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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Gentiles (2)

GENTILES.—In AV of the Gospels, ‘Gentiles’ and ‘nations’ are the translations of ἕθνη, RV agreeing with the rendering of AV in every place of the word’s occurrence. In Mt 6:7 (ἐθνικοί) and 18:17 (ἐθνικός) AV has ‘heathen’ and ‘a heathen man’ respectively; RV ‘Gentiles’ and ‘the Gentile.’ In Mt 5:47, where AV has τελῶναι, ‘publicans,’ RV with the reading ἐθνικοί has ‘Gentiles.’ Ἔλληνες, occurring in John only, is rendered ‘Greeks’ in 12:20 RV and AV; in 7:35 RV has ‘Greeks,’ AV ‘Gentiles,’ with, however, ‘Greeks’ in the margin. Ἑλληνίς (Mk 7:26) is translated ‘a Greek’ in both versions, but AV has ‘Gentile’ in the margin. The very wide diffusion of the Greek language after the conquests of Alexander the Great was the reason that in our Lord’s day ‘Greek’ was often used as an equivalent for ‘Gentile.’ See Greeks. The word ‘Gentiles,’ from the Lat. gentilis (adjective of gens, pl. gentes, ‘a race,’ ‘people,’ or ‘nation’), is used in the Vulgate to render the Heb. נּוֹיִם and the Gr. ἔθνη, and has thus passed into English.

For a full discussion of the term ‘Gentiles,’ reference must be made to the Bible Dictionaries. It is only necessary here to allude to the origin and use of the expression in the OT. Just as ἔθνος in the Gospels, as a rule (for an exception see Matthew 21:43), means the Jewish nation, and ἔθνη the nations other than Jewish, so in the OT נּוֹי (ï), as a rule (for an exception see Leviticus 20:23), stands for the former and the pl. נּוֹיִם (ïm) for the latter; and whilst often used in its purely ethnographical and geographical sense, with the meaning ‘foreigner,’ it is also constantly employed, especially in the Psalms, as a term of aversion and contempt, as connoting the practice of false religions and of immoral customs. The material and moral evils which the ïm had brought upon Israel in its later history tended to intensify the feelings of hostility with which the Jews looked out upon them from their own religious exclusiveness; and accordingly, in our Lord’s day and in the generations following (see Acts and the Epistles ), they were regarded by the Jews generally as aliens, having no claim whatever to the Divine recognition. This must be borne in mind when estimating our Lord’s teaching on the subject.

A full consideration of the attitude of early Christianity towards the Gentiles requires a study of the Acts and Epistles at least, and is beyond the scope of this article: our Lord’s teaching, however, afterwards developed by His followers, is quite plainly indicated in the Gospels, and must form the basis of any adequate discussion of the subject.

The fact that Jesus did not pass His youth in the religiously exclusive atmosphere of Jerusalem, but in the freer and more liberal surroundings of semi-Gentile Galilee, fits in with the prophetic word of Simeon at the Presentation, and the declarations of His forerunner: He was to be ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’ (Luke 2:32); and, God was able to raise up to Abraham children (Luke 3:8) who could not boast any natural descent from the patriarch. St. Matthew, although according to the usual account of his standpoint he had no especially Gentile proclivities, records two important prophetic utterances regarding the Gentiles as being illustrated and fulfilled in his Master’s work: ‘Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up’ (Luke 4:15-16), and, ‘In his name shall the Gentiles trust’ (Luke 12:21). At the beginning of His ministry, if we accept St. Luke’s chronology (see Naaman), Jesus defied the Jewish prejudices of His hearers in the synagogue at Nazareth by citing cases of Gentiles blessed through the agency of Israel’s prophets (Luke 4:25 ff.); and, when driven from His native town, He took up His abode in a city of despised Galilee which belonged to that less Jewish portion of it known as ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matthew 4:15). Moreover, it was in the same Gentile-infected Galilee that the most important part of His ministry was carried on, and He even went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24), and also taught and healed those who came to Him from thence, together with those who sought Him from Decapolis (Matthew 4:25), and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan (Mark 3:8); nor did He disdain to remain on one occasion for two days among the Samaritans at their request (John 4:40). In His public teaching He showed no prejudice in favour of the Jews in His assignment of praise and blame: the grateful leper whom He blessed was a Samaritan (Luke 17:16 ff.); it was a good Samaritan who was set forth as an example in one of His most famous parables (Luke 10:30 ff.); and He commended the faith of the centurion as being greater than any He had found in Israel (Matthew 8:10). On the other hand, the evil generation of whom the Pharisees were representatives, He declared should be condemned in the judgment by Gentiles, the men of Nineveh and the queen of Sheba (Matthew 12:41 f.); and, setting the seal to the teaching of His forerunner, He asserted in effect that the true children of Abraham were those who did the deeds of Abraham, and were not necessarily those who were naturally descended from him (John 8:39 ff.). In the Sermon on the Mount the same broad and world-wide outlook is manifested: there is hardly anything of importance in that great discourse which is local or temporary—it is obviously for all men and for all time. With this, too, coincides the teaching of His many parables about the Kingdom of heaven and that recorded in the Fourth Gospel—in this Gospel particularly all His utterances are in accord with His declaration to the Samaritan woman concerning the true worshippers (John 4:23), and with the impression produced on the Samaritans that He was the Saviour of the world (John 4:42); for in this Gospel especially His words of warning, of encouragement, and of hope embrace all mankind: ‘God so loved the world … that whosoever believeth … shall have eternal life’ (John 3:16). And, finally, at the end of His ministry, in the allegory of the sheep and the goats, spoken exclusively with reference to Gentiles, He applies to those on the right hand the word ‘righteous,’ which in the Jewish language was so often the technical term to designate only the chosen people (Matthew 25:37).

There are two passages in the Gospels which demand a passing notice, as they might seem at first sight to be in opposition to our Lord’s usual attitude towards the Gentiles. One is His saying to the Syrophœnician woman, ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 15:24); and the other is His injunction to the Twelve, ‘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’ (Matthew 10:5; Matthew 10:8). In the first case there is little doubt that our Lord’s words were intended to test or to call forth the woman’s faith, and are not to be understood as implying any unwillingness on His part to assist her (see Syrophœnician Womam). And in the second case we are to notice that the prohibition was laid upon the Twelve only, and had no application to His own conduct; and, further, that the prohibition was distinctly removed by Him after the Resurrection in the great commission recorded in Matthew 28:19 ‘Go ye therefore and teach all nations’ [in Mark 16:15 ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’], and in Acts 1:6 ‘Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ And there are other passages, such as Matthew 24:14; Matthew 26:13, from which it is plain that our Lord contemplated the world-wide preaching of the gospel by His followers, the fulfilment, in fact, of the ancient prediction to the father of the faithful: ‘In thy seed shall all the nations (goiïm) of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 22:18). See Missions.

Literature.—Grimm-Thayer and Cremer, Lexx. s.v. ἔθνος; art. ‘Gentiles’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and Encyc. Bibl.; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 51–56, 299–305, ii. 291–327; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Index, s. ‘Gentiles.’

Albert Bonus.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gentiles (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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