GENTILES AND SALVATION
There are some verses in the English Bible which seem to indicate that all people of the world are to be saved. Many of these passages are confusing because of the mistranslation of the Greek word §θvoς/ethnos as "gentile," where it really means tribe, race, or clan, and was used by N.T. writers to mean our Israelite tribes. Part of the problem is that we do not consider the cultural situation of that time honestly. Political correctness of society today has a powerful influence on our interpretation, mostly because we don't put ourselves in the position of the people of Jesus' day. The cultural setting of Palestine, at the time of Jesus, included several different races who were racially conscious to an extreme. The Aramaic speaking Canaanites and Assyrians and Babylonians were not esteemed by the true Israelites who spoke Greek. The region of Galilee had been continuously populated by Israelites since they entered their "promised-land," led by Joshua, about 1400 years prior. When the Assyrians purged Palestine of the Israelite tribes, not ALL Israelites dispersed. Galilean Israelites spoke Phoenician at the time of Joshua, and that language gradually evolved into Greek. The Israelites maintained their own communities and neighborhoods, and their racial pride never permitted them to mix with their neighboring Arameans. Certainly many of them were bilingual, speaking some Aramaic as they associated with their neighbors, but they never abandoned their native Aryan language of Greek. When Jesus called His disciples, they all spoke Greek, as did Jesus who grew up in that same area near Galilee.
It is important to understand the extreme racial prejudices that were felt by Israelites at the time. They even tried to continue their ancient Hebrew religion, but since the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed about 586 BC, they had no place to worship. So, it was in Galilee, along with cities of Asia Minor, that synagogues were built to provide gathering places. The word "synagogue" is a Greek word, not Hebrew, meaning "assembly place." Of course, there was no "Hebrew" language spoken by the Galileans, since it was created during the captivities, as a mix of their native Phoenician with Aramaic. Synagogues were built by Greek speaking Israelites during the centuries just prior to Jesus, where they could meet and discuss the O.T. writings of the Greek Septuagint of 285 BC. The "Hebrew" Bible would not appear until nearly 1,000 AD. Anyway, these Israelites maintained their own culture, distinctly separate from their neighbors. It was from these Israelites, who kept their race pure, that Jesus would call His disciples.
At the time of Jesus, there were only few Israelites, like Saul, living in Jerusalem who were descendants of the Babylonian returnees. They worshiped at the Jerusalem Temple (built by the Edomite Herod) and practiced the corrupted Judaism properly known as "Babylonian Talmudic Phariseeism which the returnees brought back from Babylon. At the synagogues of Asia Minor and Galilee, Israelites discussed the O.T. writings, while the Edomite Pharisees were using Talmudic writings. Even at that, the distant Israelites of the synagogues did esteem the Jerusalem Temple because they still carried the guilt of their ancestors who, about 900 BC, split the kingdom and rejected the Jerusalem Temple, building temples of their own in Samaria. The Galilean Israelites probably did not know much about Talmudism, but they did feel strongly about recognizing the Jerusalem Temple as their central place of worship. So, it was "up to Jerusalem" that Jesus and His family members went, at least once each year, to worship. While we, today, have the general impression that Jesus spent a lot of time in Jerusalem, that is wrong. He did not. Most of His time was spent in areas to the north, especially Galilee and at the synagogue on its north shore, at Capernaum. It was a beautiful little synagogue near the shore, with marble steps right down to the water.
Along with understanding the relationship of the Israelite returnees of Jerusalem with their Galilean neighbors, and their distinct separation from the Aramaic peoples throughout Palestine, there is one more important distinction we must know about. The true Israelites of Jerusalem, like Saul the Pharisee, and Jesus' brother, James, who lived there, knew they belonged to the southern kingdom of Juda, and they felt strong animosity toward the northern kingdom Israelites who split the kingdom under Jereboam about 900 years before. Because Solomon's two sons split the kingdom, Israel became divided, and quite apostate. The northerners built temples and idols in Samaria, rejecting Jerusalem as their own Temple. And because of the apostasy, God punished the northerners with a divorce, and then in 586 BC let the southerners of Juda be taken captive, too. The southern kingdom of Juda felt only contempt toward their northern Israelite relatives. St. Paul's writings reveal that contempt as he refers to the northern Israelites as "Greeks" or as "Samaritans." Those were pejorative terms of contempt. Paul struggled with his strong feelings, but finally in his letter to the Rome Christians, admitted, "there is no difference between Judean and Greek." He was recognizing the northern kingdom of Greek speaking Israelites as part of his Israelite family, which of course, they really were. Race was extremely important to those people, even to the point that the northern Israelites were considered, by implication, a different race. One lesson the Israelites finally learned from their O.T. scriptures was that God would not abide adulteration of their race with any other. They were so determined to maintain their racial distinction that they carried it to an extreme and discriminated against the northern kingdom tribes of Israel. The point I am trying to make here is that racial identity was of the very highest importance to them. In Paul's writings, he often uses the word "ethnos" (tribal ethnic group. translated into English Bibles as "gentile") to refer to the northern tribes while calling his Judeans either "Judeans" or "Israel." Once you understand Paul's deep animosity, you can feel his struggle with it in his letters to those churches in the northern lands of Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome.
Today, theologians have accepted without question the perverted definition of "ethnos" (race or tribe), which is translated "gentile," to mean "non-Jew." There was no such word as "Jew" in the N.T., nor any word for "non-Jew." Bible translators have made the word "Judean" into "Jew," as though all residents of Judea were Israelite Jews. That would be nonsense, for most of Judea was populated by Edomites and other races, with a tiny minority of true Israelite descendants of Juda. Because the Edomites were called "Judeans," the Bible translators call them "Jews," and imply that they were true descendants of Juda. Jesus spoke about this problem to John, in His Revelations, in chapters 2:9 and 3:9, saying that He knows those who call themselves "Jews" but are not; they are liars and are the synagogue of Satan. Of course, He is referring to the Edomites who claimed the name of "Jew" and still today practice that fraud.
Here are some Bible passages, in which we will address the use of the word "ethnos" which is translated as "gentile." Take your time with this, read slowly and think about each circumstance in light of the cultural circumstances of that day, and the strong feelings of racial-distinction held by the people.
Matthew 21:43, a literal translation from the Greek is: "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a race (§θvει/ethnei) producing the fruits of it." Here Jesus is speaking to the Edomite Priests and Pharisees. This is a simple prophecy that at the end of this kingdom of World, the Edomites will lose their power and dominion. Satan will lose World rulership and Christ will be the new King. The kingdom will be given to the race of Israel which produces Godly fruits. The kingdom of God is the same as the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew uses the word "heaven" while other Gospel writers use the word "God" for the same statements of Jesus. Both of them refer to the coming 12,500 year period which follows this 12,500 year kingdom of World. The SINE-WAVE curve is a diagram of this history.
Matthew 28:19-20, my literal translation from the Greek: "Going, therefore, disciple ye all the tribes (§θvη/ethne), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatever I commanded to you; and behold I am with you all the days until the completion of the age."
The Greek word, §θvoς/ethnos, that is translated into English Bibles as "gentiles," never meant "all who are not Jews." The word means "tribe, clan, race, family," and it was used commonly by the Israelites of Jesus' time to refer to their own Israelite family. Even Paul, who resented being sent to the tribes of the northern kingdom rather than to his own Judeans, referred to the Israelites of the diaspora as §θvη/ethne. It is a deliberate mistranslation in the English Bibles to translate this word as "gentile," and has led the Christian church badly astray.
John 3:16"For thus God loved the world (κόσμov/kosmon - cosmos), so as He gave the only begotten Son, that all believing in Him not perish but have life during ages."
The context is always important. Here Jesus is still talking to Nicodemus, after having told him that only those "born from above" can see the kingdom of God. Jesus is referring to Adamic and Israel race. No other race is born from above. Jesus is saying in verse 16 that God loves the cosmos (translated as "world"), which, of course, is all God's creation. Of course God loves all the cosmos! And for its sake and its redemption, God permitted the sacrificial offering of His own Son in order to perfect it. Jesus, along with all who make up His body on earth, are the players on the earth stage who will continue to perfect this world, thereby redeeming it.
The part of this verse that seems to give the most trouble is "all believing in Him," (in the KJV, "whosoever believeth") as though anyone in the world is eligible to have life in the kingdom of God unto the ages. This is a good example of the difficulty in looking back to a historic and cultural society which we can hardly imagine. If we take the Bible as our teaching aid, in order to get a feel for the ancient Israelite society, we can see clearly from the beginning to the end that it is about one particular race of men, from Adam and from Israel. This should give us some clue regarding the attitudes of the Israelites, for they were extremely sensitive about this. The God of Abraham is THEIR God, not that of any other race. They often referenced their God by such terms as the "God of Israel" or "God of Abraham." In the Palestine region during the time of Jesus, the Israelites were still extremely race-conscious and sensitive, as were all their neighbors. The Israelites knew how strongly God had forbidden them to mix with any other races throughout O.T. history.
Even more than that, their racial prejudice was intra-Israel. Those who lived in Judea and still worshiped the God of Abraham in Jerusalem held strong anti-northern-kingdom prejudices. Paul struggled tremendously with this as he, a Judean, was sent as missionary to those diasporan tribes of the northern kingdom who had left the fold many centuries ago. Paul, and the others, knew very well where those northern tribes had gone, and they knew where to go to do that mission work, namely to Asia Minor, to Greece, to Rome where Greeks had founded a new nation, to Britain, and to Europe. The Greeks were the most obvious Israelites, tracing their roots back to Zara Juda, whose son Darada is still remembered in the Dardanelles of the northern Aegean. St. Paul would use the word "Greeks" in referring to the northern tribes of Israel, but he would later admit that the Jews (Judean Israelites) and the Greeks were the same family. What I want to get at is this, that they would NEVER consider such a notion as unifying all peoples of the world under Christ. Christ had said clearly enough, "I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." These men knew exactly what that meant, and they would consider it almost blasphemy to suggest otherwise. When Jesus says "all believing in Him," He has no fear of being misunderstood. He came only for His lost sheep of Israel. Now, the Edomites could also claim Abraham as their ancestor. The Edomites had taken rulership of Jerusalem and Judea, so there was some confusion within the Abraham family at the time of Jesus, but Jesus clarified this in some of His statements, namely in John 8 and Matthew 23. Modern politics requires Christians to consider all races of humankind to be equal, and many Christians do that, but if they would read their Bibles, they would clearly see that God gets very angry at that! But a problem at the time of Jesus was that the Judean Israelites had nothing good to say about the northern kingdom Israelites. They would call them "Samaritans" or "Greeks" as pejorative terms. Someone said, "Can anything good come out of Galilee?" The Judeans knew exactly which tribe they were from (Paul was from Benjamin) and they knew their Bible history, that the northern kingdom had gone astray and worshiped idols in Samaria. So, the term "Samaritan" was a dirty word which revealed the great sensitivity they still felt about the division between the two kingdoms. So, if we were there, listening to Jesus words, when He said "all" we would keenly feel that He is referring to those Israelites who had long ago left the fold and then lived in Greece and other places to the north. It is difficult for us today to realize how strong the animosities were between the two estranged kingdoms. But to consider that Jesus might be saying He comes for other races of the world? That would NEVER cross their minds!!! He had already made explicitly clear about those for whom He came! [Note: While modern preachers teach that Jesus' story of the "Good Samaritan" regards compassion between races, the truth is that the "Samaritan" was a true Israelite, as the Samaritans had been for many centuries. At the time of the Assyrian purge of Israelites out of Palestine (8th C. BC), many Israelites did not leave, but continued residence there. The church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, says in his A History of Christianity, on page 16 that "The Samaritans were . . .descendants of some of the Israelites who had composed the Northern Kingdom and who had not been carried away captive at the time of the downfall of that state." ]
Now, in our modern society, where politicians promote a one-world-government, and where theologians have lost the sense of history, it is common to take Bible verses out of context, and to interpret them as simple school children might, who have no sense of greater context. Many Bible students just use English Bibles and look up words in Webster, and think they are interpreting scripture correctly. They are as simple as Kindergartners in their approach to theology, and then they raise their voices loud to rant and rave in promotion of their religious viewpoints. They seem to be enjoying the passion of religion with its opportunities for center-stage showmanship, but they are not in any search for God's ultimate Truth. If they truly loved the Truth, they would be more humble, more questioning, and not quite so loud.
A verse that has come to be ever more meaningful to me is II Thessalonians 2:10 which reads: "and with all deceit of unrighteousness in the ones perishing, because they received not the love of the truth, for to be saved." In other words, men will perish if they receive not the love of truth! Some people say, "we have grace; isn't that enough?" NO, that is not enough! St. James, Jesus' brother, says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling! Jesus says to seek the Truth. Jesus also says that many will come to Him in the last day saying, "Lord, Lord, I believe," and He will tell them to depart, that He never knew them. Obviously Grace is not enough, nor is it enough to say we believe in Jesus (Jn 3:16). And this gets me to the last point I would make regarding John 3:16. The act of "belief" is something far more than just an act of conscious belief. Anyone can decide to believe, but simple belief isn't the whole answer; they need to truly believe, and that is something that ONLY Christ's sheep can do. ONLY the Israelites have the capability of truly believing because ONLY the Israelites have the Spirit of God dwelling within them, and it is only through the activity of that Spirit that one can truly believe. Such belief is a special spiritual attribute, unique to God's own children. For all other people, belief is just a verbal statement. Even more than valuing sincerity of belief, we must come to understand that the reality of this world is created, moment by moment, by the beliefs which are held by Christ, and that includes all the members of His body, namely us. Belief in the Truth is extremely important, as we might clearly see if we know that this wicked world is a result of our false beliefs.
The book of Revelation indicates that it is the act of believing by God's ELECT (the body of Christ) that creates this dimension of reality. God expresses Himself in and through the Elect, as extensions of Himself, and by the activity of their belief/faith, the play on this world stage proceeds. Belief (Faith) is the instrument of creation by the Word/Christ. It is the act of belief, by us members of Christ, that creates the reality which we perceive. Christ is God's tool of creation, and we are members of Him. So, it is our belief that creates this world. (Clearly, we've had some bad beliefs, haven't we?) ONLY God's children can truly believe! So, when Jesus says that all who believe should have life unto the ages, He knows very well who can do such believing.
Jesus had a lot to reveal in the passage of His conversation with Nicodemus, but the church dares not look at it honestly! What a shame. Our people don't know their roots; they are afraid to confess their Shepherd as their own; they dare not claim exclusive rights of inheritance which belong to them alone; they dare not stand tall and proud in representing their own Father, but they stand stoop-shouldered and soft-voiced and wimpy. What a shame.
by Roger Hathaway, December 1999
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