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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Translation Principle 8: Identifying the Nations


Welcome back to our series on the 16 guiding translation principles of the Tree of Life Version. As we keep learning, we reach our eighth principle: Identifying the Nations. When approaching this translation effort, it became evident that we needed to clear up confusing language when referring to people not born Jewish in the text.

Having noted what we’ll do with Jews in previous principles, I’ll now turn to the matter of non-Jews in biblical literature.

Though some – mistakenly, I might add – construe “Gentile” as a negative connotation. In the TLV, as is the case in the Jewish world generally, we use “Gentile” to denote individuals of non-Jewish extract and/or of unknown or unstated faith distinction.

To Jewish people, and those of us who worked on the Tree of Life Version, “gentile” is a descriptive term that comes with no real negative connotations. It merely identifies someone who is not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In fact, the term “gentile” is used with an inference of respect and affection among the Jewish community – especially when referring to non-Jewish allies of the Jewish people during World War II.  Those non-Jewish protectors of their Jewish brethren are known as “Righteous Gentiles.” Therefore we use “gentile” when appropriate.

We may use “nations” when speaking of people groups not included within the “descendants of Israel,” whether born Jewish or “grafted in.” “Pagan” can be employed, as well, for any person engaged in deviant faith and practices.  We use all of these terms to preserve distinctions between people groups as the text unfolds rather than using insensitive language that confuses the message of salvation through Messiah. (discover the full definitions through our glossary online here)

All of these terms are important to identify, define, and use because it allows readers to recognize the difference in people groups. Just as we portion out the different groups of Jews throughout the New Testament, we work to identify the different non-Jewish people groups in the Old Testament as well.

Be sure to look at  Exodus 12:38, Ezekiel 30:13,  Haggai 2:7, Galatians 3:8,  and 1 Corinthians 12:2!

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