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.
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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, Andra. Glad that you found it useful in your study. You bring up an interesting angle to this story. We certainly see God’s providential care throughout Abraham’s life and especially in stories like this one! It definitely hints toward the blessed/cursed statement from God in Gen 12:3.
I say “hints” only because I’m not recalling any scripture telling us that it specifically does (any suggestions?). At least, not like we see Paul using it in Gal 3 to tell us unequivocally that the bless/curse statement is about Jesus and His redemption for ALL mankind.
Another interesting thought that you prompted (and just happened to be reading this when your comment came) is that Balaam repeats this (God speaking) in one of his blessings that he of course intended would be a curse (Num 24:9). It’s interesting because in this story, Balaam still gets his way by essentially cursing the people (Num 31:16). Of course, ultimately God preserves them but it’s interesting that at least in Balaam’s lifetime, he probably thought he had put on over on them…
At any rate…back to your comment…please let us know any feedback about our response. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.