The term Gentile refers to non-Israelite
According to the Bible the Israelites were a Hebrew-speaking people of the Ancient Near East who inhabited the Land of Canaan during the monarchic period .The word "Israelite" derives from the Biblical Hebrew ישראל...

 peoples or nations in English translations of the Bible
English translations of the Bible
The efforts of translating the Bible from its original languages into over 2,000 others have spanned more than two millennia. Partial translations of the Bible into languages of the English people can be traced back to the end of the 7th century, including translations into Old English and Middle...


Latin and subsequently English translators selectively used the term gentiles when the context for the base term "peoples" or "nations", Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

, גוי (goy
is a Hebrew biblical term for "nation". By Roman times it had also acquired the meaning of "non-Jew". The latter is also its meaning in Yiddish.-In Biblical Hebrew:...

) and נכרי (nokhri) in the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

 and the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 word ἔθνη (éthnē
Ethnos may refer to:*Ethnic group*Ethnos...

) in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

, indicated non-Israelite peoples or nations. The term gentiles is derived from Latin, used for contextual translation, and not an original Hebrew or Greek word from the Bible.

Following Christianization of the Roman Empire
State church of the Roman Empire
The state church of the Roman Empire was a Christian institution organized within the Roman Empire during the 4th century that came to represent the Empire's sole authorized religion. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches claim to be the historical continuation of this...

, the general implication of the word gentile became "non-Jew".

Latin etymology

Gentile derives from Latin gens
In ancient Rome, a gens , plural gentes, referred to a family, consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a stirps . The gens was an important social structure at Rome and throughout Italy during the...

(from which, together with forms of the cognate Greek word genos
Genos was the ancient Greek term for kind; race; family; birth; origin which identified themselves as a unit, referred to by a single name...

, also derive gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

, general, genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 and genesis). 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 refer to other nations, 'not a Roman citizen'. After the Christianization of the empire
First seven Ecumenical Councils
In the history of Christianity, the first seven Ecumenical Councils, from the First Council of Nicaea to the Second Council of Nicaea , represent an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom as the State church of the Roman Empire...

 it could also be used of pagan or barbarian cultures.

In the Bible

In Saint Jerome
Saint Jerome
Saint Jerome is a Christian church father, best known for translating the Bible into Latin.Saint Jerome may also refer to:*Jerome of Pavia , Bishop of Pavia...

's Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

, gentilis was used in this wider sense, along with gentes, to translate Greek and Hebrew words with similar meanings when the text referred to the non-Hebrew peoples.

The most important of such Hebrew words was goyim (singular, goy
is a Hebrew biblical term for "nation". By Roman times it had also acquired the meaning of "non-Jew". The latter is also its meaning in Yiddish.-In Biblical Hebrew:...

), 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 peoples. Strong's Concordance
Strong's Concordance
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, generally known as Strong's Concordance, is a concordance of the King James Bible that was constructed under the direction of Dr. James Strong and first published in 1890. Dr. Strong was Professor of exegetical theology at Drew Theological Seminary at...

 defines goy as "nation, people, usually of non-Hebrew people, or of descendants of Abraham, or of Israel, or of a swarm of locusts or other animals (fig.) Goyim = 'nations'." Strongs #1471

In the King James Version, 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 ("I will make of thee a great nation") and Genesis 25:23 ("Two nations are in thy womb") refer to Israelites or descendants of Abraham. Other verses, such as Isaiah
Isaiah ; Greek: ', Ēsaïās ; "Yahu is salvation") was a prophet in the 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah.Jews and Christians consider the Book of Isaiah a part of their Biblical canon; he is the first listed of the neviim akharonim, the later prophets. Many of the New Testament teachings of Jesus...

 2:4 and Deuteronomy
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, and of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch...

 11:23 are generic references to any nation. Typically the KJV restricts the translation to "Gentile" when the text is specifically referring to non-Hebrew people. For example, the only use of the word in Genesis is in chapter 10, verse 5, referring to the peopling of the world by descendants of Japheth
Japheth is one of the sons of Noah in the Abrahamic tradition...

, "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
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

, the Greek word "ethnos" is used for peoples or nations in general, and is typically translated by the word "people", as in John 11:50 ("Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."). The translation "gentiles" is used in some instances, as in Matthew 10:5–6 to indicate non-Israelite peoples:

In that instance, Gentiles becomes a reference to 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.

Early Christianity

The Greek ethnos where translated as Gentile in the context of Early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 implied non-Israelite. There was a question among the disciples whether receiving the Holy Spirit through proselytization
The biblical term "Proselyte", derives from the Koine Greek προσήλυτος/proselytos, as used in the Septuagint for "stranger", i.e. a "newcomer to Israel"; a "sojourner in the land", and in the New Testament for a convert to Judaism from Paganism...

 would be restricted to Israelites or whether it would include the gentiles (the Greco-Roman population of the Roman Empire), as in Acts 10:34–47:
Attached to this question was the circumcision controversy in early Christianity
Circumcision controversy in early Christianity
There is evidence of a controversy over religious male circumcision in Early Christianity. A Council of Jerusalem, possibly held in approximately 50 AD, decreed that male circumcision was not a requirement for Gentile converts. This became known as the "Apostolic Decree" and may be one of the...

, i.e., does a Gentile need to follow all of the Mosaic Laws
613 mitzvot
The 613 commandments is a numbering of the statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice contained in the Torah or Five Books of Moses...

. The position of the Judaizers
Judaizers is predominantly a Christian term, derived from the Greek verb ioudaïzō . This term is most widely known from the single use in the New Testament where Paul publicly challenges Peter for compelling Gentile believers to "judaize", also known as the Incident at Antioch.According to the...

 was that this was a necessity, taking Christianity to remain fully within Judaism, including obedience to the Torah Laws. The opposite position was proposed by Paul of Tarsus
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

 who argued against the Judaizers, such as the Incident at Antioch. The Council of Jerusalem
Council of Jerusalem
The Council of Jerusalem is a name applied by historians and theologians to an Early Christian council that was held in Jerusalem and dated to around the year 50. It is considered by Catholics and Orthodox to be a prototype and forerunner of the later Ecumenical Councils...

 decided in favour of a liberal compromise, allowing converts to forgo circumcision
Circumcision in the Bible
Religious male circumcision generally occurs shortly after birth, during childhood or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. Circumcision is most prevalent in Muslim countries and Israel, and is most prevalent in the Jewish and Muslim faiths, although also common in the United States, the...

, but requiring that they follow a minimal portion of the Law, called the Apostolic Decree , which may parallel Jewish Noahide Law.

Modern usage

As in the King James Bible, from the 17th century onward 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
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, and was not typically used to refer to non-Jews in non-Western cultures.

LDS Church usage

In the terminology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

) 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 all non-members. According to John L. Needham of Utah State University
Utah State University
Utah State University is a public university located in Logan, Utah. It is a land-grant and space-grant institution and is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities....

, "Mormons in the American West applied gentile, as an adjective as much as a slur, to nearly everyone and everything that did not adhere to their faith or desert kingdom." Because they had suffered persecution, the word gentile was "a call to circle the wagons socially and politically around the fold". 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
Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2600 BC to AD 421. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr...

, in the statement that it is written to both "Jew" (literal descendants of the House of Israel
House of Israel
The House of Israel is a Jewish community in Ghana. This ethnic group claim to be one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.-History of Jews in Ghana:...

) and "Gentile" (those not descended from the House of Israel or those of the tribe of Ephraim
Tribe of Ephraim
According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Ephraim was one of the Tribes of Israel. The Tribe of Manasseh together with Ephraim also formed the House of Joseph....

 scattered among the "Gentiles" throughout the earth). Needham writes that Mormons have "outgrown the term."

In order to avoid confrontation and pejorative connotations, Latter-day Saints in the 21st century avoid using the word Gentile in everyday matters, preferring "non-member". Gentile is usually reserved for discussions of scriptural passages.

British Israelism

In British Israelism
British Israelism
British Israelism is the belief that people of Western European descent, particularly those in Great Britain, are the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The concept often includes the belief that the British Royal Family is directly descended from the line of King David...

, which claims that the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 nations are direct descendants of the lost tribes of ancient Israel, the word gentiles is used to refer to all nations which are non-Jewish. Some schools of British Israelism consider that most nations of western and Northern Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 are tribes of Israel.

See also

  • Shabbos goy
  • `Am ha-aretz
    `Am ha-aretz
    The term "the people of the Land" is a term found in the Hebrew Bible which, when singular "the people," and where "the land" refers to the land of Israel, refers to Jews. When plural "the peoples of the land " would refer to non-Jews, and when both words are plural The term "the people of the...

  • Israelite
    According to the Bible the Israelites were a Hebrew-speaking people of the Ancient Near East who inhabited the Land of Canaan during the monarchic period .The word "Israelite" derives from the Biblical Hebrew ישראל...

  • Noahidism
  • Ger toshav
    Ger toshav
    Ger toshav , is a term used in Judaism to refer to a gentile who is a "resident alien", that is, one who lives in a Jewish state and has certain protections under Jewish law, and is considered a righteous gentile .-Definition:...

  • Who is a Jew?
    Who is a Jew?
    "Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which themselves have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions...

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.