Can someone help me understand who is referred to when the Bible speaks of a Greek and Gentile. For instance Timothy's father was a Greek. Does that mean he was a Gentile? And Paul said in Romans 1, "It is the power of the Jew first and also to the Greek." Is the Greek here a Gentile? Are all Greeks Gentiles?


The word "Gentile" sometimes translates the Greek word ethnos, which means a nation or people, specifically someone who is not Jewish and thus could be used in the sense of a foreigner. In classic Greek, "Ethnos is a rather broad term for any group of people, a nation, a tribe or caste, or a group of animals (as in a swarm of insects) ..." [The Complete Biblical Library]. Since the New Testament refers to Christians as spiritual Israel, it also uses Gentiles as a synonym for non-Christians (I Thessalonians 4:5; I Peter 4:3).

The word "Greek" can refer to either someone from the nation of Greece or who speaks the language Greek (Acts 21:37). Prior to the Roman empire, Alexander the Great created a Greek empire that stretched far across the known world at that time. Greek became the language of trade between the various nations. To the Jews, who were conquered by Alexander, a Greek was then any foreigner because almost all foreigners spoke Greek. Thus you see "The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter" (Mark 7:26). Though she was a Phoenician born in Syria, she was considered to be a Greek. When it states that Timothy's father was a Greek, it most likely means he was of the Greek nationality (Acts 16:1,3). When used in contrast to "Jew," Greek means a non-Jew, such as, "tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 2:9-10).