Matt 4:14-16: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

Matt 4:15-16 is quoting from Isa 9:1-2:

Isa 9:1-2: But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

In Isa 9:1, the Hebrew expression גְּלִיל הַגֹּויִֽם (Galilee of the nations) is referring specifically to the nations of the House of Israel, referencing the rebellious tribal lands of the Israelite tribes Zabulon and Nephthalim.

Yet in the Matt 4:15 verse, the Greek expression Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν (Galilee of the Gentiles) has the word ἐθνῶν, meaning 'nations', translated by Christian scholars instead as Gentiles - ignoring the plain meaning of the word. Incidentally ἐθνῶν is never translated in ancient secular Greek texts as Gentiles showing that this translation of the word is reserved only for NT translators.

Furthermore, if we examine the Septuagint, or Greek OT, the expression appearing in Isa meaning "Galilee of the nations" is the same Greek expression we see in Matt or Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν.

Doesn't this mistranslation completely change the meaning of Matt from the quoted Isaiah verse cited; AND doesn't this contradict the OT Isa 9:1 changing Galilee from a land of Israelites to a land of Gentiles?

  • When you wrote Mark did you mean to write Matt?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 4:27
  • 5
    Are you asking if modern bibles mistranslate εθνων, or if the original Greek text of Matthew has mistranslated Isaiah? If the latter, definitely not, since εθνων is the normal Greek translation of goyim, and Matthew matches the LXX.
    – user2910
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 5:31
  • 3
    As Mark pointed out, the same Greek word can be translated both ways into English. See also Mark 13:10 - every nation or every Gentile?. You may also be interested in: The audience of 1 Corinthians and the translation of τοῖς ἔθνεσιν in 5:1, and Does Paul use ἔθνη and Ἕλληνες interchangeably?
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 5:52
  • 2
    This question seems too broad. I'm still having trouble following what the key question is. It sounds like your concern is with modern translations, not whether Matthew mistranslated Isaiah.
    – user2910
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 17:31
  • 1
    @user34445 "...read what was written in Hebrew in [Isa 9:1-2] and compare its English translation to what was written in Greek in [Matt 4:15-16] and its English translation..." But that's a silly thing to do. Hebrew is Hebrew; Greek is Greek. Isaiah is Isaiah, Matthew is Matthew. You don't just stick them in some semantic/linguistic blender and come up with word-soup. || "In theory, a translation from the Hebrew into Greek into English should not alter word meaning..." is not true: some shift in nuance is inevitable.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 19:55

2 Answers 2


The NET Bible's answer to this is:

These three geographical designations may refer to provinces established by the Assyrians in 734-733 b.c. The “way of the sea” is the province of Dor, along the Mediterranean coast, the “region beyond the Jordan” is the province of Gilead in Transjordan, and “Galilee of the nations” (a title that alludes to how the territory had been overrun by foreigners) is the province of Megiddo located west of the Sea of Galilee. See Y. Aharoni, Land of the Bible, 374.

https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Isaiah+9:1 see footnote 6.

That is, the phrase "Zebulun and Naphtali" uses the older terms of Israel for the region, while "in the latter time" and following uses newer Assyrian terms for the same region, in which case "the nations" does not refer to tribes of Israel.

  • Except that this 'change' is an artifact of translation and not of historicity. If you look at the history of translations on this passage you can see history has nothing to do with. The NET Bible's response then doesn't answer the question even if it provides a poor rationalization.
    – user34445
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 19:03
  • 2
    I fear I won't be able to satisfy you then. Your title asks a question ("mistranslation?") to which your full text then presupposes an answer ("yes!"). The NET Bible offers an analysis which permits the answer to be "no": if Isaiah 9 means "non-Jews" then there's no contradiction when translating Mt 4 as "Gentiles". I tend to discount most "Hebraism" explanations in NT translation but this is one of the few strong ones precisely because of OT quotations like this (against secular usage, as elsewhere in the NT, where ἔθνος meant "provincial", see logeion.uchicago.edu/index.html#ἔθνος ).
    – fumanchu
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 19:41
  • I appreciate your effort. I suppose how people rationalize things is as interesting as why they happen in the first thing. Thanks for your contribution.
    – user34445
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 20:44
  • @fumanchu - Do you think your statement about Galilee could support an answer to this question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/27648/… Commented May 27, 2017 at 19:06

The first appearance of the Hebrew word גּוֹי (Strong's H1471 - gowy/goy) is in Genesis chapter 10, in the lists of the descendants of Noah's sons after the Flood:

These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations be-go-ye-hem: and by these were the nations hag-go-yim divided in the earth after the Flood.
-- Genesis 10:32 (KJV)

The LXX has κατα τα εθνη αυτων (according to their nations), and τα εθνη (the nations).

Accordingly, every nation on the earth was גּוֹי (goy), even the nations that were to come from Abraham:

1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation le-goy ga-dol, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
-- Genesis 12:1-2 KJV

LXX has εθνος μεγα (great nation), here.

Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations ha-mon go-yim have I made thee.
-- Genesis 17:5 (KJV)

The LXX has πολλων εθνων (many nations), here.

Now, when the narrative gets to Moses and Israel, the author records these words of God, given to Moses, for Israel:

5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation ve-goy ka-dosh. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
-- Exodus 19:5-6 (KJV)

LXX has εθνος αγιον (holy nation), here.

So, even Israel, itself, was גּוֹי (goy), albeit a holy one. But it only remains a "holy goy" as long as "ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant". Otherwise, it stands as just another goy, like it was before the LORD set it apart for his "peculiar treasure" -- the means by which His Law would bring such blessing that the LORD, himself, would be attractive to all the other goy-im (Deuteronomy 4:5-9), and thus draw them all to Himself.

There is no inconsistency between the Hebrew and Greek. Where the Hebrew has גּוֹי, the Greek has ἔθνος, the words just referring to "a multitude of people".

Matthew 4:15 has Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν (Galilee of the nations), and Isaiah 9:1 has גְּלִ֖יל הַגּוֹיִֽם (Galilee of the nations).

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