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I’m not a biblical scholar so please don’t be too hard on me.

I understand that twice Abraham presented his wife Sara as his sister. First in Egypt and later after Sodom and Gomorrah.

I am not sure that God recognized ancient Egypt as evil, because without Egypt there would be no Judeo-Christian Faith but Egypt was polytheistic. This was God’s first commandment to Moses so obviously of utmost importance. So Egypt had to be viewed by God as not abiding by his law, even though it wasn’t revealed until Moses many many years later.

Sodom and Gomorrah on the other hand were lost, shown the way but unable to follow a good life.

God's commandment to Moses and the people on Sinai was "Thou shall not commit adultery". It is well established that adultery in biblical times was considered knowingly sleeping with a married woman. That was adultery. like it or not. So places that were so far away from God, and The Way, the likelihood of another man’s wife being taken in these ungodly places was much much more likely. Just a thought. Please be kind.

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    Welcome! General questions about religious issues may be more suitable for Christianity.Stackexchange. Here on Hermeneutics, we like to deal with interpretation of a specific passage or Biblical language issue. You might like to edit your question to add the Bible verses you are asking about, e.g. Genesis 12:13 and Genesis 20:2. Yes, those were the two times that Abram/Abraham lied about Sarai/Sarah being his sister. She was actually his half-sister--but it was deceptive for him not to admit she was also his wife.
    – Biblasia
    Feb 10, 2023 at 11:47
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    Related, possible duplicate: Did Abraham really lie about Sarah being his sister (Gen. 20:2, 4, 11)?
    – agarza
    Feb 10, 2023 at 17:58
  • Did you notice, that in Gen. 26 the same happens with Abraham's son Ischak and his wife Rebeka biblehub.com/genesis/26-7.htm?
    – grammaplow
    Feb 10, 2023 at 18:29
  • Isn't it obvious that he was scared? Also, I don't understand the relevance of your final 3 paragraphs. They don't see to have anything to do with the question you asked in the title.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 10, 2023 at 23:36
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    to save his life. Lying is acceptable under necessary circumstances. Search this site for its reference you will find some answers on Jewish view about lying and morality.
    – Michael16
    Feb 11, 2023 at 17:10

2 Answers 2

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Before we look at the two incidents where Abram said Sarai was his sister and not his wife, we need to understand that Abram lived long before God gave Moses the commandments. Abram died about 465 years before Moses was born.

Yes, God was fully aware of the pagan deities worshipped by the Egyptians and of the gross immorality of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the time was not yet right for God to give His commandments to His chosen people. First, Abram and Sarai would have to produce Isaac, who then had Jacob, and from Jacob came the Hebrew people who were eventually released from Egyptian captivity. God selected Abram to be the father of His chosen people, even though Abram was far from perfect! Here is an extract from an article that explains the events in Egypt:

In Genesis 12, Abram and his wife Sarai (their names were later changed to Abraham and Sarah) travelled to Egypt due to a famine in Canaan. Abram instructed his wife to tell people in Egypt that she was his sister instead of his wife. His reason was to protect himself. Because Sarai was so beautiful, Abram feared someone would kill him and take Sarai as his wife. The plan to pass her off as his sister would ensure that Abram would be well received by those he met.

In Egypt, Sarai’s beauty attracted the attention of Pharaoh, the ruler of that country. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s house, and many gifts were given to Abram (Genesis 12:16). Genesis 12:17 says, “But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” This seems puzzling. After all, the king was the victim of Abram and Sarai’s deceit.

The result of this punishment reveals the reason for it. When Pharaoh realized Sarai was Abram’s wife, he summoned Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go” (Genesis 12:18-19). If God had not caused the plagues to come upon Pharaoh and his household, he may not have known anything was wrong. The affliction led to the discovery that Sarai was Abram’s wife. If Pharaoh had kept Sarai, Abram would not have had a son by Sarai in fulfilment of God’s promise to him (Genesis 12:2; 17:19). God graciously intervened in order to keep His covenant with Abram. https://www.gotquestions.org/Abram-Pharaoh-lie.html

Abram knew the snake-pit he was going into and to protect Sarai from a powerful, covetous ruler, and to ensure he was not murdered in order for that one to satisfy his lust with Sarai, Abram took the initiative. He made it known from the outset that she was his sister which was perfectly true, as a male and a female born to the same father were viewed as brother and sister, back then. That way, the Pharaoh would have to negotiate with Abram, and not kill him.

With regard to Abimelech, (Genesis 20:1-7) when Abraham came into a new area he occasionally feared that the local ruler would kill him and take Sarah for himself. Abraham told Abimelech king of Gerar that Sarah was his sister (she was his half-sister). Abimelech took Sarah into his harem, but God sent him a dream telling him not to touch Sarah because she was Abraham’s wife. The king returned Sarah to her husband the next morning; the dream had protected Sarah and safeguarded God’s plan for Sarah to be the mother of His chosen people.

This is what Abraham said to Abimelech in Genesis 20:11-13:

I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”

Subsequently, God healed Abimelech and his household. Abram's faith in God was such that he looked to God for divine deliverance and received it.

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There is a clear external reason why Abraham lied in Gen. 12:13 and Gen 20:2. There may also be an internal or providential reason which is not so clear.

External reason: to save Abraham's life

The external reason was to preserve Abraham's life and lineage. In Gen. 12, Abraham states the external reason directly. It is to protect himself, even if it meant putting her at risk:

I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account. (11-13)

In Gen 20 the reason is not given, but the stories are parallel, and we may presume that the reason was the same: Abraham lied (or instructed Sarah to lie) to protect himself and thereby ensure the continuation of the chosen lineage.

Internal reason: to bless the couple with Isaac's birth

Internally we can speculate as to a spiritual or symbolic meaning. Abraham and Sarah, the first named humans in the Bible to act specifically as a couple since the Garden of Eden, were in a parallel to position to Adam and Eve. Meanwhile the Pharaoh and King were in the position of the god of this world, the "serpent" who had usurped the position ruler. Eve was seduced by the serpent with lying words. By deceiving the ancient kings and receiving his wife back undefiled, Abraham reversed the course of Adam's fall. Likewise, Sarah courageously entered the Satanic realm at great risk, without being seduced or otherwise harmed as Eve was. God consequently blessed the couple with the birth of Isaac, thus perpetuating the chosen lineage that would eventually bear fruit in the form of the Messiah.

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