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You Are Not Your Brother’s Keeper, the Bible Teaches

Written by Gary North on November 6, 2014

For over 100 years, theological liberals, who in most cases are also political liberals, have used this famous passage in the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis to justify the idea that individuals are responsible for the health and welfare of other individuals, and then, taking it a step further, they conclude that the state is responsible for the health and welfare of people in need.

On the surface of it, the text offers not the slightest hint of any such interpretation. Let us consider the setting. Cain has killed Abel. God then cross-examines him, knowing full well exactly what he has done. Cain, being an incomparable fool, thinks he can fool God. So, he asked a rhetorical question in response to God’s very specific question, namely, “Where is your brother?” Cain answered rhetorically: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The issue here was not economic welfare; the issue here was the location of Abel’s body.

Cain knew exactly where that body was. So did God. God was simply making a point: He cross-examines individuals before He condemns them. He investigates the facts before He renders judgment. In this case, Cain was about to come under historical judgment. But he thought that he might deflect this, at least for a time, by playing the fool. After all, he implicitly argued, there was no good reason why he should know where Abel was. He was not in charge of Abel. He was not, in other words, Abel’s keeper.

The implication of this rhetorical response is this: people who are legally responsible for the affairs of other people are the equivalent of caretakers in an asylum for the mentally disabled. They have control over the inmates, because the inmates are incapable of taking care of themselves. The caretakers supervise the daily activities of the inmates. They make certain that the inmates do not stray far from their cells. In other words, they exercise physical and emotional control over those people whose relatives are no longer willing to exercise responsibility, and who have transferred this legal responsibility to professionals.

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13 thoughts on “You Are Not Your Brother’s Keeper, the Bible Teaches

  1. North takes a cliche and deconstructs it – brilliant! My thinking is turned on its head. I learned something from his essay. I am grateful.

  2. Sovereignty and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Genesis-A wonderful book. Thank You Lord Jesus!

  3. While I don't believe in the Leftist interpretation that we are RESPONSIBLE for our fellow beings, I do believe we are morally obligated to have compassion on our fellow beings. But this is very different from the GOVERNMENT having that obligation. Leftists continually confuse the argument, pushing responsibilities on the government what should be done by the individual.

  4. Well, if the government is considered our keeper, they are doing a lousy job of it. We need to accept the responsibility of doing for ourselves as much as we can. If not the government steps in and tells you what and when you will do it! Personally I like to make my own choices and do accept full responsibility for my actions.
    That doesnt mean I shy away from helping others, but only to the point that they can and want to do for themselves.

  5. If you think this is saying that we are not our brother's keeper, you have to throw out all of the rest of the Bible. Unbelievable. Defending a murderer who is using this as a defense is indefensible.

  6. For a good clarification of this principle, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEM4NKXK-iA

  7. There is no defense of Cain in this article.

  8. having compassion for the situation in which you find a fellow is one thing. Functioning as a "keeper" as Gary describes here, is quite another. Refer to the parable Jesus gave us about the man of Samaria, mugged and left ofr dead at the eide of the road. He told this story as a way of defining "neighbour". My neigbour is one who is under my nose… who's path has crossed, per God's ordering both our steps, over mine, and who is in need of help. The welfare mom in the big city, being fed and housed by MY tax dollars is NOT my neighbour. Nor am I ever her "keeper", as in one responsible for an helpless one. Now, if the family next door is out of work, and I know the head of said household to be a hard worker, not lazy, good ethics, and they have no food on the table, THEN we have an issue of how I choose to relate to my NEIGHBOUR. We do NOT have an issue of my taking responsibiilty for his affairs. If he is injured and unable to manage for himself, then perhaps that might come into play. Most of the welfare moms are there because of decisions they have made…. her inablility to keep her legs closed likely being one of them. This may well be a proximal result of her FATHER making some rotten decisions way back when HE impregnated some other foolish young girl, resulting in the arrival of our present subject…. who is now following the only pattern she has seen. Until SHE recognises her root problems and places herself under the authority of others who will help "retrain" her, (for a season submitting to a "keeper") she will contnue to be "needy"…. but she is certainly not the ward of the state, as most seem to hold.

    Good job discerning between compassion and the keeper. Teo vERY different thigns.

  9. you failed utterly to grasp the difference between a "keeper" and one who has compassion on another. Cain rightly stated that his brother is not a defective depenedent upon the care and protection of Cain. Nowhere is this question posed as a defense… it is a fob off, a distraction… and God would have none of it. He was right.. he is NOT Abel's "keeper" as in guardian, responsible party….. he intended the response to be a feint, useful to avoid directly responding to the real question: WHERE is your brother? Almost as if to say "hey, since when is it MY job to keep track of that guy, is he a little kid I have to mind HIS business too?". The correct response was " he is buried on the other side of that hill over thre because I killed him".

    But, what could we expect.. he had his Father Adam to teach him how to bear responsibility…. we all know how quicky Adam shifted the blame to his Wife…. "it was the WIFE YOU gave to me….. go talk to her, it ain't my faiult don't come blaming ME……

  10. In my opinion, the Old Testament is back story. The New Testament is the main feature – and the “Hero”, Jesus of Nazareth, is a libertarian, consistently spreading a message of liberty and personal responsibility.

  11. Actually, you are wrong about not being our brother's keeper. All through the Bible God tells us to take care of our widows, orphans, & other needy people. And, Jesus' last command to his disciples was for them to go into the world & spread the Gospel. We are not responsible if another commits a crime, but if we see a brother, or sister in error according to Biblical teachings, we are to warn them, IN LOVE. We can't, nor are we expected to, force someone to follow God's laws. But, we are to share the Gospel with anyone that we get the chance to. God told Ezekiel that if the watchman didn't warn of danger, then the blood of those that died would be on the watchman's hand. Sounds to me like we are our brothers & sisters keepers. If we give them the Gospel, & they refuse it, then our hands are clean, if that person dies in their sins. Part of what's wrong with America these days, is that, we have stopped warning people about SIN. Most preachers are sugar coating things, & don't tell people that there IS a heaven to gain, AND a hell to shun.

  12. God only asks for 10% of your money, liberals ask/demand most all of it and more every year. The amount God asks for hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

  13. Are you confusing acts of basic kindness with being a slave to the Lazyness of ones lifestyle? Only asking for 10% to help the poor is making a statement.
    So far, we have spent more than 15 trillion on the war on poverty, yet it is now worse than ever. The number one reason/cause for poverty in the world today is single parent families, caused from children being born out of wedlock. You can’t blame that on rich people.
    In 1900 it was about 5%, today it is at 53%, with 43% of all women in this country having a baby out of wedlock by the age of 30.

    People moved away from God, and now follow the Gub-Mint as their god.
    You can see just how well the Gub-Mint works.