is a Gentile?
When asking the question, “Who is a gentile?” there is both the
easy answer and the more complex answer. The easy answer is “Anyone who is not a
Jew.” But to understand what is being said in the New Testament we have to
understand the context and meaning of the words being used.
Pagans and Greeks
instance: go to the book of 1 Corinthians in the King James Version of the
Bible and see the inconsistency found in the verses below concerning
1Corinthians 10:20 KJV
I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice
to devils, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship
1Corinthians 12:2 KJV
know that you were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols,
even as you were led.
1Corintians 12:13 KJV
by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or
Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink
into one Spirit.
1Corinthians 10:32 KJV
none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the
church of God:
above verses, first we read that Gentiles sacrifice to devils. Next we
read that the people that Paul is addressing
(meaning they are NO LONGER Gentiles). Next we read that both Jew
and Gentile are baptized into ONE body and we should be careful not to
offend Gentiles. What is this talking about?
at the same verses in the New International Version
1Corinthians 10:20 NIV
but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and
I do not want you to be participants with demons.
1Corinthians 12:2 NIV
know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were
influenced and led astray to mute idols.
1Corinthians 12:13 NIV
13 For we were all
baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or
or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1Corinthians 10:32 NIV
32 Do not cause anyone
to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God--
We see that the word “Gentile” in the four
verses out of the KJV is actually
two words translated in the NIV as
“pagan” and “Greek.” From Strong’s concordance we
read the following definitions.
eth'-nos; prob. from G1486; a race (as of the same habit), i.e. a
tribe; spec. a foreign (non-Jewish) one (usually by impl.
hel'-lane; from G1671; a Hellen (Grecian) or inhab. of Hellas; by
extens. a Greek-speaking person,
espec. a non-Jew:--Gentile,
So then, ethnos means a pagan, and Hellen means a Greek. Being a Greek
Gentile is O.K. but being a pagan Gentile would not be O.K. Right? No,
that’s not entirely true. In the tenth chapter of Acts we read about some
Gentiles who Peter visits.
45 And they of the
circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with
Peter, because that on the Gentiles* also was poured out the
gift of the Holy Ghost.
45 The circumcised
believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the
Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.*
Notice that the KJV and the NIV both translate this word as Gentiles. Why
does the NIV not use it’s standard translation and say either “pagans” or
“Greeks”? Because this is the word “ethnos” that normally would be
translated as “pagans” in the NIV.
Who were these “Gentiles” and why is the word ethnos used here and not
at look at the context of this verse.
was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the
band called the Italian band,
2 a devout man, and one that feared God
with all his house, which
gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of
God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, Lord?”
And he said unto him, “Your prayers and your alms are come up for a
memorial before God.”
send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.
In the 1st
century, Gentiles were divided up into a number of groups. There were
pagans or heathens, who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
and there were proselytes who had converted to Judaism. But in addition to
these two categories of Gentiles, there were also God Fearers
who, although not totally converting to Judaism, believed in the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Today they are also known as righteous
As we saw
in the previous chapter, the School of Shammai did not believe that an
ethnos (a Gentile who was not a full convert to Judaism) had a place in
the world to come. Cornelius, being a centurion, would not be allowed,
(under military restrictions), to become circumcised. Therefore, he would still be
considered a pagan or heathen by the School of Shammai.
Kill and Eat
in Acts 10:9.
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and
approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.
10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was
being prepared, he fell into a trance.
11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to
earth by its four corners.
12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as
reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.
13 Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
people point to this passage to support the belief that God has “done
away” with the laws of eating kosher, but as we shall see this event has
nothing to do with changing the kosher laws. Rather, God teaches Peter an
important lesson about his relationship with other people, and how the
influences of the School of Shammai caused an isolationist approach to
Judaism that God had never intended.
Peter’s response when he was told to eat of these unclean animals.
"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that
God has made clean."
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the
men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the
that after having this vision, Peter could not figure out it’s meaning. It
was obvious to him that God was NOT changing the kosher laws. If that was
the case, what was God trying to tell him?
in verse 21:
21 Peter went down and said to the men, "I'm the one you're looking for.
Why have you come?"
22 The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a
righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the
Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that
he could hear what you have to say."
23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next
day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went
24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them
and had called together his relatives and close friends.
25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in
26 But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man
27 Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of
28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for
a Jew to associate with a GENTILE or visit him. But God has shown me
that I should not call any man impure or unclean.
notice what Peter’s interpretation of the vision was. He did not believe
God was now telling him not to follow the kosher laws. Rather, he
believed that God was against labeling PEOPLE as unclean.
But, what law is Peter talking about when he
says it is “against the law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or to
visit him?” This is NOT a law found in the Torah. At this time in Jewish
history, however, there was an anti-Gentile movement among the followers
of Shammai who instituted the 18 edicts or measures.
book "Jesus the Pharisee" Rabbi Harvey Falk writes:
eighteen measures were a set of rulings advocated by Bet Shammai in
order to foster greater separation between Jews and Gentiles, these
rules being opposed by Bet Hillel. [pg 56]
of the rulings, that existed at this time, was a
prohibition of entering a Gentiles house so as not to be defiled. Also,
eating with a Gentile was prohibited.
opposition of associating with Gentiles still continued to be part of the
custom of believers of "the Way". Even
years after Peter's vision the disciples of Yeshua were amazed when
Gentiles began to be drawn toward a belief in the One God in record
they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying,
“Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
it mean when it says “repentance unto life”? This means eternal life or
life after death. The question that they were struggling with was, “Can
a Gentile have a place in the “world to come?” Again, we see the conflict of
opinion within the two schools of Jewish thought. The School of Shammai
did not accept the concept of the “righteous Gentile,” whereas the School
of Hillel did.
Who is a
“righteous Gentile”? He is a Gentile who follows the seven Noahide
laws. Although he is not a full convert to Judaism, he does adhere
to certain principles.
Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky in the book “The Path of the
Righteous Gentile” write:
respect to God’s commandments, all humanity is divided into two general
classifications: the Children of Israel and the Children of Noah. The
Israel are the Jews, the descendants of the Patriarch Jacob.
They are commanded to fulfill the 613 Commandments of the Torah. The
Children of Noah comprise the seventy original nations of the world and
their branches. They
are commanded concerning the Seven Universal Laws, also known as the Seven
Laws of the Children of Noah or the Seven Noahide Laws. These Seven
Universal Laws pertain to idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, sexual
relations, eating the limb of a living animal, and establishing courts of
Can such a
Gentile decide to become a full convert to Judaism? Absolutely. But,
according to the School of Hillel, they should never be forced to convert
or to proceed beyond those areas they choose. Taking this into account
let’s look at the “Jerusalem conference” in Acts 15 and understand what
this discussion was all about.
And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice
and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they
caused great joy unto all the brethren.
were the gentiles being converted to? Remember at this time in history
there was no such thing as a separate religion known as Christianity.
These were Gentiles being converted to a belief in Judaism,
although they were NOT full converts.
when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of
the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done
5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which
believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command
them to keep the law of Moses.
Notice that they were NOT circumcised NOR were they keeping
the "laws of Moses".
the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said to them,
“Men and brethren, you know how that a good while ago God made choice
among us, that the
Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and
8 And God, which knows the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy
Ghost, even as he did to us;
9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by
10 Now therefore why tempt you God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the
disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
this "yoke" that is hard to bear and who is it on? Is this saying that
God’s instructions for living a good life should be thrown out because
they are too hard to follow? No, that is not what is being said. The yoke is not
on the Gentiles; it is on the disciples. The followers of Yeshua from the School of Shammai were promoting the practice of forcing
Gentiles to comply with aspects of the law before they were ready. They
were saying that a Gentile had to become a full convert to Judaism (taking
on the entire "yoke" of the law)
before they would associate or fellowship with them. So in addition, they (those from
the School of Shammai) were putting a "yoke" upon those disciples (from the
School of Hillel).
after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, “Men and
brethren, listen to me:
14 Simeon has declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to
take out of them a people for his name.
15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David,
which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will
set it up:
17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the
Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, says the Lord, who doeth all these
18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among
the Gentiles are turned to God:
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of
idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
explains that Gentiles do not need to become full converts to Judaism to
be acceptable before God. Rather, as long as the Gentiles follows the
seven Noahide laws
they can fellowship and learn as they go.
Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.
Gentiles were allowed to attend synagogue every Sabbath to learn, The
school of Hillel (along with believers in "the Way") promoted the idea
of the Jewish people being "a light" to the Gentiles, and did not
isolate themselves from them. That had been
God’s intention from the beginning.
the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the Passover:
There shall no stranger eat thereof:
44 But every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast
circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof.
45 A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof.
46 In one house shall it be eaten; thou shall not carry forth ought of the
flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof.
47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it.
48 And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover
LORD, let all his males be
circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as
one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat
49 One law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the
stranger that sojourns among you.
50 Thus did all the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses and
Aaron, so did they.
51 And it came to pass the selfsame day, that the LORD did bring the
children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies.
multitude that came out of Egypt with the Children of Israel could not eat
the Passover. However, if they CHOSE to become a full convert, they would
be allowed to do so. In fact that would be a great decision, but it had to
be THEIR choice.
Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law,
you have become as though you had not been circumcised.
26 If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they
not be regarded as though they were circumcised?
27 The one who is not circumcised physically
and yet obeys the
law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and
circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision
merely outward and physical.
29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is
circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a
man's praise is not from men, but from God.
3:1 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is
there in circumcision?
2 Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with
the oral law.
Paul trying to say here? Again, we
need to take into context the issue that is being discussed. A Jew from
the School of Shammai would not have fellowship with an uncircumcised
Gentile. A Jew from the School of Hillel, however, accepted the Gentile
who was attempting to obey God through observing the seven Noahide laws,
and yet remained uncircumcised. They believed
(as do Jews today) that the “righteous Gentile”
will be saved (have a place in the world to come).
certainly not saying that circumcision was of no value, nor was he
attempting to tell a Gentile that he should not seek conversion.
The Law and the Noahide
converting to Judaism would not make the Gentile a better person. The
Gentile is considered “righteous” by observing the seven Noahide laws.
against idol worship
2) Prohibition against blasphemy
3) Prohibition against murder
4) Prohibition against adultery
5) Prohibition against theft
6) Prohibition against eating flesh torn from
a live animal or drinking it's blood
7) Establishing a legal system
application of law is not the same for everyone. In the Mosaic law there are laws that apply
only to women, others to men. Some laws only apply to Levites, and others
to priests. When you live in the land there are laws that apply, that do
not apply when you are not in the land. There are also laws that apply
only when the Temple is standing. Likewise there are laws that apply to
Jews (the Children of Israel) that do not apply to Gentiles.
you are required to observe do not make you a better person. A male Levite
living in Israel is not inherently a better person than a female Danite
living in the diaspora. However, each person would have a different set of
laws to follow. It is the same for a Gentile who is only required to observe the seven Noahide laws.
Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky in “The Path of the Righteous Gentile” write:
observing the Seven Noahide Commandments, a Gentile fulfills the purpose
of his creation and receives a share
of the World to Come, the blessed spiritual world of the righteous.
Children of Noah are co-religionists of the Children of Israel.
Together, they are peaceful partners striving to perfect the world and
thereby give God satisfaction. By viewing himself as a Noahite, the Gentile becomes
like the Jew, in that he is a member of a people whose peoplehood (not
just his religion) is synonymous with its relationship to God.
Yakov Fogelman, in his April Torah commentary of 2003 writes:
... Jesus and Paul were good guys,
not out to take Jews away from their religion (see Matt.5, Luke 16), but
to bring non-Jews to theirs – the Noahide Code; all should remain in
their own faith, both Jews and Noahides; later errant Christians
distorted their message, tried to convert Jews and deified Jesus, which
would probably have horrified him.
Harvey Falk's book "Jesus the Pharisee", he quotes
Rabbi Jacob Emden concerning the formation of Christianity as
for the Gentiles, he reserved the Seven Commandments which they have
always been obligated to fulfill. It is for that reason that were
forbidden pollutions of idols, fornication, blood, and things strangled
(Acts 15) They also forbade them circumcision and the Sabbath. All of
this was in accord with the law and custom of our Torah, as expounded by
our Sages, the true transmitters from Moses at Sinai. It was they who
sat upon his seat (as the Nazarene himself attested [Mt.23]). It was
they (the Sages and Pharisees) who said it is forbidden to circumcise a
Gentile who does accept upon himself the yoke of (all) the commandments.
The Sages likewise said that the Gentile is enjoined not to (fully) to
observe the Sabbath. The Apostles of the Nazarene therefore chose for
those Gentiles who do not enter the Jewish faith that instead of circumcision they
should practice immersion (for truly immersion is also a condition of
full conversion), and a commemoration of the Sabbath was made for them
believed that he was living in the "last days", and if Gentiles
were to believe and work for the coming of the Jewish Messiah, they would
help bring the world into a time of peace. This would be to the benefit of
both Jew AND Gentile. Paul also
tells the Gentiles that they would be used as an important part of God’s
redemption of Israel (the northern kingdom that had become lost).
this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for
the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word
of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
this group of Jewish followers, many of whom believed that you had to
become a complete convert to Judaism BEFORE you could be saved,
eventually become “the Church” believing you should ABANDON Judaism
the answer to that question by studying the journey Christianity takes
from the Synagogue to the Church.