“The Priests Left Their Labor to Impart the Word of God Unto the People”

Brant Gardner

Mormon continues describing the Nephite church, specifically in economic terms. In contrast to the non-church-men and excommunicated church-men, Mormon highlights their particular attitude toward a social and an economic system. The church-men advocated an egalitarian society, and the non-church-men advocated a stratified society.

The economic specifics focus on the priests’ role. Priestcraft had been Nehor’s social crime, apparently more socially significant than murdering Gideon. Here, Mormon defines the “good” of the Nephite society by examining the priests’ economic actions. The Nephite priest preached, then “returned again diligently unto [his] labors.” Benjamin had made a point of describing how he had labored with his own hands for his own support (Mosiah 2:14; see Mosiah 18:24, for Alma2’s similar rule). These priests follow those traditions: preach and then labor for their own support. Mormon underscores the “moral” of this description: “for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.” Mormon insists, lest the reader miss it, on the equality of the people, an equality that was not simply moral but also economic and social.

When Mormon summarized this virtue of the priests he returns to another Benjaminic theme; sharing substance (Mosiah 4:16–21). Such sharing is a facet of the egalitarian lifestyle and inimical to social divisions. Curiously, he casts it in terms of what the priests did not do: The priests “did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.” This description does not simply represent Mormon’s fashion preference. As Nehor had established, costly apparel was part and parcel of the social and economic system warring against the Nephite religion and culture. Mormon is careful to point out that the Nephites were very good people, in spite of the fact that they did not wear costly apparel. The underlying argument of Mormon’s comparisons between the faithful church-men and their ideological opponents becomes even clearer in the next few verses.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4