Contrary to a widely held view, the Greek Scriptures never speak of anyone as "a Gentile," though they refer very often to "the Gentiles." Possibly this fact is psychologically the cause of the curiously widespread practise of speaking of the Gentiles collectively as "the nations." This rendering should be confined to such passages as necessarily include Israel; for Israel is at least as much a nation as is any other. For instance, we are bound to render Mark 11:17 by: "My house shall be called House of prayer to all the nations," because that is what it was intended to be and eventually will be. To confine it to the Gentiles would be to distort the whole idea. On the other hand, we must read in Luke 2:32: "Light into revelation of Gentiles and Glory of Thy people Israel," for otherwise the contrast vanishes. In Luke 21:24 we have to render: "and they shall be led into captivity into all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem shall be trodden by Gentiles until Gentiles' eras may be fulfilled." The first and third of these cannot include Israel, and inclusion of Israel in the second is pointless. It is noteworthy that the five occurrences in John's Gospel are all singular. John has nothing to say about Gentiles as a whole until 3. John 7.
The word ethnos, nation, in the Singular is comparatively rare. Fourteen times it is used of Israel, eighteen times of some other nation in fourteen passages. The expression "the nation of the Jews" occurs in Acts 10:22 (the A.V. is correct here!) No other nation is specified. Of Israel it occurs in Luke 7:5; 23:2; John 11:48, 50, 51, 52; 18:35; Acts 10:22; 24:2, 10, 17; 26:4; 28:19; 1. Peter 2:9. In Matt. 21:43 it refers to the future Israel, to the faithful Israel that is eventually to come into being, so it cannot suitably be ascribed to Israel now, or as it was then. The remaining general occurrences are Matt. 24:7, 7; Mark 13:8, 8; Luke 21:10, 10; Acts 2:5; 7:7; 8:9; 10:35; 17:26; Rom. 10:19, 19; Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 13:7; 14:6. Not once should the singular, ethnos, be referred to the individual. Examination of the passages listed above will show that it always refers to a nation, not an individual, whether of the Jews or of the Gentiles.
The fact that Greek could not express the distinction possible in English between a nation and a Gentile is no reason why we should not, in ordinary writing and conversation; but we should avoid injecting it into Scripture; for Greek makes a distinction otherwise where necessary. Where the individual who is not a Jew has to be indicated, the word hellEn, Greek, is used. Nowhere is this found in the plural in the same context as ethnE except in Acts 14:1, 2. Here "a vast multitude of Jews as well as Greeks believe. Yet the stubborn Jews rouse up and provoke the souls of the Gentiles against the brethren." In the former part of this, we are told of individuals who believe; in the latter the action is collective on both sides. The two plural words also come close together in Rom. 1:13, 14; but there is an abrupt change of subject in between, so there is no contrast intended. In v. 13 Paul desires some fruit among the Romans also, according as in the other Gentiles. Then he goes on to express his indebtedness "to Greeks as well as barbarians, to wise as well as to those unable to think for themselves" (v. 14). Perhaps simple is the best rendering of anoEtois, which does not mean those who will not think for themselves, but those who cannot do so.
This passage (Rom. 1:14-17) contains the first conjunction of Jew and Greek, with both singular. Verse 16 reads: "For I am not ashamed of the Evangel, for it is God's power into salvation to everyone who is believing—to Jew first and to Greek as well." This does not regard humanity as a whole, but individual human beings, Jew and Greek. Here ethnos, nation, is impossible, so instead the individual Greek is regarded as the representative in the realm of thought of all individual Gentiles. This distinction appears twice in Rom. 2:5-12:
"Yet in accord with your hardness, and heart incapable of
repentance, you are hoarding for yourself indignation in a day
of indignation and unveiling of God's righteous-judgment, Who
will be paying to each according to his works—to those, indeed,
in accord with endurance of good work are seeking glory and
honour and incorruption, eonian life; yet to those out of
faction and stubborn, indeed, as to the truth, yet persuaded
to the unrighteousness, indignation and fury, affliction and
distress, on every human soul which is effecting evil—of Jew
first and of Greek as well—yet glory and honour and peace to
everyone who is working for the good—to Jew first and to
Greek as well—for there is no partiality beside God."
This strikes the key-note; and the other occurrences all fall into line.
The next is where Paul is writing of the righteousness which is of faith: "For the Scripture is saying: 'Everyone who is believing on him shall not be disgraced.' For there is no distinction of Jew and of Greek as well, for He is the same Lord of all, being rich into all those calling on Him" (Rom. 10:11, 12). Then we have Gal. 3:26-28: "For, through the faith, you are all sons of God, in Christ Jesus. For as many as are baptized into Christ put on Christ, in Whom there is not Jew nor yet Greek, no slave nor yet free, not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Lastly, in Col. 3:9-11 Paul writes of "putting on the young (humanity) which is renewing into full knowledge, according to (the) Image of the One creating it; wherein there is "no Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, freeman; but all these and in all, Christ."
So the situation is much simpler than it appears at first sight. When Jews as a nation are contrasted, nationally, Gentiles. Where the individual is concerned, with the Jew is contrasted the Greek. Sometimes Jews and non-Jews are in view as a number of separate and distinct individuals rather than separate nations, :and in those circumstances they are contrasted as Jews and Greeks, and not as Jews and Gentiles. The first of these contrasts is Acts 14:1, 2, to which we have already referred, as individual people are clearly in view. Similar contrasts of individuals are found in Acts 17:4, 5; 18:4; 19:10, 17; 20:21; Israelites with Greeks, Acts 21:28; Rom. 3:9; 1Cor. 1:22, 24; 10:32; 12:13.
Two of these are of special interest. First, 1Cor. 1:22-24. In v. 22 and v. 24 the contrast is between individuals; in v. 23 the whole of a set of people is in view; so we are told that the idea of "Christ crucified" is to Jews, to the Jewish mind one might say, a snare, and to the Gentiles as a whole, stupidity. Then Paul's thought turns again to individuals, "to Jews as well as Greeks."
The other is 1 Cor. 10:32, where the Corinthians are urged not to become a stumbling-block to anyone. Here individual human beings are sorted into three classes: individual Jews, individual Greeks, i.e., non-Jews, and into a third class, a collective one—for that is what members of Christ's body have become—the ecc1esia, church, of God. This passage is unique, and of unique importance.
Greeks, only, are referred to in a few passages. In John 7:35 the dispersion of the Greeks is in view and constitutes a warning against using the term, "the Dispersion" or "the Diaspora" exclusively of the Jews, as has become fashionable among many, particularly among the Jews themselves. Others are John 12:20, Rom. 1:14 and possibly Acts 18:17. In some texts of this last, and in Acts 6:1; 9:29; 11:20, are named the Hellenists, ellEnistEs, which term was the special name for certain Jews who had left the traditions of Judaism in favour of Greek customs.
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