The word Gentile is an English translation of the Hebrew word  goyim (“people, nations”) and the Greek word ethne (“nations,  people groups, people”). The Latin Vulgate translated these words as  gentilis, and this word was then carried over into English as “Gentile.”  The term refers to a person who is not a Jew.

From the Jewish  perspective, Gentiles were often seen as pagans who did not know the true God.  During Jesus’ time, many Jews took such pride in their cultural and religious  heritage that they considered Gentiles “unclean,” calling them “dogs” and “the  uncircumcision.” Gentiles and the half-Gentile Samaritans were viewed as enemies to be shunned (see  John 4:9; 18:28; and Acts  10:28).

In the Sermon on the  Mount, Jesus alluded to the common association of Gentiles with paganism:  “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not  even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:47,  ESV). In another place in the same sermon, Jesus noted, “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” (Matthew 6:7,  ESV). In both cases, the NIV simply translates the word in question as  “pagans.”

Jesus came to offer salvation to all people, Jew and Gentile.  The prophet Isaiah predicted the Messiah’s worldwide ministry, saying He “will  bring forth justice to the Gentiles” and would be “a light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:1, 6, NKJV). In Mark 7:26,  Jesus helps a Gentile woman who had asked for her daughter’s freedom from a  demon.

Interestingly, both Jews and Gentiles are mentioned in the  account of Jesus’ death. The Jewish leaders arrested Jesus, but it was a Roman  (i.e., a Gentile) who sentenced Him to death and Romans who carried out the  execution (see Jesus’ prediction in Luke 18:32).  Later, the apostles prayed, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with  the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city [Jerusalem] to conspire  against your holy servant Jesus” (Acts  4:27).

As the gospel spread in the early New Testament era, many  Gentiles were converted. Acts 11:18 records the reaction of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who “praised God,  saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to  life.’” When the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch heard the good news, “they were  glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal  life believed” (Acts  13:48).

When writing to the (mostly Gentile) church in Rome, Paul  communicated his goal: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the  power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew,  then to the Gentile” (Romans  1:16). Paul realized that the coming of Jesus provided the opportunity for  salvation to whoever would believe in Christ’s name (John 3:16).

Gentiles were long seen as enemies of  the Jewish people, yet Christ provided good news for both Jews and non-Jews.  Paul praised the Lord’s goodness in his letter to the (mostly Gentile) church in  Ephesus: “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded  from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise,  without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once  were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is  our peace, who has made the two groups [Jew and Gentile] one and has destroyed  the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians  2:12–14).