AskDefine | Define gentile

Dictionary Definition

gentile adj : belonging to or characteristic of non-Jewish peoples


1 a person who does not acknowledge your God [syn: heathen, pagan, infidel]
2 a person who is not a member of one's own religion; used in this sense by Mormons and Hindus
3 in this sense `Gentile' denotes a Christian as contrasted with a Jew; `goy' is a derogatory word for Christians used by Jews [syn: non-Jew, goy]

User Contributed Dictionary



From gentilis, from gens, gentis, "people", + adjective suffix -ilis


  • /ˈʤɛntaɪl/, /"dZEntaIl/



Related terms



  1. Form of feminine, gentil



gentilis (gens, gentis "family, lineage")


  1. kind, courteous
  2. gentle
  3. lovely
Gentile Signore ..., Gentilissimo/a Signore/a
  1. Dear Sir ...

Related terms


  1. Gentile

Extensive Definition

The word Gentile is an anglicised version of the Latin word gentilis, meaning of or belonging to a clan or tribe. In the King James and various other versions of the Bible it is used to refer to non-Israelite tribes or nations, as an English translation of the Hebrew words goy / גוי and nochri / נכרי. It is also used to translate the New Testament Greek word εθνοι/ethnoi. Today, the primary meaning of gentile is ‘non-Jew’.

Latin etymology

Gentile derives from Latin gens (from which, together with forms of the cognate Greek word genos, also derive gene, general, genus and genesis). The original meaning of "clan" or "family" was extended in post-Augustan Latin to acquire the wider meaning of belonging to a distinct nation or ethnicity. Later still the word came to mean "foreign," i.e. non-Roman. After the Christianization of the empire it could also be used of pagan or barbarian cultures.

In the Bible

In Saint Jerome's Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate, gentilis was used in this wider sense, along with gentes, to translate Greek and Hebrew words with similar meanings that referred to the non-Israelite peoples.
The most important of such Hebrew words was goyim (singular, goy), a term with the broad meaning of "peoples" or "nations" which was sometimes used to refer to Israelites, but most commonly as a generic label for other peoples. Strong's Concordance defines goy as "nation, people usually of non-Hebrew people, or of descendants of Abraham of Israel, or of a swarm of locusts or other animals (fig.) Goyim = ‘nations’. Strongs #1471
In the KJV Gentile is only one of several words used to translate goy or goyim. It is translated as "nation" 374 times, "heathen" 143 times, "Gentiles" 30 times, and "people" 11 times. Some of these verses, such as Genesis 12:2 and Genesis 25:23 refer to Israelites or descendants of Abraham. Other verses, such as Isaiah 2:4 and Deuteronomy 11:23 are generic references to any nation. Typically the KJV restricts the use of Gentile as a translation when the text is specifically referring to non-Israelites. For example, the only use of the word in Genesis is in chapter 10, verse 5, referring to the peopling of the world by descendents of Japheth, "By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations."
In the New Testament, the word translates Greek terms for peoples in general, and is used specifically to indicate non-Jewish peoples, as in Jesus's command to the apostles in Matthew chapter 10,
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Here Gentiles becomes a synonym for pagan cultures of the period.
Altogether, the word is used 123 times in the King James Version of the Bible and 168 times in the New Revised Standard Version.

Modern usage

As in the King James Bible, from the 17th century onwards gentile was most commonly used to refer to non-Jews. This was in the context of European Christian societies with a Jewish minority. For this reason Gentile commonly meant persons brought up in the Christian faith, as opposed to the adherents of Judaism, and was not typically used to refer to non-Jews in non-Western cultures.

Latter-day Saints Church usage

Main article Mormonism and Judaism.
In the terminology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon) the word Gentile takes on different meanings in different contexts, which may confuse some and alienate others. Members of the LDS church regard themselves as regathered Israelites, and so sometimes use the word "Gentile" to refer to non-members. In such usage Jews may be colloquially referred to as "Gentiles" because they are not members of the LDS Church. However, the traditional meaning is also to be found in the introduction to the Book of Mormon, in the statement that it is written to both "Jew" (literal descendants of the House of Israel) and "Gentile" (those not descended from the House of Israel or those of the tribe of Ephraim scattered among the "Gentiles" throughout the earth).
In order to avoid confrontation and pejorative connotations, Latter-day Saints in the 21st century avoid using the term "Gentile" in everyday matters, preferring "non-member". "Gentile" is usually reserved for discussions of scriptural passages.

Footnotes and References

gentile in Catalan: Jentil
gentile in Welsh: Cenhedlig
gentile in Spanish: Goy
gentile in Basque: Jentil
gentile in Italian: Gentili
gentile in French: Gentils
gentile in Lithuanian: Gentilės
gentile in Portuguese: Gentio
gentile in Simple English: Gentile
gentile in Serbian: Gentiles

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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