In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for Gentile is “goyim”. The term was used to designate the heathen in the nations surrounding Israel. “And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer” (Neh. 5:8).
In the New Testament the Greek word “ethnos” is used to refer to a Gentile nation.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matt. 24:7).
“And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).
Sometimes the Greek term, ethnos, referred to the Jewish people.
“For he loveth our nation and he hath built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:5).
“And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2).
Anther Greek word translated Gentile is “hellen” (a Hellen [Grecian] or inhabitant of Hellas; by extension a Greek-speaking person, especially a non-Jew.
“Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?” (John 7:35).
“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9).
The main point to remember is that the Gentiles were considered by Jews to be inferior people, for they were outside the covenant blessing of God.
The idea of racial superiority is not something unique to the twentieth century, to German Nazis, or to White Supremacists in America. Over the centuries various people have seen themselves as better than all others. Even today, there are people who believe they are superior to all others, and encouraged in this belief.
For example, historically the Jews viewed themselves as a distinct and honored people based on their election by God to be His peculiar people. To them first, was the gospel given. “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).
There is still a popular belief that national Israel remains a special nation, and is in fact the key to understanding prophecy. What is often overlooked, is that with great privilege comes great responsibility. When Israel failed to fulfill their responsibility, the Lord punished the nation. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2).
One-way God punished Israel was to move the responsibility for disseminating the gospel to the Gentiles. “Thus, saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders” (Isaiah 49:22).
This was not a difficult task for God to do, because the Gentiles were always included in the spiritual and material blessing conferred upon the Jews when they showed themselves willing to embrace the Covenant made to Abraham, and to keep the Law of Moses.
Though the Gentiles were allowed into the Covenant of Grace, though the Gentiles were given the privilege of disseminating the gospel, a stigma still lingered, to the point that a distinction had to be made between those who walked in the sphere of saving faith as a Christian, and “other Gentiles” “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (Eph. 4:17).
In Romans 9:6, Paul reminded the Church that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” In Ephesians 4:17 Paul reminds the Church that not every Gentile is born again, and so the Christians in Ephesus are to “walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind”.
First, a Gentile Christian is not to go back under the Law of Moses, which the Judaizers wanted new Gentile converts to do. However, God has made a new covenant with His people.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31-34).
The modern Messianic Movement is a bold violation of the principle of Galatians 3:1, which forbids going back under the Law as the Judaizers demanded of the Gentiles so long ago.
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain” (Gal. 3:1-4).
Second, a Gentile Christian is not to walk in the vanity of their mind. The word vanity is mataiotes, and means to be useless, transient; morally, depravity. The Gentile Christian is to live in such as way as to display purpose, meaning, and definition in life. “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism).
Third, the Gentile Christian is to have an enlightened understanding (Eph. 4:18). Divine enlightenment can only come by the illuminating ministry of God the Holy Spirit who teaches by His Word. The importance of personal Bible study cannot be under estimated or over stated.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).