Tag Archives: gentiles

Discrimination by nation

I’ve been cataloging everything the Bible has to say about various forms of discrimination. One type of discrimination that gets a lot of attention in modern times is racism. And the version of the Bible I’m working with does appear to use the word “race” in that sense a couple of times. But back in biblical times, they didn’t really have the same concept of “race”. So rather than write about “racism” in the Bible, I’m going to discuss the closest thing the ancients actually did have: Discrimination by nation.

Equality?

Let’s look at the least discriminatory parts of the Bible first. It says Israel isn’t the only nation God cares about; the nations are all the same to him. He cares about what people do, not who their ancestors are. God loves foreigners and wants his people to love them too. He says his people shouldn’t mistreat or oppress foreigners. They should judge everyone fairly and justly and treat the foreigners among them the same as the native-born Israelites, because they once lived as foreigners in Egypt.1

In fact, there’s one passage that just assumes Israelites want to help foreigners in need, and encourages them to help each other the same way they would help foreigners. (That’s not going to do much good in the cases where that assumption is wrong.)

Sometimes the Bible says its laws should be applied equally to Israelites and foreigners living in Israel. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, though. Mostly what that means is that people will get stoned to death if they don’t follow the rules of the religion of the people of the country they happen to be in. But if foreigners do worship and obey him, then God will… allow them to worship and obey him.

God did occasionally disapprove of his people oppressing foreigners. (At least when they did it without fearing him.) But that didn’t do much good when he was telling them to oppress them most of the time. Foreigners were amazed and confused on the occasions when Israelites actually decided to be nice to them.

An angel who was the commander of God’s army said he was not on Israel’s side or on their enemies’ side. God thinks all nations are worthless and just wants everybody to die.2 Equality! David once entrusted the ark of the covenant to a Philistine, and later he allowed hundreds of Philistines to join his army.3 That’s quite a difference from how he normally treated Philistines. Solomon asked God to answer the prayers of foreigners, though I’m not sure it says God agreed with that part.

When Ezra said all the Jews should disown their foreign wives and children, there were about four people who disagreed. Jesus once healed a girl even though she was a Canaanite, though it took some convincing. There was one Samaritan who was willing to help a Jew… in a story Jesus made up.

After Jesus died, Peter convinced himself that foreigners could be saved, which his peers thought was a pretty weird idea. He decided he should preach to Gentiles even though it was against God’s law to associate with them. Paul, too, thought God now judged people according to their actions, their beliefs, or his own whims, and not by their nationality.

Ambivalently unequal ordinances

Sometimes the Bible says things about certain nations that I’m not sure whether to classify as favorable or unfavorable treatment.

It says God gave his laws to Israel, and not to any other nation. Some of those laws suggest that being a foreigner living in Israel automatically makes you disadvantaged and unable to provide for yourself somehow. But to make up for that, God’s law says Hebrews have to give foreigners free food. It says Hebrews aren’t allowed to eat animals they found already dead, but they can give them to foreigners to eat.

It says every seven years, an Israelite has to cancel any debts that another Israelite owes them. But they don’t have to do the same for a foreigner. And an Israelite isn’t allowed to charge another Israelite interest. But they can make a foreigner pay interest.

Jesus told his followers to only preach their message to Jews, at least at first.

Between Gentile nations

The Bible says God had his people wipe out a lot of other nations and steal their land. But it says God didn’t want them to invade the land of the Ammonites.

The Moabites and the Midianites both led Israel into sin in the Peor incident. God told Israel to go to war against Midian because of this. But he told them not to go to war with Moab, even though they did the same thing.

The Romans thought it was okay to violently punish people without a trial, as long as they weren’t Roman citizens.

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Do Gentiles have to obey the Law?

The Bible says God requires his chosen people, the Jews, to obey the laws he gave them. But what about people who aren’t Jewish? Do Gentiles need to obey God’s laws too?

Yes.

When the kingdom of Israel was overthrown, the Israelites were deported to Assyria. Then people from other nations came to live in their land. But God didn’t like how those foreigners didn’t do what he required. So he started sending in lions to kill them. Then the king of Assyria had to send an Israelite priest back there to teach the new inhabitants what God required them to do.

Ezra praised God for giving the king of Persia the idea to severely punish (sometimes with death) anyone in his kingdom (not just Jews) who didn’t obey God’s Law.

Paul required Timothy, who had a Gentile father, to be circumcised before he could go anywhere with him. Paul said Jesus wanted him to call all the Gentiles to obedience. He said God judges and punishes everyone the same way, regardless of whether they’re Jews or Gentiles. And the way he judges them upholds the Law, rather than nullifying it. Paul told his Gentile followers to put someone to death for breaking one of the Jewish sex laws. He did not think it was okay for Gentile Christians to do whatever they wanted.

No.

God’s Law itself says Jews can give Gentiles things to eat that would be forbidden for the Jews themselves to eat.

The apostles declared that Gentile Christians should not be required to keep the law of Moses, which even the Jews had been unable to fully obey. They rejected the idea that people could only be saved if they were circumcised. They said anyone could be saved by the grace of God.

Paul took this further and said that all believers, no matter if they were Jews or Gentiles, could be saved by grace and by faith apart from the Law. He said no one can be justified or saved by keeping the Law, since everyone inevitably sins. Paul didn’t think Gentiles should be forced to follow Jewish customs. And he didn’t require his Gentile companions to be circumcised.

Paul said anyone who relied on the Law was cursed, and could not be justified before God. He taught his Gentile followers that they were not under the law, because Jesus had set aside the Law and set them free from that curse. Paul’s followers tried to follow the law anyway, which he thought was foolish. He said there would have been no point in Jesus dying if following the Law was what people needed to do to be saved.

According to Paul, even if the Gentiles were under the Law, it would kill them, and then dying would release them from the Law. If Paul’s claims are true, it’s impossible for anyone to remain under the Law!

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Are there Jews and Gentiles?

In his letter to the Galatians (who were Gentiles), Paul (who was a Jew) states that there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Huh? Of course there are Jews and Gentiles. The Bible talks about them all the time:

It says there were Jews who were slaves to Gentiles, and that their city will be trampled by the Gentiles. Jesus became a servant of the Jews so the Gentiles would praise God with them. The Jews and the Gentiles both conspired against Jesus, who was said to be the glory of the Jews and a light for the Gentiles. The Jews and the Gentiles also both conspired against the followers of Jesus, because Jews and Gentiles alike are under the power of sin.

It says God chose Paul to preach to both Jews and Gentiles, and he will save both Jews and Gentiles. Paul taught that Jews and Gentiles should all live like Gentiles. A lot of the Jews and Gentiles thought Paul’s message was stupid and rejected it. But Paul said all the Jews and Gentiles who believed would be saved. God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, and he will judge both Jews and Gentiles according to what they do.

So clearly it’s absurd to say Jews and Gentiles don’t exist. Or even that there are no Jews and Gentiles among the Christians. Maybe what Paul meant to say was just that there’s no significant difference between Jews and Gentiles? That’s not what he said in the first verse referenced in this post (though he does say that elsewhere). But even if that’s what he meant, he’s still wrong, according to the Bible.

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Religious discrimination in the Bible

In this post, we’ll look at passages in the Bible that express disapproval of different religious views. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that; religions are beliefs, and beliefs can be wrong, and having wrong beliefs is a bad thing. Pointing out people’s false beliefs and trying to correct them is a good thing. But sometimes people go about combatting wrong beliefs in very wrong ways, such as trying to force people to change their beliefs or be punished.1 It’s also bad if your disagreement is actually based on false beliefs of your own. There is good religious intolerance and bad religious intolerance. Guess which kind the Bible is full of.

Equality

First, let’s look at the non-discriminatory things the Bible has to say about people of different religions. It says Jesus welcomes Jews and Gentiles alike. It says if a Christian and a non-Christian are married, that’s no problem, and they should stay together. (The Bible states that that part is not the word of God, though.) And it says that God shows mercy to people who act in unbelief, and that people should show mercy to those who doubt.

Well, that was quick. Now let’s look at the actual discriminatory passages…

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