Q: #579. Are unbelievers ever referred to as "brothers" in the Bible?
A: The word “brother” (or “brethren”) is used hundreds of times in the Bible. In the New Testament, the Greek word “adelphos” is almost always used, and in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “ach” is almost always used.
When we look at these words in Strong’s Concordance, we are given numerous definitions for what a “brother” or “brethren” is in the Bible (10 for each Greek / Hebrew word). However, the primary 3 uses are:
1. Males who have the same parent.
2. People of the same nationality / country.
3. All believers.
However, there are also “some” places in the Bible where the word “brother” is almost certainly referring to “all people” (mankind). In nearly all of these uses, it is in relation to some Biblical principle that a Christian is to bestow on an “unbelieving brother” (i.e. forgiveness, love).
I have picked out 5 of these verses:
(Mt 18:21-22)(NKJV) “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (22) Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Are Christians supposed to forgive “only” fellow Christian “brothers” who sin against them, or are they supposed to forgive “everyone” (believers or unbelievers) who sins against them? (Also see: Mt 18:35)
(Mt 5:22-24) “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca! shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (23) Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Are these verses speaking only to believers being “angry” with “a brother” who is a fellow believer, or are they speaking of believers being “angry” with any person (a “brother” of the human race)?
(Lev 19:17)(NKJV) “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.”
Is this saying we should not “hate” a believing “brother,” but it is ok to hate unbelievers? Or, does “brother” mean here that we should not “hate” anyone?
(Heb 2:17)(NKJV) “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Jesus (God) took on human form, like all men (His “brethren”), so that He could become a High Priest, and “make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
(1 Jn 3:14-15) “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. (15) Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”
As believers, is the proof that we know God because we love “only” fellow believers (“brethren”), or because we love “all” people (“brethren”)?
Related: (1 Jn 2:9-11)
While there are other verses to make this point, I thought these to be some of the better verses.
I am sure there those who believe that some, or all of the verses above are speaking “only” about “believers to believers,” and not of “believers to all men.” They may be right. However, while I believe that while the VAST majority of verses which mention a “brother” are speaking of one of the three “primary uses” mentioned above, a case can certainly be made that some are speaking about a “brother” being “all men” (which obviously includes unbelievers).