Question: "What does the Bible say about manipulation / being manipulative?"

Answer: The Bible has much to say about manipulation. Through examples, principles, and direct commands, Scripture warns us against manipulating others and against allowing ourselves to be manipulated.

At its core, manipulation is a type of lying. When someone speaks falsely for the purpose of deception, he or she is being manipulative, because to deceive is to manipulate someone into thinking or behaving a certain way. So all of the Bible’s prohibitions against lying can be applied to manipulation. Lying is a dreadful sin.

Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). We might also call him the “master of manipulation.” He manipulated Eve, using half-truths and appeals to her desire for wisdom, to deceive her into disobeying God. To this day, Satan manipulates people into traps he sets for them. He “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He exploits our weaknesses, strokes our pride, and assures us that following a sinful path is in our best interests. He is insidious in his artfulness; he has many ploys to bring us under his control.

Samson was the victim of manipulation a couple of different times. At his wedding feast, he posed a riddle to the Philistine attendees; if they could answer him correctly, he would give them “thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes” (Judges 14:12). The Philistines were stumped, and they resorted to asking Samson’s new wife to wheedle the answer from him. Samson’s wife “threw herself on him, sobbing, ‘You hate me! You don’t really love me. You’ve given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.’ . . . She cried the whole seven days of the feast” (verses 16–17). Finally, Samson allowed himself to be manipulated into giving her the answer, which she promptly relayed to her townspeople. Later, Samson fell victim to the manipulative Delilah, and he lost his life as a result (Judges 16).

The Bible warns of those who would manipulate us in spiritual matters. The New Testament has many warnings for Christians to be on the look-out for false teachers. We must not be easily deceived (Galatians 3:1; 2 Peter 2). Paul spoke out against manipulators “who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (2 Timothy 3:6). Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

It should go without saying that Christians are not to engage in manipulation or take advantage of others in any way. “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25). Just as important, we should not allow ourselves to be manipulated. Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). “Shrewd as snakes”—don’t be taken advantage of; “innocent as doves”—don’t manipulate others.

Some people are more manipulative by nature; they have strong wills, and their personalities engender trust. We must be careful when dealing with such people, especially when they are within our own families. In all our relationships, trust is important. We should speak the truth in love and demand the same of others.