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heathen

Hebrew: plural goyum)

At first the word goyim denoted generally all the nations of the world (Genesis 18:18; compare Galatians 3:8). The Jews afterwards became a people distinguished in a marked manner from the other goyim. They were a separate people (Leviticus 20:23; 26:14-45; Deuteronomy 28), and the other nations, the Amorites, Hittites, etc., were the goyim, the heathen, with whom the Jews were forbidden to be associated in any way (Joshua 23:7; 1 Kings 11:2). The practice of idolatry was the characteristic of these nations, and hence the word came to designate idolaters (Psalms 106:47; Jeremiah 46:28; Lam. 1:3; Isaiah 36:18), the wicked (Psalms 9:5, 15, 17).

The corresponding Greek word in the New Testament, ethne, has similar shades of meaning. In Acts 22:21; Galatians 3:14, it denotes the people of the Earth generally; and in Matthew 6:7, an idolater.

In modern usage the word denotes all nations that are strangers to revealed religion.

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