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Who Are The Gentiles?

benjamites's picture

A SCRIPTUAL study into the meaning of the terms "Gentile" and "Israelite"

All scripture references by poster KJV. I am not opposed to other translations, but just my preference.

"A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" Luke 2:32

It is generally taught in the Christian churches of America, that the world is divided into three main religious groups - Jews, Gentiles and Christians. These religious groups teach that anyone who is not a Jew, must belong to one or the other of these remaining groups, and is either a Gentile or a Christian.

The modern definition of a "gentile" as given in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary is: "relating to the nations at large, as distinguished from the Jews."

But here is something important we MUST know, if we are to understand the Bible. The word GENTILE is not used in any of the ancient manuscripts, simply because there was no such word in the Hebrew or Greek languages. The word GENTILE as used in our modern Bible versions, including the King James Version, in the Old Testament, always comes from the Hebrew word "goy," (singular) and "goyim", (plural). It is translated five different ways in the Old Testament, according to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible; "goy or goyim (singular or plural)", a foreign NATION hence GENTILE; (2) HEATHEN; (3) NATION, and (4) PEOPLE, or ANOTHER."

Notice that the Hebrew word "goy, or goyim," is NEVER translated to mean "non-Jew."
The word "goy" is found in the Old Testament some 557x. 30x it has been translated GENTILE; 11x as people; 142x as heathen; 373x as NATION, and one time as ANOTHER. But not once as "non-Jew."

Let's examine a few specific verses of Scripture in the Old Testament, using the word GENTILE in place of the word NATION, as used by the translators. It should be remembered that the word "goy" or "goyim" was used in every instance in the original Hebrew.

Genesis 12:2 "I will make of thee (Abraham) a great GENTILE (nation.) Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Genesis 17:4,5 ". . . and thou (Abraham) shall be a father of many GENTILES (nations), neither shall thy name any more be called Abram; for a father of many GENTILES (nations) have I made thee."

Genesis 25:23 "And the Lord said to her (Rebekah the wife of Isaac, the son of Abraham) two GENTILES (nations) are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger."

Genesis 48:19 ". . . And his seed (Abraham's descendants) shall become a multitude of GENTILES (nations)."

This kind of translation does not make much sense. But if you will look closely at your King James Version, you will find the translators used the Hebrew word "goy" as NATIONS in one place and as GENTILE in another. Could it be that they were influenced by the Church doctrine of their time, since the word GENTILE never appeared in earlier manuscripts? The King James Version, for instance was written because King James, disliked the footnotes of the Geneva Bible, which was the Bible of the Reformation fathers.

To be continued....

My disappointments in life are God's Divine appointments. Are they for you too?

"Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ. Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit."

Apostle Paul ~ Ephesians 3:4-5

beemanlee's picture

The Meaning Of The Hebrew Word: goy or goyim

I see some missed understanding in the usage of The Hebrew and want to point out some Biblical Information that may be useful in the discussion.

From Genesis 12:2. from The NASB ©, Hebrew Transliteration of Strong's, Origin of The Hebrew Definition, KJV Lexicon, Biblos.com

And I will make וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ ve·'e·'es·cha, 6213a, do, make, a primitive root
you a great גָּדֹ֔ול, ga·do·vl, 1419, great, from gadal 1431, to grow up, become great
nation, לְגֹ֣וי, le·go·vy, 1471, nation, people, from the same as gav, from 1471, goy, a foreign nation, a Gentile Nation, the heathen, Gentiles, people
And I will bless וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ va·'a·va·rech·cha, 1288, to kneel, bless, a primitive root
you, And make וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה va·'a·gad·de·lah, 1431, גָּדַל, gaw-dal', to grow up, become great, a primitive root
your name שְׁמֶ֑ךָ she·me·cha; 8034, shem, a name, renown, of uncertain derivation, rather from 7760, suwm, to put, ordain, set apart, to appoint
great; גָּדַל, gadal, 1431, gaw-dal', to grow up, become great, a primitive root
And so you shall be a blessing; בְּרָכָֽה׃ be·ra·chah., 1293, a blessing, from barak, 1288, בָּרַך, baw-rak', to kneel, to bless

So what is the meaning of The Hebrew word 'goy' in the text of Genesis 12 referring to?

The Hebrew goy is pointing to a Foreign Nation, a Gentile Nation, the heathen, other people.

And from Strong's Concordance, 2001, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Hebrew #1471; goy; as a Nation.
#1. Goy means nation; people; heathen. It refers to a people or nation usually with overtones of territorial or governmental unity/identity.
#1a. This emphasis is in the promise formulas where G-d Promised to make someone a Great and Powerful, numerous Nation(Genesis12:2).
#1b. Certainly these adjectives described the future characteristics of the individual's descendants as compared to other people (Numbers14:12).
#1c. So goy represents a group of individuals who are considered as a unit with respect to origin, language, land, jurisprudence and government.
#1d. This emphasis is in (Genesis 10:5); The first occurrence:...By these were the isles of The Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations...
#1d. From Deuteronomy 4:6; It deals not with political and national identity but with religious unity, it wisdom, insight, religious jurisprudence and especially its nearness to G-d; ...Keep therefore and do them; for your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all of these statutes, and say; Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people...
#1f. Certainly all this is viewed as the result of Divine Election (Deuteronomy4:32).
#1g. Israel's greatness is due to The Greatness of her G-d and The Great Acts He has accomplished for her

From Strong's 1471, Goy, as a derogatory name.
#2 Goy is sometimes almost a derogative name for non-Israelite groups of people, or The Heathen; from Leviticus 26:33; ...And I will scatter you among the heather, and will draw out a sword...
#2a. This negative connotation is not always present, however, when the word is used of The Heathen: from Numbers 23:9,...For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations...

From Strong's #1471, Goy as in dealing with Worship as non-Israelites.
#3. Certainly in context dealing with worship, The Goyim are the non-Israelites: ...They fear the L-rd, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence... from 2 Kings 17:33.

From Strong's #1471 Goy, describing The People of Canaan before Abram entered The Promised Land.
#4. In passages such as Duteronomy 4:38, Goyim specifically describes the early inhabitants of Canaan prior to The Israelites conquest.
#4a. Israel was to keep herself apart from and distinct from the heathen, from Deuteronomy 7:1.
#4b. Israel was to be an example of true godliness before The People of The Nations. from Deuteronomy 4:6.

From Strong's #1471, Goy, describing Israel as The Means by which Salvation was declared to The Nations.
#5. Israel is G-d's means by which Salvation was declared to The Gentiles/Heathen as a blessing to all The Nations, from Genesis 12:2.
#5a. Israel, as a Holy Nation and Kingdom of Priests. from Exodus 19:6.
#5b. The Nations came to recognize G-d's Sovereignty, from Isaiah 60.

From Strong's #1471, Goy, describing Israel, as a means to introduce The Messiah(Jesus) as The Light unto The Nations, from Isaiah 49:6.
#6. So The Messiah is The Light unto/of The Nations.

Synonym from Strong's 1471, is 5971, 'am, a people a congregation, a tribe as those of Israel.
A. The word 'am, people or nation suggests subjective personal interrelationships based on common familial ancestry and/or a covenantal union, while goy suggesta a politicalentity with The Land of it's own: Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me thy ways, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in thy sight and find consider that this nation is thy People. from Exodus 33:13.
B. Goy may be used of a people, however, apart from it's territorial idenity: ...And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a Holy Nation. from Exodus 19:6.

And some secular Jewish information from Goy at Wikipedia;
of The Biblical Hebrew;

A page from Elia Levita's Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary (16th century) contains a
list of nations, including word "גוי", translated to Latin as "Ethnicus"

In the Torah/Hebrew Bible, goy and its variants appear over 550 times in reference to
Israelites and to Gentile nations. The first recorded usage of goy occurs in Genesis 10:5
and applies innocuously to non-Israelite nations. The first mention
in relation to the Israelites comes in Genesis 12:2, when G-d promises Abraham that his
descendants will form a goy gadol ("great nation"). While the earlier books of the
Hebrew Bible often use goy to describe the Israelites, the later ones tend to apply the
term to other nations.

Some Bible translations leave the word Goyim untranslated and treat it as the proper name
of a country in Genesis 14:1. Bible commentaries suggest that the term may refer to Gutium.
[2] The "King of Goyim" was Tidal.

In Rabbinic Judaism

One of the more poetic descriptions of the chosen people in the Old Testament, and popular
among Jewish scholarship, as the highest description of themselves: when God proclaims in
the holy writ, ‘Goy Ehad B'Aretz’, or 'a unique nation upon the earth!'.

The Rabbinic literature conceives of the nations (goyim) of the world as numbering seventy,
each with a distinct language.

On the verse, “He [God] set the borders of peoples according to the number of the Children
of Israel,”[3] Rashi explains: “Because of the number of the Children of Israel who were
destined to come forth from the children of Shem, and to the number of the seventy souls
of the Children of Israel who went down to Egypt, He set the ‘borders of peoples’ [to be
characterized by] seventy languages.”

The Ohr Hachayim[4] maintains that this is the symbolism behind the Menorah: “The seven
candles of the Menorah [in the Holy Temple] correspond to the world's nations, which
number seventy. Each [candle] alludes to ten [nations]. This alludes to the fact that they
all shine opposite the western [candle], which corresponds to the Jewish people.”

Modern usage

As noted, in the above-quoted Rabbinical literature the meaning of the word "goy" shifted
the Biblical meaning of "a people" which could be applied to the Hebrews/Jews as to others
into meaning "a people other than the Jews". In later generations, a further shift left
the word as meaning an individual person who belongs to such a non-Jewish people.

In modern Hebrew and Yiddish the word Goy is the standard term for a Gentile. The two words are related. In Ancient Greek, ta ethne was used to translate Ha Goyim, both phrase meaning "the nations". In Latin, Gentilis was used to translate the Greek word for "nation",
which led to the word "Gentile".[5]

In English, the use of the word goy can be controversial. Like other common and otherwise innocent terms, it may be assigned pejoratively to non-Jews.[6][7][8] To avoid any perceived offensive connotations, writers may use the English terms "Gentile" or "non-Jew".

In Yiddish, it is the only proper term for Gentile and many bilingual English and Yiddish speakers use it dispassionately [1] or even deliberately.[2]

The term shabbos goy refers to a non-Jew who performs duties that Jewish Law forbids A Jew from performing on The Sabbath, such as lighting a fire to warm a house.


1. ^ The Cambridge history of Judaism, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1989,
ISBN 9780521243773, p. 193.
2. ^ Goiim in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
3. ^ Deut., 32:8
4. ^ On Numbers, 8:2
5. ^ Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, 1988
6. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
7. ^ "There is nothing inherently insulting about the word 'goy.' In fact, the Torah
occasionally refers to the Jewish people using the term 'goy.' Most notably, in
Exodus 19:6, G-d says that the Children of Israel will be 'a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation,' that is, a goy kadosh. Because Jews have had so many bad experiences with
anti-Semitic non-Jews over the centuries, the term 'goy' has taken on some negative
connotations, but in general the term is no more insulting than the word 'gentile.'
Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews, Jewfaq.org. Retrieved January 30, 2007.
8. ^ "The word goy means literally "nation", but has come to mean "Gentile", sometimes with a derogatory connotation." Diane Wolfthal. Picturing Yiddish: gender, identity, and memory in the illustrated Yiddish books of Renaissance, Brill Academic Publishers, 2004,
ISBN 9004117423, p. 59 footnote 60.

I hope this will help us see it more clearly The Hebrew word goy.