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ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί

November 3, 2011

Jim Hamilton and Rod Decker have been discussing the fact that the NIV 2011 has put selah in the footnotes instead of in the text. In yesterday’s post, I remarked that the Greek word ἁνήρ had been left untranslated 13 times in the book of Acts by several of the modern evangelical Bibles. Rod Decker provided the list in a comment on this post,

There are 13 instances of the phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί which the ESV, etc. collapse to just ἀδελφοί. Here’s that list: 13x: Acts 1:16; 2:29, 37; 7:2; 13:15, 26, 38; 15:7, 13; 22:1; 23:1, 6; 28:17. I suppose one could argue that this is an idiomatic phrase, but it still a content word that is omitted.

I would like to suggest a few meanings for ἄνδρες and voice my view that it should not be left untranslated even when it is in this idiomatic phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί.

The first possible reason, which Dr. Hamilton offered, is that it could mean that the speaker is addressing only adult males. However, context does not support this notion. In the first instance in Acts 1, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is with the disciples. It seems odd that a form of address which specifically excludes her would be used. Even if one could argue for that, Acts 2 poses a more difficult problem. Could the sermon at Pentecost have been addressed only to adult males? And in Acts 17, Damaris and other leading women appear to be among those who are addressed as Ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι. Were they excluded from the sermon?

In fact, the lexicon and additional examples, suggest that ἄνδρες has many meanings other than that of “adult males.” It could mean “free men” rather than slaves, or “citizens” of a particular nation. It really does not seem accurate to assume that the word ἄνδρες was intended to qualify who was being addressed and exclude anyone who could not claim to be one of the ἄνδρες.

If we assume a more generous attitude on the part of the speaker then we have to say that ἄνδρες is not used to exclude part of the audience, and does not seem to add information. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be translated.

On the other hand, it would at least signify a difference in style from the epistles, in which the form of address is simply ἀδελφοί, “brothers and sisters.”

I am going to suggest that ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί could best be translated by “fellow countrymen” or some similar, but gender inclusive, phrase. It seems to be the correct form of address to use in the public sphere, and indicates respect for the audience and conveys the impression that all who hear the address are included.

The epistles are addressed to ἀδελφοί, which can be translated as “fellow Christians.” In the case of the epistles, they are addressed to Christians only, to those who have already responded to the gospel.

Surely it is of interest, surely this difference ought to be translated, so we can get a better idea of the style of address, of the public nature of the proclamation of the word in Acts, and the private and more narrowly directed epistles.

I find it discouraging that Dr. Hamilton wants to question whether the NIV 2011 is the word of God for putting selah in the footnotes. Therefore, I don’t want to criticize any translation for not translating ἄνδρες. It would be my wish that these kinds of attacks would diminish.

However, I would be very interested in hearing what others think of the phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2011 11:02 am

    I wonder if the phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί is translationese by Luke?

    He’s writing in Greek to someone with the Greek name Θεόφιλος and is using Greek (at the 13 points that Decker notes and 1 more that I note) to translate what seems to be a Hebraism. The Hebraism appears to be a term of endearment, an inclusive address to “fellow Jewish countrymen.” Lacking the original speech quoted, how will we ever know?

    And yet, what we can see clearly is how Luke is translating the spoken words of Jewish men to their fellow Jewish men and women, spoken words about their Hebrew histories.

    I believe the men whom Luke has quoted and has translated into Greek might originally have been speaking Aramaic in most instances where Luke quotes them and translates them. However, that peculiar phrase, the term of endearment — the address that Luke renders into written Greek as ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί — is actually spoken Hebrew, I think. Luke is marking insider language with a translation that might not be obvious to anyone but perhaps another insider, like Theophilos perhaps.

    Decker actually misses a 14th use of the phrase. And it’s an important one! It’s in Luke 7. Stephen (Στέφανος) is speaking. Is he a Jewish convert or by birth a Jew? Luke doesn’t say. And yet he has this Greek name while he’s addressing fellow Jewish men and women. He starts out with these inclusive insider terms of respect (in 7:2) — Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοὶ καὶ πατέρες. As he tells his story, he quotes Moses (in 7:26) — which Decker has missed. Luke translates Stephen, who quotes Moses as addressing two Hebrew fellow countrymen: (שני־אנשים עברים). This is from Exodus 2:13, where the writer of Exodus has Moses calling the men “fellows” (רע). At bit earlier, in Acts 7:23, Luke (in Greek translation) has Stephen referring to these two men as τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραήλ (or, “the brothers of him [of Moses], the sons of Israel”). Then, in Acts 7:26 (that bit that Decker missed), Luke (in Greek translation) has Stephen quoting Moses asking,

    Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί ἐστε [ὑμεῖς]· ἵνα τί ἀδικεῖτε ἀλλήλους;

    I think that’s a translation of what Moses asked (in Hebrew) in Exodus 2:13 —

    תכה רעך

    We could paraphrase either the Greek or the Hebrew in English as

    “Why are you fellow Hebrew countrymen committing this injustice against each other?”

    Everyone knows that Moses spoke Egyptian, but here he’s addressing his fellow Hebrew countrymen in Hebrew. We all know that Stephen spoke Greek (didn’t pretty much everybody with a good Greek name back then?), but here he’s addressing others as his fellow countrymen using a Hebrew phrase that Luke translates by a neologistic phrase of Greek translation, signaling something special.

    More possible evidence in Acts that Luke is using a marked Greek translation for insider Hebrew comes when Paul is speaking (Luke specifies) τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ. Luke specifies this in Acts 22:2 right after he has Paul saying “Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί.” Looks like a Hebraism, in Hebrew. (John C. Poirior makes the case here that Luke is referring to Paul’s spoken Hebrew and not to Aramaic.)

    If it’s the case that Luke is translating a specific insider Hebrew term by his insider Greek translation, then how can an English translator get away with failing to translate Luke’s peculiar Greek phrase in each of the rare 14 instances in which he uses it? Let Acts be the word of God, or not. But let’s all pay attention to the possible sociolinguistic clues that Luke may be giving his reader(s).

  2. November 3, 2011 7:20 pm


    This have given me a lot to think about. But first, in Acts 7, Ἄνδρες, ἀδελφοί [ac]ἐστε· is slightly different and “men” is always translated into English. Its important to our analysis, but it does not belong in the list of omitted “men.”

    However, this does recall the phrase אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ “each to another” which could be translated “a man to his fellow.”

  3. November 4, 2011 10:42 am

    Right, Suzanne. If we can read Luke’s quotation of Stephen as ambiguous, then the one and usual reading would do what the added comma suggests: that the first noun must be the vocative address and the second has to be the nominative subject of the clause. Ἄνδρες, ἀδελφοί makes it something like “Hey gentlemen, – brothers you two really are. So what’s this injustice a man to his fellow?” Yes, I’m adding in the Hebrew overtones of Exodus 2:13.

    But if Luke’s Greek is ambiguous, then an uncommon other way of reading it can retain the noun phrase Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί as a single unit, 1 of 14 unique units in Luke’s Acts. In each one of these, Luke has individual Jewish men addressing their fellows (men and sometimes women) about uniquely Hebraic matters (and perhaps in Acts 22:1-2, Luke is being very explicit that Paul is actually speaking Hebrew). I know this is repeating my earlier comment some. I don’t want to force the alternative reading here and probably really overstated when I said that Decker “missed” this in 7:26. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be impossible to consider Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί ἐστε as meaning (also, perhaps instead) something more like “You two really are fellow Jewish countrymen.” The Hebrew echoes of Moses in Exodus 2 seem so much stronger then, and the force of the other 13 translated units (i.e., Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί) through the Acts of Luke seems so much more powerful.

    Even if we do discount the un-usual reading I’ve suggested at 7:26, then the other 13 units, we all may want to agree, are themselves unusual. They are very regular and consistent as discourse and quotation markers, which is entirely usual for Greek and for Hebrew and for — I dare say — any language. (They are very obviously written Greek translations of Hebraic speech.) And yet they are unique in the Greek corpus period. For an English translator not to pay attention to Luke’s translations here seems a big oversight.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 4, 2011 10:45 am

    What does Barnstone do with this expression?

  5. November 4, 2011 11:29 am

    Barnstone is interesting. He wants to see Stephen (“Stephanos”) as unequivocally speaking as a “proselyte, that is, a pagan convert to Judaism before becoming a Christian Jew.” But Barnstone adds: “Yet Stephen also claims Jewish heritage from Abraham, so we are left in doubt.” This is in his footnote at the beginning of Acts 7; it shows he’s thinking about Luke’s story-telling here. Nonetheless, Barnstone, at Acts 7:2 does something unusual. He takes Luke’s Greek as ambiguous alright, and still he translates it into English this way:

    And Stephanos said, “Men, my brothers and fathers, listen.

    Ὁ δὲ ἔφη Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοὶ καὶ πατέρες ἀκούσατε.

    Here, Barnstone is taking the vocative unit Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοὶ as incomplete without καὶ πατέρες.
    At 7:26, he does nothing new, and he simply interprets Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί ἐστε as “Men, you are brothers”.

    In Acts 22, Barnstone adds nothing in his English that reflects Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί. In fact, he omits the “men” he had earlier in Acts 7. (And yet in Acts 21 and 22, his English translation – to a point – does suggest Paul is speaking Hebrew; Barnstone is interested in giving Luke voice regardless of whether he thinks Luke gets his facts wrong.)

    For 22:1-2, Barnstone has

    Brothers and fathers, hear the defense /
    I make before you.

    When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew…

    Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοὶ καὶ πατέρες ἀκούσατέ μου τῆς πρὸς ὑμᾶς νυνὶ ἀπολογίας.

    Ἀκούσαντες δὲ ὅτι τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ προσεφώνει αὐτοῖς

    (In a footnote, Barnstone acknowledges that Luke says it’s “Hebrew, but Paul spoke to Jews in Aramaic.” He goes on to give some of the sociolinguistic history of Hebrew-Aramaic code mixing, but he falls short of speculating that Paul is interjecting Hebrew into some Aramaic speech for some, insider, effect.

    Barnstone misses the great possibility that Luke by his peculiar Greek is translating and is signaling that Stephen and Stephen’s Moses and Paul and Peter are all speaking a Hebraic term of endearment, an insider address.)


  1. Biblical Studies Carnival 69 (November 2011) | Remnant of Giants

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