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God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Defining 'Gentile' in the 21st Century #Romfor21stC

One of the most frequent questions I get from people when discussing Romans for the 21st Century is the question, “Who are the Gentiles of today?” This question is very difficult to answer, if it is answerable at all. The reason is multi-faceted as you will see.

The Jew-Gentile construct was of Jewish origin.

Used countless times in the Bible, the term ‘Gentile’ simply means, “a person who is not Jewish.” In essence, it means “not one of us.” If someone were to ask a Roman if they were a Gentile they would probably look quizzical and wonder what was wrong with you. ‘Gentile’ was “insider-language,” a word that only had meaning within Jewish culture. Paul would write to people very familiar with Jewish culture and therefore would make sense. But to talk about Gentiles today would be the same as asking, “Who are the people who are not one of us?”

The idea of the ‘other’ is not accepted today.

One of the most important aspects of learning to live and work cross-culturally is the understanding that no one is the ‘other,’ especially those around you. It is this barrier which prevents contact, sharing and relationships and foments ill-will, hatred and even violence. Churches unwittingly do this when discussing ‘Christians’ vs. ‘the world.’ Within Christian context that makes sense, the ‘world’ representing everything that does not help us love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. However, to everyone that is not part of your church it sounds like you are equating them with Satan. No one who tries to be a good person thinks they are Satan and they would resent anyone who would put them in the same category. So attempting to find who are the Gentiles today would insult those who might be labeled 'Gentile.'

The categories of ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’ are irrelevant to salvation and righteousness.

Paul’s major idea is the true children of God are not defined by their membership of a tribe, group or church. They are known by their actions. So to attempt to revive the debate is to misunderstand the reason Paul wrote to the Romans in the first place. Paul wants both sides to stop arguing over who are God’s children and help each other obey God through faith in Jesus.

Best possible answer:

Because this concept is essential to understanding the book of Romans in the 21st Century, I will use the terms, ‘Churched’ and ‘Unchurched.’ These are words which are more closely associated with what I am attempting to show through these posts and do not have an air of “holy” vs. “profane” which plagues ‘Christians’ vs. ‘the World.’ ‘Churched’ will mean those who consider themselves as part of a church – whether a denominational or non-denominational church. If you meet on Sundays (or are part of a church that meets on Sunday) you are churched. ‘Unchurched’ will stand for those who do not consider themselves as part of a church – which they call ‘organized religion.’ Any further attempt to define this group is an minefield and becomes a tedious exercise in hairsplitting.
Romans 1-3 – starting Monday! Summary of Romans Wednesday.