The word is used in Nephi’s writings to include literal descendants of Israel — particularly the Northern Tribes — once they have intermarried and lost their identities, thereby becoming gentiles. However, as they convert and remake restored covenants with the Lord through baptism, the same people who were gentiles at one point become “Israel” at another, after their conversion.1 The church restored through Joseph Smith is referred to throughout the Book of Mormon as the gentiles. Joseph knew this, and the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer, which came to him as a revelation, explained how the church was regarded by the Lord (see T&C 123:18).2 All the prophecies of the Book of Mormon upon the gentiles are references to what the latter-day gentile church will accomplish (or fail to accomplish).3 Christ’s prophecy (see 3 Nephi 7:5) does not anticipate gentile success. The gentiles will reject the fullness offered to them. At that day when the gentiles shall sin against my gospel does not raise the possibility of if, but only when. According to Christ, the gentiles shall reject the fullness of my gospel. Taking these words at their plain meaning, it leaves no room for gentiles to obtain and perpetuate the fullness of the priesthood. They will, instead, reject it when it is offered them. But despite having rejected it, gentiles are allowed to repent and join the remnant of the Book of Mormon people and be saved.4
Therefore, woe be unto the gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God (1 Nephi 3:26). Notice that the relationship is between the Lamb of God and the gentiles. It is not between the gentiles and leaders or prophets or administrators or general authorities or even messengers. It is between the gentiles and the Lamb of God. It’s no wonder that after making great promises to the gentiles, if they will but repent, the angel cries out, Woe be unto the gentiles! They won’t receive : 1) the Gospel, nor 2) the testimony of Jesus, nor 3) the prophets sent to warn them or the message given to them, nor 4) the everlasting covenant offered to them.5 The church restored through Joseph may be referred to as “latter-day Israel” or similar terms, but the Book of Mormon vocabulary applies the term “gentiles” to all members of the latter-day churches.6 The Book of Mormon prophecies still do not refer to the latter-day gentiles as anything other than “gentiles,” even when they are numbered among the seed of Lehi. In prophecy, their identification remains “gentiles,” even though they are adopted as Lehi’s seed. Hence Joseph Smith’s reference in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer to the Latter-day Saints as “gentiles” by identity (see T&C 123:18). Whenever a gentile manages to acquire this adoption, they do not become identified as the “remnant” as a result. Instead, they become heirs to share in the promised blessings, but they do so as “gentiles.” They will get to assist the “remnant,” but they do so as “gentiles,” not as the “remnant.” Still, those who are adopted as Lehi’s seed do inherit, with the “remnant,” the Lord’s promises. But they are nevertheless called “gentiles” throughout prophecy.7
Some of the prophecies outlined for the gentiles in our day include : The Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the gentiles…unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of Heaven unto Abraham (1 Nephi 7:3). And blessed are the gentiles…if it so be that they shall repent, and fight not against Zion, and do not unite themselves to that great and abominable church, they shall be saved (2 Nephi 5:5). And the gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and the miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor (2 Nephi 11:15). Woe be unto the gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts, for notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me. Nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me (2 Nephi 12:7). As many of the gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord (2 Nephi 12:11). In the latter day shall the truth come unto the gentiles, that the fullness of these things shall be made known unto them (3 Nephi 7:4). And, thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you : At that day when the gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fullness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations, and if they shall do all these things, and shall reject the fullness of my gospel, Behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fullness of my gospel from among them (3 Nephi 7:5). This is to be done after the gentiles — the European Latter-day Saints who descend from the bloodlines that overran and dispossessed the native people in North America — have rejected the fullness of the Gospel.8But if the gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold, they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel (3 Nephi 7:5). Therefore, when these works and the works which shall be wrought among you hereafter shall come forth from the gentiles unto your seed which shall dwindle in unbelief because of iniquity — for thus it behooveth the Father that it should come forth from the gentiles [not the “book” which was brought forth in 1830, but the “works” of preaching the gospel of Christ; someone must preach repentance, declare Christ’s doctrine, and baptize by the authority of Christ, allowing the remnant of the Nephites to be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost],9that he may shew forth his power unto the gentiles for this cause, that the gentiles, if they will not harden their hearts, that they may repent, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and know of the true points of my doctrine, that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel — and when these things come to pass, that thy seed shall begin to know these things, it shall be a sign unto them that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel (3 Nephi 9:11). All of Israel should recognize this witness. But it does require them to recognize or accept this sign. To be fulfilled, God need only give the sign.10But if they [the gentiles] will repent, and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance. And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city which shall be called the New Jerusalem. And then shall they assist my people, that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem (3 Nephi 10:1).
1 Nephi’s Isaiah, 74n121.
2 Passing the Heavenly Gift, 331.
3 Passing the Heavenly Gift, 95n110.
4 Passing the Heavenly Gift, 332.
5 “1 Nephi 14:6,” July 7, 2010, blog post.
6 “1 Nephi 13:33–34,” June 30, 2010, blog post.
7 “1 Nephi 14:1–2,” July 5, 2010, blog post.
8 “3 Nephi 16:11,” June 24, 2010, blog post.
9 Preserving the Restoration, 146.
10 Preserving the Restoration, 147.