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Bible Studies/actual word meaning


I want to know the true, correct meaning of the word translated "brother" in Matt.5:22. Thanks

Dear James,

The word "brother," in Mt. 5:22, means your fellow Israelite, your fellow Jew. Jesus is talking to an audience of Jews in Israel, their homeland. See Ps. 22:22; 122:8; 133:1; Ezek. 11:15 for the word "brothers" being used in this sense.

In Mt. 23:8 Jesus tells those listening to him, "you are all brothers." In one saying, he says of those  who have given up (literal) brothers for the Good News that they will receive 100 times as many brothers--a reference to fellows in faith.

In Mt. 28:10, Lk. 22:22, Jn 20:17, and Jn 21:23 the word "brothers" clearly refers to the disciples of Jesus. Paul regularly in Acts calls his fellow Jews "brothers," and the the author of Acts refers very many times to the community of believers in Jesus as "the brothers."

Given that Jesus probably did not have a large, organized band of followers when he gave the Sermon on the Mount, the reference in the specific context of Mt. 5:22 is probably to your Israelite fellow citizen, your fellow Jew. Can his saying be applied to your literal, biological, brother? Yes. Can it be applied to your fellow Christians, both male and female? Yes. Can it, in fact, be applied to your fellow human being, whether they share your faith in Jesus or not? Yes.

It's worth being aware of the distinction between meaning (in a specific context) and proper application of a word or saying. For the purposes of Christian formation and relationship style, I would counsel taking the word more broadly rather than less broadly, even as Jesus indicated that the word "neighbor" ought to be broadened to include even those that you regard as foreigners and/or religious enemies (Lk. 10:25-37).

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J. Webb Mealy


Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.


Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (, author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

See my online publication,, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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