We Are Not Our Brother’s Keeper

In Christian belief, it’s often taught that we are our brother’s keeper. After the story of Cain murdering Abel, the usual commentary is that Cain murdered because he did not think of being his brother’s keeper. So we must be our brother’s keeper because we are responsible for each other, and so we must help each other as often, must give to each other, sometimes even when not needed, and so on. Now I think it veered away from the original message about murder, and whoever came up with the conventional interpretation just took a verse and used it to suit his own ideas (what’s that called, proof-texting?) And with all the recent things I’ve been reading about personal responsibility, I now hold that being commanded to be your brother’s keeper is a serious misinterpretation that has been appropriated to support flawed ideas, such as the “social justice warrior” mentality.

Source: Wikihow

First, let’s look at the source. The line itself is a taunt by Cain against God’s asking him (even if God already knows) where Abel is. Cain answered, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” If we modernize the phrase according to the sense it carried, it might go, “don’t ask me, I didn’t hide him!” It was a sarcastic lie.

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God did not reply anything like, “yes you are your brother’s keeper” or similar. He said something else, that Abel’s blood was crying out to him, implying that nothing could be hidden from him. When you think about it, Cain was indeed his brother’s keeper – by keeping the body! So being his brother’s keeper was Cain’s sin too. This one’s a stretch, but notice that another word for killing is to put away – for which another synonym is to keep! Could that have been the sense in those times too?

I do know about the conventional interpretation that being a brother’s keeper means respecting them, so you don’t hurt or kill them. But that doesn’t seem to jibe with the way “keep” was used in that part of the Bible. “Keep” to me sounds more like to control or own someone, such as keeping a slave. The way the traditional Christian teaching used it seemed to be forced and inappropriate. But when “keep” is used to mean being responsible for another’s fortune or misfortune even if we not do something to them, it doesn’t sound right either. If someone else is poor, it is our fault. If someone gets drunk and dies of a heart attack, it’s our fault, not his. If someone commits a crime, it is someone else’s fault that led to his committing a crime. Basically, the buck is passed.

This is a great misinterpretation that is misused for things such as moral fundamentalism. For example, the “social justice warriors” think rich people should be forced to give to the poor (or that it is always the fault of the rich that others are poor). Or they believe poverty is always someone else’s fault, so the poor are justified to kill (e.g. hold a “revolution” against) that someone else. Even the oldies I described who want to force their children to share or believe they should impose their morality on others likely hold the brother’s keeper idea. But the same goes for criminals: a murderer can say in their defense, “it’s their (the victim’s) fault, they made me do it.” A palamunin or freeloader will say, “hey, you should be your brother’s keeper, so keep me, as in, keep me fed!” And so on.

If we look at the Bible again, it has another verse that says, “each of us will give an account of himself before God.” (Romans 14:10). This is individual accountability. We cannot be responsible for others’ actions.

In or out of the religious context, we are not other people’s keepers because each person is a living equal of ours. They have individual will and freedom. We cannot “keep” them and be responsible for their actions. They are responsible for their own. Each of us is our own keeper. We are only responsible for others if we ordered them to do something wrong or if we did something to them (just as Cain killed Abel).

Perhaps it’s time to drop this idea of being our brother’s keeper, or at least drop the interpretation of being responsible for others’ decisions and actions. Dropping it does not oppose the idea that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, or that we should treat others as we would want them to treat us. But being a keeper of someone else is not love. It is controlling others. With or without the religious contest, we should still be cognizant of personal responsibility. Because even while we are on this earth, the verse is very much relevant that we will each make an account of ourselves, individually. Because that is what justice really means – not that “social justice” horse manure.

7 Replies to “We Are Not Our Brother’s Keeper”


    Many quotes in the Bible are taken out of context like ” an eye for an eye. “Yes , you can find it there but it doesn’t mean it is prescribed. Yes the SJW’s are a piece of work. Twisting things to justify their world view. This whole one Catholic vote baloney that the bishops themselves conveniently denied when it was too late ( eve of election) . So called woke/ SJW’s trying to use flimsy religious basis to guilt the gullible. Nothing beats knowing the subject well . You got to stand for something or you gonna fall for anything.


  2. In the Book of Genesis, of the Christian Bible; Cain murdered Abel, because of envy. God asked Cain, where Abel is: so he did a “palusot” : “Am I my brother’s keeper ?”

    Being charitable, depends on your religion, and sense of morality. We are responsible for our own lives. We harvest, what we planted. If we become irresponsible in our youth…surely we will get the results of our irresponsibilities, by not having a better life than we hope for. So, it is not somebody’s fault that you have lousy life. It is your responsibility.

    It is like the bankrupt ideology of communism or socialism. Because, there is too much poverty. There should be a revolution to make us all “equal”. Nothing is further from the truth, because once the communists gain power. The leaders of the revolution will have good lives, while the rest of us, will have lousy lives. This was proven in the former Soviet Union and China, when these countries were still communist states.

    Look at how the communist Supremo, JoMa Sison. He lives a good life in Amsterdam, Holland; while his commie followers lives in the mountains, surviving by extortioning businesses and people.

    So, as the Christian Bible teaches: ” You reap, what you sow”, nothing more or nothing less. We are responsible for the results of our lives, nothing more or nothing less !

  3. The NT is really quite explicit about the concept of brotherhood. The implication is that one has a duty to those who, through no fault of their own, are in trouble and need help (eg., The Good Samaritan parable). Conversely, there are very few good words for freeloaders, wastrels, and layabouts (eg., “if a man shall not work, he shall not eat”). The prodigal son is a notable exception, but while he might have got a big welcome home, one gets the impression that his father would take a dim view if he did it a second time.

    The Filipino’s conception of religion is more like a belief in Santa Claus. God is there to hand out “blessings”, and the rest of humanity exists to support the “less fortunate”, ie., himself, in the manner in which he believes is his due. And if he has to bend the rules a bit to get his due, well, there’s always the confession box, which makes everything all right again.

  4. The reason why I’m an advocate of free education is precisely that, “We cannot be responsible for others’ actions.” If free education exist, would you feel pity for someone who never took the opportunity to get one, like, ” hey I’m poor because I didn’t get an education” and of course your respond will be “how did that happen when it is free?”, if you feel sorry and pity for the guy, then you are hero/martyr/saint but if you ignore the guy because you don’t like lazy people he would probably starve to death and no longer exist which will really what will happen if free education exist, everyone will be obligated to get an education, no matter what age you have. When all those who are lazy to get an education no longer exist then who will be left? I wonder how many of us really like to have an educated society? How can there be “equality” if there will only be some educated and the rest are not? What “equality” means to me is that, both of us will be given the same opportunity in education, after that, you’re on your own.

  5. I agree keeper can take on a wide array of meanings.

    Goal keeper- defends a goal from penetration

    House keeper – maintains order and cleanliness

    “He’s a keeper” – one of the greatest compliments a man could get from his prospective bride

    The typical interpretation of Cain’s use of keeper would be that of being a guardian (parent-child context), where parents are responsible for their children’s whereabouts.

    The slave-master context can also apply. We should limit using “keeper” to within the family context (while children live under one’s roof), and without any taint of abuse.

    Applying the concept to your next-door neighbor would be stepping beyond one’s jurisdiction.

  6. The only keeper of your happiness is you. Stop giving people the power to control your smile, your worth and your attitude.

  7. Update on something related, a bit off-tangent, but still about Cain.
    A podcast I follow said that Cain’s mistake was not failing to please God. Cain may have actually been worshipping another god, which is why his offering seemed off to God. It’s explained in Episode 9 of the Divine Council Worldview podcast hosted by Ronn Johnson and Mike Chu. I believe this is one of the steps to a more correct Christian theological understanding.

    Link here: https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/33a6a9c8-c08e-4b90-b22b-cac56803e5f9/the-divine-council-worldview-podcast

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