What the scriptures say about
People other than Jews: Nations: Baker's | Gentiles: Smith's | Heathen: Easton's | Pagans: BibleGateway | Table of Nations
More on Gentiles

NATIONS in scriptures [BibleGateway Search]

select Cross Reference Bible links
Genesis 10:1-32 - "Table of Nations" (see below)
Genesis 17:4-6 - God promised Abram (Abraham) that he would be father of many nations through Sarah 17:15-16
Exodus 19:5 - Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation....
Exodus 34:24 - (Yahweh) will drive out nations before you (Israel) and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.
Psalm 2:1 - Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
Psalm 9:11 - Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.
Genesis 11:9 - God scattered the people after confusing their languages
Acts 17:26 - God determined the boundaries of where nations would live (and their kings - Daniel 2:21)
GENTILES [BibleGateway Search] HEATHEN [BibleGateway Search] PAGANS (Foreigner) [Search]
Isaiah 42:6 - I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles (NIV) 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 - It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; (NIV) Isaiah 2:6 - You have abandoned your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans. (NIV)
select Cross Reference Bible links

HEATHEN [Easton Bible Dictionary]

(Heb. plural goyum).
At first the word Goyim denoted generally all the nations of the world (Genesis 18:18; Compare Galatians 3:8). The Jews afterwards became a people distinguished in a marked manner from the other Goyim. They were a separate people (Leviticus 20:23; 26:14-45; Deuteronomy 28), and the other nations, the Amorites, Hittites, etc., were the Goyim, the heathen, with whom the Jews were forbidden to be associated in any way (Joshua 23:7; 1 Kings 11:2). The practice of idolatry was the characteristic of these nations, and hence the word came to designate idolaters (Psalms 106:47; Jeremiah 46:28; Lamentations 1:3; Isaiah 36:18), the wicked (Psalms 9:5,15,17).

The corresponding Greek word in the New Testament, Ethne, has similar shades of meaning. In Acts 22:21, Galatians 3:14, it denotes the people of the earth generally; and in Matthew 6:7, an idolater. In modern usage the word denotes all nations that are strangers to revealed religion.

GENTILES [Smith Bible Dictionary]


All the people who were not Jews were so called by them, being aliens from the worship, rites and privileges of Israel. The word was used contemptuously by them. In the New Testament it is used as equivalent to Greek. This use of the word seems to have arisen from the almost universal adaption of the Greek language.

NATIONS [Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology]

The Old Testament. The English word "nations" is used in the New International Version to translate several Hebrew terms. Most often it refers to goyim, a word thought to derive from gowy, which means "body" of a person and thus by extension, the corporate body of a people.

The writers of the Hebrew Bible applied the term "nations" to various peoples, but at times the term is used quite specifically. In Genesis 10 Israel is included among the list of more than seventy nations. Seven nations larger and stronger than Israel appear in three passages (Deut 7:1; Joshua 3:10; 24:11): the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

The Noahic laws found in Genesis 9:1-17 were understood as the minimum requirements binding on all people, Hebrew and non-Hebrew alike. The exhortation to "be fruitful and multiply" (vv. 1, 7), the allowance to eat any meat, although without the lifeblood in it (vv. 3-5), and the declaration that "whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed" (v. 6) were applicable to all people in all times. But it is clear that the Old Testament writers generally viewed the nations as failing to fulfill even these broad parameters. Approximately half of the references to the nations in the Old Testament refer to them in a negative fashion. The nations are described as "vomit" (Lev 18:28), a "drop in a bucket" and "dust on the scales" (Isa 40:15), and the source of slaves (Lev 25:44). Negative references are often made to the nations in comparison to Israel.

The actions of the nations are depicted as evil, but the almost formulaic comparison between the wicked nations and the chosen people of Israel takes an ironic turn in 2 Chronicles 33:9. There the evil perpetrated by the people of Jerusalem, having been led astray by Manassah, was more grievous than that of the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. The evil ways of the nations are depicted as a source of temptation to the true faith of Israel. God used the attraction of evil to test the faith of his chosen people (Deut 12:30; 29:18).

The nations are found in synonymous poetic parallelism with wickedness (Psalm 9:17) and enemy (Isa 64:2), a further indication of the low esteem in which the biblical writers held their neighbors. Still, the nations were often used by God. In Judges 2:21-23 the Lord, angry with Israel, allows the nations that had not been driven out by Joshua to remain to test Israel, to see "whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did."

For the prophets, the failure of Israel and Judah to stand against the opposing nations served as a sign of God's judgment against his people rather than the superiority of the nations themselves. God's use of the nations in the Old Testament underscores the fact that, for the biblical writers, both the nations and Israel were under the sovereignty of God.

The Old Testament is usually negative and seldom positive toward other ethnic groups, but the nations can stand as neutral observers of God's glory (1 Chron 16; Psalm 45:17; Mal 1:11), of God's wrath (Isa 12:4), and of the Suffering Servant (Isa 52:15). Still, several texts hold out for the ultimate conversion of all peoples (see Jer 16:19).

The intertestamental period, as indicated by the books of the Apocrypha, exhibits a continued distinction between the Jews and the "nations." Maccabees reflects the deepest point of this division. The defilement of the temple by Antiochus IV and the Jewish response dramatizes the struggle between Judaism and the forces of Hellenization.

The New Testament. The New Testament Greek ethnos is rendered "nation(s)" (36 times), "pagan(s)" (8 times), "Gentiles" (84 times), and "heathen" (one time) in the New International Version. The Greek term tends to represent a positive image nearly half of the time; one-quarter of the occurrences are negative and the other quarter present a neutral impression. Ethnos is translated as "nations" when it takes on a more negative aspect. Forty-one percent of the occurrences of ethnos as "nations" are negative; only 28 percent are positive; 31 percent are neutral. When referring to the nations, ethnos continues the negative attitude embodied in its use in the Old Testament.

Other related terms are hellen and akrobustia (uncircumcised), both of which the New International Version translates as "Gentile." Hellen literally means Hellenes or Greeks and is so translated twenty-two times. The New International Version translates telesphoreo and ethnikos as "pagan." Hellen can refer to non-Jews in both the cultural and religious sense (see Rom 1:14; and 1 Cor 1:22). All these terms reflect the distinction between Jew and non-Jew in first-century Palestine.

Jesus understood this distinction. Early in his ministry he directed his efforts toward his fellow Jews. Still, even after referring to non-Jews with the image of "dogs" (Mark 7:27), Jesus drove the demon from the Greek woman's daughter. The final words of his ministry, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20, indicate how his ministry had expanded to "make disciples of all nations."

The work of the apostle Paul reflects the conflict between Jew and non-Jew in early Christian communities. ac 15:29 delimits the minimum legal requirements to be applied to Gentile Christians: to abstain from

(1) food sacrificed to idols,
(2) (consuming) blood,
(3) the meat of strangled animals, and
(4) sexual immorality.
It has been suggested that these rules are simply an expression of the Noahic laws found in Genesis 9. The requirements for Jewish and non-Jewish Christians were problematic for the early church. Among these the incident between Paul and Peter concerning the necessity of circumcision for the non-Jewish Christian (Gal. 2) highlights this problem. But in the final analysis, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:28-29).

Theologically, the Bible reflects a symbiotic relationship between God's people and others. Other peoples posed both threat and promise. The nations always outnumbered the people called of God. The lifestyle of the nations, often involving illicit ritual sex, threatened God's people by appealing to their inherently base nature. The promise of the nations was that they might be redeemed for the purposes of their Creator. The intent of the Lord from the beginning was that all the nations would be blessed. Thus the call of Abraham looked toward the time when all peoples would become the children of Abraham by faith. For the nations as for the ethnic descendants of Abraham, the person and ministry of Jesus were indeed good news, providing the means of reconciliation to God and with one another. Thus the church was destined to move out of Palestine and into all the world to further that end.

Keith N. Schoville

See also Foreigner; Neighbor

Bibliography. D. L. Christensen, ABD, pp. 1037-49; K. R. Joines, Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, pp. 666-67; H. C. Kee, Understanding the New Testament; D. A. Smith, Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, p. 325; F. Stagg, Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, pp. 324-25.

NATIONS: Gentiles, Goiim, Heathen, Table of Nations [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia]

jen'-tilz (goy, plural goyim; ethnos, "people," "nation"): Goy (or Goi) is rendered "Gentiles" in the King James Version in some 30 passages, but much more frequently "heathen," and oftener still, "nation," which latter is the usual rendering in the Revised Version (British and American), but it, is commonly used for a non-Israelitish people, and thus corresponds to the meaning of Gentiles." It occurs, however, in passages referring to the Israelites, as in Genesis 12:2; Deuteronomy 32:28; Joshua 3:17; 4:1; 10:13; 2 Samuel 7:23; Isaiah 1:4; Zephaniah 2:9, but the word (`am) is the term commonly used for the people of God. In the New Testament ethnos is the word corresponding to goy in the Old Testament and is rendered "Gentiles" by both VSS, while (laos) is the word which corresponds to `am. The King James Version also renders Hellenes, "Gentiles" in six passages (John 7:35; Romans 2:9-10; 3:9; 1 Corinthians 10:32; 12:13), but the Revised Version (British and American) renders "Greeks."

The Gentiles were far less sharply differentiated from the Israelites in Old Testament than in New Testament times. Under Old Testament regulations they were simply non-Israelites, not from the stock of Abraham, but they were not hated or despised for that reason, and were to be treated almost on a plane of equality, except certain tribes in Canaan with regard to whom there were special regulations of non-intercourse. The Gentile stranger enjoyed the hospitality of the Israelite who was commanded to love him (Deuteronomy 10:19), to sympathize with him, "For ye know the heart of the stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9 the King James Version). The Kenites were treated almost as brethren, especially the children of Rechab (Judges 1:16; 5:24; Jeremiah 35). Uriah the Hittite was a trusted warrior of David (2 Samuel 11); Ittai the Gittite was captain of David's guard (2 Samuel 18:2); Araunah the Jebusite was a respected resident of Jerusalem. The Gentiles had the right of asylum in the cities of refuge, the same as the Israelites (Numbers 35:15). They might even possess Israelite slaves (Leviticus 25:47), and a Gentileservant must not be defrauded of his wage (Deuteronomy 24:15). They could inherit in Israel even as late as the exile (Ezekiel 47:22-23). They were allowed to offer sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem, as is distinctly affirmed by Josephus (BJ, II, xvii, 2-4; Ant, XI, viii, 5; XIII, viii, 2; XVI, ii, 1; XVIII, v, 3; CAp, II, 5), and it is implied in the Levitical law (Leviticus 22:25). Prayers and sacrifices were to be offered for Gentilerulers (Jeremiah 29:7; Baruch 1:10,11; Ezra 6:10; 1 Macc 7:33; Josephus, BJ, II, x, 4). Gifts might be received from them (2 Macc 5:16; Josephus, Ant, XIII, iii, 4; XVI, vi, 4; BJ, V, xiii, 6; CAp, II, 5). But as we approach the Christian era the attitude of the Jews toward the Gentiles changes, until we find, in New Testament times, the most extreme aversion, scorn and hatred. They were regarded as unclean, with whom it was unlawful to have any friendly intercourse. They were the enemies of God and His people, to whom the knowledge of God was denied unless they became proselytes, and even then they could not, as in ancient times, be admitted to full fellowship. Jews were forbidden to counsel them, and if they asked about Divine things they were to be cursed. All children born of mixed marriages were bastards. That is what caused the Jews to be so hated by Greeks and Romans, as we have abundant evidence in the writings of Cicero, Seneca and Tacitus. Something of this is reflected in the New Testament (John 18:28; Acts 10:28; 11:3).

If we inquire what the reason of this change was we shall find it in the conditions of the exiled Jews, who suffered the bitterest treatment at the hands of their Gentile captors and who, after their return and establishment in Judea, were in constant conflict with neighboring tribes and especially with the Greek rulers of Syria. The fierce persecution of Antiochus IV, who attempted to blot out their religion and Hellenize the Jews, and the desperate struggle for independence, created in them a burning patriotism and zeal for their faith which culminated in the rigid exclusiveness we see in later times.

H. Porter

goi'-yim (goyim): This word, rendered in the King James Version "nations," "heathen," "Gentiles," is commonly translated simply "nations" in the Revised Version (British and American). In Genesis 14:1 where the King James Version has "Tidal, king of nations," the Revised Version (British and American) retains in the text the Hebrew "Goiim" as a proper name. Some identify with Gutium. The Hebrew word is similarly retained in Joshua 12:23.

TABLE OF NATIONS - Also see Shem, Ham, Japheth

  1. The Table and Its Object
  2. What It Includes and Excludes
  3. Order of the Three Races
  4. Extent of Each
  5. Sons of Japheth
  6. Sons and Descendants of Ham
  7. Further Descendants of Ham
  8. Sons of Shem
  9. Further Descendants of Shem
10. Value of Table and Its Historical Notes
11. Further Arguments for Early Date of Table

1. The Table and Its Object:

This is the expression frequently used to indicate "the generations of the sons of Noah" contained in Genesis 10. These occupy the whole chapter, and are supplemented by Genesis 11:1-9, which explain how it came about that there were so many languages in the world as known to the Hebrews. The remainder of Genesis 11 traces the descent of Abram, and repeats a portion of the information contained in Genesis 10 on that account only. The whole is seemingly intended to lead up to the patriarch's birth.
2. What It Includes and Excludes:
Noah and his family being the only persons left alive after the Flood, the Table naturally begins with them, and it is from his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, that the inhabitants of the earth, as known to the Hebrews, were descended. All others--the Mongolians of the Far East and Japan, the American Indians, both North and South, the natives of Australia and New Zealand--were naturally omitted from the list. It may, of course, be argued that all the nations not regarded as descended from Shem and Japheth might be included among the descendants of Ham; but apart from the fact that this would give to Ham far more than his due share of the human race, it would class the Egyptians and Canaanites with the Mongolians, Indians, etc., which seems improbable. "The Table of Nations," in fact, excludes the races of which the Semitic East was in ignorance, and which could not, therefore, be given according to their lands, languages, families, and nations (Genesis 10:5,20,31).
3. Order of the Three Races:
Notwithstanding that the sons of Noah are here (Genesis 10:1) and elsewhere mentioned in the order Shem, Ham and Japheth (Genesis 5:32; 6:10), and Ham was apparently the youngest (see HAM (1) ), the Table begins (Genesis 10:2) with Japheth, enumerates then the descendants of Ham (Genesis 10:6), and finishes with those of Shem (Genesis 10:21). This order in all probability indicates the importance of each race in the eyes of the Hebrews, who as Semites were naturally interested most in the descendants of Shem with whom the list ends. This enabled the compiler to continue the enumeration of Shem's descendants in Genesis 11:12 immediately after the verses dealing with the building of the Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues.
4. Extent of Each:
The numbers of the descendants of each son of Noah, however, probably bear witness to the compiler's knowledge, rather than their individual importance in his eyes. Thus, the more remote and less known race of Japheth is credited with 14 descendants only (7 sons and 7 grandsons), while Ham has no less than 29 descendants (4 sons, 23 grandsons, and 2 great-grandsons), and Shem the same (5 sons, 5 grandsons, 1 great-grandson, and 20 remoter descendants to the 6th generation). Many of the descendants of Shem and Ham, however, are just as obscure as the descendants of Japheth. How far the relationship to the individual sons of Noah is to be taken literally is uncertain. The earlier names are undoubtedly those of nations, while afterward we have, possibly, merely tribes, and in chapter 11 the list develops into a genealogical list of individuals.
5. Sons of Japheth:
It is difficult to trace a clear system in the enumeration of the names in the Table. In the immediate descendants of Japheth (Genesis 10:2), Gomer, Magog, Tubal and Mesech, we have the principal nations of Asia Minor, but Madai stands for the Medes on the extreme East, and Javan (the Ionians) for the Greeks (? and Romans) on the extreme West (unless the Greeks of Asia Minor were meant). Gomer's descendants apparently located themselves northward of this tract, while the sons of Javan extended themselves along the Mediterranean coastlands westward, Tarshish standing, apparently, for Spain, Kittim being the Cyprians, and Rodanim the Rhodians.
6. Sons and Descendants of Ham:
Coming to the immediate descendants of Ham (Genesis 10:6), the writer begins with those on the South and then goes northward in the following order: Cush or Ethiopia, Mizraim or Egypt, Phut (better Put, the Revised Version (British and American)) by the Red Sea, and lastly Canaan--the Holy Land--afterward occupied by the Israelites. The sons of Cush, which follow (Genesis 10:7), are apparently nationalities of the Arabian coast, where Egyptian influence was predominant. These, with the sons of Raamah, embrace the interior of Africa as known to the Hebrews, and the Arabian tract as far as Canaan, its extreme northern boundary. The reference to Babylonia (Nimrod) may be regarded as following not unnaturally here, and prominence is given to the district on account of its importance and romantic history from exceedingly early times. Nevertheless, this portion (Genesis 10:8-12) reads like an interpolation, as it not only records the foundation of the cities of Babylonia, but those of Assyria as well--the country mentioned lower down (Genesis 10:22) among the children of Shem.
7. Further Descendants of Ham:
The text then goes back to the West again, and enumerates the sons of Mizraim or Egypt (Genesis 10:13), mostly located on the southeastern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean. These include the "Libyans in the narrowest sense" (Lehabim), two districts regarded as Egyptian (Naphtuhim and Pathrusim), the Casluhim from whom came the Philistines, and the Caphtorim, probably not the Cappadocians of the Targums, but the island of Crete, "because such a large island ought not to be wanting" (Dillmann). The more important settlements in the Canaanitish sphere of influence are referred to as the sons of Canaan (Genesis 10:15)--Sidon, Heth (the Hittites), the Jebusites (who were in occupation of Jerusalem when the Israelites took it), the Amorites (whom Abraham found in Canaan), and others. Among the sons of Canaan are, likewise, the Girgashites, the Arkites and Sinites near Lebanon, the Arvadites of the coast, and the Hamathites, in whose capital, Hamath, many hieroglyphic inscriptions regarded as records of the Hittites or people of Heth have been found. It is possibly to this occupation of more or less outlying positions that the "spreading abroad" of the families of the Canaanites (Genesis 10:18) refers. In Genesis 10:19 the writer has been careful to indicate "the border of the Canaanites," that being of importance in view of the historical narrative which was to follow; and here he was evidently on familiar ground.
8. Sons of Shem:
In his final section -- the nations descended from Shem (Genesis 10:21) -- the compiler again begins with the farthest situated -- the Elamites -- after which we have Asshur (Assyria), to the Northwest; Arpachshad (? the Chaldeans), to the West; Lud (Lydia), Northwest of Assyria; and Aram (the Aramean states), South of Lud and West of Assyria. The tribes or states mentioned as the sons of Aram (Uz, Hul, Gether and Mash), however, do not give the names with which we are familiar in the Old Testament (Aram Naharaim, Aram Zobah, etc.), and have evidently to be sought in different positions, indicating that they represent an earlier stage of their migrations. With regard to their positions, it has been suggested that Uz lay in the neighborhood of the Hauran and Damascus; Hul near the Sea of Galilee; and that Mash stands for Mons Masius. This last, however, may have been the land of Mas, West of Babylonia.
9. Further Descendants of Shem:
Only one son is attributed to Arpachshad, namely, Shelah (shalach, shelach, Genesis 10:24), unidentified as a nationality. This name should, however, indicate some part of Babylonia, especially if his son, Eber, was the ancestor of the Hebrews, who were apparently migrants from Ur (Mugheir) (see ABRAHAM ; UR OF THE CHALDEES ). Though Peleg, "in whose days the land was divided," may not have been an important link in the chain, the explanatory phrase needs notice. It may refer to the period when the fertilizing watercourses of Babylonia--the "rivers of Babylon" (Psalms 137:1)--were first constructed (one of their names was pelegh), or to the time when Babylonia was divided into a number of small states, though this latter seems to be less likely. Alternative renderings for Selah, Eber and Peleg are "sending forth" (Bohlen), "crossing" (the Euphrates), and "separation" (of the Joktanites) (Bohlen), respectively.

The Babylonian geographical fragment 80-6-17, 504 has a group explained as Pulukku, perhaps a modified form of Peleg, followed by (Pulukku) sa ebirti, "Pulukku of the crossing", the last word being from the same root as Eber. This probably indicates a city on one side of the river (? Euphrates), at a fordable point, and a later foundation bearing the same name on the other side.

Reu, Serug, and Nahor, however, are regarded generally as place-names, and Terah as a personal name (the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran). From this point onward the text (Genesis 11:27) becomes the history of the Israelite nation, beginning with these patriarchs.

10. Value of Table and Its Historical Notes:
Arguments for its early date. -- There is hardly any doubt that we have in this ethnographical section of Gen one of the most valuable records of its kind. Concerning the criticisms upon it which have been made, such things are unavoidable, and must be regarded as quite legitimate, in view of the importance of the subject. The interpolated sections concerning Nimrod and the Tower of Babel are such as would be expected in a record in which the compiler aimed at giving all the information which he could, and which he thought desirable for the complete understanding of his record. It may be regarded as possible that this information was given in view of the connection of Abraham with Babylonia. In his time there were probably larger cities than Babylon, and this would suggest that the building of the Babylonian capital may have been arrested. At the time of the captivity on the other hand, Babylon was the largest capital in then known world, and the reference to its early abandonment would then have conveyed no lesson -- seeing the extent of the city, the reader realized that it was only a short setback from which it had suffered, and its effects had long since ceased to be felt.
11. Further Arguments for Early Date of Table:
Limits of its information. -- For the early date of the Table also speaks the limited geographical knowledge displayed. Sargon of Agade warred both on the East and the West of Babylonia, but he seems to have made no expeditions to the North, and certainly did not touch either Egypt or Ethiopia. This suggests not only that the information available was later than his time, but also that it was obtained from merchants, travelers, envoys and ambassadors. The scantiness of the information about the North of Europe and Asia, and the absence of any reference to the Middle or the Far East, imply that communications were easiest on the West, the limit of trade in that direction being apparently Spain. If it could be proved that the Phoenicians came as far westward as Britain for their tin, that might fix the latest date of the compilation of the Table, as it must have been written before it became known that their ships went so far; but in that case, the date of their earliest journeys thither would need to be fixed. Noteworthy is the absence of any reference to the Iranians (Aryan Persians) on the East. These, however, may have been included with the Medes (Madai), or one of the unidentified names of the descendants of Japheth in Genesis 10:2-3.

See SHEM ; HAM (1) ; JAPHETH (1) , and the other special articles in this Encyclopedia; also, for a great mass of information and theories by many scholars and specialists, Dillmann, Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Altes Testament, "Die Genesis," Leipzig, 1882; W. Max Muller, Asien und Europa, Leipzig, 1893; and F. Hommel, Grundriss der Geographic und Geschichte des alten Orients, Munich, 1904.

T. G. Pinches

NATION [Thompson Chain Reference]

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