Gentiles in the Book of Mormon

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Abstract: The word Gentiles appears 141 times in the Book of Mormon (the singular Gentile appears only five times.) It appears more frequently than key words such as baptize, resurrection, Zion, and truth. The word Gentiles does not appear with equal frequency throughout the Book of Mormon; in fact, it appears in only five of its fifteen books: 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, 3 Nephi, Mormon, and Ether. Additionally, Book of Mormon speakers did not say Gentiles evenly. Some speakers said the word much less often than we might expect while others used it much more. Nephi1 used Gentiles the most (43 times), and Christ Himself used it 38 times. In addition to analyzing which speakers used the word, this study shows distinctive ways in which Book of Mormon speakers used this word.

 

 

Students of the Book of Mormon can look at the text differently as they understand the context, purpose, and word choice of individual speakers. Stylometry is analysis of various literary styles that combines literary theory with statistics to understand the structure of a text. One application of stylometry which has received attention in Book of Mormon scholarship is often referred to as “wordprints.” These studies attempt to show that just as everyone has a distinct fingerprint, each author tends to have a distinct voice and style. Contrasted with a subjective recognition that various authors have a similar theme or tone in their writing, stylometry uses quantifiable metrics and statistical techniques to inform the analysis.1

[Page 268]The initial studies on wordprints in the Book of Mormon looked at samples of 1,000 to 5,000 words and examined “the use of the small, function words, i.e., the, and, but, of, etc” in an effort to “recognize that different authors did indeed write the various strands within the Book of Mormon.”2 Additional studies used a statistical methodology called “nearest shrunken centroid” classification to conclude that “the Book of Mormon displays multiple writing styles throughout the text consistent with the book’s claim of multiple authors and that the evidence does not show the writing styles of alleged nineteenth-century authors to be similar to those in the Book of Mormon.”3 A study by Roger Keller took this work in a different direction by analyzing words which were more theologically, culturally, or historically significant (such as laws, commandments, church, Israel, etc).4 Keller attempted to determine if there were differences in how these words were being used by different speakers in the text.

Building on the work of these scholars, recent studies have continued to examine patterns of speech used by various speakers in the Book of Mormon. These studies have analyzed how a particular word was understood and used in context, how that understanding compared with other authors in the Book of Mormon, and what can be learned when a speaker’s use of a word in the Book of Mormon is juxtaposed with its use in the Bible. For example, an analysis of the use of the word baptize in the Book of Mormon showed that it appeared differently in each book, and within the Book of Mormon, speakers did not evenly say baptize ; rather, different individuals focused on different aspects of the word.5 Significantly, this same study showed that Christ Himself focused on baptism more than any other individual and that he did so in a way that encouraged a personal relationship with Him. A similar study focused on the word resurrection and showed that later Book of Mormon prophets were aware of how earlier prophets used the term. This finding challenges the idea that the Book of Mormon is the product of Joseph Smith or a derivative of the Bible by demonstrating that [Page 269]the individuals in the Book of Mormon had different ways of discussing resurrection.6 The Book of Mormon’s use of the word Gentiles similarly shows evidence of multiple authors.

The plural word Gentiles appears 141 times in the Book of Mormon (the singular Gentile appears only five times.)7 It appears more frequently than key words such as baptize, resurrection, Zion, and truth. This suggests that Book of Mormon authors considered discussions concerning Gentiles to be worth precious space in their records. Yet, some modern- day readers might pass over the word Gentiles in the Book of Mormon without deeply considering why Book of Mormon speakers discussed Gentiles or how various speakers discussed them differently.

Sidney Sperry wrote, “The Latter-day Saints who bring forth the Book of Mormon, thus assisting the Lord to do his marvelous work ‘among the Gentiles,’ are ‘Gentiles’ in the political sense. … So Moroni, the Savior, and some other writers speak of us as ‘Gentiles’ in the political sense, and this fact must be kept in mind by readers of the Nephite record. (See, e.g., 1 Nephi 13:39; 15:13; Mormon 5:15; 3 Nephi 16:4, 6; 21:5).”8

The term Gentile can be confusing. Two biblical scholars illuminated this confusion when they wrote, “the term ‘Gentiles’ is a Jewish (and, from the first century ce, also a Christian) term applied collectively to all non-Jews (and, by Christians, to non-Christian non-Jews), and Gentiles themselves applied other divisions … based on class (free man vs. slaves and rulers vs. subjects), gender (males and females) or ethnicity (Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Jews, and so on).”9 Because of the various nuances described, it can be difficult to find an exact, uniform definition for the word Gentiles.

Paul Y. Hoskisson provided some clarity when he explained, “The word Gentile has several meanings that can be traced back etymologically to one original concept, the idea of a people or tribe. The English word Gentile comes from a Latin word that means ‘tribe, clan, family, people, etc.'” This means that Gentiles, in general terms, simply [Page 270]implies a segregation between various people; it gives the idea of them and us. He continued: “In this sense Gentile is a good translation of the Hebrew word goy/goyim in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek word ethnos/ethne in the Greek New Testament, both of which also mean ‘people.'”10 Thus, when the term Gentiles is used in a biblical context, it most often refers to non-Jewish nations.

Monte S. Nyman described how the Book of Mormon uses similar language when he wrote, “The Gentiles, as the term is used in the Book of Mormon, are all those who are not Jews, including those who may be of the blood of Israel but have lost their identity and been assimilated into non-Jewish nations.”11 Specifically, the authors in the Book of Mormon tended to employ Gentiles when referring to anyone who is not from their tribe, or anyone who is not a Jew.

Occurrences of Gentiles in the Book of Mormon

The word Gentiles does not appear with equal frequency throughout the Book of Mormon; in fact, Gentiles appears in only five of its fifteen books: 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, 3 Nephi, Mormon, and Ether (Chart 1).12 The word does not appear at all in the middle sections of the book.

Occurrences of Gentiles may be related to Heather Hardy’s observation that there is inconsistency throughout the Book of Mormon regarding personal salvation and salvation history. Early Nephite prophets, including Nephi1, Jacob, and Isaiah, whom Nephi1 and Jacob frequently quoted, focused on the salvation of groups of people, including both the house of Israel and the Gentiles. On the [Page 271]other hand, many later prophets such as King Benjamin, Alma2, and Nephi2 focused much more on personal salvation.

Chart 1. Occurrences of Gentiles throughout the Book of Mormon.

Hardy wrote, “Although a serious concern with the corporate salvation of the house of Israel [and the Gentiles] is lost from the bulk of the Nephite record after the demise of the first generation that migrated from Jerusalem, it is restored to prominence in the prophecies of the resurrected Jesus as recorded in 3 Nephi 16:4–20 and 20:10–26:5. Salvation history is never thereafter far from the Nephite record keepers’ minds as they recognize (and direct) their own writings as a vehicle of both salvation and judgment to the Jews, Gentiles, and Lehites of latter days.”13

Hardy’s statement suggests that early writers in the Book of Mormon were highly focused on the salvation of groups, including the Gentiles, but this focus was lost over time. Perhaps as Nephite civilization became more distanced from its roots in Jerusalem, the minds of the people and prophets also became more distant from some of the concerns of their ancestors, including the salvation of the Gentiles. These later prophets tended to focus on individual duty and individual standing with deity [Page 272]until Christ’s visitation, at which point Christ reminded the people of their heritage and spoke frequently of the Jews and Gentiles.

Similarly, Joseph Spencer has pointed out that phrases relating to the gathering and scattering of Israel (which often occur in conjunction with Gentiles ) are focal points for Nephi1 and Jacob, but these ideas are not developed again until Christ’s visit to the Lehites. The patterns in how the word Gentiles is utilized could bolster his thesis that Christ’s words to the Lehites were intended (at least in part) to shift the understanding and focus of scripture back to that which had been originally taught by Nephi.14

These statements from previous research suggest that there may be interesting patterns to be found concerning the usage of Gentiles in the Book of Mormon. The general patterns of how Gentiles appears in the Book of Mormon depict a dynamic culture in which ideas were lost, changed, and rekindled. We can see that the foci of Nephite prophesying is not static but changing.

Who Uses the Word Gentiles in the Book of Mormon?

Not only is the word Gentiles unevenly distributed throughout the books of the Book of Mormon, the various speakers in the text also use it unevenly. These individual patterns support the claim that the Book of Mormon was written by many different ancient prophets with unique styles of speech. In addition, they may help the reader to better comprehend the principles taught concerning the Gentiles in the Book of Mormon.

In order to determine which speakers used the word Gentiles, we used “The Voices of the Book of Mormon” database. This database parses the text of the Book of Mormon by the person to whom the text is attributed.15 Table 1 shows the frequency in which speakers in the Book of Mormon employed this word.

[Page 273]Table 1. The speakers who say Gentiles and their frequency of use.16 This information is displayed visually in Chart 2.

Individual Times used per 1,000 words Times used Percentage
of total uses of Gentiles
Percentage of total words
Angel in Nephi1‘s Vision
(1 Nephi 11-14)
9.12 18 12.8% 0.7%
The Father 4.66 7 5.0% 0.6%
Jesus Christ 2.61 37 26.2% 5.3%
Nephi1 1.49 42 29.8% 10.5%
The Lord 0.76 9 6.4% 4.4%
Moroni2 0.41 8 5.7% 7.3%
Jacob 0.24 2 1.4% 3.2%
Isaiah 0.12 1 0.7% 3.1%
Mormon 0.16 16 11.3% 36.4%

From Table 1 and Chart 2 (next page), we can see that Book of Mormon speakers did not say Gentiles evenly. Some speakers said the word much less often than others. The angel that taught Nephi1 in 1 Nephi 11-14 used Gentiles much more frequently than we would expect given the relatively few words he spoke; moreover, his use of Gentiles was not evenly [Page 274]distributed. He did not use the word at all in 1 Nephi 11-12 (the first half of his discussion with Nephi1), and he used it only four times in chapter 14. His heavy use of Gentiles can be seen as he prophesied in 1 Nephi 13 about latter-day events on the American continent. Nephi1, a major author, also said Gentiles more than we might expect. He frequently used Gentiles in his interchange with the angel; nearly one-fourth of all occurrences of Gentiles in the Book of Mormon appear in 1 Nephi 13.

Chart 2. Individuals’ use of Gentiles in the Book of Mormon.

Also, as discussed above, between 2 Nephi and 3 Nephi, Gentiles does not appear. That means major speakers, including Lehi1, King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma2, Amulek, Helaman1, and Samuel the Lamanite, never said Gentiles. These individuals all addressed people living in their time and were likely less concerned about modern-day interactions between Gentiles and the house of Israel. They were more concerned with individual relationships with deity and less concerned with salvation history, and they may have been less connected with their Jewish heritage.

Another aspect of Book of Mormon speakers’ use of Gentiles is whether they said the word Gentiles in directly speaking to them or whether they simply talked about them. Nephi1, who used Gentiles more frequently than any other speaker, never directly addressed the Gentiles.17 Rather than talking to them, he talked about them, as demonstrated in this passage:

[Page 275]And now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.

For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord…And now, I would prophesy somewhat more concerning the Jews and the Gentiles. For after the book of which I have spoken shall come forth, and be written unto the Gentiles, and sealed up again unto the Lord, there shall be many which shall believe the words which are written; and they shall carry them forth unto the remnant of our seed. (2 Nephi 30:1–3; emphasis added)

Thus, Nephi1‘s audience was his “beloved brethren,” not the Gentiles, and his focus on the Gentiles was largely tied to their role in interacting with his posterity in the latter days.18

In contrast, Mormon and Moroni spoke directly to the Gentiles themselves. They are the only Book of Mormon prophets who directly addressed their audience with the term Gentiles. Mormon said, “Hearken, O ye Gentiles” (3 Nephi 30:1), “Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles” (Mormon 3:17), and “O ye Gentiles” (Mormon 5:22). Moroni2 stated, “And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles” (Ether 2:11) and “Wherefore, O ye Gentiles” (Ether 8:23). These consistent, direct references may indicate that Mormon and Moroni were aware their record would reach the Gentiles in the latter days, and they desired to convey messages directly to their future Gentile readers. This suggests a different understanding of the ultimate destiny of the record they were making as compared to the understanding Nephi and other prophets had. Mormon and Moroni had the benefit of hindsight to be able to understand the promises of the Lord and have a better idea of those whom their record would reach.

Jesus Christ also addressed the Gentiles directly. He made statements such as, “Turn all ye Gentiles” (3 Nephi 30:2) and “Come unto me, O ye Gentiles” (Ether 4:13).19 Christ also frequently quoted his Father, and their intertwining voices spoke similarly about the Gentiles. Both [Page 276]specifically directly addressed the house of Israel, but while doing so focused on the Gentiles. For example, we read, “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” (3 Nephi 16:7), and “it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth from them unto a remnant of your seed, that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel” (3 Nephi 21:4).20

Jesus Christ and his Father are the only speakers in the Book of Mormon who spoke of the Gentiles in connection with the phrase O house of Israel. As Spencer suggested, it seems Christ was bringing back to Lehite remembrance the important relationship between the house of Israel and the Gentiles. Perhaps the phrase O house of Israel was meant to show the Lehites that prophecies concerning the Gentiles are interwoven with the promises to the house of Israel. It may also be that the phrase O house of Israel showed the affection the Father and Christ feel toward these individuals. In the following sections we will further discuss how Christ prophesied extensively concerning the role of the Gentiles in the latter-day restoration of the gospel and the physical and spiritual gathering of the house of Israel.

There are eighteen total references to the “power” or “Spirit” of God21 being given to, or affecting the Gentiles in the Book of Mormon. Table 2 illustrates how these terms were used and who utilized them.

Table 2. The Power and Spirit of God and the Gentiles.

Individual Development of
Promised Land
Restoration In Warning
Jesus Christ 1 4 0
Nephi 6 2 1
Angel 2 0 0
Mormon 0 0 1
Moroni 0 1 0

 

[Page 277]Nephi1 and Christ tended to use these terms differently. Nephi predominantly spoke of how the Spirit and power of God would come upon the Gentiles to bring them to the Promised Land. In contrast, Christ primarily spoke of how the Lord would show forth his power to the Gentiles by bringing forth the fullness of the gospel, including the Book of Mormon, through them.22 This difference may indicate the varying levels of understanding these two speakers had in regards to the Gentiles and their future in the gospel. Nephi understood the significance of the Promised Land, but Jesus Christ focused more on the importance of the fullness of the gospel, indicating greater priorities and understanding.

Most of Nephi’s references to the power and spirit of God came from his vision in 1 Nephi 13-15, in which he saw the power and Spirit of God come upon the latter-day Gentiles. Nephi1, in three consecutive verses, spoke of the “Spirit of God” or “the Lamb” in conjunction with the Gentiles, indicating that their coming unto the Promised Land was guided by God’s hand. In the following verses, Nephi stated that he “beheld that the power of God was with them [the Gentiles], and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle. And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations” (1 Nephi 13:18–19; emphasis added).23

Christ’s use focused on the latter-day restoration of the gospel through the Gentiles.24 This is consistent with both when Christ was quoted as speaking in 1 Nephi 13 as well as when he personally visited the Lehites in 3 Nephi 21. For example, Christ was quoted as saying he “will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious” (1 Nephi 13:34; emphasis added). Similarly, in 3 Nephi 21:6 he stated, “it behooveth the Father that it [the Book of Mormon] should come forth from the Gentiles, that he may show forth his power unto the Gentiles” (3 Nephi 21:6; emphasis added). This consistency implies that the restoration of the gospel through the Gentiles was an important principle that Christ intended the Nephites [Page 278]to understand, especially considering the effect of this restoration upon the latter-day remnant of that people.

References to the Gentiles as recipients of God’s power do not occur elsewhere in scripture. This may be because the prophesied coming forth of the Book of Mormon would be through the latter-day Gentiles. Perhaps because the Gentiles would be instrumental in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, the Book of Mormon more clearly teaches how God would guide and empower them. Thus both the Nephites and Gentiles would understand the Lord’s plan for the restoration of the teachings of the Book of Mormon.

In addition to references to the power and spirit of God coming upon the Gentiles, the Lord regularly discussed his direct interaction and influence on the Gentiles throughout the Book of Mormon.25 References to the Gentiles as recipients of God’s personal influence or interaction have a clearer focus in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible, with the exception of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 49:22 which is quoted three times in the Book of Mormon.26 For example, Ezekiel focused on how the Lord would show the “heathen” that he is God,27 while Micah and Haggai prophesied their destruction.28 However, although the majority of biblical references carry this same tone, Isaiah described how Israel would be a “light to the Gentiles”29 and likewise envisioned a time when the Gentiles would hear the gospel and “join themselves to the lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord.”30 The Book of Mormon takes this seemingly obscure idea from Isaiah and magnifies it.

A key Book of Mormon emphasis is the Lord’s mercy toward the Gentiles and his interaction with them as an instrument in his hands. For example, he said, “Wo 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 28:32) and “I will afflict thy seed by the hand of the Gentiles; [Page 279]nevertheless, I will soften the hearts of the Gentiles, that they shall be like unto a father to them” (2 Nephi 10:18).

Conditional Phrases Concerning Gentiles

Gentiles also appears in the Book of Mormon in connection with conditional phrases such as “if … then” For example, the Lord said, “nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them [the Gentiles], saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me” (2 Nephi 28:32; emphasis added). Such phrases involving the Gentiles appear twenty times in the standard works; eighteen of these references are in the Book of Mormon.31 Only four individuals (Christ, the Father, Mormon and Moroni), used a conditional phrase (blessing or warning) specifically in reference to the Gentiles.32

A general pattern of divine beings giving Gentiles conditional blessing appears throughout the Book of Mormon.33 In contrast there is only one occasion in which a mortal offers a conditional promise to the Gentiles.34 Within the words of divine beings as they speak of the Gentiles, there is a common theme discussed. The Angel who speaks to Nephi, the Father, and Jesus Christ all stated that if the Gentiles repented they would be numbered among the house of Israel. Note the parallels in these three passages:

  • “[I]f the Gentiles shall hearken … [a]nd harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God … they shall be numbered among the house of Israel” (1 Nephi 14:1-2).
  • “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 16:13).
  • “[F]or this cause that the Gentiles, if they will not harden their hearts, that they may repent and come unto me … that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel” (3 Nephi 21:6).35

[Page 280]Although no mortal ever spoke of the Gentiles becoming numbered among the house of Israel, it is a significant point of common emphasis for some of the heavenly beings who spoke in the Book of Mormon. We cannot determine with certainty why this is the case, but there are a number of possibilities. Perhaps God and Christ have a more comprehensive vision of the Gentiles and wish to bring them into the select group of the house of Israel, whereas mortals are less likely to consider the importance of the Gentiles. On the other hand, mortals such as Nephi and Jacob may have felt it was only the prerogative of deity to determine who could be included in the house of Israel. In any event, it seems that heavenly beings have a unique vision of the destiny of the Gentiles and have care and concern for their welfare.

There is also a consistent pattern of conditional warnings unto the Gentiles from Jesus Christ, the Father, and Mormon. Each warned that if the Gentiles remain in wickedness after the blessings they have received, they would be trodden down by the remnant of Israel; no other speakers provided this warning.36 This pattern of conditional warnings began with the voice of the Father, who warned, “ if they [the Gentiles] will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down ” (3 Nephi 16:15; emphasis added).

Christ expanded on this teaching stating, “ if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive, after they have scattered my people— Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; … as a lion among the beasts of the forest … who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. … And it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that the sword of my justice shall hang over them at that day; and except they repent it shall fall upon them, saith the Father, yea, even upon all the nations of the Gentiles” (3 Nephi 20:15-16, 20; emphasis added).

Both these passages (along with the similar later warnings in 3 Nephi 21:12, 14 and Mormon 5:22-24), resemble Micah 5:8. Interestingly, the three speakers whose words connect to Micah’s all emphasized the conditional nature of the warning much more than Micah himself. Moreover, the manner in which the Father and Christ’s [Page 281]warnings intertwine is striking. Likewise, Mormon’s mimicking of their phraseology is not surprising, and it creates a more coherent narrative.

Moroni gave two conditional warnings, but they were different in nature and focus from those provided by the Father, Christ, or Mormon. He warned the Gentiles against upholding secret combinations in the last day that shall lead to their destruction (see Ether 8:23). He also warned (almost in passing) that if the Gentiles fail to have charity, God would take away that which they had received (see Ether 12:35).

The Fullness of the Gospel and the Gentiles

Throughout the Book of Mormon references to Gentiles, there is a common theme of the gospel going from the Gentiles to the house of Israel, specifically to the remnant of Lehi’s descendants. The restoration of the gospel to the Lehite remnant seems to be especially important to those who referred to the Gentiles, though they each approached it differently. Nephi saw in vision the destruction of his people and the apostate remnant of his father’s seed in the latter days and focused on how the Gentiles would help to graft this remnant back into the house of Israel. Christ commanded that his teachings be written to the Gentiles and prophesied concerning when they would go forth. Mormon and Moroni both frequently referenced the commandment and prophecy given by Christ and wrote accordingly.

2 Nephi

Nephi was the first to refer to the Gentiles in the Book of Mormon. Immediately he noted his father’s prophecy that the Gentiles would receive the fullness of the gospel and that this would bring about the “grafting in” of the house of Israel back to the knowledge of their Redeemer.37 As recorded in 1 Nephi 13, he witnessed the reception of the latter-day Bible, or the book which proceeded forth out of the mouth of the Jew, as shown by the angel and confirmed by the voice of Christ.38 The Bible would play an important role along with the words of the Nephites in bringing to pass this “grafting” through the Gentiles.

Nephi’s brethren did not understand the teachings of Lehi to which Nephi referred. Nephi explained to them that through the Gentiles the remnant of their seed and the lost Jews would again be “grafted” back into [Page 282]the natural tree.39 This process would be through the fullness of the gospel which would come forth from the Gentiles unto the remnant of the Lehites.

Finally, Nephi explained the Lord’s teachings that the Gentiles would bring the children of the house of Israel forth in their arms. Nephi taught that this process would be both temporal and spiritual in nature in that the Gentile nation would physically aid their seed, but they would also make known the covenants of the Father.40 Twice this prophecy is quoted, once by Nephi and once by Jacob,41 which are the only times the voice of Lord was heard prophesying the restoration, temporal or spiritual, of the Jews through the Gentiles. Thus, Nephi emphasized how the Gentiles would use the gospel to help gather the remnant of the House of Israel.

Christ

On two occasions, Christ commanded that his words be written in order to go forth to the Gentiles.42 These commandments act as bookends around his teachings and prophecies concerning the restoration of the gospel through the Gentiles and their interaction with the house of Israel. In 3 Nephi 16:4 Christ said: “And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone… that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed [the Lamanites], who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer.” After his teachings he reiterated this commandment and prophecy in 3 Nephi 23:4: “Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.”

Christ immediately began teaching with the words of the Father, explaining that the gospel would go forth to the Gentiles because of Israel’s unbelief. He also said it would go forth again to the House of Israel after the Gentile’s rejection of His words.43 Christ explained that the reception of the gospel by the Gentiles would be a sign of the beginning of the gathering of Israel, and thereafter the restored covenants of the [Page 283]Father would go forth again to the remnant of the House of Israel.44 In this way he explained that it would be a sign of the times and a sign to Israel. In this brief sermon to the people at Bountiful, Christ clarified the timing and purpose of the gospel going forth to the Gentiles and expressly commanded that those words be written to go forth to them.

Mormon and Moroni

Mormon, aware his record would come to the Gentiles, explained that he wrote his words “to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken” (3 Nephi 26:8). After stating this purpose he returned to it repeatedly.45 His words reflected his understanding that his work would reach the Gentiles, and through them, his people in the latter days would also receive the record. Mormon explained that this promise was according to the words of Christ. Moroni also referenced this promise, saying it was obtained by many Nephite prophets through faith.46 Moroni included this promise in the title page of the Book of Mormon, stating that the record was written unto the remnant of the Lamanites and also the Jew and Gentile but intended to “come forth in due time by way of the Gentile,” that all “may know the covenants of the Lord.”

Understanding how these speakers prophesied of the restoration of the gospel to the remnant of the house of Israel through the Gentiles helps readers of the Book of Mormon to better comprehend the intent of the words therein. Furthermore, it helps to emphasize the importance of the going forth of the Book of Mormon to the scattered remnants of the house of Israel.

Intertextuality and the Gentiles

There are a few examples of intertextuality between some of the speakers who used Gentiles. Intertextuality is an author’s drawing on the words of a previous author. Both Christ and Nephi stated that after Lehi’s seed dwindled in unbelief, a record of their ancestors would come forth to the Lehites through the Gentiles (see Table 3, next page).

Nephi described the role of the Gentiles in the gathering of Israel saying that “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 … then [Page 284]shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed ” (1 Nephi 15:13, emphasis added). Christ used similar language to describe the latter-day spreading of the gospel. He stated, “through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer … in the latter day” (3 Nephi 16:4, 7, emphasis added). In connection with this teaching, Christ discussed what would happen if the Gentiles reject the “ fulness of [his] gospel ” (3 Nephi 16:10, 12, emphasis added).

Table 3. Intertextuality between Christ and Nephi
(emphasis added).

1 Nephi 15:13, 17 3 Nephi 21:5-6
“[I]n 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 it [the fulness of the gospel] shall come by way of the Gentiles, that the Lord may show his power unto the Gentiles …” “[W]hen 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 [the Book of Mormon] should come forth from the Gentiles, that he may show forth his power unto the Gentiles …”

Another example of intertextuality is seen within the words of Jesus Christ (speaking through the angel who spoke to Nephi) and Moroni, writing on the title page. Christ said, “I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb ” (1 Nephi 13:35; emphasis added). Similarly, speaking of the same record approximately 1,000 years later, Moroni wrote that it was “ hid up unto the Lord To come forth by the gift and power of God” (Title Page of the Book of Mormon; emphasis added).

[Page 285]Conclusion

The word Gentiles appears throughout the Book of Mormon; however, it is distributed unevenly, and some individuals employed this word much more frequently than others. Not only do specific individuals utilize Gentiles much more frequently than others, different individuals were prone to speak about the Gentiles in unique ways. Nephi and Christ were the two main speakers who discussed God’s power moving upon the Gentiles, a phenomenon unique to the Book of Mormon. Also, Christ and Nephi consistently talked about the power of God being upon the Gentiles in their own distinct ways.

Sometimes we look at the Book of Mormon as a completely cohesive text in which all the various speakers stand in agreement about every issue. We might see the general messages as being equally conveyed by each prophet, rather than each individual focusing and different topics. Reviewing the use of Gentiles throughout the Book of Mormon paints a different picture. Some speakers addressed the Gentiles directly, but others did not mention Gentiles at all. This variance in speaking patterns regarding the Gentiles seems evidence of various voices over a period of hundreds of years creating what we now have as the Book of Mormon. Each had concerns unique to the times in which he lived, yet Mormon was able to draw out spiritual themes from all the individual writings.

Although many speakers, including Nephi, never spoke directly to the Gentiles, other speakers did. Speakers like Mormon and Moroni seem to have understood that the Gentiles would receive their words, and they made an effort to address them specifically. Similarly, God and Jesus Christ spoke directly to the Gentiles because of their divine knowledge that the record would go to the Gentiles in the latter days. However, other speakers were more immediately concerned with the people and problems of their day, and they may not have even understood that the Gentiles would ever receive their words.

These variations support the claim that the Book of Mormon is a collection of the words of various individuals throughout Nephite history. Such patterns are not the texture of fiction and provide greater evidence of the divinity of the Book of Mormon and support its claim to authorship by generations of prophet-historians.

Students of the Book of Mormon can look at the text differently by understanding where individual speakers are coming from when they teach. Modern-day readers can also consider their own roles in the salvation of the house of Israel as a whole. They can consider how in every place and time, the gospel may be taught in such a way as to [Page 286]best fit the needs of those present, yet regardless of the time or location, Jesus Christ and the Father are aware of the bigger picture, and they are focused on the benefit all people can gain by having and living the gospel. Although individual teachings and interests may vary throughout the Book of Mormon, the Father and Jesus Christ’s remain constant.

We hope the patterns of the usage of Gentiles discussed herein will help the reader to have a greater understanding of Gentiles in the Book of Mormon, the related doctrines, and the individual styles of its usage by the various speaker. We also hope this work will inspire further study of Gentiles in the Book of Mormon, since it can have great personal meaning in the times in which we live.

 

1. Wayne A. Larsen, Alvin C. Rencher, and Tim Layton, “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” BYU Studies 20, no. 3 (1980): 225-51; John L. Hilton, “On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship,” in BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (Summer 1990), 89-108.
2. Roger R. Keller, Book of Mormon Authors: Their Words and Messages (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), xii.
3. Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and G. Bruce Schaalje, “Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon: A Short History,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 21, no. 1 (2012): 43.
4. Keller, Book of Mormon Authors: Their Words and Messages, xi–xiii.
5. John Hilton III and Jana Johnson. “The Word Baptize in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter 29 (2018), 65-80.
6. John Hilton III and Jana Johnson, “Who Uses the Word Resurrection in the Book of Mormon and How Is It Used?” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 2 (2012), 30-39.
7. Three times in the title page, and in 2 Nephi 10:16, and 2 Nephi 26:33. These usages are excluded from this discussion, which only focuses on the plural Gentiles.
8. Sidney Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 24.
9. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Erndmans, 2010), 668.
10. Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), s.v. “Gentile(s);” In this paper when we examined the word Gentiles in connection with the Bible, we also looked at the English words heathen and nation. In the KJV New Testament, ethnos is translated as Gentiles (93), nation (64), heathen (5), and people (2). Goy(im) is found over 550 times in the KJV Old Testament and in only 30 of these instances (about 5% of the time) was it translated as Gentiles. Instead it was translated as nation (374), heathen (143), and people (11).
11. Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), s.v. “Gentiles, Book of Mormon message concerning.”
12. The Book of Mormon translation may not have proceeded in the same order that the Book of Mormon is found today. Some propose that translation with Oliver Cowdery as scribe may have begun in Mosiah 1 and proceeded to Moroni and then through 1 Nephi up to Words of Mormon. See John W. Welch, “How Long Did it Take to Translate the Book of Mormon?” Ensign (January 1988): 46-47. The lack of any reference to Gentiles in a great portion of the Book of Mormon remains significant.
13. Heather Hardy, “The Double Nature of God’s Saving Work: The Plan of Salvation and Salvation History,” in The Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision (2011 Sperry Symposium), eds. Daniel L. Belnap, Gaye Strathearn, and Stanley A. Johnson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 21.
14. This is not to say that a personal approach to the scriptures was or is not important but rather that Nephi’s focus was that ancient covenants made to Israel needed (then and now) more emphasis.
15. In order to identify correctly who is speaking in any given passage, John Hilton III, Shon Hopkin, Jennifer Platt Wright, and Jana Johnson each independently analyzed the Book of Mormon to identify the different speakers. They then reviewed their individual findings and examined passages in which they disagreed on who was speaking. After creating an integrated version of the Book of Mormon parsed out by the person speaking, they compared their work to those of other scholars who had made similar efforts, and in some cases made adjustments to their original speaker designations (See Rencher’s speaker divisions, which were the basis of Wayne A. Larsen, Alvin C. Rencher, and Tim Layton, “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” BYU Studies 20, no. 3 [1980]: 225-51; see also placement of quotation marks in Grant Hardy, The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition [Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2003]; For Isaiah passages we consulted John D. W. Watts, Word Biblical Commentary 24: Isaiah 1-33 [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985] and Word Biblical Commentary 25: Isaiah 34-66 [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987].) The resulting text was incorporated into WordCruncher. The database is available to researchers via http://wordcruncher.byu.edu. This database is admittedly limited in that it assumes that editors such as Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni accurately recounted the words spoken by specific individuals (rather than paraphrasing), and it assumes a literal translation of the Book of Mormon. This database was also used in John Hilton III and Jana Johnson, “Who Uses the Word Resurrection in the Book of Mormon and How Is It Used?” The Journal of Book of Mormon and Restoration Scriptures, 21, no. 2 (2012): 30-39 and Shon Hopkins and John Hilton III, “Samuel’s Reliance on Biblical Language,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 23, no. 1 (2015): 31-52.
16. In addition to those in Table 1, Nephi1‘s brethren used the word once (1 Nephi 15:7).
17. Nephi1 quoted the Lord directly addressing the Gentiles, although he himself never did so (see 2 Nephi 29:5).
18. Some of this use appears to be based on his conversation with the angel in 1 Nephi 13.
19. The Lord also explicitly addressed the Gentiles stating “O ye Gentiles,” in 2 Nephi 29:5.
20. See also 3 Nephi 16:11-15, 3 Nephi 20:20-21, 3 Nephi 20:27.
21. Or the Lamb, the Father or the Holy Ghost.
22. Three other speakers, Mormon, Moroni, and the Angel who spoke to Nephi contributed to these themes as well.
23. See also 1 Nephi 13:12, 15, 16, 30 (the angel spoke to Nephi); 3 Nephi 21:4. Christ restated this prophecy that the Gentiles would be set up by the “power of the Father” in 3 Nephi 21:4.
24. 1 Nephi 13:34, 35, 39; 15:17; 3 Nephi 21:2, 6.
25. 1 Nephi 21:22, 22:6; 2 Nephi 6:6, 10:18, 28:32, 29:5; 3 Nephi 21:14; Ether 4:13, 12:28 are the clearest examples of this.
26. In addition, there are references to the Lord’s power working with individual Gentiles or nations (e.g. Isaiah 45:1).
27. Ezekiel 36:23, 36; 38:16; 39:7, 21.
28. Micah 5:15; Haggai 2:22.
29. Isaiah 49:6; 42:6.
30. Isaiah 56:6-7; 66:23.
31. The closest Biblical references are found in Jeremiah 18:8 in which the Lord stated that He would not let his wrath fall upon a nation which should repent of their evil and in Jeremiah 12:16-17 in which we read the nations can learn to believe in the Lord and swear after His name and become part of the House of Israel.
32. Although Nephi used a conditional phrase with Gentiles, in it he grouped the Gentiles together with others, the Jews and his people, to say they all have no hope except through repentance (2 Nephi 33:9).
33. 3 Nephi 16:4, 10, 13; 20:15, 20; 21:6, 14.
34. 2 Nephi 6:12.
35. 2 Nephi 10:18 and 3 Nephi 30:2 include similar phrases (spoken by God/ Christ) but do not include a conditional promise, and Ether 13:10 utilizes similar phrases, but not to talk about the Gentiles.
36. 1 Nephi 14:6 also contains a warning to the Gentiles against hardening their hearts against the gospel but does not include a reference to the house of Israel going forth among them and tearing them.
37. 1 Nephi 10:11-14.
38. 1 Nephi 13:23, 25, 26, 29, 34, 35, 38, 39, 40.
39. 1 Nephi 15:13, 17.
40. 1 Nephi 22:6-9.
41. 1 Nephi 21:22 (Nephi), 2 Nephi 6:6 (Jacob). There is one other time in 2 Nephi 10:18 in which the lord referred to how the Gentiles will be as a father to the Lehite descendants, but this is more temporal in nature.
42. 3 Nephi 16:4, 3 Nephi 23:4.
43. 3 Nephi 7-12.
44. 3 Nephi 21:2 followed by more clarification of purpose in 3 Nephi 21:5,6,11.
45. Mormon 3:17-20, 5:9-15, 7:8-9.
46. Compare 3 Nephi 26:8 and Ether 12:22.
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About John Hilton III

John Hilton III is an Associate Professor at Brigham Young University and is the author of over 60 peer-reviewed articles. He has a variety of research interests including the Book of Mormon, the processes of learning and teaching religion, and the effect of open educational resources. He has published in several journals including Educational Researcher, Educational Policy Analysis Archives, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Religious Education, and The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. John and his wife Lani have six children; his favorite hobby is learning Chinese.
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About Ryan Sharp

Ryan Sharp is currently a visiting assistant professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. Prior to coming to BYU, Ryan worked for 10 years in the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion program. His passion is in helping others engage deeply in their study of the scriptures. His other research interests include religious pedagogy, positive organizational behavior, and organizational psychology. He and his wife Jessica are the parents of 5 rambunctious, energetic, and wonderful boys.
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About Brad Wilcox

Brad Wilcox is an associate professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, where he teaches Book of Mormon and New Testament classes. His research interests include learning and teaching, literacy, and onomastics (the study of names). He loves being able to combine any of these interests with the Book of Mormon.
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About Jaron Hansen

Jaron Hansen graduated from Brigham Young University in 2015 (BS Biophysics) and currently attends The Ohio State University College of Medicine. When not involved in studies or clinical practice, Jaron enjoys leading his medical school A Capella group “UltraSound” and spending time with his wife and two children.

6 thoughts on “Gentiles in the Book of Mormon

  1. The Book of Mormon generally distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles/non-Jews (2 Nephi 25:15). Gentiles as non-Jews say things like: “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (2 Nephi 29:3,6); the Lord comments: “they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews” (29:4). Converted Gentiles are to be numbered with the covenant people (2 Nephi 30:1-4, Jacob 5). This is a late pre-exilic use of the word.

    The word “gentile” is based originally on usage at Mari and is a West Semitic loan-word in Akkadian gâʼu, gāwu “group” = Hebrew gôy “nation; gentilic unit; military unit” (Joshua 5:6). Abraham is prophesied to become “a great nation” gôy gādôl (Genesis 12:2), and “the father of many nations” hămôn gôyîm (Genesis 17:4,6). Tawil, Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew, 64, citing Speiser, JBL, 79 (1960):157-163; Malamat, JAOS, 82 (1962):143:3.

  2. For a layman such as me, this was a marvelous article, bringing to us yet more internal proofs of the veracity of the Book of Mormon and a much more complete understanding of the meaning of the term, “the gentiles.” I took a number of quotes and included them in my Gospel Library as links. I wish there was room to include the whole article.

    Though, in reality, a testimony of the Book of Mormon can only come from a personal spiritual witness, these internal proofs offer powerful, wonderful support. The more I study the book the more I love the doctrinal richness of the text. Far from being a pastiche of references from the Bible, as claimed by some of my mainline Christian friends, it is a stand-alone revelation from God. How can anyone doubt? Many congratulations to the authors.

  3. I much enjoyed this article for a variety of reasons. While the overall point is to illuminate stylometric differences in the way Book of Mormon speakers express their messages concerning the Gentiles (or fail to even mention them), the article also performs the ancillary function of at least partially clearing up some doctrinal misconceptions. One such common misconception is what the word “Gentiles” actually means. For example, some readers have puzzled over how Joseph Smith could be a choice seer descended from Joseph of old, and still be a Gentile for Book of Mormon classification purposes. The article touches on this point just enough to show the two classifications aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Along those same lines, I would like to see some article devote a few words, even if only in a footnote, to the Book of Mormon meaning of the term “Jew” or “Jews.” LDS readers often confuse this term with the idea of descending from the tribe of Judah (perhaps because of the influence of tribal descent declarations in their patriarchal blessings), and fail to remember that Lehi’s descendants considered themselves Jews, even though they discovered early on that they were from the tribe of Manasseh. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the topic belongs in a broader discussion about the tendency among Bible and Book of Mormon historians to classify people into enormously broad multi-ethnic groups, without regard to the specific ancestral lines from which they sprang.
    Hence, being a Nephite didn’t necessarily mean you descended from Nephi, and even less did being a Lamanite mean you descended from Laman or Lemuel or anyone else in Lehi’s party. It might also explain why Book of Mormon writers didn’t bother to tell us the lineage of Ishmael or Zoram, or of Sherem, a man who particularly sparks our curiosity. We also wish to know who exactly was in Mulek’s party besides those of the tribe of Judah (Phoenicians, perhaps?), and whether the other lost tribes Jesus visited were also in the Americas.

    But the writers of scripture didn’t seem to care as much about these things as we do today. They seem to all agree with John the Baptist’s teaching that God could “of these stones raise up seed unto Abraham,” but descent meant nothing to the Lord in terms of ensuring salvation. They also appear to have agreed with Nephi, who said in 2 Ne. 26:33 that “all are alike unto God.”

  4. I would like to suggest that the Book of Mormon is a more nuanced definition of “gentile” than simply “non-Jew” as suggested. While that works in the Old World context, it is left behind to remain in that context.

    In the New World, there isn’t “non-Jew” as a category, but “non-Nephite.” The term “Lamanite” fulfills that function in the New World. When the focus is on the New World, references in prophecy to “gentiles” refers to non-Jews of the Old World. Thus, the definition is similar, but divided into the two hemispheres and seen in relation to Nephites, not Jews. Both Lamanites and Gentiles are non-Nephites, but when Gentiles is used, it discusses events related to peoples from the Old World. When those people come to the New World, they form a different category of “other.” They are both non-Nephite and non-Lamanite. The continue to be Gentiles even when they are upon the land of promise. However, the continue to be distinct from Lamanites in prophecy.

    This gives us another reason why we see the particular distribution of the word “gentiles” in the various books. We see the term only when there is prophecy dealing with the last days when Old World Gentiles first receive the Bible, and later when they arrive in the New World. During Book of Mormon times, there are no gentiles among the inhabitants of the New World. Peoples of the New World are not Gentiles, they are Lamanites.

  5. Gentiles is another lexical usage that is found exclusively or primarily in the second part of the 1829 dictation but not in the first part. There are syntactic markers as well, such as archaic subordinate that usage, which is quite heavy in Dictation 2 but hardly found in Dictation 1. (The complex change in linguistic character occurs at about 3 Nephi 9.)

    Which brings us to the quote of 1 Nephi 15:13, now missing a subordinate that and with a contraindicated passive verb phrase that wasn’t there originally. It’s currently a more difficult reading than the original dictation language, which is:

    in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief,
    yea, for the space of many years and many generations,
    after that the Messiah hath manifested himself in body unto the children of men,
    then shall the fullness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles,
    and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed.

    [*Chart 1 has a typo; “Instances” would be better than “Usages” in Chart 2.]

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