Who are the Gentiles in the Bible? Why were they called Gentiles? Are they simply nations or people who are not Jews by race or people who are not believers and followers of Christ? Keep reading to find out the answers to all these questions.
Who are the Gentiles?
The word "Gentile" is a common word in the New Testament. It is used to describe a person who is not an Israelites by heritage. The word "Gentile" in the English Bible is the English translation of the Greek word “ethne” which means people groups, people or nations.
Also, of the Hebrew word “goyim” which means people or nation/nations. The Latin translation of these words (ethne and goyim) is gentilis and it has been carried over into English as gentile.
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Who are the Gentiles in the Bible?
In the Bible, both words (ethne and goyim) were used to describe the group of people who are not from the twelve tribes of Israel. The Israelites had their cultural and religious practices most of which came from the laws of Moses. They took pride in them. They considered the other nations around them who are not of God’s heritage and do not belong to the twelve tribes of Israel as Gentiles. They considered them unclean.
One of the things that set the Israelites apart then and identified them with God was the circumcision of the males which was God’s commandment to Abraham in Genesis 17 verses 10-14. The Gentiles were uncircumcised. So, the circumcision was another distinction between the Israelites and the people of other nations. And the Israelites saw them as enemies and people who do not have a right to God. The Israelites had the Law of Moses which were instructions from God and the surrounding nations seen as Gentiles worshipped all kinds of idols.
One of the places where we can see how the gentiles were rated differently from the Israelites is an account of an incident between Jesus and a gentile woman from Greece. “For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, for this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.” - Mark 7 verses 25-30.
Another example where we can see that the Gentiles were the non-Israelites is in Matthew 10 verses 5-6, “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
This does not mean that salvation was meant only for the Israelites in the Bible. Salvation was also promised to the Gentiles as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 42 verses 1 and 6, “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom my soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles.”
That is why in the New Testament, in his letters to the church in Rome, Paul wrote this in Romans 1 verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Then he also wrote in, Galatians 3 verse 28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In conclusion, the Gentiles are people, nations who are not descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel. Nations and people who are not of the seed of Abraham by birth. But after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Gentiles also gained the right to become sons and daughters of God as long as they believed and accepted the salvation that came through Christ.
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