Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
Question: Genesis 12: 11-13:
11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto
Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12
Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall
say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I
pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul
shall live because of thee.
Did Abram lie when he passed off his wife as his sister?
Answer: Yes, and he enlisted his wife Sarai in the deception. However, to understand his
actions, we should look at this question from at least two standpoints. The first casts him in a
somewhat favorable light; the second less so.
First, Abram feared for his life when he entered Egypt with his beautiful Sarai, convinced the
Egyptians would kill him to get her, once they learned she was his wife. That fear prompted him
to give the impression that Sarai was his sister. Though misleading, and intended to be so, the
assertion was not entirely untrue. Abram and Sarai shared the same father, but different mothers
(see later in this article). In those days it was customary to refer to close relatives such as step
brothers, step-sisters and cousins, as one’s brothers and sisters. However, Abram let the faulty
impression stand and even accepted livestock from the pharaoh’s officers in exchange for Sarai
Second, although Abram did fear for his life, it’s not clear from the Scriptures what he based his
fears on. Perhaps he lacked the assurance of faith that God would protect him from harm,
especially in light of the promises that God already gave him (Genesis 12: 2, 3). Unfortunately,
Abram’s course produced several uncomplimentary results: (1) the Egyptians accused him of
deception; (2) in conveying the impression Sarai was a free woman, he exposed her to
mistreatment – she was taken into Pharaoh’s house for sexual exploitation; and, (3) he put
Pharaoh in danger of sinning against God by his taking the wife of another man.
God’s Word records the sins and faults of His people, as well as their virtues and strengths.
Many of God’s most faithful servants, such as David and Peter, suffered failures, later proving to
Abram is no exception. It is interesting to note from the lengthy account in Genesis 20 that later,
when Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah), were living in Gerar, they made the same mistake,
putting the king, Abimelech, in a false position, with a similar outcome. Here again Abram
presents his wife as his step-sister, since they claimed the same father, but were born of different
mothers. However, when Abraham was put under a most crucial test of his faith when God
commanded him to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac, he did not compromise. God forestalled
the sacrifice at the last minute, though Abraham had been fully prepared to go through with it.
In a recurring theme, Isaac fell into the same temporizing trap as his father, in the same place
(Gerar), and with a royal successor of the same name (Abimelech) (Genesis 26: 1-11). Here, too,
Isaac claimed that his wife Rebekah was really his sister, though in truth she was a cousin
(Genesis 24: 15, 16; compare 11: 29).