“Humble Followers of God and the Lamb”

Brant Gardner

Here is a tremendous role reversal. For the first time, Lamanites are preaching repentance to the Nephites, a precursor to the mission of Samuel the Lamanite (Hel. 13–15). Because Nephites have always hated and feared the Lamanites and considered themselves their superiors in civilization, society, and religion, listening to their message would require great humility.

Redaction/Culture: At this point, Mormon’s editing deviates somewhat from his past practice. Preceding missions to the Lamanites had resulted in the conversion of Lamanites who always became new Nephites. The people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi are the most conspicuous example. The pattern is also obvious in reverse; dissenting Nephites become Lamanites. In this case, however, Lamanites convert to the gospel without becoming Nephites. What is the difference?

The distinction between Nephites and Lamanites has long been one of convenience and convention. Jacob 1:14 spelled out the labeling: “I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites.” (See commentary accompanying Jacob 1:14.)

Mormon used the same tradition. “Lamanite” meant not only “other” but also “enemy.” At this point, however, even though these Lamanites are so religiously friendly that they conduct missions to the Nephites, they are still politically aligned with a different government. The Lamanites cannot become Nephites because, in Mormon’s terms, the Nephites have become wicked. To maintain this ironic reversal, Mormon must maintain the two peoples’ separateness.

Scripture: The Lamanites’ conversion and their retention of the label “Lamanite” underscores that the gospel transforms people, not governments. Just as the righteous Nephites could live and have joy despite a generally unrighteous government, so the Lamanites could be righteous, despite their long political heritage of antagonism toward the church. It is the individual that matters. Repentance, though universally true, can be applied only one individual at a time, regardless of the fathers’ traditions.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5