Adelphos as cousin outside Scripture?


In response to the “brothers” of the Lord, the common Catholic response is that there was no word for cousin in Hebrew or Aramaic, and that they were translated into the Greek for brother for that reason. That seems a bit ad hoc, though; couldn’t God inspire a Greek text which would reflect what was actually meant by “brethren of the Lord”? Is there any extrabiblical evidence of something similar to this, where adelphos is used in Greek for cousins?


The Septuagint consistently translates the Hebrew word for brother as Adelphos, including when it refers to cousins. So there’s one example. But I don’t know if you’d consider that extrabiblical.


Oh, okay. I guess it isn’t ad hoc after all. :thumbsup:


When one compares the Christian Greek Scriptures with the LXX, one sees that it was an accepted practice to use the koine Greek word “adelphos” for “cousin” even though Greek had its own word for this (anepsios).–See the LXX at Deuteronomy 23:7 and Jeremiah 24:9.

In fact, in the LXX the word “adelphos” is even used for “nephew” wherein Lot is called Abraham’s brother at both Genesis 13:8 and 14:14-16, even though Lot is the son of the brother of the patriarch.

The same occurs at Genesis 29:15 where Jacob and his uncle Laban are called “brothers.”

Why this was the practice may be answered in the way the Bible gets translated even today. The most popular or prefered way to translate Scripture among scholars and the public is “formal equivalence,” or “word-for-word.” Being that the Hebrew world of the time had no word for cousin, the “word-for-word” approach seems to have been adopted in both the translation of the Tanakh into Greek and the translation of Hebrew/Aramaic sources by the New Testament writers.

There are even instances among other words and expressions in the New Testament where it is clear that the writer was stumbling for a way to express something in the Greek that originated in the Semitic world of the Jews. At Luke 1:28 the expression in the Greek for “full of grace” is not the way it is written elsewhere, In fact it is unique. Luke used a word we find nowhere else in Greek literature and it is likely he was trying to capture from Mary’s testimony what she recalled the angel Gabriel saying to her. Since it is likely that Mary heard her language and not the koine Greek of Luke’s gospel, Luke used the inflectional character of koine Greek to fashion a word that still stumps translators to this day.

John 1 can seem contradictory if one does not know about or believe in the Trinity. The reason? Though written in Greek, the author was writing about Jewish concepts of Divinity. The Hebrew language did not have or use concepts later adopted to define the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity at the time of John’s composition. Though we might be used to reading “the Word was with God” and “the Word was God,” these expressions are hard to fully grasp at first blush. They seem to go against logic because there was not a theological logic to define this concept yet. Therefore the author says things like 'God was God and was with God" from the beginning.

As to why God didn’t inspire the writers to do differently is something you will have to ask God. If you are look for etymological evidence that is so clear that all arguments about this stop, you won’t find that. Translators and authors didn’t leave us explanations as to word choices. We can only trace their steps the best way we can and make educated guesses.


Mark:6:3: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?
The word sister is distinct. I’d like to know whether the Aramaic language uses the same word to refer to the sisters.

Gal:1:19: But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
Apostle Paul is talking about a brother of the Lord many years after Jesus death. Paul had never seen Jesus physically but I wonder why he would bother to say, James the Lord’s brother.

Matt:10:2: Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother…
I beg for an explanation why the usage of the word brother here has never been construed as to imply a cousin.


Aren’t you Catholic? :shrug:


I have Maronite Rite friends from the Levant who refer in English to their cousins as “brothers” unless they are being careful when making an introduction.

In modern Greek, cousin is εξάδελφος, ex-adelphos, out-brother.

In modern Russian, cousin is двоюродный брат, dvayu-rodniy brat, second-born brother.

It’s not uncommon in other languages for the English idea of “cousin” to be conflated with “brother,” especially in non-formal contexts, and where extended families is the norm.


I am, and that is why am keen on this. Being Catholic does not mean that I don’t question something that is not clear to me. Since the text is there, how do I explain it to my children if I don’t understand it? I think this debate is to help us understand better what is not well understood. Thus, I beg for your explanation so that I also understand.


It’s okay, I question things too (you’ll see that if you look at my list of threads), it’s just that the way you said it made it seem like you were non-Catholic. That is all. :slight_smile:


Thanks :slight_smile:


Thoughtful questions.
I have two thoughts about your last question. As it says in your quote James was the son of Zebedee in Mathew 4:18 it states21 And going on from thence he saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. It calls Zebedee their father. As to Peter and Andrew, perhaps they were cousins:shrug: It wouldn’t be questioned because it didn’t matter. Jesus having siblings does.


Read the Book of Tobit. In it, we see that in the pre-Christian era, members of one’s own tribe were all sister and brother. A husband referred to his wife as “sister” as she was from the same tribe. This also applied to those of the same general area or town. This linguistic and cultural practice is true to this day in parts of Asia and Africa.

The problem with those who rely on the bible alone is that they do not have “the rest of the story.” That would be the Apostolic Tradition and the Magisterium that explains the meaning of what the bible says. Everyone in the world knows what the bible says. Only those who listen to the Church with authority know what it actually means. Huge difference.


They could be cousins or step-brothers etc. The reason that it has not been construed this way is that it has no theological implications either way; there is no Catholic tradition as such and there hasn’t been the strident efforts to portray this relationship by people with anti-Christian motives.


In John 19: 25 we have:
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.

I take this as convincing evidence that the word translated to sister also includes relatives other than female siblings of the same parent. I don’t believe that Mary’s parents named two of their daughters Mary.


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