(Heb. plural goyum). At first the word goyim denoted generally all the nations of the world ( Genesis 18:18 ; Compare Galatians 3:8 ). The Jews afterwards became a people distinguished in a marked manner from the other goyim . They were a separate people ( Leviticus 20:23 ; 26:14-45 ; Deuteronomy 28 ), and the other nations, the Amorites, Hittites, etc., were the goyim , the heathen, with whom the Jews were forbidden to be associated in any way ( Joshua 23:7 ; 1 Kings 11:2 ). The practice of idolatry was the characteristic of these nations, and hence the word came to designate idolaters ( Psalms 106:47 ; Jeremiah 46:28 ; Lamentations 1:3 ; Isaiah 36:18 ), the wicked ( Psalms 9:5 Psalms 9:15 Psalms 9:17 ).
The corresponding Greek word in the New Testament, ethne , has similar shades of meaning. In Acts 22:21 , Galatians 3:14 , it denotes the people of the earth generally; and in Matthew 6:7 , an idolater. In modern usage the word denotes all nations that are strangers to revealed religion.