirit

To put it frankly, Ahab was an awful king. He did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). Ahab loved to listen to false prophets as they told him what they wanted to hear (1 Kings 22:6). God has already announced the death of King Ahab many times through the prophets who were telling the truth. .  

When God asked for volunteers to “entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there” (1 Kings 22:20), a spirit (fallen angel/demon) said he would be a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets. God gave the spirit permission to proceed, and Ahab received the message he desired.

God chose to use a lying spirit because Ahab rejected God’s rebukes and warnings all through his life. Since God is sovereign over all of creation, He is not restricted in what or whom He can use to accomplish His holy purposes. All of creation is under His authority, and He chooses to use people and spirits, both good and evil, to bring His divine plans to pass and bring glory to Himself. “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. In the case of Ahab, God chose to use a lying spirit to accomplish His perfect and righteous plan. The lying spirit will receive its punishment just as Ahab did, and those who repent of their sins will receive forgiveness just like Ahab could have. It is dangerous to compare the sovereignty of God, and use a story of one specific King in the Old Testament to condone lying and deception in evangelism.

Proverbs 25:2

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Proverbs 25:2

SCJ instructors try to make a case that according to this verse, “It is to the glory of God” to lie in evangelism.

A response to Proverbs 25:2

This verse is speaking to the sovereignty and nature of God. It is in his nature and right to keep his counsels, and the reasons of his actions, to himself; which he does not need to impart to any other being for his advice and assistance; since he is self-sufficient, both for the contrivance and execution of whatsoever pleases him, and accountable to none for any of his matters. 

Jesus comes like a thief

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 1 Thessalonians 5:2

SCJ teaches that, since Jesus comes like a thief in the night, at the second coming he will be like a thief and be really sneaky. They use this to justify their methods of deception according to these thief-like actions that Jesus says he will come like. However this is taking the metaphor too far and inserting ideas that are not really there. Let’s address what this phrase “thief in the night” refers to. 

A response to Jesus coming like a thief

When Paul and Jesus use the phrase “thief in the night,” they are referring to the need for believers to be ready. If we read further down in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5, Paul is saying that the Thessalonians will be ready and will not be surprised. Therefore, we can see clearly that this metaphor is only appealing to the inattentiveness of believers, not the deceptive methods that a thief and SCJ use. It can be dangerous to take a biblical metaphor too far and apply it to situations where God did not intend. 

Jesus using “wisdom”

SCJ teaches that Jesus did many things in secret, and also told many people to keep his identity secret because he knew that Satan would use people to oppose (persecute) the work of God (Matt. 9:27 – 34, Mark 1:40 – 45, 5:35 – 43, 7:32 – 37, 8:22 – 30, John 5:9 – 16, 7:1 – 12, 11:45 – 57). They believe that because Jesus did things in secret and knew Satan would get in the way, they also must conceal their activities so that Satan will not interfere with their work. 

A response to Jesus using “wisdom”

To make it clear, Jesus never lied, SCJ don’t claim that either, but they claim that Jesus did things in secret so that Satan would not interfere with His work. It is a stretch to go from the actions of Jesus to the actions of SCJ recruiters. We need to understand the intentions behind Jesus’s actions. There are a few reasons why so let’s look into those and also see how Jesus’s actions and intentions differ from SCJ recruiters. 

In Matthew 16:20, Jesus instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the messiah. He also says a similar thing in Matthew 17 after His transfiguration where he tells them not to share. This can be unsettling as one would think Jesus’s goal is to share that he is the messiah with many people. However, Jesus is not trying to prevent people from knowing who he is. He has publicly displayed all the promised signs of the Messiah and many have acknowledged His identity (Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22). He is sensitive to the weaknesses of the people and if enough became convinced that He was the Messiah—before His prophesied death and resurrection (John 12:32–34)—they would attempt to start a revolution against Rome, to make Him king of Israel (John 6:15). That would be based on a misunderstanding about what the Messiah had come to do on earth. He does not want that.

For now, Jesus seems most interested in allowing Israel’s religious leaders and the people to decide for themselves who they will say that He is, based on His displays of God’s power and His teaching and to not get in the way of his crucifixion and resurrection. The time for many to know the message of Christ will happen when the time is right (Acts 1:8).

It is important to note that Shincheonji believe there will be a time where many people will come to SCJ and they will evangelise more openly, they call this the great multitude referring to Revelation 7 verse 9 and verse 14. But for the time now they believe that they must be discreet since they are still perceived as a cult so people would not believe if they shared who they were openly.

Part of why Jesus was discreet is about humility and service, but this argument is not as strong as the one made above. The main difference between SCJ’s methods and Jesus’s is that SCJ are going beyond being discreet to not mislead. They are being deceptive and manipulative. Many of them share that they are members or leaders of various Christian churches and ministries, that they studied at various bible colleges, or that they themselves are learning this with you for the first time. They also then encourage you not to share these teachings with anyone or not even let anyone know that you are learning the bible. They coach their members how to lie with many of them being comfortable being able to look you straight in the eye while doing so. SCJ claim that these actions are righteous as it is what the early apostles practised. We will investigate this claim next. 

Paul’s and the apostle’s wisdom

SCJ states that Paul realised that he had to use deception to bring people to the truth quoting 1 Cor 9:19-23 where he “becomes all things to all people”. They also add that the early disciples lied and hid themselves in order to not be killed and to spread their message faster.

A response to Paul using deception

There is no biblical example that said the early disciples and believers of Christ had to lie about who they were. It is true that they suffered immense persecution and had to hide in caves (Heb. 11:38), but that is it. Their ministry was open and public and never hid their message, nor lied to anyone about who they were. If they didn’t tell the truth, then why were so many of them killed for their faith? 

In response to the use of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, this should be considered in context, and since SCJ teachers love to cherry pick scriptures and not consider verses in their context, this would have been overlooked. Reading verses 17-19 says:

“If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel. Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” 1 Corinthians 9 :17-19

So here we can see it is not about lying, but about giving up his rights and freedoms for the sake of those who long to know Jesus. Where Paul states he has “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. ” he is referring to giving up his rights, and also adjusting to culture standards to not cause offence during evangelism. When in Athens, Paul established rapport with the Greeks before telling them about Jesus. He stood amidst their many idols and commented about their devotion to their gods (Acts 17:22). Rather than rail against the idolatry of Athens, Paul used those symbols of pagan pride to gain their attention. In Romans he talks about not eating food sacrificed to idols if it might cause offence to someone, or to get circumcised if it might cause someone not to believe.  If becoming all things to all people means we can sin, then where’s the line? Can I sleep with a prostitute to evangelise to them? (Of course not!) It is a slippery slope. Paul is not lying, nor is he getting enthralled by the things of the world, rather he is removing or avoiding cultural barriers in order to share the gospel with those who might not otherwise give him a chance.

Furthermore, in Paul’s next letter to the church in Corinth we see him specifically forbid deceptive methods to share the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 4:2  “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” If Paul endorses the use of deception in his ministry, here he would seem to be contradicting himself! Therefore we can say that Paul did not use deception in his ministry but boldly proclaimed the gospel with a sensitivity to cultural standards.  

Comparison to Biblical Evangelism

What does biblical evangelism look like? The word “evangelise” means to proclaim good news (or gospel), which for Christians is about who Jesus is and what He has done so that people can be saved. In the book of Acts we see the gospel being preached, and thousands of people responding and being saved  (Acts 2, Acts 4). SCJ do not share their full gospel up front: to be saved one must belong to SCJ and believe in their promised pastor. They would never tell you this up front. Rather, SCJ “evangelise” through inviting people to bible studies and seminars, in order to drip-feed their controversial teachings throughout the centre courses in the hopes that you are convinced and believe in their false gospel after about 4-8 months.  

SCJ use this idea of “food at the proper time” (Matt. 24:45-47) where food, referring to their teachings, are given in bits at the right time. They would also refer to John 16:12 where Jesus tells His disciples that he has more to say but cannot for the time being. These examples are used to explain why they cannot share their full teachings up front. However, as Christians we are told to preach the gospel, the full gospel. Where possible, when we meet someone on the street, we share the full extent of the teachings of Christ, that God created us, we sinned, Jesus paid for that sin through the cross and we must respond. SCJ almost seem ashamed of their gospel and are scared of being judged, claiming that Satan will work to interfere. They should be proud of their teachings if it is the truth (Rom. 1:16). They also think that their teachings should not be given to those who will mistreat it which is why it must be kept hidden (quoting Matthew 7:6), yet Jesus makes it clear that we should be a city on a hill (Matt. 5:14-16). It is not up to SCJ to determine who is and who is not worthy. There are many accounts where the early apostles preached the full gospel, even to those who are persecuting them.

As those who are trusted with this great commission and to preach the gospel to the nations (Matt. 28:18-20, Matt. 24:14) we must do so in truth, understanding that the gospel should not be sheltered from people, and we must also uphold godly characteristics. SCJ do not do so, rather we can clearly see that they twist scriptures to fit their own agenda so that they might recruit many people. An organisation that needs to use manipulative and deceptive methods in supplication to their teachings, is not one of God. Shincheonji is not a church of Jesus.  




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