5

Abraham married his sister:

11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. [Genesis 20:11-12 ESV]

And God blessed this marriage:

15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” [Genesis 17:15-16 ESV]

However, incestuous relationships are explicitly prohibited in Scripture:

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ [Deuteronomy 27:22 ESV]

17 “If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. [Leviticus 20:17 ESV]

How can we reconcile all this?

4
  • As always: dear down-voter, would you be so kind as to enlighten me with your wisdom? How can I improve the question? Mar 21 at 4:03
  • You've given no reason to suppose that laws from hundreds of years after Abraham applied to him.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 22 at 5:24
  • @curiousdannii - are you suggesting that God's laws are not eternal? Mar 22 at 5:26
  • People mean different things by that. I'm just saying that you obviously have some presuppositions that would help your question be understood, and you should explain them. If someone read your question with no theological background they'd have every right to think that it makes as much sense as asking how Abraham having slaves and servants wasn't a violation of the US 13th amendment. And in general, you shouldn't assume a flat timeless reading of scripture on this site. While some Christians do read the Bible that way, most don't, especially not those in more academic circles.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 22 at 5:29
11

There are two matters here:

  1. Marrying siblings was not always a problem but became a problem (as we now know) because of biological problems. Adam and Eve's children must have (almost) all married their siblings!!
  2. The prohibition against marrying siblings (Deut 27:22, Lev 20:17) only became an Israelite law under the the Levitical system that was given about 2500 years after creation and more than 400 years after Abraham. It did not exist before.

Thus, there was nothing prohibiting Adam and Eve's children and Abraham marrying their siblings. As time progressed, this restriction was introduced to prevent birth problems (as we now understand).

4
  • 1
    You mentioned “biological problems” in sibling marriages. Do you have a reference for that? A link would be good. The reason I am asking is mainly not because of genetically incompatibility, but rather of infertility. The Bible makes it ckear that Sarah was infertile for most of her life, not giving birth until she turned 90. What is interesting, but not too obvious, is that the timespan between births in early Genesis also was quite long. Mar 21 at 22:58
  • 4
    @Constantthin - I think this is common knowledge. However, for a general reference see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incest and the problem of inbreeding and genetic defects.
    – Dottard
    Mar 21 at 23:00
  • You wrote: “Adam and Eve's children must have (almost) all married their siblings!!” That doesn’t have to be true. Adam and Eve would have had many children during their 900 odd years on earth. Only the first one to two generations could have married their siblings. Mathematically it would have been enough for only Cain to have married his sisters during the first hundred years. Set could have been 105 years old when first becoming a dad, and could then have married on of Cains daughters. Mar 24 at 22:34
  • @Constantthin - that is theoretically correct. By statement was deliberately vague because we do not know how many children Eve produced and over what time. Did she become menopausal at 100, 200 or 500 years? We are not told. Nor do we know how long she lived.
    – Dottard
    Mar 24 at 22:39
9

Technically, Sarah was Abraham’s HALF-sister, according to Genesis 20:12:

Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.

There are two occasions when Abraham was less than honest regarding his relationship with Sarah, his wife. The first instance is mentioned in Genesis 12:10-20 when famine drove Abraham down to Egypt. Abram feared that the Egyptians would kill him because Sarai was beautiful and they would want her as a wife. So he asked Sarai to tell everyone that she was his sister—which was technically true but also meant to deceive. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s house, and Abram was treated well because of her. But God afflicted Pharaoh’s house, and the lie was revealed. Pharaoh returned Sarai to Abram and sent them on their way.

The other is recorded in Genesis 20:1-18 when Abraham told Abimelech, king of Gerar, that Sarah was his sister. Sarah was also complicit, but God prevented Abimelech from having his way with Sarah. Abraham was caught out and that’s when he confessed he was afraid he might be killed and that they were actually half-brother-and-sister.

Back then genetics were purer than they are today, and because people lived together in close family units, it was common for a man to find a wife from within their own tribe and family.

However, as you point out from Deuteronomy 27:22 and Leviticus 20:17, incestuous relationships are explicitly prohibited. But those laws did not exist during Abraham’s life time. God’s laws were given to the Israelites about 1,000 years later. These laws were given by God to keep his people holy and clean, and to prevent them from being polluted by the pagan nations.

Why did God bless Abraham, even though he married his half-sister? God had plans for Abraham and for Sarah, namely that the Messiah would come through their son Isaac.

7
  • I don't mean this as criticism of Lesley or of the answer, but that very last sentence jarringly reminded me why this site failed so badly in its mandate. The failure was predictably inevitable, but unfortunate nonetheless. See cellio | Biblical Hermeneutics site: mostly harmful Mar 21 at 15:25
  • 1
    @RayButterworth - No offence taken, but having read the information in that link about BH, I've removed the last sentence. Thanks for the heads up.
    – Lesley
    Mar 21 at 15:34
  • The first sentence should probably be removed too, since both quoted scripture snippets in the question make quite clear half siblings still count. There is no "technicality" there.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 21 at 15:46
  • “You wrote that “back then genetics were purer than they are today”. Do you have a reference for that statement? Mar 21 at 22:53
  • 1
    @Constantthin - again, that is common knowledge - the genome decays with each generation as new errors occur.
    – Dottard
    Mar 21 at 23:03
1

When I call you a brother, it does not automatically mean blood brother, it can mean from the same religion, from the same nation, or even as in general we are all brothers and sisters.

In Islam, when Abraham called her his sister, he meant that as a sister in religion, and that was to protect her. This is not lying, it is a statement with multiple meanings. Our understanding of scriptures is built on certain foundations, and one of these is that prophets can not lie.

More info on the Islamic stance can be found on IslamicFinder.org website.

1
  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the Tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Mar 23 at 16:52

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