You may not realize it, but you have a birthright. In the scriptures, birthright usually refers to the right of the son born first in a family to inherit his father’s possessions and authority. In ancient Israel, for example, all the sons received some of their father’s property, but the firstborn received a double portion and became the leader of the family. With his double portion, this son took care of his mother and sisters and others in the family who could not care for themselves.1
The most notable of those holding a birthright is Jesus Christ. As the Firstborn of Heavenly Father in the spirit and the Father’s Only Begotten Son in the flesh, Jesus is the Father’s heir.2 He has the right to rule over Heavenly Father’s children, with the power to save all from death and hell.
To assist Him in this work, the Savior has appointed one family lineage to hold His priesthood and share the blessings of His gospel with the rest of Heavenly Father’s children. This priesthood birthright was given first to Adam, and it descended from him generation to generation down to Melchizedek. Melchizedek bestowed the priesthood and the birthright responsibility upon Abraham. The scriptures tell us that God made a covenant with Abraham that gave him the right to hold the priesthood and receive all the blessings that the priesthood provides—the most important of which is eternal life.3 Along with this privilege came the responsibility to help the Lord in bringing to pass the “eternal life of man.”4
Abraham gave this birthright to his son Isaac, who later bestowed it upon his son Jacob. Jacob (also known as Israel) transferred the birthright to his grandson Ephraim, the son of Joseph. Ephraim’s birthright included the authority to preside over all those who have the priesthood. Ephraim was given the duty to gather, in the last days, all of Jacob’s scattered posterity back into the same covenant family.5 Jacob’s posterity is often referred to as the house, or twelve tribes, of Israel.
It is important to realize that the birthright did not automatically pass to the firstborn son. The son also had to be worthy and sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Ghost. For this reason, Jacob received the birthright rather than his elder brother Esau, who gave it up for a meal of pottage; Joseph received the birthright from Jacob because his oldest brother Reuben committed a serious sin.6
Today, Jacob’s posterity, by direct descent from him or by adoption into the house of Israel through baptism, have the right to every blessing of the gospel, including the ordinances of the temple. But they receive these blessings only if they prove worthy.7 In addition, worthy descendants of Jacob’s grandson Ephraim have the specific birthright to preside in the kingdom of God and to offer, through missionary and temple work, the ordinances of salvation to all of God’s family. Those who receive these priesthood ordinances and keep their covenants become, through and with Jesus Christ, joint heirs with Him of all that Heavenly Father has.8
The birthright given anciently to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also yours. Your patriarchal blessing identifies your lineage in the house of Israel and describes many of the blessings and responsibilities you will receive if you live worthy of your birthright.