A STUDY INTO THE MEANING OF THE WORD "GENTILE"
AS USED IN THE BIBLE
Pastor Curtis Clair Ewing
The following study
material appeared twice before in leading religious magazines, and many calls
have come for the material in tract form. So we offer it now in this form in
hopes that it will shed light on the Bible and also open the way for a ready
acceptance of the proper identity of Israel as the Anglo-Saxon and kindred
A few years ago the writer was in the home of a friend, and as I
looked over her books I saw that she had one of these large dictionaries that
are usually found only in public libraries. I said to her, "May I use your
dictionary?" I knew that she had always been interested in the correct use of
the words, so I thought that this would be a good way to start a conversation
regarding our Identity with Israel. I turned the pages to find the word
Immediately the lady asked, "What is the word you are looking
for?" I replied, "I am looking up the word 'gentile'. "Then she wanted to know
what the dictionary had to say.
I gave her to understand that if the
dictionary was correct she couldn't possibly be a gentile, which she had always
claimed to be. Then I read her this definition. "A gentile is a pagan or a
heathen or some one who is not a Jew or a Christian." "Now," I said, "since you
are a Christian you cannot possibly be a gentile." She was rather startled at
what I told her. Then I went into the meaning of that same word as used in the
Bible, and you may be assured that before I was through she had many of her
long-established ideas upset. A great deal of confusion and misunderstanding has
been caused by the use of the word "gentile" in the English translation of the
Bible. Let us take up a brief study of it. It should always be remembered that
foreign languages often lose the strength of their meaning through translation.
Then it should also be remembered that some words have many
Take the word man as an illustration. Generically speaking it
means mankind generally, both men and women. But if it is used in the same
sentence with the word woman, it means the male of the species. If it is used in
the same sentence with boy it means the mature of the species. Thus the word man
has three meanings, the meaning of the word being determined by its use in the
Now the word gentile is a translation of the Hebrew word goi
(singular) and goyim (plural) and the Greek word ethnos (singular) and ethne
(plural). Using the word gentile to translate these words is often misleading
because it is a misapplication of the Hebrew and Greek words as used in the
Bible. The modern use of the word has come to mean non-Jew or non-Israel, but
that meaning cannot be maintained in the face of the evidence I will present in
The Hebrew word goi is a collective noun meaning nation or
sometimes a collective body of people. But it has been translated into English
many different ways. The word occurs 557 times in the Old Testament. The
Authorized Version of the Bible translates it gentile 30 times; heathen 142
times; nation 373 times; people 11 times; another once.
But the American
Standard Revised Version cuts the occurrence of gentile from 30 to 9 times, and
then shows in the footnotes of 5 of those 9 times that the word nations should
Of course the word nation is not always an exact equivalent term
because there is to much of a political significance attached to it. But it is
much better than the word gentile and some of our best translators prefer the
word nations. This is also shown by the way the Revised Version eliminates the
The same thing is true of the Greek word ethnos. It occurs
164 times in the New Testament. In the Authorized Version it is translated
gentile 93 times; heathen 5 times; nation or nations 64 times; and people twice.
In the American Standard Revised Version it is gentile 96 times in the text and
7 times in the footnotes, making 103 occurrences altogether. But in the
footnotes it is corrected 15 times to read nations making the final occurrence
88. So not only the Hebrew word goi but also the Greek word ethnos has been
translated to read nations more than any other word.
Though the word
gentile and the word heathen are used many times in the Bible. We must face the
facts that there are no Hebrew or Greek words that would demand this
If the reader will consult a good dictionary, you will find
that the word gentile is derived from the Latin word gentilis and properly
understood means non-something. As used by a Jew or an Israelite it would mean
non-Jew or non-Israelite. But they are not the only people who have a right to
use the word.
For instance, supposed a Buddhist priest spoke Latin and he
wanted to refer to the nations that were not Buddhist, he would call them
gentilis. In Hebrew and Greek, there is no exact equivalent to the Latin word
gentilis or the English word gentile. Nevertheless, if this same priest spoke
Hebrew and Greek along with his Latin and wanted to refer to the nations that
were not Buddhist, he would call them goyim if speaking Hebrew and ethne if
speaking Greek, and each time he would naturally include the Jewish and Israel
Likewise a Moslem priest could use the three languages and refer to
the Jews and Israel as gentilis, goyim, and ethne.
One important thing
to always keep in mind is that goi and ethnos are collective nouns and cannot
properly be translated to mean an individual person. They always refer to a
group. There is no such thing as A GENTILE; it is always plural.
Gentiles in its plural sense may at times be used to translate goi and ethnos
but its use gives an added thought not intended in the original word which
cannot in every case be justified.
Another important word found in the
Hebrew text which needs only passing notice is the Hebrew word "am" and is found
many times in the Old Testament text. It is translated people, for it occurs
that way 1,835 times in our English text. Occasionally it is qualified by the
phase, "every people," but when it is rendered "the people" it usually means
Israel. But this is not the word that has been the source of misunderstanding.
Translations of the Hebrew word goi and the Greek word ethnos have caused the
The Hebrew word goi and the Greek word ethnos in their singular
and plural forms are used in three ways in the Bible.
1. In referring to
the Israel and Jewish people, let us note the verses which follows below found
in the Old Testament and New Testament which refer either to Israel or the Jews
as a nation and use the Hebrew word goi and the Greek word ethnos. To
demonstrate the absurdity of always translating the word goi or ethnos as
gentile we suggest that you read the following verses substituting the word
gentile or heathen, for nation or nations.
Gen. 12:2 "I will make of thee
a great nation."
Gen. 17:4,5 "A father of many nations have I made
Gen. 20:4 "Lord, wilt thou slay a righteous nation?"
Gen. 25:23 "Two nations are in thy womb." (Try the word heathen or
gentile in that verse).
Gen. 35:11 "Ah nation and a company of
Gen. 48:19 "They seed shall become a multitude of nations."
1:4 "A sinful nation. A people laden with iniquity."
Isa. 10:6 "Send him
against an hypocritical nation."
Jer. 31:36 "Shall cease from being a nation
Luke 7:5 "He loveth our nation and hath built us a
John 11:48 "The Romans will come and take our place and
John 11:50 "That one man should die for the people and that the
whole nation perish not."
Acts 24:2 "Worthy deeds are done unto this nation
by the providence."
Acts 24:17 "I came to bring alms to my nation."
the forgoing verses and many other that could be given, it can easily be seen
that the Hebrew word goi and the Greek word ethnos do not always refer to
2. Now let us read a few verses where the same words
are used and, as can be seen, refer very definitely to non-Israel
Gen. 14:9 "With Chedorlaomer the King of Elam, and with Tidal
king of nations."
Gen. 21:13 "And also the son of the bond woman will I make
Gen. 21:18 "For I will make of him a great nation."
"...There was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a
Ex. 34:24 "...For I will cast out the nations before thee."
37:12 "Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have
Matt. 10:5 "Go not in the way of the gentiles."
"For nation shall rise against nation."
Luke 21:24 "They shall fall by the
edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations."
Acts 7:7 "And
the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God."
10:45 "...Because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy
In the above verses three words have been used to translate the same
Greek word ethnos and they are nations, gentiles, and people.
3. Now we
come to the third way in which the words have been used, and that is to describe
all nations, which of course always includes Israel and non-Israel
Gen. 22:18 "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth
Gen. 25:23 "Two nations are in thy womb."
I Chron. 16:23,24
"Declare his glory among the heathen...his marvelous works among the
Psa. 9:19,20 "...Let the heathen be judged in thy sight. Put them
in fear, oh Lord; that the nations may know themselves to be but
Notice the last two verses have used the words heathen and nations
to translate the same word in one passage.
Matt. 24:9,14 "...And ye shall
be hated of all nations for my names sake."
"This gospel of the kingdom shall
be preached for a witness to all nations."
Matt. 28:19 "Go ye therefore and
teach all nations."
Acts 10:35 "But in every nation he that fearth him, and
worketh righteousness, is accepted with him."
Attention should also be
called to another Greek word erroneously translated gentiles.
The word is
hellen and means Greeks. It is used 27 times in the New Testament. In 20 places
it is properly translated Greeks, but in 7 other places in the Authorized
Version it is erroneously translated gentiles. This has been corrected in the
Revised Version and nearly all subsequent translations. For example, the
Authorized Version translates John 7:35 to read: "Will he go unto the dispersed
among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?"
Nearly all revised versions
translate this to read: "Will he go unto the dispersed among the Greeks and
teach the Greeks?" Take as another example I Corinthians 10:32, "Give none
offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God."
Now the writer has read several articles by well-known Bible teachers who reject
the Israel identity of the Anglo-Saxon people because they say that this verse
gives the only classes that God now recognizes. In other words they claim on the
authority of this verse that the humane race is divided into Jew, Gentiles and
Church of God.
That is a good example of how anything can be proved by
taking a verse out of its context. The context shows that Paul was admonishing
people to be conscientious in their walk so as not to offend a weak brother. The
division made in the text is only incidental to the point he was trying to make.
And then too, the text does not say that there are only three classes of people.
what it does say is, "Give none offense, neither to the Jew, nor to the
Gentiles, nor to the Church of God."
Now if this text were given to show
a division of humanity, then it leaves the vast majority of the race out
entirely, because the word that is translated gentiles is a palpable
mistranslation and should be translated Greeks. This is exactly the way the
Revised Version gives it, as is also true of most private translations. But you
do not even need a Revised Version to discover this error. Any good Bible with a
marginal reading will show this to be true. The Greek word that has been
translated gentile in this verse is hellen and means Greeks. So, if, as these
men have claimed, this verse proves there is only three classes of people in the
world which God now recognizes, then they are the Jews, the Greeks and the
Christians. Everybody else is left out. By using the same method of reasoning we
could quote Galatians 3:28 and prove that God does not recognize any distinction
in the human race; then we could go to the other extreme and quote Colossians
3:11 to prove that God recognizes eight divisions of mankind. In both cases we
would be taking verses out of their context just as these men have done. But all
of the confusion over this text would have been avoided if the word Greeks had
been used instead of gentiles. Paul was writing to the Corinthians. Corinth was
in Greece. They had three classes of people there-Jew, Greek and Christian. Had
Paul been writing to the Romans he no doubt would have said "Give none offense,
neither to the Jew, nor to the Romans, nor to the Church of God."
these two examples, there are four other places where hellen has been translated
gentiles where it should have been translated Greeks. These are found in Romans
2:9,10; 3:9; and I Corinthians 12:13.
While on this subject a few words
should be said about the way the word gentile has been used in the Epistle to
the Romans, one of the important books in the New Testament. And on this matter
I will borrow some thoughts from the late Dr. Wm.Pascoe Goard.
Goard's book "Epistle to the Romans," he has given some illuminating comments on
how the word ethne refers to the ten-tribe Israel. These are found in the fourth
and fifth chapters of his book. He shows very clearly that chapter 9,10 and 11
of Romans refer to ten-tribe Israel. In these chapters the Apostle Paul quotes
quite freely from Hosea, Isaiah and Elijah, and as Dr. Goard shows, all these
quotations refer to fact in the history of ten-tribe Israel, and not in the
history of Judah nor in the history of any other nation. Thus when the word
gentiles (Greek word ethne) is used in these three chapters it definitely is
ten-tribe Israel. It is not a contrast between Israel and non-Israel people. It
is a contrast between Israel in 975 B.C. and Israel known as the nations in A.D.
Do not let the word gentile mislead you. The Greek word is ethne and
The Apostle Paul in this Israel section of his epistle is
merely contrasting Israel's former state when she was know as Israel with her
state in his day when she was known as the nations. To use the popularized
meaning of the word, they had become gentilized in the sense that they were not
known as Israel. Israel was one nation God had called out from among the other
nations; now she was just like the other nations.
She had lost her
identity so much that the Apostle Paul said that blindness was to stay on Israel
until the "fullness of the gentiles" (nations) become in. (Romans 11:25). This
fullness of the gentiles should be fullness of nations. It is a direct reference
to Genesis 48:19, where it is stated that Ephraim was to become a "multitude of
nations" in the last days.
This is confirmed by the fact that both Dr.
Delitzsch's translation of the New Testament into Hebrew-sold by the British and
Foreign Bible Society-and Ginsburg-Salkinson's New Testament, published by the
Trinitarian Bible Society, for the use of the Jews, have the very same Hebrew
words (me lo hag-goyim) in Romans 11:25, that we find in Genesis 48:19, in the
Hebrew Old Testament, and in this verse only. We use the expression "multitude
of nations" because it is given as the corrected reading in most Bibles in
preference to fullness of nations. In other words, Israel was to be blind to her
identity until the tribe of Ephraim became a multitude of nations. That time has
arrived now and that is the reason our identity as Israel is becoming known. As
Isaiah 25:7 reads, "He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering
cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations." That veil
is being lifted now and our real identity and the identity of other nations is
Some scholars, in translating Genesis 48:19, where the
Hebrew is me lo hag-goyim render it a company of gentile nations. The writer is
convinced that a company or multitude of nations is the better translation.
However, there is nothing wrong with the translation if the right meaning is
attached to the word gentile. That is, they would become so much like other
nations that they would not be recognized as Israel. That, of course, is a
different meaning given to the word than is meant in the original
To Summarize: the word gentile is derived from the Latin word
gentilis and is only one of several words that are used to translate the Hebrew
word goi and the Greek word ethnos into English. The best word to use is
nations. It would have been better if the word gentile had never appeared in the
English text. Neither goi nor ethnos necessarily mean non-Israel, as has been