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Book of Abraham Latter-day Saint History Theology

What Is the Dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham?

It is the power to take those who come into the Church and qualify for the blessings of the holy temple, and to form them into eternal family units.

The restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this final dispensation included the restoration of the Abrahamic Covenant, the renewal of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their almost limitless posterity. Those promises are set forth in the Old Testament (Genesis 13:14-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-8; 26:1-5; 28:1-4). In many ways, however, the promises are stated with greater clarity in the Book of Abraham, as contained in the Pearl of Great Price. Here Abraham is promised that if he and his posterity remain faithful to God, they will be given the gospel, the priesthood, an endless and eternal posterity, eternal life, the continuation of the family into eternity (exaltation), and a land inheritance (Abraham 2:8-11, 19). These are “the promises made to the fathers,” to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Joseph Smith-History 1:38-39 and D&C 2; compare D&C 27:10).


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The Coming of Moses, Elias, and Elijah

What had taken place on the Mount of Transfiguration some six months prior to the Savior’s death (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:1-9; Luke 9:28-36) serves as a pattern for what needed to occur in our own day. On Sunday, 3 April 1836, one week following the opening dedicatory service of the Kirtland Temple, the Saints were again assembled in the house of the Lord.

A photo of President Nelson who taught about the gospel of Abraham in the April 2024 General Conference.
President Nelson teaches that the keys of the gospel of Abraham were restored in the Kirtland Temple in 1836.

In the morning hours Elders Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patton were called upon to speak. In the afternoon the First Presidency and the Twelve participated in a sacrament service, after which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knelt in prayer behind drawn curtains adjacent to the large pulpits on the west side of the main floor of the temple. After rising from prayer, a wondrous vision burst upon them.

First, Jesus Christ appeared. He came to his temple (see Malachi 3:1; D&C 36:8; 133:2)—the first to be authorized by him for centuries.

The Savior accepted the offering of his Saints—this temple built at great sacrifice—and then expanded their vision in regard to the importance of what they had accomplished: “Yea, the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house” (D&C 110:9).

“After this vision [of the Savior] closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (D&C 110:11).

The gospel of Abraham is further evidence that God loves all of His children everywhere.

Russell M. Nelson

The keys restored by the ancient lawgiver formalized the work of gathering people into the Church through missionary work, a work that had begun years before. To the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the man appointed “to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses” (D&C 107:91)—was given keys to gather modern Israel. Even as Moses led ancient Israel out of Egyptian bondage, so the President of the Restored Church was given keys to gather modern Israel into Zion.

Regarding the gathering of the Ten Tribes, Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:1

The ten tribes are to come back like anyone else: by accepting the Book of Mormon and believing the restored gospel. There cannot be two separate and independent church organizations on earth at one and the same time; at least it cannot be in a day when it is possible to govern the Church from one place. The President of the Church holds the keys whereby the Ten Tribes will be led from the lands of the north to their Palestinian homeland. He, not they, will direct their return.

Bruce R. McConkie

“After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (D&C 110:12). The identity of Elias is not given in the revelation.2

Listen to Robert L. Millet talk about the truths received and revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, such as the gospel of Abraham.

The dispensation of the gospel of Abraham

What is “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham?” It is the power to take those who come into the Church and qualify for the blessings of the holy temple, and to form them into eternal family units through the blessings of celestial or eternal marriage.

“After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse” (D&C 110:13-15).

Elias committed the gospel of Abraham.

Precisely on the day that Elijah’s appearance took place, Jews everywhere were engaged in the celebration of the Passover. For many centuries, Jews throughout the world had set a place for the Prophet Elijah at their table, anticipating his coming. Elijah did come on 3 April 1836, but not to Jewish homes; he came rather to a sanctuary of the Saints and to his legal administrators on earth.

We often state that Elijah restored the sealing power. He certainly did, but there is more. The Prophet Joseph Smith asked: “Why send Elijah? Because he holds the keys of the authority to administer in all the ordinances of the Priesthood, and [unless] the authority is given, the ordinances could not be administered in righteousness.”3

Every ordinance—baptism, confirmation, ordination to the priesthood, washings, anointings, the endowment, and celestial marriage—must be ratified and approved of God, based on the faithfulness of those who enter into sacred covenants and receive the necessary ordinances.

In modern revelation we are told that all ordinances must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, meaning the Holy Ghost, otherwise they “are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead” (D&C 132:7).

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had been ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and been given apostolic power and commission as early as 1829. Elijah was sent in 1836 to confer keys of the priesthood and sealing powers that had not yet been fully understood or fully operational in this dispensation.

The Prophet Joseph taught: “The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelation, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth.”4 Finally, “while the spirit of Elias is a forerunner, the power of Elijah is sufficient to make our calling and election sure.”5

Elijah came to “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” whereby the “hearts of the children [would] turn to their fathers” (D&C 2:2; Joseph Smith–History 1:39). The Spirit of the Lord witnesses to faithful Latter-day Saints of the central place of eternal marriage and family and of the sublime joys associated with the everlasting continuation of that sacred unit. Through temples, God’s promises to the fathers–the promises pertaining to the gospel, the priesthood, and eternal increase (Abraham 2:8-11)—are extended to all the faithful Saints of all ages.

The hearts of the children turn to the ancient fathers because the children are now participants in and recipients of the blessings of the fathers. Being profoundly grateful for such privileges, members of the Church (motivated by the spirit of Elijah) also find their hearts turning to their more immediate fathers, and do all within their power (through family history research and attendant temple work) to ensure that the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob are enjoyed by ancestry as well as posterity.

“If it were not so [that is, if Elijah had not come], the whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming” (D&C 2:3; Joseph Smith-History 1:39).

Chosenness is a status based on the choice to follow the Lord

Why? Because the earth would not have accomplished its foreordained purpose—to establish on its face a family system patterned after the order of heaven. If there were no sealing powers whereby families could be bound together, the earth would never “answer the end of its creation” (D&C 49:16). It would be wasted and cursed, for all men and women would be forever without root or branch, without ancestry or posterity. Because Elijah came, however, all other ordinances for the living and the dead have real meaning and are of efficacy, virtue, and force in eternity.6

“As the crowning cause for wonderment,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written “that God who is no respecter of persons has given a like promise [to that of Abraham and Joseph Smith] to every [member] in the kingdom who has gone to the holy temple and entered into the blessed order of matrimony there performed. Every person married in the temple for time and for all eternity has sealed upon him, conditioned upon his faithfulness, all of the blessings of the ancient patriarchs, including the crowning promise and assurance of eternal increase, which means, literally, a posterity as numerous as the dust particles of the earth.”7


Descendants of the Patriarchs

Joseph Smith was a descendant of Abraham, a “pure Ephraimite.”8 By lineage he had a right to the priesthood, the gospel, and eternal life. In a revelation received on 6 December 1832, the Savior said:

Thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—for ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.

D&C 86:8–10

The Prophet Joseph became a “father of the faithful” to those of this final dispensation, the means by which the chosen lineage could be identified, gathered, organized as family units, and sealed forevermore into the house of Israel to their God.

The Patriarch in the days of the early Church, Joseph Smith, Sr., blessed his son as follows:9

A marvelous work and a wonder has the Lord wrought by thy hand. . . . I bless thee with the blessings of thy Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and even the blessings of thy father Joseph, the son of Jacob. Behold, he looked after his posterity in the last days, when they should be scattered and driven by the Gentiles.

Blessing given to the Prophet Joseph by his father, Joseph Smith Sr.

Or, as the Lord declared: “As I said unto Abraham concerning the kindreds of the earth, even so I say unto my servant Joseph: In thee and in thy seed shall the kindred of the earth be blessed” (D&C 124:58; emphasis added).

Further:

Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them. This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham.

D&C 132:30-31; emphasis added

Conclusion

Our patriarchal blessings mean what they say—we are entitled, either by direct lineage or through adoption, to the promises made to the fathers. Those who are not directly descended from Abraham who join the Restored Church should in no way feel disadvantaged or less than chosen.

Chosenness is a status based on the choice to follow the Lord and associate with his people, and entrance into the true Church qualifies one for the blessings of Abraham. Nephi taught that “as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; . . . for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 30:2).

“We are . . . children of the covenant,” President Russell M. Nelson explained. “We have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our ancestors. We are of Israel. We have the right to receive the gospel, blessings of the priesthood, and eternal life. Nations of the earth will be blessed by our efforts and by the labors of our posterity. The literal seed of Abraham and those who are gathered into his family by adoption receive these promised blessings—predicated upon acceptance of the Lord and obedience to his commandments.”10


About the author

Robert L. Millet is a professor emeritus of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He also served as the university’s Dean of Religious Education. Millet holds a PhD from Florida State University in Religious Studies and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Further reading

Gospel of Abraham resources

Sources

  1. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 1985, 520-21.
  2. President Joseph Fielding Smith offered his own opinion that the Elias of the Kirtland Temple was Noah. He seems to have come to that conclusion through understanding that it was the angel Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias (Luke 1:19), that Gabriel is Noah (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 2007, 104), and a statement in the Doctrine and Covenants that Elias visited Zacharias (27:7). See also Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1960, 72; Answers to Gospel Questions 3:138-41. President John Taylor expressed the view that the Elias of the Kirtland Temple was Abraham himself (Journal of Discourses 18:326). Elder Bruce R. McConkie suggested that it was either Abraham or someone from Abraham’s dispensation (The Millennial Messiah, 1982, 103, 268).
  3. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 2007, 310; emphasis added; cited hereafter as Joseph Smith.
  4. Joseph Smith, 311; emphasis added.
  5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 338; Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 10 March 1844.
  6. Joseph Smith, 310; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:115-28.
  7. The Millennial Messiah, 264.
  8. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:269.
  9. Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, vol. 23, October 1932, 175.
  10. “Children of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1995.

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