Are You a Messianic Goy?

Nations

Who Are You? Why Are You Here?

Are you a goy? Were you ever a goy? Can someone born as a goy ever stop being a goy? Could someone born Jewish ever change into a goy? To most, the answers to these questions seem pretty obvious. But to others, the answers aren’t as straightforward as it might seem.

There are many people in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic communities who come from non-Jewish families. They may be of Irish descent, Spanish descent, or Korean descent. But they are not “Jewish”. Such people are known in Jewish circles as “Goyim”, or “Gentiles”.

Now, some Gentiles have no problem being identified as such. They are well aware that they do not come from a Jewish home, and no matter how much they value the Jewish people, or support the nation of Israel, they are content being identified by the non-Jewish lineage to which they were born. Hashem made them that way, and that is how they identify themselves.

But there are others who take great offense at the designation of “Goy”, or “Gentile”. They have been informed by certain religious teachers that the word is inherently insulting, and no follower of Yeshua the Messiah should accept the label. Why? Because, in the view of such teachers, the word fundamentally means “pagan”, or “heathen”. Being so informed, followers of Yeshua naturally would not care to be identified by the label.

So, if one was not born into a Jewish family, but feels great affinity to the Torah and to the Messiah, what label is appropriate? What designation accurately describes the reality of things?

Before going any further, let’s take note of a few small details.

“Goy” Is a Group Designation

First of all, no individual can be a “goy”. It is one of those terms that represents a collective, like “flock” or “herd”. We can have multiple flocks of sheep grazing on different farm lands, but we cannot take a single sheep and call it “a flock”. In precisely the same way, the word “goy” has no meaning in relation to a single individual—it is an expression of group identity. A “goy” is an ethnic or national grouping. Properly, every single human being is “one from the goyim”—an individual who was born as, and/or lived as, part of a larger community.

Now, since the Bible was written from an Israeli point of view, we need to take note that the word “goy” (or its plural, “goyim”) does generally refer to non-Israeli nations. Not because other nations are “goyim” and Israel is not, but simply because one doesn’t usually include one’s self when describing those around us. But, in reality, Israel is a “goy”, just like every other nation is a “goy”. When we talk about “all the nations (‘goyim’) of the earth”, that would include Israel as one of the many “goyim”.

All this might seem like petty distinctions, but it is important that we speak clearly and accurately. No individual is a “goy”. A “goy” is nothing more, nor less, than a group of people, usually associated with a nation or an ethnic group.

“But David!” I hear you saying. “I just went to Merriam-Webster.com, and it says right there: ‘Heathen, Pagan’. How can you say it only refers to a national grouping.”

Here’s the deal. When we read an ancient book like the Bible, we frequently come across words in translation that we think we recognize. If we aren’t sure of the meaning, then we run to our “Good ol’ Merriam-Webster”, and quickly learn the definition. Problem solved, right? Wrong!

There are two factors working against us.

1.  First of all, we are reading a translation, and not the original language in which the Bible was written. Moses and all the prophets thought and wrote in Hebrew. The Messianic Writings were written in Greek by Jews in the first century. All these people saw the world through a certain lens—one which many of us do not share with them. In particular…

  • their use of concrete language, rather than abstract;
  • Hebraic idiomatic expressions; and
  • the priority of Israel over the nations.

All these are different from our world view today, shaped as we are by Greco-Roman culture and philosophy, the Christian era, and the Renaissance. We have been taught from our birth to see the world in terms of globals, universals, and abstracts; and to understand religion in terms of philosophical categories, rather than following the model of the Patriarchs.

2.  Secondly, we have to be aware that language—all language—changes over time. Modern Hebrew, though based upon Ancient Hebrew, reflects certain changes in syntax and meaning. You cannot assume that because you know modern Hebrew, you also can translate Biblical Hebrew.

Likewise, English has also gone through numerous significant changes in its relatively brief existence. The characters are different, the syntax is different, and the meaning of many words has changed! If you were to meet an English speaker from the 1400’s, you wouldn’t be able to communicate at all.

As a result of this situation, we often find ourselves in a double-blind—we not only can’t rely on English translations to accurately reflect the intention of the original texts, but we can’t even always assume we completely grasp the meaning of the original language! Even the Hebrew may have shifted over the centuries, acquiring multiple layers and nuances.

This is why one must be cautious when approaching Hebrew translation as a beginner. Most of us lack the training and linguistic aptitude to discern whether the religious teaching coming from the pulpit, or the youtube video, even has anything to do with the meaning intended by the biblical authors.

Many of us today have been sold a bill of goods regarding our sense of identity. We have been told that it is not satisfactory to serve Hashem as a non-Jew—that “goy” is a derogatory term, and that we must lay hold of some label that ties us to the ancient, historic “Hebrews” in order to be satisfied with our identity in Adonai.

BUNK!

There are two errors concealed in such a belief system, which need to be addressed:

  1.   That “goy” is a derogatory term, and a label that must be eschewed. The fact is, “goy” is simply the Hebrew term for any group of people. It is applied to the nation and people of Israel, as well as to the many non-Jewish nations. It is simply the word for “group of people”, just as “flock”, “herd”, or “pod” describe a group of animals. Whales would not argue that the label “pod” is derogatory because it marks them as “non-cattle”. It is simply a fact of language, used to conveniently identify the group. The nations of the world are just that—nations, groupings of people… “folk”.
  2.   We have been told that God does not value the non-Jewish peoples of the earth—that we must change our identity in order to be acceptable. This is rather like telling women that they must become men in order to be worthy as servants of Adonai. A ridiculous expectation, at best.

There are people who were born into Jewish families. There are people who were not born into Jewish families. It really is just that simple. No amount of agonizing or mental torture is going to change that fact. Leaving your church does not mean one has “crossed over” anything. It simply means that one has taken a step towards understanding the Jewishness of the Good News message—but it does NOT mean that the journey is complete. There is much to learn in order to follow the model demonstrated throughout the Tanakh.

The Model of Messianic Helio-centrism

What is that model? To identify with the Jewish people, to learn the Torah as they have passed it down. To work alongside the Jews in developing “tikkun olam” (“repairing the world”), and joining hand in hand to serve Hashem as one body.

We all are called to love and serve Hashem. We all are called to love and serve humanity. The Torah makes provision for every human being. The prophets spoke of a time when all the nations of the world will flow to Mount Zion—from which the Torah will go forth. Near the end of his life, Yeshua plainly stated he did not expect his movement to be restricted to a Jews-only club. He instructed his followers to,

Go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

(Mattityahu/Matthew 28:13,20)

We don’t need new movements, nations, or people groups. We don’t need falsified claims to Ephraimite heritage, or speculation about ancient bloodlines. We don’t need to trade in our birth certificates and deny who we are. And we sure don’t need “new Israel” bringing modern Gentile ways with them, creating fringe groups that refuse to acknowledge the actual Jewish people as the trend-setters in Torah observance.

We need to adopt Jewish ways of learning, and of relating to Hashem. We need to love one another from a pure heart. Our goal must be to build a unified community, where all are accepted on an equal footing. We must develop the humility and respect to join with others who have been struggling for thousands of years at understanding how best to serve the God who called Israel out at Mount Sinai.

Whether you are Jewish or Gentile, Hashem wants to bring you along, to bring you together with others who are different. He wants you to connect with his People, as well as the King of his People. Or LagoyimDon’t fall for the modern rhetoric that replaces Israel with pretend Ephraimites. Be who you are. Love Hashem, the God of the Jews. Love the Jewish people, and support them.

As we draw closer to God, and closer to the Jewish people… who knows? Maybe something new will happen in our hearts, and we will yearn to identify with Israel in a deeper way. Perhaps Torah observance will come about as a natural result of our relationship, rather than the other way around.

What do you think?

5 comments

  • Thanks David for a good piece of knowledge

  • Answer this, please – what were the “grafted in’ from the nations called 1 and 2 Temple? My understanding is that it was not ‘goy’ or ‘gentile’ but ‘ger’. I found some of the information over at myjewishlearning.com. I am not Jewish but I’m not a gentile, which is a person that is not in a covenant with The L-rd. We, who love and obey the G-D of Abraham are in covenant with Him and it would be nice if someone would consider why being called a gentile or goy is offensive to Their Brethren. Yes. That would be really nice.

    • Mishkan

      What were the “grafted in’ from the nations called 1 and 2 Temple? My understanding is that it was not ‘goy’ or ‘gentile’ but ‘ger’.

      Indeed, “ger” is the word for a foreigner who has integrated into a community. Some of the possible translations include “sojourner”, “resident alien”, and “convert”. There are different levels of “gerim”.

      I found some of the information over at myjewishlearning.com.

      That’s a great site. I use them a great deal, myself. But always keep in mind the old adage that, “Where there are three Jews, there will be four opinions”. No one source ever contains all the answers, nor can one source be used to overrule all the others.

      I am not Jewish but I’m not a gentile,

      If you are not Jewish, then you ARE a Gentile. In fact, even a Jewish person cannot escape the fact that s/he is from a “goy”!

      This was part of the reason I wrote the original article–to help clear away some cobwebs regarding the word “goy” (pl. “goyim”). The word identifies a national grouping. Nothing more, and nothing less. Egypt is a “goy”. Greece is a “goy”. Israel is a “goy”. Together, they are all “goyim”.

      We have to keep in mind that the Bible is written from an exclusively Jewish perspective. There is simply no need for reminders that Israel is the central nation in the boundary. On the other hand, in order to mention all the other people around them, the authors would HAVE to mention, “ha goyim”–“the [other] nations”. But there ARE references to Israel being a specially chosen “nation/goy”–a “goy kadosh”.

      which is a person that is not in a covenant with The L-rd.

      Linguistically, the word “goy” has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one has a heartfelt relationship with G-d, or not. It is not a religious word, it is a political word. Granted, this does not prevent some benighted people from misusing the term, and applying it as a slander. But they are using the word incorrectly to do so.

      We, who love and obey the G-D of Abraham are in covenant with Him

      What covenant would you say applies to you, uniquely and individually?

      it would be nice if someone would consider why being called a gentile or goy is offensive to Their Brethren. Yes. That would be really nice.

      I was not born Jewish. I am a Gentile–a genuine mongrel from the nations. My heritage includes British, Irish, Cherokee, and more. But I have been involved with Messianic Judaism since I was 19 years old–35 years as a student and teacher within the Messianic community. There are few who have thought longer or harder than I about the role of a Gentile in a Jewish social structure.

      My conclusion is that people who have a problem with being identified truthfully as Gentile fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of the word, and the significance of the grafting-in process. As I said, the word “goy” is a geo-political term. It means “gathering of people”, just like “sea” means “gathering of water”. It has nothing to do with religious observance, and certainly not with any covenants.

  • Pilgrim

    Is it possible that the word Goy took on a different meaning to the Jews of 1st century than it did in the times of David or Moses? It seems like the term Gentile took on a more derogatory term in the apostolic writings. Just wondering…

    • Mishkan

      That’s a good question, Pilgrim.

      I realize that I may seem to take an extreme position. I represent the historical lexical meaning of the word “Goy” to the exclusion of all other options because I hear so much from the other view. These days we are told constantly that “goy” means “not in covenant with God”. So I believe that we need to bring some balance to the discussion.

      But it never hurts to review why there are two sides of the issue. The fact is, what we are seeing is the distinction between the denotative meaning of a word and the later, more subjective, connotations. My view is that we need to know and value the original, primary meaning of any word. When it was used by the biblical writers they intended their readers to gain a particular understanding of their message. When we try to retrofit any later development or significance into the biblical text, we end up distorting the writer’s intended meaning.

      But I do recognize that, over the centuries, the word has taken on a less than complimentary meaning. In fact, some people use the word “goy” in a downright pejorative manner. The reason for this is that native Hebrew speakers tend to view themselves in distinction from those of the “other nations”. Thus, SOME may view themselves as being in covenant with the God of Israel, while those outside of Israel are allegedly NOT in covenant with him. But we know from both Scripture and personal experience that this is not always the case. There are many righteous Gentiles, both Messianic and not.

      We must resist the urge to accept the slander of some ignorant religious zealots as the primary dictionary definition of the word “goy”. Doing so is similar to allowing Hitler to modify or create a definition for “Jew”, without regard for the original, primary definition used within the Jewish community.

      Even more importantly, we must not accept our definitions from jealous Gentiles who are creating definitions to suit their perceived and need to identify as a replacement for Israel regardless of any impact to the Jewish community. Teaching Gentiles to accept a falsehood as truth is a form of brainwashing that enhances one’s audience’s dependence upon the teacher. And we all know we can’t allow that to continue as a norm.

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