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What is guile in the Bible?

guile in the Bible

Guile is craftiness, deceit, or cunning. The word itself is used primarily in the King James Version and other older translations of the Bible. From the root word guile we get the adjective beguiling, which means “charming in a deceptive way.”

Several different Hebrew words are translated “guile” in the Old Testament. Each of them means “deceit, treachery, and dishonesty” as in Psalm 32:2, which says, “Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (KJV). In the New Testament, guile is used in John 1:47, in which Jesus says of Nathanael, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (KJV) and in 1 Peter 3:10, which says, “He that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (KJV).

Jacob is an example of a man who practiced guile (Genesis 25). His very name is a Hebrew idiom for “deceiver.” Jacob used guile to con his brother, Esau, out of his birthright (Genesis 25:29–34). He used guile to trick his elderly father into blessing him, the second-born, instead of the firstborn (Genesis 27). Jacob found himself on the receiving end of guile, too. His father-in-law proved to be as full of guile as Jacob (Genesis 29:16–30). We may use guile to get us what we want in the moment, but God cannot bless it, and we often end up the victims of our own deception.

The word guile is always used in a negative sense in the Bible. There is nothing good about guile. “The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty” (2 Corinthians 11:3, KJV). God is truthful, and He requires His human creations to be truthful as well (Leviticus 19:11; Ephesians 4:25). Jesus “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). All forms of dishonesty, deception, and evil cunning are soundly condemned throughout Scripture (see Proverbs 6:16–17). When Jesus said of Nathanael that he had “no guile,” He was giving Nathanael a high compliment. May it be said of each of us that we are also without guile.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022