Is Christ Our Elder Brother?
Many have become accustomed to calling Christ their “Elder Brother.” Should we be using this term? Does it accurately reflect our relationship to Christ? Can it be Biblically substantiated?
This may prove to be a controversial subject, but it is very important that it be addressed. It is something that has bothered me for quite some time, and I can no longer keep silent. You see, it has become very common in the Church of God groups to refer to Christ as our “elder brother.” But can the usage of this term be substantiated by the Bible?
Nowhere in the Bible is this term used in connection to Christ. The Apostles never referred to Christ as their “elder brother.” Neither did Christ refer to Himself as our “elder brother.” Indeed, we have no Biblical precedent for using this term. So where did it come from? It appears to be derived from the word “brethren,” which is used repeatedly in connection to Christ. It may seem rational to conclude that ‘brother’ and ‘brethren’ are synonymous, but are they?
Some may wonder if it really matters and if we’re making a big deal out of nothing. Well, I believe it is a big deal. In fact, I believe that something truly sinister is at work here. I believe this term is the product of a subtle being of high intelligence, using apparently harmless language to obscure our true relationship to Christ and effectively reduce the role of Christ in the minds of His followers.
I am well aware that this term has been used in the Church for decades by those who were led by God—namely, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong—and it was never a subject of discussion or debate. This article should in no way be perceived as an attack on Mr. Armstrong or on the doctrines he was used to restore to the Church. In fact, I fully acknowledge that Mr. Armstrong was God’s end-time apostle, and I know of no other individual who was—or is—as inspired, dedicated, zealous and genuine as he was. Also, this article should not be perceived as an attempt to liberalize any doctrines. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
It is my firm belief that God did not cease to reveal knowledge to His people when Mr. Armstrong died in 1986. We have no prophetic statement in the Bible that indicates knowledge would cease to advance at some point in time. In fact, Mr. Armstrong stated directly to the ministry at a ministerial conference (which I attended) that he had been used to lay the doctrinal foundations—the trunk of the tree—and that he fully expected the ministry to embellish on it and fill out the branches. Furthermore, he also stated that one sign that this was God’s true church was that, “When we’re wrong, we’ll change.” (This statement was made in reference to the correction of the observance of Pentecost.)
It is with these things in mind, that I strongly urge God’s people everywhere to (1) continue to seek understanding, (2) continue to grow in knowledge and (3) continue to correct any errors in our ways.
And one serious error we need to correct is referring to Christ as our “elder brother.”
God’s Word is living! It is NOT frozen in time! We must continually examine ourselves (2 Cor 13:5) to see whether we are living strictly according to every Word of God (Luke 4:4). If anything appears out of synch with the scriptures, we must scrutinize it carefully and determine whether it is right or wrong. I fully expect every reader to scrutinize this article. If I am in error—and I do not believe I am—then I will change. But it must be proven by the scriptures.
I invite you now to open your Bible, follow along and finish this entire study, then honestly ask yourself if calling Christ our “elder brother” is justified and accurate, or if it is harmful and degrading.
IS THIS STUDY JUSTIFIED?
When it comes to biblical matters that are outside of the core foundational doctrines, there are two extremes in the Church of God.* First, you have the intellectuals who devise complicated “insights,” which most people don’t quite understand. Their followers generally can’t admit that they don’t understand these insights and often swallow them whole, assuming that their intellectual leaders know what they are talking about. The intellectuals tend to be blinded by their own vanity, believing that the way to maintain a following is through a scholarly appearance and highly literate speech. In this way, they captivate their followers. Second, you have the plain-spoken torch-carriers who wholly reject any new understanding, without so much as a glance, if it wasn’t already revealed to Mr. Armstrong before he died. Their followers also swallow this whole, never proving anything themselves. These torch carriers see themselves as guardians of truth, as it was revealed through Mr. Armstrong. They immediately reject any new understanding, refusing to even hear it. This is almost a form of worshipping Mr. Armstrong.
We find both of these extremes to be wrong.
Now it must be said that there is nothing wrong with “carrying the torch,” since God’s ministers are admonished to teach as they have been taught (Titus 1:9). And we all must faithfully and boldly stand up for the truth (Acts 13:9-10; Eph 6:13-14). However, we are also admonished to “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1), which means you have to hear people out, open your Bible and prove them right or wrong (Rom 12:2; 1 Thes 5:21). To immediately reject a doctrinal statement without opening your Bible and proving it, is contrary to God’s inspired instructions (1 Thes 5:21).
So where does this article, of whether or not we should be using the term “elder brother,” stack up?
It is certainly not a product of intellectualism, nor is it an attempt to liberalize any doctrine. Rather, it is a refinement of the language we use when referring to Christ. It’s important because the words we use have MEANING and can lead to a false perception, which—if not corrected—can erode Biblical truths and have lasting, damaging affects.
To those who reject any new understanding—believing that if it were important, God would have already revealed it through Mr. Armstrong before he died—ask yourself the following two questions. (1) The Church observed Pentecost on the wrong day for 40 years, and when it was discovered and brought to Mr. Armstrong’s attention, it was corrected. What if Mr. Armstrong had died before it was discovered that we were observing Pentecost on the wrong day? Would you have accepted the discovery or rejected it because Mr. Armstrong didn’t see it? (2) What if you were a longtime member of the Sardis era Church of God, when Mr. Armstrong first came in and proclaimed that God’s people should be observing the annual Holy Days? Would you have accepted it? Or would you have rejected it, reasoning that if it were important, God would have already revealed it by then?
In both cases, we’re talking about the true Church of God; the Church that Christ said would never die (Matt 16:18). The Church that had somehow lost key doctrines over the years. Indeed, most Sardis members did reject the new understanding revealed through Mr. Armstrong, and a new era began. Then the Church of God grew exponentially, eventually reaching the whole world with the true Gospel.
We see God’s truth as unchangeable. It has always remained the same. But it is clear that there have been varying levels of understanding throughout the last 2,000 years. It’s as if a passing cloud has obscured parts of God’s truth, and his people, at times, have lost sight of certain doctrines, then regained them. Why God has allowed this, we do not know. However, it is certain that God’s people will be judged according to their knowledge, performance and inner motives (Matt 25:14-29; 1 Sam 16:7). And that He will not condemn an ignorant person (John 15:22). It is also certain that God works through human instruments in order to test His people over a span of time. He doesn’t just instantly download revealed information into all of our brains.
The takeaway here is that God restored many key truths through Mr. Armstrong, so there was an explosion of spiritual knowledge in a relatively short time of 60 years, and that certain errors were corrected along the way (Pentecost, Divorce/Remarriage). Additionally, it is obvious that there are many biblical truths that still remain a mystery to those in God’s Church, and we don’t know when they will be revealed. When they are revealed, they will (and should) receive much scrutiny. After all, Christ Himself warned that we need to be careful not to be deceived (Matt 24:4).
We must always be striving for righteousness and on the lookout for false doctrines, even if they have become ingrained in the true Church. Satan is still busy at work trying to destroy what God is building, and his tactics are subtile. So, as insignificant or irrelevant as this subject may seem, we urge you to make a serious examination of it.
We believe this subject is justified and we are confident that, given study and time to seriously think about it, you will agree.
GOD'S USAGE OF SYMBOLS
There are many symbols or figures of speech used throughout the Bible to amplify meaning, or in some cases to obscure meaning. We use figures of speech throughout our daily lives without giving them much thought, but they are integral to language. In the Bible, as in modern language, you have simile, metaphor, allegory, anthropomorphism, hyperbole and others. These figures of speech help us grasp a concept. For instance, when we read in the Bible that, “All flesh is grass” (Isa 40:6), we understand this to be metaphor, which describes the temporality of life in a very vivid way.
Christ spoke many parables, which were full of symbolic meaning. Likewise, he used symbolic language to describe Himself in relation to his followers. In one instance, He referred to Himself as a “bridegroom” (more commonly called “groom” today). We read this in Matthew, chapter 9.
“Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” (Matt 9:14-15)
Again, Christ used this symbolism, referring to Himself as a “bridegroom,” this time in a parable.
“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” (Matt 25:1-13)
Similarly, John the Baptist used this symbolic language. This is found in John, chapter 3.
“Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30)
These symbols are confirmed again by Christ in His Revelation to John (which the Father gave Him).
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.” (Rev 19:7-9)
By combining the very profound symbols in these scriptures, it is revealed plainly that Christ will be a husband and the Church (comprised of the “saints”) will be the wife. The physical family structure on earth is a miniature type of the greater spiritual family that God is preparing (Eph 5:22-23). God the Father is preparing a wife for His Son, who will be the Husband. If we take this one step further, we can see that Christ, the Husband, will then become a Father (Isa 9:6) with His wife (the Church) as helpmate, teaching the children—those alive, called and spiritually begotten on earth during the millennium.
Symbols or figures of speech are NOT to be disregarded, for they reveal knowledge. And in emphasizing our relationship to Christ, it is very important to be accurate. Those who comprise the Church are shown to be the “bride” (see also: Matt 22:1-14) and will become the “wife” of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our relationship to Christ will be a submissive one (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1; Gen 3:16), working as a helpmate (Gen 2:18)—but NOT on an equal level, as the term “brother” implies.
Let’s look now at the key scriptures that are used to justify the term, “elder brother.”
DOES “BRETHREN” MEAN “ELDER BROTHER”?
The principle scriptures from which “elder brother” appears to be derived are as follows.
"For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren,Saying, I will declare thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee." (Hebrews 2:11-12)
"Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." (Hebrews 2:17)
"For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29)
"Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But He answered and said unto him that told Him, Who is My mother? and who are My brethren? And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother." (Matthew 12:47-50)
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." (Matthew 25:40)
The word “brethren” in these verses is used to connote a general sense of camaraderie, NOT as defining a literal relationship. Clearly, it refers to those of like mind, intent, faith and future birth into the Family of God. So, we acknowledge that those who are Christ’s will be born into the same family. However, the Bible NEVER refers to Christ as our “brother.” The term “brother” is a misconception. Consider the following formula.
Brethren = Family (like mind, faith, future Spirit composition)
Church = Wife (helpmate, in a submissive role; a lower level)
Conclusion = Family & Wife are CONSISTENT
When seen in the correct context, the term “brethren” (family) and “helpmate” (Church) are consistent. There is no confusion of the exact relationship. But, if we insist on using the term “elder brother” it IS in conflict, as shown in the following formula.
Brethren = Brother (on or near an equal level)
Church = Wife (helpmate, in a submissive role; a lower level)
Conclusion = Brother & Wife are CONFLICTING
Look closely at this! Don’t think for a moment that Satan only uses overtly false doctrines to fight against the Church, because he also uses subtile false doctrines weaved-in for the sole purpose of denigrating Christ, as he has done by deceiving some to believe that Christ could have sinned while on earth—which was impossible. [Read our article, “Could Christ Sin?”]
Make no mistake! This common term, “elder brother,” is in contradiction with the specific definition of the Church being the “bride” (John 3:29; Matt 22:1-14) and becoming the “wife” (Rev 19:7) of Jesus Christ. How can we, who will be a wife, also be a brother? This is totally illogical. Furthermore, we are taught that, “...the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the saviour of the body” (Eph 5:23). His position is one of authority over the Church, which is in submission, like husband and wife.
AN ADVERSARY AT WORK
In the final analysis, it seems clear that any term or title that only serves to debase our High Priest and future Husband, is not from God. This becomes more obvious when diligent study reveals that such terms or titles lack biblical support. Our adversary, Satan, is busy trying to deceive God’s people and the world at large. The term “elder brother” has been commonly used for many years, however this does not make it right.
We must be striving forward, seeking to grow and overcome. We must also reevaluate ourselves, and even the language we use, to see whether we are in alignment with God’s instruction manual, the Bible. And we must always admit when we are wrong—even if for many years, as in the case of the Church observing Pentecost on the wrong day for 40 years. We MUST not fall prey to a subtile destructive mindset, in which some mistakenly downgrade Christ to their human level using derogatory language, such as calling Christ our “elder brother.” Yes, He came in human form in order to die for the sins of mankind, but His Godly mind was far higher. He shared our physical composition, but NOT our level of mental composition. The usage of the term “elder brother” demonstrates a serious lack of respect for the Godhead and can only be a product of evil forces at work, striving to diminish the role of Christ.
Perhaps E.W. Bullinger said it best when he wrote, ““The Lord’s condescension does not justify the irreverence of calling Him our “elder brother.” (Bullinger’s Companion Bible, page 1826; ref. Heb 2:11).
Please, we implore you, remove “elder brother” from your vocabulary. Christ will be our husband and we will be His wife. Let’s refine our vocabulary and correct this error.
*Footnote: By “Church of God” we are referring to the true members of the Body of Christ, which are scattered worldwide in the various ‘Church of God’ groups.
© 2009 Church Of God In Training For The Kingdom