Who are “the pagans”?

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Question:

What does the word “pagan” mean? Who are they and why are they called what they are?

From Merriam-Webser’s online dictionary we find the following definition of the word pagan (heathen).
1: heathen 1; especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2: one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods : an irreligious or hedonistic person
Middle English, from Late Latin paganus, from Latin, civilian, country dweller, from pagus country district; akin to Latin pangere to fix — more at pact

First Known Use: 14th century
The Greek word that is translated as “pagan” or “heathen” or “nations” in the English language is ETHNIKOS. It means nation or people group. It is where we get our word “ethnic”. The Jews called them “Gentiles”, the people who did not have God’s special revelation, they did not associate with them, and they worshiped idols. In the epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul reminds the recipients, who are now Christians, about their former way of life, when they were pagans.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands– remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12)

No matter what your national background or ethnic group you come from, a pagan is a man or woman who:

  • separated from Christ
  • alienated from the commonwealth of Israel (Jesus Christ’s Church)
  • strangers to the covenants of promise (not part of the New Covenant)
  • having no hope (of acquiring eternal life)
  • without God in the world
It does not matter what a person’s religion is, if he has not accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and entered into the New Covenant then he cannot be saved because Jesus said:
Jesus said to him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me. (John 14:6)
There is another category of people who believe that they are Christians based on the fact that they were born in to a Christian nation or were born to Christians parents yet they do not know God because they have never entered into the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. They are also pagans because there is no lifestyle difference between them and others who were born under a different religion. Both groups need to be born again through faith in Jesus Christ so that they will not perish eternally away from the presence of God.
Translation by: Erik Brewer