Right, Wrong, and the Divine Voice in Scripture

Right, Wrong, and the Divine Voice in Scripture March 13, 2016

The story of Abram and Sarai in Egypt has always been concerning, specifically the part about him asking her to tell others they weren’t married but were brother and sister. One issue, by no means the most important, is that it seems he asked her to lie for him, which could conflict with notions of what a prophet is and is not supposed to do. The parallel account of Abraham, Sarah, and Abimalech claims that it was only a partial falsehood, since Sarah was the prophet’s half-sibling (Genesis 20:12).

In LDS scripture, there is as another solution. As Genesis 12 is rewritten in the book of Abraham, chapter 2, the whole thing is God’s idea:

Here is Genesis 12:11-13:

11 And it came to pass, when he [Abram] 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.

And here it is rewritten in Abraham 2:22-25:

22 And it came to pass when he I was come near to enter into Egypt, he the Lord said unto Sarai his wife me: Behold now, I know that thou Sarai, thy wife, art is a very fair woman to look upon; 23 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee her, that they will say—This She is his wife; and they will kill me you, but they will save thee her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: 24 Let her say unto the Egyptians, I pray thee, thou art my she is thy sister, that it may be well with me for they sake; and my thy soul shall live because of thee. 25 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me—Therefore say unto them, 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.

So, yes, Abraham may have asked Sarai to lie for him. That’s OK, though, because God told him to. In other words, right and wrong are defined solely in terms of divine fiat. Does that make this and other scriptural accounts (e.g. Nephi’s slaying of Laban) more or less concerning? If God says it, does that mean we can or should do it?

The answer to my last question might appear obvious to many Latter-day Saints. And if we knew for certain God were speaking, that would be one thing. But all scripture, like the book of Abraham, is written down by humans, not God. God may inspire humans to write; he does not pick up pen and paper himself, however. Thus there is always the possibility that, at least in part, scripture is your speech and mine placed in the mouth of God.

I think we see this plainly in Joseph Smith’s rewriting of Genesis 12:11-13, for example.

That being the case, instead of automatically attributing our motives and actions to God, could we try first acknowledging them as our own? Could we come to grips with the fallibility of scripture and prophets, ancient and modern, with the human, the societal, the cultural element that is in all revelation?

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