Meaning Of Gentiles In The Bible: Their Identity And Significance

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Published by Kimberly Wall


Co-Founder, Disciple Group Leader, Author

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The word “Gentile” in both the Old and New Testaments is widely misunderstood. It has more to do with all the nations than with the pagans or the unsaved. The Latin term “gens,” which denotes a family or clan, is the source of the English word “Gentile.”

The root of the word “Gentile” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word “goy,” which means country or nation depending on whether the singular or plural form is used.

“Gentiles,” meaning in Bible verses, is a term that refers to anyone who is not of Jewish heritage and is used throughout to describe anyone, not just one nation or ethnic group. A general term for people who do not believe in God is “Gentile.”

Key Takeaways

  • The term “Gentile” in the Bible refers to non-Jewish individuals, encompassing a broad range of nations and ethnic groups.
  • Throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, Gentiles play a crucial role in God’s plan, with the New Testament emphasizing their inclusion in God’s promise of salvation.
  • The biblical narrative evolves from a focus on Israel to a universal scope of salvation, inviting Gentiles into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ.

What Is A Gentile?

“Gentile”[1] is a translation of the Greek word ethnos, which indicates “nation,” “ethnicity,” or “people.” A “Gentile” is a person who is not Jewish, to put it simply. The Jews were God’s chosen people, set apart from the rest of the world to serve as witnesses under the Old Covenant and as the lineal ancestors of the Messiah, according to the Old Testament.

God commanded Abraham to “Go to the place that I will show you, and I will create of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse anyone who dishonors you; and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1–3).

Here, we see God’s inclusion of all people and his separation of the Jewish people: “God will make a nation out of Abraham” and “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” The conflict between Jews and Gentiles persisted in the early church, with some believing that salvation required adherence to Jewish law (Acts 15).

These individuals are sometimes referred to as “Judaizers” or the “circumcision party” in the New Testament. However, God makes it very plain that salvation is freely given to everyone; it is not dependent on ancestry but is accomplished through faith in God (Ephesians 2:1–10).

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What Is The Gentiles Meaning In Bible Stories?

Gentiles may have a variety of beliefs because they do not belong to a single nation or group of people, but they all share the idea that they are not followers of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. They disregard the gospel message of Jesus Christ and pursue their own goals and understanding instead. In the context of the Hebrew Bible, the term is often used to distinguish between the Israelites, who were the descendants of Abraham, and the other nations or peoples of the world.

Gentiles In The Old Testament 

God was never opposed to the nations of the world outside of Israel, but any Gentile might ally themselves with and join the people of Israel. Only if they renounced paganism and its attendant false gods, such as Baal or the goddess Asherah, was it possible for them to do so.

In God’s plan, he never intended to wipe out all the pagan nations because he was exceedingly concerned for their souls. Most Christians, especially those who may not be familiar with the Old Testament, think that God aims to eradicate all non-Israelite nations from the face of the globe.

Jesus’s ancestry includes pagans like Ruth, demonstrating his desire for universal adoration. Finally, that will happen after his second coming. God offered them salvation, compassion for them, and love for the sojourner by providing them with food and clothing. He did not enjoy seeing them destroyed.

Gentiles In The New Testament 

In Acts 13:47–49, the Apostle Paul said that the Lord had commanded them (Paul and Barnabas), saying, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing, glorifying the word of the Lord, and those who believed were appointed to eternal life.

And the word of the Lord was going forth across the whole region. “God promises glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good—the Jew first and also the Greek. God, after all, is impartial” (Romans 2:10–11). In fact, Jesus told many of his followers in the New Testament that Gentiles and Orthodox Jews alike share in God’s plan of salvation.

Similarities Of Gentiles In The Bible To Lost Sheep

In the pages of the Bible, they both occupy significant roles in illustrating God’s enduring love and redemption. While distinct in their contexts, they share remarkable parallels that reflect the divine plan for salvation for Gentile converts.

  1. Strangers Welcomed Home: The term Gentile in the Bible refers to non-Jewish individuals. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people were God’s chosen nation, but the New Testament marks a turning point where the teachings of Christ Jesus extended to embrace all nations. The Apostle Paul, particularly, played a crucial role in spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles, emphasizing that they, too, were recipients of God’s grace and salvation.
  2. Symbol Of God’s Unfailing Love: They portray the themes of seeking and redemption. The Gospel’s universality emphasizes that God’s love extends beyond cultural, ethnic, and religious boundaries. Gentiles, once considered outsiders, are now offered the opportunity to be grafted into God’s covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.
  3. Value and Worth: Gentiles also remind us of the value that each soul holds in God’s eyes. The conversion of the Gentiles shows that no one is beyond redemption, and God’s grace is all-encompassing. The parables teach us that despite the size of the flock, every individual is precious to the Good Shepherd. This recognition of intrinsic worth should inspire us to treat others with love, compassion, and a desire to guide them toward the truth.

Where Does The Bible Talk About Gentiles?

Anyone who is not a member of God’s family is a Gentile, but if they put their faith in Jesus Christ, it will not matter. Because this was so important, Paul repeated it in Colossians 3:11 by writing, “There is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28).

You become a member of his family and God’s chosen people after you are born again (Ephesians 1–2). No one is a Jew who is only one on the outside, and circumcision is not merely external and bodily, according to Paul.

According to Romans 2:28–29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.” “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Galatians 3:29).

In the Book of Revelation, there is a vision described by the apostle John where he sees a great multitude of people standing before the throne of God in white robes, praising and rejoicing. This scene is found in Revelation 7:9–17. In this retelling, John mentions that the revelers come from many nations and that the crowd is a mix of non-Israelites and many Gentiles.

Some Daily Bible Verses About The Gentiles

Acts 15:7–9: After much discussion, Peter stood up and addressed the group, saying, “Brothers, you know that in the beginning, God promised and chose among you that by my mouth the Gentile Christians should hear the word of the gospel and believe. God, who understands the heart, gave them the Holy Spirit in the same way he gave it to us, and he made no distinction between us and them after purifying their hearts by faith.”

Ephesians 4:17–19: I now affirm in the name of the Lord that you must no longer behave as the Gentiles do, following their mindless ways. Because of the ignorance they possess and the hardness of their hearts, they are dim in understanding and cut off from God’s life. They have turned callous, given in to sensuality, and are eager to engage in every form of impurity.

Daniel 7:14: All peoples, nations, and languages were to serve him, and he was granted dominion, glory, and a kingdom. His dominion is an eternal dominion that will never vanish, and his kingdom will never be destroyed.

Jeremiah 16:19: The nations will come to you from the ends of the world and say, “Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless goods from which there is no benefit. O Lord, You are my strength and my stronghold.”

Romans 3:9: In this verse, Paul writes, “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantages? None! For we have already made the claim that Jews and Gentiles alike are full of sin.” Here, Paul is asserting that every man is a sinner, thus implying that no one man is superior to another.

Luke 2:32: This verse tells the story of Christ Jesus visiting the temple as a young man and meeting a devout man named Simeon, who immediately recognized him as the savior of mankind. He proclaimed that Jesus was “a beacon of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.”

Are Gentiles Loved By God?

Paul cites Hosea in Romans 9:25–26, in which God tells the Israelites that he would once more refer to them as his people after having abandoned, rejected, and made them “no people.” And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be named “sons of the living God,” as he does in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call my people, and those who were not beloved I will call beloved.

Paul feels justified in using this text to support the claim that God has included the Gentiles as instruments of mercy because he takes the rejection of Israel—”not my people,” “not loved,” and “not my people”—so seriously. Gentile converts were accepted, but their bad attitude and behavior were not. Just like the Jews did, the Gentiles required their sin to be forgiven through the death of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to be at peace with God.

Gentiles were “no people,” and if Jews were “no people” and could be called “my people,” then Gentiles could also be called “my people.” They had no claims under the agreement with God. However, Jesus assists a Gentile woman who had prayed for her daughter’s deliverance from a demon. And now that God has given his powerful summons, many have accepted it and joined his covenant people.

In the Bible, we find profound theological truths that reveal God’s heart for humanity, not just as the God of Israel. When we read Scripture, we come to understand that non-Israelites, even from other religions, are also our fellow heirs in God’s glory.

The Bible beautifully illustrates the universality of God’s grace, the value he places on every soul, and his desire to bring the lost back into his fold. As we reflect on these stories, let us find inspiration to share God’s love with others and play our part in seeking the lost and welcoming them home.

What Are Bible Promises For Gentiles?

The God of Israel offered the Gentiles a place inside his family in the same way he made unique promises to the Jewish people. They were grafted into Israel and the Jewish people, which are the “wild olive branches” (Romans 11:17). This means that they are now included in God’s covenant promises and blessings through Christ. Israel was to serve as God’s messenger and a witness of God’s reality and law to all other nations on earth to carry out this momentous revelation.

The promise of faith extends to non-Jews or Gentiles as well. God’s promise made through the prophet Joel has been realized with the coming of the Holy Ghost. In Acts 2:38–39, Peter proclaims that the gift of the Holy Spirit is for both Jews and Gentiles who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Moreover, long before Jesus was killed and rose from the dead, the Bible reveals God’s love for the vast majority of people and all nations.

Before there were kings and queens, before he picked Israel, and before he made Abraham his companion, God made a promise to all people. We are confident in God’s goodness and that his promises will come to pass. Through faith, Gentiles can gain access to the wisdom and knowledge of God. They are called to be part of God’s kingdom and play a significant role in fulfilling his purposes.

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It can be assumed that Gentile people do not benefit from God’s promises when we refer to them as simply “not Jewish.” That is untrue. The promises of faith are consistently extended to the people of the Gentile nations—from the time of the Mosaic Law to modern times. The message is that Gentiles are present in heaven.

Even though the Gentiles were long regarded as the Jewish people’s foes, Christ brought good news to Jews and non-Jews. The Gentiles experience the closest possible fellowship with God. The Gentiles are engulfed in God’s loving delight for all of eternity. Jesus told Orthodox Jews that they were welcome in his family.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Gentile In The Biblical Context?

A Gentile in the biblical context is a person who is not of Jewish descent, often referring to someone from any other nation or ethnic group.

How Are Gentiles Portrayed In The Old Testament?

In the Old Testament, Gentiles are portrayed as nations or peoples outside of the Israelite community, often viewed as distinct but still part of God’s broader plan for humanity.

What Is The Significance Of Gentiles In The New Testament?

The significance of Gentiles in the New Testament lies in their inclusion in the Christian faith, where they are seen as integral to the spread of the Gospel and recipients of God’s promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Are There Specific Bible Verses That Mention Gentiles?

Yes, there are specific Bible verses that mention Gentiles, such as Ephesians 2:1–10 and Acts 13:47–49, which discuss the role and inclusion of Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation.

How Did The Relationship Between Jews And Gentiles Change After Jesus’ Teachings?

After Jesus’ teachings, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles changed significantly, as Jesus and his apostles, especially Paul, emphasized the inclusion of Gentiles into the Christian faith, breaking down the traditional Jewish-Gentile barriers.

What Is The Theological Significance Of Gentiles In Christianity?

The theological significance of Gentiles in Christianity is profound, as their inclusion symbolizes the universality of the Gospel and God’s plan of salvation, extending beyond Jewish boundaries to encompass all of humanity.

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