What is Guile?

The word guile may date back as early as the 12th century, but is not very common in our vernacular today.  At first it seemed to me this might mean “lies,” but there is more to it.  Webster defines it as “deceitful cunning : duplicity.”  This doesn’t get us very far unless we understand those words too:

  • deceitful – having a tendency or disposition to deceive, not honest, deceptive, misleading
  • cunning dexterous or crafty in the use of special resources (as skill or knowledge) or in attaining an end, characterized by wiliness and trickery
  • duplicity – contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action; especially : the belying of one’s true intentions by deceptive words or action

The word comes from the Middle English gile, from Anglo-French.  It’s related to the Old English/French wigle or wigila, which refer to sorcery or witchcraft.  It’s also related to the Old English word wil or wile, meaning a trick.

Of course, one derivation of the word is beguile, which is the verb form of the word, meaning “to lead by deception, hoodwink (to deceive by false appearance)” or “to influence by trickery, flattery, etc.; mislead; delude.”

Another way to learn about the word is to see how it is used in the scriptures.  Here are a few examples:

  • Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings…
    For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
    Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: (1 Peter 2:1, 21–22)
  • Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. (Psalms 32:3)
  • Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. (Psalms 34:13)
  • Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! (John 1:47)
  • For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: (Thessalonians 2:3)
  • For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: (1 Peter 3:10)
  • And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelations 14:5)

One of the most predominant uses of the word is in the beguiling of Eve in the Garden of Eden.  For an excellent treatment of this subject, I would recommend Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s recent article on Meridian Magazine, “Was Eve Beguiled?


  1. Mark Hammer
    Posted March 28, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    So what is your take on King Lamoni being caught WITH guile? (See Alma 18:23)

    To my knowledge, it is the only positive mention of guile in the scriptures.

  2. Posted March 29, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Is it a positive mention? Or did King Lamoni tell him he would believe all his words just to get Ammon to talk.

  3. David
    Posted January 13, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I know that this is an old post, but I found it while I was researching the same verse and I thought I should share what I learned.
    Lamoni was caught with his self deceiving guile. He believed that Ammon was the Great Spirit and to Ammon’s credit he did not exploit the king and his subjects as he could have tried to make himself king and rule over them. Instead he had love for them and taught them the gospel. A similar use of the word is found in 2 Cor. 12:16 where Paul speaks of how to know if one is a true Apostle of the Lord. He says, “being crafty, I caught you with guile.” From the surrounding verses we learn that he is teaching them that while he could, he never burdened or exploited them for gain. This is a mark or characteristic of true apostleship according to Paul.

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