Question:

Since Ananias calls Saul "Brother" prior to Saul's baptism, doesn't this prove that Saul was saved before he was baptized?

Answer:

The verse is question is Acts 22:13 which reads, "and he [Ananias] stood and said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him." As the conversation between Ananias and Saul continues we find at its conclusion, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

First, note that if Ananias is indicating that Saul was saved by calling him "brother," then we have Saul saved prior to his sins being washed away. It makes you wonder what some people think salvation is if salvation does not save a person from their sins. But Paul later points out in I Corinthians 15:17, "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" Faith, and the actions that accompany it, are supposed to remove sin, not leave one in them. Or as Paul said in Romans 6:1-2, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"

The thing is that Christians do not have a trademark on the term "brother." It was used for more relationships than just siblings or fellow Christians. Jews were accustomed to calling their fellow Israelites "brother," and both Ananias and Saul were Jews. In speaking of Onesimus, a slave of a man named Philemon, Paul told Philemon to treat him "no longer as a slave but more than a slave--a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord" (Philemon 16). Notice that Paul sees the word "brother" used in two different senses "in the flesh" and "in the Lord." The later is referring to the relationship between Christians who are all children of God and therefore brethren. The former though is more interesting. Onesimus was Philemon's brother in the flesh as well as in the Lord. Did this mean that Philemon held his sibling in slavery? I think not. Instead, it means that Philemon and Onesimus were of the same nationality.

Paul had a strong desire that his fellow countrymen might be saved. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites ..." (Romans 9:3-4). Even though he called them "brethren," Paul did not consider them saved for he later says, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1). Here again the term "brethren" is used in two different senses. Paul had brethren in the flesh who were lost and Paul was speaking to his Roman brethren within Christ who were saved. Hence, we conclude that the word "brother" by itself does not tell us whether the person addressed is saved or lost. It only indicates that there is a relationship between the individuals.

Paul is not the only one to use "brother" to refer to people of his own nationality. In Acts 7:23 Stephen states of Moses, "Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel." Stephen referred to other Israelites as Moses' brethren. Hence, we conclude that the use of "brother" for a fellow Jew was a common practice.

February 27, 2009