There are a couple of Old Testament stories where we see Abram lie about Sarai, or so it appears. In Genesis 12 and again in chapter 20, we find Abram and Sarai in similar situations that call for a plan. In both instances, Abram (later Abraham) and his wife Sarai (later Sarah) are traveling in a foreign land. In chapter 12, they have gone to Egypt to flee famine in their own land. In chapter 20, they are in Gerar (we are not told why). Both times we read of their plan to tell Pharaoh and Abimelech, the respective king in each place, that Sarai was Abram’s sister.

Did Abram lie about Sarai being his sister? She was technically his half-sister, being the daughter of Abram’s father, but not his mother (Genesis 20:12). Also, the “story” they devised was clearly intended to deceive each king. According to Merriam-Webster, the verb “lie” is (1) to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive, or (2) to create a false or misleading impression. What Abram did would constitute a “lie” and a “half-truth” (still a “lie”) according to Merriam-Webster.

How Scripture answers "Did Abram lie about Sarai?"

If we are using Merriam-Webster, there’s no question that Abram lied about Sarai1,2, committing a sin. However, we look to scripture to interpret scripture, not to secular, human things to interpret scripture. Searching scripture we can find a very similar case to Abram’s involving Samuel3. Here, God instructed Samuel to “lie” (according to Merriam-Webster) to Saul3. On God’s command, Samuel intentionally deceived Saul about his purpose for coming3.

We would have to weigh Abram’s (and Samuel’s) situation while remembering a couple of important attributes of God’s unchanging character. First, God is not a respecter of persons7, so for example, we couldn’t say He was somehow making an exception for Samuel3. Second, among the things that God cannot do is lie4,5,6 or associate with any sin8.

Therefore, we are forced to conclude that Abram did not “lie” about Sarai, as we might define lying. Maybe better said, Abram did not lie in a sinful way concerning Sarai.

This question and answer raise more questions about lying in general and what exactly is considered a sin in God’s eyes. At the very least, it seems that we might need to re-evaluate what a “lie” is according to Scripture. For example, Abram1,2 and Samuel3 did not divulge more than needed or more than was asked. We might argue that they were only deceitful and technically did not say anything that was untrue.

However, we have several other situations involving outright “lying” where the perpetrator’s actions were decidedly approved by God:

  1. The Egyptian midwives “lied” to Pharaoh about why the Hebrew males lived, yet God rewarded them9.
  2. Jehu deceived (“lied”) about why he was bringing Baal worshipers together yet was approved by God10
  3. Rahab “lied” when she his the Hebrew spies11, yet her deed/work completed her faith12.

The midwives9, Jehu10, and Rahab11 all intentionally deceived (e.g. “lied”) in order to achieve a Godly outcome. Scripture explicitly records God’s approval of their actions. Conversely, we also know about Ananias and Sapphira who lied to God13 and died as a result. Given all of these situations1,2,3,9,10,11,13, it may be that we need to reconsider exactly what constitutes a lie that is a sin before God.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

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I found your site as I was questioning if Abram actually sinned in this situation. I am so thankful to have ran across an awesome site like yours to help clarify.

Would you say it would be proper to cross reference Genesis 12:3, scripture found before this incident, where it speaks of the Lord cursing those that curse Abram?

Thank you