Napsal(a) New Christian Bible Study Staff
There are two ways "brother" is used in the Bible, ways that are still reflected in modern language. One denotes an actual blood relationship; the other is a more sweeping term of commonality, in the mode of the "brotherhood of man."
The second use is consistent throughout the Bible, meaning those living in the love of doing what is good. This can be on different levels, from a simple joy in obedience to the charitable love of serving others to the exalted love of the Lord himself. But all in those loves are brothers.
This is stated very well in Swedenborg's work, Apocalypse Explained, n. 746:
"Such are called brethren because they all have one Father, that is, the Lord; and those who are in the good of love to the Lord, and in the good of charity towards the neighbour, are His sons. ... (S)ince they are the sons of one Father, they are also brethren. Moreover, it is the chief commandment of the Lord the Father, that they should love one another, consequently it is love that makes them brethren..."
The case is more complicated with brothers through blood relationship; the meaning is more affected by the context of who the brothers are and the circumstances of the story. In general they reflect the unity that can exist between the desire to do good and the understanding of how to do good. This is true of Cain and Abel and several pairs of twins: Jacob and Esau, Judah's sons Zarah and Pharez, and Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh; in each case one represents the desire for good and the other the understanding of truth.
Because of this brotherhood of good and truth, brothers can represent either depending on context. Indeed, the meaning of Joseph's brothers shifts throughout his story as they represent the spiritual decline and rebirth of the precursor of the Jewish faith.