Here is a reference to relating the use of the term ἁμαρτωλοὺς (sinners) by the Pharisees to mean עַמֵּ֖י הָאֲרָצ֑וֹת translated (peoples of the land by the ESV):

Some take “sinners” here to mean the am haarets, common people whom the Pharisees despised for their lack of adherence to Pharisaic food laws (e.g., Jeremias 1972: 132; Lane 1974a: 103).

Keener, C. S. (2009). The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (p. 294). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Given that am haarets is the term translated peoples of the land in Ezra and Nehemiah, how should Christians apply the passages in Ezra and Nehemiah to Christians today? Specifically, Jesus' three parables in Luke 15 justifies why he associated with am haarets, while the Pharisees saw Ezra and Nehemiah as tell them not to associate with am haarets. Specifically, how should Christians apply Ezra 9:1-2 to today?

1 Answer 1


The basic interpertation to עם הארץ (plural עמי הארצות) is "the simple people" (or "uneducated people"). It can directed to Israel and also to other nations. Examples: Genesis 23 verse 7, Leviticus 20 verse 4.

In the second tample this term got another meaning as "ignoramus, dunce" and it directed to person that isn't understand the scribes and the Halacha. The reason fpr that meaning is the term "בור ועם הארץ" (the word בור mean ignorant).

This meaning is the one that Ezra use in chapter 9 while he saying that "the simple people among the people who return from Babylon aren't diffrent from the rest of the people because both ignorant about jewish laws".

Is the ignorant must be a sinner? Can someone commit sin without knowing the law? Modern countries say that one can commit crime even if he didn't know the law.

As for Luke 15, it seems that the sinners are not עם הארץ like in Ezra but the "customs officials" and other that were sinners according to the Pharisees and the Sofrim. The Hebrew translation say: שֶׁכָּל הַמּוֹכְסִים וְהָאֲנָשִׁים הַחַטָּאִים

Why sinners? Basically because they work alongside with Rome against Jews and Christians. So to eat and speak with them cosider SIN for the Pharisees who were more "fanatic" religious.

Side note: for many jewish religious even today gentile can't eat with jew on saturday or Passover for example.

  • The question is about עם הארץ as in someone who doesn't adhere to food laws (such as eating food while impure or not tithing food), not with the meaning of "ignoramus." See Wikipedia (Hebrew) here from Berachot 47b and Demai 2:3
    – b a
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 10:55
  • Thank you. That mean i must practice my English.
    – A. Meshu
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 16:09
  • What is a reference to the meaning shift during the second temple?
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 9:01
  • @Perry Webb we can see it from the context when it served in biblical text comparing to later scribes. The reason for the shift is the term בור ועם הארץ.
    – A. Meshu
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 11:12
  • Thinking about this, before the captivity the am haarets would be peoples the children of Israel conquered. While after the return during the building of the second temple, am haarets would be the people left in Judah and Israel who intermarried with other peoples.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 14:43

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