Abraham and Lot
This verse is the linch-pin of the 'cousins' theory:
"So Abram said to Lot, 'Please let there be no strife between you
and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.'"
Why does Abraham say that Lot is his brother? The reason cannot be linguistic
incompetence, because the narrator has just specified their biological
relationship as that of uncle/nephew: "Then Abram took Sarai his wife
and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered,
and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go
to the land of Canaan." (Genesis 12:5). Since the narrator knows how
to say "brother's son," why does he here say 'brother'? In fact
all of Abraham's children are brothers and sisters, as anyone can verify
by visiting a Bible-believing church!
All God's children call one another 'brother' and 'sister.' A 'brother' is anyone who is not a 'foreigner:' "And
this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it
of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’S release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give
up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the LORD will greatly bless
you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance..." (Deuteronomy 15:3); "...you shall
surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you
may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother." (Deuteronomy 17:15).
Why are the children of Israel brothers? God explained why this is so, and He did not explain it by dumbing down 'ach' to
mean 'kinsman,' rather,
"Have we not all one father? has not one God created us? why do we
deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant
of our fathers?" (Malachi 2:10).
"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: 'Israel is My son, My firstborn.'" (Exodus 4:22).
All Israel are brothers, not because 'brother' means anything other than 'son of the same parent,' but because it does mean
just that. God is the common parent. But their sonship and consequent
brotherhood fell short of expectations:
"Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
'I have nourished and brought up children,
And they have rebelled against Me;
The ox knows its owner
And the donkey its master’s crib;
But Israel does not know,
My people do not consider.'" (Isaiah 1:2-4).
The Lord taught the same concept of brotherhood, while also making its
"But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call
anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven." (Matthew 23:8-9).
We in the church are part of Abraham's family, children not of the slave
but of the free woman: "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children
of promise." (Galatians 4:28), and we follow his linguistic usages.
I doubt anyone spying on the church's freedom to call one another 'brother'
and 'sister' can succeed in dumbing it down to 'kinsman,' inasmuch as believers
hail from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9).
Can the Lord's 'brothers' be explained in this way? All Jews are 'brothers:' "And the next day he appeared to two of them
as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’" (Acts 7:26).
Yet were those 'within' not Jews, just as those 'without'? And His brothers were 'without:' "And it was told Him by some, who
said, 'Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.'" (Luke 8:20). And all believers
are 'brothers:' "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." (1 Peter 2:17).
Yet His "brothers" did not believe: "For even His brothers did not believe in Him." (John
7:5), not until later, when they turn up in the upper room. Since the sense
in which all the children of Abraham are brothers cannot be the intended
sense, it cannot be thought these named individuals are brothers in any
but the common sense: children of Mary, who was the Lord's mother according
to the flesh.
James the Just
James, the brother of Jesus, turns up on the pages of several extra-Biblical authors:
"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought
before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions];
and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who
seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was
done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had
already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria,
and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent." (Josephus, Antiquities
of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9).
He is the "brother," not the 'cousin,' of the Lord. Contrary
to what Roman Catholics have convinced many to believe, these people did
know how to say 'cousin' and could have said so had they wished. Another
early writer, Hegesippus, also calls James the "brother of the Lord."
His writings do not survive independently, but excerpts are included in
Eusebius' later church history:
"But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book
of his Memoirs. He writes as follows: “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction
with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore
the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came
upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place;
for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon
his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly
bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the
Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, Bulwark of the people and ‘Justice,’
in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him. Now some of the seven sects, which existed among the people
and which have been mentioned by me in the Memoirs, asked him, ‘What is the gate of Jesus? and he replied that he was the
Savior. On account of these words some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects mentioned above did not believe
either in a resurrection or in one’s coming to give to every man according to his works. But as many as believed did so on
account of James. Therefore when many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and Scribes and
Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore
in a body to James they said, ‘We entreat thee, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he
were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have
confidence in thee. For we bear thee witness, as do all the people, that thou art just, and dost not respect persons. Do thou
therefore persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence
in thee. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that from that high position thou mayest be clearly seen, and that thy
words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are come together on account of the
Passover.’ The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and
said: Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified
one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’ And he answered with a loud voice,’ Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus,
the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds
of heaven.’ And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’
these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another,’ We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But
let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’ And they cried out, saying, ‘Oh! oh! the
just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘ Let us take away the just man, because he
is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’ So they went up and threw down the just man, and
said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he
turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And while
they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by
Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, ‘Cease, what do ye? The just one prayeth for you. And one of them, who was a fuller,
took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they
buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews
and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.” (quoted by Eusebius in Church History, Book 2, Chapter 23).
Jerome was aware that all Jews could call one another 'brother.' He thought
it a question of "race:"
"As to race, all Jews are called brethren of one another, as in Deuteronomy, 'If thy
brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve
thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from
thee.'" (Jerome, Against Helvidius, 16).
Is this the testimony of the Bible? In the New Testament, of course, the
Gentiles stream into the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). But
even in the Old Testament, "race" is not the bottom line. Does
the law of Moses specify that descendants of Jacob who turn their backs
on the living God remain part of the people, or are they cut off from the
people? On the other side of the coin, are those of another "race"
who cling to the living God turned away at the gate, or are they welcomed
in and joined to the people?:
"Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, “The LORD
has utterly separated me from His people”; nor let the eunuch say, “Here I am, a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “To the
eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and
within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not
be cut off." (Isaiah 56:3-5).
Jerome is aware that the brotherhood of Israel cannot be the reason why
Jesus' "brothers" are so called, because,
"I now ask to which class you consider the Lord’s brethren in the
Gospel must be assigned. They are brethren by nature, you say. But Scripture
does not say so; it calls them neither sons of Mary, nor of Joseph. Shall
we say they are brethren by race? But it is absurd to suppose that a few
Jews were called His brethren when all Jews of the time might upon this
principle have borne the title." (Jerome, Against Helvidius).
In spite of realizing that the people of God have always called one another
'brother,' Jerome nevertheless differentiates this usage from the case
of Abraham and Lot. Abraham and Lot were the people of God in the world
of that day. Abraham was the "friend of God," (James 2:23), and
Lot was was "righteous man:" "...and delivered righteous
Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous
man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day
by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)..." (2 Peter 2:7-8). These
two, and those who listened to them, were the people of God in that day,
and they called one another "brother," as the people of God have
ever done. Yet Jerome imports into the Bible alien considerations from
Roman law to explain why Abraham and Lot call one another "brother."
A grown man, in Rome, was not emancipated until his father died; before
his father died, his children were his father's children; in other words,
cousins were the same as brothers. But this is such a unique set of laws,
how can they be imported into ancient Palestine as if all the people in
the world have always thought cousins were the same as brothers?
If an unbelieving sociologist were to walk into a Bible-believing church,
he would overhear the congregation call one another "brother"
and "sister." At first a few congregants trickle in. Our sociologists
quizzes them to discover what they mean when they say "brother."
He inquires into their ancestry. The first two he quizzes are, it turns
out, brother, and son, of the same person: they are uncle and nephew. 'Aha!'
our sociologist exults. 'When these people say 'brother,' they mean 'uncle'
or 'nephew' (or 'cousin' or whatever).' Pleased to have solved the riddle,
he sits back in the pew. But then more people come in. They, too, call
one another "brother" and "sister." Upon inquiry, it
is discovered these people are camped out at the RV park outside of town,
and, not only are they not related to the first group, they are not even
acquainted. Is it time to drop the 'cousin' theory...or it is time to insist
upon it with renewed vigor?
Laban calls Jacob his "brother:"
"And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me
for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?" (Genesis 29:15).
Laban is in fact Jacob's uncle, his mother's brother:
"And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the
sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock
of Laban his mother’s brother." (Genesis 29:10).
So does Laban understand "brother" to mean 'nephew,' or 'cousin,'
or 'male relative of unspecified degree?' Let's wait and see who else they
"Whereas you have searched all my stuff, what have you found of all
your household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren,
that they may judge between us both." (Genesis 31:37).
They call all the members of their group "brothers," just as did our country
church. At this point, do we discard the 'cousins' theory as a failed hypothesis,
or cling to it with renewed vigor? Notice Jacob and Laban are no longer
calling one another "brother." What do they do to restore the
broken bond of brotherhood? They sacrifice to the living God:
"The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father,
judge betwen us. And Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. Then
Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat
bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. And
early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters,
and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place."
If the route to restore their broken fellowship ran through the living
God, did it first come about through a different route? At this Roman Catholics
protest, 'Jacob and Laban were pagans.' I do not think it possible that
Jacob was a pagan; God would not call Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob (Exodus 3:15) if Jacob were a pagan. Admittedly, he lies, cheats
and steals. But God loved him anyway: "'Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?'
says the LORD. 'Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated...'"
(Malachi 1:2-3). As to why Rachel stole the idols, as any pagan could have
told you, it is irreligious people who rob temples, not religious ones.
The religious ones are scared to death the god who inhabits the temple
will avenge this desecration; the irreligious ones know better. Perhaps
they were gem-encrusted; pagans often put the best they had onto their
idols. Perhaps Rachel believed that diamonds are a girl's best friend.
If she believed them to be truly gods, why would she sit on them, which
does not show respect?
Laban has one foot in each camp, the pagan and the Yahwist. He uses Yahwist
language in talking with Jacob, even claiming to be the recipient of visions
from the living God. Is he insincere in using such language? If so, perhaps
he was also insincere in calling Jacob his "brother;" he certainly
does not deal with him as one would deal with a brother. It is not the
lexicographer's task to redefine words until all statements come out as
the unvarnished truth.
Terah, Abraham's father, was an idolator: "And Joshua said to all
the people, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel: '‘Your fathers, including
Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other
side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.'" (Joshua
24:2). But God called out Abraham. There must have been arguments between
Abraham and other family members. Did they say, 'You must be schizophrenic
if you think God is talking to you'? Or were they sympathetic? The Koran
discusses these issues at length, the Bible does not. At the very least,
there remained enough amity between the branches of the family that sons
of the Yahwist branch were willing, and welcomed, to return to Haran to
find wives. In any case, if, as they say, Laban was a pagan Aramaean, then
why do the Roman Catholics care what he understood language to mean? They
are asserting there to be a Jewish idiom whereby 'cousins' are called 'brothers,'
not a pagan one; whoever they were, the Lord's "brothers" cannot
have been pagan Aramaeans.
Suppose our sociologist try a new tack, and ask the people in our country church why they call each
other "brothers." They begin to sing, "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God," etc. This
is just how the Bible explains the same Bible idiom: "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?
why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" (Malachi 2:10).
This is a very literal understanding of what 'brother' means: offspring of a common parent,-- not a metaphorical one. It's on a
different plane than biological parentage. And it is not the earthly father who sets the standard of what fatherhood is, rather
the heavenly: "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven
and earth is named..." (Ephesians 3:14-15).
Since this is the only explanation offered, either in scripture or in our
country church, why try to go behind it? The same explanation is offered
in both testaments, though it's only in the second that sonship comes out
of the shadows of failed theory into the light of day. In the broadest
possible sense, all created things are "offspring" by virtue
of creation: "
"...for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of
your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since
we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature
is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising."
Israel was specially chosen by God for adoption as sons: "...who are Israelites, to whom pertain
the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God,
and the promises..." (Romans 9:4). Jesus raised the bar, demanding
to see a family relationship: "Jesus said to them, 'If God were your
Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor
have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.'" (John 8:42). He gave to Israel,
not only the calling to be sons, but the power to become so: "But
as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name..." (John 1:12), by giving the
spirit that calls, 'Abba, Father:' "And because you are sons, God
has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba,
Father!'" (Galatians 4:6).
The other theory advanced by Roman Catholics is that the Lord's "brothers"
were Joseph's children from a prior marriage. This theory is older than
the 'cousins' theory and does not wrench language so out of joint; members
of a 'blended' family might well have been called 'brothers.' Is there
any reason to believe this theory?
Protevangelium of James
This theory came into the world through a sweet fable called the 'Protevangelium
of James' which depicts little Mary traipsing about the Holy of Holies
of the Jewish temple:
"...And Joseph arose from off the sackcloth
and called Mary and said unto her O thou that wast cared for
by God, why hast thou done this?- thou hast forgotten the Lord
thy God. Why hast thou humbled thy soul, thou that wast nourished
up in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at the hand
of an angel?" (Protevangelium XIII:2).
"And the priest said: Mary, wherefore hast thou done this, and wherefore hast thou
humbled thy soul and forgotten the Lord thy God, thou that wast
nurtured in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at the
hand of an angel and didst hear the hymns and didst dance before
the Lord, wherefore hast thou done this?" (Protevangelium XV:3).
In real life, only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, not little children: "...no
small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which,
in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for Pompey
went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also,
and saw all that which was unlawful for any other men to see,
but only for the high priests..." (Josephus, Antiquities of the
Jews, Book XIV, Chapter IV, 4). Death is the penalty:
"Moreover, then the erection was in the dwelling-house of the governor;
but they say, that which is now contemplated is to be in the inmost part of the temple, in the
very holy of holies itself, into which, once in the year, the high priest enters, on the day
called the great fast, to offer incense, and on no other day, being then about in accordance
with our national law also to offer up prayers for a fertile and ample supply of blessings,
and for peace to all mankind. And if any one else, I will not say of the Jews, but even of
the priests, and those not of the lowest order, but even those who are in the rank next to the
first, should go in there, either with him or after him, or even if the very high priest himself
should enter in thither on two days in the year, or three or four times on the same day, he is
subjected to inevitable death for his impiety, so great are the precautions taken by our lawgiver
with respect to the holy of holies, as he determined to preserve it alone inaccessible to and
untouched by any human being." (Agrippa, quoted in Embassy to
Philo Judaeus, XXXIX)
Only the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, and then not without blood:
"Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always
went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But
into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without
blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed
in ignorance..." (Hebrews 9:6-7). Failure to observe these precautions
was potentially deadly: "...and the LORD said to Moses: 'Tell Aaron
your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the
veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will
appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.'" (Leviticus 16:2).
Given such an oversight, the Protevangelium does not sound like an authentic
production of apostolic circles.