“Preach Up Unto Themselves Their Own Wisdom and Their Own Learning”

Brant Gardner

One evidence of the Gentiles’ apostasy is their desire for wealth and their consequent oppression of the poor. Acquiring wealth not only leads to a distinction between rich and poor, but also to disdain for the poor. The dangerous element is the social divisions, especially the elevation of one class above the other. Evidence of the apostate Gentiles’ evil is their violation of the egalitarian ideal upon which Nephi is founding his society. (Much of the theme of egalitarianism is implied in Isaiah’s criticisms of Judahite society in Isa. 5.)

Narrative: Nephi’s description of the future is very selective, because his purpose is to show how his people’s words and faithfulness will help bring the Gentiles to the knowledge of Jesus as the Christ. In that context, he shows a Gentile nation in the throes of apostasy. This part of his vision omits the fact that the Gentiles heard the original preaching of the word. He excises that piece of history to concentrate on the fact that is more important to his message: that Gentiles who “have stumbled” will inhabit the New World.

Even in condemning the Gentiles, Nephi echoes Isaiah’s language and concerns. These Gentiles will “preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning.” While not a quotation, this verse certainly echoes Isaiah 5:21: “Wo unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”

Nephi’s condemnation of oppressing the poor also echoes Isaiah 10:1–2: “Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!” For Nephi, these Gentiles will find themselves in the situation Isaiah has described, a people who have had the gospel (Judah from the covenant, and the Gentiles as Christians) but who have strayed. Both Isaiah’s Judah and Nephi’s Gentiles are apostate and require redemption.

The “many churches” serve the same function as does the great and abominable church in Nephi’s first telling of this vision (1 Ne. 13:4–6).

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