Who are the Gentiles?
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.
So it is with the word “Gentile” or “Gentiles.” In Christ’s time on earth if one went to the market and asked for a piece of Ivory they would have been given a piece or a tusk of some animal, such as an elephant; and if that same person were to ask the merchant for a Camel, he would have been given a desert dromedary with one or two humps on its back. But if one goes to the merchant today and asks for a Camel, he will be given a cigarette or a carton of cigarettes by that name.
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
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." (Taken, in part, from an article entitled “Who are the Gentiles?,” by Dr. Bertrand Comparet)