Article Preview: Did you know that the Hebrew word “goyim”, usually translated as “gentiles”, is frequently applied to the Israelite nation in the Bible? Sure you’re skeptical, I certainly was—until I began reading the evidence! Long before you are finished reading this article you will agree that you have been snookered on what a gentile (goyim) is. Written by Frank Nelte. While this article is addressed to a “churches of God” audience, it needs to become common knowledge
In the churches of God there is very often a distinction made between “Israelites” on the one hand, and “Gentiles” on the other hand. In practical terms the inference is that “a Gentile” is somehow on a lower level than “an Israelite”. The implication is that the Bible indicates that there are TWO broad categories of people: those who are racially descended from Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel) are “Israelites”, and all others are “Gentiles”.
The truth is that from a biblical perspective ALL PEOPLE are “Gentiles” ... and within this context those who have descended from Jacob are “Israelites”, while all other human beings are “non-Israelites”. So the biblically correct designations are “Israelites and non-Israelites” rather than “Israelites and Gentiles”.
It is the unbiblical way the Jews developed regarding how they referred to all other races that resulted in all of us today accepting the word “Gentiles” to be a reference to all “non-Israelites”. But that is in fact a rather derogatory reference to other nations. And IF it is going to be used at all, THEN this derogatory reference most assuredly applies also to the Jews and to all Israelites!
In a minute we will look at the very clear biblical evidence for this. But first let’s recall that the way words are used often changes with the passage of time. Let me give you an example that parallels the way people in the Church use the word “Gentile”.
A long time ago black people were referred to as “Negroes”, the word being derived from the Latin word “niger” meaning “black”. It was a straightforward descriptive term. In time derivations of this word (e.g. “nigger”) were used to insult black people, to express scorn, ridicule and contempt. So, to distance oneself from these negative sentiments, alternate words were used to refer to black people ... such as “Coloured People”, “Blacks”, “Afro-Americans”, etc....
Let me give you another example. Half a century ago the word “gay” still meant: happily excited, merry, bright, lively, brilliant in colour. Since then the meaning of the word “gay” has changed to mean “homosexual”. So where 100 years ago it might have been a complimentary and positive statement to describe someone as “gay”, today referring to someone as “gay” will be almost universally perceived as an insult. So here the meaning of a perfectly innocent word has been changed to signify a form of immoral conduct.
The Jews did something very similar with the Hebrew word translated as “Gentile”.
ORIGINALLY the Hebrew word applied to ALL people, the most prominent “Gentile” mentioned in the Bible being Abraham himself. Like originally the words “Negro” and “gay” in English, the Hebrew word for “Gentile” had no negative connotation of any kind. It was nothing more than a descriptive term that is best translated into English as “A PEOPLE” or as “A NATION”.
However, over a period of time, after the time of Christ’s ministry, the Jews came to use this word to express CONTEMPT for other nations and for other people. The Jews thought of themselves as better than other people, and they would then refer to others with a certain amount of contempt as “GENTILES” ... much like an English-speaking white racist might today use the words “the Blacks” or “the Coloured People” in a tone expressing scorn and contempt, or as in the expression “he’s gay”. In other words, while the word “Gentiles” literally means “the nations”, the Jews ATTACHED to this word the meaning of “the heathen” ... like people have ATTACHED the meaning “homosexual” to the word “gay”.
Furthermore, the Jews ceased speaking Hebrew as their first language. Even in the Book of Acts we already see Jews speaking a dozen different languages as their FIRST language, with Hebrew becoming the largely unspoken language of the religiously educated minority. (See Acts 2:8-11 for a list of different FIRST languages for many Jews back then.) One of the consequences of the Hebrew language dropping (to a large degree) out of daily use for many Jews was that certain meanings became attached to certain Hebrew words. So in time it was conveniently overlooked that the Hebrew word really means “a nation” or “a people”, and the Jews attached to this Hebrew word the meaning of the derisive English term “the heathen”, as I stated above.
But that is not what the Hebrew word that is used in the Bible really means.
So when people in God’s Church use the word “Gentile” to refer to non-Israelites, they are simply perpetuating the expression of contempt that the Jews came to attach to the word ... it is very much the same kind of insult to a non-Israelite as it is an insult to refer to a black person as “a nigger”. Calling people “Gentiles” is a way of referring to them as “heathen”. It also ignores the fact that the Israelite speaker is in biblical terms himself also a Gentile, very much so, in fact.
The bottom line is that referring to other people as “Gentiles” is always an expression of contempt for those other people ... even when the speaker himself is not aware that the Jews changed the meaning of this word to express contempt and very carefully avoided using the word to refer to themselves.
Now let’s examine the evidence.
The Hebrew word translated as “Gentile” in the Old Testament is “goyi”, the plural being “goyim”. For the sake of simplicity I will use the more commonly known plural “goyim” throughout this article. (For those who are linguistically inclined this may, in those places that require the singular, jar a bit, but it will hopefully keep it simple for the majority of readers who are unfamiliar with Hebrew?) The word “goyim” is used 558 times in the Old Testament, thus a fairly common word. In the KJV of the Bible this word “goyim” is translated by four different English words: 374 times it is translated as “NATION”, 143 times it is translated as “HEATHEN”, 30 times it is translated as “GENTILES” and 11 times it is translated as “PEOPLE”.
The two words “nation” and “people” are the correct translation for this word. Both these words are neutral in the sense of not passing any judgment. The reader has no way of knowing whether the “nation” or the “people” being referred to by this word “goyim” stand in a good or in a bad relationship towards God in heaven. It is always the context in which “nation” or “people” is used that has to show us this relationship towards God.
The English word “heathen”, on the other hand, is a word that MAKES A JUDGMENT! People designated as “heathen” by definition do not live by the laws of the true God, and frequently there is also the implication that a “heathen” lacks culture and/or moral principles. As I said, the word “heathen” passes a judgment about the person so described.
The English word “Gentile” likewise makes a judgment. People designated as “Gentiles” are deemed to be non-Israelites, with a certain amount of put-down being implied. Nobody in the churchof God, no minister and no lay member, has ever at any time used the term “Gentile” to express deep respect and courtesy and politeness towards the people he referred to as “Gentiles”. The word is NEVER intended to be an expression of respect or a compliment. The word “Gentile”, as used by us today, makes a judgment in the same way that the word “heathen” makes a judgment.
But that is not what God really intended when He, God Himself, repeatedly used this word throughout the Old Testament.
The first time this word “goyim” is ever used in the Bible is in Genesis chapter 10, where it is used six times in four different verses. Here are these four verses:
By these were the isles of THE GENTILES [Hebrew “goyim”] divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, IN THEIR NATIONS [Hebrew “goyim”]. (Genesis 10:5 AV)
These [are] the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, [and] IN THEIR NATIONS [Hebrew “goyim”]. (Genesis 10:20 AV)
These [are] the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, AFTER THEIR NATIONS [Hebrew “goyim”]. (Genesis 10:31 AV)
These [are] the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, IN THEIR NATIONS [Hebrew “goyim”]: and by these were THE NATIONS [Hebrew “goyim”] divided in the earth after the flood. (Genesis 10:32 AV)
So in these four verses the KJV translators decided to translate “goyim” five times as “nations” and one time as “Gentiles”. Who told them to render “goyim” as “Gentiles” in the first part of verse 5 and then render it as “nations” in the second part of the same verse, as well as in all four of the subsequent uses of “goyim” in that chapter? Why, their own preconceived ideas led them to do this.
But the fact is that the word “goyim” did NOT change its meaning right in the middle of verse 5 of Genesis 10.
imilarly, what led the KJV translators to translate “goyim” as “Gentiles” in 30 places out of the 558 times this word is used in the Old Testament? And what led these translators to render “goyim” as “heathen” in another 143 occurrences? Again, their own preconceived ideas led them to do this. The fact that in over two thirds of all occurrences in the Old Testament (i.e. in 374 out of 558) the translators rendered the word “goyim” as “nation” (or its plural “nations”) should make sufficiently clear that they correctly understood the meaning of this Hebrew word. We can add to this the 11 places where the word is also correctly translated as “people”.
So let’s be consistent. Let’s CONSISTENTLY translate the Hebrew word “goyim” as “GENTILES”, rather than only selectively and subjectively sometimes rendering it as “Gentiles”. Let’s see what that would look like.
Also notice that Genesis 10:31 makes ALL the descendants of Shem “goyim”, GENTILES. The next verse states that ALL the descendants of Noah are “goyim”, GENTILES. Abraham was a descendant of Noah and of Shem, so Abraham is also described by the term “goyim”.
The very next usage of “goyim” is when God was speaking to Abram in Genesis chapter 12.
And I will make of thee a great nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES], and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: (Genesis 12:2 AV)
So here God Himself used the word “goyim” to refer to Abram, saying that his descendants would be “goyim” ... GENTILES! Does it look like GOD ever intended the word “goyim” to be a judgmental word ... like “heathen” or “Gentile”?
But let’s move on to Genesis chapter 17.
As for me, behold, my covenant [is] with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES]. (Genesis 17:4 AV)
So IF God intended the word “goyim” to be a descriptive term for non-Israelites, then WHY DID GOD SAY THAT ABRAHAM WOULD BE A FATHER OF MANY “goyim”?
Notice the next verse.
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] have I made thee. (Genesis 17:5 AV)
Very clearly God is here calling the descendants of Abraham, the twelve tribes of Israel, “goyim”, which is the only Hebrew word that is ever translated as “Gentiles”.
Let’s look at the next verse.
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. (Genesis 17:6 AV)
Could it really be plainer? God in this verse refers to Abraham’s descendants, including kings like David and Hezekiah, as “goyim”, the only Hebrew word for “Gentiles”.
So Israelites are every bit as much “goyim” as are any and all non-Israelites.
A few verses later God speaks about Abraham’s wife Sarah.
And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be [a mother] of nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES]; kings of people shall be of her. (Genesis 17:16 AV)
So Sarah became the mother of “goyim” ... Gentiles!
Let’s move on to the next chapter where God is again speaking to Abraham.
Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation [Hebrew “goyim”], and all the nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] of the earth shall be blessed in him? (Genesis 18:18 AV)
Here God uses EXACTLY the same word to refer to the nations that would spring from Abraham as He does to refer to all the other nations on earth ... and it is the word that is (sometimes) translated as “Gentiles”. This verse shows very clearly that the Hebrew word for “Gentile” applies every whit as much to the nations of Israel as it does to all other nations.
Let’s look at Genesis 25:23 where Rebekah was expecting the twins Esau and Jacob.
And the LORD said unto her, two nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] [are] in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and [the one] people shall be stronger than [the other] people; and the elder shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23 AV)
Here God used the same word for both, the Israelites that would descend from Jacob, and the Edomites that would descend from Esau, and BOTH groups are in God’s eyes “goyim”. Clearly the Israelites are just as much “goyim”, or “Gentiles”, as are the Edomites.
Let’s look at what God said to Jacob.
And God said unto him, I [am] God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation [Hebrew “goyim”] and a company of nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; (Genesis 35:11 AV)
Again, God makes clear that Jacob would be the father of “goyim”, elsewhere translated as “Gentiles”.
When Jacob went down into Egypt God spoke to him again.
And he said, I [am] God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILE]: (Genesis 46:3 AV)
Very obviously it is impossible for the word “goyim” to mean anything like “NON-ISRAELITE”, since Israel was going to become “a great goyim”.
Let’s look at what Jacob under inspiration predicted about Joseph’s son Ephraim.
And his father refused, and said, I know [it], my son, I know [it]: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES]. (Genesis 48:19 AV)
Once Israel had grown into a nation in Egypt and God then led them out of Egypt, God spoke to Moses about the whole nation. Notice what God said.
And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILE]. These [are] the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 19:6 AV)
Notice that statement!
Israel was to become a holy “goyim”. It is hardly appropriate to assume that God ever intended the word “goyim” to be a descriptive term for “all non-Israelites”!
Notice what God said to Moses after Israel had sinned.
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILE]. (Exodus 32:10 AV)
Again, the word “goyim” does not indicate any difference between Israelites and other people.
Notice how Moses responded to God.
Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] [is] thy people. (Exodus 3313 AV)
So Moses himself likewise did not intend the word “goyim” to mean people who were not of Israel. Moses knew that this word very clearly also applies to Israel. The point made in Exodus 32:10 is repeated by Moses in Numbers 14:12 and in Deuteronomy 9:14, where in both cases Moses used the word “goyim” to refer to Israel.
Let’s now look at Deuteronomy 4:6 where Moses was speaking to Israel about obeying God’s laws.
Keep therefore and do [them]; for this [is] your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations (Hebrew “am”, like “ammi”), which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] [is] a wise and understanding people. (Deuteronomy 4:6 AV)
[COMMENT: The Hebrew word “am” means “people”, and with the suffix “i” attached to the word, it becomes “ammi” and means “my people”.]
This is an interesting verse to notice. In the English text we find the word “nation” twice. And Moses used two different Hebrew words here, something that is not apparent from the English text. In referring to the OTHER nations around Israel Moses uses the Hebrew word “am” (see Hosea 2:1 where God refers to Israel as “Ammi”). These are the nations we have typically referred to as “Gentiles”, yet Moses used the Hebrew word “am” to refer to them. Then, when he wanted to refer to Israel, Moses used the word “goyim”, the word also rendered as “Gentiles”. Our perception of would have expected Moses to use these two words THE OTHER WAY AROUND ... using “am” for “Israel” and “goyim” for the other nations. But that’s not how Deuteronomy 4:6 was inspired to be written.
Notice Deuteronomy 26:5.
And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God, A Syrian ready to perish [was] my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES], great, mighty, and populous: (Deuteronomy 26:5 AV)
Moses here said that in Egypt Israel had become a great and mighty “goyim”. Nothing non-Israelite about “goyim” here.
Notice what Moses said in a song shortly before his death.
For they [are] a nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] void of counsel, neither [is there any] understanding in them. (Deuteronomy 32:28 AV)
So Moses said that the people of Israel were a “goyim” lacking in understanding.
Notice what is recorded when Israel crossed the Jordan River.
And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] were passed clean over Jordan. (Joshua 3:17 AV)
In this verse the Bible calls all the people of Israel just as much “Gentiles” as the people of any other nation are “Gentiles”. The next reference says the same thing.
And it came to pass, when all the people [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying ... (Joshua 4:1 AV)
And again in Joshua 5 verses 6 and 8.
For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] [that were] men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. (Joshua 5:6 AV)
And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. (Joshua 5:8 AV)
Verse 6 tells us that all the men of war were “goyim” and verse 8 tells us that the people Joshua circumcised were “goyim”.
THE HEBREW WORD “GOYIM” IS COMMONLY AND REGULARLY APPLIED JUST AS MUCH TO ISRAEL AS IT IS TO ANY OTHER NATION. IF THIS WORD MEANS THAT OTHER NATIONS ARE “GENTILES”, THEN THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL ARE ALSO JUST AS MUCH “GENTILES”!
Let’s move on in Israel’s history.
And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice; (Judges 2:20 AV)
Once again God Himself refers to the people of Israel as “goyim”.
Let’s move on and see something David said in the Psalms.
Blessed [is] the nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] whose God [is] the LORD; [and] the people (Hebrew “ammi” = the people) [whom] he hath chosen for his own inheritance. (Psalms 33:12 AV)
The nations of Israel are the only nations whose God has been the true God and they are the only people God had up to that point in time chosen for His own inheritance. So here we see David using the word “goyim” for the nations of Israel.
Notice further Psalm 82:8.
Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES]. (Psalms 82:8 AV)
So God is going to inherit ALL “goyim”, which must obviously include the “goyim” of Israel.
Notice another psalm.
That I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES], that I may glory with thine inheritance. (Psalms 106:5 AV)
Here David did not hesitate to refer to God’s chosen people as “goyim”, or “Gentiles” if you prefer to translate this word into English.
Let’s notice Solomon’s use of this word in his proverbs.
Righteousness exalteth a nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES]: but sin [is] a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34 AV)
Let’s look at the prophets and how they used this word.
Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] which keepeth the truth may enter in. (Isaiah 26:2 AV)
Verse 1 shows this is a song sung in the land of JUDAH. Thus the righteous “goyim”referred to in verse 2 are JEWS ... they are the ones who live in the land of Judah.
A few verses later the prophet is still speaking to God about the people of Judah. In verse 15 Isaiah wrote:
Thou hast increased the nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES], O LORD, thou hast increased the nation [Hebrew “goyim”]: thou art glorified: thou hadst removed [it] far [unto] all the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 26:15 AV)
Clearly Isaiah did not hesitate to refer to the Jews as “goyim”.
Let’s move on to the prophet Jeremiah. GOD spoke the following words to Jeremiah.
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, [and] I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES]. (Jeremiah 1:5 AV)
The “goyim” that Jeremiah was sent to as a prophet were ISRAELITES! A few verses later God repeated this point.
See, I have this day set thee over the nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant. (Jeremiah 1:10 AV)
Clearly even in the days of Jeremiah God was STILL referring to Israelites as “goyim”. NOTHING ABOUT THIS WORD HAD CHANGED SINCE GOD USED IT OVER 1000 YEARS EARLIER IN SPEAKING TO ABRAHAM!
In Jeremiah chapter 5 God is speaking about the people of Judah (i.e. Israelites). God says:
Shall I not visit for these [things]? saith the LORD: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] as this? (Jeremiah 5:9 AV)
Clearly God views, and always has viewed, the Jewish people as “goyim”. God views ALL HUMAN BEINGS as “goyim”.
Let’s move on to the prophet Ezekiel.
And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, [even] unto this very day. (Ezekiel 2:3 AV)
So in Ezekiel’s time God STILL referred to the children of Israel as “goyim”.
Notice also Ezekiel 35:10.
Because thou hast said, these two nations [Hebrew “goyim” = GENTILES] and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess it; whereas the LORD was there: (Ezekiel 35:10 AV)
In this verse Edom is shown speaking about the two nations of Judah and Israel, and God has Edom refer to both of them as “goyim”. So “goyim”is a word that other nations would also use to refer to the Jews.
Let’s look at the Minor Prophets.
And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation [Hebrew “goyim”]: and the LORD shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. (Micah 4:7 AV)
Here God is speaking about in the future making the Israelite remnant into a strong “goyim”.
In Zephaniah chapter 2 verse 1 seems to be a reference to Israel, and verse 9 is certainly a reference to Israel. Notice:
Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation (Hebrew “goyim”= GENTILES) not desired; (Zephaniah 2:1 AV)
Therefore [as] I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, [even] the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people (Hebrew “am” like “ammi”) shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people [Hebrew “goyim”] shall possess them. (Zephaniah 2:9 AV)
So even here in Zephaniah God still refers to Israel as “the remnant of My goyim”.
Let’s move on to the prophet Haggai.
Then answered Haggai, and said, So [is] this people, and so [is] this nation [Hebrew “goyim”] before me, saith the LORD; and so [is] every work of their hands; and that which they offer there [is] unclean. (Haggai 2:14 AV)
So in the days of Haggai God still referred to the people of Judah as “this goyim”.
Let’s go to the last book of the Old Testament (in the order that we are accustomed to in our English language Bibles), the Book of Malachi. In time sequence Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament to have been written.
Ye [are] cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, [even] this whole nation [Hebrew “goyim”]. (Malachi 3:9 AV)
Right at the very end of the Old Testament God still uses the word “goyim” to refer to the Jews, or even the Church of God if you wish to view this verse as a prophetic statement.
1) I have presented the full text of over 40 different verses, spanning the time from Noah right down to Malachi, which use the Hebrew word “goyim” for the people of Israel. This covers the entire period of Israel’s Old Testament history.
2) It is abundantly clear that God NEVER AT ANY TIME intended this word “goyim” to be used to specifically identify non- Israelites.
3) God Himself commonly and frequently, right to the very end of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures, uses this word “goyim” to refer to Abraham’s descendants ... to Jews and to all Israelites. God also uses this word to refer to all other nations, something for which I did not feel a need to present abundant scriptural support.
4) So when the Old Testament was completed, the Hebrew word “goyim” had NOT YET acquired the judgmental meaning of “Gentiles” or “heathen”, as a way of referring to “people who were non-Israelites” ... even though this is incorrectly inferred by the KJV translators inserting the words “Gentiles” and “heathen” into the English language edition of the O.T. Scriptures.
5) Shortly we’ll examine the New Testament, and exactly the same picture emerges ... that the Greek word sometimes translated as “Gentiles” should really only have been translated as “nation” or as “people” and NOT as “heathen” or as “Gentiles”.
6) The Jews at some point well after the Old Testament had been completed (and they were by then speaking Aramaic rather than Hebrew) changed the meaning of the Hebrew word “goyim” to mean all non-Israelites. It became what we today would call a “slang” expression for “all non-Jews”, obviously with derisive overtones (compare to the way the meaning of the English word “gay” was changed). They did NOT want this word “goyim” to be used in reference to themselves. This is obviously in clear conflict with the way GOD frequently and commonly used this Hebrew word throughout the Old Testament. But slang has a way of ignoring the literal meanings of words and attaching arbitrary new meanings to words.
7) Consider this point: the Hebrew language actually has several different words that mean: stranger, alien, foreigner, sojourner, etc.. The Hebrew words in question include: “ger”, “maguwr”, “towshab”, “nokriy”, “zuwr”, etc.... Some of these Hebrew words would NEVER be applied to Jews or to Hebrew-speaking Israelites ... yet the Jews did NOT select one of these words to convey the concept of “Gentiles”. No, they chose to turn a word that means “nation” and “people” into a slang term meaning “non-Jews”. And they willingly ignore how commonly God Himself used this word “goyim” to refer to them and to their forefathers. It is like modern slang assigning new meanings to words like “cool” and “gay”, which are totally removed from what these words literally mean.
It should be quite clear that in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures we simply do NOT have the word “goyim” set aside to specifically mean “all non-Israelites”. The word “Gentiles” doesn’t really make sense in all the Scriptures I quoted earlier. And neither does it make sense to translate “goyim” as “Gentiles” or as “heathen” in any of the other more than 500 Old Testament Scriptures that I did not quote.
Now before we look at the New Testament word for “Gentiles”, we should clearly keep something in mind. The Greek language also had several different words that mean: foreigner, stranger, alien, etc .... The biblical Greek words here include the following words: “paroikos”, “allotrios”, “allophulos”, etc. .... These words would be applied to non-Greeks. It is, of course, ridiculous to expect the Greek language to have a word that could possibly mean all other human beings EXCEPT THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL”, because the Greeks had no motivation of any kind to ever consider differentiating between Israelites and all other human beings. However, the writers of the books of the New Testament could perhaps have used one of the above words for ”foreigners” to convey the concept of “all non-Israelites”?
But to actually expect the Greek language to have a word that would mean “all non-Israelites” is like expecting the English language to have one specific word that means “all non-Cubans”, or expecting the German language to have one specific word that means “all non-Chinese people”, or expecting the Italian language to have a word that means “all non-Canadians”, etc. Languages simply don’t have such specific words about third parties.
There simply was no word in the Greek language that could possibly mean “all non-Israelites”! Why would the Greek language ever possibly have needed such a word? So when you see the word “Gentile” in your English language New Testament, realize that it cannot possibly be the translation of a Greek word that means “non-Israelite” ... the Greek language did’t have such a word.
Keep in mind also that when the writers of the New Testament wanted to convey something for which the Greek language did not have a word, then they simply made up a Greek word from the Hebrew word that they wanted to convey. This they did to make sure they correctly conveyed what they intended to say. For example, the Greek language originally did not really have a word for “Sabbath”, so they created the Greek word “sabbaton” from the Hebrew word “shabbath”. By this means (i.e. creating a new Greek word from the original Hebrew word) concepts that were foreign to the Greek language could still be accurately expressed. We do the same thing today ... either accepting foreign words into the English language or else anglicizing some foreign words.
Now let’s examine the word “Gentile” in the New Testament.
THE WORD ”GENTILE” IN THE NEW TESTAMENT The Greek New Testament word that is translated as “Gentiles” is “ethnos”. It is used 164 times in 152 different verses in the New Testament. It is in the KJV of the Bible translated by the same four English words that we found used for the Hebrew “goyim”: “nation, people, Gentiles, heathen”. “Ethnos” is translated 93 times as “Gentiles”, 64 times as ”nation”, 5 times as “heathen” and 2 times as ”people”.
[Comment: The Greek word “hellen” is used 27 times in the New Testament. 20 times it is correctly translated as “Greek”. But 7 times in 6 verses it is INCORRECTLY translated in the KJV as “Gentile/s”. We will ignore these 7 obvious mistranslations for the time being.]
It should not come as a surprise that in the Greek language LXX version of the Old Testament the Hebrew word “goyim” is usually represented by this Greek word “ethnos”. The Greek word “ethnos” and the Hebrew word “goyim” mean the same thing.
So let’s see whether in the New Testament this word “ethnos” is used to signify “all non-Israelites” or whether it is also freely used to refer to both, Israelites and members of God’s Church (the “spiritual Israelites”).
Here are a number of places where “ethnos” is used in the New Testament. Again, to show up the folly of attaching the meaning of “Gentiles” (i.e. “all non-Israelites”) to this word “ethnos”, I will consistently render it as “Gentiles” in parenthesis.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations [Greek “ethnos” = GENTILES], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19 AV)
The “nations” where by far the greatest number of people have been baptized are the Israelite nations. In this expression “all nations” Jesus Christ was most assuredly including all the Israelite nations as a part of the “ethnos” (the Greek plural here in this verse is actually “ethne”). Anyway, in this verse the word “ethnos” cannot mean “all non-Israelites”.
And the gospel must first be published among all nations Greek [ethnos” = GENTILES]. (Mark 13:10 AV)
Again, here Jesus Christ certainly included the nations of Israel in “all nations”, or “all Gentiles”.
For he loveth our nation [Greek “ethnos” = GENTILES], and he hath built us a synagogue. (Luke 6:5 AV)
Notice this verse! Here the elders of the Jews were speaking about a Roman centurion, and these elders of the JEWS said to Jesus Christ that this Roman centurion “loves OUR ETHNOS”. So here Jewish leaders did not hesitate to apply the Greek word “ethnos” to themselves! This shows that at that point in time (i.e. during Christ’s ministry!) the Jews still freely referred to themselves as an “ethnos”. Therefore the word obviously could not yet have acquired the meaning of “all non-Israelites”.
And they began to accuse him, saying, we found this [fellow] perverting the nation [Greek “ethnos” = GENTILES], and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King. (Luke 23:2 AV)
Here the leaders of the Jews had brought Jesus Christ before Pontius Pilate and again these Jewish leaders FREELY referred to themselves as an “ethnos”. So again this word obviously cannot mean “all non-Israelites”.
If we let him thus alone, all [men] will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation [ethnos” = GENTILES]. (John 11:48 AV)
Here the chief priest and the leading Pharisees had a meeting, and even amongst themselves they referred to themselves as an “ethnos”. Obviously they did not think “ethnos” meant “all non-Israelites”.
Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation [ethnos” = GENTILES] perish not. (John 11:50 AV)
Here even the High Priest Caiaphas used the word “ethnos” to refer to himself and all the Jewish people. Again there cannot be the meaning of “all non-Israelites”.
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation [ethnos” = GENTILES] and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? (John 18:35 AV)
Here Pontius Pilate used the word “ethnos” to refer to the Jews.
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation [ethnos” = GENTILES] of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. (Acts 10:22 AV)
Here we have the expression “the ethnos of the Jews”. Again “ethnos” cannot mean “all non-Israelites”.
And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse [him], saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation [ethnos” = GENTILES] by thy providence, (Acts 24:2 AV)
Here the High Priest used the services of an orator named Tertullus to accuse the Apostle Paul before the Roman governor Felix. And Tertullus here referred to the Jews as “this ethnos”.
Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation [ethnos” = GENTILES], I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: (Acts 24:10 AV)
In his reply the Apostle Paul also freely used the word “ethnos” to refer to the Jewish nation. Clearly Paul did not feel that this Greek word “ethnos” must somehow mean “all non-Israelites”.
Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation [Greek “ethnos” = GENTILES], and offerings. (Acts 24:17 AV)
Here the Apostle Paul referred to the Jewish nation as “my ethnos”.
My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation [ethnos” = GENTILES] at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; (Acts 26:4 AV)
Before King Agrippa Paul again referred to the Jewish people as “my own ethnos at Jerusalem”. So IF the word “ethnos” is supposed to mean “Gentiles”, THEN the Jews who dwelt at Jerusalem during the time of the early Church were certainly also “Gentiles”.
But when the Jews spake against [it], I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation [ethnos” = GENTILES] of. (Acts 28:19 AV)
In speaking to the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome, Paul again freely used the word “ethnos” to refer to the Jewish nation.
(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations [Greek “ethnos” = GENTILES], before him whom he believed, [even] God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Romans 4:17 AV)
Here Paul is quoting from Genesis 17:5. And Paul translated the Hebrew word “goyim” into Greek as “ethnos”. This should make clear that the Greek word “ethnos” means exactly the same thing as the Hebrew word “goyim”. Paul here confirms that the LXX rendering of “goyim”as “ethnos” in Greek is indeed correct.
Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations [Greek “ethnos” = GENTILES], according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. (Romans 4:18 AV)
So Abraham became the father of many “ethnos”. Clearly “ethnos” refers just as much to all of the nations of Israel as it does to all the other nations. The word “ethnos” most certainly does not in any way imply a distinction between people who are Israelites and those who are non-Israelites.
But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation [Greek “ethnos” = GENTILES], a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: (1 Peter 2:9 AV)
The Apostle Peter is here saying that members of God’s Church, i.e. true Christians, are “a holy ETHNOS”. The word “ethnos” can here hardly have the meaning of “Gentile” as we have so commonly assumed in the past.
And the nations [ethnos” = GENTILES] of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. (Revelation 21:24 AV)
Here we see that after the new heaven and the new earth have been brought about, and when the New Jerusalem has come down to the new earth, the people who have been “saved” and are able to walk into this New Jerusalem are STILL referred to as “ethnos”. So even into the future, at the time of Revelation 21:24, the word “ethnos” is still going to refer to all people, be they Israelites or be they non-Israelites.
We have now looked at over a dozen different verses that make quite clear that the Greek word “ethnos” means exactly the same as the Hebrew word “goyim”, and that “ethnos” also very clearly cannot have the meaning of “all non-Israelites”.
So here is what we have:
NEITHER THE OLD TESTAMENT HEBREW “GOYIM” NOR THE NEW TESTAMENT GREEK “ethnos” SPECIFICALLY MEAN “NON- ISRAELITES”!
So the question is:
Where did we, the people of the churches of God, get the idea that God’s Word has set aside ONE SPECIFIC WORD, “GENTILE”, to mean “all non-Israelites”? This idea clearly does not come from the Bible. So where does it come from? Well, it comes from the Jewish prejudices against the people of other nations. Here is how it happened.
Right throughout the Middle Ages the Latin language Vulgate translation made by Jerome reigned supreme. It had no competition from any other translations amongst the educated people of Europe. All the men who made translations into the English language had “grown up on” the Latin Vulgate version. This was the case even for those scholars who could read Greek.
Now the Latin word Jerome used most commonly for “nation” and for “people” is “gens, gentis”. It is from THIS LATIN WORD that the English translators coined the new English word “gentile”. In Latin this means “a nation” or “a people”. It would even be used for “a family”, “a tribe”, or “a clan” (though the Latin word “familia, familiae” is usually used for “a family”, and the Latin word “natio, nationis” is an alternate word for ”nation”).
Examples of where Jerome translated the Hebrew word “goyim” with the Latin word “gens” include the following verses which we looked at earlier (they all applied to Israel):
Genesis 10:5, 20, 31, 32; Gen 12:2; Gen 17:4, 5, 6; Gen 18:18; Gen 35:11; Gen 46:3; Exodus 19:6; Psalm 33:12; Isaiah 26:2; Jeremiah 1:5, 10; Ezekiel 2:3; Ezekiel 35:10; Micah 4:7; Zeph 2:1, 9; Haggai 2:14; Malachi 3:9.
Jerome obviously also used the word “gens” in other verses of the Old Testament which clearly speak about non-Israelites. But it should be clear from the above list that the Latin word “gens, gentis” (from which our English word “Gentile” has been formed) is frequently used to refer to Israelites in the Old Testament section of the Latin language version of the Bible.
Examples of where Jerome translated the Greek word “ethnos” with the Latin word “gens” include the following verses which we also looked at earlier (also all applying to Israel):
Jerome also obviously used the word “gens” in many other verses of the New Testament which clearly speak about non-Israelites. But again it should be clear from this list that the Latin word “gens, gentis” is frequently used to refer to Israelites in the New Testament section of the Latin language version of the Bible. So the Latin-origin word “Gentile” clearly also applies to Israelites.
Here is what we have:
The Hebrew word “goyim” and the Greek word “ethnos” and the Latin word “gens, gentis” all mean the same thing ... they all mean “a nation” or “a people”. All three words totally disregard the racial or national background the people referred to by these words might have. All three words can and are applied to any and all people, irrespective of their nationality. None of these three words are in any way limited in their meaning to some exclusive segment of humanity (such as, for example, “all non- Israelites”). None of these three words make an inherent judgment, as does for example the English word “heathen”. People designated by any of these three words could indeed be “pagans” or “heathen” ... but they could also equally well be God-fearing people like Abraham ... but these three words of and by themselves give us no clues as to the relationship the people described by these words might have with God.
Now long before the Middle Ages the Jews had accepted the slang use of the Hebrew word “goyim” to mean “all non-Jewish people” or “all non-Israelite people”. By the time the English language translators of the Bible came along this Jewish view was well- known. It was well known that the Jews used the word “goyim”to refer to “all people other than themselves”. It was also known that “goyim”simply means “a nation” or “a people”.
So the translators simply coined a new English word from the Latin word for “a nation” (i.e. from “gens, gentis”) to accommodate this Jewish slang of having a specific word that means “all non-Israelites”. The word they coined is “Gentile”. In their translations of the Bible they reserved this word “Gentile” for this one specific meaning, totally ignoring the actual meaning of the Latin word involved (like the words “cool” and “gay” today totally ignore the literal meanings of these words).
They did not really understand that neither “goyim” in the Old Testament nor yet “ethnos” in the New Testament was ever intended to convey a distinction between “Israelites” and “non-Israelites”. So in placing this new English word “Gentile” into the English language translations of the Bible the translators were using their own biases to decide when to use the words “nation” or “people”, and when to use the words “heathen” or “Gentiles”. They made their own subjective judgments regarding how they would translate the Hebrew word “goyim” and the Greek word “ethnos”.
BUT IN SO DOING THEY SIMPLY PROMOTED THE UNBIBLICAL JEWISH PREJUDICE AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF OTHER NATIONS!
Nowhere does the Bible indicate we are to use different words to refer to Israelites and to non-Israelites. THE CONTEXT will make clear whether we are speaking to or about Israelites, or whether we are speaking to or about non-Israelites, rather than the word “goyim” or the word “ethnos” conveying this distinction.
We need to understand that the word “Gentile” is just as much a derisive term as are words like “Krauts, Kaffirs, Coolies, Wogs, Frogs, Niggers”, etc.. These are all offensive terms of contempt for the people so referred to, and I looked all of them up in “READER’S DIGEST OXFORD COMPLETE WORDFINDER”, copyrighted in 1993. The word “Gentile” is of exactly the same genre.
The “COMPLETE WORDFINDER” also defines the word “GOY” as follows: “plural goyim, slang, sometimes derogatory, a Jewish name for a non-Jew”. It defines the word “GENTILE” as follows: “not Jewish, heathen, slang derogatory goyish”. Notice that this reference work acknowledges that both, “goy” and “Gentile” are slang terms. Slang designations are not intended to be respectful, to put it mildly.
YOU may have thought that “Gentile” is in fact a biblical word, that it is GOD’S WAY of referring to non-Israelites. That’s what I also used to assume. But that is simply not true! Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament uses a specific word to distinguish non-Israelites from Israelites. The truth is that “Gentile” is nothing more than a word of LATIN origin specifically coined to convey the Jewish prejudice against non- Jews.
And no matter how you slice it, you cannot get away from the derogatory aspect of the word “Gentile”. It is nothing more than another word for “heathen”, another derogatory word.
So where do we go from here?
I would suggest the following things:
1) We STOP using the word “Gentile”.
2) Where necessary we refer to people as “Israelites” and as “non-Israelites”.
3) In EVERY biblical verse where we see the words “Gentiles” or “heathen” in the English text, we read either “nation/s” or we read “people”. The singular is best rendered into English as “nation”. That is the correct meaning for these words which are sometimes incorrectly translated as “Gentiles”. The singular (in Hebrew and in Greek) is never used in the Bible to refer to one specific person, even as in English we would never use the word “nation” to refer to one single individual. So the Bible never refers to “a Gentile”.
4) Thus the translators also never at any point translated the singular “goyi” or the singular “ethnos” as ”Gentile”! In the KJV you only find THE PLURAL “Gentiles” used for this Hebrew word and this Greek word. The one exception to this is a gross mistranslation. That is found in Romans 2:9-10, where we have in the KJV the expression: “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile”. The Apostle Paul did NOT say: “to the Jew first and also to the ETHNOS”. The word Paul used in these two verses is “HELLEN”, which really means “GREEK”. Apart from these two instances (Romans 2:9-10) where the word meaning “a Greek” is mistranslated as “Gentile”, you do not find the singular “GENTILE” anywhere in the entire Bible (KJV).
Thus even in the KJV nowhere are individual people referred to as “Gentiles” (excluding the obvious mistranslation in Romans 2). Expressions like “he’s a gentile” and “the gentile Nebuchadnezzar” and “what do you expect from a bunch of gentiles?”, etc. are never found or even hinted at in the Bible ... such expressions can at best be described as condescending, and that is just not the way God inspired the Bible to be written. Yet some people in the Church have traditionally laced their speaking very heavily with the term “gentiles” in reference to specific individuals. We need to recognize their speaking for what it is ... condescending.
[COMMENT: The KJV translation of “hellen” as “Gentile” when the word very obviously means “a Greek” is a clear example of THE BIAS those translators had on certain issues. There was simply no excuse for them to render the word “hellen” as “gentile”. Clearly they were not translating the Greek word ”hellen”; they were only INTERPRETING this word through their own biased spectacles. Other examples of their bias are often more subtle.]
5) If YOU think you are racially of an Israelite background, realize that God throughout the Bible refers to your forefathers as “goyim”, and the New Testament refers to you as “ethnos”. Beware of pride. God never at any time uses a different word to refer to non-Israelites than He uses to refer to the people of Israel.
6) If you know you are racially of a non-Israelite background, don’t let others in your presence get away with speaking about “Gentiles”. Either explain the facts to them, or respond with something like: “Gentiles ...? Oh, you mean people like Abraham and the sons of Israel? Is that what you mean by ‘Gentiles?’” Or you could reply with: ”do you mean Gentiles like yourself and all the tribes of Israel?” Understand that the word “Gentile”(“goyim”in Hebrew) is used by the Jews to express contempt for other nations, including you, even as words like “Krauts, Coolies, Wogs”, etc. are used to express contempt for the people so referred to.
7) To anyone who replies: “I am an Israelite and NOT a Gentile”, you could say something like: “Really? Can you tell me WHY God told Abraham that he would be the father of many ‘Goyim?’ Is there a difference between ‘Goyim’ and ‘Goyim’, since all the descendants of Abraham are ‘Goyim’ as are also all other people?”
8) Don’t perpetuate and don’t put up with the derogatory slang term “Gentiles”. Keep in mind that God never at any time, from Noah to the Book of Revelation, spanning over 2000 years of human history, chose to limit one specific word to mean “all non-Israelites”. And if God did’t do that, maybe you shouldn’t either?
I in no way mean to imply that the Jews are more derogatory towards non-Jews than any other people are derogatory towards anyone who is not one of them. This is not a Jewish problem, but a human problem. Speaking for myself, we Germans have just as many ways of expressing contempt for non-Germans as do the Jews towards non-Jews. Many people in many different nations have found ways to express pride in themselves and contempt for people from other nations. The offensive terms I quoted earlier from the “COMPLETE WORDFINDER” are a very small sample that illustrates this. It is a human problem to think negatively of those who are not a part of “us”, whoever “us” may be. “Gentiles” is a typical example of this.
However, in the case of this Jewish bias against non-Jews it has actually impacted on how we in the Church of God view non- Israelites. This Jewish bias managed to slip into the English language translations of the Bible without being correctly identified. And to most of us this bias has not really been apparent. I myself was totally unaware of it until about two weeks ago, when some research into a totally different subject forcefully brought the facts about “Gentiles” to my attention. Understand the motivation behind WHY the Jews came to refer to “the goy” and “the goyim”, even when God Himself repeatedly uses this very same word to refer to them.
For several years I have posted a selection of Frank’s many articles, (naturally, the ones I really liked) that were only available to those on his own email list. Others posted some of his other articles. Now, since I believe early 2005, he has his own web site. I always post links.