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).


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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