In Mark 13:10, it states

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. (NIV)

The word used here for nations in Greek is ἔθνος and the BDAG says it may be translated as Gentiles or Nations. Strongs Concordance shows that in 93 out of 163 cases it is translated as Gentiles.

Should/could this text then read "And the gospel must first be preached to all Gentiles"?

Why or why not?


3 Answers 3


Should/could this text then read "And the gospel must first be preached to all Gentiles"?

Sure. The reference is to non-Israelites in any case. In general the singular ἔθνος refers to a nation or people group, and the plural ἔθνη carries the nuance of people who are foreign to a specific group. In the New Testament, as far as I’m aware, it is uniformly those outside the nation Israel that are in view. This is exactly how BDAG (cited in the question) defines it. The first entry there is for the singular (τὸ ἔθνος). The second is for the plural (τὰ ἔθνη), the form used in Mark 13:10:

People groups foreign to a specific people group ...
2a. those who do not belong to groups professing faith in the God of Israel ...
2b. non-Israelite Christians, gentiles ...

"Every Gentile"

The question quoted above from the body of the OP's question is somewhat different than the title, which asks about every Gentile. I gather it was this latter consideration that prompted the question. For a number of reasons, I do not think that "every single person" is the most natural reading of the Greek phrase πάντα τὰ ἔθνη here.

  1. The plural noun ἔθνη carries the sense of the nations/Gentiles as a group. The corresponding singular term ἔθνος itself refers to a group of people (tribe, nation, etc.) and is not used to refer to a particular person ("there's a Gentile walking down the street"). It's simply not a word about discrete individuals independent of their community.

  2. In Mark 13:10, the phrase εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη modifies the verb κηρυσσειν (to preach). The preposition εἰς (+ accusative) has a broad range of usages (in Koine, as possibly here, often conflated with ἐν + dative), and the meaning is determined by the verb it modifies and the larger context. In this case, Cranfield comments:

    The words εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη are perhaps more probably to be explained as indicating the extent of the preaching ( = unto', i.e. 'as far as') or else as meaning 'among all the nations' (εἰς being used instead of ἐν) than as an instance of κηρυσσειν εἰς + the accusative meaning 'to preach to someone’.1

    He points out that there are no clear examples in the New Testament of κηρυσσειν εἰς meaning 'to preach to [a particular person]'. As such, it is unlikely that individuals are in mind here.

  3. Contextually, verse 10 appears to interrupt the flow of thought from verse 9 to verse 11 (presumably an independent saying inserted by Mark to provide background), but there are several other Markan texts that suggest a similar idea, most proximately verse 27 of the same chapter:

    And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.2

    This yields a similar sense to v. 13 if indeed that verse is, as Cranfield has suggested, primarily about the extent of the preaching.

  4. In the larger context of the Gospel of Mark, R.T. France has pointed out:

    Jesus' excursions into Gentile territory (5:1–20; 7:24–8:10) and his Gentile following in 3:8 have begun to prepare us for this vision, and we have seen in 7:24–8:10 a deliberate extension of the blessings of Israel’s Messiah to the surrounding peoples.3

    It is this idea of taking the Gospel message to "the nations" as a group that v. 13:10 reiterates, without a focus on particular individuals.

  5. The corporate focus is consistently how the phrase πάντα τὰ ἔθνη is used in the Synoptics and Acts. Matt 24:14, a textual parallel to Mark 13:10, is perhaps the most relevant:

    And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed (κηρυχθήσεται) throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν), and then the end will come.

    The same verb used in Mark 13:10, κηρυσσειν (to preach/proclaim), is modified in Matthew by ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ (in the whole world) rather than εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη (to all the nations). Here again we find support for Cranfield's sense that εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη in 13:10 has more to do with the scope of the Gospel message than its hearing by specific individuals.

1. All NT translations quoted are ESV.
2. C.E.B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St Mark (CUP, 1963), pp. 398-399.
3. R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Eerdmans, 2002), p. 516.

  • 1
    On further reflection, I wonder if it wasn't actually to avoid this very misunderstanding ("every single man/woman/child") that translators have often rendered this passage (and other similar ones) using "nations" rather than "Gentiles".
    – Susan
    Dec 10, 2015 at 14:21
  • 2
    When I read these passages, it makes sense to simply combine the two concepts into "Gentile nations" or "foreign nations" since, as you said, the word ἔθνη refers to a group. I think the translators were simply trying to find a single english word to communicate the idea of ἔθνη when, like many other non-english words, there is no single english equivalent. The translators could also be trying to make the text understandable to those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a Gentile.
    – flob6469
    Dec 10, 2015 at 14:46
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    I really struggle with even using the word Gentiles anymore. Neither Hebrew or Greek have a specific word to differentiate nations/peoples from non-Jewish. So why in the world do we? Sure it is used many times in contrast to the Jews, but I agree with @flob6469 in the sense that it isn't making a statement on the definition of the term but is just a "us" and "them". Them is just everyone else.
    – Joshua
    Dec 11, 2015 at 14:09
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    @JoshuaBigbee I think the idea (...why do we?) is that (τὰ) ἔθνη does convey a specific sense of non-Jewish in some contexts in a way that our “nations” does not (BDAG: in effect=‘polytheists’; HALOT גּוֹיִם: the pagan peoples -- these are words you would not find, I think, in an English entry on “nation(s)”, which is further problematic because it carries an idea of a political nation-state for many). I agree we don’t have a suitable equivalent though.
    – Susan
    Dec 11, 2015 at 14:26

The context of the verse in question, is a discussion that arose concerning Jesus' prophecy about the future destruction of all the magnificent buildings to which one of his disciples had drawn his attention:

Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
-- Mark 13:2

Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him later:

Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
-- Mark 13:3

Jesus' answer to their question included reference to:

  • nation rising against nation.
  • kingdom rising against kingdom.
  • councils and synagogues being places of corporal discipline for those who hold to Jesus' teaching.
  • rulers and kings passing judgement on those who hold to Jesus' teaching.

It seems pretty clear to me that the "nations" Jesus mentions in Mark 13:10 are the same nations and kingdoms before whose rulers and kings his disciples will be brought, i.e. every sovereign domain - those with synagogues (Jewish), and those without (Gentile).


No. The text should not be changed because the translators have it right.


It would be very bizarre indeed if Mark were saying that the announcement of the arrival of the messiah was to be made exclusively to gentile individuals because in Acts there is every indication that Peter did not have any such commission and would have found that a scandalous suggestion at the time:

[Act 11:18 NIV] 18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life."

It seems to me that this passage provides the context for Mark's version of the commission:

[Act 2:38-40 KJV] 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you [Jews], and to your [circumcised] children, and to all [the Jews] that are afar off, [even] as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation [the Jews of the last days of Judaism].

However, Paul WAS sent to the heathen, not exclusively but secondarily. That is, he would be sure to give the Jews their shot (though Paul, like all of the scriptures characterize the Jewish people as stubborn and intractable):

[Act 26:20 NIV] 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

[Act 13:46 KJV] 46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.

So since Mark uses the "divine passive" (a passive verb with no identified subject) he is NOT commanding the disciples aka apostles that THEY are to go to the gentiles because Jesus himself was never sent to the gentiles (though he could be convinced that it would not hurt his mission if a heathen received of the surplus benefits assigned to the Jews):

[Mat 15:22-24 CSB] 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came and kept crying out, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon." 23 Jesus did not say a word to her. His disciples approached him and urged him, "Send her away because she's crying out after us." 24 He replied, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

So, we need to understand Mark's version of the commission to have been understood by the Twelve as either prescient of Paul's call or simply referring to the diaspora, to which Jesus had been sent and to whom he had sent the disciples, exclusively.

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