“Ta Ethne” As Seen In Scripture

“Panta ta ethne?” That sounds like Greek to me!

Well, it is. But, what does it mean?

This tremendous and all-telling phrase is most commonly associated with the Scripture in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus Christ delivers what we often refer to as The Great Commission. You know the passage well. In it Jesus is speaking to His disciples, those gathered around Him then and to Christ-followers today, and He commands us to …

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations (“panta ta ethne”), baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.

 The phrase is also found in Luke 24:47 where Jesus says,

 ” … repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations (“panta ta ethne”), beginning in Jerusalem.”

Based on the use of the word “nations” in these two passages we might think that Jesus was telling us to go and preach the Gospel to all of the geo-political entities of the world, those countries that are designated by colors, shapes and various sizes on our wall maps. That’s what we would think if we unquestioningly accepted the word “nations” for ta ethne as it was translated by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611 (and as it is translated in many contemporary versions of the Bible today).

But, as Dr. Jim Slack, Global Evangelism and Church Growth Consultant with the International Mission Board, tells us in an article entitled, “A ‘Ta Ethne ‘ Ethnolinguistic People Group Focus As Seen In The Scriptures”,  ta ethne means much more.

In the article, Dr. Slack  makes use of scholarly resources, detailed word studies and references to biblical sources to help us understand that “ta ethne” are ethnolinguistic people groups that are defined by “a stable, historically developed community of people with a territory, economic life, distinctive culture and language in common”.

This is important, may I say critical, for us to understand if we are going to strategically and effectively reach the “nations” for Christ through evangelism and church planting. This understanding of “nations” emphasizes the fact that the Gospel must be contextualized and  presented to the “ta ethne” of the world in ethnically, culturally, and linguistically relevant ways if we are going to fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetime.

In the conclusion of his article, Dr. Slack says

A ‘ta ethne’ focus is not just for the foreign ‘mission field’ when one gets geographically beyond his or her Jerusalem, Samaria and Judea. The Great Commission says each believer should have a Great Commission ‘ta ethne’ focus beyond his or her door and beyond to every part of the world. God is never comfortable with us settling down to minister only to our own ethnic group, thus leaving it to the ‘missionary’ to go to the ‘ta ethne’.”

How does this understanding of what “ta ethne” means change the way you and I look at and see our communities and the world? How is our response to the Great Commission going to be affected when we think about “people groups” instead of geo-political entities and geographic locations? What changes in our philosophies of and strategies for ministry will we need to make and implement in order to reach the “ta ethne” of the world, locally and globally, for the Lord Jesus Christ?

What about the “ta ethne” enrolled at Texas A&M University?

To read Dr. Slack’s article, click here.

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Note: This article was originally posted on my other blog, taethnenetwork, on September 21, 2009.

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