“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel,” so wrote Paul in his letter to the Romans (Romans 9:6). The question then arises, who is Israel? Just as each person has a physical heritage, each also has a spiritual heritage, so to speak.
The Bible contains many references to this idea. For example, during the Savior’s mortal ministry he encountered a group of scribes and Pharisees while he taught in the temple (John 8). After seeking to entrap him by bringing a woman before him who had committed adultery1, the Pharisees proclaimed their special status as being of “Abraham’s seed”.
Although Christ acknowledged them as being descendants of Abraham, this group of Pharisees did not fully grasp their special status in being of the chosen lineage. The Savior clearly taught that their family history or genealogy would not save them. They were expected to do the “works of Abraham”.2 In stark contrast, the Savior remarked that their spiritual heritage or genealogy actually sprung from a different source or line than through the “Father of the Faithful”.3
This concept is also expressed in modern day scripture. Nephi, a prophet in the Book of Mormon wrote the following:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:19-20.)
Regardless of a person’s family history, all have the same opportunity concomitant with certain responsibilities. Along these same lines, J. Reuben Clark, Jr. taught:
In living our lives let us never forget that the deeds of our fathers and mothers are theirs, not ours; that their works cannot be counted to our glory; that we can claim no excellence and no place because of what they did, that we must rise by our own labor, and that labor failing, we shall fall. We may claim no honor, no reward, no respect, nor special position or recognition, no credit because of what our fathers were or what they wrought. We stand upon our own feet in our own shoes. There is no aristocracy of birth in this Church; it belongs equally to the highest and the lowliest; for as Peter said to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, seeking him: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34–35).4
While those who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all have claim on a physical heritage through Abraham, as do those of many faiths, perhaps the lesson of the scriptures is that this heritage is no guarantee that the promises given to the “fathers”5 will be received in their fullness by all who desire to be called modern-day Israel, no matter their bona fides. Even the Gnostics seem to have held this belief.6
- Nielsen, Donna. “Jesus and the Role of Women Pt 4”. Connections. 23 Jun 2010.↩
- Works which, according to Hugh W. Nibley, “center around the Temple”. Abraham in Egypt. Second edition. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000.↩
- “They of the Last Wagon”. Salt Lake City: Conference Report, October 1947. 160.↩
- D&C 27:10.↩
- For example, see Christians in the Gospel of Philip.↩