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We are often told that Abraham and Sarah lied to Pharaoh about being brother and sister:

Genesis 20:2, 4: "Abraham said of Sarah his wife, 'She is my sister.'... 4Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, 'Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? 5Did he not himself say to me, "She is my sister"? And she herself said, "He is my brother."’"

However, shortly thereafter in the same chapter:

Genesis 20:11: "Abraham said [to Abimelech], 'Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. 12Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife; 13and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, "This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, 'He is my brother."'"

Why is it considered lying when, technically, Abraham and Sarah really were brother and sister?

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  • The link you provided is about incest. I've asked nothing about that subject. Why the "..etc..etc."? Your comment sounds very condescending. Is my question personally offensive to you?
    – Xeno
    Sep 24 at 19:33
  • 2
    Not in the slightest. The word 'technically' I would say, is incorrect. And it is the other questions that are condemnatory, not your own. But the subject has been covered, without a doubt, whatever aspect is headlined in the question heading. I use 'etc' out of convenience when quoting long bits of text.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 24 at 19:39
  • @NigelJ Thanks for the clarification.
    – Xeno
    Sep 24 at 20:19
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It was a lie because it was a misrepresentation of their relationship. They were husband and wife. By saying his wife was his sister, Abraham was deliberately concealing the fact that, despite this reality, she was also his wife.

Abraham did it in fear, thinking to save his life in the case that the king would take her to himself. But by misrepresenting his real relationship with her, he basically said that his wife was not his wife and was free for the taking--and so the king took her. This happened on two separate occasions.

Pharaoh

And Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? (Genesis 12:18, KJV)

Pharaoh was obviously not happy with Abram's misrepresentation.

Abimelech, King of Gerar

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. (Genesis 20:2, KJV)

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife. (Genesis 20:3, KJV)

Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. (Genesis 20:5, KJV)

Clearly, Abimelech was not happy about Abraham's misrepresentation either.

Conclusion

It was a lie not merely for not being the full truth but because it was deliberately misleading and deceitful.

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There is no record of God rebuking Abraham for lying. On the contrary, God was about to punish Abimelek for Abraham's deception, Genesis 20:

2and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Further, God listened to Abraham's prayer:

17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

Did Abraham really lie about Sarah being his sister (Gen. 20:2, 4, 11)?

There is no record of God calling it a lie.

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  • The reason I asked this question is that I often hear people suggesting that "Abraham lied", when his words do not seem to constitute an actual, outright lie. Of course, all lying is a sin, but I've never been entirely convinced such was the case here. +1.
    – Xeno
    Sep 24 at 20:22
  • Good points. I have read theological analysis of Abraham's story which infers the handing over of Sara is actually Prophetic That Sara (the barren woman) and wife of the prophet represents Israel (eg Isaiah 54 - God's wife) She was required to be handed over to the King in the land of Egypt and the land that would later become Babylon in order to prophetically fortell God giving Israel's over to time in Slavery in Egypt (Exodus) and the Babylonian Exile. Abraham heads down into Egypt during the famine. This picks up later when Jacob an his sons do the same. The stories match.
    – Marshall
    Sep 25 at 0:23
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The simplest answer to this question is to ask it the other way around - why did not Abraham simply tell the whole truth that he and Sarah were married?

This question immediately reveals that Abraham was misrepresenting the situation and thus, lying.

Both Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelech (Gen 20) recognized the lie - as a result of which they could have been guilty of adultery by taking another man's wife. Both were morally righteous and immediately stopped their plans to marry Sarah and then sent Abraham away.

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  • You make a good point. I may need to re-evaluate my stance on this subject. +1.
    – Xeno
    Sep 24 at 23:22
  • I have read theological analysis of Abraham's story which infers the handing over of Sara was Prophetic That Sara (the barren woman) and wife of the prophet represents Israel (eg Isaiah 54). She was required to be handed over to the King in the land of Egypt and the land that would later become Babylon in order to prophetically fortell Israel's time in Slavery in Egypt (Exodus) and the Babylonian Exile. Abraham heads down into Egypt during the famine. This picks up later in the genesis when Jacob an his sons do the same. The stories match with Sara essentially being a symbol for Israel.
    – Marshall
    Sep 25 at 0:17
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How do we define lying? Once again here we are analysing the Bible with a ‘western’ mindset. Using our dictionary to ‘define’ a ‘lie’

1 SAMUEL 6:2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’

Here God is telling Samuel to deliberately mislead Saul. God had told Samuel to rise up and anoint the next King - but to tell Saul that he was only going to make a sacrifice. (You may need to read the surrounding verses to see this reflected more clearly!).

Technically Abraham was not telling a lie. Sarah was a relative. But was Abraham being deceitful? Arguably yes - to save ‘his skin’. But this is not biblically ‘lying’. As we see above, Samuel was instructed to do the same - for the same reason.

The Law had not yet been given. Abraham was never under Law. Besides, does the ninth commandment actually forbid all lying? Is its purpose to give full, detailed answers in truth-telling regardless of context?

(On the other hand) Bearing ‘false witness’ is sin. Proverbs 6 clearly tells us this. False witness ‘steals’- it unrighteously ‘takes away’…… be it character or possession(s). This verse in proverbs essentially clarifies the 9th commandment.

However, the western dictionary definition of ‘lying’ takes a complete different view of what a [biblical] ‘lie’ is. It takes it beyond that which the Bible intended. Therefore it should not be used as a ‘lens’ to interpret scripture.

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  • Thanks for that. I'm upvoting this because you have presented a unique perspective. +1.
    – Xeno
    Sep 25 at 22:13

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