In 1 Corinthians 9:5, there is a referrence of women serving the apostles. In most translations, they are called wives:

Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?

On the other hand, I have recently read that the original Greek word is "adelfén", which means a "sister" rather than a "wife". So my question is: is this claim right? Or is the "adelfén" version only in some manuscripts, without being clear what is older? Or is the meaning of word broader than I think? Or is it completely wrong?

EDIT for context: the book where this was written suggests that it was required for a deacon/ priest/ bishop not to live sexually with his wife since his ordination, and the new relationship between them was sometimes compared to that of a brother and a sister. No incest involved, I just try to examine how strongly backed by Scripture is the author's claim that this verse supports that even apostles lived in this kind of celibacy.

3 Answers 3


The word translated as wife is not actually adelphe (G79) but gyne (G1135).

PS: My personal opinion, even though I know no Greek, is that this passage clearly loses some meaning in translation, which could be recovered from the context of the chapter. I would paraphrase him thus:

Could not Barnabas and I also (married: take along as wives) (members of our congregation: sisters) as did "Brothers of the Lord" and "The Rock".

Moreover, judging by the rhetorical prowess of the rest of the chapter, I don't think that the incestuous imagery (taking sisters as wives) is totally coincidental.

  • When I read your P.S. and explored your link more carefully (including some more dictionary play), it really helped me to understand the original text, and both why is it usually translated as it is and why it could support the claim I mentioned in addendum to my question. I accept it.
    – Pavel
    May 27, 2013 at 19:10

There is no incestuous implication here; nor is there an implication of a "platonic" relationship.

The idea of calling a bride a "sister" is an ancient one, probably rooted in the fact that God was Father to both Adam and Eve, and in that sense, they were brother and sister. The biblical book with marriage as its theme uses the language of "my sister, my spouse" four times (Song 4:9, 10, 12; 5:1), the same order which appears here. Admittedly, the LXX renders "spouse" with a different word, νύμϕη, than Paul uses, but that fits with his practice of identifying other believers as "brothers." His assumption is that his right to bring along a wife would be one of bringing along a believing wife, a sister in Christ.


All baptized women in congregation are sisters. Some of them are someone's wives, daughters, siblings, grannies... The most possibe is that they were wives. All other roles do not look logic.

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