Who are the “Scythians” and the “Barbarians?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

The “Scythians” appear just once in the Bible, whereas the “Barbarians” are found six times. See for yourself:

  • Acts 28:2: “And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.”
  • Acts 28:4: “And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.”
  • Romans 1:14: “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:11: “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.”
  • Colossians 3:11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

We will deal with the Barbarians (Greek, “Barbarois”) first. Romans 1:14 uses the term as opposite of the word “Greeks,” just as “wise” (educated) and “unwise” (uneducated) are antonymous. When penning the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke called the non-Greeks of Melita “barbarous people” and “barbarians” (Acts 28:2,4)—those of Melita were either Phoenician or Punic in origin. The Greeks (Greek, “Hellesin”) referred to non-Greeks as “Barbarians.” Lacking Greek speech and culture, Barbarians were viewed as uncivilized. To the Greek person, a foreigner’s language sounded like “bar-bar,” repetitious syllables or nonsense (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:11). Here is where the title “Barbarian” came from!

The term “Scythian” (Greek, “Skuthes”) appears in conjunction with the Barbarians (cf. Colossians 3:11). Scythians inhabited Scythia, today’s southern Russia, north of the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian Seas. While the Barbarians were considered wild, the Scythians were a special category of Barbarian—the worst of the worst! One commentator wrote of them: “the most hated and feared of all the so-called barbarians.” Another adds, “Scythians were known especially for their brutality and were considered by others as little better than wild beasts.”

Upon first glance, none of this seems like much to us. They are cultural terms applicable to ancient people, so how could understanding these appellations ever possibly enhance our Bible comprehension? Watch and see! Going all the way back to the Acts period, the Apostle Paul had an unrestricted ministry to Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews), non-Jews being Greeks and non-Greeks alike (cf. Romans 1:14,16; cf. Acts 26:16-18). His Gospel message—the Gospel of God’s Grace—is that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time [Paul’s ministry; verse 7]” (1 Timothy 2:6). “All men” is the audience of Paul’s Gospel.

We would do well to re-read Colossians 3:11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” That is to say, in the Church the Body of Christ, God sees all Christians as equally blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), all equally justified, equally redeemed, equally sanctified, equally forgiven, et cetera. Regardless of their religious background (Jew/Gentile, circumcision/uncircumcision), national background (Greek/Barbarian), economic/social background (bond/free—slave or freeman), or even gender (male/female—Galatians 3:28), they are all united forever because of their faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.

It is absolutely amazing that Almighty God in His wisdom could take people from all backgrounds, let them believe on Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork, and bind them into one Body. People who would have never met otherwise, who would have never known each other any other way, and He uses them to form the Church the Body of Christ. As one people, they (and we) are heirs of God’s heavenly kingdom!

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Also see:
» Are Galatians 3:28 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 contradictory?
» Who are the “Grecians” in the Bible?
» When Paul says “there is no difference,” is he referring to people outside the Body of Christ, or in it?