“As Many of the Gentiles as Will Repent Are the Covenant People of the Lord”

Brant Gardner

This remarkable statement is presented so matter-of-factly that its revolutionary assertion is diminished. According to Nephi, Yahweh’s covenant is based on righteousness, not tribal/racial affiliation. In the Old World, this assertion was not made explicit until Paul in New Testament times, and it was revolutionary at that point. This position is especially remarkable from one of the “chosen” people. In Jacob’s sermon, he appears to use “covenant” in its traditional sense:

Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.
And blessed are the Gentiles, they of whom the prophet has written; for behold, 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; for the Lord God will fulfil his covenants which he has made unto his children; and for this cause the prophet has written these things.
Wherefore, they that fight against Zion and the covenant people of the Lord shall lick up the dust of their feet; and the people of the Lord shall not be ashamed. For the people of the Lord are they who wait for him; for they still wait for the coming of the Messiah. (2 Ne. 6:11–13)

Perhaps Jacob means that the Gentiles’ union with Zion makes them part of the covenant people, but a more straightforward reading is that the promises to the covenant people will result in the Gentiles joining with them. But either case is, at most, a covenant of adoption—not Nephi’s clear enunciation of a different basis (a basis of righteousness) for the covenant.

This covenant of righteousness is also different from Yahweh’s reference to the covenant people in the preceding chapter:

But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?
O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people. (2 Ne. 29:4–5)

Nephi (as the mouthpiece for Yahweh) is clearly using “covenant people” as a tribal/racial designator, in distinction to the Gentiles.

Given this context, 2 Nephi 30:2 is even more startling. Of course, Yahweh’s “ancient covenant people” means the Jews, while Nephi’s covenant of righteousness will occur in the future. Nevertheless, the theological shift is monumentally important. In the Old World, the Pauline implementation of the covenant of righteousness allowed the Gentiles to receive the gospel. Perhaps in a similar prophetic mode, Nephi saw and understood this fundamental theological shift in the relationship between Yahweh and his people.

Regardless of how radically Nephi might have understood this process, perhaps Nephi’s assertion results from his community-building efforts to incorporate Gentiles into the Nephite core society. A theology that allowed covenantal inclusion to be based on righteousness rather than lineage would have had the same importance to Nephi that it had to Paul. Given that social context, it would not be surprising that Yahweh would reveal this principle to Nephi—even though it would not be needed until centuries later in the Old World.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2