The term "Gentiles" originally referred to all the nations of the earth other than the children of Israel. In time, Israel was forced into a life-and-death struggle for the survival of its distinctive character as a nation covenanted with God. The threat was not only an overt military one, such as that carried out by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, but was even more insidiously a covert religious one. The people among whom the Israelites lived often seduced them to follow after other gods; this always resulted in judgment from God, which was designed to bring them back in repentance to worship the Lord. During the Exile in BabyIon, the scribes started the elaborate process of "hedging" the Law with traditions-intended to keep the people faithful in every respect to the Law and to keep them separated in every respect from Gentiles who might entice them away.
After the Exile and by the first century, the term "Gentile" was used in the Jewish community as a term of scorn equal to "tax collector" or "sinner." So common was this view of the Gentile that even Jesus used it in this sense: "if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt. 18.17). "Heathen man" is the same Greek word generally used to translate "Gentile." At the dedication of Jesus in the temple, the aged Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2.32). After his resurrection Jesus instructed his disciples to "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28.19, 20). He used the same Greek word for "nations" that was also regularly used for "Gentiles."