In May 2023, I published an article and a video in German on the subject of “Should we call ourselves Christians or anointed ones?” In it, I showed using the Bible that the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians by others and only later adopted this designation for themselves. We find in the Bible mostly other designations like ‘the way’ or ‘the disciples’ and above all brothers. And even if these received the Holy Spirit, they never called themselves ‘anointed ones’ in the New Testament. Probably out of respect for the Christ, the Messiah – The Anointed One.
In some comments it was said that if the Bible speaks of an anointing, then the persons are just that: Anointed ones. Of course, everyone can hold this according to his conscience as he wants. But those who wrote and later copied the writings of the New Testament did not do it. At least not in the writings that have come down to us.
In this context, I also noticed that some naturally call Jesus their brother. But should we call Jesus our brother? And conversely, should we call ourselves ‘brothers of Christ’ and be addressed as such?
“So Christian, now hold on! That’s what the Bible says.” It’s good that you don’t just believe everything! So we look now in the Bible. After all, our attitude should not be based on feelings, a tradition, our reasoning or our desire, but on the Bible. At least, if we consider the Bible as the basis of our faith.
All right, so let’s read Matthew 12:48-50:
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”Matthew 12:48-50 NIV
“So everything is clear with that. Jesus is talking about his spiritual brothers.” Well, does it really say that Jesus is our brother? First of all, the context. Verse 47 says, “Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”” So in Jesus’ statement he is referring to his physical relatives, namely mother and brothers, and then relates that to those who are spiritually related to him by their actions accordingly. But, strictly speaking, it cannot be said that this text shows that we are brothers of Jesus. For sisters are also mentioned. That would still work. But, are we then also Jesus’ mother? Hardly. Who could claim to be Jesus’ spiritual mother? So this only works if you take the text quite literally, ignore the comparison and ignore a part of the text at the same time.
Well, then there is Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats:
And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’Matthew 25:40 BSB
In the parable, Jesus actually speaks of the brothers of the king, who, according to verse 31, is the ‘Son of Man’. So there would be a connection, if we interpret it that way, that Jesus will be ‘the Son of Man’. However, in verse 45 they are only called ‘one of the least of these’. Unfortunately, this parable is not mentioned in the other synoptic gospels of Luke and Mark. And the Gospel of Matthew is the most poorly preserved. I know some people don’t like to hear that. But it is so. In any case, we find it only in Matthew and not elsewhere. That already weakens this argument. But let’s remember this text.
But there is still this text:
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”John 20:17 ESV
Okay. That is a direct reference. But now I am quite critical and note that this was written very late around 100 AD. And the synoptic gospels don’t say anything about it at all. But let’s also remember this text. Now we already have two.
What is interesting, however, is what Jesus himself says:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.Matthew 23:8 NIV
Jesus is not saying here that we are all brothers. He is their teacher. “But all of you are brothers.”
Didn’t the apostles consider him a brother and address him as such? How did the apostles address Jesus?
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, …Matthew 18:21 KJB
Did this change after Jesus’ resurrection?
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” …John 21:7 NIV
So, when they had come together, they began asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”Acts 1:6 NASB
I searched for verses in which Jesus is addressed as Lord. In the gospels alone there are about 50 verses. That he is addressed or called brother, I did not find.
Jesus’ statement after the foot washing sums it up:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.John 13:13 NIV
And what does Jesus call his disciple?
No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you.John 15:15 BSB
Wouldn’t that have been the opportunity to call them his brothers? In particular, where Jesus after his resurrection according to John 20:17 instructs Mary to go to ‘his brothers’. There, however, also his bodily brothers could be meant. But they are probably not, because the next verse, verse 18, speaks of the disciples. But it remains somehow strange that this designation does not appear in the first 19 chapters of John’s Gospel, not even there, where one should expect it, and then only once towards Mary.
But perhaps this is a turning point. How do the disciples talk about Jesus later?
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”Acts 9:17 ESV
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, …Romans 15:30 ESV
Wouldn’t that have been a good opportunity to say: But I exhort you, brothers, through our brother Jesus Christ … But it doesn’t say so in the Bible. But again: Lord Jesus Christ.
Or even especially when closing a letter, it would have been a nice closing formula:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.Galatians 6:18 ESV
Again, the “Lord Jesus Christ” in contrast to the brothers. And this is found many times in the New Testament even outside the Gospels. Paul says:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, …1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV
I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord.1 Corinthians 15:31 NIV
Often a thought is introduced like this:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, …2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV
Revelation 12:10 is also interesting
And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down—he who accuses them day and night before our God.Revelation 12:10 Elberfelder
Also here it could have been spoken of the brothers of Christ: ‘of His Christ …; of his brothers …’. But they is ‘our brothers’, as the loud voice in heaven says. Does this include the Christ? Perhaps. But who else? God is also mentioned, but God’s brothers they are probably not …
There are very few passages in the New Testament that speak of brothers:
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”Hebrews 2:11,12 ESV
That makes everything clear, doesn’t it? Well, here Psalm 22:23 is quoted according to the Septuagint. Let’s read on in context:
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.Hebrews 2:16,17 ESV
Oh. That is a reference to ‘brothers’ of Christ, who are the Jewish offspring or descendants of Abraham. Which also fits to the quoted Psalm 22. It is true that this is often used to refer to the ‘spiritual brothers of Christ’. But it does not correspond to the statement of the text.
In fact, there is no verse in the New Testament that speaks of a spiritual brother of Christ or the spiritual ‘brothers of Christ’ in these exact words. Yet in well over one hundred places he is called Lord. You might not have expected that. Jesus’ brothers are spoken of only a few times, and those are His physical relatives (e.g., John 7:1-10) or Israelites (Hebrews 2:11-17). Now probably the background of the title of this article is beginning to become clear: Should we then call ourselves brothers of Christ? Well, in the New Testament text we do not find that as a designation for his followers. And according to the text, they did not address him as a brother either.
The term ‘brothers of Christ‘ or ‘brother of Christ‘ is not found in the New Testament text!
What we find is this phrase:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:Colossians 1:1,2 BSB
Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send you greetings.Philippians 4:21 BSB
However, this is a very different thought and emphasizes the fellowship of brothers and sister because they are all joined to Christ. That is why the GOD’S WORD Translation translates Colossians 1:2 this way:
To God’s holy and faithful people, our brothers and sisters who are united with Christ in the city of Colossae. Good will and peace from God our Father are yours!Colossians 1:2 GOD’S WORD translation
So let’s keep this result in mind:
The term ‘brothers of Christ’, or ‘brothers of Christ’ is not found in the New Testament text.
What we find is brothers in Christ.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular should now be surprised. Why? This is explained by the result of a search in the Watchtower Society’s online library for the term ‘brothers of Christ’:
‚Brothers of Christ‘ or ‚Christ’s brothers’ is nowhere found in the text of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible (New World Translation).
In the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, one finds ‘brothers of Christ’ 69 times, ‘Christ’s brothers’ 166 times, brothers and Christ in the same paragraph 2020 times, brothers and Jesus in the same paragraph 2785 times and “spiritual brothers“ 745 times.
This proves once again how important it is to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to distinguish between the privileged class of the ‚anointed ones’ (see the article Should we be called Christians or Anointed? ), referred to thousands of times as ‘Christ’s brothers‘ and the ‘other sheep’. Thus, in the April 2020 Watchtower, Study Article 17 I Have Called You Friends, paragraph 12 emphasizes that the ‘friends of Jesus’ must keep this in mind: “Jesus views what we do for his anointed brothers as if we were doing it for him.” The vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses are named only ‘friends of Jesus’ and not ‘brothers of Jesus’, which is justified in this article with the leading text John 15:15 – although Jesus did say this to whom? Exactly, the apostles! Who are constantly called ‘brothers of Christ’ in the Watchtower! Has nobody noticed this logical mistake?
In the Watchtower 2012 3/15 p. 20 paragraph 2 the importance of these ‘brothers of Christ’ for the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses is also made quite clear:
The other sheep should never forget that their salvation depends on their active support of Christ’s anointed “brothers” still on earth. (Matt. 25:34-40)Watchtower 2012 3/15 p. 20 paragraph 2
Why ever in this Watchtower here the word „brothers” was put in quotation marks – maybe someone had noticed while writing or correcting that in the given verses in Matthew 25 Jesus is not mentioned in connection with the brothers. This makes the quotation quite short and probably consists only of the word „brothers”. This reference to Matthew 25:34-40 is, incidentally, the only one besides Hebrews 2:11,12 when reference is made to the ‘brothers of Christ’. We notice, on the other hand, that in this sentence in the Watchtower, where authority is to be emphasized, both titles are combined at once: The anointed ones and the brothers of Christ. Both honorific titles, which are never used by the disciples for themselves in the New Testament.
Back to the Bible itself. The situation is quite paradoxical. Jesus is called the Son of God, for example here:
And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”Mark 1:11 NIV
Jesus’ disciples are also often called sons or children of God:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.Romans 8:14 ESV
But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God …John 1:12 BSB
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, …Romans 8:16 ESV
But the disciples of Jesus never address the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, as a brother in their writings. There are only three passages where a reference is found at all: Matthew 25 is a parable of Jesus and it speaks of the brothers of the Son of Man in one place. Hebrews 2, where the context shows that by ‚brethren’brothers’ are meant the Jews as descendants of Abraham. And John 21:17, where Jesus uses the term brothers toward Mary. In contrast, Jesus is referred to as Lord in well over 100 passages. That is strange, isn’t it? Why is he not referred to as the brother of his disciples?
Do you believe that the Bible is inspired by God? Then God has arranged for the books of the New Testament that have come down to us to address Jesus Christ not as brother but as Teacher or Lord. If that is what God intended, should we just address Jesus Christ as our brother? Or refer to ourselves as his brother or brothers?
Am I just being picky now? Well, even in this case, you must decide according to your conscience. However, we should be aware that we are then doing something that has no direct biblical basis. And the apostles and disciples preferred to address Jesus as Lord rather than brother in the New Testament writings. And if we believe in verbal inspiration, God did not want Jesus to be addressed that way. Could it be that we are putting something into the Bible out of a desire or unconscious reasons (eisegesis) instead of letting the Bible itself speak (exegesis)? At the very least, we should be aware that we do not find any example in the New Testament text where Jesus is addressed as a brother.
But what reason could there be that, although Jesus is called the Son of God and His disciples are called sons or children of God, Jesus is not addressed by them in the New Testament as a brother, but as Lord (kyrios)?
Maybe you know a good rationale. I would be happy to hear it. Personally, I assume that they also did this out of respect and genuine humility. Let’s take Jesus’ brothers and sisters in the flesh. Imagine being with Jesus’ disciples and then one of the brothers or sisters in flesh or Mary, the mother, comes along. And they would discreetly, but repeatedly, say, “So Jesus, my son, said …” Or “But my brother Jesus taught …”. Even if true, we would still ask ourselves, “It’s obvious. Why does she or he keep mentioning it? But only to stand out. Just to emphasize one’s own importance through this kinship.” Well, that’s pure speculation. But it might explain why we don’t find that in the text that has come down to us. Can you imagine a Paul who, with all his self-confidence, called himself the lowest of the apostles, ‘one abnormally born‘ (1 Cor 15:8), but then would have introduced himself as a ‘spiritual brother of Christ’ and bragged about it? Ok, now and then he said that he received the gospel directly from Jesus and appeared quite self-confident. But to advertise himself as a ‘brother of Christ’? No way.
In contrast to this, I remember – and we have also read this in some quotations in this article – with what self-confidence members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses call themselves ‘anointed ones’ and demand obedience as ‘brothers of Christ’. I remember how in the broadcasting of Jehovah’s Witnesses Gerrit Lösch, as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, raved about how they are becoming more and more glorious from glory to glory. Or as others explained, what an important role they will play in Armageddon and for the life of all. And what a joy it will be to do that – which includes destroying billions of people according to the teachings of the Governing Body at Armageddon. And that in all this they have eclipsed ‘The Anointed One’, Jesus, the Head of the Assembly, who was set above all.
What example do you want to follow?
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.John 13:13 NIV