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Galatians--Part 4

Aug 02, 2010

At this point it would be helpful to define the word "Gentiles" as used in Scripture, which most people believe means "a non-Jew or non-Israelite." The Hebrew and Greek words translated "Gentiles" do not carry such a narrow meaning. In studying the gospel that Paul preached, it is important to know the meaning of this word.

The Hebrew word is goy (singular) or goyim (plural). The words simply mean "nation" and "nations." They can be any nations within the context of the passage, much like we use the term today. The only difference is that the biblical terms do not refer to nations as political entities having borders, but rather as different ethnic groups of people.

Likewise, the Greek word ethnos is the equivalent to goy or goyim. They refer to ethnic groups, rather than to land-based nations with borders. Genesis 10:32 says,

"These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations[goyim]; and out of these the nations [goyimwere separated on the earth after the flood."

Here the word is used to describe the "nations" in general, including the sons of Shem (i.e., "Semitic" nations). Ten generations later, we read God's promise to Abram in Gen. 12:2, 3

(2) And I will make you a great nation [goy], and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall a blessing. (3) And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So we see that God was going to make Abram "a great GOY." Are we to understand that Abram was to become a great Gentile? No one translates goy in that manner in this verse, because it simply does not fit. It is obvious that goy has a meaning much broader than a non-Jew or a non-Israelite. Jer. 31:36 says,

"If this fixed order departs from before Me, declares the Lord, then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation [goy] before Me forever."

Thus, Israel was called a goy by Jeremiah. Obviously, the term does not necessarily mean a non-Israelite nation. Israel is included among the goyim.

When we come to the New Testament, we find the same with the Greek term ethnos. Luke 7:5 speaks of the Roman centurion who had come to Jesus to obtain healing for his servant,

(4) And when they had come to Jesus, they earnestly entreated Him, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this to him; (5) for he loves our nation [ethnos], and it was he who built us our synagogue."

In this case "our ethnos" were the people of Judea. When the high priest was contemplating the execution of Jesus, he called his own nation ethnos. John 11:49, 50 says,

(49) But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, (50) nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation [ethnosshould not perish."

We may conclude, then, that when the translators use the term "Gentiles," they are giving their opinion that the goyim or ethnos referred to in the passage are non-Jewish or non-Israelite nations. They may or may not be correct, but it is simply their opinion. It would be better to leave it as "nations" and to allow the reader to decide for himself how it applies in its context.

In my view, once we understand that these words include both Israelite and non-Israelite nations, then it becomes clear that Paul's ministry to the "Gentiles" was really a ministry to all the nations equally. His ministry was to break down that dividing wall between them and to show that all nations were (by faith) equal citizens in the Kingdom of God. People of all nationalities could receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), and all were justified by faith equally.

Of course, even as each of the apostles had agreed to preach the gospel to different nations, so also Paul went primarily to "the uncircumcision" while Peter went to "the circumcision" (Gal. 2:7). This did not mean that Paul ignored the Jews, for we find him preaching in many synagogues in the book of Acts. Likewise, Peter spent much time in Antioch, where he ate with the non-Jews until Judaizers came up from Jerusalem with their divisive gospel.

So let us continue in Galatians 2.

(1) Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. (2) And it was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles [ethnos], but I did so in private to those who were of reputation [i.e., James and perhaps some elders], for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.

In other words, when Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem with financial assistance (due to the famine), they knew that their inclusive gospel was controversial among many of the people. So they spoke privately with the leaders only, so as not to cause trouble in the church. Paul was certain that his view was correct, but yet he modestly tells the Galatians that he wanted to get confirmation from James that his teaching was correct! "Am I running in vain?" Paul asks? "Am I teaching something that is false?"

(3) But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. (4) But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

So the problem was not a conflict between Paul and James, but others who were insisting that Greeks had to be circumcised before they could be considered true believers. Circumcision was a requirement of the temple for all Greek proselytes to Judaism. These "false brethren," as Paul calls them, insisted upon circumcision before Greeks could become part of the Church. But James and the elders did not insist that Titus be circumcised, and this, Paul says, is evidence that James was in full agreement with him on this issue.

(5) But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

So now Paul begins to deal with circumcision and its relationship to the covenants. As we will see, physical circumcision was a sign of submission to the Old Covenant; while heart circumcision was a sign of submission to the New Covenant.

(6) But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.

Those of "high reputation" include the apostles themselves. Paul almost says what he thinks, but backs down at the last minute. It appears that he came close to espousing the equality of all citizens in the Kingdom and that the opinion of those of "high reputation" was not to be accepted without question, as it so often was. Men of high reputation could be wrong, too, as Paul is about to tell us in verse 11.

At any rate, the men of high reputation "contributed nothing to me," insofar as Bible doctrine was concerned. Paul received his revelation of equality from God Himself, and this was later confirmed by Peter and James, who told him similar revelations that they had received. But their revelation was not new to Paul.

This is the fourth part of a series titled "Galatians." To view all parts, click the link below.


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones

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