Today’s post will tackle another question that the Skeptic Annotated Bible asked: “Was Lot Abraham’s brother or nephew?”
Here are the two answers which the skeptic believes shows a Bible contradiction:
Lot was Abraham’s brother.
When Abram heard that his [a]relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:14)He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his [a]relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people. (Genesis 14:16)
Lot was Abraham’s nephew.
Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. (Genesis 11:27)Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the [a]persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they [b]set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:5)
They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. (Genesis 14:12)
(Note: Scriptural quotation comes from the New American Standard Bible)
Here’s a closer look at whether or not there is a contradiction:
- When dealing with skeptics’ claim of Bible contradictions it seems one can never be reminded enough of what exactly is a contradiction. A contradiction occurs when two or more claims conflict with one another so that they cannot simultaneously be true in the same sense and at the same time.
- It is also important to remember that the Bible originally was not written in English. Here our passages from Genesis is found in the Old Testament. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. We must ask what a term meant originally in the Hebrew to get the sense being used.
- From the Hebrew it is conclusive to establish that Lot was Abraham’s nephew. That is, Lot was the child of Abraham’s brother.
- In both Genesis 12:5 and Genesis 14:12 what is translated as “nephew” are the phrases בֶּן־אָחִ֗יו and בֶּן־אֲחִ֥י . Literally it is “son of his brother” and “son of the brother” respectively.
- Lot being Abraham’s nephew is confirmed by Genesis 11:27. Here Lot’s father is mentioned as Haran. Genesis 11:27 also tells us that Haran’s brother include Abraham and Nahor.
- Of course Lot being a nephew of Abraham is contradictory with Lot being the literal brother of Abraham in the sense that they both shared the same mother and/or father.
- When one look at the Hebrew words used for “brother” in both Genesis 14:14 and 14:16 we see it is אָח. The Hebrew word אָח can be used in more than one sense and it does not necessarily mean brother in the sense of family members having the same mother and father. Genesis 29:4 is helpful in establishing this.
- In Genesis 29:4 we read “Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.”” The word here from brother is אָח.
- Here אָח can’t mean literal brother in the sense of someone having the same mother and father since Jacob was clearly talking to people he did not know. He had to even ask them where they were from. Certainly he’s not saying they were physical descendants of his mother and father.
- We also know who Jacob’s brother was from the rest of Genesis so these people he’s talking to were not his literal brothers.
- Thus אָח can mean more than someone who has he same mother and/or father.
- One of the sense that אָח can be used include the idea of a relative or fellow member of a clan, tribe, nation, etc. The meaning of relative for the word אָח is supported both in Genesis 29:12, and 29:15.
- In Genesis 29:12 Jacob tells Rachel that he is אָח of her father. In Genesis 29:15 Laban, the father of Rachel, confirms to Jacob that he is his אָח.
- It is unlikely that Jacob is literally Laban’s brother since that would mean Jacob was very old to find such a young suitor. The meaning of “relative” makes better sense.
- It is unlikely Jacob is literally Laban’s brother since within the chapter in Genesis 29:10 we read “When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.” Three times this one verse mentions Laban was Jacob’s “mother’s brother.” Jacob’s mother didn’t need to be invoked in the chapter for the story to progress. Yet there is this sudden and frequent mention that Laban was Jacob’s mother’s brother. If אָח here merely means Laban was a relative of Jacob’s mother it makes little sense since that would already be understood already since Laban was Jacob’s אָח. Therefore one should understand that Jacob’s mother was literally the brother of Laban but Jacob as אָח in relations to Laban has sense of relative instead.
- Skeptics who think the multiple sense of the word אָח is a cop-out should realize that Hebrew is not the only language that uses “brother” in more sense than one.
- In Chinese society and culture today, the term “brother” and sisters” can refer to cousins as well. I imagine there are other cultures like this as well. This is an example of “brother” used in a larger sense of relatives.
- Even in the English language, we see those in the military referring to each other as “brothers” though soldiers might not be brothers with the same father/mother.
- In the Christian community aren’t all believers part of the “brethren?”
- Given the different sense of the term אָח we see that we do not necessarily have a Bible contradiction here if אָח is meant as “relative” since Lot can be both Abraham’s nephew and Abraham’s relative.
- It is best to understand אָח as carrying the sense of relative or member of a clan in those passages that mentions Lot as Abraham’s אָח for the following reasons:
- Note that Genesis 14 mentions Lot as Abraham’s אָח but also Lot as Abraham’s nephew (v.14). It is unlikely that in Genesis 14 there’s an obvious contradiction placed right next to each other so glaringly. It must be understood that אָח has the idea of relative.
- The context for Genesis 14 in which Lot is referred twice as Abraham’s אָח is Abraham engaging in a military operation to rescue Lot from four kings. Abraham’s rescue operation shows how close Lot was to Abraham’s heart. We shouldn’t be surprised Lot at this moment is referred to Abraham’s אָח.
- Inter-textuality of Scripture is also helpful. In Exodus 2:11 we read “Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.” Note how Moses identified with his persecuted member of his clan/tribe when the passage called the Hebrews as Moses “brethren.” This was stated twice in this verse. The root of the word is again אָח. The use of the term אָח expresses Moses solidarity with those who are persecuted who are dear to Moses’ heart and share his lineage. He wants to do something to free his people from an evil king. Don’t we see the parallel with Genesis 14? Could Genesis 14 anticipate Moses and Exodus as well? One doesn’t need to even go that far; from Exodus 2:11 we see that given the condition in Gensis 14 it makes sense for the narrator to express how Abraham viewed Lot in a similar situation as being Abraham’s אָח.
This is yet again another contradiction that bites the dust.