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In several places in Acts, Peter, James, and Paul (and perhaps others) address groups of people by saying "men and brethren" – perhaps in the same way that we would use "ladies and gentlemen" or "brothers and sisters" (in a church context) to address people today.

1) Does this imply that their audience was entirely composed of men, or were women there as well? I know sometimes when the Bible talks about "man" it means "mankind" – men and women – for example. Are we to understand a broader meaning of "men"?

2) If the speaker is only talking to men, is the phrase redundant? What's the difference between "men" and "brethren"? Is it an idiom of Koine Greek? Does it have something to do with Jews vs. Gentiles?

Here is a list of these passages: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=%22men+and+brethren%22&qs_version=KJV

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  • I wonder if it's worth noting that this formula is already used in 4 Maccabees 8:19; and there is the variation "men, brothers, and fathers" in Acts 7:2 and 22:1. – Dɑvïd Aug 27 '15 at 22:41
  • My guess: the best or only reason must be that by men he refers to unbelievers in these phrases; while "brethren" refer to believers. In Acts7:2 he addresses all, believers, unbelievers, seniors specifically. – Michael16 Nov 17 '16 at 7:46
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This answer is intended as a follow-up to fdb’s answer, with which I basically agree.

  1. OP:

Is it a Greek-ism?

Yes. Atticism might be another appropriate word. As mentioned, the phrase of interest is ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί (andres adelphoi; men, brothers). This appears to be modeled on the typical Athenian oratorical introductory formula, andres Athenaioi ("men, Athenians” or “men of Athens”).1 Luke records other related phrases using ἄνδρες in apposition to a more specific identifier. These include:

  • ἄνδρες Γαλιλαῖοι (1:11, “men of Galilee”);
  • ἄνδρες Ἰουδαῖοι (2:14, “men of Judea”);
  • Ανδρες Ἰσραηλῖται (2:22, “men of Israel”);
  • ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι (17:22, “men of Athens”).

The phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί is an adaptation of the classical formula that introduces ἀδελφοί, a term commonly used among early Christians to refer to each other, as recorded throughout the New Testament.

  1. OP:

Does this imply that their audience was entirely composed of men, or were women there as well?

As mentioned in other answers, ἀνήρ, (the dictionary form of ἄνδρες) is more specific for “maleness” than ἄνθρωπος, another word often translated as “man”. From BDAG, ἀνήρ (bold/italics original):

an adult human male, man, husband....a. in contrast to a woman....b. in contrast to a boy

For extensive discussion in support of the idea that men in particular are in mind when this word is used, see Wayne Grudem.2 ("This word never refers to women.") For interaction with and objections to Dr. Grudem’s argument, see D.A. Carson, The Inclusive-Language Debate: A Plea for Realism.3 He agrees with the basic point:

one should assume [ἄνδρες] refers to male human beings, unless there is convincing contextual counter-evidence.

However, he believes Grudem’s statement above is demonstrably too strong (p. 159). The commonly adduced counter-example is drawn from Acts 17:34 where it is clear within the verse that the referent includes at least one woman:

τινὲς δὲ ἄνδρες κολληθέντες αὐτῷ ἐπίστευσαν, ἐν οἷς καὶ Διονύσιος ὁ Ἀρεοπαγίτης καὶ γυνὴ ὀνόματι Δάμαρις καὶ ἕτεροι σὺν αὐτοῖς.

But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Thus, it is possible but unusual for ἄνδρες to denote a group that includes women. Commentators as early as Chrysostom (I believe a native Greek speaker) interpreted ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί in Acts as gender-neutral.4 Every modern commentary I was able to review agreed.1,5,6 Quoting F.F. Bruce:

the word is otiose, and does not necessarily exclude women.


1. Joseph A. Fitzmyer. The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary AYB; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.

2. Reproduced at the linked page from: Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy by (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000), pp. 321-333.

3. D. A. Carson. The Inclusive-Language Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. Out of print and available in full at the link.

4. John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans. Ed. Philip Schaff. T&T Clark, Edinburgh.

5. F.F. Bruce. The Acts of the Apostles: Greek text with introduction and commentary. Eerdmans, 1990. Quote here from p. 108.

6. David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles. PNTC; Eerdmans, 2009.

  • That wasn’t the conclusion I expected, but OK. – Susan Aug 27 '15 at 22:32
  • A good answer. In Acts 17:34 you could of course put a comma after Ἀρεοπαγίτης, and construe the sentence as: “Some men joined him - among them D. the A. – and (also) a woman named D., and others with them”. You could argue that ἄνδρες … καὶ γυνὴ implies an antithesis. – fdb Aug 28 '15 at 8:16
  • One more nit-picking point: ἀνήρ and ἄνθρωπος are not “related” etymologically, though they are close semantically. – fdb Aug 28 '15 at 8:18
  • @fdb Thanks, I did intend “semantically related” but that wasn’t clear. Edited to clarify. The re-punctuation / re-interpretation of 17:34 I hadn’t thought of - good point! – Susan Aug 28 '15 at 8:28
  • That a speech is addressed to men does not preclude women being in the space; they simply were not addressed any more than the waiters are at a dinner fundraiser. – fumanchu Aug 28 '15 at 15:00
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ἀδελφός in the singular means “brother”, but the plural ἀδελφοί is used also for “brother(s) and sister(s)”. This usage is classical, for example in Euripides and Herodotus.

By contrast, ἀνήρ, plural ἄνδρες means “man, male, husband”. The inclusive term for “men and women” is ἄνθρωποι. So when the Apostle addresses his audience as “ἄνδρες, ἀδελφοί” the first word means “(male) men”, but the second could be understood to mean “brothers and sisters”.

  • How would you answers the follow up questions given by questioner? – sbunny Aug 27 '15 at 20:29
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    this answer is similar enough to the one on which you commented (which was deleted) such that i'm not sure i understand the criticism you levied. this answer adds no significant contribution over against that answer except, perhaps, the explanation that you believe yours to be more clear. as it stands, both answers lack sufficient context and rhetorical analysis to serve much use to the question. – swasheck Aug 27 '15 at 21:13

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