Dear Church Family,
Have you ever wondered why “brother,” “brothers,” and “brotherly” are used so frequently in the New Testament in comparison to their feminine counterparts? This may seem sexist to some people, so many Bible translations have started including “brothers and sisters” in place of just “brothers.” Versions without “and sisters,” have decided to translate the Greek word for word in these cases—which only have one word and it is the word for “brothers.”
Who’s right? The translations that add “and sisters” are certainly right that the church is made up of males and females. We do not lose our gender when we become God’s people. Furthermore, women were certainly in attendance as the Word of God was read, so the single word choice was not due to the gender of the recipients. The single word used in Greek can refer to siblings from both genders. This is similar to how we often use “guys” in English to refer to a group of males and females, but its usage is not informal.
That makes sense on a semantic level, but is that all it boils down to?
Well I am so glad I thought that for you. On a theological level, Jesus is described as the true Israel, which means He is God’s firstborn Son who receives the birthright and the inheritance (Exodus 4:22). However, if we are in Christ, then all of the promises that He receives, we receive. God has caused us to share in all that is Christ’s, just as if we were all firstborn sons (Hebrews 12:23; “firstborn” here is plural). In that sense, we are all heirs—and if heirs—sons, and if sons—brothers (Romans 8:17, 29; Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 3:6; Titus 3:7). So, while we are brothers and sisters in Christ by gender, we are all brothers by inheritance which is really great news for all of us.
Now I don’t want you ladies to feel neglected, so if we rotate the diamond a little, the Bible teaches that even though there are and ought to be many local churches, there is only one universal or catholic (lowercase “c”) Church. This one Church (not individual Christians!) is described as the Bride of Christ (Isaiah 61:10; 62:5; Revelation 21:2, 9; 22:17). The covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is said to refer to Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). So, as the representative “one woman” in the marriage covenant, the Church is waiting for the return of her Bridegroom and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10). At this point, the marriage covenant will be fully consummated as they become one and as all of the promises of God are fully realized. So, while we are brothers and sisters in Christ by gender, we are all collectively a bride by marriage covenant, which is also really great news for all of us.
Finally, there is another sense in which the division between us on every level—including gender—has been removed and replaced with unity (Galatians 3:28). Again, if we are in Christ, we are all one in His Church. Though we are united, we are still diverse. Though we have different roles, we are still equal in standing. Gender is a beautiful thing designed by God to bless us and bring glory to Himself. Let’s embrace His plan with all of its complexities and intricacies as we fulfill the work He has prepared for us.