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Holman Bible Dictionary
The doctrine of election in which Israel became a holy nation (Exodus 19:16; Leviticus 19:2 ) among the nations by the covenant at Sinai draws attention to the fact that no other nation has such a God or such laws. The writer of Deuteronomy forbad communion with the nations (Deuteronomy 7:3 ,Deuteronomy 7:3,7:6 ,Deuteronomy 7:6,7:16 ). The Old Testament noted the filthy ways (Ezra 6:21 ) and worship abominations (2 Kings 16:3 ) of the nations.
Affliction by other nations increased tension between Israel and the nations which gave rise to invoking curses on the nations in the Psalms (Psalm 9:1; Psalm 59:1; Psalm 137:1 ). The ultimate punishment of Israel for disobedience was being scattered among the nations.
According to the prophets, the nations were under God's control and were unconsciously being used (Isaiah 10:5-7 ); but in turn would be punished (Isaiah 10:12-16 ). Joel depicted the judgment of the nations who had abused Israel in the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12-16 ).
Solomon's prayer of dedication made clear that the door was never closed to the foreigner who wished to serve the Lord (1 Kings 8:41-43 ), and prophetic words and some Psalms depict the nations gathering to worship the God of Jacob (Psalm 86:9; Psalm 102:15-17; Isaiah 2:2-4; Zephaniah 3:9-10 ).
The Lord is the sole God of all peoples (Isaiah 45:22-24 ). Israel's mission was to bring justice (Isaiah 42:1 ) and light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6 ).
Jesus' ministry is interpreted in the Gospels in terms of Old Testament expectations for the Gentiles. He was a light to the Gentiles (Matthew 4:16-17; Luke 2:32 ). Though Jesus directed His work to Jews (Matthew 15:24 ) and at first limited His disciples to them (Matthew 10:5 ), He threatened that the kingdom would be taken from the Jews and given to a nation bringing its fruits (Matthew 21:43 ). Though Jesus was crucified by Gentiles (Matthew 20:19 ), equal blame is placed on both Gentiles and Jews (Acts 4:27 ).
Following the resurrection of Jesus, the commission included “all nations” (Matthew 28:19 ). The judgment scene in Jesus' parable envisioned “all nations” gathered before the glorious throne (Matthew 25:31-32 ). The promises included all those afar off (Acts 2:39 ). At the house of Cornelius, the Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45; Acts 11:1 ,Acts 11:1,11:18; Acts 15:7 ). The apostolic gathering in Jerusalem, by the apostolic letter, freed Gentiles from obedience to the law (Acts 15:19; compare Acts 21:19 ,Acts 21:19,21:21 ,Acts 21:21,21:25 ).
In the apostolic preaching the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18 ) found fulfillment (Galatians 3:8 ). Though in times past the Gentiles had been without God (Ephesians 2:12-22 ), God in Christ broke through all boundries. Paul, sent to preach among the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Acts 22:21; Acts 26:17; Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:9 ) was in perils (2 Corinthians 11:26 ). When rejected in the synagogues, he turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46; Acts 18:6; Acts 28:28 ), understanding his work in the light of Old Testament predictions (Acts 13:47-48; Romans 15:9-12 ). As the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8-9 ), claiming that in Christ racial distinctions were obliterated (Galatians 3:28 ), Paul proclaimed an equal opportunity of salvation (Romans 1:16; Romans 9:24; Colossians 3:11; compare Acts 26:20 ,Acts 26:20,26:23 ). Gentiles were the wild branches in the allegory grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:16-25 ).
The New Testament records the repetitions in prayer by the Gentiles (Matthew 6:7 ), their occupation with material concerns (Matthew 6:32 ), their raging against the Lord (Acts 4:25 ), and their domineering rulers (Matthew 20:25 ). The recalcitrant Christian brother is to be considered as the heathen (Matthew 18:17 ).
Unbelieving Gentile standards fell short of Christian ones (Romans 1:18-32; Galatians 2:14; 1 Peter 4:3 ). The cross was folly to them (1 Corinthians 1:23 ); they were sexually immoral (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ), and sacrificed to demons (1 Corinthians 10:20 ). Nevertheless, those who believe are justified by faith (Galatians 3:8 ). By the cross the hostility is ended (Ephesians 2:11-17 ). Abraham has become the spiritual father of all nations (Romans 4:17 ).
Paul experienced great resentment among the Jews because of the opportunity he was offering the Gentiles (Romans 2:15-16 ). Nevertheless, in New Testament thought, the church made up of Jew and Gentile was the holy nation, God's own people (1 Peter 2:9 ).
The apocalypse with its shifting views, depicts a redeemed multitude of all nations (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9 ), and the One who overcomes has power over the nations (Revelation 2:26 ), Babylon (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 18:2 ,Revelation 18:2,18:23 ), the beast (Revelation 13:4 ), and the harlot (Revelation 17:15 ) are the deceivers of the nations. The devil is bound to deceive them no more (Revelation 20:3 ). All nations come to worship (Revelation 15:4 ) One born to rule with a rod of iron (Revelation 12:5 ). In the closing scenes of the book the nations walk in the light of the lamp of the Lamb; the glory of the nations is brought into the city (Revelation 21:23-24 ,Revelation 21:23-24,21:26 ); the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2 ).
Jack P. Lewis
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Gentiles'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/g/gentiles.html. 1991.