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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(usually in the plur. גּוֹיַם, goyim'; Sept. and N.T. ἔθνη). The Hebrew word גּוֹי, a people, is derived from the obsolete verb גָּתָה, to flow together, as a crowd, and was originally used in a general sense of any nation, including the Jews themselves, both in the singular (Genesis 12:2; Deuteronomy 32:28; Isaiah 1:4), and in the plural (Genesis 35:11). It is also used poetically (like the Gr. ἔθνεα, Hom. 11. 2:87; Od. 14:73, and the Latin gentes, Virg. Georg. 4:430) of insects and animals (Joel 1:6; Zephaniah 2:14).

But as the sense of a peculiar privilege dawned on the minds of the Jewish people, they began to confine the word גּוֹיַם to other nations (Nehemiah 5:8), and although at first it did not connote any unpleasant associations, it began gradually to acquire a hostile sense, which never attached itself to the other terms, לְשׁוֹנוֹת tongues (Isaiah 66:18), or

הִעִמַּים, the peoples. In proportion as the Jews began to pride themselves upon being "the first-born of God" (Exodus 4:22), "the people of the covenant," "a holy nation, and a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:4), they learned to use the indifferent expression Goyim to imply that all other nations were more or less barbarous (Psalms 2:1; Psalms 2:8; Psalms 9:7; Psalms 10:16; Psalms 106:47), profane (Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 23:30), idolatrous, uncircumcised, and unclean (Isaiah 52:1; Jeremiah 9:26). Thus age after age the word became more invidious, and acquired a significance even more contemptuous than that of the Greek βάρβαρος, which, being an onomatopoeia to imitate the strange sound of foreign tongues, is paralleled by the Hebrew לָעֵג לָעֵז, a staemm erer, applied to foreigners in Psalms 114:1; Isaiah 28:11; Isaiah 33:19. The word גּוֹיַם gains its last tinge of hatred as applied by Jews to all Christians. Other expressions, intended to point out the same distinction, are used with a shade less of scorn; such, for instance, as הִחַיצוֹנַים (see Buxtorf, Lex. col. 723), ἔξω , those without, which is Hebraistically used in the N.T. (1 Timothy 3:9. See Otho, Lex. Rab. page 111; Schittgen, Hor. Hebr. in 1 Corinthians 5:12. In Mark 4:11 it is applied to the incredulous Jews themselves); and מִמְלְכוֹת, kingdoms (1 Chronicles 29:30). The Jews applied the terms אֲרָצוֹת, lands, and, according to some Rabbis, מְרַינִת תִיָּם, region of the sea, to all countries except Palestine, just as the Greeks distinguished between Hellas and βάρβαρος (2 Chronicles 13:9 to 2 Chronicles 17:10; Ezra 9:1; Luke 12:30; Lightfoot, Centuria Chorogr. 1, ad init.). Although the Jews thus separated between themselves and other nations, they hesitated as little as the Romans did to include themselves in the Greek term βάρβαρος (Josephus, Ant. 11:7, 1; comp. Justin Mar. Apol. 1:46). (See BARBARIAN).

In the N.T. ἔθνη (although sometimes used in the singular of the Jewish nation, Acts 10:22; Luke 7:5) is generally opposed to Israel (τῷ λαῷ Θεοῦ ), God's people (Luke 2:32). But the term most frequently thus rendered is (not ἔθνη , but) ῞Ελληνες, which is distinguished from ῾Ελληνισταί (Acts 6:1), and, although literally meaning Greeks (as in Acts 16:1; Acts 16:3; Acts 18:17; Romans 1:14), yet usually denotes any non- Jews, because of the general prevalence of the Greek language (Romans 1:16, and passim; 1 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 3:28, etc.). Thus Timothy, who was of Lystra, is called "῞Ελλην (Acts 16:1; Acts 16:3), and a Syrophoenician woman ῾Ελληνίς (Mark 7:26), and the Jews of the Dispersion, διασπορὰ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων (John 7:35). This usage is even found in the apocryphal writings, where ἑλληνισμός is made a synonym to ἀλλοφυλισμός (2 Maccabees 4:13), and ra τὰ ἑλληνικὰ ἔθη are pagan morals (6:9); and even so early as the Sept. version of Isaiah 9:12, ἕλληνες is adopted as a rendering of פְּלַשְׁתַּים, Philistines. In the Greek fathers ῾Ελληνισμός is used for the pagan, in contradistinction to the Christian world (Justin Mart. Resp. ad Qucest. 42, etc.), and they call their Apologies Λᾠγοι πρὸς ῞Ελληνας, or κατὰ ῾Ελλήνων (Schleusner, Lex. N.T. 2:759). (See GREEK).

It was perhaps impossible for the Jews, absorbed as they were in the contemplation of their own especial mission, to rise into any true or profound conception of the common brotherhood of all nations. Hedged round by a multitude of special institutions, and taught to regard the non- observance of these customs as a condition of uncleanness, imbued, too, with a blind and intense national pride-they often seem to regard the heathen as only existing at all for the purpose of punishing the apostasy of Judaea (Deuteronomy 28:49; 1 Kings 8:33, etc.), or of undergoing vengeance for their enmity towards her (Isaiah 63:6). The arrogant, unreasoning hatred towards other nations, generated by too exclusive a brooding upon this partial and narrow conception, made the Jews the most unpopular nation of all antiquity (Tacitus, Hist. 5:2; "gens teterrima," ib. 5:8; Juvenal, Sat. 14:103; Quint. Just. 3:7, 21; Pliny, 13:9; Diod. Sic. Ecl. 34; Dio Cass. 68:32; Philostr. Apolog. 5:33; Ammian. Marcel. 22:5, "faetentes, Judaei," etc., "contrary to all men," 1 Thessalonians 2:15). (See JEW).

This disgust and scorn unfortunately fell on the early Christians also, who were generally confused With the Jews until the time of Bar- Cochba (Tacit. Ann. 15:44; Sueton. Claud. 25; Ner. 16). To what lengths the Jews were carried in reciprocating this bitter feeling may be seen in the writings of the-Rabbins-; the Jews did not regard the Gentiles as brethren, might not journey with them, might not even save them when in peril of death (Maimonides, Rozeach. 4:12, etc.), and held that they would all be destroyed and burned at the Messiah's coming (Otho, Lex. Rabbin. s.v. Gentes, page 231; Eisenmenger, Entdeckt. Judent. 2:206 sq.). There is the less excuse for this violent bigotry, because the Jews not only held that all nations sprang from one father (Genesis 10), but had also received abundant prophecies that God was but leaving his heathen children in temporary darkness (Acts 14:16), and intended hereafter, in his mercy, to bring them under the Messiah's scepter, and make them "one fold, under one shepherd" (Isaiah 60:2, and passim; Micah 4:1; Zephaniah 3:9; Psalm 45:18; 110:1, etc.). The main part of the N.T. history is occupied in narrating the gradual breaking down of this μεσότοιχον τοῦ φραγμοῦ (the strong barrier of immemorial prejudice which separated Jew sand Gentile, Ephesians 2:14), first in the minds of the apostles, and then of their converts. The final triumph over this obstacle was mainly due to the inspired ministry of him who gloried in the title of διδάσκαλος τῶν ἔθνων (1 Timothy 2:7; see Conybeare and Howson, 1:219 sq.), who has also given, in a few pregnant sentences, the most powerful description of the blessings which God had granted to the Gentiles, the means of serving him which they possessed, and the shameless degeneracy which had ensued on their neglect of the natural law, written on their consciences (Romans 1, 18-32). (See HEATHEN).

In one or two places the words גּוֹיַם and ἔθνη are used as proper names. Thus we have "Tidal, king of nations," i.e., of several conquered tribes (Genesis 14:1-2; Kalisch, ad loc.). In Joshua 12:23 we find "the king of the nations of Gilgal," where Goyî m is possibly the name of some local tribe (βασιλεὺς παμφυλίας, Interpr. Anon.). In Judges 4:2, "Harosheth of the Gentiles" probably received its name from the mixture of races subjugated by Jabin, and settled in the north of Palestine (Donaldson, Jashar, page 263). (See HAROSETH). The same mixture of Canaanites, Phcenicians, Syrians, Greeks, and Philistines, originated the common expression "Galilee of the Gentiles," גְּלַיל הִגּוֹיַם, Sept. Γαλιλαία ἀλλοφύλων v. r. τῶν ἔθνων, Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:15 (Strabo, 16:760; Josephus, Life, 12; Euseb. Onom. s.v.). (See GALILEE).

On the various meanings of the phrase Isles of the Gentiles" (אַיֵּי הִגּוֹיַם, Genesis 10:5; Zephaniah 2:11; Ezekiel 27:15, etc.), see Gesenius, Thesaurus, pages 38, 272, and ISLE. On the Court of the Gentiles, (See TEMPLE,) and Josephus, War, 6:3.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Gentile'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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