Paul M. Conner, O.P., Celibate Love p. 23 (PDF p. 27), claims:

In Hebrew the terms "sister" and "bride" do not always have literal application. Often they are interchangeable. Frequently, too, "sister" can mean "friend." The context decides the meaning.

Is this true? If so, what are some examples where "'sister' and 'bride'…Often…are interchangeable" and where "'sister' can mean 'friend'"?

2 Answers 2


כּלּה kallâh (< כּלל kâlal "to make perfect") = bride, spouse

אחות 'âchôth = sister (literally or figuratively)

These words occur interchangeably in:

Song of Solomon 4:9-10,12:

Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck. How beautiful are thy breasts, my sister, my spouse! thy breasts are more beautiful than wine, and the sweet smell of thy ointments above all aromatical spices. […] My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.

Song of Solomon 5:1:

Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat the fruit of his apple trees. I am come into my garden, O my sister, my spouse, I have gathered my myrrh, with my aromatical spices: I have eaten the honeycomb with my honey, I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends, and drink, and be inebriated, my dearly beloved.

ריע רע (friend, companion, lover, neighbor, brother or sister) appears in Song 5:1.

  • I would suggest you to use a Jewish source if you are interested in such fine nuances between the meaning of Hebrew words. (Sometimes verse numbering is also an issue, not to mention biased mistranslations.) Regarding your question in particular, to answer it you should have a perfect understanding of what the expression אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה means. Dec 7, 2020 at 18:59
  • Some notes: Having two words next to each other does not make them interchangeable; only switching back and forth between them does. Kallal does not mean to make perfect; it means to include. The source word is kol, which means "all".
    – N.T.
    Dec 7, 2020 at 20:11

One would be remiss not to mention the oft-repeated theme in Genesis, of people pretending that their wives were their sisters for fear of the natives. Avraham in Egypt and in the land of the Philistines, and Yitzchak also in the land of the Philistines. The poster's observation makes their deception more indirect.

  • Yes, but the Hebrew words used for sister and wife/woman are distinct in those cases.
    – Geremia
    Dec 7, 2020 at 18:47
  • Yes, but if the meanings are interchangeable that would affect the reading of the story. Avraham/Yitzchak could have been saying, She's my sister, meaning, "She's my bride but I don't want to say so."
    – MichoelR
    Dec 7, 2020 at 18:57
  • What about brother? E.g. Genesis 29:4.
    – Alex
    Dec 8, 2020 at 0:13

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