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When is a Gentile Not a Gentile (or Pagan or Heathen)?

The purple wildflower, heather, covers much of rural Scotland. In early medieval times, a person living among these heather fields, was considered to be a "heathen," or "from the countryside." However, in Christian usage, the term has taken on a number of meanings, sometimes controversial.

The purple wildflower, heather, covers much of rural Scotland. In early medieval times, a person living among these heather fields, was considered to be a “heathen,” or “from the countryside,” or “from the heath.” However, in Christian usage, the term has taken on a number of meanings, sometimes controversial.

A question came up the other night in a Bible study. When we read Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus is describing the principles of church discipline. If someone who claims to be a Christian, but who acts in a non-Christian manner and will not change their behavior, what is the rest of the community supposed to do?

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt 18:15-17 ESV)

Jesus’ use of the description “Gentile” for someone who is making up their own rules for Christian behavior sounds confusing. Are there not “Gentiles” who are genuine Christians? If someone is already a “Gentile,” that is a non-Jewish person, how can you then be disciplined and treated as a “Gentile?” How do we make sense of this?
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