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The ways that Paul most often refers to other believers

Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 in discipleship, office | 6 comments

The ways that Paul most often refers to other believers

In this short series, I’m looking at the ways that Paul referred to people who traveled with him and people he worked with in various cities in order to answer these questions: How did Paul think those who traveled with him and worked with him? Did he think of himself as being a superior with them being subordinates? Did he think of them all as equals?

A couple of days ago, I introduced the series by asking, “What did Paul think of his subordinates?” Then, in yesterday’s post, I defined some of the terms that I will use: superior, subordinate, and hierarchy.

In this post, I start the study by looking at a few terms that Paul uses most often to refer to other followers of Jesus Christ – both those who travel along with him and those with whom he works in the cities where he visits.

(By the way, this series is not intended to prove or disprove the existence of positions of authority among the church, although it would be part of a complete study of the subject. If you’d like to read a fuller treatment of the subject of positions of authority among the church see this series: “Authority among the church.”)

It should come as no surprise that Paul uses brother/sister terminology most often when referring to other Christians. We know that he refers to the recipients of his letters as brothers and sisters, but he also often refers to individuals as brother and sister as well.

Here are a few examples:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe… (Romans 16:1 ESV)

Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers… (1 Corinthians 16:12 ESV)

Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. (Ephesians 6:21 ESV)

Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. (2 Timothry 4:21 ESV)

A related term that Paul also uses often in Romans 16 is one that is usually translated “kinsman” or “relative.” As with brother/sister, this term brings out the familial relationship between those who are in Christ. Here are a couple of examples in which Paul refers to people as his “kinsmen/relatives”:

Greet my kinsman Herodion… (Romans 16:11 ESV)

…so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen, [greet you]. (Romans 16:21 ESV)

Besides the “brother/sister” and “relative” references mentioned above, there is another group of terms that Paul often uses to refer to other believers. In these cases, Paul combines a noun or descriptor with the Greek term that means “together with.” You usually see this references translated as “fellow” or “co-” depending on the term used (and the translation).

Here are a few different examples:

Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:3 ESV)

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier… (Philippians 2:25 ESV)

…just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. (Colossians 1:7 ESV)

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier… (Philemon 1:1-2 ESV)

As you can see from the last example, Paul often combines several of the different terms together. For an amazing look at the way that Paul refers to other Christians, read through the entirety of Romans 16.

The language that Paul uses in the examples above (and in many other passages in which he uses similar terms) is the language of equality, not the language of superiors and subordinates.


Series: Does Paul refer to other Christians as superiors/subordinates?

  1. What did Paul think about his subordinates?
  2. Defining the terms
  3. The ways that Paul most often refers to other believers
  4. When Paul refers to other believers using father/child language
  5. Examining Paul’s use of the father/child language
  6. Does Paul use the term apostle to refer to a superior/subordinate relationship?
  7. When Paul DOES use the language of superiors and subordinates


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-23-2012

    Love this Alan, and a hearty Amen !

  2. 8-23-2012

    No comment now…just signing up to get the followup comments via email.

  3. 8-23-2012

    What sort of words might you have expected Paul to use if he *did* have hierarchy in mind? ‘Master’ would be a good candidate, I’m guessing.

  4. 8-23-2012


    Thanks. I appreciate it.


    Follow away… :)


    Yes, there are several terms such as “master,” “rulers” (used of others, but never believers in Scripture), etc. Plus, verbs such as “exercise authority,” which are always used in the negative. Also, instead of using the “sun” prefix (i.e. co-worker), Paul could have used a different prefix to show that he was referring to them as subordinate-workers.


  5. 8-23-2012


    I fear that what many Christians experience in the Church today is not the equality you note, but the equality of the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

    That this mentality is so common in leadership grieves me to no end.

    What saddens me most of all is that the people most damaged by this are the most creative, most visionary, and most discerning in the so-called “laity.” There seems to be no place anymore for those whom God has called to dwell at the limits, the borders, the fringes. And yet it is those same people who may have answers that the Lord has given them to best assist the Church to move into all She can be.

  6. 8-24-2012


    Great thoughts! I love what you’ve added to this discussion. It opens up several different threads and channels that we could go down. I definitely agree that focusing on positions of authority has (intentionally or not) been unhealthy for the church, especially for those who are not seen as “leaders.”