Who Are The Gentiles? A Bible Study

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

The Bible talks about Gentiles?  Who are the Gentiles?  Does this refer to all the unsaved of the world or those who are not Christians?  Are Gentiles simply anyone who is not a Jew?

There is a great misunderstanding about what the word Gentile means in the Old and in the New Testament.  It is not so much related to Pagans or the unsaved as it is to the nations.

There is a great misunderstanding about what the word Gentile means in the Old and in the New Testament. It is not so much related to Pagans or the unsaved as it is to the nations.

Who are the Gentiles?

There is a great misunderstanding about what the word Gentile means in the Old and in the New Testament.  It is not so much related to Pagans or the unsaved as it is to the nations.  The word Gentile is derived from the Latin word “gens” which refers to a family or clan. Generally, when we see the word Gentile we should think about non-Jews because in the Greek the word Gentiles is “ethnos” or nations.  To be a Gentile is to be someone who is not Jewish.  When the word Gentile appears in the Old Testament it is from the Hebrew word “goy” which means the same thing as the Greek word does; nation or nations, depending upon whether the singular or plural is being used.  Actually the word Gentile that appears in the Old and New Testament is somewhat of a mistranslation because it is either “goy” (in the Old Testament) or “ethnos” (in the New Testament) and refers to any ethnic group, people group, family, or nation that is not from the 12 tribes of Israel or is not Jewish.  One misunderstanding is that not all of Israel is Jewish but all Jews are Israelite.  What I mean is that the Jews consist of the tribes of Judah, the majority of Levi and the remnants of Benjamin. This was the Southern Kingdom that split apart from the Northern Kingdom which consisted of the remaining tribes and is sometimes called Joseph/Ephraim.  They were later taken captive and were dispersed among the nations.  So we must think about it this way; every Jew is from Israelite but not all of the tribes of Israelites were from the Jewish people.

Old Testament Gentiles

God was never an enemy of the Gentile nations (or non-Israel nations) but any Gentile could join with and become part of the nation of Israel.  This was possible only if they rejected Pagan worship and their associated false Gods such as Baal or Asherah.  God was very concerned with the souls of the Pagan nations and never had intentions of destroying them all.  Most Christians who may not know the Old Testament believe that God was against any nation that was not Israelite and was trying to wipe them from off the face of the earth. Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, Jesus’ has Pagan people like Ruth in His lineage showing that He desires the worship of all nations.  That will finally occur after His second coming. ( Related reading: Biblical Signs of The Second Coming of Jesus)

God expressed and poured out His love for the Pagan nations, believe it or not.  He was not set in His heart to destroy them all.  Read what God says about those whom He loves, Jew or Gentile:

Deuteronomy 10:18 “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

Did you catch that?  He loves the “sojourner.”  Aren’t we presently a sojourner…a pilgrim?  Were we not a foreigner before becoming part of God’s family?  The point is, even in Old Testament times, He loved them and gave them food and clothing just as He did the nation of Israel.

Jonah 4:11 “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

God did pity those who were not part of the nation of Israel which is exactly why He sent Jonah to help saved Nineveh in the greatest revival in human history.  Nineveh was saved against’ Jonah’s will but not against God’s.

Exodus 12:19 “For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land.” 

God didn’t play favorites.  He punished His own chosen people just as He would those from outside of Israel if they didn’t obey Him.  God is no respecter of persons or nations.

There are dozens and dozens of other verses from the Old Testament that essentially say the same thing.  God loved these people, He has compassion or pity on them, He loves the sojourner, He gives them food and clothing…and He also offered them salvation. He took no pleasure in their destruction (Ezk 18:23).

New Testament Gentiles

You can read some of the Scriptures mentioned in the Conclusion section at the end of this article to know that Gentiles or non-Jews alike are accepted by God but only if they repent and place their trust in Christ.  In Acts 13:47-49 Paul said that “the Lord has commanded us (Paul and Barnabas), saying,“ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.  And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” God promises “glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.  For God shows no partiality” (Rom 2:10-11).

Conclusion

Who are the Gentiles?  Anyone who is not in the family of God is one but that will not matter if they trust in Christ.  Paul said that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) and because this was so important, he repeated something similar in Colossians 3:11 writing, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  Once you are born again you are part of His family and actually part of God’s chosen people (Eph 1, 2).  Paul wrote that “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Rom 2:28-29) “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).  Now that’s good news.

If you are born again then you are seen as Abraham’s seed because like Abraham, we have faith…faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is good news because “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith” (Rom 4:13).  That is what happens if we have faith in Jesus Christ.  In God’s family there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free” but all who are saved are part of God’s very own family.  That makes us “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17) “And because you are sons [and daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father” (Gal 4:6)!

Another article you might be interested in: End Times: Are We In The Last Days?

Resources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

photo credit: Wonderlane via photopin cc



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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda November 1, 2013 at 10:33 am

Thank you Jack for the proper meaning of a Gentile, now it makes much more sense to me as I read the bible. I’m so happy to be an heir. Bless you.

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Jack Wellman November 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

Linda, thank you so much. Your comment matches the meaning of your name, which in Spanish means “beautiful.” I appreciate your kind words.

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william mungwira November 2, 2013 at 5:35 am

so when the Israelites were taken out of Egypt were they mixed with this Gentiles or what

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Jack Wellman November 2, 2013 at 6:36 am

Thank you Mr. Mungwira. Yes, there were both Eygptians and Israelites mixed together but the point is that this is about the new and better covenant under Jesus’ atonement where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female but all of Christ’s who repent, confess and trust in Him.

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Mr Anthony Cotton November 9, 2013 at 3:05 pm

The most important thing that you say Jack is that God see`s no difference between any peoples.
He did not make the jews any more important than the gentiles,or any other race.
When it is said that the gentiles were overjoyed that God recognized them is proof.
The downside to the Jewish nation was especially Hitler was tying to exterminate them all.
Sadly it still remains so today. I personally don`t have any race issue`s at all. It`s the extremist`s,and fanatics in any religion today that are to blame.

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Jack Wellman November 9, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Amen Anthony…well said. I am glad that you say the thesis behind this article and that God is no respecter of persons…for which I for one, am glad. Sad, yes, there are those who still judge from the outside when it truly what is in the heart that counts. Thank you friend.

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DocReits November 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Hi Jack,

I have a question and you know how I like to play “you know who’s” advocate…;-)

Abraham was chosen out of all of the people on the face of the earth to be “a peculiar people” to the Lord. This “peculiar” means special, set apart, not the same as those living along side his offspring.

It was to them and not the goyim that God gave the promise and shared His real presence. Sure, as you alluded, if the goys wanted to become a member of the eventual Israelite clan there were rules to become such….but they became grafted into Israel and became worshipers of the true God and, as such, received His blessing.

I do not see any evangelistic efforts to get the message out about Jehovah in the OT to the goyim. The only time I recall is when the inhabitants outside the arc were destroyed and when the deceptive sons of Jacob hoodwinked a bunch of guys to get circumcised so they could kill them as they were healing…. in retribution for the King’s son raping their sister.

Now we have the NT where we are told to keep our lamps filled and our garments white for the eventual coming back of our Lord Christ.
We are told to proclaim the Gospel., yet at the same time satan is hardening the hearts of those God knows will be unsaved….ironic? It’s a “God thing”…;-)

“17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of[d] the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”(Eph 4:17-19)

The god of this age(Satan) has blinded those who choose to walk in darkness because they hate the light and rather have darkness:

“3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Cor 4:3)

““Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). In other words, they want darkness, they don’t want light.

All the preaching in the world will not change the hearts of those destined for darkness. Do we stop preaching…No! Because we do not know what God knows. Are we a special people called out of darkness? Yes! Why? To become His bride and bring Glory and Honor to His Name.

Watchman Ne believes in special election…to wit…those whose garments are white and lamps full, watching and waiting for the return of our King, will be swept up to meet Him in the clouds where the wedding supper of the Lamb will take place. Those who are saved but are lax in faithfulness and are living as the world, will populate the kingdom, but not as the bride.

I am on the fence there. I can certainly understand Watchman’s position and have sat under really smart pastors supporting this idea, but I am not convinced.

So you can see my query. Watchman Ne would argue that we are a special people still called out by God and that the number of enrollees have been decided. The dinner guests are known. Yes there are no Greeks, Jews, or Gentiles at the dinner feast…we are all His bride, but the goyim are still without the camp. The “other nations” still exist.

Your thoughts?

DocReits

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Jack Wellman November 24, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Thanks Doc. Maybe you didn’t know but the word “goyim” is a derogatory label for non-Israelites or as the Bible dictionary calls it ” Often Disparaging. a non-Jewish person; gentile” and is used as a disparaging term for one who is not a Jew. Let me also say that I don’t have a lot of time to point-counterpoint as I am still at work…and even had to work on my birthday today. I wish I didn’t have to work on my birhtday all day but I am still blessed. Exausted with school (seminary), family, work, pastoring, the website, and more but thnank GOd anyway. Israel was to be an example to other nations and not to proselytize. God never told them to evangelize the nations.

Jehovah Witnesses believe that the number of saved (the supposed 144,000) is already full but this is not biblical as Jesus said to go and make disciples of ALL nations and go into ALL the world and not just wait until there’s 144,000. That number from Revelation has nothing to do with a certain limit of people being called and then we are to stop. God will draw ALL men and all tongues, nations, and peoples will come to worship the Lamb at His return (Rev 7:9) and in the meantime we are to “GO!” and not to wait and stop when so many are reached.

JW’s are totally a cult and have had so many false prophets predict and fail Christ’s return that they would have been stones in the Old Testament. Prophets must bat 100% or else their not from God! If the organization did not actually prophesy the end in 1925 and 1975, then how come so many Witnesses left the faith immediately afterwards? (“They lost roughly three-quarters of the movement between 1925 and 1928, then suffered huge losses after 1975, when the end didn’t come as they had implied over and over again,” said Jim Penton, an ex-Witness who writes entries on Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Encyclopedia Americana.) Since the Organization has received “new light” regarding the 1914 generation, and completely changed their view on this, does this mean that all the former Jehovah’s witnesses who were disfellowshipped years ago for the same view the organization is now teaching will automatically be accepted into fellowship again? Were these Ex-Jw’s in fact disfellowshipped for truth and knew things that the governing body did not?If the Watchtower organization rejects others calling them “inspired” yet the Watchtower organization does call themselves “God’s Spirit-directed Prophet” what is the difference? Is there such a thing as an “uninspired prophet”? NO!

How do we know that there were any vacancies, if any, in the 144,000 class if Jesus offered this to first century Christians? How can the organization know the exact number of vacancies today without any records from the first century? The Watchtower Society teaches that the 144,000 of Rev 7:4 is to be taken literally. If chapter 7 of Revelation is to be taken literally, where then does the Bible say that the 144,000 will come from? (See Rev 7:5- 8). If there are 144,000 spirit anointed people who have a heavenly hope, and a great crowd of people who have another hope of everlasting life on paradise earth, why does Paul say that there is only ONE hope (Eph 4:4), instead of two? In Mk 3:35, Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of God, this one is my brother …”. Therefore, according to the Bible, whoever does the will of God is a brother of Jesus and a partaker of the heavenly calling. How can this be if the Watchtower Society teaches that only 144,000 people go to heaven? Heb 11:16, in speaking about some of the faithful people of the Old Testament (Abel, Noah, Abraham, etc.) says, “But now they are reaching out for a better [place], that is, one belonging to heaven…” and, “… their God for he has made a city ready for them.” The footnote on the word “city” refers to HEAVENLY Jerusalem of Heb 12:22 and Rev 21:2. How can this be since according to the teachings of the Watchtower Society, the only people who will go to heaven are the 144,000 spirit anointed who have been chosen from people who lived after Christ died?

As for Watchman Ne, let me show you some very serious errors this man taught”

Nee outlines no method of Bible study and interpretation and appears to deny evangelical hermeneutics. In his book Spiritual Authority, he sets himself and his elders up as the unquestionable authorities. By all appearances, Nee saw himself not as a servant but as a guru.

One gets the impression from Nee that the Bible was not nearly as important as Christians generally consider it. In his book The Ministry of God’s Word, Nee says, “Words alone cannot be considered God’s Word.” In this book, Nee becomes very philosophical, mystical and incoherent. He says that only as we deliver the Word in terms of the “reality behind it,” using what he calls “Holy Spirit memory” and “presenting the pictures as well as speaking the words” will the words be correct; otherwise they are not real.

Nee overemphasizes emotions. In The Ministry of God’s Word, he claims that the effectiveness of a preacher’s delivery is a product of his emotions. If a preacher does not feel emotionally charged in delivery, “the Spirit is stuck” and the “Spirit is inevitably arrested,” Nee says. He continues, “The Spirit flows through the channel of emotion.” Then he arrives at a strange conclusion: “Nose in the Scripture stands for feeling. Smelling is a most delicate act, man’s feeling is most delicate.” Therefore, Nee says, a preacher in speaking needs to “mix feelings with the words spoken, else his words are dead. If our feeling lags behind, our words are stripped of the spirit.” To say as Nee does, on page 210, that the Holy Spirit only rides on feeling is dangerous.

Nee uses terms imprecisely. One example is his writing about a minister’s receiving “revelations” in his “Holy Spirit memory” and those revelations being remembered in us by the Holy Spirit. This sort of metaphysical mumbo jumbo is impossible to understand, since there is no direct scriptural reference to a “Holy Spirit memory.”

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Ko We August 10, 2016 at 7:42 am

IT is unfortunate that most people have so many mistaken ideas about their religion, due largely to the many mistranslations of words in the commonly-used King James Version of the Bible. One of these mistaken ideas is that most of the people of the United States and Western Europe – in fact, nearly all the Christians in the world – are “Gentiles”. You hear many of them – even clergymen, who should know better – say, “I’m just a Gentile, saved by grace.” I think it is high time that we learned something about one of the most mis-used words, “Gentile.”

First, you might be surprised to know that there is no such word in the Bible, in its original languages. Oh yes, I know that you are now riffling the pages of your King James Version, looking for some of the many places you will find “Gentile” in it. But I said that there is no such word in the Bible IN ITS ORIGINAL LANGUAGES. The word was put into it by translators, who changed the wording of the Bible centuries after the last book in the Bible was written. If you are a good Christian, you will surely agree with me that what the prophets originally wrote in the books which make up our Bible was inspired by God. It was correct as the prophets wrote it. But not one of them wrote in English, remember, because no such language as English existed until many centuries after the prophets lived. It was written in Hebrew, as to the Old Testament; and the New Testament was originally written in the language which Jesus Christ spoke, Aramaic, a Semitic dialect somewhat similar to, but not the same as, Hebrew. But Aramaic was not generally understood outside of Western Asia; so when Christianity began to spread into southern and southeastern Europe, the New Testament had to be translated into a language which was widely used in Europe. Greek served this purpose nicely, for it was understood by well-educated men over nearly all of Europe. Therefore, the New Testament was first translated into Greek. Protestant English-language translations of the Bible, today, are nearly all translated from Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament and Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. So, let us start at the beginning, with the Old Testament.

The word “Gentile” is not even once used in any Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament, for the good reason that there is no such word in Hebrew, nor any word which corresponds to it. Everywhere you find the word “Gentile” used in the Old Testament, it is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word “GOY,” which means “NATION.” The plural form of it is “GOYIM.” Since it means “nation,” why didn’t they translate it correctly? Sometimes they did; but for the most part, they translated it to fit the official doctrines of the church of their day, no matter what violence that did to the true meaning of the word. The church hierarchy had long since determined what its doctrines should be: and if the Bible didn’t agree with them, so much the worse for the Bible. Men were still being burned at the stake for heresy, in those days, and “heresy” meant any religious idea which differed from the official doctrines proclaimed by the bishops. So the translators did the best the Church would allow them to do. Let us take some examples.

In Genesis 12:2, God said to Abram, “I will make of thee a great nation.” In Hebrew, God said “I will make of thee a great GOY.” It would have been too silly to translate that “I will make a Gentile of you,” so they correctly translated it “nation.” Again Genesis 25:23, Rebekah was pregnant with the twins, Esau and Jacob; and while still in her womb, the unborn children were struggling against each other; so she wondered at this, and asked of God what was the meaning of this? God said to her, “Two GOYIM are in thy womb.” Certainly God was not telling her, “You are an adulteress, pregnant with two Gentile children, when your husband is not a Gentile.” God said “Two NATIONS are in thy womb,” and that is the way it was translated; but it is that same word, “GOYIM,” which elsewhere they generally translate as “Gentiles.”

Now let us take some examples from the New Testament.

Here the word mistranslated “Gentile” is nearly always the Greek word, “ETHNOS” which means just exactly “NATION,” the same as the Hebrew word “Goy.” Luke 7 begins with the incident of a Roman Centurion who appealed to Jesus Christ to heal his servant who was sick unto death. The Elders of the Jews praised him to Jesus, saying “He loveth our ETHNOS, and hath built us a synagogue.” These Jews would never praise anyone for loving the Gentiles; and the Centurion would not have built a synagogue for Gentiles. So, to avoid complete absurdity, the translators were forced to translate “ETHNOS” correctly, as “NATION.” Again, in John 11:50, we find that the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas, was plotting with the chief priests and Pharisees, to murder Jesus Christ; and Caiaphas told them, “it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole ETHNOS perish not.” Nothing could have pleased this evil Jew more than for all the Gentiles to perish – using the word “Gentile” as we do today. Therefore, the translators had to translate “ETHNOS” correctly, as “nation.” Yet in many other places they mistranslate it “Gentile.”

The Greek word “ETHNOS” means simply “nation,” nothing more or less. It has no pagan, or non-Israel, or even non-Greek connotation. The Greeks distinguished between Greeks and all non-Greek peoples, whom they called “Barbarians.” All educated men of that day knew this, and the Apostle Paul was a very well-educated man, who was quite familiar with the Greek language and its idioms. He recognized this distinction in Romans 1:14, where he said, “I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians.” Paul, therefore, never wrote the word “Gentile” in any of his Epistles.

What does this word “Gentile” mean, and from what is it derived? It is derived from the Latin word “GENTILES,” which means “ONE WHO IS NOT A ROMAN CITIZEN.” If you use the word correctly, then you would have to say that Jesus Christ and His twelve disciples were all Gentiles, because none of them was a Roman Citizen. Only Paul could say that he was not a “Gentile,” because in the 22nd chapter of Acts, Paul says that he was a Roman citizen by birth.

How, then, is it used at present when the speaker means to say that someone is non-Jewish? About the fourth century A.D., its use was loosely extended to cover more than its original meaning. It was applied especially to those who were heathen, pagan; it became a term for those who were neither Christian nor Jewish, for Christians and Jews were generally called just that, (Christian; or Jew). But this was centuries after the last book in the New Testament had been written.

The word “Gentile” was never used by the writer of any book of the Old Testament, because none of them had ever heard it, as they had never come in contact with Rome. It was not used by the writer of any book of the New Testament, for there is no such word in the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek languages. They did not borrow the word from the Latin, for if you will look up every place it is used in your King James Version, you will see that it is never used in the correct sense, to say that someone is not a Roman citizen; and that is the only meaning it had, the only way anybody used it, in those days. It was put in by the translators in an effort to make the Bible say what the translators thought it should have said. Therefore, it has no authority at all.

In short, wherever you see the word “Gentile” in the Bible, remember that the correct word is “nation,” “race”, or “people.” Sometimes it is used when speaking of ISRAEL nations or the ISRAELITE race, as we have seen in the examples I have given you. In other instances, the context will show that it is being used of a nation which is non-Israelite. Only the context in which it is used will show you which meaning to give it. When used of non-Israelite peoples, perhaps “Gentile” is as good a word as any, for we seem to have no other in general use. But never be deceived by reading the word “Gentile” in your Bible, for its only correct meaning is “nation” or “race.”

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