Heathen, Pagan

HEATHEN, PAGAN (Heb. gôy, pl. gôyim, Gr. ethnos, people, nation). In the OT gôy is rendered “Gentiles,” “heathen,” and “nation,” but it is usually used for a non-Israelitish people, and thus has the meaning of “Gentiles.” Sometimes, however, it refers to the Israelites, as in Gen.12.2; Deut.32.28, but the word ordinarily used for the people of God is ‘ām. In the NT ethnos is the equivalent of OT gôy, while laos corresponds to ‘ām. Sometimes in the KJV the Greek Hellenes is translated “Gentiles” (John.7.35; Rom.2.9-Rom.2.10).

The differentiation between Israelites and Gentiles was more sharply accentuated in NT times than in OT times, because the Jews had suffered so much from Gentile hands. Gentiles were looked on with aversion and hatred. This is evident in the NT (John.18.28; Acts.10.28; Acts.11.3).

God’s interest in and concern for the heathen is seen in the OT, especially in the Book of Jonah. In the NT Jesus commanded the apostles to preach the gospel to all the world; and we find them proclaiming it to Gentile nations throughout the Mediterranean world.——SB