Questions From Readers
● Regarding the term “brethren” at Matthew 13:55, does it mean spiritual brethren, fleshly brothers, or cousins of Jesus?—J. P. T., Spain.
Jesus had entered his native territory and amazed his acquaintances with his wisdom and mighty works, and they asked in astonishment: “How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” (Matt. 13:54-56, Dy) The very setting shows that these townsmen were speaking of a fleshly, family relationship. They had known Jesus for years, had known his mother, and his brothers and sisters; so how comes this big change in him all of a sudden? They even name his brothers. The circumstances rule out any possibility of their having spiritual brethren in mind. (Mark 6:1-4, Dy) The apostle John makes distinction between Jesus’ natural brothers and his disciples or spiritual brethren, saying: “He went down to Capharnaum, he and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples.” (John 2:12, Dy) John 7:3-5 also makes this distinction and goes further by saying, “Neither did his brethren believe him.” (Dy) Certainly such unbelievers could not be spiritual brethren; they must have been brethren after the flesh. However, after Jesus’ death and resurrection his natural brothers did become believers, as several scriptures show. (Acts 1:13, 14; Gal. 1:19; Jude 1) Adding more evidence, we read: “As he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold his mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him. And one said to him: Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee. But he answering him that told him, said: Who is my mother and who are my brethren? And stretching forth his hand towards his disciples, he said: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21, Dy) Jesus was contrasting the natural relationship and spiritual relationship, showing that the spiritual was stronger and more important. If the brethren standing outside with his mother had not been his fleshly brothers his words would have been meaningless and without any point.
Also, this situation indicates that these brothers were not cousins. If they had been cousins it would mean that Jesus would have replied, “Who are my cousins?” And it would make him say, as he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, “Behold my cousins.” No, Jesus was not talking about cousins or any relationship other than brothers. It is well known that Jesus taught that he and his disciples were spiritual brothers, not cousins or some other more distant relatives. It is the Greek words adelphós and adelphé that are translated “brothers” and “sisters”, and are used for both natural and spiritual relationships. When the relationship is more distant, as in the case of cousins, the Greek word used is syngenés. It is the one used in the feminine gender at Luke 1:36, where the angel of God said to Mary: “Behold thy cousin Elizabeth.” (Dy) But this Greek word for cousin or kin or relative is never used in connection with Jesus’ brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Jude, but always the Greek word adelphós, meaning brothers. That Mary did have other children after Jesus’ birth is indicated by Luke 2:7 calling Jesus Mary’s “first-born son”, implying that there were others born later on. Also, Matthew 1:25 (Dy) says concerning Joseph and Mary: “And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” This clearly indicates that Joseph did “know” her afterward, and that he fathered her other children.
● Does Jeremiah 10:3-5 refer to the erection and trimming of Christmas trees?—C. M., Washington.
Jeremiah 10:3-5 reads: “The customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.” This scripture cannot be properly applied to cutting down evergreens, building bases to hold them upright, and decorating them with gold and silver tinsel or other ornamentation. Jeremiah 10 is exposing the folly of worshiping idols. Men made such idols by felling a tree, lopping off the branches, and hewing and carving the remaining trunk into the shape of the desired image. This they would then plate or overlay with gold and silver. As the account states, “The core of their idols is but timber, overlaid with beaten silver brought from Tarshish and with gold from Ophir.” (Jer 10 Vss. 8, 9, AT) Being shaped in the form of some living creature or supposed god, they might be expected by their superstitious worshipers to have some power of expression or movement or ability to deliver in time of stress; but their utter failure to do anything draws derisive taunts: “Idols are like scarecrows in a field, they cannot say a word; they have to be carried, for they cannot move a step. Have no fear of them; they cannot hurt you—no, nor help you!” Next the account speaks of Jehovah’s great power, then continues: “It strikes man dumb and senseless; the goldsmith is ashamed of his carved image, his metal image is a futile thing. There is no breath of life in idols; they are a vain delusion, they break down when the test arrives.” (Jer 10 Vss. 5, 14, 15, Mo) Hence it is clear that Jeremiah 10:3-5 does not refer to decorated Christmas trees, when we view these verses with their context and with the historical background of that time in mind.