Who are the Gentiles? Pt. 1

This is the first installment of 3 part note. As promised I want to share my thoughts on teachings going round that the term “gentiles” refers only to Israel, especially the lost tribes.


Let’s begin this with the letter of Paul to the church located in Ephesus.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands. Ephesians 2:11 NASB

Paul is making a comparison here between Jews-the circumcised, and Gentiles-uncircumcised. There are some that teach that the “Gentiles” refers only to the northern kingdom of Israel. To clear up the misperception the first thing we need to understand is, who are the Gentiles?


We know from the scriptures that Paul’s ministry was predominately to the Gentiles:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; Acts 9:15 NASB

Here the term “Gentiles” is the Greek word ethnos.

First thing to note is that “Gentiles” is a bad translation. It is an English language substitution for the Hebrew words, “goy” (singular) and “goyim” (plural) and the Greek words, “ethne,” (singular) or “ethnos,” (plural).


This word is best translated as “nations,”. This sometimes represents the nation of Israel, sometimes the dispersed ten northern tribes, sometimes non-Israelites, and sometimes everybody, as in “all nations.”


We don’t see the word translated as non-Jew, but this is how it is often used:

‘It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you that you may become a blessing. Do not fear; let your hands be strong.’ Zechariah 8:13 NASB

Here the house of Israel was among the nations, the non-Israelites.

In order to understand who this term “nations” is referring to we really need to understand who the Jews are. The Bible often makes a distinction between Jews and Nations:

But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. Acts 13:45-46 NASB

Here we see a contrast between Jew and nations. When the Bible talks about Jews, who is it referring to? Most people believe that the Jews are the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s covenant people. According to the scriptures that is not correct!

The term “Jews” was first used in the Babylonian captivity. The Babylonians called them Jews because they were from the land of Judah. As at when the the New Testament was written in the reign of the Roman kingdom there were only two tribes in the Palestinian area; Judah and Benjamin. There were certain individuals from other tribes, but for the most part, it was only the two tribes. It was only those two tribes who were called “Jews”, or Judeans .


A look at the history of Israel will throw more light on this. Israel became a nation at Sinai when Yahweh gave them His law and entered into covenant with them. They were called the “house of Israel”.

For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel. Exodus 40:38 NASB

Here the term “house of Israel” refers to the 12 tribes, the nation Israel.

All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. Ruth 4:11 NASB

Jacob married two sisters, Leah and Rachel. With these two women and their maids came 12 sons, who were the 12 tribes of Israel. They remained united until after the death of Solomon.

Now the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD had commanded. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. “Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. “However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” 1 Kings 11:9-13 NASB

The text goes on to say:

It came about at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clothed himself with a new cloak; and both of them were alone in the field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which was on him and tore it into twelve pieces. He said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes (but he will have one tribe, for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel)… ‘Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of My servant David whom I chose, who observed My commandments and My statutes; but I will take the kingdom from his son’s hand and give it to you, even ten tribes. 1 Kings 11:29-35 NASB

When Solomon died in 925 or 926 B.C., the northerners refused to recognize his successor Rehoboam. Subsequently, the north broke away and was ruled by the House of Omri. The northern kingdom of Israel flourished until it was completely destroyed, and its ten tribes sent into permanent exile by the Assyrians between 740 and 721 B.C.

So the house of Israel was split into two kingdoms. The 10 norther tribes were known as the House of Israel. And the 2 southern tribes were known as the Southern kingdom or Judah:

But as for the sons of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. 1 Kings 12:17 NASB

Both of these kingdoms, Israel and Judah, became harlots and forsook the Lord:

“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Jeremiah 3:8 NASB

They were both immoral and ungodly as they abandoned their covenant terms, but only Israel was divorced. Why was that? He did not divorce Judah, because it was through Judah that Messiah would come:

Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. Genesis 49:1 NASB

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Genesis 49:10 NASB

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2 NASB

In Ezekiel we learn more about the sin of these two nations:

The word of the LORD came to me again, saying, “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother; and they played the harlot in Egypt. They played the harlot in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and there their virgin bosom was handled. “Their names were Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister. And they became Mine, and they bore sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah and Jerusalem is Oholibah. “Oholah played the harlot while she was Mine; and she lusted after her lovers, after the Assyrians, her neighbors, Ezekiel 23:1-5 NASB

The Mother is the 12 tribe nation of Israel. The two daughters are the southern kingdom, Oholibah, and the northern kingdom, Oholah. These two kingdoms came out of Israel as a result of the two wives and two marriages of Jacob. The capital city of Judah was Jerusalem, and the capital of Israel was Samaria.

Yahweh was their husband until the divorce decree, which we can see that in Hosea. A divorce requires that the wife receive the bill of divorce, and then she was put out of the house. The house in this context is the land of Palestine, the bill of divorce is the book of Hosea, and the putting out of the house was taking Israel into the Assyrian captivity.

The word of the LORD which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. “On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. “But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the LORD their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen.” When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered; And in the place Where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” It will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.” And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, And they will appoint for themselves one leader, And they will go up from the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel. Hosea 1:1-11 NASB

“Jezreel” is from an agricultural term that refers to everything from the sowing to the harvest. So God refers to the first son as the sowing and harvest of Israel. He told Israel that He is going to sow them in the nations, but there will come a time when He will harvest them out again. He later tells us that the harvest will occur at the same time that the harvest of the house of Judah occurs. That harvest began with the Messiah and continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.


The second child, Lo-Ruhamah, demonstrates that they would be placed out there without the mercy of God. The third child demonstrates that they would be out there without the name of God. They would not be known as the “children of God”, which was the children of Israel. When they went into the Assyrian captivity, they were not known as the “children of Israel”. They were referred to as the “children of Omry”, who was a former king of Israel. So, when the northern tribes went into Assyrian captivity, they lost their identity as Israelites and thus became identifiable only as part of the nations.

Then the LORD said, “Thus will the sons of Israel eat their bread unclean among the nations where I will banish them.” Ezekiel 4:13 NASB

Israel is swallowed up; They are now among the nations Like a vessel in which no one delights. Hosea 8:8 NASB

As you can see here, Israel is among the nations, which here refers to the non-Israelites, she has been swallowed up. There is a clear distinction of both entities. But God promises that one day the two houses will be united:

The word of the LORD came again to me saying, “And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.’ “Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. “When the sons of your people speak to you saying, ‘Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?’ say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”‘ Ezekiel 37:15-19 NASB

“Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the NATIONS where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. Ezekiel 37:21-22 NASB

Notice that verse 21 says, “I will take the sons of Israel from among the NATIONS.” This is a promise of restoration.

Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. 12 And He will lift up a standard for the nations, And will assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. Isaiah 11:11-12 NASB

The Assyrians had scattered them, but God had promised to regather them. Here He promises to gather Israel, the 10 northern tribes and Judah, the two southern tribes. Now watch the next verse:

Then the jealousy of Ephraim will depart, And those who harass Judah will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, And Judah will not harass Ephraim. Isaiah 11:13 NASB

Ephraim is Samaria. There is going to be peace between Israel and Judah. Jesus is the peace that ends the conflict.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 1 Peter 2:9-10 NASB

When Peter writes “To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”, he is writing to the house of Israel who were “pilgrims” – they weren’t living in the land of their birth. If you look at a map, you will see that the areas of “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” was the very area that the Tanakh tells us that the house of Israel was taken to in the Assyrian captivity.


Now they are identified as “nations or Gentiles”. Peter is writing to these nations, who have become believers, and he calls them a chosen (race) generation. He says to them, “Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” 


This is a fulfillment of the promises that God made to the house of Israel through Hosea. The mission of taking the gospel to the nations is a fulfillment of the promises that He made in the Tanakh. Paul was a minister to the “nations”, which included the house of Israel.

Notice what Paul wrote the Corinthians:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 NASB

To this non-Jewish church he writes, “our fathers” – this is referring to the Israelites! This is because some of these Christians were from the northern 10 tribes of Israel.

If you look at Isaiah 60, you will see this is a Messianic prophecy. It concerns the restoration of Israel; the calling of the nations, and how the nations would view restored Israel:

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 “For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. 3 “And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 “Lift up your eyes round about, and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms. 5 “Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. Isaiah 60:1-5 NASB

Notice verse 5, “The wealth of the nations will come to you.” Who is the “you”? It is restored Israel. The prophecy said that when Israel was saved, the nations, non-Israelites, would also come to the light, and the nations, non-Israelites, would give their wealth to Israel.

These two groups hated each other, and the nations, non-Israelites, would have never wilfully given wealth to Israel. But in Christ they are now brothers. So out of love they do what they normally would never have done.

The northern kingdom of Israel is included in the term “nations or Gentiles” but it is not exclusive of it. We see in the Scripture that “nations” is used in distinction to Israel:

A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” Luke 2:32 NASB

Here we see that “nations or Gentiles” are distinct from Israel.

“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Yeshua, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, Acts 4:27 NASB

Again the Gentiles are a distinct group from Israel. Here “Gentiles” is non-Israelites.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; Acts 9:15 NASB

Paul was to take the Gospel to the “nations” and to the sons of Israel.

and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. Acts 21:21 NASB

Here we have Jews who are among the “nations”, two separate gropes.

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6 NASB

Here the LORD was going to use Jacob and Israel to be a light to the “nations.”

Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious. Isaiah 11:10 NASB

The “nations” non-Israelites, would then seek the Lord, when Ephraim and Judah were re-united:

And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. Isaiah 11:12 NASB

Again we see the re-gathered Israel and Judah being used to reach the nations.

Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.” Jeremiah 9:26 NASB

It is clear here that “nations” does not mean Israel.

‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and will manifest My holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they will live in their land which I gave to My servant Jacob. Ezekiel 28:25 NASB

“But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Ezekiel 36:21 NASB

So “nations” and Israel are at times two distinct peoples. The “nations” include the house of Israel but also refer to the non-Israelites.

But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren. Acts 14:2 NASB

The term “Gentile or nation” at times is used of non-Jews. But these non-Jews could be Israelites. The “nations”, non-Israelites coming to faith in Messiah was foretold by the prophets:

‘They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation, Deuteronomy 32:21 NASB

We see that the LORD would provoke His people, Israel, with a foolish nation, non-Israelites.

If Israelites were really a “no people” and could be declared “my people,” then non-Israelites, you and me, who were “no people” could be declared “my people.” We were no people. We had no covenant claims on God. But now based on what Jesus has accomplished and we are part of His covenant people, grafted into the family of God.

Our text in Ephesians 2 is referring to non-Israelites and Israelites being united to the Jews and becoming one people in Christ. The body of Christ is made up of the re-gathered twelve tribes of Israel and many non-Israelites who have been called of God and trusted in Jesus.

So who are the Gentiles?

It’s meaning must be determined by its context, which means we examine the text in his context and structure.

To be continued…

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