What does “brother” mean?

When Jesus says “brother” – does he mean your actual brother?

Matthew 18:15-17

15 “If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. 16 But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.

Remember, we are to forgive people:

Matthew 18:21-22

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.

But does he mean actual blood-relation brother? What does Jesus say about family relations?

Matthew 10:34-36

34 “Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 A man’s foes will be those of his own household.

This refers back to a message in the Hebrew Scriptures –

Micah 7:5-7

Don’t trust in a neighbor.
    Don’t put confidence in a friend.
    With the woman lying in your embrace,
    be careful of the words of your mouth!
For the son dishonors the father,
    the daughter rises up against her mother,
    the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
    a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
But as for me, I will look to Yahweh.
    I will wait for the God of my salvation.
    My God will hear me.

We are to trust in God alone – not our family of origin. If they too are following the word of God, that makes it easier, but we are to still follow God, not people just because they are related to us by blood. What they do matters more than who they are.

Matthew 10:11-15

11 Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you go on. 12 As you enter into the household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 Whoever doesn’t receive you or hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.

What does Jesus say about brothers?

Matthew 5:21-24

21 “You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment. Whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ will be in danger of the council. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna. 23 “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything 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. 

It is important to note that “brother” in this passage is the Greek word “adelphos”, meaning fellow disciple.  It doesn’t refer to blood kin at all, but someone who you are in a committed, covenanted relationship with. 

In this passage, Jesus lets us know that actions are thicker than blood:

Matthew 12:46-50

46 While he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, seeking to speak to him. 47 One said to him, “Behold, your mother and your brothers stand outside, seeking to speak to you.” 48 But he answered him who spoke to him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 He stretched out his hand toward his disciples, and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

So, if your actual brother is evil to you, you are to forgive him, but you are not obligated to endure his abuse. He is not in a committed relationship with you. He made no promises to be kind to you. Actions speak louder than words. If he is abusive, let him know how his actions make you feel. If he changes, great. If not, he has chosen to not be a real “brother” to you. This is his loss, and reflects poorly on him, not you.

(All Bible translations are World English Bible, public domain.)

A summary of Jesus’ mission

Jesus shouted “If you believe in me, you really believe in the One who sent me, and if you see me, you really see the One who sent me. I am here to be a light for the world, so that everyone who follows me will no longer be in darkness. I don’t judge anyone who hears my message and doesn’t follow it. I have come to save the world – not to judge it. Anyone who rejects me and my message is judged at the last day by my message. I don’t speak for myself. The One who sent me tells me what to say. I know that the Father’s words lead to eternal life, so I share the Father’s message exactly as I have received it.”

JN 12:44-50