Have you ever come across the word “Scythian” while reading your Bible and wondered what it meant? Scythians were an ancient nomadic people group mentioned a few times in Scripture. In this post, we’ll explore the history of the Scythians, examine the biblical references, and discuss why this matters to you as a Christian today. Let’s dive in!
The Scythians were a little-known people group in biblical times, originating from the Eurasian Steppe. They were fierce warriors known for their horsemanship, archery skills, and nomadic lifestyle. The Scythians inhabited lands north and east of the Black Sea during the 7th to 3rd centuries BC. They spoke an Iranian language and are believed to have had Caucasian features.
The Scythians had very limited contact with sedentary civilizations like Greece, Persia, and Judea. As a result, they were viewed as mysterious barbarians by settled cultures. The Greeks referred to all nomadic steppe peoples generally as “Scythians.” This has created some ambiguity when the term appears in ancient writings.
In this post, we will unpack the handful of biblical references to Scythians. We’ll explore questions like:
- Who were the Scythians historically?
- Why are they mentioned in the Bible?
- What relevance does this have for Christians today?
By the end, you’ll have a better grasp of this obscure biblical people group and what we can learn from them. Let’s begin unraveling the mystery of the Scythians!
- The Scythians were fearsome nomadic warriors from the Eurasian steppe.
- They had limited interaction with settled civilizations like Greece, Persia and ancient Israel.
- The Bible contains a few cryptic references to the Scythians.
- God loves and pursues all people groups, including obscure ones like the Scythians.
- Modern believers can learn from the Scythian’s ferocity and skill in spiritual warfare.
Who Were the Scythians?
To understand the biblical references, we need to start with some historical background. Who were the Scythians and where did they come from?
The Scythians emerged out of the vast Eurasian steppe north of the Black Sea around the 9th century BC. They were Iranian-speaking nomads, believed to be remnants of the ancient Cimmerians. The Scythians were renowned for their military skills, riding swift horses into battle and firing deadly arrows from horseback.
Scythian culture was shaped by their harsh nomadic lifestyle on the open steppes. They were masters of mounted warfare, subsisting off domesticated livestock. Their swift attacks and relentless mobility allowed them to dominate the grasslands.
The Scythians flourished for several centuries, becoming a dominant force from the Black Sea to Mongolia. They were feared by settled civilizations they encountered, including Assyria, Urartu, Persia, and Greece.
To the Greeks, Sarmatians, and other urban societies, the Scythians were viewed as warlike barbarians living a primitive lifestyle. Their reputation for ferocity and military skill made them both respected and feared.
So when Scripture mentions the “Scythians,” it’s referring to these feared nomadic warriors inhabiting the Eurasian steppe north of the Fertile Crescent. This provides crucial context for the sparse biblical references.
Scythian Mentions in Scripture
The Scythians appear by name only three times in the Bible:
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (NKJV)
This verse in Colossians refers cryptically to the Scythians. Paul lists them alongside other national and social divisions overcome by unity in Christ. The common theory is Paul meant to convey that even obscure groups like nomadic Scythians can be reconciled with God.
Javan, Tubal, and Meshech were your traders. They bartered human lives and vessels of bronze for your merchandise. Those from the house of Togarmah traded for your wares with horses, steeds, and mules. (NKJV)
The prophecy in Ezekiel 27 describes the judgment coming on the city of Tyre for its pride and greed. Verse 13 references merchants from specific people groups that conducted trade with Tyre.
“Togarmah” likely refers to a son of Gomer and grandson of Japheth (Genesis 10:3). His descendants, the Togarmahites, inhabited areas southeast of the Black Sea occupied by the Scythians. So this is an oblique reference associating Togarmah’s lineage with Scythian territories.
Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him…Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you. (NKJV)
Ezekiel 38-39 contains an apocalyptic prophecy involving Gog and Magog. Magog was another grandson of Japheth (Genesis 10:2) believed to have settled Scythian lands. Gomer was Magog’s brother (Genesis 10:2). Togarmah, as we saw earlier, likely represents the Scythians as well.
So Ezekiel seems to associate these lineages with the ferocious horseback warriors inhabiting the steppes north of Israel. The imagery depicts an eschatological battle involving peoples from the remote regions of Gog, Magog, Gomer, and Togarmah.
These are the only direct biblical references associating the Scythians with people groups descended from Noah’s grandson Japheth. The allusions are vague but help shed light on who the Scythians were.
Significance for Christians Today
You may be wondering why any of this matters today as a modern Christian. Let me suggest a few reasons:
First, it reminds you that God loves and pursues all nations and ethnicities – even long-forgotten ones like the Scythians. If he desired the Scythians to know Him, how much more does He want to be known by your own people group today!
Second, the Scythians exemplified qualities like courage, skill, and military prowess. As followers of Christ, you are called to be strong and vigilant warriors in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6:10-18). You can emulate the worthy virtues of groups like the Scythians.
Finally, studying obscure biblical people groups reminds us how little we still grasp about God’s vast redemptive work throughout history among every tribe and tongue. It should keep you humbled and in awe of His profound sovereignty and grace.
So as you encounter cryptic biblical references to ancient peoples like the Scythians, remember they are not mere artifacts. They reflect how God’s purposes and love encompass all nations – even long-forgotten nomadic warriors inhabiting the distant steppes.
The Scythians were fierce nomadic warriors who inhabited lands just north of the Fertile Crescent during biblical times. Their reputation for ferocity precedes them in the handful of cryptic biblical references we explored.
While obscure, the Scythians remind us of some key spiritual truths:
- God loves and pursues unlikely people groups like the Scythians.
- As Christians, we can emulate their skill and courage in spiritual warfare.
- God’s vast redemptive work spans all nations and tongues, including forgotten ones like the Scythians.
My prayer for you as you encounter unfamiliar names like the Scythians is that it expands your vision of God’s greatness. May you be spurred on to deeper awe, humility, and courage as you comprehend the breadth of His astonishing grace.