Gentile (hebrew Insight)

135359622The word Gentiles (plural of Gentile) comes from the Hebrew word Goyim, meaning the non-Jewish peoples of the world. However, there is more to the story. Please, allow me to explain.

When God called Abram to go to the land that one day would be called the Land of Israel, He promised him that he would become a great nation (ג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל), pronounced  goy gadol. However, God’s promise to Abram also included other nations.  God said that through Abram all the other families of the earth (מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה) would be blessed (Gen.12:1-3).

Adam, pronounced Adam (אָדָ֕ם), and the earth, pronounced Adama (אֲדָמָֽה) from which Adam originated, have the same Hebrew root. This speaks of a strong connection. When describing God’s promise to Abram, Moses purposely used the word for the nations of the world that connected them to Adam. He called them the families of the earth, pronounced mishpachot haadama (מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה).

When we come to the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and to the New Testament, both authored in what can be best called Koine Judeo-Greek, we see that the same Hebrew word  goyim (גּוֹיִם) is accurately translated as ἔθνη, pronounced as ethnei. This sounds familiar to us because it is from this word that our English words for “ethnicity” and “ethnic” are derived.

It is not until these Hebrew and Greek words are translated into Latin by such words as Gentes and Gentilis that the process of transforming the “nations” into “gentiles” in the English language formally begins.

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  1. Bradford J. Gilmore, MD

    When you think of “Adam” meaning earth, Abram–> Abraham, the promise to him of a great nation and then to include all the nations of the world in the promise seems so appropriate to me, because of all our common roots begin in Adam, on the earth. Both Jew and non-Jew are made from the same elements from which Adam was made, thus, the world/earth is our common heritage and in Messiah the distinction between Jew and “Gentile” is not to exist (from my understanding) as explained in Galatians 3. As Christ followers, we are commanded to go unto all nations and disciple them by teaching to observe all that was commanded of us by Him. (Matthew 28:18-20)…it is for the Glory of the L-rd to fill the earth like the waters cover the sea.

  2. jane z. mazzola

    What a freeing commentary. I agree w/ RamonAntonio’s comment (march 3, 2014) re: “playing w/ fire. But in a very enlightening, helpful way.
    Thank you again,

  3. Woo F.W.

    If the Hebrew word ‘goyim meant Gentiles and then it was translated into Greek as ethnei follow by the latin use the word Gentiles that became Gentiles in English, then didn’t it go the full circle, meaning the ethnei should also be Gentiles? Appreciae clarification.

  4. lois stiner

    Dr. Eli,
    It was a pleasure and joy reading the replies from the text you presented, I needed
    that boost of encouragement.
    I still think I belong in the kindergarten class.

    Lois Stiner

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Welcome to our forum, Lois!

      Dr. Eli

  5. Bob

    I just found this site with Dr. Eli and all can say is WOW!

  6. Jeffrey Loh

    I agree – Gentile is a mis-nomer. Nation(s) is correct. Christian theology has gone off the tangent because of this mis-translation.

  7. Steven H.Paul

    Very clear to uderstand. Thank you!

  8. Glenn

    Thanks for this, it’s clear. Please keep them coming!

  9. RamonAntonio

    May I say Dr. Eli, that you are playing with fire?
    Yep, playing with fire:

    31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” Luke 24: 31

    Indeed… our hearts burn within us while… we delve deeper and deeper into GOD’s living Word as it unfolds in front of us as in the walk to Emmaus, which is in fact, a parallel road we take with you in these studies trying to understand the MEANING, not the language, of what has been told to us by HIM. His own story… and ours to take…!

  10. Sylvia Wackenier

    Shalom Dr.Eli, I have no questions concerning the word Goy / Goyim. I agree with the reply of Alfredo.
    Thank you Dr. Eli

  11. Menchu

    Thank you Dr. Eli,
    This truth really helpful to me.

  12. Joe willett

    Dr Eli English translations have been inconsistent with the Greek word ethnos sometimes translating it nations and other times translating it Gentiles. In your opinions is it more accurate to say Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles or to the nations ? Also at the time that the covenant was made with Abraham was the Hebrew word “am” in use ?

    Enjoy your articles.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Shalom, Joe! I think the best way to translate goym or ethnei as simply the nations. Actually, early church fathers (at least semitic ones) had this notion the Jews were the Nation, Gentiles were the nations. (Aphrahat, the Persian Sage for example).

  13. Kat Hobaugh

    The Hebrew word for Gentiles seems much more inviting than the Greek word. Inviting is a very important thing to communicate in blended “family” relationships.

  14. Dang Tha

    Thanks, Dr.Eli!

    I hope to learn Hebrew in the future.


  15. alfredo

    Thanks Dr. Eli It’s very helpful to know these facts, as they help us to learn more about the Abrahamic covenant in which we, the non-Jewish ethnei of the world are included from the beginning. We can also see the vast negative Roman influence that we still have in many ways, shaping the western world thinking away from Jewish thinking that of course is so close and integrated to our Father’s and our Rabi’s thinking.

  16. Luis R. Santos

    And the implication of this is?

  17. Dan Kroger, OFM

    Dr. Eli, you are correct. The translation issue is a big issue. Unfortunately the history of such finer points is not know to most people. Dan