“Greek” instead of “Gentile”
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
Why is the word “Greek” used instead of “Gentile” in Romans 1:16, and also in other places such as Romans 1:14, 10:12; I Corinthians 1:22–24; Galatians 3:28, and Colossians 3:11?
First off, the word being used in these places is “Helleen,” which is the word that denotes a Greek person(s). However this in and of itself does not provide the answer, because “Helleen” is used in other places and is translated “Gentiles” (e.g. John 7:35; Romans 3:9). So the answer lies elsewhere. But the fact that the King James translators have translated “Helleen” by both “Greek” and “Gentile” gives us an important clue, which is that obviously the word “Helleen” can be used in more than one way depending upon the context in which it is used. And this is exactly what we need to understand and appreciate.
Though we have the natural tendency to first of all think of a native Greek person, or a Greek by nationality, or a person of Greek extraction, whenever we encounter the word “Helleen”/“Greek,” the word also has a broader and more inclusive meaning and use. And though this is still true today, (as will be noted shortly), it was especially so back both in Paul’s day and before God brought in this present dispensation of His grace. In its broader and more inclusive meaning the word “Helleen”/“Greek” is used to denote other peoples and/or other nations, because of the affects of the influence that Greek society, culture, learning, and the like, has had upon the world at large. Hence when “Helleen”/“Greek” is used in this broad manner it is used to denote any people who are either associated with, and/or have been affected by, or who have simply come under the umbrella of, the influence of the Greeks; even though they are not strictly Greek by nationality. (For example, Mark 7:26)
Now in connection with this broad use, God uses the word “Greek(s)” in a doctrinal sense to denote the Gentiles, or nations as a whole, in light of the worldwide influence, and establishment within it, of Greek practice, learning, wisdom, society, etc. And God does this because of what He Himself has said through Israel’s Fifth Course of Punishment prophets, (particularly Daniel), when He declared and described what would characterize the third influential and world-affecting kingdom that would arise, and that would hold sway, during “the times of the Gentiles” belonging to Israel’s Fifth Course of Punishment. That third kingdom was the Greek Empire, beginning with Alexander. And according to what God said about it, it would have a particular and a significant worldwide influence. Moreover it would set its mark upon the world in a very particular way, as it did its part in the charting of the course of this world that Satan would be doing through these kingdoms during “the times of the Gentiles.” In fact this issue of Greek worldwide influence and marking would be one of its hallmark features that would distinguish it from the previous dominions. And in view of this, its influence would end up remaining upon the world, even though its original dominion would be broken and then divided. In fact its world-affecting influence, as well as its name, would remain upon the world even to the time of the fifth and final installment to the Fifth Course of Punishment. This is the kind of potent impact that the Greek worldwide influence would have, and how long-lasting its marking would be.
Therefore in view of what God has said about the Greek dominion and its role in the course of this world, (and particularly how He Himself would then look upon the world, think about it, and describe it in connection with Greek influence and marking), the word “Greek” can be doctrinally used by God to denote the nations as a whole in connection with that influence and marking. In fact in view of what God said about the world at large before He brought in this present dispensation of His grace, we should expect Him to use the word “Greek” in this way.
So then when the nations of the world are being spoken about, and God uses the word “Helleen,” it can be translated either “Greek” or “Gentile,” depending upon whether in the context God is concerned with showing that the nations are being looked upon by Him for their specific Greek status, marking, development, and state, in light of Satan’s course of this world; or whether He is simply looking upon them in light of them being disdained Gentiles who belong to Satan’s world system in contrast to being Jews.
In view of this it is interesting to note that we today still acknowledge and use this broader meaning of “Helleen”/“Greek.” We do so, for example, when historians and philosophers speak of our Hellenized society; or the Hellenistic principles of modern society; or our Hellenistic world and education system; and the like. By saying these things we are not referring to ourselves as being Greeks by birth, or by nationality, or by extraction. Rather we are saying that we are “Greeks” in the broad sense of the term, because our society, along with its political and education systems, for the most part operates upon principles that were established by the Greeks. And in truth they do.
In fact things along this line were frequently heard in 2004 when the Olympic games were held in Athens. During the games it was not uncommon to hear commentators making remarks not only about the Olympic games coming back to the place of their birth, but also to the nations themselves coming back to the roots of their society. Hence remarks such as, ‘In a sense we are all Greeks, regardless of nationality’; or, ‘As societies we can all trace our roots back to Greece’; or, ‘Greece is the mother of the modern world’; were commonly made. Now of course when people today still use “Greek” in this way, they do not do so with full knowledge of the fact that they are still part of the same developmental state of the “course of this world” that Satan established with the Greeks during the third installment to Israel’s Fifth Course of Punishment. Nevertheless, we still use the word “Helleen”/“Greek” today with its broad meaning because of what Satan established with the Greeks.
Now the King James translators by their insightful and discretionary translation of “Helleen,” make it clearly evident that they fully understood and appreciated the different ways in which “Helleen” could be used. In fact by their equally discretionary translation of “ethnos” they also demonstrate their clear understanding of the fact that depending upon the context in which it too is used, it can be properly rendered into English by either “nations” or “Gentiles” or “people” or “heathen.”
So with respect to the particular verses you asked about, it is my understanding that the King James translators rightly recognized from the specific contexts of these verses that they needed to translate “Helleen” with the word “Greek(s)” and not with the word “Gentile(s).” Because in these specific places, it is evident that God has reason to be focusing our attention upon the Greek status, marking, and state that the nations of this world possess in His eyes at this time, in light of the progress and development of the course of this world that Satan has charted. — K. R. Blades