In the New Century Version, passages in the New Testament that were addressed to "brothers" are now "brothers and sisters". For example:

"Brothers and sisters, in the Scriptures the Holy Spirit said through David something that must happen involving Judas. He was one of our own group and served together with us. He led those who arrested Jesus."

Acts 1:16

Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that I planned many times to come to you, but this has not been possible. I wanted to come so that I could help you grow spiritually as I have helped the other non-Jewish people.

Romans 1:13

Is this a more accurate translation of the original text? I guess that literally only brothers were mentioned, but would Peter and Paul have intended women to be included automatically in their addresses?


I don't have a problem with a change like this. The concept behind "brother" in these contexts is "fellow member of the covenant community." Originally, it applied to Jews only. Then very early Christians began referring to themselves as "brethren" both amongst themselves and to Jews. Acts 1:16 is a great example of that, but there are others in Acts (2:27; 3:17; 7:2).

In cases like Paul before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23), when he says "Men and brethren," that should be understood as there are only men in the audience as only men held seats on the council. Just quickly looking in Acts, it seems when the speaker is more specific, it might be men-only crowds. For example, "Men, brothers, fathers, sons of Israel!"

On the other hand, in at least some of the audiences, we could reasonably expect women to be in the crowd. Church congregations, which the epistles were originally read in front of, would have men and women both.

  • 1
    Exactly. Context should help us understand which is appropriate and which is not.
    – swasheck
    Apr 30 '12 at 20:42

It is the tendency in Greek grammar (and I believe is also common in European languages, before the wide use of what we've come to call politically-correct language) that whenever mixed-gender groups are referred to, the masculine is used. (Smyth, §197a, §1055)

So in Romans 1:13, if Paul had wanted to say either "brothers" or "siblings" he would have said ἀδελφοί, and so he did. It is up to the interpreter to decide which he actually meant. If Paul had felt the need to be specific, he could have added καὶ ἀδελφαί "and sisters" as well.

That said, in Acts 1:16, the actual Greek used is not just ἀδελφοί, but ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, which one might translate as "Gentlemen, brothers". This one is less likely to be correctly translated with "brothers and sisters", because if one wanted to be specific about addressing males this looks like how it would be done: the word ἄνδρες is the plural of ἀνήρ "man", referring specifically to males as opposed to females.

Of course, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί could still be read, on the same principle as the Romans example, as something like "Gentlemen, brothers and sisters". But considering the cultural realities of the time and place, we can't rule out the possibility that sometimes specifically the men were being addressed.

  • Very true, but context should always dictate this. Given the context of the Romans passage, I don't believe that we can conclusively say that Paul was excluding women in this instance. Given the contemporary andro-centrism, ἀνήρ can also be understood as a person, no? As far as I can tell, the lemma itself occurs 194 times (in SBLGNT) across 6 authors (missing the author of Hebrews). Certainly there is a diversity of usage where "human" or "man" (but never "woman") would be dictated by context, right?
    – swasheck
    May 3 '12 at 21:45
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    Does politically correct language remind anyone else of this book?
    – Kazark
    May 4 '12 at 1:58
  • @swasheck Right, the Romans passage is ambiguous as to whether women would be included or not (ordinary Greek would not specify). As for ἀνήρ it specifically means a male person; if it could be a human generally (I don't deny it might be possible) it'd be rare. (cf this page showing NT translations of the word in context). The Greek word used to mean a man or human generally, regardless of gender, is ἄνθρωπος (cf the same site on ἄνθρωπος).
    – Muke Tever
    May 4 '12 at 4:56
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    @Kazark I shouldn't think so. In principle Newspeak is about conventions of language imposed to limit thought, while PC speech, as I understand it, is about perceiving places in English where conventions of language are believed to already be limiting thought, and uprooting them.
    – Muke Tever
    May 4 '12 at 5:12
  • @Muke Fair enough ... but I believe that there are some instances where ἀνήρ is sufficiently ambiguous to justify the "human/person" understanding. I'll have to look, though.
    – swasheck
    May 4 '12 at 15:04

The main reason for not addressing females in public speech or writing is the respect for authority in marriage and family along with the reluctance to step over limits that were - at least in those days - almost viewed as natural law. A man should not use authority over another man's wife. So if e.g. Paul or John address women, they do it in a very indirect fashion in order not to exceed their office. The absence of a regular mandate to teach the ekklesia falls into a similar category. It is due to the authority of the man within the family, which would be called into question by authoritative women. If that was only due to time and custom, it is difficult to explain why Christ should have chosen 12 men but no woman as apostle.

All this, however, will lose its relevance once conflicts between husbands and wives are over. Traditional marriage as a civil contract and regulation to set up order and reduce fighting to gain power over one another will become obsolete. Until then women might enjoy the freedom of not being pushed here and there by well meaning (ever so often wrong) men and women trying to force their ideas on them in public.

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