|Bible Research > Interpretation > Translation Methods > Gender-Neutral > Adelphos|
He answered and said ... Who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold ... (Matthew 12:48-49)
One day when Jesus was teaching a group of disciples in a house in Capernaum, he was told that his brothers were waiting to talk to him outside, but he answered that he was already with his brothers, for "whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother." As in everything that Jesus said, his point was simple but profound. Physical brotherhood is not as important as spiritual brotherhood, and whatever a man's earthly family may be, his true brothers are the ones who have the same Father in heaven. For this reason the word "brethren" was used by the followers of Jesus when they spoke of one another. This usage of the word "brother" was not invented by Jesus or by the early Church. Jews of the time commonly referred to one another as "brethren" also, as may be seen in Acts 2:29; 3:17; 7:2; 13:15, 26, 38; 22:1; 23:1, 5, 6; and 28:17.  But most often in the New Testament we see that this word (adelphos in the Greek) was used by Christians when they wanted to refer to another member of the Church. Paul even uses the word pseudadelphos "false brother" in reference to his Jewish "brothers" who pretended to be Christian brothers (i.e. the Judaizers denounced in Galatians 2:4). This is how Christians spoke in the earliest days of the Church. The fellow-Christian was a brother. The word "Christian," which is more commonly used than "brother" now, was actually coined by non-Christians, and it was not normally used in the Church. H.B. Hackett observes, "It was by this name [adelphos] that Christians usually spoke of each other. The name Christian was merely used to describe them objectively, that is, from the Pagan point of view, as we see from the places where it occurs, namely Acts 11:26, 26:28, and and 1 Pet. 4:16." 
Sadly, some recent gender-neutral Bible translators have decided that the word "brother" as used by Jesus and the apostles is sexist, and so they have removed it from the Bible. For example, the New Living Translation has in Matthew 5:21-24 the colorless words "someone" and "that person" instead of "brother" where adelphos is in the Greek text. Other recent versions try to retain the biblical term in some places by giving explicitly gender-inclusive phrases like "brother or sister" as a translation of the Greek word, but this leads to some intolerably bad sentences when the pronouns must also be doubled, and so the word "brother" is usually suppressed altogether in favor of renderings like "friend," "member of the church," "a Christian," etc. This effort to avoid the biblical usage is clearly an example of political correctness. The common reader does not require such neutralized language in order to see that in many places where the word "brother" is used we might also add "sisters." The gender-neutral language is used simply because the male-oriented language of the original text is thought to be offensive.
Although it is easy to see that political correctness is behind all this, some academics who have made it their business to defend such translations have tried to justify them with sophisticated linguistic arguments that need to be taken seriously. Some have practically claimed that the original text itself does not use male-oriented language. In this article I will respond to them, and I will argue that there is no adequate justification for gender-neutral renderings of the word adelphos.
Actually, there is no decent linguistic argument for "brother or sister" or "sibling" as a translation for the singular adelphos. The word clearly means "brother," not "sibling," because there is no attestation for a gender-neutral usage of the word. An individual female is never referred to as an adelphos in Greek; she is referred to with the word adelphē "sister," and if a writer wishes to be inclusive he must use a compound expression such as adelphos kai adelphē "bother and sister" (see, for example, the usage of the singular forms in the Greek New Testament at Matthew 12:50, Mark 3:35, 1 Corinthians 7:15, and James 2:15). So the rendering "brother or sister" for adelphos in such places as Matthew 18:15 is contrary to Greek usage, and linguistically unsound. When Bible versions like the TNIV use such gender-inclusive expressions in place of "brother" for the masculine adelphos they are simply covering up the male-oriented usage with a paraphrastic rendering.
Nevertheless, there is some evidence from ancient sources that the masculine plural forms of the noun could in some contexts have a gender-neutral sense. In the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon (2nd ed., 1979) the evidence is stated thus:
The pl. can also mean brothers and sisters (Eur., El. 536; Andoc. 1, 47 η μητηρ η εκεινου κ. ο πατηρ ο εμος αδελφοι ; Anton. Diog. 3 [Erot. Gr. I 233, 23; 26 Hercher]; POxy. 713, 21 f [97 AD] αδελφοις μου Διοδωρω κ. Θαιδι ; schol. on Nicander, Ther. 11 [p. 5, 9] δυο εγενοντο αδελφοι, Φαλαγξ μεν αρσην, θηλεια δε Αραχνη τουνομα. The θεοι Αδελφοι, a married couple consisting of brother and sister on the throne of the Ptolemies: Dit., Or. 50, 2 [III BC ] and pap. [Wilcken, Grundz. 99, Chrest. nos. 103-7, III BC ]). In all these cases only one brother and one sister are involved. Yet there are also passages in which αδελφοι means brothers and sisters, and in whatever sequence the writer chooses (Polyb. 10, 18, 15 ποιησεσθαι προνοιαν ως ιδιων αδελφων και τεκνων ; Epict. 1, 12, 20 αδ. beside γονεις, τεκνα, γειτονες ; 1, 22, 10; 4, 1, 111; Artem. 3, 31; Ptolem., Apotel. 3, 6; Diog. L. 7, 108; 120; 10, 18. In PMich. 214, 12 [296 AD] οι αδελφοι σου seems to be even more general='your relatives'. So in Lk 21:16 there is no doubt that αδελφοι= brothers and sisters. There is more room for uncertainty in the case of the αδελφοι of Jesus in Mt 12:46 f ; Mk 3:31 ; J 2:12 ; 7:3, 5 ; Ac 1:14 .
Here are some of the passages cited, with fuller quotations and English translation:
In the usages noted here, a gender-neutral sense is indicated by the context. It seems that it was idiomatic in Greek for a writer to use the masculine plural when a brother-sister pair was referred to. Where we would say, "they are brother and sister," the Greek writer would sometimes say, "they are adelphoi." But apart from this idiom, it does not seem that in ordinary usage the masculine plural forms were understood as gender-neutral in sense. In Greek there are masculine and feminine plural forms (see the table below for all the forms), and in the New Testament we encounter the same types of compound expressions with these plural forms as we do with the singulars. In Matthew 19:29, Jesus uses the expression adelphous ē adelphas "brothers or sisters," not just adelphous. See also Matthew 13:55-56 "his brothers ... and his sisters," Matthew 19:29 "brothers or sisters," Mark 10:29 "brothers or sisters," Mark 10:30 "brothers and sisters," Luke 14:26 "brothers and sisters." In Mark 3:32 some editors approve the reading "your mother and your brothers and your sisters." The compound expression is also found in other ancient Jewish and Christian sources, such as the Septuagint (Job 42:11, hoi adelphoi autou kai hai adelphai autou "his brothers and his sisters"). In the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (circa AD 150) the author twice uses the phrase adelphoi kai adelphai "brothers and sisters" in the vocative case.  In classical authors also we see the combination of plurals, as in Plato's Republic book 5, section 46, "all children born in the period ... will regard one another as brothers and sisters" (adelphas te kai adelphous), and in Isaeus' On the Estate of Hagnias 12, "he gives the inheritance ... to brothers and sisters" (adelphois kai adelphais). From all these examples it is clear enough that the masculine plural forms were normally used in a masculine sense. If these grammatically masculine plurals were gender-neutral in sense, there would be no reason for the compound expressions so commonly seen in Greek literature. And in addition to this consideration, there are also instances in which adelphoi must be presumed to refer to males only, such as the seven adelphoi mentioned in Matthew 22:25, Mark 12:20, and Luke 20:29. It is inherently unlikely that Greek-speakers in ancient times would have lacked an unambiguous word corresponding to the English word "brothers" while having one for "sisters." In any case, as we have noted above, it seems clear from the usage of adelphoi in the New Testament and other ancient literature that the word was normally understood as "brothers," because we often see the word used in combination with the word for "sisters." 
We conclude that the meaning "brothers and sisters" can only be assigned to the masculine plural forms in the presence of some clear contextual indication, as in the examples cited in the BAG lexicon, but that in the absence of such indications the meaning is simply "brothers." The way in which the sense is dependent upon the context may be compared to our usage of the English word "children." Ordinarily this word refers to those who have not yet reached adolescence, and it stands in semantic opposition to the word "adults," but in some contexts the word "children" may include adults, as in the phrase, "three of my children are married now." Nevertheless, despite the fact that we sometimes use the word in this "inclusive" sense, ordinarily we understand the word in its primary or default sense, as refering to someone who is not an adult. Likewise, adelphoi in Greek was ordinarily understood as "brothers," not "brothers and sisters," despite the fact that in some contexts it could refer to siblings of both sexes.
Now the question becomes, what sort of contextual clues are necessary for the gender-neutral sense? In particular, we want to know if the vocative adelphoi (used for direct address) in the epistles of the New Testament would have been understood in this neutral sense. We may assume that women were present at the church meetings where these epistles were to be read, and we might naturally suppose that the writers meant to address the entire congregation, both men and women, when they wrote to the congregations. We also note that in some places women are directly addressed in the epistles. On this basis, some have argued that "brothers and sisters" is the ordinary meaning of adelphoi in the epistles. Ian Howard Marshall, who was one of the translation committee members for the gender-inclusive TNIV Bible, has made an argument along these lines in a recent article:
What we are suggesting is that the usage is one in which sometimes the context may make it clear that the reference is exclusive and purely to males, but that the letters are addressed directly to mixed audiences, and therefore generally adelphoi is used in a way that does not exclude women, even if it is probable that the author may have been thinking primarily of the men. 
Similarly, Mark Strauss writes, "In many contexts, however, the author is clearly addressing both men and women. An example of this is Philippians 4:1-2 where Paul, after addressing the Philippian congregation as adelphoi (v. 1), encourages two women to live in harmony with each other (v. 2)." 
But there is a problem with this argument. The problem is, the writers of the epistles ordinarily seem to be "thinking primarily of the men," as Marshall allows, and so his statement that the epistles are "addressed directly to mixed audiences" is rather problematic.  If the writer is thinking primarily of the men when he addresses the congregation, then he is not really addressing the men and the women equally. Yet Marshall proceeds to build his argument concerning the meaning of adelphoi squarely on the idea that men and women are addressed equally, as equals, in the epistles of the New Testament. It is largely on the basis of this idea that a gender-neutral sense for adelphoi is posited by him and by Strauss. The whole argument collapses under the simple recognition that the apostles directed their attention primarily to the men, and used language which reflected this orientation. There is no intent to "exclude women," but the habits of speech reflect a male orientation.
Sometimes it is important to recognize that the writer is focusing on males when he addresses the congregation. For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul says, "Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy," but in verses 34-35 he says "women should keep silent in the churches" and "it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." Clearly, the vocative adelphoi in verse 39 must not be gender-inclusive. It makes no sense for Paul to be telling the sisters to "be eager to prophesy" in church after he has prohibited them from speaking. But if someone is reading a gender-neutralized Bible version which always gives an "inclusive" rendering for adelphoi, he will certainly be thrown off track at this point, because the translation gives a false impression of the "inclusivity" of the discourse.
Strauss's argument is especially weak, because he offers as evidence Philippians 4:2 (where Paul beseeches Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind) while failing to notice that here the two women are not addressed directly—their names are in the accusative case, not the vocative. In the next sentence Paul does use the vocative when he directly addresses a man, however (the "true yokefellow" or Syzygus).  So Philippians 4:1-2 seems to be yet another example of how Paul tends to address men directly and women indirectly in his epistles, and it will not serve Strauss's purpose.
Marshall points to 1 Cor 7.8-16 which, according to him, "directly addresses both men and women." Yet it should be pointed out that up to verse 16 in this chapter there is no direct address, and in verse 16 the direct address is in the form of a rhetorical apostrophe, singular in number ("O wife ... O man"), not a vocative plural ("you wives ... you husbands") addressed directly to the men and women of the congregation. And further on in the chapter we see the usual habit of addressing men directly and women indirectly—"if you marry, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned." (Verse 28. The man is addressed with second-person forms of the verbs, and the woman is referred to in the third person.) There is no escaping the fact that this feature of discourse is habitual in Paul's letters and throughout the Bible. We also note that Marshall and Strauss in their arguments are practically claiming that "brothers and sisters" is the default meaning of adelphoi in the epistles, and that the masculine sense is not to be recognized except in contexts where it is clearly required. But this turns the normal pattern of usage on its head. The linguistic evidence shows that the opposite was true: it was the gender-neutral sense that required a contextual clue.
To his credit, Marshall at least seems to recognize the fact that linguistic evidence stands in the way of his conclusion. He tries to minimize the importance of the linguistic evidence from the Septuagint by saying that the usage of adelphoi found there does not reflect the "new situation created by the birth of the church." He maintains that the peculiar social context of the New Testament indicates a default gender-neutral sense for adelphoi because "there is a new situation in the Christian church in which women are given a new position, and this helps to explain the development of a different usage appropriate to that situation." This supposed egalitarian state of affairs in the early Church "provides a context in which the language of Christian discourse was being shaped." Although the society was still male-dominated, "it was in process of being changed." The neutralized adelphoi makes sense because it "corresponds with the direction of the redemptive trajectory in Scripture that sees male and female as 'all one in Christ Jesus,'" he says.  These statements are very remarkable if they are seriously offered as philological data. In effect, Marshall is saying that despite the evidence, adelphoi must have been a gender-neutral word in such an egalitarian context as the early Church, and as used by such egalitarian persons as Paul and the other apostles.
What are we to say to this? First, it is clear that Marshall's egalitarian vision of the early Church  has prejudiced his whole approach to the linguistic issue at hand, in such a way that no careful philologist is likely to approve. Second, this egalitarian vision of the early Church is simply false. It represents an anachronistic illusion about the early Church, and not the historical fact of the matter. Despite the "trajectory" imagined by Marshall, men and women were not equal in the early Church. Third, Marshall ignores the contrary linguistic evidence from New Testament itself. Fourth, we note that his argument shows the inner connection of "inclusive language" with egalitarian views on the TNIV committee of translators. Spokesmen for the International Bible Society have repeatedly denied that any such ideological connection exists, and have asserted that the reasons for their gender-neutral TNIV are purely linguistic, but Marshall makes the connection clear. A revisionist egalitarian view of the early Church plays an important part in his "linguistic" argument.
In view of this, it seems that the wisest policy in translation would be to render adelphoi as "brothers" while indicating the possibility of "brothers and sisters" in a marginal note, as is done in the English Standard Version. This more faithfully represents the male-orientation of the discourse and it will prevent readers from failing to see it, and the same contextual clues which would lead a Greek reader to discern a gender-inclusive sense are there for an English reader to see. The next best option would be to render it "brothers and sisters" in the text while indicating in a marginal note that the word adelphoi is literally "brothers," as is done in the New Revised Standard Version. Here at least the reader has the advantage of a note which indicates the male-orientation. But the policy of the Today's New International Version—in which adelphoi is rendered "brothers and sisters" without a marginal note—is unacceptable, because it distorts the discourse in an egalitarian gender-neutral direction without giving the reader an adequate impression of the male-orientation of the original. Marshall and Strauss have failed to show that in ancient Greek the word adelphoi would have been understood in a gender-neutral sense without clear contextual markers. The usage of this Greek word in the vocative plural to address congregations is analogous to the traditional usage of 'brethren" and other male-oriented expressions in English. There is no intent to exclude women, but the focus is upon the men, in accordance with the usual pattern of discourse in Scripture, and in accordance with the social realities of the ancient world. In the usage of the singular adelphos the linguistic case is even more compelling. A male example is being used in these cases. These linguistic features of the New Testament reflect the strongly dominant position and role of men in the early Church. A policy of erasing them in translation is nothing other than a policy of falsification, in which an unreal picture of gender-equality is presented to the reader in place of the patriarchal linguistic reality.
1. See the article "Αδελφος," in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), vol. 1, pp. 145-6, where it is stated that the usage "plainly derives from Jewish religious custom." Further details are given in the excerpt "Spiritual Brotherhood" below. The extent to which the sense "spiritual brother" became an ordinary meaning of the word adelphos among Christians may be seen in 1 Corinthians 7:14: "For the unbelieving husband (anēr) is sanctified through the wife (gunē), and the unbelieving wife (gunē) is sanctified by the brother (adelphos)." In this context actual family members are being referred to with the words for "wife" and "husband," and so there is a possibility that the reader will misunderstand adelphos as "physical brother." Some early copyists of the text even felt the need to put aner here instead of adelphos. But evidently Paul used adelphos even in this context because the figurative sense "spiritual brother" had become so habitual. Similarly, he uses the word adelphē "sister" in the sense "Christian woman" in the sentence "have we no right to lead about a sister as a wife?" (1 Corinthians 9:5) The literal sense "physical sister" is completely out of view.
2. H.B.Hackett, Dr. William Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, revised and edited by Professor H.B. Hackett, vol 1 (Boston, 1881), p. 329.
3. The phrase is found in 2 Clement 19:1 and 20:2. J.B. Lightfoot in his edition of the text mentions this as one indication that it is not really an epistle but a homily. "The work is plainly not a letter, but a homily, a sermon. The speaker addresses his hearers more than once towards the close as 'brothers and sisters.'" The Apostolic Fathers by J. B. Lightfoot, vol. 2 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889), p. 194.
4. At least one TNIV defender, Mark Strauss, has tried to reckon with this inconvenient linguistic evidence that leads us to the conclusion that adelphoi was ordinarily understood to mean "brothers" only. He writes, "This argument is not valid. If the single word adelphoi in context carries the sense 'brothers and sisters,' economy of language will dictate that the writer will normally choose the shorthand expression adelphoi over the more cumbersome adelphoi kai adelphai. The fact that Greek allows for a fuller expression does not mean that a writer will necessarily use it, especially if the shorter expression carries the same sense." [Mark Strauss, "Linguistic And Hermeneutical Fallacies In The Guidelines Established At The Conference On Gender-Related Language In Scripture," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41/2 (June 1998), pp. 253.] But of course the problem with Strauss's argument here is that he is assuming the thing to be proven ("the shorter expression carries the same sense"), and he gives no account of why a writer should use such an extraordinary expression as "siblings and sisters." This is not merely "more cumbersome," it is nonsensical. It makes no sense to say, "siblings and sisters."
5. Ian Howard Marshall, "Brothers Embracing Sisters?" Technical Papers for the Bible Translator 55/3 (July 2004), p. 308. Marshall does acknowledge at one point that the language used by the apostles is male-oriented. He writes, "It is freely admitted that the scriptural language is male-oriented, just as it was in English until recently, but without any intent to exclude women. There is a difference between being male-oriented or male-centred and being exclusive of females" (p. 306). Yet this fact, which is crucial for an understanding of the usage of adelphoi in the New Testament, is practically denied in Marshall's linguistic analysis.
6. Strauss, op. cit., p. 253
7. For a discussion of the male-orientation of the Bible see the examples given under "The Patriarchal Bible Problem" in my article The Gender-Neutral Language Controversy. According to the ancient customs of the synagogue and church, women were seated in an area set apart for them (for details see the discusion under the heading "Separation of the Sexes in the Ancient Synagogues and Churches" below). Under this arrangement the gatherings of the church were not truly "mixed," and it is easy to see why a speaker or letter-writer would direct his comments to the men, even if women were present in the back. So the mere fact that women were present to hear the letters read in the assembly does not carry any necessary implications for the meaning of the vocative adelphoi in these epistles. There are some clear cases of wives being addressed directly in the 'household codes' of the epistles (Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3:18-4:1, and 1 Peter 2:13-3:7), but we note that these passages belong to a distinct genre in which it was customary to give instructions for pairs of household members: wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The conventions of this genre are not typical of the epistles as a whole. Children are also addressed in these codes, yet it cannot be denied that the epistles as a whole are addressed to adults. We also observe that the vocative adelphoi is not used in these contexts. In fact the vocative adelphoi does not occur at all in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter—all of which are really more like sermons than letters. (adelphoi mou "my brethren" does occur in the Textus Receptus in Ephesians 6:10, but this phrase is not in the oldest manuscripts). Peter in his epistle uses the vocative agapetoi "beloved" (2:11, 4:12) instead. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the vocative adelphoi is used four times, and agapetoi once. James uses only the word adelphoi. In 2 Peter adelphoi occurs once and agapetoi four times. Jude uses only agapetoi. John in his First Epistle uses a variety of words in the vocative to address the readers—teknia "children," paidia "children," agapetoi "beloved," and adelphoi "brethren." In chapter 2 he addresses two groups in particular—pateres "fathers" and neaniskoi "young men," but he does not address mothers or young women.
8. The identity of this "yokefellow" is unknown, but the masculine gender of the modifying adjective gnesie "true" indicates that it is a man. F.F. Bruce, like other egalitarian commentators, makes much of the fact that Paul says Euodia and Syntyche "strove together" with him in the gospel, and the attention that Paul gives to their personal conflict indicates that it mattered to him that they should be on friendly terms (Philippians: A Good News Commentary [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983], pp. 113-14). Yet in general Paul's letter does not give us the impression that the Philippian congregation was in much trouble through internal strife, as would be the case if there were a falling out between leaders of the congregation. Probably the disagreement to which Paul refers was of a personal nature, and in itself a thing of minor importance to the life of the church. As for their "striving together with" Paul in the gospel, this does not indicate that they, along with Paul, had been publicly preaching the gospel in the face of persecution. In 1:5-7 and 4:14 Paul refers to monetary contributions sent to him by the Philippians as "participation" in the gospel ministry, its hardships, defense, and confirmation. Probably Euodia and Syntyche had advanced the gospel through practical support, perhaps offering their homes as meeting places, against the pressure of the local Jewish opposition. He calls such support a "striving together" with him in the gospel (and here he probably means to contrast it with their striving against one another), in the same way that he does in Philippians 1:27. Likewise in Romans 15:30, the brethren who pray for Paul's safety are said to "strive together with" him. In any case, it should be noted that despite his appreciation and concern for Euodia and Syntyche, Paul does not address them directly with expressions in the vocative case.
9. Marshall, op. cit., pp. 309-310.
10. For Marshall's egalitarian views see his exegesis of relevant passages in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus in his recent commentary, The Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999). We note that this "evangelical" scholar rejects the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles.
Mark Strauss, "Linguistic And Hermeneutical Fallacies In The Guidelines Established At The Conference On Gender-Related Language In Scripture," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41/2 (June 1998), pp. 239-262.
Ian Howard Marshall, "Brothers Embracing Sisters?" Technical Papers for the Bible Translator 55/3 (July 2004), p. 303-10.
The table below shows the different forms of the words for "brother" and "sister" in Greek, with transliterations. The different cases of the noun are used according to its grammatical function in a sentence. The nominative case is used for the subject; the genitive is used to show possession; the dative is used for the indirect object; the accusative is used for the direct object; and the vocative is used for direct address.
The following extract from the article αδελφος by Hans Freiherr von Soden is reproduced from the English edition of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), vol. 1, pp. 145-6.
In a more general sense αδελφος in the NT denotes "fellow-Christians" or "Christian brothers." Many instances may be given from all parts of the NT; there are some 30 in Acts and 130 in Paul. The usage plainly derives from Jewish religious custom. The old Israelite lament הוֹי אָחִי (Jer. 22:18) seems to contain a regular spontaneous address to fellow-Israelites. In Judaism, too, αδελφος means a co-religionist, who historically is identical with a compatriot. Yet the latter as such is also called רֵעַ = πλησιον, and in Rabbinic writings this is sometimes explicitly distinguished from אָח = αδελφος. There can be no doubt, however, that αδελφος is one of the religious titles of the people of Israel taken over by the Christian community.
The Jewish usage is itself attested in the NT, not merely in OT quotations (Ac. 3:22; 7:37; Hb. 2:12; 7:5), but also directly (Mt. 5:22 f. , 47; 7:3 ff. and par.; 18:15 ff. and par.; Ac. 7:23 ff.; R. 9:3; Hb. 7:5). In accordance with this the apostles, like the synagogue preachers, address Jews as αδελφοι in Acts (2:29; 3:17; 7:2; 13:15, 26, 38; 22:1; 23:1 ff.; 28:17; cf. R. 9:3), and are themselves addressed in the same way (2:37); the usual form ανδρες αδελφοι is a rendering of the Jewish אַחֵינוּ. In Mk. 3:33 ff. and par.; Mt. 25:40; 28:10; Jn. 20:17 Jesus calls His hearers or disciples His brethren, and He also uses the same term to describe the relations of the disciples to one another (Mt. 23:8; Lk. 22:32). As an address αδελφος does not, of course, occur on the lips of Jesus, and it may be asked whether there is some significance in this. Christians are certainly to see themselves as His brethren or people (R. 8:29; Hb. 2:11 ff.). The specific relationship of brothers is that of love (1 Jn. 2 f.). αγαπητος or ηγαπημενος is thus the most common name for them, though occasionally we have πιστος (Col. 4:9; 1 Tm. 6:2; 1 Pt. 5:12), αγιος (only in Hb. 3:1), or the two together (Col. 1:2). Paul refers sharply to an ονομαζομενος αδελφος in 1 C. 5:11.
According to instances found in Josephus Bell., 2, 122 , the more general sense of αδελφος is also found among the Essenes; indeed, it was common outside the Jewish and Christian world. Plato uses it for compatriots ... (Menex. , 239a); Xenophon for friends ... (An., VII, 2, 25) ... (38); Plotinus calls all the things in the world αδελφοι (Enn., II, 9, 18, p. 211, 7 ff., Volckmann). It is often used for members of a religious society, both in the papyri and inscriptions and also in literature; e.g., Vett. Val., IV, 11, p. 172, 31 ...
For hundreds of years women have been sitting next to their husbands in the pews of churches during worship services, but it was not always so. In ancient times there were no pews in places of worship. In some synagogues there may have been a few chairs for well-to-do members and distinguished visitors, but most of the people in attendance would have stood or sat on the floor (see James 2:3). The women did not stand or sit with their husbands, but in an area apart from the men, as they still do in Orthodox synagogues today. In the Temple in Jerusalem only men could enter the inner "Court of Israel" where most of the ceremonies were conducted, while women remained in the outer "Women's Court." When both men and women were present in the Women's Court for ceremonies conducted there, women went into the galleries that surrounded the court. Similar galleries were constructed for the women in ancient synagogues. There is no reason to think that the apostles departed from this custom of segregated worship meetings when they established their first churches. Even in a meeting room that lacked galleries or other permanent structural barriers, in formal meetings of the congregation it is very likely that the women stood or sat apart from the men, off to the side or in the back of the room. When Christians began to build their own church buildings they used the synagogues as their model. One early Christian document known as the Apostolic Constitutions gives many rules for the conduct of worship, and we read in it, "let the women sit by themselves" (Book II, Sec. iv, "On Assembling in the Church"). In another place it refers to separate doors for men and for women. This indicates that in the early church it was normal for the sexes to be separated, probably by the use of galleries or other barriers like the wooden partitions commonly used in synagogues.
The following paragraphs concerning separation of the sexes in the ancient synagogues are excerpted from the article "Synagogue" by I. Sonne in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol 4 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), pp. 486-87.
5. Separation of sexes. Neither a ruling concerning, nor any clear allusion to, separation of sexes in ancient synagogues in Palestine has yet been found in earlier rabbinic sources. Among later authorities the main basis for such a separation rests on the "great enactment" (תיקון גדול) to erect a gallery in the "women's hall" of the temple of Jerusalem, in order to separate the women from the men during the celebrations of the "water-drawing" (Palestinian Talmud, Suk. V.1; 55b). In Hellenistic centers of the first century separation seems well attested by Philo. In the great basilica-synagogue of Alexandria the women seem to have been referred to as "those on the upper storey," as against the men, designated as "those of the lower level" (Palestinian Talmud, ibid., according to Sukenik). A somewhat similar picture is offered by the archeological data. The remains of the ancient basilica synagogues of Galilee, with a distinctive Hellenistic stamp, show unmistakable indications of the existence of galleries, which probably were the place assigned women. But no traces of a women's gallery have been found in the well-preserved remains of the non-basilical, more oriental synagogue of Dura-Europos. Scholars differ in interpreting these facts. According to one school, the silence of earlier rabbinic sources and the absence of a women's gallery in Dura reflect an earlier, more liberal attitude towards women, allowing them to sit in the main hall, though in a special part, together with the men. The other school suggests that the silence of earlier rabbinic authorities implies that in those circles no provisions were made at all for women in the synagogue, because they were excluded from active participation in public worship. For a few special occasions, in which women might have had access to the synagogue, a temporary, removable screen might have been sufficient.
Only the latter interpretation seems to fit the evidence that provisions for separation of sexes appear mainly in synagogues with a Hellenistic tinge. In the Hellenistic world women seem to have played an important role in the religious life of the Jews. Acts 16:12 ff is evidence that in Philippi women frequented the place of prayer during the sabbatical gatherings.
Another consideration should be borne in mind. It is probable that the basilical type of synagogue, which adopted architectural features of the temple, followed the example of the "woman's hall" in separating the sexes—i.e., by erecting galleries. The communities with a nonbasilical type of synagogue might have taken stricter measures of separation, confining the women to a separate, adjoining room, as seems to have been the case in the earlier building of the Dura-Europos synagogue.
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