Genesis 18: 9-15: Did G-d lie to Abraham?


#1

When Sarah laughs at the thought of having a child with Abraham, she says to G-d it is because Abraham is too old (he is approaching 100) rather than because she, at 90, is too old. However, G-d tells Abraham that Sarah believes it is she who is too old. Does this mean that G-d told Abraham a little white lie? If so, what are the implications of this for human behavior? If not, how can we explain this passage in Scripture?

One of the Christian (I’m not sure if it is specifically Catholic) explanations is that G-d did NOT lie but rather related to Abraham only a portion of what Sarah said to Him, and G-d omitted the remainder of what Sarah said. The reasoning for the omission is that G-d did not want to upset Abraham and spoil his relationship with his wife, yet, at the same time, G-d NEVER lies since it is not in His nature to do anything evil. Nonetheless, is there any evidence in the biblical text that G-d omitted some of what Sarah told Him?

Another possible explanation I thought of is that G-d related to Abraham what Sarah REALLY meant rather than what she said. She might have been blaming Abraham by her words but she in fact internally felt that it was SHE who was too old to bear a child.

The main Jewish explanation of these verses is that G-d did indeed tell a white lie to Abraham, revealing as a lesson to humankind that this is sometimes, albeit rarely, permissible. In this instance, it was for the purpose of keeping the peace and domestic tranquility between Abraham and Sarah rather than upsetting and doing emotional harm to both of them. Two of the major attributes of G-d are Peace (Shalom) and Truth, but G-d is instructing us that sometimes these two virtues come into conflict with one another in the course of human behavior. That is, G-d is teaching us that we must exercise wisdom to determine in each individual situation whether peace or truth is more essential and beneficial. Nonetheless, does this make G-d a liar?

What are your thoughts about this passage from Scripture from a Catholic perspective and a personal perspective?


#2

That first explanation is only in place because the verse in question shows your god to be hypocritical and undermines the teachings of the church. “God” clearly tells a blatant lie to Abraham.


#3

I must be missing something, because in reading Gen 18:9-15, the closet thing I see, to Sarah saying that Abraham’s age was the infertility issue is in verse 12, and at best she is saying the age of both of them is a factor, not that Abraham’s age is the problem…and I see nowhere in the reading that would even raise the possibility that God lied or omitted anything.

Maybe I haven’t had enough coffee yet, and I missed your point…could you give me a little help?


#4

G-d specifically tells Abraham that Sarah laughed, which she had denied, and told Him that it was she (alone) who was too old to have a child. In reality, she says she is “worn out” but states in passing that her lord (Abraham) is old. Perhaps this is all nit-picking, but the verses have been cited by several theologians as an example of either a lie or an omission on the part of G-d.


#5

Why is G-d being hypocritical here rather than compassionate toward Abraham?


#6

I would think that God cannot lie.


#7

God doesn’t lie, you think that bc that is how you want to see God as a liar, but God does not lie.


#8

Well this is from my Douay Rheims:

And when they had eaten, they said to him: Where is Sara thy wife? He answered: Lo, she is in the tent. [10] And he said to him: I will return and come to thee at this time, life accompanying and Sara thy wife shall have a son. Which when Sara heard, she laughed behind the door of the tent. [11] Now they were both old, and far advanced in years, and it had ceased to be with Sara after the manner of women. [12] And she laughed secretly, saying: After I am grown old and my lord is an old man, shall I give myself to pleasure? [13] And the Lord said to Abraham: Why did Sara laugh, saying: Shall I who am an old woman bear a child indeed? [14] Is there any thing hard to God? According to appointment I will return to thee at this same time, life accompanying, and Sara shall have a son. [15] Sara denied, saying: I did not laugh: for she was afraid. But the Lord said, Nay: but thou didst laugh:
[16] And when the men rose up from thence, they turned their eyes towards Sodom: and Abraham walked with them, bringing them on the way. [17] And the Lord said: Can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do: [18] Seeing he shall become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed?

I don’t see where Sarah claimed that the problem was Abraham. She specifically mentions that (11) 'it had ceased to be with her after the manner of women–which means that she had stopped her menses (menopause) and was no longer able to have a child.


#9

Every commentary I’ve read made nothing of it except one (I think it was the jps) which made a bigger issue of her denying laughing, but did note she also raised Abraham’s age…so I Agee, it’s probably nit-picking.


#10

As an atheist while you have every right to participate here, you will understand if we do not accept your interpretation of scripture.


#11

God would never lie. Remember that her laugh was to herself as were her thoughts. God heard both. God knows what is in Sarah’s heart and mind. He responds to that.

]11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years, and Sarah had stopped having her menstrual periods.
12 So Sarah laughed to herself and said, “Now that I am worn out and my husband is old, am I still to have sexual pleasure?”
13 But the LORD said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really bear a child, old as I am?’
14 Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.”


#12

Our current translations of Scripture seem to explicitly claim that Sarah’s making mention of both of them… but it wasn’t always so. :wink:

The Greek of the Septuagint renders:

ἐγέλασεν δὲ Σαρρα ἐν ἑαυτῇ λέγουσα οὔπω μέν μοι γέγονεν ἕως τοῦ νῦν ὁ δὲ κύριός μου πρεσβύτερος

Essentially, Sarah is saying, “What? Now this is going to happen to me? And my lord (i.e., Abraham) is old!”

and the Latin of the Knox translation would be:

Quæ risit occulte dicens: Postquam consenui, et dominus meus vetulus est, voluptati operam dabo?

Looking at the Greek, Sarah seems to be making mention of herself in passing, while making explicit reference to Abraham’s age. The Latin, however, makes Sarah’s self-reference explicit (“postquam consenui”). So, perhaps what Meltzerboy is looking at is pointing to the explicit reference to Abraham without noticing the implicit reference to Sarah herself, as we see it in the Greek.

So, I don’t think it’s fair to say that God is lying here; rather, he’s picking up the (subtle?) self-reference that Sarah is making, and pointing it out to Abraham.


#13

To me it seems a problem with translation. Shouldn’t we give God the benefit of the doubt???


#14

according to the catechism the absolute truth may not always be the best way to go.by telling the absolute truth may cause someone hurt or harm .be truthful judiciously and with common sense.
Example. what if you hid a runaway slave before the Civil war? would it be better to tell the absolute truth and get someone killed or twist the truth a bit and save a life?


#15

Doesn’t the CCC allow for omission of information rather than commission of a lie? You seem to be stating Jewish, not Catholic, teaching; but I could be wrong. Thanks for the comment.


#16

I recall this is an issue. Thanks for the scholarly reference.


#17

First question: which man or person is G-d?

Are any of these words in the original a homonym?

Maimonides points out that our words are often used in two different ways.

Or should I have asked: how many of these words have only one many?


#18

Who are the three supposed to be?

Is one or two or all three supposed to be Lord or divine being(s)?

THANKS!


#19

I have noticed another interesting story in I Samuel 16:1-3, where The Lord tells Samuel to go to Jesse and choose his son David as king. Samuel objects and says that when Saul hears about it, he will kill him (meaning himself, Samuel). So G-d told Samuel to take a heifer with him and say that he had come to make sacrifices to the Lord, and to ask Jesse to go with him. So here it seems that G-d tells Samuel to tell a half-truth? But as you have both noted above, this could be an omission, rather than the blatant truth, so that no one will be hurt in the meantime.

I also love the fact, that as ‘‘old’’ as Abraham was, after Sarah died, he re-married and had 6 other children. (Genesis 25:1-2) :wink:


#20

Which “three” do you mean? Can you expand on your question? I don’t understand what you are asking. :slight_smile:


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