Who are the Gentiles?
Growing up as a Latter-Day Saint in a largely Mormon community, I was educated that the gentiles represented those that did not believe as I did. As Mormons, we were of the house of Israel and were responsible for seeking out others of our kind from among the Gentiles around us. As such the warnings found in the latter day scriptures applied to others and not to me.
So, who are the Gentiles and what is their station in the kingdom of God? The scriptures again help to move the fog away so we can understand the message to us. On the title page of the Book of Mormon we read of several groups of people:
"Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile..."
The Book of Mormon was written to three groups:
- Lamanites - a remnant of the house of Israel
By a simple process of elimination, the bulk of the LDS church falls into the category of Gentiles. In fact, as it states in the citation above, the Book of Mormon was 'to come forth... by way of the Gentile.
This is further reinforced several times in the scriptures. For example, in 1st Nephi, Chapter 15 we read:
"13 And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed—"
The Book of Mormon, which contains the fulness of the gospel, will come by and to the Gentiles. As such we should understand how the warnings in the Book of Mormon apply to the members of the LDS church. Are we considered Gentiles or are we of the house of Israel?
Those who have read the 3rd chapter of 2nd Nephi know that it emphatically states that Joseph Smith was a descendent of Joseph of Egypt and through his son Ephraim, the tribe chosen as a royal generation. Most of the patriarchal blessings in the church show lineage from Joseph through his two sons. Many in the church claim common ancestors with Joseph Smith and are, therefore, of the tribe of Joseph and of the house of Israel.
Does this line of reasoning outweigh the clear references of the role of the Gentiles in the restoration of the gospel? Let's look at another example of the defining role of the Gentiles. This is found in the 16th chapter of 3rd Nephi:
"6 And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.
7 Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them.
8 But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles—for notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them;"
There are two points to be made from this scripture reference. First, the Gentiles are blessed because of their belief in the Lord and have received a witness through the Holy Ghost. Who else could that be other than the Latter-Day Saints? Secondly, the Lord references the 'unbelieving' of the Gentiles in verse 8 above. It is obvious that there are 'believers' among the Gentiles as well as the 'unbelieving.' I would suggest that the treatment of the word 'Gentile' is consistent across the three books of Nephi in the Book of Mormon and is supported by the Doctrine and Covenants.
Can those involved in the latter day restoration of the gospel be both Gentiles and descendants of Joseph of Egypt? I believe the answer is yes. In the 48th chapter of Genesis in the Old Testament, we read of the blessing Jacob gives to the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. As Joseph presents his two sons with Manasseh, the eldest, positioned to be under the right hand of Jacob, he finds his father crossing his arms in order to place his right hand on Ephraim. Here is Joseph's protest and Jacob's response:
"13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him.
14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.
15 ¶ And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day.
16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head.
18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations."
In the last verse cited, Jacob blessed Manasseh to "become a people" while he blessed Ephraim that he would become a 'multitude of nations.' In Manasseh's case, the Hebrew word 'am' is translated as people. This same word, according to Strong's Concordance translates to family, people, and relatives. In other words, Manasseh was blessed to become a tribe. On the other hand, the blessing of Ephraim uses the Hebrew 'goyim' translated as nations. This is the same word translated as Gentiles throughout the Old Testament. Thus, an alternative translation of the 'multitude of nations' is the 'fulness of the gentiles." I suggest you check this out for yourself. The Gentile nations were populated by the descendents of Ephraim and today constitute the bulk of the converts to the restoration. In this way, the bulk of the members of the church can claim lineage from Ephraim and still be considered Gentiles.
Consider also this scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 42:
"39 For it shall come to pass, that which I spake by the mouths of my prophets shall be fulfilled; for I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel."
Do you consider yourself a rich Gentile who embraced the gospel or a poor member of the house of Israel? It seems reasonable that the members of the LDS church cannot properly apply the title of the house of Israel to themselves.
This approach does indeed provide an answer to the question; Are the Latter Day Saints Gentiles or the house of Israel? The correct answer is: They are both. The important point to be made through is that the Latter Day Saints are included in the Gentile 'bucket' of the Book of Mormon. As such, the members of the LDS church should take heed of all the warnings to the Gentiles found in the latter day scripture. Here is one such call found in the last chapter of 3rd Nephi:
"2 Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel."
The message to us here is, of course, repent and come unto me. Please note that there are two conditional phrases employed in this scripture:
- Be baptized in my name
- that ye may receive a remission of your sins
- Be filled with the Holy Ghost
- that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel
Both of these conditional statements support the concepts presented earlier. First, baptism by water and by fire are necessary for the remission of sins. Second, we must be sanctified by the Holy Ghost to be numbered with the church or God's chosen house of Israel.
All the warnings found in the scriptures pertaining to the Gentiles are also for our ears and hearts. The Book of Mormon was given to us containing the fulness of the gospel. We must heed these warnings if we are to be numbered with the people of God. We must also remember that we are repeatedly encouraged to be 'numbered with the house of Israel.'