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The meaning of People in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

pe'-p'-l: In English Versions of the Bible represents something over a dozen Hebrew and Greek words. Of these, in the Old Testament, 'am, is overwhelmingly the most common (about 2,000 times), with le'om, and goy, next in order; but the various Hebrew words are used with very little or no difference in force (e.g. Proverbs 14:28; but, on the other hand, in Psa. 44 contrast verses 12 and 14). Of the changes introduced by the Revised Version (British and American) the only one of significance (cited explicitly in the Preface to the English Revised Version) is the frequent use of the plural "peoples" (strangely avoided in the King James Version except Revelation 10:11; Revelation 17:15), where other nations than Israel are in question. So, for instance, in Psalms 67:4; Isaiah 55:4; Isaiah 60:2, with the contrast marked in Psalms 33:10 and 12; Psalms 77:14 and 15, etc. In the New Testament, laos, is the most common word, with ochlos, used almost as often in the King James Version. But in the Revised Version (British and American) the latter word is almost always rendered "multitude," "people" being retained only in Luke 7:12; Acts 11:24, Acts 11:26; Acts 19:26, and in the fixed phrase "the common people" (ho polus ochlos) in Mark 12:37; John 12:9, John 12:12 margin (the retention of "people" would have been better in John 11:42, also), with "crowd" (Matthew 9:23, Matthew 9:25; Acts 21:35). The only special use of "people" that calls for attention is the phrase "people of the land." This may mean simply "inhabitants," as Ezekiel 12:19; Ezekiel 33:2; Ezekiel 39:13; but in II Kings 11:14, etc., and the parallel in 2 Chronicles, it means the people as contrasted with the king, while in Jeremiah 1:18, etc., and in Ezekiel 7:27; Ezekiel 22:29; Ezekiel 46:3, Ezekiel 46:9, it means the common people as distinguished from the priests and the aristocracy. A different usage is that for the heathen (Genesis 23:7, Genesis 23:12-13; Numbers 14:9) or half-heathen (Ezra 9:1-2; Ezra 10:2, Ezra 10:11; Nehemiah 10:28-31) inhabitants of Palestine. From this last use, the phrase came to be applied by some rabbis to even pure-blooded Jews, if they neglected the observance of the rabbinic traditions (compare John 7:49 the King James Version). For "people of the East" see CHILDREN OF THE EAST.

Burton Scott Easton


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