Who are the Gentiles?

There's actually controversy over who the Gentiles are... Who knew? Obviously the Israelites were God's chosen people, and Jesus sent Paul to spread the word to the Gentiles, then where does everyone else fit in if "gentile" doesn't mean "non-Israelite?"

Introduction

When I did the post on The Curse of Israel & The Black Israelite Theory, I found a lot of people claiming that only the children of Japheth were Gentiles. Needless to say, I decided to check out their claims.
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Who Are The Gentiles?

Photocredit: ShutterStock.com/William Perugini
Your preacher or bible study leaders are going to say, without hesitation, anyone who isn't a Jew (what they actually mean is Israelite, since the Jews are actually a subset of the Israelites). Those who support the Black Israelite Theory will tell you white people (or descendants of Japheth) are the Gentiles, but not blacks. So, which group is correct?
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The Argument for Non-Jews

Pretty much every dictionary you can find, defines the word "Gentile" to mean non-Jew. Oxford Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Strong's Concordance, and Easton's Bible Dictionary all define "Gentile" to mean non-Jew.[1][2][3][4][5][6] The English word "Gentile" is a translation of the Hebrew word "goy", which actually means nations, and the Greek words εθνικοσ (ethnikos) or εθνισ (ethnos), which mean pagan, heathen or non-Jew.[1][2][3] We get the word Gentile from the Latin gentilis which also means non-Jew.[4] People have held this belief for eons; the definition of the word simply means non-Jew. There isn't really a Biblical conjecture to prove that Gentile means non-Jew. We should be able to Biblically confirm that our definition of Gentile is accurate, though.
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The Argument for the Japhethic Line

People assert that only Japheth's descendants (Europeans) are Gentiles based on Genesis 10:5.
2The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. 3And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. 4And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.Genesis 10:2-5 KJV

Clearly, the Gentiles are the descendants of Japheth, right? When the Bible references Semites, they are always called by their tribe (Ishmaelite, Moabite, etc.), and the same is true of Hamites (Egyptians, Ethiopians, Canaanites). People argue that since these people are never called Gentiles, they aren't Gentiles.
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Discussing the Options

While I can't find a verse that defines Gentiles to mean everyone other than the Jews, there are still a few holes in the idea that Japheth's descendants are the only Gentiles. Genesis 10:5 has to be read in context with the rest of Genesis 10, and when doing this, it isn't nearly as clear that Japtheth's children are being set up as the only Gentiles. Furthermore, most verses about "Gentiles" are general and don't reference a specific person to conclude they are or aren't referring to Hamites or non-Israelite Semites.
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Genesis 10

If we continue reading in Genesis 10, the listing of progenies doesn't stop with Japheth's children, it continues into Ham's descendants.
6And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. 7And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtechah: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. 8And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth.Genesis 10:6-8 KJV

Now, is Genesis 10:5 concluding the list of Japheth's sons, or introducing Ham's? Is "by these" prefacing Ham's descendants which follow the statement, or referring backward to Japheth's sons that have already been listed? Or perhaps it's serving as a bridge and referring to both, as most post people assume; after all, Genesis 10:6 does start with "and" insinuating that this is a continuation i.e. "by these (Japheth's sons) and the sons of Ham".

In order to assert that only those descended from Japheth are Gentiles, you must assume that the Gentiles only had islands at that point. What I mean by this is one can say "the isles of Alaska," but there is a whole land mass not considered an island, which is also part of Alaska. Similarly, the sons and grandsons of Japheth settled in isles of the mediterranean sea, which were considered Gentile lands, but that does not mean there were not Gentile lands elsewhere (like Africa).
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Differentiating Between Peoples

Another thing we have to remember is that there weren't "countries" back then, just groups of people, and those people may not have been as genetically diverse as we are today. Remember, the Edomites descended from Esau while the Israelites descended from Jacob, Esau's twin brother. How different do you think they appeared physically? Moses, an Israelite, passed as an Egyptian (Hamite) for 40 years, they must not have been drastically different physically.

Though it may be considered offensive, today, when we are ignorant of a culture we tend to generalize people into a group. In the U.S. this is most common among Asians and Africans. It is unlikely that an American sees someone who is Igbo and automatically associates the person as Igbo. They aren't even likely to associate the person with Nigeria, which is the country where the Igbo people live, and would thus be that person's Nationality. Instead, they would simply call the person "African." Similarly, people don't often specify if someone is Japanese or Korean when they first see them, they generalize to "Asian." This is because, while we may see differences in the facial structure of a Korean person and a Japanese person, or a Sudanese person and an Ethiopian person, we are not necessarily exposed to these often enough to memorize which set of features belongs to which group.

In high school, there was a set of twins a year above me that appeared identical, but one twin was about an inch taller than the other twin. I never spent much time around them, so even though I knew one was taller than the other, I never could tell them apart because I didn't know who was taller. Contrarily, my uncles are definitely identical twins and I've been able to tell them apart since I was about four. Why? Because I was constantly around them. This same logic applies to the interactions of the Israelites with the sons of Japheth, the other Semites, and the Hamites.

Israel always went into Egypt, the home of the Hamites, for shelter. Abraham went to Egypt, Jacob and his family went to Egypt, even Jesus' family fled to Egypt to hide from Herod. On top of that, they settled in the land of Canaan, another home of the Hamites. It is quite easy to see that the Israelites intermingled with the Hamites much more frequently than Japheth's children, who migrated north away from the territories the Israelites occupied. This would have made it much easier for them to differentiate Canaanites from Egyptians from Ethiopians from their fellow Semites, compared to the Japhethic lines that would eventually become the Greeks, Romans, Germans, etc. This would give plenty reason for Biblical writers to always specify the tribe/origin of Hamites, but remain vague for the Japhethic line.

Interestingly, however, descendants of Japheth are also called by their affiliation. In Acts 10, Cornelius is referred to as Italian; he is never described as a Gentile. In Acts 4:27, Pontius Pilate is said to be with Herod, Gentiles, and Israelites. We know Pilate was Roman, but it doesn't specify that he was "of" the Gentiles, merely that the Gentiles were also present. Both of these men are clearly of Japhethic descent, why not call them Gentiles?

The term Gentile in it's original Hebrew form simply means nation; it is a generic word to refer to nations. When you look at its usage, throughout the Bible, it's pretty obvious that it's always used in a vague sense, simply to portray some group of people. When the nations are well known (e.g. Israel and Canaan), the writers use their name to refer to them, but when referencing a general population, such as the mixed-multitude of Rome (which included conquered nations), the term Gentile is used.
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Ramifications

The only reason anyone would care about the distinction of Gentile versus Israelite (or Jew), is their stance with God. Before God told Peter not to call the Gentiles unclean, and poured His Spirit upon the Gentiles in Acts 10, only Israelites had a relationship with God. The terms divided people into chosen people of God and other. Many of the people claiming Hamites aren't Gentiles never address the major question that stems from this: are the Hamites and non-Israelite Semites able to be saved? Where do they fall into the spectrum of whom salvation was given to. There are clear verses that show the Israelites and Gentiles were given salvation.
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:Romans 3:29 KJV

God is to be worshipped by the Jews as well as the Gentiles. If we read with the understanding that "Gentile" means non-Jew, we understand that this refers to everyone. However, if you read this verse assuming "Gentile" means the Japhethic line, this leaves out Semites who are not Jewish (even Israelites who are not Jewish as "Jew" refers to the Southern Kingdom of Judah not all 12 Tribes), as well as the Hamites. Is God not their God too?

Does it Matter?

In the end, I find it a purposeless question. Why do I feel that way? Most of the sites I've read, dedicated to pushing the idea that only Japheth's descendants are called Gentiles, are concerned with the treatment of African Americans in America. Their main point is that African Americans are actually Israelites, and those calling themselves Jews are actually Gentiles. The idea of Hamites not being Gentiles is a side issue they discover while "proving" Ashkenaz is a Gentile. Yet they show no love (fruit of the spirit) for their Hamite brethren, to discuss what it means for the Hamites, they only focus on lifting African Americans as the chosen people. Some sites even neglect verses like Romans 3:29, Colossians 3:11, and Acts 28:28, and treat the topic of Gentiles as though they are still unclean and unsalvageable. If Jesus sent salvation to the Gentiles, there is no longer a difference between Jew and Gentile (Colossians 3:11), so there is no need to make distinctions between "true" Israelites and Gentiles (sure, we should point out the historical inaccuracies of depicting Israelites as white-only people, but there is no need to make this a focal point of doctrine). As for the non-Jewish Semites and Hamites these groups remain silent about, Revelation discussed the end of the world and judgment for all mankind. If the non-Jewish Semites and Hamites are being judged everything in the new covenant has to apply to them, too. If they aren't part of the new covenant, what are they being judged for? Since the new covenant hinges on John 3:16 (keyword: whosoever), we know Jesus' salvation extends to these people as well. Furthermore, between the known intermixing of the Israelites and Hamites, captivities migrations, slave trades, slavery, etc., I'm pretty sure most people on the planet are descended from all three of Noah's sons at this point in time.

My point is, at the end of the day, the only place ancestry may matter is in your ability to be included in the 144,000. I'll do an in depth post on the topic when I get to Revelation, but for now we'll stick to the basics. The 144,000, mentioned in Revelation 7:3-8 and Revelation 14:1-5, are 12,000 from each tribe of Israel (excluding Dan and including Levi) who are God's faithful that are present on Earth until the very end. They will be sealed and witness the horrors of the end of the world, then have a special place in the Kingdom of God. Whether the reference to the tribes of Israel are literal or symbolic is debated among scholars. If indeed it is literal, then not only are non-Israelites excluded, so are women and married men (the 144,000 are described as virgin men). This is the only place in the Bible where your ties to Israel would matter (and still, there is no need to define Gentile for this passage). Some people confuse this passage to mean only 144,000 people go to Heaven, but these are merely a special subset of the people who go to Heaven (see Revelation 7:9). Thus, not being included in 144,000 doesn't exclude you from Heaven, it simply excludes you from a particular group that will be in Heaven. This proves my point that it really doesn't matter that much who the Gentiles are (or were) in the grand scheme of things.

References

  1. "1471. goy". Bible Hub. 2016
  2. "1482. ethnikos". Bible Hub. 2016
  3. "1484. ethnos". Bible Hub. 2016
  4. "Gentile". Oxford Dictionaries. 2016
  5. "Gentile". Merriam-Webster. 2016
  6. "Gentiles - Easton's Bible Dictionary". Bible Study Tools. 2016

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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