“I Am Not Learned”

Brant Gardner

God will do his work in the last days through the unlearned. This theme flows through the scriptures, reappearing notably in Doctrine and Covenants 1:19: “The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh.” The world’s “weak things” are the Lord’s preferred means of bringing about his marvelous work, not through the methods familiar to the politically or scholastically powerful.

God is reminding the Saints that this is his work, not men’s, and that the transformation of these “weak things”—these relatively unlearned and certainly unpowerful men—into God’s chosen representatives is part of the marvelous work. Their willingness to be obedient resulted in their transformation into men who could no longer be described as “weak.” The Prophet Joseph Smith may have begun as a powerless and ill-educated teenager of no social status, but he became the powerful leader of a mighty people.

This process fulfills the promise in Ether 12:27: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

The Lord is not denigrating being learned. Rather, he is contrasting the world’s learning with the Spirit’s power during the events of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is miraculous in existence, content, and history. It has the power to bring men and women to Christ.

The case of the Dead Sea Scrolls helps explain why the Lord chose this way of bringing the Book of Mormon to the world. Even though the preservation and discovery of these scrolls might be considered miraculous, because the process was the standard means familiar to the academic world, the miraculous elements are little understood nor stressed.

The translation of the scrolls also follows standard scholarly procedure, not (directly) through the inspiration of God. Thus, the scroll texts are embroiled in translation controversy. Although there is nothing in the history of the Qumran community to indicate a Christological orientation, the scrolls nevertheless could be a powerful witness of the passion of God’s people for him. While their message still testifies to that devotion, they have no real power to bring souls to God. The people who are interested in them have, for the most part, a historical focus; and the learned who have brought them forth necessarily remove the patina of the miraculous from them. Matters would have been the same with the Book of Mormon had Anthon and Mitchell taken the text into their offices and pulled out their dictionaries. The Book of Mormon’s compelling power comes from the miracle of its discovery and translation, enhancing beyond the power of its message.

Narrative: This verse shifts both speaker and audience. From verse 6 to this point, Nephi has been relating his prophetic vision. At this point, God is speaking. Furthermore, the audience is not Nephi’s readers in general but Joseph Smith himself—the unlearned one who receives the “sealed book.”

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