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I received the following question:

I have been reading the book of Romans lately, and it is very confusing when it comes to deciding when it is talking about Jews of the Nations, Jews, or Gentiles.

This is not an easy thing. You have read my article on “Gentiles and Nations”?

A few helpful things to keep in mind:

1. The words are used differently in the land and out of the land. Being used in a different context and from a different perspective, they take on a different meaning.

2. In the land, they seem to have used the word “Jews” to indicate the same kind of idea as we use when we say someone is a “real American.” We do not mean that there are a lot of fake Americans running around out there, but we mean that this person is an example of what a true patriot and lover of his country should be like. So, they called “Jews” those who they thought were the pinnacle of their nation, that is, their religious leaders. Ironically, these men were often the most bitter enemies of the Lord, but they were generally thought of as the standard for others. Read the rest of this entry »

I received the following question:

When Paul first turns to the Gentiles in Acts 13:46, is he really turning to the Greek Jews and then to the true Gentiles?  I’m having a hard time putting the sequence together.

I think you are thinking of the word “first” in this verse as meaning in “first in order.” I believe that “first” here means “first” primarily. The Jew had the advantage over the Greek in receiving the gospel, since he had the Scriptures and knew what they said, whereas the Greeks among the Israelites had given Them up, and the Gentile Greeks had never really had them in the first place. The Jew was already seeking to be faithful to God, and so believing in the Messiah was only a logical next step. The Greek, however, did not follow the Scriptures, and so usually had little knowledge of them. The Greek Israelite had given up on his Israelite heritage, and so was no longer waiting or caring about the Messiah coming. He was no longer looking to God, so for him to be interested in the message of Jesus Christ would require a change of heart. The gospel message gave him an easy way back to God, if he wished to take it, yet a Greek was less likely to believe the gospel than a Jew, simply because his outlook on things was not prepared for it or looking for it. Thus the gospel was primarily to the Jew because he was the one waiting for it, hoping for a Messiah Who would come to save. Read the rest of this entry »

I received the following question:

How does your stance that Greeks are Jews who take on Greek customs affect our beliefs/picture of Paul’s work in bringing the message to the Jew first and then to the Greek.

In spite of the fact that Romans 1:16 has been used almost universally as a proof text for Gentile salvation, the word Gentiles does not appear in this verse, but rather the word Greeks. What Paul is saying is that the gospel is for the Jew (that is, the ancestral Israelite who had been living faithful to His God) first, that is, primarily. Those Israelites who had proven themselves faithful to God through all the hardships of living for Him out among the Gentile world rightfully received the priority in hearing the gospel proclaimed to them. Yet God in grace also was reaching out to those who did not live the Jewish culture, but rather lived the Greek lifestyle that was common among the nations. These largely were ancestral Israelites who had not been faithful to God, and had the gospel offer to them pardon for their faithlessness and salvation from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Also included in these Greeks would have been what we think of as Gentiles, who of course all lived the Greek lifestyle, unless they were proselytes. Proselytes would have been included in with the “Jews,” anyway. But there were some “Gentile” Greeks who did believe in the gospel and receive salvation in the Acts period, as we know from reading Acts. Thus, the gospel was also to the Greek, whether that was an ancestral Israelite Greek, or a Gentiles Greek. The difference here is not one of nationality, like Jews and Gentiles, but of lifestyle.

We have been examining the meaning of the word “Greeks” in the Scriptures. First, we examined the word Hellenists, and concluded that these were Israelites who, after living outside the land, no longer were able to speak the native language of the land, which was Aramaic, but rather could only speak Greek. Then, we considered the word Hellenes. I would suggest that this word has to do with a certain culture or philosophy of life that says the Greek way of life is the best way of life, the Greek gods are the best gods, the Greek way of running a city is the best way of running a city, and so forth. By the Jews, it was used for those ancestral Israelites who, from long dwelling outside the land, had given up on the Jewish religion and culture that God had given Israel, and instead had taken up the religion and culture of the nations around them, which was that of the Greeks.

Now let us examine the occurrences of the word Hellenes or “Greeks” in the New Testament, and see if this idea of Jews who had given up their culture and were living like Greeks fits these occurrences. The first occurrence of the word “Greeks” is, interestingly enough, not the word Hellenes at all, but rather is the feminine form of the word, Hellenis, which refers to a Greek woman or Greekess, if we wish to coin a word. This word occurs twice in Scripture, and the first occurrence is in Mark 7:26. Read the rest of this entry »

The word “Greeks” in Scripture can be a somewhat puzzling one for those who study the Bible. Any but the most superficial of students must soon see upon examining the uses of the word that it has little or nothing to do with those people who dwelt in Greece or who came originally from Greece. The most obvious answer being eliminated, we are left to wonder what a Greek might be? What people group is represented by this word? What truth was God trying to convey to us when He used this word to describe certain people? How is a Greek special or different from other people? What was it that caused one to be designated by this title?

The answer that most would probably give to these questions is that a Greek was the same thing as a Gentile. They believe that the Holy Spirit has used these terms more-or-less interchangeably, and therefore when we read the word “Greeks” we should think no deeper than to assume that the passage is speaking of “Gentiles.”

This is actually the explanation I was taught myself as a boy, and believed and taught in my studies up to the time I actually sat down to write this article on the meaning of the word “Greeks.” In preparation for writing, I sat down with an online Greek concordance and studied out all the occurrences of the word “Greeks,” hoping to find obvious examples to prove my belief that a Greek is the same as a Gentile. Instead I found these verses in Acts 14:1-2. Read the rest of this entry »