WHO ARE THE “GRECIANS” IN THE BIBLE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Greek word rendered “Grecian” is “Hellenistes.” It appears three times in our King James Bible New Testament (Acts 6:1; Acts 9:29; Acts 11:20). While Hellas is the Greek name for Greece, the meaning of “Grecian” depends on the Bible context. Generally speaking, the word signifies anyone who identifies with Greek culture (especially the Greek language). It carries an even more restricted definition if setting is noted.
FIRST OCCURRENCE – ACTS 6:1
“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). In this context, “Grecians” is opposed to “Hebrews.” While it is true that “Hebrews” is Jewish, “Grecians” here is Jewish too. The difference is the “Grecians” are Jewish by blood but Greek in culture. The “Hebrews” are Jewish by both blood and culture. Thus, we see why the Hebrews were favored over the Grecians. “Pure” Jews were exalted above the “tainted” Jews.
SECOND OCCURRENCE – ACTS 9:29
“And he [Saul] spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him” (Acts 9:29). This instance seems to carry the meaning of the first (see Acts 6:1)—Jews who have adopted Greek culture.
THIRD (AND FINAL) OCCURRENCE – ACTS 11:20
“And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20).
The context demands that these “Grecians” be Greeks by blood or Gentiles (not Jews as in previous passages): “ Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.  And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
“ Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.  Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.  For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.  Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:  And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
The reason why we know these “Grecians” are Greeks or Gentiles (and not Greek-speaking Jews) is that Barnabas goes to get Saul of Tarsus for him to minister to them (verse 25). If the Grecians here were Greek-speaking Jews (as in Acts 6:1 and Acts 9:29), there would be no reason for Saul to ever be involved with them. Since God commissioned Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul) to go to Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16; Acts 26:16-18; et cetera), it is only naturally that Barnabas would seek Saul to minister to these new Gentile converts.
SUPPLEMENTAL: OLD TESTAMENT ROOTS
The word “Grecian” (“Yĕvaniy” in Hebrew) appears a single time in the Old Testament. Notice Joel 3:6, “The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border.” This, of course, is Gentile in nature. Jews have been sold into slavery to the Gentiles (Greeks). “Yevaniy” is patronymic, meaning it is applied to the descendants of one man. The man or father here is Javan; his children are known as Jevanites, or the “Ionians” (think of the Ionian Sea west of Greece, south of the Italian peninsula, and north of the Mediterranean Sea—their region of the world).
Javan was Noah’s grandson, as stated in Genesis chapter 10: “ The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras.  And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah.  And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.  By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” (The Jewish bloodline came from Shem, Japheth’s brother—see verses 21-31. According to Genesis 11:10-27, Abram/Abraham, father of the Israelites, descended from Shem.)
Daniel 8:21: “And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.” Here is a reference to the Greek Empire, with Alexander the Great being the “first king.” Daniel saw it as prophecy (future), but we see it as history (few centuries before Christ).
We see “Javan” (or Greeks) mentioned in Isaiah 66:19, the Millennial Reign of Christ (future from us): “And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.”
» Did not God send messengers to Gentiles prior to Paul’s apostleship?
» Did Paul engage in missionary journeys?
» Was Luke a Jew or a Gentile?