Last night I was directed to the comments of someone with whom I have discussed the “baptism as sign of objective covenant, Roman Catholics are our brothers” issue a number of times. I was left speechless when this person claimed that when he tries to discuss this with Reformed Baptists, and presents “exegesis” to them, “there really is little if any response. Challenges disappear into thin air.” To call this “self-deceptive” is to be very, very kind. The comments of another were offered on the passage. I found them fascinating:
Cf Galatians 2:4, speaking of “false brothers” (Greek pseudadelphos). For those who wish to know: when pseudo is prefaced to a noun, it does not necessarily turn that noun into its opposite. That is, pseudadelphos does not necessarily mean: “they appeared to be brothers, but in truth they weren’t really, really brothers.” Pseudo also prefaces teachers in 2 Peter 2:1. Were they not really teachers? Of course, they were teachers; but what they taught was false and faithless. An adulterer is a false husband, not because he is “not really married,” but precisely because he is untrue to what he is. That, by definition, is a hypocrite.
Let’s see if we understand this…a false teacher is still a teacher, hence, a false brother is still a brother? Let’s remind ourselves of what Paul said. These are men who were “secretly brought in.” Into what? They “snuck in.” Into where? They snuck in “to spy out our liberty.” Our liberty? Is it not their liberty as well? Why did these false brethren do this in this secretive, dishonest, hidden fashion? “In order to bring us into bondage.” Us again? Not them?
A quick review of the facts of this single sentence in Greek reveals that these were secretive men who snuck in from outside; they had devious, dishonest, evil motivations, and sought to bring the very leadership of the Christian Church into bondage. Now, what is the natural meaning of “false brother” in this context? A Christian, or a non-Christian?
Next, the comments cited above miss one important point: it is said that in 2 Peter 2:1 the same prefix is used of “false teachers.” That is quite true. However, there is a fundamental difference between the meaning and significance of “teacher” versus “brother.” A false teacher is one who is actively involved in promulgating false teachings. But what is a false brother? Brother is a state, a status, a relationship, not an activity, something the comments above ignore completely. If we say that you have false teeth, are they really teeth? A noun that speaks of a state or relationship that has “false” in front of it would indicate that the relationship really doesn’t exist. And in Galatians 2, in light of the deception of these men and their nefarious desires, this is clearly the meaning.
Were these men “in” the church? Yes, they even had access to the leadership of the church itself. Obviously, they were baptized men who made a profession of faith in Christ. But despite their actions (baptism), and their words, Paul knew they were false brethren. And how did he know? Because they did not possess the gospel. A brother is a brother in the bonds of the gospel. That is what Paul means.
Now, one of the most amazing efforts to get around this simple, clear fact is to abandon the context, ignore the text, and run to a completely different context and a completely different usage of the term “brother.” Paul referred to the Jews as “my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). Of course, a brief consideration of the text reveals that the term “brethren” here is being used of fleshly relationship, Paul being a Jew. There is no logical or rational connection to the use in Galatians 2, nor can such a connection be forged.
My dear friend David King noted the following words from John Calvin that are obviously quite relevant to this topic. Note in the first quotation the definition of “false brethren” as “counterfeit Christians.”
(Commenting on Psalm 83:8): But it is, as it were, the destiny of the Church, not only to be assailed by external enemies, but to suffer far greater trouble at the hands of false brethren. At the present day, none are more furiously mad against us than counterfeit Christians. See Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. V, trans. James Anderson (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprinted 1979), pp. 344-345.
Accordingly he enjoins them to regard as devils those who shall dare to bring forward a gospel different from his, “meaning by another gospel, one to which the inventions of other men are added; for the doctrine of the false apostles was not entirely contrary, or even different, from that of Paul, but corrupted by false additions. To what poor subterfuges do the Papists resort, in order to escape from the Apostle’s declaration! First, they tell us, that we have not in our possession the whole of Paul’s preaching, and cannot know what it contained, unless the Galatians who heard it shall be raised from the dead, in order to appear as witnesses. Next, they assert, that it is not every kind of addition which is forbidden, but that other gospels only are condemned. What Paul’s doctrine was, so far as it concerns us to know, may be learned with sufficient clearness from his writings. Of this gospel, it is plain, the whole of Popery is a dreadful perversion. And from the nature of the case, we remark in conclusion, it is manifest that any spurious doctrine whatever is at variance with Paul’s preaching; so that these cavils will avail them nothing.” See Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XXI, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprinted 1979), pp. 30-34.