The study of the Scriptures is not an easy task.  Anyone who thinks it is has not yet delved very deeply into the things that the Word of God has to offer.  The study can be rewarding, however, and the diligent student will find the challenge to be a pleasure, not a chore, as he labors to be “a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”  (II Timothy 2:15b)

But when we take it upon ourselves to study the Scriptures, we will soon find that we have an enemy who will attempt to thwart us in our endeavors.  Learning the ways he seeks to blind and confuse us will do much in leading us towards the truth and away from the errors he attempts to propagate.  I believe that one of the most devious strategies he uses for blinding us to the truth of the Scriptures is by getting us to define words wrongly in our minds.  Once we have done this, then the truth of Scripture will be totally negated, as we will always, whenever we come upon that word in the Bible, immediately call the wrong idea to mind, and thus we will be deceived and miss the truth that the Word of God was attempting to convey to us.

There are many words in the Scriptures that have been improperly defined by the masses or by theologians themselves, and the study of all of them would be an almost overwhelming task.  In this study, I will examine only one of these words, which is the word Gentile.

The word “Gentile” in our Bibles comes from the Greek word “ethnos.”  We get our word “ethnic” from it, which means “of a culture or nation.”  And indeed that is what the word means in Greek, not a “Gentile,” but a “nation.”  This was not used exclusively of non-Jews either.  Really, the word “Gentile” has no business being in our Bibles at all, as it does not mean the same thing as “ethnos,” nor is there any other word that it adequately translates.  The fact that “ethnos” does not mean “Gentile” is demonstrated by Acts 10:22, which speaks of the “nation of the Jews.”  This is again the word “ethnos.”  Our Bibles dishonestly translate it here as “nation.”  But if you are going to say that “ethnos” means Gentiles in the plural, then the singular would have to mean “Gentile,” which would make this to read “the Gentile of the Jews.”  It is not honest to support your claim that “ethnos” means “Gentile” by translating away passages that oppose that view.  This is, unfortunately, what our translators have done.  But if we truly want to know what “ethnos” means, we will then have to figure out what the “Gentile of the Jews” is.

An Israelite living outside the land of Israel was as much considered a “nation” as a non-Jew.  A Jew living in the first century and hearing the word “ethnos” would have had to, from the context, decide upon one of four meanings of the word:

1.  Non-Jews (Gentiles)
2.  All people not living in the land of Israel, whether Jew or Gentile
3.  All Jewish people living in any country other than Israel
4.  All nations on the earth, including the land of Israel.

Let me illustrate these using a one-sentence example of how each one of these might be used in a sentence.

1.  Lucas was a man who worshipped God, but he could not pass beyond the court of the ethnos in the temple because he was a man of the ethnos.
2.  Yahweh has blessed the land of Israel to such an extent that even the very air of it is holy, and the mere act of breathing is enough to make one living in the land wiser than anyone living among the ethnos.
3.  Although Samuel used to be among the ethnos, when he came to live in the land he proved to be a devout follower of the law of Moses.
4.  The Scriptures tell us that in the kingdom of God all ethnos of the earth will be under the rod of the Messiah.

This illustrates these four definitions of the word and how one can see their use and the change in their meaning according to the context in which they are used.  This might seem complicated to us, but it is no different than the mental calculation we have to make in English every time we hear someone say the word “ball.”  For example:

Having a ball.
Attended the ball.
Threw the ball.
Ball player.

This seems easy to us, but may be very confusing to a non-English speaker.  In the same way, we might find it difficult to handle the word “ethnos,” but the fact is that it should not be too hard if one carefully examines the context.  We must keep in mind those four definitions, and when we come upon an occurrence of the word, decide which meaning is meant.  When God told Paul he was sending him to the nations, he meant at first to the children of Israel outside the land, but, as we see develop later on, eventually to certain non-Jews, and finally, anyone who would come to him.

Thus I believe we should get in the habit of substituting the word “nations” in our minds every time we come upon the word “Gentiles” in our Bibles.  This will allow us to look at the context and decide which of the above four definitions is meant in the passage we are reading.  If we do not do this, we may end up seeing Gentiles where none actually existed in the mind of God.  This error will greatly enhance our confusion in attempting to place the dispensational dividing line unless we guard against it, and will give the covenant theologians ammunition for their claim that the Gentiles are now “spiritual Israel.”  But a return to the correct meaning of “ethnos” will clear much of the confusion away and allow us to see much more clearly what was actually going on in the Acts period, around which so much of our theology affecting our current religious practices and standing before God must rest.