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"Brothers" or "Brothers and Sisters"?

As a child growing up in Kansas, the term ‘Guys’ had no connection to gender it was more an informal collective noun referring to any group of people regardless to sex. “Hey guys, let’s go play on the swings.” “Those guys over there want to play a game.” “Guys!!!! Wait up…..”

I remember the first time I used this outside of Kansas. Half of the assembled group responded with an irate: “What! We’re not guys!”

I wonder if someone had been writing down all the times I, and others like me, used the term informally as ‘people’, would they one day interpret that I had meant only the men? Maybe that is just what the issue of the New Testament use of the term ‘Brothers’ (adelphos) implies. Ancient sources reveal evidence that the masculine plural forms of the noun could, depending on contexts, have a gender-neutral sense and mean both sexes (see the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon (2nd ed., 1979).

A review of the uses of the term translated “Brothers”, indicates few instances where gender is an issue unless one is overly concerned with issues of male superiority, authority, or propriety. There are, however, in applying a strict rule, repeated problems challenging the scope of the Gospel presented, the membership of the ‘church’, and the attitude of the disciples to the followers.

Scope of the Gospel
Internal logic alone calls into question the strict use of a male specific rendering of adelphos as a steadfast rule. If there is evidence in other sources of a gender-neutral use of the term, could there also be an informal and general use of the term similar to the way ‘guys’ can be used? If not, there is a massive exclusion of women in the New Testament pastorals which conflicts with the actions and words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

Membership in the “Church”
The Pauline corpus uses the term “brothers’ (adelphos) heavily, yet included in many of the letters are instances of a larger intended audience. Some authors argue that the early church was gender segregated and cite the remains of the synagogue at the Syrian Dura-Europos . Yet, one of the early house churches (this one dated to ca 235 A.D.) is also located there complete with a single hall and frescos depicting Gospel events, Adam and Eve, and utilizing the imagery of the “Good Shepherd”. Some even depict women of the Gospels and show the three Mary’s approaching the tomb.

Attitude of the Disciples
To Be Continued.....

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