By Larry Ray Hafley
From Tennessee: “Why did Ananias call Saul, Brother,’ before he was baptized (Acts 9:17; 22:13)? Was it just a custom of the Jews to call another Jew, Brother?’ “
An affirmative answer to the second question will suffice to answer the first query. The Jews distinguished between “brother” and “neighbor” by applying “brother” to Israelites by blood and “neighbor” to proselytes. They did not permit either title to be given to Gentiles (ISBE, Vol. I, p. 525). The following verses in the book of Acts are usages like those cited by our inquirer:
Acts 2:29-“Brethren” refers to those earlier “Jews” and “men of Israel” (Vss. 5, 22).
Acts 3:17-“Brethren” includes those called “men of Israel” (Vss. 12, 13).
Acts 13:26-“Brethren” are those addressed as “Men of Israel” and “children of the stock of Abraham” (Vs. 16).
Acts 22:1-“Brethren” here contemplates those identified as “Men of Israel” (Acts 21:28).
It is obvious that Ananias uses the term “brother” in this manner, for he proceeds to say, “The God of our fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-cf. Acts 3:15)” (Acts 22:14).
The Baptist Argument
The question posed by our querist was likely spawned by an old denominational argument which is used chiefly by Baptist preachers. It says that since some, like Saul of Tarsus, are addressed as brethren before baptism, then one is saved and is a brother in Christ before baptism. This is the whale point. It is an effort to do away with the essentiality of baptism “for the remission of sins.” Below is an excerpt from a letter written to Wayne Camp, President of the Illinois Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary. Mr. Camp has never attempted a reply to the remarks which follow.
“Wayne, I may call you my brother in one sense, though not in Christ, or in a spiritual sense. There was a sense in which Paul could refer to his Jewish enemies as brethren’ (Acts 22:1). He was a Jew, and so were they. This is evidently all the term signified. But you do not believe the mob that cried, `Away with him’ (Acts 21:36) and sought to kill him was being addressed as his spiritual brethren in Christ, do you? Still, there was a sense in which he could call them brethren. Likewise, in Acts 2:29 and 7:2, Peter arid Stephen addressed unbelievers as `brethren.’ This does not indicate that the audiences upon those occasions were saved, for they were not (Acts Z:22, 23, 36-38; 7:51-60). Neither you nor I believe they were saved, yet they were called `brethren.’
“Just so, when Ananias addressed Saul as `Brother Saul’ (Acts 22:13), this did not indicate that Saul was in Christ or saved. It obviously did not mean that Saul had received the forgiveness of sins because three verses later Ananias said, `arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord’ (Acts 22:16). This statement would be unexplainable if.’ we take the view that `Brother Saul’ shows that his sins were already washed away.
“Calling Saul `Brother’ did not mean that Saul was in Christ, because Paul later said he was `baptized into Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 6:3-`us’ includes Paul), and at the time he was called `Brother’ he had not yet been baptized (Acts 22:13, 16), hence, before his baptism he was not in Christ.”
Further, even the Baptists could not afford to say the term “Brother” refers to a Baptist brother. One of the requirements to be a Baptist is baptism, but as we noted, Saul had not been baptized when he was called “Brother.” Now, if the Baptists want to accept an unbaptized man who is still in his sins as their spiritual brother, they are welcome to do so (Acts 22:13, 16). If they do not wish to do so, their argument on the term “brother” is lost.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 1, p. 2
November 7, 1974