My question is this, In John 12:20 ESV "Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some GREEKS" (Gentile) However in the Complete Jewish Bible, it says "Greek Speaking Jews". There is a both an ethnic difference and cultural difference. The Greek uses "Hellen" which is Non Jew. Thank you head of time for any help.

What is the understanding of this people group Gentile or Hellenist?

God Bless

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Ἕλληνας ("Hellenes" or "Greeks") usually refers to non-Jews who spoke Greek and lived in Greek culture. This would refer to almost anyone in the Roman Empire at the time.

There is a lot of overlap with the word for "Gentiles" (ἐθνῶν). This is a generic word for "nations" that we get our word "ethnic" from. This could be those who spoke Greek, but also includes anyone who was not Jewish. Examples of the day may have been the people living in what is today India, or China.

The strictest delineation between these words is that "Greeks" means non-Jews who spoke Greek. "Gentiles" includes Greeks, but refers more broadly to anyone who is not Jewish, regardless of Greek culture.

So a Greek can be a Gentile, but a Gentile is not necessarily a Greek.

In John 12:20, we can see "Greeks" being mentioned as it was somewhat unusual to have Greeks at a Jewish feast.

We see many times in the New Testament that "Greek" is assumed to mean "non-Jew":

Acts 19:10

This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks

Acts 20:21

solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul sets the word "Greek" against "barbarian":

Romans 1:14

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish

But he also sets the word against "Jew":

Romans 1:16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

In Acts 21:28 and Galatians 2:3, the speakers assume that Greeks are uncircumcised, which made them unable to enter the temple. It would be impossible to be uncircumcised in those days and yet consider oneself a Jew.

I think a passage that sometimes brings confusion is Acts 6:1:

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. (NASB)

Note that the words "Jews" and "native" aren't in the Greek text. Additionally, the word used here is more like "Hellenist", not "Greek". This correlates to Jewish, so "Greek-ish". In spite of everything mentioned above, the text seems to infer in this context that the Hellenists there are Jews who don't speak Hebrew, contrasted with Jews who do. So they were being treated as second-class citizens in the nascent church because they weren't as Jewish as the Hebrew speakers.


The operative noun in John 12:20 is Ἕλλην (Hellen) for which the BDAG lexicon provides the following meanings:

  1. a person of Greek language and culture, Greek, ... Rom 1:14 (cultured Romans affected interest in things Greek and would therefore recognize themselves under this term)
  2. in the broader sense, all persons who came under the influence of Greek, as distinguished from Israel's culture
  • (a) gentile, polytheist, Graeco-Roman (2 Macc 4:36, 11:2; 3 Macc 3:8; 4 Macc 18:20 ...) John 7:35, Acts 9:29, 11:20, 16:1, 3, 21:28, 1 Cor 1:22, Gal 2:3 ... The expression Ἰουδαίοι καὶ Ἑλλήνες, which clearly indicates Israel's advantages from a Judean perspective, embraces a broad range of nationalities with Ἕλλην focusing on the polytheistic aspect: Acts 14:1, 18:4, 19:10, 17, 20:21, Rom 1:16, 2:9f, 3:9, 10:12, 1 Cor 1:24, 10:32, 12:13, Gal 3:28, Col 3:11
  • (b) used of non-Israelite/gentiles who expressed an interest in the cultic life of Israel John 12:20, Acts 17:4 ...

It is significant that Luke and Paul use two expressions to indicate the same group - Greek cultured and speaking people who showed an interest in the Jewish religion:

  • σεβομένων Ἑλλήνων = "God-fearing/worshiping Greeks" Acts 17:4
  • σεβομένοις = "those worshiping" Acts 17:17 (a contraction of the above)

Thus, it appears that in John 12:20 is included in John's gospel to show that Jesus' ultimate mission was to far more than just the Jews - it would encompass the world (Acts 1:8).

Now, some comment about terminology:

  • "Hellenizer" suggests a person of non-Greek origin trying to be (but not necessarily succeeding) Greek. [One of the most famous such people was Antiochus Epiphanes IV.]
  • "Greek speaking Jews" - this term suggests that people that are Jewish at heart but merely speak Greek and not Aramaic or Hebrew.
  • "Gentile" is simply a non-Jew who does not keep Torah.
  • "Greek" (noun as distinct from the adjective) is a person who is born, cultured and speaks Greek, ie, a true Greek person. It is this latter category that John 12:20 suggests. This is reinforced by the fact that their request to see Jesus had to be relayed to Him (V21) because they could not enter some parts of the temple

Note the comments of Ellicott in John 12:20 -

(20) And there were certain Greeks.—Comp. Note on John 7:35, where we have the same word in the original, and Acts 6:1; Acts 9:29; and Acts 11:20. They were not Hellenists, i.e., Greek Jews, but Hellenes, i.e., Gentiles.


The OP asks if these "Greeks" were Gentiles or Hellenistic Jews.

I would suggest a third choice: They were ethnic Greeks who had converted to some form of Judaism. Just as Herod was and Idumean (an ethnic Edomite) and yet a Jew, these were probably ethnic Greeks who were either "God-fearers" or full converts to Judaism. An example of this type of person can be seen in Acts 13, when Paul addressed the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, a city strongly influenced by Greek culture:

Acts 13:16:

So Paul got up, motioned with his hand, and said, “Fellow Israelites and you others who are God-fearing, listen."

I do not rule out that these were Hellenized Jews, but it seem more likely that they were ethnic Greeks who had adopted a form of Judaism.


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