The term “gentile” in the Bible is an English translation of the Hebrew word goyim, which means “nations” or “people”. In Greek, gentile is translated as ethne, which also means people, nations, or people groups. Meanwhile, in the Latin Vulgate, the word is translated as gentilis. Gentilis was then carried over into the English as gentiles. Gentile basically refers to any person or individual who is not Jewish.
Gentiles were often seen as pagans from the Jewish perspective. The Jews in Biblical times believe that gentiles had no idea or knowledge about the One True God. In Jesus’ time, most of the Jews took pride in their cultural heritage. Jewish people are so proud of their religious heritage that they considered gentiles as people who are “unclean”. Some even called them “dogs” or “uncircumcised people”. Most Jews thought of Gentiles and Samaritans (half-gentiles) as enemies to be shunned away (John 4:9; Acts 10:28).
By reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:47), we find that Jesus alluded to the association or connection of gentiles with paganism. Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (ESV). You can find some Bible translations that used the word “pagans” and not “gentiles” in these verses.
Salvation to Both Jews and Gentiles
Regardless of the translation and meaning of the word gentiles, Jesus came to offer salvation to all people. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile, Jesus is powerful enough to save you. In fact, the Bible tells us that “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 2:8). Remember that we are all one in Jesus, meaning that our race, bloodline, ethnicity, tribe, or nation doesn’t matter. God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” (1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)). When Paul said “all people”, it means that regardless of whether you have Jewish blood or are a gentile, God can save you. The only way for people to be saved is through believing in the person and works of Jesus Christ. Take note that “there is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12 (ESV). Jesus is the only way for Jews and Gentiles to be saved, not through genealogy or bloodline.
It has been predicted by the prophet Isaiah that Jesus “will bring forth justice to the Gentiles” and that He would become a “light to the Gentiles,” (Isaiah 42:1-6 (ESV)). Jesus has a heart for gentiles, which we can observe in Mark 7:26, wherein He helped a gentile woman who had asked for her daughter’s freedom from a demon. The Bible tells us that many gentiles were converted in the early New Testament era because of the proclamation of the Gospel.
In Acts 11:18 (ESV), gentiles were praising and rejoicing God, “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Gentiles also honored the Word of God, according to Acts 13:48 (ESV). Anyone can be saved, regardless of race or ethnicity. What matters most is that you truly know and believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.