Heathen The Hebrew word גּוֹי, goy (plur. גּוֹיַם, Egyim'), together with its Greek equivalent ἔθνς (ἔθνη), has been somewhat arbitrarily rendered "nations," "gentiles," and "heathen" in the A.V. It will be interesting to trace the manner in which a term, primarily and essentially general in its signification, acquired that more restricted sense which was afterwards attached to it. Its development is parallel with that of the Hebrew people, and its meaning at any period may be taken as significant of their relative position with regard to the surrounding nations.
1. While as yet the Jewish nation had no political existence, gôyim denoted generally the nations of the world, especially including the immediate descendants of Abraham (Ge 18:18; compare Ga 3:16). The latter, as they grew in numbers and importance, were distinguished in a most marked manner from the nations by whom they were surrounded, and were provided with a code of laws and a religious ritual which made the distinction still more peculiar. They were essentially a separate people (Le 20:23); separate in habits, morals, and religion, and bound to maintain their separate character by denunciations of the most terrible judgments (Le 26:14-38; De 28). On their march through the desert they encountered the most obstinate resistance from Amalek, "chief of the gôyim" (Nu 24:20), in whose sight the deliverance from Egypt was achieved (Le 26:45). During the conquest of Canaan, and the subsequent wars of extermination which the Israelites for several generations carried on against their enemies, the seven nations of the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Hivites, Jebusites, Perizzites, and Girgashites (Ex 34:24), together with the remnants of them who were left to prove Israel (Jos 23:13; Jg 3:1; Ps 78:55), and teach them war (Jg 3:2), received the especial appellation of goyim. With these the Israelites were forbidden to associate (Jos 23:7); intermarriages were prohibited (Jos 23:12; 1Ki 11:2); and, as a warning against disobedience, the fate of the nations of Canaan was constantly kept before their eyes (Le 18:24-25; De 18:12). They are ever associated with the worship of false gods and the foul practices of idolaters (Le 18; Le 20), and these constituted their chief distinctions, as goyim, from the worshippers of the one God, the people of Jehovah (Nu 15:41; De 28:10). This distinction was maintained in its full force during the early times of the monarchy (2Sa 7:23; 1Ki 11:4-8; 1Ki 14:24; Ps 106:35). It was from among the gôyim, the degraded tribes who submitted to their arms, that the Israelites were permitted to purchase their bond-servants (Le 25:44-45), and this special enactment seems to have had the effect of giving to a national tradition the force and sanction of a law (comp. Ge 21:15). In later times this regulation was strictly adhered to. To the words of Ec 2:7, "I bought men-servants and maid-servants," the Targum adds, "of the children of Ham, and the rest of the foreign nations." Not only were the Israelites forbidden to intermarry with these gôyim, but the latter were virtually excluded from the possibility of becoming naturalized. An Ammonite or Moabite was shut out from the congregation of Jehovah even to the tenth generation (De 23:3), while an Edomite or Egyptian was admitted in the third (verses 7, 8). The necessity of maintaining a separation so broadly marked is ever more and more manifest as we follow the Israelites through their history, and observe their constantly recurring tendency to idolatry. Offence and punishment followed each other with all the regularity of cause and effect (Jg 2:12; Jg 3:6-8, etc.).
2. But, even in early Jewish times, the term goyim received by anticipation a significance of wider range than the national experience (Le 26:33,38; De 30:1), and, as the latter was gradually developed during the prosperous times of the monarchy, the gôyim were the surrounding nations generally, with whom the Israelites were brought into contact by the extension of their commerce, and whose idolatrous practices they readily adopted (Eze 23:30; Am 5:26). Later still, it is applied to the Babylonians who took Jerusalem (Ne 5:8; Ps 79:1,6,10), to the destroyers of Moab (Isa 16:8), and to the several nations among whom the Jews were scattered during the Captivity.
(Ps 106:47; Jer 46:28; La 1:3, etc.), the practice of idolatry still being their characteristic distinction (Isa 36:18; Jer 10:2-3; Jer 14:22). This signification it retained after the return from Babylon, though it was used in a more limited sense as denoting the mixed race of colonists who settled in Palestine during the Captivity (Ne 5:17), and who are described as fearing Jehovah while serving their own gods (2Ki 17:29-33; Ezr 6:21).
Tracing the synonymous term ἔθνη through the apocryphal writings, we find that it is applied to the nations around Palestine (1 Macc. 1:11), including the Syrians and Philistines of the army of Gorgias (1 Macc. 3:41, 4:7, 11, 14), as well as the people of Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon (1 Macc. 5, 9, 10, 15). They were image-worshippers (1 Macc. 3:48; Wisd. 15:15), whose customs and fashions the Jews seem still to have had an unconquerable propensity to imitate, but on whom they were bound by national tradition to take vengeance (1 Macc. 2:68; 1 Esdr. 8:85). Following the customs of the goyim at this period denoted the neglect or concealment of circumcision (1 Macc. 1:15), disregard of sacrifices, profanation of the Sabbath, eating of swine's flesh and meat offered to idols (2 Macc. 6:6-9, 18; 15:1,2), and adoption of the Greek national games (2 Macc. 4:12, 14). In all points Judaism and heathenism are strongly contrasted. The "barbarous multitude" in 2 Macc. 2, 21 are opposed to those who played the man for Judaism, and the distinction now becomes an ecclesiastical one (comp. Mt 18:17). In 2 Esdr. 3:33, 34, the "gentes" are defined as those "qui habitant in saeculo" (comp. Mt 6:32; Lu 12:30).
As the Greek influence became more extensively felt in Asia Minor, and the Greek language was generally used, Hellenism and heathenism became convertible terms, and a Greek was synonymous with a foreigner of any nation. This is singularly evident in the Syriac of 2 Macc. 5, 9,10, 13; comp. Joh 7:35; 1Co 10:32; 1Co 2 Macc. 11:2.
In the N.T., again, we find various shades of meaning attached to ἔθνη. In its narrowest sense it is opposed to "those of the circumcision" (Ac 10:45; comp. Esther 14:15, where ἀλλότριος.= ἀπερίτμητος), and is contrasted with Israel, the people of Jehovah (Lu 2:32), thus representing the Hebrew גּוֹיַם. at one stage of its history. But, like goyim, it also denotes the people of the earth generally (Ac 22:26; Ga 3:14). In Mt 6:7, ἐθνικός is applied to an idolater.
But, in addition to its significance as an ethnographical term, goyim had a moral sense which must not be overlooked. In Ps 9:5,15,17 (comp. Eze 7:21) the word stands in parallelism with רָשָׁע, rasha', the wicked, as distinguished by his moral obliquity (see Hupfeld on Ps 1:1); and in verse 17 the people thus designated are described as "forgetters of God," that know not Jehovah (Jer 10:25). Again, in Ps 59:5, it is to some extent commensurate in meaning with בֹּגדֵי אָוֶן, "iniquitous transgressors;" and in these passages, as well as in Ps 10:15, it has a deeper significance than that of a merely national distinction, although the latter idea is never entirely lost sight of.
In later Jewish literature a technical definition of the word is laid down which is certainly not of universal application. Elias Levita (quoted by Eisenmenger, Entdecktes denthum, 1, 665) explains the sing goy as denoting one who is not of Israelitish birth. This can only have reference to its after signification; in the O.T. the singular is never used of an individual, but is a collective term, applied equally to the Israelites (Jos 3:17) as to the nations of Canaan (Le 20:23), and denotes simply a body politic. Another distinction, equally unsupported, is made between גּוֹיַם, gôyim, and אֻמּים, ummim, the former being defined as the nations who had served Israel, while the latter were those who had not (Jalkut Chadash, fol. 20, note 20; Eisenmenger, 1, 667). Abarbanel, on Joe 3:2, applies the former to both Christians and Turks, or Ishmaelites, while in Sepher Juchasin (fol. 148, col. 2) the Christians alone are distinguished by this appellation. Eisenmenger gives some curious examples of the disabilities under which a goy labored. One who kept Sabbaths was judged deserving of death (2, 206), and the study of the law was prohibited to him under the same penalty, but on the latter point the doctors are at issue (2, 209). SEE GENTILE.
3. In modern use, the word heathen (probably a corruption of ἐθνικός, ethnicus, of which it is a translation; or derived from heath, that is, people who live in the wilderness, as pagan from pagus, a village) is applied to all nations that are strangers to revealed religion, that is to say, to all except Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans. It is nearly synonymous with Gentiles (q.v.) and Pagams (q.v.). At the time of the Crusades the Moslems were also called heathen; but as they receive the doctrine of the one God from the O.T., they are not properly so called. On the relation of the heathen to Judaism, see above, and also the article GENTILES SEE GENTILES . See also the same article (vol. 3:p. 789) for their relation to Christianity at its origin. We add the following statements:
"The old Oriental forms of heathenism, the religion of the Chinese (Confucius, about 550 B.C.), the Brahminism, and the later Buddhism of the Hindus (perhaps 1000 B.C.), the religion of the Persians (Zoroaster, 700 B.C.), and the Egyptians ('the religion of enigma'), have only a remote and indirect concern with the introduction of Christianity. But they form to some extent the historical basis of the Western religions; and the Persian dualism, especially, was not without influence on the earlier sects (the Gnostic and the Manichbean) of the Christian Church. The flower of paganism appears in the two great nations of classic antiquity, Greece and Rome. With the language, morality, literature, and religion of these nations the apostles came directly into contact, and through the whole first age the Church moves on the basis of these nationalities. These, together with the Jews, were the chosen nations of the ancient world, and shared the earth among them. The Jews were chosen for things eternal, to keep the sanctuary of the true religion. The Greeks prepared the elements of natural culture, of science and art, for the use of the Church. The Romans developed the idea of law, and organized the civilized world in a universal empire, ready to serve the spiritual universality of the Gospel. 'Both Greeks and Romans were unconscious servants of Jesus Christ, 'the unknown God.' These three nations, by nature at bitter enmity among themselves, joined hands in the superscription on the cross, where the holy name and the royal title of the Redeemer stood written, by the command of the heathen Pilate, 'in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin' (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1, 44).
4. As to the religion of heathenism, it is "a wild growth on the soil of fallen human nature, a darkening of the original consciousness of God's deification of the rational and irrational creature, and a corresponding corruption of the moral sense, giving the sanction of religion to natural and unnatural vices. Even the religion of Greece, which, as an artistic product of the imagination. has been justly styled the religion of beauty, is deformed by this moral distortion. It utterly lacks the true conception of sin, and consequently the true conception of holiness. It regards sin not as a perverseness of will and an offence against the gods, but as a folly of the understanding, and an offence against men, often even proceeding from the gods themselves; for 'infatuation is a daughter of Jove.' Then these gods themselves are mere men, in whom Homer and the popular faith saw and worshipped the weaknesses and vices' of the Grecian character, as well as its virtues, in immensely magnified forms. They have bodies and senses, like mortals, only in colossal proportions. They eat and drink, though only nectar and ambrosia. They are limited, like men, to time and space. Though sometimes honored with the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, yet they are subject to. an iron fate, fall under delusion, and reproach each other with folly. Their heavenly happiness is disturbed by all the troubles of earthly life. Jupiter threatens his fellows with blows and death, and makes Olympus tremble when he shakes his dark locks in anger. The gentle Venus bleeds from a spear-wound on her finger. Mars is felled with a stone by Diomedes. Neptune and Apollo have to serve for hire, and are cheated. The gods are involved by their marriages in perpetual jealousies and quarrels. Though called holy and just, they are full of envy and wrath, hatred and lust, and provoke each other to lying and cruelty, perjury and adultery. Notwithstanding this essential apostasy from truth and holiness, heathenism was religion, a groping after 'the unknown God.' By its superstition it betrayed the need of faith. Its polytheism rested on a dim monotheistic background; it subjected all the gods to Jupiter, and Jupiter himself to a mysterious fate. It had at bottom the feeling of dependence on higher powers, and reverence for divine things. It preserved the memory of a golden age and of a fall. It had the voice of conscience and a sense, obscure though it was, of guilt. It felt the need of reconciliation with deity, and sought that reconciliation by prayer, penance, and sacrifice. Many of its religious traditions and usages were faint echoes of the primal religion; and its mythological dreams of the mingling of the gods with men, of demigods, of Prometheus delivered by Hercules from his helpless sufferings, were unconscious prophecies and fleshy anticipations of Christian truths. This alone explains the great readiness with which heathens embraced the Gospel, to the shame of the Jews. These elements of truth, morality, and piety in heathenism may be ascribed to three sources. In the first place, man, even in his fallen state, retains some traces of the divine image, a consciousness of God, however weak, conscience, and a deep longing for union with the Godhead, for truth and for righteousness. In this view we may, with Tertullian, call the beautiful and true sentences of the classics, of a Socrates, a Plato, an Aristotle, of Pindar, Sophocles, Plutarch, Cicero, Virgil, Seneca, 'the testimonies of a soul constitutionally Christian,' of a nature predestined to Christianity. Secondly, some account must be made of traditions and recollections, however faint, coming down from the general primal revelations to Adam and Noah. But the third and most important source of the heathen anticipations of truth is the all-ruling providence of God, who has never left himself without a witness. Particularly must we consider the influence of the divine Logos before his incarnation, the tutor of mankind, the original light of reason, shining in the darkness and lighting every man, the sower scattering in the soil of heathendom the seeds of truth, beauty, and virtue" (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, § 12).
The question of the salvation of the heathen has been a subject of much discussion. "The great body of the Jews, from the earliest ages, denied salvation to the heathen on the principle extra ecclesiam non dari salutem. But this is entirely opposed both to the Old Testament and to the spirit of Christianity. Even Mohammed did not go to this degree of exclusiveness. Nor did the more ancient Grecian fathers deny salvation to the heathen, although they philosophized about it after their manner. E.g. Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria held that the Λὀγος exerted an agency upon the heathen by means of reason, and that the heathen philosophers were called, justified, and saved by philosophy. But afterwards, especially after the 3rd century, when the false Jewish notions respecting the Church were introduced into the West, and the maxim was adopted, Extra ecclesiam non dari salutem (which was the case after the age of Augustine), they then began to deny the salvation of the heathen, though there were always some who judged more favorably. Thus Zwingle, Curio, and others believed that God would pardon the heathen on account of Christ, although in this life they had no knowledge of his merits. See the historical account in Beykert's Diss. De salute gentium (Strasburg, 1777), and a short statement of the opinions of others in Morus, p. 128, 129, where he justly recommends to our imitation the exemplary modesty of the apostles when speaking on this point. The whole subject was investigated anew on occasion of the violent attack which Hofstede, a preacher in Holland, made upon the Belisaire of Marmontel. This gave rise to Eberhard's Apologie de Socrates. Compare also Tollner, Beweis dass Gött die Menschen auch durch seine Offenbarung in der Naturzur Seligkeit führe" (Knapp, Christian Theology, § 121). "The truth seems to be this, that none of the heathens will be condemned for not believing the Gospel, but they are liable to condemnation for the breach of God's natural law; nevertheless, if there be any of them in whom there is a prevailing love to the Divine Being, there seems reason to believe that, for the sake of Christ, though to them unknown, they may be accepted by God; and so much the rather, as the ancient Jews, and even the apostles, during the time of our Savior's abode on earth, seem to have had but little notion of those doctrines which those who deny the salvability of the heathen are most apt to imagine to be fundamental. Comp. Ro 2:10,26; Ac 10:34-35; Mt 8:11-12; 1Jo 2:2" (Doddridge, Lectures on Divinity, lect. 172). The question is very ably treated in an article on "The true Theory of Missions" in the Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1858. The writer states that the extreme evangelical theory, which assumes the certain damnation of all who have not learned the name and faith of Christ, is "the accepted theory of the Romish Church, and of a part of the Protestant Church, perhaps of the majority of the latter." He adds in a note the following: "The Presbyterian Confession of Faith (chap. 10:§ 4) uses language of remarkable boldness on this point, saying, 'Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved; much less can men not professing the Christian religion be saved in any other way whatever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess; and to assert and maintain that they may is very pernicious and to be detested.' This is sufficiently positive, especially as it contradicts both our Savior and the apostle Paul. It represents heathen who live according to their light as 'much less' able to be saved than men who hear the Gospel and reject it, thus directly contradicting our Savior, who declared that those who rejected his words would receive a heavier condemnation than even the depraved, unrepentant inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Tyre and Sidon (Mt 11:20-24). The 'Confession of Faith' declares the salvation of conscientious heathen to be 'much less' possible than that of unbelieving hearers of the Gospel; while Christ asserts that even the most flagrant sinners of the heathen shall find it 'more tolerable' in the Day of Judgment than such unbelievers. Equally at variance with the 'Confession of Faith' is the declaration of Paul in Ro 2:14,26-27, in which he shows how those 'having not the law may be a law unto themselves,' and how their 'uncircumcision shall be counted for circumcision…' "The facts of human history and the declarations of the Bible alike declare that mercy is a prominent attribute of the divine character, and that this world is for some reason, known or unknown, under its care. We cannot, therefore, resist the conviction — it is an affirmation of the moral sense of all men that, guilty though the human race may be, and deserving of destruction, yet every man lives under a dispensation of mercy, and has an opportunity for salvation. To assert gravely, then, that the heathen who have never heard of Christ are shut out from all possible hope of pardon, and are riot in a salvable position in their present circumstances, is to offend the moral sense of the thoughtful men as well as that of the common multitude. It is worse than denying that an atonement has been made for all mankind, and restricting it to the elect alone; for that doctrine, however theoretically untrue, is saved from much of its practical evil by our inability to point out the elect in advance, so that our hopes are not cut off for any particular man. But this theory points to actual masses of men, to the entire population of whole countries, and dooms them to a necessary perdition with no present hope of pardon; and it extends this judgment backwards to generations in the past who are represented as having had no share in that mercy which we have such reason to believe to be universal in its offers. Such a theory practically denies the divine grace by suspending its exercise, so far as the heathen (the majority of the human race) are concerned, upon the action of those already enlightened. It declares that there is no possible mercy for the heathen unless Christians choose to carry the Gospel to them. Does it seem rational, or in harmony with the universality and freedom of God's grace, that the only possibility of salvation for the mass of mankind should be suspended, not on anything within their control, but on the conduct of men on the opposite side of the globe? By such representations the minds of men are shocked, and a reaction takes place, which is unfavorable not only to the cause of missions, but to evangelical religion as well. They are led to think of evangelical religion as a severe, gloomy, remorseless system, which represents God as without mercy, or which confines that mercy within an exceedingly narrow compass. By describing the salvation of pagans as absolutely impossible, an influence is exerted in favor of universalism and infidelity." The writer further asserts that no passage in the Bible asserts this theory, nor does any doctrine of the Bible imply it. John Wesley's views on this subject are given in his sermon on Living Without God, from which we extract the following: "I have no authority from the Word of God to 'judge those that are without,' nor do I conceive that any man has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mohammedan world to damnation" (Works, N. Y. ed. 2, 485). Again, the Minutes of Aug. 8, 1770, declare that "he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, according to the light he has, is accepted of God." For this Wesley was attacked by Shirley and others, and defended by Fletcher, in his First Check to Antinonmianisms (New York edit.), 1, 41. See, besides the works above cited, Watson, Theolog. Institutes, 2, 445; Whately, Future State, p. 207; Constant, De la Religion (Bruxelles, 1824); Rougemont, Le Peuple Primitif (Paris, 1855-57, 3 vols. 8vo); Presence, Hist. des Trois Premiers Siecles de l'Eglise, vol. 1; translated under the title The Religions before Christ (Edinb. 1862, 8vo); Sepp, Das Heidenthum (Regesb. 1853, 3 vols.); Maurice, Religions of the World (Boson, 1854,18mo); Trench, Hulsean Lectures for 1846 (Philadel. 1850,12mo); Wuttke, Gesch. des Heidenthumis, etc. (Bresl. 1853, 8vo); Hardwick,
Christ and other Masters (1855, 2 vols. 8vo); Schaff, Apostol. Church, p. 139 sq.; Scholten, Gesch. d. Religion u. Philosophie (Elberf. 1868, 8vo); Pfleiderer, Die Religion, ihre Wesen und ihre Geschichte (Leipsic, 1869, 2 vols. 8vo); Döllinger, The Gentile and the Jew in the Courts of the Temple of Christ, trans. by Darnell (Lond. 1862,2 vols. 8vo); N. British Review, December, 1867, art. 1; Baring-Gould, Origin and Development of Religious Belief (Lond. 186970, 2 vols. 8vo).