Oh Brother…or is it Nephew?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
I am constantly amazed at what “Bible contradiction” the skeptic will come up with next. A person would like to think that critics of the Bible’s inerrancy might have some limits to their allegations, but, apparently, they do not. Instead of taking a few moments with the Bible (and a concordance or a Bible dictionary) in order to learn how a particular word is used throughout Scripture, some skeptics simply look at a particular English word in one place, and if that particular word is used elsewhere in the Bible in a different sense, then they claim that there is an obvious “contradiction.” Such is the case with the skeptics’ treatment of Lot in the book of Genesis. Allegedly, Lot cannot logically be described as Abraham’s “nephew” and his “brother” at the same time. Because Genesis 14:12 states that Lot was “Abram’s brother’s son” (NKJV; “nephew”—NIV), and Genesis 14:14 and 14:16 say that Lot was Abram’s (or Abraham’s—Genesis 17:5) “brother,” skeptics allege that the writer of Genesis erred. The renowned Bible critic Dennis McKinsey has this alleged discrepancy listed three different times on his Web site. In one section simply titled “Contradictions,” he states:
If there is any area in which the Bible’s imperfections and errancy is most apparent, it is that of inconsistencies and contradictions…. As incredible as it may seem, there are some individuals who still say, “The Bible is perfect and inerrant. There are no inaccuracies.” So, for the benefit of these holdouts, I am going to provide a list of some simple, straight-forward problems that even some well-known spokesmen for the fundamentalist position grudgingly concede (1983, emp. added)
One of the “contradictions” McKinsey lists is that of Lot being described as both Abram’s nephew and his brother. As he and numerous other skeptics (whose writings can be accessed easily on the Internet) see it, these verses represent a “simple, straight-forward problem” for the apologist who seeks to defend the inerrancy of the Bible.
The truth is, however, there is a “simple, straightforward” solution to the problem. In Genesis 14:12, the Hebrew terms ben ‘achi are used to indicate that Lot literally was Abraham’s “brother’s son.” Lot was Haran’s son, and thus Abraham’s nephew (Genesis 11:27; 12:5). At the same time, Lot was also Abraham’s brother (Hebrew ‘achiw). He was not Abraham’s brother in the literal sense we so often use this word today, but he was Abraham’s brother in the sense that they were family. For the skeptic’s argument to hold any weight, he first must prove that the term for brother (‘ach) was used in the Bible only when speaking of a male sibling. Unfortunately, for them, they cannot prove that point. Although its basic meaning is male sibling (cf. Genesis 4:2), the Hebrew term for brother(s) appears about 629 times throughout the Old Testament in a variety of ways.
Whether two males have the same mother and father, only the same father, or just the same mother, the term “brother” is used to describe their relationship (cf. Genesis 37:14; 42:3-4; Judges 8:19).
In Genesis chapter 29, Laban is called Jacob’s “brother”: “And Laban said unto Jacob, ‘Because though art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought?’ ” (vs. 15, emp. added, KJV). Just before Laban’s statement, “Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s [Laban’s] brother” (v.s 12, KJV). Considering that Jacob was only Laban’s nephew (24:29-31), when these men used the term “brother” in discussions with (or about) each other, they merely were speaking of one another as blood relatives, and not actual male siblings.
In another nuance, members of the same tribe are called “brethren” ('acha) in 2 Samuel 19:12.
In Exodus 2:11, Moses’ fellow Israelites are called “brethren” (cf. Acts 3:22; Hebrews 7:5). As is noted in A.R. Fassuet’s Bible Dictionary, the Israelites often “distinguished a ‘brother’ as an Israelite by birth, and a ‘neighbor’ a proselyte, and allowed neither title to the Gentiles” (1998).
In the midst of his suffering, Job spoke of his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) as “brothers” (NKJV, Hebrew 'acha).
In the New Testament, the term “brother(s)” (Greek adelphos) is used numerous times in reference to the relationship Christians have with one another as children of God (1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:6; 7:12; Philippians 2:25; et al.).
Dennis McKinsey and other skeptics who parade Genesis 14:12 and 14:14 in front of the world as a “simple, straight-forward problem” that allegedly has no solution are (as usual) guilty of misrepresenting the biblical writers. Every indication in Scripture leads the unbiased person to conclude that the term “brother” has a wide variety of semantic shadings to it.
Considering the many ways in which the term “brother” was used in ancient times, and even the variety of ways it is used in twenty-first-century America, any sincere truth-seeker should be appalled at the blatantly false accusations made by McKinsey and others regarding Genesis 14 and the use of the term “brother.”
Fausset, A.R. (1998), Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
McKinsey, C. Dennis (1983), “Contradictions,” Biblical Errancy, [On-line], URL: http://members.aol.com/ckbloomfld/bepart12.html#issref121.