Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, May 14

Are translators adding to God's Word when they say "Brother and Sister."

This is a common question. People think the Greek New Testament says "brother," and translators therefore add to the Bible when they say "brother and sister." The fact of the matter is that the word "brother' is English, and the New Testament is written in Greek and says ἀδελφός. So the Bible, technically, does not say "brother." The real question is, what does ἀδελφός refer to and how do you convey the meaning in your culture?


I heard someone the other day say, what I've heard other people say, and that is that the Bible says, "brother" and Bible translators are wrong. They are in fact adding to God's word when they say "brother and sister." Is that accurate?

Since the comment was made within the context of Bible translation, we understand the word "Bible" to be the Greek New Testament, not the English, because the person was saying the translators are adding to God's word by translating "brother and sister."

This question is actually very simple to answer. Are translators adding to God's word when they say "brother and sister." Absolutely not. Why? Because the Greek New Testament does not say "brother." Why? Because the word "brother" is an English word, and the New Testament, the Greek New Testament, was written in Greek. So does the Greek New Testament say "brother"? Absolutely not. It says ἀδελφός and the question is, in any context, what does ἀδελφός mean?

If you look at a passage like Matthew 4:18 you can see this. "As he was walking alongside the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, the plural form of ἀδελφός, Simon, the one called Peter and Andrew, his brother, the singular form of ἀδελφός, casting their nets into the sea. Why? But they were fishermen.

But here obviously you look at auto foods and ἀδελφός and they're referring to males. And so sure, we look at what the word means in this context it means “male.” And so we translate it like everyone does, as “brother.”

But what happens when you look at a verse like Matthew 5:22. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his ἀδελφός, a singular form of ἀδελφός, will be liable to judgment. And whoever says to his ἀδελφός, his brother, “Rocca,” will be liable to the Sanhedrin, to the council. And whoever says, “More,” an Aramaic curse for, “fool,” will be liable to the Gehenna of fire.”

So how are you going to translate ἀδελφός? Again, the Bible doesn't say “brother”; the Bible says “ἀδελφός.” What does it mean in this context?

My daughter used to tease her older brother that this verse didn't apply to her because it was just the “brother.” So this was just having to confront Tyler.

Obviously what we're talking about here is a member of your faith community and how are you going to translate that?

It really depends upon how you use language in your context. When making a general statement, do you say “brother” or do you say “brother and sister”? If you say “brother and sister,” are you adding to God's word? No, because the Greek doesn't say “brother.” It says ἀδελφός, and you have to decide in your context how you are going to refer to that member of your faith community.

If you look at some of the other translations, you'll see NIV says “brother or sister,” NASB “brother,” ESV, “brother,” CSB has gone with “brother or sister,” and the NRSV “brother or sister.” The NET Bible says, “brother.“

And very interestingly, the NLT says, “But I say, if you are even angry with someone.” This is an uncharacteristic poor translation for the NLT because by using ἀδελφός, Jesus is saying, this is how you relate to people in your faith community. And the NLT has broadened it to this is how you relate to anyone. And I think that's a mistake. It does not refer to anyone in general, but we're talking specifically about confronting a member of the faith community who is angry with you.

But again, let me repeat my main point. Does the Bible say “brother,” and by “Bible” we have to go back to the Greek New Testament because we're talking about translation theory. Does the Greek New Testament say “brother”? Absolutely not. “Brother” is an English word. The Bible says ἀδελφός. And then you have to look at the original context and decide who the speaker is speaking about. And then you have to look at your modern context and decide how do you refer to that person.