This post was first written on the 9th of March this year. I had heard the Greek ‘panta ta ethne’ a few times by this point and wanted to look deeper – and seeing as unreached people’s are important to consider in the world of mission and for God’s global unfolding plan, it is always valuable to seriously look into what this really means.
This year, I began my studies at bible college. So many wonderful units to be selected, only 8 for my graduate diploma of divinity are possible. I would love love love to delve into the languages of Hebrew and Greek at some point, to gain richer meaning from the original languages of the bible and as my Old Testament lecturer puts it, “stop kissing the scriptures through a veil”.
Unfortunately, my focus means (unless I end up going into a masters of divinity) that I can’t do these units but nonetheless, my purchase of an Interlinear bible a few months ago means I am able to have a very basic look and understanding of some phrases and meanings (with the very helpful assistance of web sources).
Panta ta ethnē. In the last 6 months, this is a Greek phrase I have come across a few times in my investigations on mission and now, it has caught my interest.
This phrase and variations of it is found in several verses (and a few more then the ones I list here) such as Matthew 24:14, Matthew 25:32, Matthew 28:19 (the great commission), Acts 2:5, Galatians 3:8 and Revelation 15:4. The combination of the Greek words pas (meaning all) and ethnos (meaning nation/Gentile) are used in each of these verses. In some instances, this will of course mean “Gentile” (and Galatians 3:8 is translated this way) whereas in others it will be translated as “nation” (as in Matthew) – but in all instances, whether nation or Gentile (non-Jew), “all” nations or “all” Gentiles is to be distinguished.
Let’s have a look at a few. I’ll use the English rendering of the verse directly from the interlinear bible itself and ( ) the Greek rendition of the words.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations (pasin tois ethnesin) and then will come the end” (Matthew 24:14)
“And having come to them, Jesus spoke saying “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on the earth. Having gone, therefore, disciple all the nations (panta ta ethnē), baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19)
“And proclaimed in the name of Him repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations (panta ta ethnē), having begun at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47)
“After these things I saw, and behold, a crowd much, which to number them no one was able, out of every nation (pantos ethnous – singular), even tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9)
“Who will not fear You, Lord, and glorify Your name? For You only are holy. For all the nations (panta ta ethnē) will come and will worship before you for the rigtheous acts of You have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4)
Hopefully you get the picture – the Greek is painting a picture of “all nations” through the use of panta ta ethnē and similar derivatives of the same phrase. However, the image we get from panta ta ethnē is oftentimes lost on us in the 21st century with our 196 nation states, like Australia or the US or Afghanistan. Geopolitical entities of this scale did not exist back in biblical times.
Consider the following: when God told Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him, did Australia exist as a nation? Did Afghanistan exist as a nation? Did Bolivia exist as a nation? No. You had the Canaanites, the Amalekites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Philistines. Abraham himself was made into a nation. These were all ethnolinguistic groups which existed alongside each other as nations.
According to Dr Jim Slack, consultant with the International Mission Board, the ta ethnē refers to “a stable, historically developed community of people with a territory, economic life, distinctive culture and language in common”.
The Afshari of Afghanistan. The Brao of Cambodia. The Amdo of China. The Babalia of Chad. The Bangali of Nepal. The Acheron of Sudan. The Bedouin Arabs of Saudi Arabia. The Akhdam of Yemen. The Algerians in Algeria. The Kalagan of the Phillipines. The Berber of the Western Sahara. All different people groups with different cultural distinctives, languages, economics. Living in their own territories together as a people. All of these people groups are the “all nations” referred to by the Greek panta ta ethnē.
In the world, it is estimated that there are 16,404 known people groups. The groups that I have listed above and unfortunately, many many more have one thing in common: they are unreached. Out of the 16000 odd people groups, there are approximately 6649 people groups that are classed as such (that is, they have under 2% of their population evangelical Christian – a percentage thought to produce a growing, organic church), especially where there is no indigenous church movement able to evangelise the people. Of these unreached people groups, it’s estimated that about 3082 of these groups are also unengaged. These are groups where there is no church planting effort, no Christians, no evangelical faith and practice. There is no gospel.
Human individuals comprising these 6649 people groups are estimated by the Joshua Project to number 3.08 BILLION individuals. 3,080,000,000 human individuals. I don’t know about you, but that’s a big number, and that’s a big number of human individuals, who according to Romans 1 are without excuse for their disbelief in God –
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God they did not honour Him as God or give thanks to Him but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23 ESV)
Seeing created things show the glory of God is not enough. It’s not enough. All it brings is sin and idolatry. The gospel is needed. The gospel that is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). All these 6000 people groups, these 3 billion people, the entire need for mission is because they are going to be damned without it, because they are without excuse. This is the reason we go. This is is the reason we must go.
We are told by Christ in Matthew 28 to “therefore, disciple all the nations (panta ta ethnē), baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days until the completion of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 Interlinear)
The command is to GO to the people groups. To the ethnolinguistic ta ethnē of all geopolitical entities with the gospel, teaching them to observe the commands of Christ and be baptising in the name of the trinity. To go to all the distinctive cultural, economic, linguistic entities to take the name of Christ where He has not yet been named.
I love the images we get from Revelation. I particularly love imagining the throne room of Christ on that day, with all its colour and splendour and the glory of God permeating throughout it. And I love what it says in Revelation 7:9 (noted earlier):
After these things I saw, and behold, a crowd much, which to number them no one was able, out of every nation (pantos ethnous), even tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9 Interlinear)
This is the end game of Christ. The end game of His Great Commission. A people without number out of every people group before the throne of the Lamb. Representatives from all individual ethnic groups from all of history, praising the name of the Lamb who was slain to take away the sins of the world, who is worthy to open the scroll, who is worthy to sit on the throne as King.
Christ, the slain Lamb who is worthy to open the scroll, is the only one deserving of praise from all people groups. He is deserving of praise in all languages, in all cultures, in all ethnic groups. He deserves their praise, yet how are they to praise Him if they have not heard? How are they to seek Him if they haven’t been told?
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)
Is this our end game? Are we in this to see Christ, the only one worthy of praise, glorified by people who don’t know Him, whether in Australia or to the ends of the earth? Can we be content in our souls knowing that there are 3 billion individuals passing into eternal darkness without God because no Christian has yet named Christ among them?
My heart is to continue seeking the will of God in this. Knowing all that I know, after seeing all I have seen in Nepal, after all the deliberation and investigation and reflection on mission, I am certain of this: the throne room of the Lamb will see us around the throne with all the ta ethnē who will come to know the King above Kings. On that day, I want to know that I’ve done all that I possibly could have done in working alongside God to see His name praised by all people’s.
All the panta ta ethnē will one day bow their knee at the throne of the Lamb. In the meantime, we give. We go. We sacrifice time and money to see the fulfilment of the commission and the reaching of our world.
Oh that I would be obedient to whatever God calls me to do. In the words of David Platt, “The needs are too great and the gospel is too good for us to sit back.”