Faith of a mustard seed

“And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles,” Acts 14:24-27 — Faith in the Acts of the Apostles.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Time must be given by the church historian to the concept of ‘gentiles,’ particularly in light of the notoriety assigned to Paul as ‘The Apostle to the Gentiles.’ One significance of this text of Acts lies in what appears to be the first record of this mission concerning the gentiles: “…they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” Returning then to ‘ethnos,’ and the translation question of ‘nation’ or ‘gentiles’?

Can’t approach it any other way than head on. ‘Gentiles’ when used in Judaism is not ‘goyim’ (nations) but rather ‘nokhri’ (a foreigner or stranger). Where a Jew in Judaism is defined by ‘one born of a Jewish mother or one converted to Judaism,’ all others are ‘nokhri’ or gentile. A long history of teachings surround the concept ‘nokhri’ to include various categories of gentiles where Christians and Muslims are ‘ger toshav.’ This discussion is not complete without entering the Seven Naochide Laws under which the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is called into question.

While Young identifies 93 uses of gentiles in English translations of the New Testament, all 93 occurrences have in its Greek text ‘ethnos’ as always defined by ‘nation.’ Where is this gentiles translation with its Latin origin and all of its separatism, its semitism, its imperialism coming from?

I’m led, first to the language of origin: Latin. While the Greeks in their Golden Age united the old world through language and culture to give history a period of Hellenism, the Romans showed their might in battle and moved history into the Greco-Roman period where Latin is the language spoken in and around Rome. Very little is said or thought of this language until the Holy Roman Catholic Church becomes the ‘Empire’s own’ complete with papal orders that Latin would become the official language of the Church. Several scholars have attempted to clarify the misnomer surrounding the use of gentiles in translation for ‘ethnos’ is lost in translation as ‘nations.’

I love to tell the story of Dr. Howard Thurman’s test he gave at the start of our Educational Trust Seminar. Ten hand picked seminarians gathered as he read the entire book of Mark from the Moffatt Translation. Then told us to close our eyes and to associate the word that he would say by writing down the first thing that came to our minds. He said ‘Jesus.’ After hearing our responses, he sat up and said, “Young people, don’t put so much on Jesus. Jesus is His own man. It could be that God is calling you to be a Christ. Likewise, I believe that the Church has put way too much on Paul. An Apostle to the Gentiles? I think not. I know not. Through Paul, God opened the door of faith to the nations!”

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