Let’s read Genesis 12:10-13, “And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. 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: 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. 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.” Abraham (Abram), because of the beauty of Sarah (Sarai), was afraid he would be killed and her taken if the Egyptians knew that she was his wife. He asked her to say that she was his sister, which she did. The end result? Genesis 12:17-19, “And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife. 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? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.” Pharaoh took Sarah into his home and rewarded Abraham well for his ‘sister’. The Lord began to plague Pharaoh. Pharaoh rebuked Abraham for his lie and sent him and Sarah out of the land.

Now let’s read of a similar incident in Genesis 20:1-6, “And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. 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. But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? 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. And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” It seems Abraham had not learned his lesson and repeated his story in Gerar. When Abimelech the king took her, the Lord prevented him from lying with Sarah. When Abimelech approaches Abraham about this, he replies in verses 11-12, “Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake. And yet INDEED SHE IS MY SISTER; SHE IS THE DAUGHTER OF MY FATHER, BUT NOT THE DAUGHTER OF MY MOTHER; and she became my wife.” So, it is apparent that Sarah was the half-sister of Abraham. Abraham’s sin was that by telling a half-truth, he was still telling a complete lie! He denied that Sarah was his wife in both situations because he was afraid of telling the truth!

There have been many attempts to show that Sarah was not really Abraham’s sister, but I believe the simplest thing to do in this event, is to take the scriptures literally. Not only did Abraham say that Sarah was his sister, he also revealed that she was the daughter of his father. Some have said that the word ‘sister’ can be used in a broader sense such as a cousin or niece. Also, the word ‘father’ can be used in a broader sense such as an uncle or grandfather. In some cases this is true. But when Abraham insists that Sarah is his sister, the daughter of his father, the meaning becomes clear. Sarah was Abraham’s sister, or actually his half-sister, since they had different mothers.

Was their relationship sinful and incestuous? No, not for the times in which they lived. It was not until the Law was instituted that this kind of relationship was forbidden. We read in Leviticus 20:17, “And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people: he hath uncovered his sister’s nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity.” (276.4)