The term Gentile
, meaning of or belonging to a clan or tribe) refers to non-Israelite
tribes or nations in the Bible
It serves as the Latin and subsequenly English translation of the Hebrew words גוי (goy) and נכרי (nochri) in the Old Testament and the Greek word ἔθνη (éthnē) in the New Testament.
Today, the primary meaning of gentile is "non-Jew".
derives from Latin gens
(from which, together with forms of the cognate Greek word genos
, also derive gene
, general, genus
). The original meaning of "clan" or "family" was extended in post-Augustan Latin to acquire the wider meaning of belonging to a distinct nation or ethnicity. Later still the word came to mean "foreign", i.e. non-Roman. After the Christianization of the empire it could also be used of pagan or barbarian cultures.
In the Bible
In Saint Jerome
's Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate
was used in this wider sense, along with gentes
, to translate Greek and Hebrew words with similar meanings that referred to the non-Israelite peoples.
The most important of such Hebrew words was goyim (singular, goy), a term with the broad meaning of "peoples" or "nations" which was sometimes used to refer to Israelites, but most commonly as a generic label for other peoples. Strong's Concordance defines goy as "nation, people usually of non-Hebrew people, or of descendants of Abraham of Israel, or of a swarm of locusts or other animals (fig.) Goyim = "nations". Strongs #1471
In the KJV Gentile is only one of several words used to translate goy or goyim. It is translated as "nation" 374 times, "heathen" 143 times, "Gentiles" 30 times, and "people" 11 times. Some of these verses, such as Genesis 12:2 and Genesis 25:23 refer to Israelites or descendants of Abraham. Other verses, such as Isaiah 2:4 and Deuteronomy 11:23 are generic references to any nation. Typically the KJV restricts the use of Gentile as a translation when the text is specifically referring to non-Israelites. For example, the only use of the word in Genesis is in chapter 10, verse 5, referring to the peopling of the world by descendents of Japheth, "By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.
In the New Testament, the word translates Greek terms for peoples in general, and is used specifically to indicate non-Jewish peoples, as in Jesus's command to the apostles in Matthew chapter 10,
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, 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.
Here Gentiles becomes a synonym for pagan cultures of the period.
Altogether, the word is used 123 times in the King James Version of the Bible and 168 times in the New Revised Standard Version.
Before the advent of Christianity, Gentiles could become Jews; however, all male Gentiles who wished to convert to Judaism had to undergo circumcision. Some early Christians known as Judaizers
demanded the same for converts to Christianity. Since most Gentiles were unwilling to undergo circumcision to become Jews, early Christian leaders like the Apostle Paul
asserted the circumcision was not necessary. Paul was so incensed with the Judaizers that he called them "dogs and "mutilators of the flesh.
As in the King James Bible, from the 17th century onwards gentile
was most commonly used to refer to non-Jews. This was in the context of European Christian societies with a Jewish minority. For this reason Gentile
commonly meant persons brought up in the Christian
faith, as opposed to the adherents of Judaism
, and was not typically used to refer to non-Jews in non-Western cultures.
Latter-day Saints Church usage
- Main article Mormonism and Judaism.
In the terminology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
("LDS Church"; see also Mormon
) the word Gentile takes on different meanings in different contexts, which may confuse some and alienate others. Members of the LDS church regard themselves as regathered Israelites, and so sometimes use the word "Gentile" to refer to non-members. In such usage Jews may be colloquially referred to as "Gentiles" because they are not members of the LDS Church. However, the traditional meaning is also to be found in the introduction to the Book of Mormon
, in the statement that it is written to both "Jew" (literal descendants of the House of Israel
) and "Gentile" (those not descended from the House of Israel or those of the tribe of Ephraim
scattered among the "Gentiles" throughout the earth).
In order to avoid confrontation and pejorative connotations, Latter-day Saints in the 21st century avoid using the term "Gentile" in everyday matters, preferring "non-member". "Gentile" is usually reserved for discussions of scriptural passages.
Footnotes and References