The Meaning of Heathen: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of heathen? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word heathen, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word heathen mean?

According to Christianity, Collins English Dictionary and the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the word heathen is a noun that means someone who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible, or some unconverted member of a people or nation, such as a pagan or atheist. The Biblical meaning of heathen changed when the New Covenant of Jesus Christ extended to the gentile nations that were previously considered heathens. This is used in the King James Version of the Bible in many places, including Matthew, Joshua, and by other disciples and people groups. In the Old Testament, the term heathen was an  interpretation of the Hebrew word goyim, which meant nations and applied to all of the nations of the world, separate from Israel. These people were non-Jewish idolaters who did not believe in the one true God of Judaism/God of the Jews/Jehovah, God of Islam, God of Israel, God of Christianity or God of the Bible. This term can be considered offensive. Heathen peoples are considered an idolater, and such persons are not adherent of a religion, or are adherent of the Germanic neo-pagan faith of Heathenry. The word heathen is two syllables – hea-then, and the pronunciation of heathen is ˈhiːðən.

The word heathen can refer to a person who is adherent of a neopagan religion, one who does not read scriptures, one who worships idols, a member of any nation or member of a tribe that is not Christian such as “heathen nations,” a dweller of a moor and such races, an open country of unbelieving nations, an unthinking person, one with heath superstitions, the prevalence of idolatry or one who does not believe in the gospel in the original Biblical meaning, or the culture of a people who do not believe in eternal life.

There are many other languages that contain words meaning heathen. You might notice that many of these words look and sound similarly to one another. These are called cognates, which are words and phrases that mean the same thing as well as look and sound similar across languages. This often happens when the two words or languages share a common Greek or Latin root or language of origin like Latin or Greek. This list of translations of heathen is provided by Word Sense and can be found in a German Dictionary fifth edition or Spanish Dictionary unabridged 8th edition.

  •  Aromanian: pãngãn‎
  •  Latin: gentilis‎ (masc.)
  •  Dutch: heidens‎, ongelovig‎
  •  Mandarin: 異教的‎ (yi jiao de)
  •  French: païen‎
  •  Danish: hedning‎ (common)
  •  Swedish: hednisk‎
  •  Portuguese: pagão‎
  •  German: heidnisch‎
  •  Italian: pagano‎ (masc.)
  •  Afrikaans: heidens‎, ongelowig‎
  •  German Low German: heidensch‎
  •  Spanish: pagano‎
  •  Georgian: წარმართი‎
  •  Turkish: putperest‎, pagan‎
  •  Finnish: pakanallinen‎
  •  Russian: язы́ческий‎
  •  Icelandic: heiðinn‎ (masc.)
  •  Armenian: հեթանոսական‎
  •  Romanian: păgân‎

What is the origin of the word heathen?

According to Dictionary, the word heathen comes from the Middle English hethen/Old English hǣþen and Old English hǣthen. This word is akin to the German Heide, adjective heidnisch, Dutch heiden, Old High German heidan, Old Norse heithingi and Old Norse heithinn, Old Frisian hēthin, Gothic haithno, and the base of heath. This is from Indo-European roots and may relate to the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Germanic peoples. This word is of Germanic origin and is the Christian use of a Germanic adjective.

What are synonyms and antonyms of heathen?

There are many different words and phrases that someone can use in place of the word heathen. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are a useful English grammatical device to know. They are an easy way to build your vocabulary, and can help you avoid repeating yourself in conversation and written works. This list of synonyms for the word heathen is provided by Power Thesaurus. 

  •  sinful
  •  heterodox
  •  gentiles
  •  barbaric
  •  atheistic
  •  nonworshiper
  •  idolist
  •  plebeian
  •  misbeliever
  •  freethinker
  •  atheistical
  •  doubter
  •  blasphemous
  •  idolatrous
  •  aliterate
  •  amoral
  •  irreligious person
  •  irreligious activity
  •  nonbeliever
  •  lout
  •  ethnic
  •  unbelievers
  •  pantheist
  •  profane
  •  bohemian
  •  paganist
  •  idolater
  •  cultural
  •  unholy
  •  wild
  •  vandal
  •  dissenter
  •  atheist
  •  impious
  •  irreligious
  •  idolatress
  •  uncivilised
  •  uncultivated
  •  disbelieving
  •  free thinker
  •  unenlightened
  •  unbeliever
  •  scoffer
  •  goth
  •  irreverent
  •  polytheist
  •  barbarian
  •  heretic
  •  non-christian
  •  non-believer
  •  doubting
  •  nonconformist
  •  heretical
  •  dubious
  •  savage
  •  ethnical
  •  sacrilegious
  •  yahoo
  •  heathens
  •  apostate
  •  undevout
  •  primitive
  •  infidels
  •  disbeliever
  •  cynic
  •  agnostic
  •  nullifidian
  •  vulgarian
  •  iconoclastic
  •  boor
  •  ungodly
  •  feral
  •  uncultured
  •  pagan
  •  nihilist
  •  nonreligious
  •  polytheistic
  •  fetishistic
  •  paganistic
  •  skeptic
  •  godless
  •  gentile
  •  philistine
  •  non-believing
  •  faithless
  •  irreligionist
  •  sceptical
  •  sceptic
  •  pagans
  •  infidel
  •  non-theist
  •  heathenish
  •  doubting thomas
  •  paganish
  •  paynim
  •  ignoramus
  •  pantheistic
  •  uncivilized
  •  unbelieving
  •  barbarous
  •  giaour

There are also numerous different words that have the opposite definition as the word digress. These opposite words are called antonyms. Antonyms are also useful to know if you are working on expanding your vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word heathen is also provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  devout
  •  fighter
  •  extremist
  •  expounder
  •  godly
  •  booster
  •  champion
  •  autem-bawler
  •  bhakta
  •  deeply religious
  •  believer
  •  devotee
  •  friend
  •  disciple
  •  autem bawler
  •  dogmatist
  •  follower
  •  born-again
  •  convert
  •  civilized
  •  endorser
  •  gospeller
  •  believing
  •  advocate
  •  backer
  •  defender
  •  firm believer
  •  dogmatician
  •  religious
  •  bigot
  •  campaigner
  •  enthusiast
  •  christian
  •  gospeler
  •  apostle
  •  fan
  •  espouser
  •  adherent
  •  exponent
  •  divine
  •  activist
  •  crusader
  •  ally
  •  apologist
  •  arty-farty
  •  fanatic
  •  devout christian
  •  advocator
  •  belligerent
  •  great believer

Overall, the word heathen means someone who is unreligious. This word is an adjective or a noun. Try using this new word of the day in a sentence today! But be careful, it can have a less than desirable connotation.


  1. Who are Heathens? Old vs New Testament Meaning | Chrsitianity 
  2. Heathen antonyms – 191 Opposites of Heathen | Power Thesaurus 
  3. Heathen Definition & Meaning | Dictionary 
  4. Heathen synonyms – 265 Words and Phrases for Heathen | Power Thesaurus 
  5. heathen: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense