Heathen : (Heb. plural goyum). At first the word goyim denoted generally all the nations of the world (Genesis 18:18; comp. Galatians 3:8). The Jews afterwards became a people distinguished in a marked manner from the other goyim. They were a separate people (Leviticus 20:23; 26:14-45; Deuteronomy 28), and the other nations, the Amorites, Hittites, etc., were the goyim, the heathen, with whom the Jews were forbidden to be associated in any way (Joshua 23:7; 1 Kings 11:2). The practice of idolatry was the characteristic of these nations, and hence the word came to designate idolaters (Psalm 106:47; Jeremiah 46:28; Lamentations 1:3; Isaiah 36:18), the wicked (Psalm 9:5,15,17).
The corresponding Greek word in the New Testament, ethne, has similar shades of meaning. In Acts 22:21, Galatians 3:14, it denotes the people of the earth generally; and in Matthew 6:7, an idolater. In modern usage the word denotes all nations that are strangers to revealed religion.