How Should we Approach the Term “Gentile”?
This article has been excerpted from J.K. McKeeâ€™s book Israel in Future Prophecy, and has been used with permission of the author.
Question: I am a non-Jewish Believer in the Messianic movement, and I am a bit disturbed at how I have encountered various Jewish Believers in my midst use the term â€œGentile.â€ I am not at all trying to be ethnically or culturally Jewish in following Torah, even though I respect my fellow Jewish brothers and sisters, but I get a sense that the term â€œGentileâ€ is being used with some negative or pejorative sense. Is it not true that the term â€œGentileâ€ can actually mean â€œpaganâ€? Can you help me?
If you are a non-Jewish Believer within todayâ€™s Messianic movement, and have encountered the term â€œGentileâ€ being used in a less-than-neutral sense, then you are not at all alone. Many non-Jews in various Messianic quarters have seen the term â€œGentileâ€ used in a disparaging or negative sense. There are some important dynamics of this which need to be considered, regarding the contemporary speech of todayâ€™s Messianic Believers, as well as some little known facts from Biblical Studies regarding the Hebrew and Greek terms, often rendered as â€œGentile(s),â€ which sit behind our English translations of the Bible. As it regards the common term â€œGentile(s),â€ todayâ€™s broad Messianic community is significantly hampered by a lack of understanding the great importance of employing some degree of inclusive language in the terms it employs to speak of people, in general, which goes well beyond non-Jewish people groups.
Goy and Ethnos: â€œGentileâ€ or â€œNationâ€?
In order to properly consider the issue surrounding the English term â€œGentile,â€ every Bible reader needs to know the underlying Hebrew and Greek terms appearing in the source text, which are commonly rendered as such. We need to have appropriate definitions of the Hebrew word goy (×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™) and Greek word ethnos (á¼”Î¸Î½Î¿Ï‚), and have a good idea of how they were used in their original contexts.
The common Hebrew word that one will encounter, sometimes rendered as â€œGentileâ€ in older versions like the KJV, is the term goy (×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™). Its plural form, and possibly more common usage that you will encounter is goyim (×’Ö¼×•Öº×™Ö´×). The HALOT lexicon indicates that it relates to â€œpeopleâ€¦whole population of a territory; ×¢Ö¸× [am] rather stresses the blood relationship,â€ â€œnation,â€ â€œoften the pagan peoples as opposed to Israelâ€¦the â€˜heathen,â€™â€ â€œpeople=persons.â€ The BDB lexicon states how goy means â€œnation, people,â€ â€œspec. of descendants of Abraham,â€ â€œdefinitely of Israel.â€
Witnessed in the Hebrew Tanach, goy/goyim has a wide array of uses. In its most neutral sense, goy/goyim means nation/nations. This can relate to the masses of Planet Earth, those outside of the bloodlines of Israel, the enemies of Israel, sheer pagans and idolaters, and it can even relate to the people of Israel itself. Regarding the progeny of Abraham, the Patriarch was told by God, â€œI will make you a great nation [goy gadol, ×œÖ°×’Ö¹Ö£×•×™ ×’Ö¸Ö¼×“Ö¹Ö”×•×œ], and I will bless you, and make your name greatâ€ (Genesis 12:2). The assembly of the Ancient Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai was told by the Lord, â€œyou shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation [goy qadosh, ×•Ö°×’Ö¹Ö£×•×™ ×§Ö¸×“Ö¹Ö‘×•×©×]â€ (Exodus 19:6). The term goyim can even relate to the tribes of Israel, as Ezekiel 2:3 states, â€œI send you to the Children of Israel, to the rebellious nations [el-goyim, ×Ö¶×œÖ¾×’Ö¹Ö¼×•×™Ö´Ö¥×] that have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have defiantly sinned against Me; they and their fathers have defiantly sinned against Me to this very dayâ€ (ATS). Context in a Tanach passage where goy/goyim appears, ultimately determines the different contours of what is intended by its usage.
The Greek equivalent term for the Hebrew goy (×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™) is ethnos (á¼”Î¸Î½Î¿Ï‚), and is used fairly consistently in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Tanach to render goy/goyim. The BDAG lexicon indicates how â€œ(Ï„á½°) á¼”Î¸Î½Î· [(ta) ethnÄ“ are] people groups foreign to a specific people groupâ€ which â€œcorresp. to Heb. ×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™Ö´Ö½× [goyim] in LXX; a nationalistic expression.â€ Being concerned with both Biblical and classical usages of ethnos, the LS lexicon offers us with a variety of definitions, including: â€œa number of people accustomed to live together, a company, body of men,â€ â€œa nation, people,â€ â€œthe nations, Gentiles, i.e. all but Jews and Christians.â€ TDNT further observes that ethnos can mean â€œâ€˜mass,â€™ â€˜multitude,â€™ â€˜host,â€™ and may be used for a â€˜herdâ€™ or â€˜swarmâ€™ as well as a human group.â€
Unlike how the Hebrew goy/goyim is most always rendered in modern versions by the neutral nation/nations, usages of ethnos may considerably vary. Among modern versions ethnos will be translated as both â€œGentile(s)â€ and â€œnation(s).â€ And it should not go unnoticed that in the LXX, when Ancient Israel was originally called in the Hebrew to be a goy qadosh (×•Ö°×’Ö¹Ö£×•×™ ×§Ö¸×“Ö¹Ö‘×•×©×) in Exodus 19:6, in the Greek it reads with ethnos hagion (á¼”Î¸Î½Î¿Ï‚ á¼…Î³Î¹Î¿Î½). Just like with goy/goyim, context in a New Testament passage will determine what is intended by ethnos. Yet unlike goy/goyim, which modern versions tend to leave as nation/nations, we have the added complexity of seeing ethnos rendered in at least two different ways. This can, with some important passages, likely make reviewing their intended meaning(s) a bit more complicated.
Various general theological resources, in their entry for â€œGentiles,â€ have noted some of the translation issues for goy/goyim and ethnos, that each of us needs to be conscious of when reading a English translation, and considering the source vocabulary:
- Bakerâ€™s Dictionary of Theology: â€œThe Hebrew gÃ´yim [×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™Ö´Ö½×] designates non-Jewish peoples, rendered by the AV as â€˜nationsâ€™ or â€˜heathen,â€™ by the RV frequently as â€˜Gentiles.â€™ The â€˜people,â€™ â€˜am [×¢Ö¸×], is usually confined to Israel. The LXX makes a similar distinction between ethnos [á¼”Î¸Î½Î¿Ï‚] and laos [Î»Î±ÏŒÏ‚]â€¦â€
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: â€œThe Heb. gÃ´y [×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™] is rendered â€˜Gentilesâ€™ in the AV in some thirty passages, but much more frequently â€˜heathen,â€™ and still more often â€˜nation,â€™ which is the usual rendering in later versions; but it is commonly used for a non-Israelite people, and thus corresponds to the meaning of â€˜Gentiles.â€™..In the NT Gk. ethnos [á¼”Î¸Î½Î¿Ï‚] is the word corresponding to gÃ´y [×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™] (usually rendered â€˜Gentilesâ€™ by the English versions)â€¦The AV also renders Gk. HellÄ“nes [á¼Î»Î»Î·Î½ÎÏ‚] â€˜Gentilesâ€™ in six passages, but the RSV renders â€˜Greeksâ€™ throughout.â€
A notable definition of the Greek ethnos (á¼”Î¸Î½Î¿Ï‚) that need not overlook us, in evaluating this term, is provided by BDAG: â€œthose who do not belong to groups professing faith in the God of Israel, the nations, gentiles, unbelievers (in effect=â€˜polytheistsâ€™).â€ This is a lexical definition where substantiation for viewing the nations/Gentiles in the Greek Apostolic Scriptures as â€œpagans,â€ would find some support. And indeed, in places like 1 Corinthians 5:1; 10:20, where a version like the NASU has â€œGentiles,â€ the RSV and NIV has â€œpagansâ€:
â€œIt is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles [en tois ethnesin, á¼Î½ Ï„Î¿á¿–Ï‚ á¼”Î¸Î½ÎµÏƒÎ¹Î½], that someone has his father’s wifeâ€¦No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice [hoti ha thuousin, á½…Ï„Î¹ á¼ƒ Î¸ÏÎ¿Ï…ÏƒÎ¹Î½; lit. â€˜that what they sacrifice,â€™ HCSB], they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demonsâ€ (1 Corinthians 5:1; 10:20, NASU).
â€œIt is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wifeâ€¦No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demonsâ€ (1 Corinthians 5:1; 10:20, RSV).
â€œIt is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wifeâ€¦ No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demonsâ€ (1 Corinthians 5:1; 10:20, NIV).
One can easily see why versions like the RSV and NIV would choose to render ethnos as â€œpagan(s)â€ in the verses above (other verses that could be considered include 1 Thessalonians 4:5; 1 Peter 4:3). Yet at the same time, one can see a figure like the Apostle Paul say things in terms of â€œI am speaking to you who are Gentilesâ€ (Romans 11:13), â€œthe Gentiles in the fleshâ€ (Ephesians 2:11), â€œI, Paul, [am] the prisoner of Messiah Yeshua for the sake of you Gentilesâ€ (Ephesians 3:1)â€”all verses that employ the Greek ethnos. However, Paul would also instruct non-Jewish Believers, â€œSo this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk [CJB: do not live any longer as the pagans live], in the futility of their mindâ€ (Ephesians 4:17).
The issue regarding the Greek ethnos (á¼”Î¸Î½Î¿Ï‚), ultimately to be realized, is that while varied English translations can be found rendering it as â€œGentile(s),â€ â€œnation(s),â€ or even â€œpagan(s)â€â€”when the various Apostolic letters and documents were composed, they all used a single term. Readers and speakers in the First Century Mediterranean world could figure out, either because of how ethnos rendered goy/goyim in the Septuagint translation of the Tanach, or how it was used in the marketplace and on the streetâ€”what was really intended. In the English-speaking world, with our diverse vocabulary, we have to read the Apostolic Writings with some care. For some reason or another, many English Bibles have chosen to render ethnos as both â€œGentile(s)â€ and â€œnation(s),â€ making somewhat of a value judgment for their readers. (Two notable exceptions to this, where ethnos is consistently rendered by the rather neutral nation/nations, are Youngâ€™s Literal Translation and the Literal Translation of the Holy Bible by Jay P. Green.)
But where did we get the term â€œGentileâ€ from, if ethnos best means â€œnationâ€? The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms informs us:
Gentile (From Lat. gentilis, â€œmember of a peopleâ€) Term used by Jews for one who is not Jewish by racial origin. In the Old Testament, â€œthe nationsâ€ (Heb. goyim) is used.
The English term â€œGentileâ€ is actually derived from the Latin word gentilis, meaning â€œfamily, hereditary; national,â€ being related to gens or â€œclan; tribe; family; race; nation.â€ One will find the term gentilis and its cognates employed in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, and it is unavoidable for English at least, how this Latin term has influenced the history of English Bible translation. (And to perhaps make things even more complicated, one will also encounter the Latin term nationis, â€œtribe, race; breed classâ€ in the Vulgate, from which our English â€œnationâ€ is derived as well.) What this means is that with two terms available for rendering the Hebrew goy/goyim and the Greek ethnos, there might not be as much consistency witnessed in an English Bibleâ€”that may actually be quite necessary where Tanach intertextuality is concerned. One example to be considered would be the quotation of Isaiah 9:1 in Matthew 4:15:
â€œBut there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations [Galil haâ€™goyim; ×’Ö¼Ö°×œÖ´×™×œ ×”Ö·×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™Ö´×; Galilee of the Gentiles, NASU]â€ (Isaiah 9:1, RSV).
â€œ[T]he land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles [Galilaia tÅn ethnÅn, Î“Î±Î»Î¹Î»Î±Î¯Î± Ï„á¿¶Î½ á¼Î¸Î½á¿¶Î½]â€ (Matthew 4:15, NASU).
The best, most neutral rendering seen for both Galil haâ€™goyim and Galilaia tÅn ethnÅn, the latter clause witnessed in both the LXX of Isaiah 9:1 and Matthew 4:15, is â€œGalilee of the nationsâ€ (Isaiah 9:1, NETS). What is witnessed in the Vulgate for both Isaiah 9:1 and Matthew 4:15, however, is Galileae gentium. While this is not a problem if one were a Roman, Latin-speaking Christian in the early centuries of the faith, it does interject a dynamic for modern English speakers which we need to be aware ofâ€”a likely testament to English having mixed Latin and Germanic origins.
And perhaps interestingly enough, with this in mind, the closest, most wide-spoken relative to modern English, actually appears to lack the term â€œGentileâ€ in its vocabulary. If one turns to the rather massive Langenscheidts New College German Dictionary, the words offered for the English â€œGentileâ€ include the noun Nichtjude and the adjective nichtjÃ¼disch, which are pretty easily discernible to mean non-Jew and non/not-Jewish. How did a German Bible like the 1993 Elberfelder Bibel render Galil haâ€™goyim and Galilaia tÅn ethnÅn? In Isaiah 9:1 we encounter â€œden Kreis der Nationen,â€ and in Matthew 4:15, â€œGalilÃ¤a der Nationen.â€ One can also do some quick surveying of this German Bible, and will find that where various English Bibles have â€œGentile(s),â€ the term Nation [na’tsÄo:n] is used instead. So among many examples to be considered, when the Jerusalem Believers conclude, â€œGod has granted to the Gentiles [tois ethnesin, toi/j e;qnesin] also the repentance that leads to lifeâ€ (Acts 11:18), the Elberfelder Bibel has, â€œDann hat Gott also auch den Nationen die BuÃŸe gegeben zum Leben.â€
It is at this point where we reach an impasse. What is the best approach to the Hebrew goy/goyim and Greek ethnos? Is it really Gentile/Gentilesâ€”or is it nation/nations? Much of this is undeniably a perspective issue, and how in their most neutral context both of these words mean nation/nations. Seriously consider, what the Apostle Paul communicates to his dear friend Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:17, reflecting back on his life of ministry service to the Lord:
â€œBut the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth.â€
That Paul had a unique calling to the world at large is easily understood (cf. Acts 9:15; Romans 11:13). But is â€œall the Gentilesâ€ the best rendering for panta ta ethnÄ“ (Ï€Î¬Î½Ï„Î± Ï„á½° á¼”Î¸Î½Î·)? In the view of some Pastoral Epistles commentators â€œall the nationsâ€ is what is to be missionally understood here, which does not only include the world at large. The view of William D. Mounce, who is most well known for authoring various collegiate level Greek textbooks, is that when ethnÄ“ is rendered as â€œnationsâ€ here, then â€œthe phrase â€˜all the nations/Gentilesâ€™ can mean â€˜all groups of people,â€™ Jew and Gentile alike.â€ From this viewpoint then, panta ta ethnÄ“ is akin to â€œto those who had never heardâ€ (The Message) the gospel message. We need to remember that even though Paul had a definite calling and skillset as a Jewish Believer that would help to bring the nations into the Commonwealth of Israel (cf. Ephesians 2:11-12), Paul never stopped believing that his own Jewish people needed salvation nor did he ever stop declaring Yeshua to them (cf. Romans 11:13-14). It would seem appropriate for us to view panta ta ethnÄ“ in 2 Timothy 4:17 as meaning everyone who needed to hear, all nations upon Planet Earth including Paulâ€™s own Jewish people. Philip H. Towner appropriately summarizes,
â€œ[T]he phrase â€˜all the Gentiles/nations,â€™ which certainly need not exclude the Jewish people, is a theologically loaded term in Pauline thought (Rom 15:11; 16:26; Gal 3:28). It sums up the universal scope of the salvation plan of God, from the Abrahamic promise and institution of the covenant to its full unveiling in the Psalms and prophets, from which Paul clearly took his cue (Romans 9-11; 15:9-13; Gal 1:15-16).â€
The blessing of Abraham and the sacrifice of Yeshua, remitting the curse of the Law, are for â€œall nationsâ€ (Galatians 3:8, 14), which necessarily includes the Jewish people as well as the world at large.
Surely with what we witness in Yeshuaâ€™s Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, the common rendering of â€œnationsâ€ is understood to convey a significant, worldwide effect:
â€œAnd Yeshua came up and spoke to them, saying, â€˜All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [panta ta ethnÄ“, Ï€Î¬Î½Ï„Î± Ï„á½° á¼”Î¸Î½Î·], baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.â€™â€
We may never be able to know why more English Bibles than not have chosen to render the Greek ethnos as both â€œGentile(s)â€ and â€œnation(s),â€ and not just â€œnation(s).â€ But what we can know is that rendering this single Greek term in two different ways has created some confusionâ€”if not significant confusion in some quarters. The most significant confusion caused by the term â€œGentileâ€ is that it can underplay the universal availability of Godâ€™s salvation for all of humankind. In Isaiah 49:6, Yeshua the Messiah has come not only to restore the tribes of Israel, but also to be the or goyim (××•Ö¹×¨ ×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™Ö´×) or phÅs ethnÅn (Ï†á¿¶Ï‚ á¼Î¸Î½á¿¶Î½), â€œa light of the nations.â€ For consistencyâ€™s sake, English Bible readers need to train their minds to recognize that â€œGentile(s)â€ really means â€œnation(s)â€â€”and todayâ€™s Messianic teachers and leaders need to be a little more sensitive to this fact as well.
â€œGentileâ€ Can be an Offensive Term for Some
While among many Christians today, and in many theological works, the term â€œGentileâ€ is simply employed as a term to refer to a person who is not Jewish, meaning â€œone of the nations,â€ it is obvious in Scripture that the Greek ethnos can be used in various pejorative contexts. Yeshuaâ€™s direction regarding the reproof of someone who sins includes the admonition, â€œIf he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the [assembly]; and if he refuses to listen even to the [assembly], let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collectorâ€ (Matthew 18:17). The clause ho ethnikos kai ho telÅnÄ“s (á½ á¼Î¸Î½Î¹Îºá½¸Ï‚ ÎºÎ±á½¶ á½ Ï„ÎµÎ»ÏŽÎ½Î·Ï‚), is rendered into the 1991 UBSHNT as kâ€™goy vâ€™kâ€™mokeis (ï¬»Ö·×’×•Ö¹×™ ×•Ö°×›Ö·×žÖ¼×•Ö¹×›Öµ×¡). That both ethnos and goy can mean â€œa paganâ€ (CJB) here, does not go unnoticed.
Of course, as we have tried to emphasize above, there are not only many neutral usages of the terms goy/goyim and ethnos witnessed in the Bible, but these same terms are used to describe Israel. Context and usage alone, in the various verses on a case-by-case basis, determines what is to be intended. But to act like the terms goy/goyim and ethnos can never be viewed from the perspective of â€œpagan,â€ and that this does not in any way carry over into the English term â€œGentile,â€ would be dishonest. ISBE, for example, indicates how â€œThe general tendencyâ€¦was one of increasing hostility toward the Gentiles. They and their countries were considered unclean.â€ EJ further notes how from a Jewish perspective in much of the Bible, â€œthe low moral, social, and ethical standards of the surrounding gentiles were continuously emphasized, and social contact with them was regarded as being a pernicious social and moral influence. As a result, during this period the world was regarded as divided, insofar as peoples were concerned, into the Jewish people and the â€˜nations of the world,â€™ and insofar as individuals were concerned, into â€˜the Jewâ€™ and the idolater.â€
Whether goy/goyim or ethnos carry with it the intention of â€œâ€¦of the nationsâ€ or â€œpaganâ€ in the Bible, can only be determined in the places where it is used. One would think that â€œnations(s)â€ is a far better, uniform rendering for these terms, leaving its exact meaning up to the reader to decide. It is, however, to be noted that in Rabbinical literature, one will encounter the Hebrew term goy (×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™) used to mean â€œgentile, idolatorâ€ (Jastrow). An example provided by Jastrow to be considered is t.Avodah Zarah 3:4:
â€œA gentile woman should not be called upon to cut out the foetus in the womb of an Israelite girl. And she should not give her a cup of bitters to drink, for they are suspect as to the taking of life. And an Israelite should not be alone with a gentile either in a bathhouse or in a urinal. [When] an Israelite goes along with a gentile, he puts him at his right hand, and he does not put him at his left hand. R. Ishmael son of R. Yoá¸¥anan b. Beroqah says, â€˜[He goes along] with a sword in his right hand, with a staff in his left hand.â€™ [If] there are two going up on an ascent or going down on a ramp, the Israelite goes up ahead, and the gentile behind.â€
Some of the viewpoints here are obviously historically conditioned, and are the result of a longstanding distrust on the part of the Jewish community toward outsiders. But the point is taken that the goyim (×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™Ö´Ö½×) are to be kept at a distance.
More present in Judaism today is the line of an ancient prayer, which is customarily recited as a part of the morning Shacharit blessings, when the observant declare, â€œBlessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, for not having made me a gentile,â€
asani goy  (×¢Ö¸ï¬«Ö·× ×™ ×’×•Ö¹×™).Â Â When non-Jewish Believers in todayâ€™s Messianic movement get wind of some Messianic Jews in the congregation they attend, possibly saying this sort of thing before God every morningâ€”and perhaps including some of their main leadersâ€”they do get a little upset. Some of them even get livid. The Conservative Jewish Siddur Sim Shalom has thankfully changed much of this, only including the declaration â€œPraised are You Adonai our God, who rules the universe, making me a Jewâ€ (although the Hebrew is actually Yisrael, ×™Ö´×©Ö°×‚×¨Ö¸×Öµ×œ) and â€œmaking me free.â€ For reciting traditional prayers from the Jewish community, I do think that many of us can certainly understand the value of what Sim Shalom offers, and that we can appreciate how it has removed the rather negative remarks about not being made a Gentile. Thanking God for being a Jew or an Israelite is one thing (that I personally do not have a problem with); thanking God for not being Nationality XYZ is something else.
So what does the non-Jewish person in a Messianic Jewish congregation, who finds out about the ancient prayer of â€œfor not having made me a gentileâ€â€”and who is understandably a bit offendedâ€”then do about it? The first thing, that tends to happen, is that when the term â€œGentileâ€ tends to be spoken in various teachings or announcements or just common speech, the individual feels that he or she is likely being called some kind of a â€œpagan,â€ â€œheathen,â€ â€œidolator,â€ or something worse. Secondly, if various Messianic Jews have not been careful with how they have employed the term â€œGentile,â€ at least also incorporating valid alternatives like â€œnationsâ€ or â€œpeoples,â€ then some significant resentment can build up (rather quickly). Thirdly, and what can frequently happen, is that the non-Jewish Messianic who has taken considerable offense at being called a â€œGentile,â€ will build a kind of personal credo around Ephesians 2:11, where the Apostle Paul says:
â€œTherefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called â€˜Uncircumcisionâ€™ by the so-called â€˜Circumcision,â€™ which is performed in the flesh by human handsâ€”â€
It is from a verse like this where many non-Jewish Messianic Believers will claim that they are former Gentiles. It is absolutely true that for any non-Believer to come to saving faith in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), that he or she is no longer a kind of pagan, heathen, idolater, insolent rebel, or even atheist against the Creator. Yet Paulâ€™s words to those in Asia Minor are specific in that he speaks of those here as ta ethnÄ“ en sarki (Ï„á½° á¼”Î¸Î½Î· á¼Î½ ÏƒÎ±ÏÎºÎ¯), â€œthe nations in the fleshâ€ (YLT) or â€œyou who are Gentiles by birthâ€ (NIV). When people come to faith in Yeshua, even though they may be saved and spiritually regenerated, their DNA does not change. He identifies these people as being of the nations, in the flesh. The former status that Paul is obviously more concerned about, and so should any of us for that matter, is detailed in Ephesians 2:11-12 together:
â€œTherefore remember that formerlyâ€¦you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.â€
A status of being removed from Israelâ€™s Messiah, Israelâ€™s polity, Israelâ€™s covenants, and being without the hope and knowledge of the Creator God is what is really considered to be the former status for the non-Jewish Believers addressed in Ephesians. This is one which has been fully reversed. The non-Jewish Believers in Asia Minor now know Israelâ€™s Messiah, they are a part of Israelâ€™s polity, they now benefit from Israelâ€™s covenants, and they are truly known by the Creator God.
The term â€œGentile,â€ goy (×’Ö¼×•Ö¹×™), need not always have a negative meaning, but in various places in Jewish theology and commentary it will. The Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period observes how goyim is the â€œgeneric Israelite expression for all of humanity except Israel. Most often this common biblical expression has a pejorative connotation that parallels the Greek use of â€˜barbarians.â€™ By virtue of its covenantal relationship to YHWH and its observance of the Torah, Israel is contrasted with the rest of humanity, which stands outside the scope of Godâ€™s covenantal love.â€ This same entry is actually pretty even-handed, though, in further commenting, â€œWhile Gentiles are often pictured as sexually uninhibited and untrustworthy, they are also described as righteous and the progenitors of rabbis and even kings of Israel.â€
But what meaning of goyim are we more likely to find for non-Jewish people, used in todayâ€™s Judaism and even Messianic Judaism? Does it mean â€œpaganâ€ or just a â€œnon-Jewâ€?
When non-Jewish Believers in todayâ€™s Messianic world know some of the theological background behind the term â€œGentile,â€ it often does not make them very happy when it is used to define them. Knowing that the term goyim can frequently mean â€œpagan,â€ in many respects, can be offensive to more than a few. What is to be done about this?
Today, when non-Yeshua-believing members of the Jewish community refer to those outside the Synagogue as â€œGentilesâ€ or â€œgoyim,â€ is it in the most positive of ways? When my mother grew up in Annapolis, Maryland with its sizeable Jewish population, she certainly witnessed the terms â€œgoyâ€ and â€œGentileâ€ used in some rather negative ways by her friendsâ€™ parents. (And with my two grandparents being from the Deep South, she also heard some other negative terms used to describe African Americans, and other minority groups.) When she has been in some Messianic Jewish congregations, and heard the congregational leader or speaker refer to the non-Jews in the audience as â€œgoyim,â€ she has had difficulty separating it from her youth experience among her Jewish friends.
Non-Jewish Believers being referred to as â€œGentilesâ€ in the Messianic Jewish movement, or even some sectors of the independent Messianic world, can at times be suspect. I do know for certain that many Messianic Jews do not intend any offense when they use the term â€œGentile,â€ and I also know that they want all people to be welcome in their assemblies. The easiest way to deflate some of this potential unwelcomeness is to simply employ a number of valid alternatives like â€œnationsâ€ or â€œpeoples.â€ The neutral term â€œnon-Jewâ€ would also be appropriate to use.
Should we really use the term â€œGentileâ€? What are other terms we need to be careful of?
No one in todayâ€™s Messianic community should ever â€œfreak outâ€ when they hear the term â€œGentileâ€ used, because it is going to be heard at the very least from various English Bible translations and various theological resources. There can probably be, however, some better ways to communicate that are more sensitive to a groupâ€™s needs. If a Messianic congregational leader knows that there is a group of non-Jewish Believers in the assembly who might be offended if the term â€œGentileâ€ is used, then it might be incumbent to employ some worthwhile and valid alternatives like â€œnation(s)â€ or â€œpeople(s)â€ to offset a potential problem.
Many non-Jewish Messianics are asked to be sensitive to Jewish concerns with their usage of terms like â€œcross,â€ given the reality of many heinous acts of anti-Semitism committed in history involving the cross. While we may never totally stop using terms like â€œcrossâ€ or â€œcrucified,â€ it is fair and advisable to employ valid alternatives like â€œtreeâ€ and â€œexecuted.â€ Is it too much, given some of the post-Second Temple usage of terms like â€œgoyâ€ and â€œgoyimâ€ and possible negative aspects surrounding the term â€œGentileâ€ in current Jewish culture, that some alternatives likewise be used? I have a feeling that in the case of many people in the Messianic movement, especially in much of Messianic Judaism, that for the considerable time being we may be dealing with a one-way street on this issue. Consider some of the thoughts offered by Toby Janicki in his article â€œWhat is a Gentile?â€:
â€œThe word â€˜Gentileâ€™ is not a negative term, nor does it refer to idolaters in any essential way. Although it has had various implications in different contexts, its primary meaning is that of â€˜one from the nations.â€™ This is the designation that the apostles used to distinguish non-Jewish believers from Jewish believers. If it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for us.â€
The Biblical terms that are actually used to describe that nations are goy/goyim and ethnosâ€”nation(s). While context determines whether people in general, or some kind of pagan idolaters are intended, it is disingenuous of anyone in either Messianic Judaism or the broader Messianic world to fail to recognize that in the Twenty-First Century, the English term â€œGentileâ€ can offend some non-Jewish Believers. It is also disingenuous to think that in some modern Jewish cultural contexts, when the goyim or Gentiles are referred to, it is speaking of non-Jews in a totally neutral way.
But let us consider for a moment some more of the shortcomings found in the broad Messianic world as it concerns the terms used to describe people in general. A fair majority of todayâ€™s Messianic community balks at using any degree of inclusive language, dismissing it as being the product of so-called â€œpolitical correctnessâ€â€”even though it is adhered to in part by many conservative evangelical Christians, and is actually reflected in much of David Sternâ€™s Complete Jewish Bible (1998), as well as in the new Tree of Life Bibleâ€”The New Covenant (2011). What is the inclusive language debate? A big part of it is recognizing that there are some specific terms in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures where a masculine-centric rendering is less-than-accurate, especially given some of the changing dynamics of modern English speech. The major terms to be aware of include:
- The generic adam (×Ö¸×“Ö¸×) and anthrÅpos (á¼„Î½Î¸ÏÏ‰Ï€Î¿Ï‚), can be better rendered with â€œhumanityâ€ or â€œhumankind,â€ rather than â€œmanâ€ or â€œmankindâ€; or in the case of individuals, â€œhuman being(s),â€ â€œmortal(s),â€ or â€œperson(s).â€
- The specific ish (ï¬ª×™×Ö´) and anÄ“r (á¼€Î½Î®Ï), relates to a person who is a man or of the male gender, and can sometimes refer to a husband.
- The specific ishah (×”ï¬ªÖ¼Ö¸×) and gunÄ“ (Î³Ï…Î½Î®), relates to a person who is a woman or of the female gender, and can sometimes refer to a wife.
Obviously, some renderings of these Hebrew and Greek terms are largely dependent on their usage in a passage. But in general, when people at large are described, it is probably safe to say that calling them â€œmenâ€ has become more than a bit out of place in normal, everyday English language across the world. So even if a Bible version might use â€œmenâ€ when â€œpeopleâ€ is intended, such as where Yeshua calls His disciples to be â€œfishers of menâ€ (Mark 1:17; cf. Matthew 4:19), we need to be geared toward speaking on these sorts of passages relating to â€œfish for peopleâ€ (NRSV/NLT/TNIV). A key passage where an inclusive language rendering will convey a far better and clearer understanding for Messianics, is where Ephesians 2:15 speaks of kainon anthrÅpon (ÎºÎ±Î¹Î½á½¸Î½ á¼„Î½Î¸ÏÏ‰Ï€Î¿Î½), the â€œone new humanityâ€ (NRSV/CJB), as opposed to â€œone new man.â€ Obviously, what the Father has brought about via the magnanimous work of His Son is to influence far more than just those of the male gender.
Once again, reality being what it is, not enough of todayâ€™s Messianic teachers and leaders may be sensitive to employing a little bit of inclusive language in their speech. In fact, more than a few Messianic leaders are probably some of the greatest offenders when it comes to not using any degree of inclusive language. I want you to know that I myself do not get upset when I see terms like â€œmanâ€ or â€œmankindâ€ used to refer to the human race, because I do use them from time to time. Yet we do need to recognize the various limitations present in modern English speech, by only using terms like â€œman,â€ â€œmen,â€ or â€œmankind.â€
In the Twenty-First Century, we have more than a few Messianic voices who are still quite prone to using â€œmen,â€ when in normal speech â€œpeopleâ€ is far more natural and preferable. Does it at all offend you when a Messianic speaker saysâ€”regardless of which slice of the broad Messianic movement in which the statement is madeâ€”says something like, â€œGod is raising up men in this hourâ€ and the audience is clearly mixed? Why would we not hear something more like, â€œGod is raising up men and women in this hourâ€ or â€œGod is raising up people in this hourâ€? How would you feel if you were a woman and you heard terms like men, mankind, and brothers exclusively used? Speaking for myself, I know that I am offended when I only hear male-specific terms used, and I am a male!
Obviously, if some of todayâ€™s Messianic Believers cannot compute the fact that using male-centric terms exclusively might cause some discord, would they even be able to see that using a term like â€œGentileâ€ exclusively might also create some angst?
The issue of the terms we use affects our historical readings of the Scriptures. How many of todayâ€™s Messianic Jews, even among those who are well-educated Bible teachers (with significant degrees), will say things along the lines of, â€œwhen God brought the Jewish people out of Egyptâ€¦â€? Now it is certainly true that God brought the ancestors of todayâ€™s Jewish people out of Egypt, but it is largely and historically incorrect to use the term â€œJewâ€ or Yehudi (×™×”×•Ö¼×¨Ö´×™) to describe anyone prior to the dispersion of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. As the entry for â€œJewâ€ in IDB directs us:
â€œIn the OT, ×™×”×•Ö¼×¨Ö´×™ (â€˜Jewâ€™) is not used for members of the old tribe of Judah or even to distinguish persons of the Southern Kingdom from those of the Northern Kingdomâ€¦It is scarcely used until the kingdom of Judah had survived N Israel (II Kings 25:25; Jer. 38:19; 52:28-30). In postexilic times â€˜Jewâ€™ refers to a subject of the Babylonian or Persian province of Judah or of the Maccabean state (Esth. 9:15-19; Neh. 4:1-H 3:33; Zech. 8:23; I Macc. 8:20; Jos. Antiq. XI.v.7).â€
There is, of course, nothing wrong with using terms such as â€œJewâ€ or â€œJewish,â€ provided that we are able to recognize when in Biblical history that Yehudi started being legitimately used, in association with the Southern Kingdom. The point to be taken is not that â€œJewâ€ is a bad term to use; rather, â€œstrictly speaking, it is anachronistic to use the term with reference to the Hebrews or Israelites of an earlier periodâ€ (ISBE). Yet many of todayâ€™s Messianic Jews were raised in an environment where the Ancient Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, to those who made up the populations of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, to those who returned from Babylonâ€”were all â€œJews.â€ Specificity in terms of Biblical history, for such people, is not only something that is overlooked, but it is actually reinforced in some Jewish teaching materials. The Orthodox Jewish ArtScroll Tanach, for example, renders Exodus 21:2 with, â€œIf you buy a Jewish bondsmanâ€¦,â€ when the source text clearly has Ivri (×¦Ö´×‘Ö°×¨Ö´×™) or â€œHebrew.â€ Its chart detailing the rulers of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms is actually labeled to be â€œThe Jewish Monarchy.â€ Even Sternâ€™s Jewish New Testament/Complete Jewish Bible may be said to have made a faux paux when labeling the Epistle to the Hebrews as â€œMessianic Jews,â€ when modern Hebrew New Testaments tend to have Ivrim (×¦Ö´×‘Ö°×¨Ö´×™×), Hebrew for â€œHebrews,â€ instead (for the Greek title Î Î¡ÎŸÎ£ Î•Î’Î¡Î‘Î™ÎŸÎ¥Î£, Pros Hebraious).
Not paying attention to specific details in Biblical history has enabled many throughout the Messianic world to say things along the lines of, â€œWhen Paul writes to the Gentiles in Letter XYZâ€¦â€ While it may be true that there was a large, non-Jewish readership for many of Paulâ€™s epistles, almost all of the Pauline letters are titled by a geographic-specific audienceâ€”in addition to having Jewish readers as well. Why would any of us ever speak in terms of Paul writing the Gentiles, when what we should be more tuned into is Paul writing the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, the Colossians, the Thessalonicans, etc.? Cultural and historical circumstances in places such as Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, and Colossae in the ancient Mediterranean world might factor into us understanding some difficult verses, and some of the location-specific issues ancient groups of Messiah followers faced.
 HALOT, 1:183.
 Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 156.
 BDAG, 276.
 LS, 226.
 K.L. Schmidt, â€œÃ©thnos,â€ in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abrid. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 201.
 Richard E. Higginson, â€œGentiles,â€ in Everett F. Harrison, ed., Bakerâ€™s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 235.
 A. van Selms, â€œGentile,â€ in ISBE, 2:443.
 BDAG, 276.
 Most modern Bibles (RSV, NASU, NRSV, ESV, CJB) follow the textual variant hoti ha thuei ta ethnÄ“ (á½…Ï„Î¹ á¼ƒ Î¸ÏÎµÎ¹ Ï„á½° á¼”Î¸Î½Î·), which as Metzger, Textual Commentary, 560 points out, is â€œconsidered to be an ancient glossâ€ in the event that anybody errantly thinks that the sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple are somehow being referred to (1 Corinthians 10:18).
 The Complete Jewish Bible, follows suit with the RSV and NIV quoted here, using â€œpagans.â€
1 Corinthians 12:2 in the NASU, interestingly enough, says â€œYou know that when you were pagans [ethnÄ“, á¼”Î¸Î½Î·], you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.â€
 McKim, 113.
 HarperCollins Latin Concise Dictionary (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1997), 94.
 Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary, 60.
 HarperCollins Latin Concise Dictionary, 138.
 â€œthe region of the nationsâ€ (ATS).
 Langenscheidts New College German Dictionary, German-English (Berlin and Munich: Langenscheidt KG, 1995), 275.
 The term Kreis should be understood here as â€œadm. districtâ€ (Ibid., 372), which is certainly allowable as the Hebrew galil (lyliG”) can mean â€œcylinder, rod, circuit, districtâ€ (BDB, 165).
 Langenscheidts New College German Dictionary, 441.
 William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Vol. 46 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 597.
In Ibid. his further conclusion is, â€œBy proclaiming the gospel to all the authorities in Rome, Paul has now preached to all groups and all types of Gentiles and therefore has fulfilled his ministry.â€
 Philip H. Towner, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 643.
 Matthew 6:32 could also be considered: â€œFor the Gentiles [ta ethnÄ“, Ï„á½° á¼”Î¸Î½Î·] eagerly seek all these thingsâ€¦â€ This is also rendered with â€œpagansâ€ (NIV/CJB) and â€œidolatersâ€ (HCSB) elsewhere.
 A. van Selms, â€œGentile,â€ in ISBE, 2:444.
 Editorial Staff, â€œGentile,â€ in EJ.
 Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004), 220.
 Jacob Neusner, ed., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew With a New Introduction, 2 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 2:1269.
 Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, eds., Complete ArtScroll Siddur, Nusach Ashkenaz (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1984), pp 18-19.
 In complete fairness, it must be stressed that another edition of this same prayer, does not use the Hebrew term goy. This is seen in Joseph H. Hertz, ed., The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, revised (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1960), 18:
â€œBlessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a heathen [asani nakri, ×¦Ö¸ï¬«Ö·× ×™ × Ö¸×›Ö°×¨Ö´×™].â€
The Hebrew nakri (× Ö¸×›Ö°×¨Ö´×™) largely means, â€œforeign, alienâ€ (BDB, 648).
 Jules Harlow, ed., Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2007), 65.
 For a further discussion, consult the authorâ€™s commentary Ephesians for the Practical Messianic.
 â€œGentiles,â€ in Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, pp 247-248.
 Ibid., 248.
 Consult the FAQ on the TNN website, â€œCrucifixion.â€
 Toby Janicki. â€œWhat is a Gentile?â€ Messiah Journal Issue 101, Summer 2009/5770:44.
 Other Bible versions that employ a principle of inclusive language, to one degree or another, include: the New Revised Standard Version (1989), the Revised English Bible (1989), and the Todayâ€™s New International Version (2005).
 Grk. alieis anthrÅpÅn (á¼Î»Î¹Îµá¿–Ï‚ á¼€Î½Î¸ÏÏŽÏ€Ï‰Î½).
 J.A. Sanders, â€œJew,â€ in IDB, 2:897.
 W.W. Gasque, â€œJew,â€ in ISBE, 2:1056.
 In the annotation for John 4:22-24, appearing in Daniel Gruber, trans., The Messianic Writings (Hanover, NH: Elijah Publishing, 2011), 148, it is actually stated, â€œAfter the Babylonians exiled the Jewish inhabitants of Shomron [Samaria], they brought other captive people to live there. (2K 17:22-41).â€
This statement is not at all true to history, and even the text of 2 Kings 17:22-41 itself, as it details the exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, not the Babylonians. Yet, these kinds of remarks litter the Messianic Jewish spectrum, and often go unnoticed by even those leaders who have weighty post-graduate degrees.
 Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, eds., ArtScroll Tanach (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications., 1996), 2026.
In contrast, JPS Guide: The Jewish Bible (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008), 188 correctly refers to â€œThe Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.â€
 The Phillips New Testament has also incorrectly labeled the Epistle to the Hebrews as â€œThe Letter to Jewish Christians.â€
 You do probably need to be aware of the textual issues in Ephesians 1:1, and how â€œin Ephesusâ€ (en EphesÅ, á¼Î½ á¼˜Ï†ÎÏƒá¿³) does not appear in the oldest manuscripts (cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, 601). In all likelihood the Epistle of Ephesians was originally a circular letter written by the Apostle Paul to assemblies within Asia Minor, eventually making its way to Ephesus. The RSV notably rendered Ephesians 1:1 with: â€œPaul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.â€
Specific Pauline letters that actually concern the Believers in Ephesus, are actually the Epistles of 1&2 Timothy, as Timothy served as Paulâ€™s duly-appointed superintendent to Ephesus and the surrounding region. For more information, consult the entries for the Epistles of 1&2 Timothy in the authorâ€™s workbook A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic.