THE UPWARD CALL
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;
but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
IN CHRIST JESUS.
(Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)
#03-09156
The Fullness of the Nations #1
[Ethnos]
August 26, 2009
For those who study the Bible, it is apparent that translators of Scripture often inject their own bias into
the text by using certain words over other ones. I call this interpretative bias . For this reason, in my
studies, I often refer to versions that attempt to be as literal as possible in their translation. In this
regard, I often use translations like the Concordant Version or Young’s Literal Translation. Since all
translations are the work of men, none are perfect and interpretative bias is inherent in practically all;
however, some have less bias than others. I prefer translations that simply present words without bias,
which, in turn, allows me to determine the meaning or application of words according to the context
and not the translator’s opinion.
Bias is most readily seen in the way certain Hebrew or Greek words are translated. In issue #03-09131,
June 15, 2009, Eon (Age), Not Eternal or World , I point out the bias in translating the words olam and
aion as eternal or world rather than as eon or age.
The Hebrew word goy and the Greek word ethnos fall into the same category as olam and aion . The
proper translation of the words goy and ethnos is the word nation ; however, at times, they are
translated using the words Gentile or heathen , which injects the concept of a people that are not Jewish
or not of the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, the word Gentile injects interpretative bias.
This bias can be seen in the way Strong’s Concordance defines these two words.
Goy is “a foreign nation ; hence a Gentile ; also (figuratively) a troop of animals, or a flight of
locusts: - Gentile, heathen, nation, people.”
Ethnos is “a race (as of the same habit ), that is, a tribe ; specifically a foreign ( non-Jewish ) one
(usually by implication pagan ): - Gentile, heathen, nation, people.”
Notice how Strong’s relates these words to a foreign or non-Jewish tribe. But this raises a very
important question: Is not Israel also a nation, an ethnos? The answer is yes, it most certainly is. In the
original languages, Israel is referred to as a goy and an ethnos.
The first mention of the word goy or nation is found in the book of beginnings.
(5) The coasts of the nations [goy] were divided by these in their lands each by his tongue,
by their families, in their nations [goy] . … (31) These were the sons of Shem, according to
their families, according to their tongues, in their lands, according to their nations [goy] .
(Genesis 10:5, 31 LITV)
Genesis 10 recounts the generations of the sons of Noah, and all of them are referred to as being divided
into their nations. However, the King James uses the word Gentiles instead of nations, but how could it
be stated that Noah’s descendants were foreign non-Jewish nations when they actually represented the
totality of all nations in that day? To add to the confusion, the KJV uses the words Gentiles and nations
for the word goy in the same sentence: By these were the isles of the Gentiles [goy] divided in
their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations [goy] (Genesis
10:5 KJV).
One could argue that the Jews came from the line of Shem and therefore should be referred to as
nations and not Gentiles. But the King James adds further confusion by referring to the sons of Japheth
as Gentiles and the sons of Ham as nations. This makes no sense. We have to conclude that the use of
the word Gentile is obviously interpretative bias to establish that all that have descended from the line
of Japheth are foreign non-Jews. Are we to assume that those of the line of Ham are Jews? Strange!
Turning to Abraham, we discover the use of the word goy .
(12:2) And I will make you a great nation [goy] , and I will bless you, and make your name
great; and so you shall be a blessing…. (18:18) And Abraham shall become a great and
powerful nation [goy] , and all the nations [goy] of the earth shall be blessed in him?
(Genesis 12:2; 18:18 NASB)
And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the nations [goy] [KJV = heathen] by
faith, preached the gospel before to Abraham: “All the nations [goy] [KJV = nations] will be
blessed in you.” Gen. 12:3 (Galatians 3:8 LITV)
That the blessing of Abraham might be to the nations [goy] [KJV = Gentiles] in Christ Jesus,
that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:14 LITV)
Hebrew words of the Old Testament often define Greek words of the New Testament, and the word goy
is a good example of a word that does just that, for it defines the Greek word ethnos , as noted in the
above. But notice how the KJV injects its bias by using the words heathen and Gentile .
All the nations will be blessed in Abraham, whether one labels them Jewish or non-Jewish, heathen or
Gentile. It matters not what label or descriptor one places on a community of people united under one
government; they are all nations destined to be justified by God through the same faith exhibited by
Abraham. The blessing of Abraham is for all nations.
Consequently, defining one nation as Gentile or heathen and another as Jewish is not necessary when
translating the words goy and ethnos . By studying the context around the use of these words, one can
discern if they are, in fact, referring to the ancient nation of Israel or not.
Besides, Israel is referred to as a nation (goy, ethnos) just like all the other nations of the world, both
past and present.
In His disgust over the rebellion of the sons of Israel, the Lord told Moses that He would destroy them
and make Moses into a great nation [goy].
“I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation
[goy] greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:12 NASB)
As Jesus walked among the Judahites, the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council and
questioned what to do with Jesus. They feared that if Jesus established the kingdom in their day, they
would lose their place of honor and control over the people.
“If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and
take away both our place and our nation [ethnos] .” (John 11:48 NASB)
In other words, the Judahites of that day saw themselves as a nation, an ethnos.
With these few verses, it is apparent that translators do us a disservice by injecting their bias into
words. As presented, it is best to translate the words goy and ethnos as nation(s) and allow the reader
to decide what nation(s) is in view based on the context.
In the next issue, we will look at Romans 11 and Paul’s use of the word ethnos in relation to Israel.
(25) For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret―that ye may not be
wise in your own conceits―that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness
of the nations [ethnos] may come in; (26) and so all Israel shall be saved…. (Romans 11:25-
26 YLT)
The Upward Call: #03-09156
by: Stuart H. Pouliot