Who Is My Brother?

Two Men

Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).

The brotherhood that Peter mentioned was a special group of people. We know this because it was distinguished from “all people” in the same verse. Because a distinction was made, it would be good for us to understand who our brethren are.

We often talk of those with whom we worship and those with whom we agree in religious matters as being brethren. We are generally careful not to use the term to refer to those in denominationalism. We also talk about brethren in institutionalism with whom we cannot have fellowship. Why? What is the Scriptural basis for making these distinctions?

When told to love his neighbor, the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). We are told to “love the brotherhood.” We should ask a similar question: “Who is my brother?

What Makes Us Brethren?

Before we answer this question, we must first recognize that there are a couple different ways the word brethren is used in the New Testament. One way the word is used is to refer to the Jewish people. On the day of Pentecost, Peter addressed his fellow Jews as brethren (Acts 2:29). They also called Peter and the apostles brethren (Acts 2:37). Stephen used this term to refer to the Jewish leaders who would soon put him to death (Acts 7:2). The Jews were brethren in the sense that they had a common heritage. They all were descendants of Abraham.

But there is another use of the word that would make some Jews brethren and some not. This is the use we are interested in looking at in this article. In Jerusalem, Saul (later Paul) was “arguing with the Hellenistic Jews” who were “attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea” (Acts 9:29-30). In one sense, Saul and these Jews he argued with were brethren; but not in the way it was used here. The brethren (Acts 9:30) were the disciples (Acts 9:26).

This use of the word does not include all of the Jews. However, it does include both Jews and Gentiles. After the controversy over circumcision spread to Antioch, there was a discussion about the matter in Jerusalem since the proponents of circumcision came from there. After discussing the matter, the apostles and elders wrote a letter to Antioch and other affected places: “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings” (Acts 15:23). The brotherhood included both Jews in Jerusalem and Gentiles in Antioch.

How did the Jews and Gentiles become brethren? Peter called the congregation in Jerusalem brethren (Acts 6:3). These brethren started from the same group of Jews on the day of Pentecost who, after believing, were told to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37-38). As they did this, God added to their number (Acts 2:41, 47). In Corinth there was another group of brethren (Acts 18:18), this time the group was comprised mostly of Gentiles. What had these people done to become brethren? Upon hearing the word, they believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).

The Jews often referred to each other as brethren because they were all descendants of Abraham. There was a distinction made between them and the Gentiles. But when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he told them these distinctions were no longer important: “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

Those who belong to Christ are Abraham’s descendants and, therefore, brethren. Just before these verses, Paul stated how one becomes part of God’s family: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). These verses harmonize with what we saw the Jews in Jerusalem and the Gentiles in Corinth doing – they believed and were baptized. This is how one becomes a child of God.

So who are our brethren? Those who by faith have been baptized into Christ are brethren. What if one did this and is part of an institutional group or has joined a denomination? He is still a brother. He may be an erring brother that needs to be corrected (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; James 5:19-20), but he is a brother nonetheless.

What if one has not been baptized but is still religious and claims to believe in God and in Jesus? He is not a brother. He has not put on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3:27). God has not added him to the body of Christ (Acts 2:41, 47). He has not been saved (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21). We may have things in common with him – just as Jewish Christians shared a common heritage with unbelieving Jews – but we are not brethren.

Conclusion

We have seen from the Scriptures what people did in the first century to become brethren in the spiritual sense. They accepted the word of God in faith and were baptized into Christ. All those who have done that are brethren. There may be some who are weak and need to be strengthened (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Some will err from the truth and need to be corrected (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15). Others will teach things contrary to the doctrine of Christ and need to be opposed (Galatians 2:3-4). But if we walk in the Light as God is in the Light, we have fellowship with Him and, by extension, fellowship with our brethren who also walk according to the will of God.


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on Blessings, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Social Issues.