What is a Gentile?


Clarify Share Report Asked October 23 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

Ari Ariel HaNaviy Messianic Jew and Torah Teacher with Messianic Congregation 'The Harvest'
I want to add a perspective to this answer that I feel was not yet covered. Allow me to develop a background and then work towards my main point.

It is true that from a simplistic Jewish perspective, all the world, since the times of the Patriarchs, is now basically divided into Jews and Gentiles. In the times of the TaNaKH (OT), Isra'el the people started out as direct descendants of the man called Jacob/Isra'el, while those not legally related to Jacob were referred to in the text as “foreigners,” “aliens,” “strangers,” or sometimes “sojourners.” Often the Hebrew word used to describe these “non-Jacobites” was “goy,” an all-purpose, non-judgmental word designating “one from the nations,” with implications that they were “other than” Isra'el.” Related to goy is the word “ger,” often used to designate a “stranger” from the nations. To be sure, the contrasting Hebrew word “ezrach” often indicated native-born sons of Jacob.

The word Gentile was not supposed to be an emotionally-charged term, but by the 1st century, history—and the rabbinic writings—attest to its normal use among Jews to designate “pagans,” “heathen,” “idol-worshippers,” etc. By this same time, instead of merely indicating those from the nations, some religious Jews viewed anyone who was a Gentile with suspect, supposing that surely those “Gentiles” could not inherit “heaven” the way Jews could. 

In practical everyday matters, Gentiles were thought to transmit ritual impurity to Jews seeking to remain ritually pure, and these Gentiles were often accused of leading Jews into idolatry when close relations were formed. It is no wonder a shared social animosity and hostility developed between Jews and Gentiles, prompting Paul to pen his famous words in Eph. 2:14-16: “…the dividing wall of hostility …thereby killing the hostility.”

Since I normally move in and around Messianic circles, it is not uncommon for me to hear Gentiles attracted to Torah refer to themselves as “no longer Gentiles” but now as “spiritual Jews” in some way. Many times they base this on Paul’s words found earlier on in this passage:

Eph. 2:11
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands...”

Their logic infers that since Paul essentially calls these Christians from the nations “former Gentiles,” that they must not be “Gentiles” any longer now that they have joined the commonwealth of Isra'el (Eph. 2:19), and indeed have been grafted into Remnant Isra'el (Rom. 11:17-19). But to make this verse mean Gentile Christians are no longer “Gentiles” is confusing and unnecessary for two reasons as I see it.

1)	Paul will spend a significant amount of time in his letters championing Jewish and Gentile equality in Christ, with the express purpose of repudiating the 1st century mistaken socio-religious belief that all Jews and ONLY Jews can become genuine covenant members in Isra'el and be counted as “saved.” On the contrary: Gentiles AS Gentiles are now children of Abraham (Rom. 4:9-12).
2)	More to the point on a linguistic and hermeneutic level, Paul is simply stating to these Gentile Christians that they are no longer “pagans,” “heathen,” “idol-worshippers,” etc., and that in Messiah, they need to leave that bankrupt lifestyle behind and put on the new life in Christ as Gentile Christians.

I will close with this foundational quote from Eph. 4:17-24, truncated due to lack of space:

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God... But that is not the way you learned Christ… put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

September 11 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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