In our continuing study of the Book of Mormon in Sunday School the word “Iniquity” comes up again and again as a sin for which God is going to destroy this nation, so I decided to look it up. I thought it wise to understand what the Lord means.

Iniquity is almost always ascribed as a sin of society. “For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction?” (Mosiah 29:17) Speaking of wicked king Noah and his cronies, Mosiah notes, “For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God.” (Mosiah 29:18)

Notice how iniquity is a sin of society in this verse, “And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.” (Mosiah 29:27)

We get a broader view of what the Lord considers iniquity in this verse, “Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this – Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches and the vain things of the world.” (3 Nephi 6:15) In other words, seeking these riches and vain things by subjugating other people with power and authority.

The root of the word iniquity is the Latin word “iniquitas”, meaning uneven, unfair, gross injustice. It also carries the meaning of a violation of authority. It can also mean great wickedness in general.

Wicked King Noah consecrated priests who were “lifted up in the pride of their hearts. Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.” (Mosiah 11:5-6)

King Noah was committing iniquity by taxing the people, and using that money to raise himself and his priests to opulent splendor. This is the meaning of iniquity.

“Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering words unto them. And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine works of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper; and he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things. And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood and of copper and of brass. And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people. . . . he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.” (Mosiah 11:7-14).

The scriptural definition of “Iniquity” is when one class of people subjugate another and then lives off of their labors. The more opulent and palatial the ruling class, the more iniquitous their sin becomes, and the more damning in the eyes of the Lord.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Brother John

© May 2012, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved. Non-commercial reproduction permitted.

About John Pontius

I am a lover of truth.
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14 Responses to Iniquity

  1. Brett says:

    I really enjoyed this post, however, I was reading today in Mosiah and would appreciate if you could explain how the following scriptures fit with this definition.
    Mosiah 27
    8 Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.

    29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.

    So what exactly was Alma up to? I don’t really see how Alma is subjugating others and then living off of their labors.




    • As I mentioned in the original article, Iniquity can also just mean gross wickedness, and sometimes the word is used that way.

      In the case of Alma the younger I can only surmise or guess what Alma the younger was actually doing. The sons of Mosiah were the sons of king Mosiah. They and Alma went about using their “royal” position, flattery and “many words” to lead “the people” to do after their iniquities. As the King’s sons I’m sure they considered themselves noble. I suspect they were trying to create or enlarge class distinction and elitism, (Flattery is telling someone they’re better and deserve more. Iniquity is when you also begin to tax or rob from some class of people to fund your lifestyle) Iniquity is not defined as taxation for the purpose of supporting an army or building a society. He was persecuting the church, so I assume they were using their position to rob or tax the church to support themselves in their lifestyle.

      Alma mentions the “bonds of iniquity”. I can only imagine that if one was raised “noble” and derrived a living from taxing the people, that he would have no other way to survive. He had to keep the class system going because he didn’t have any other means of support. It could seem like a bondage after you decided you wanted to repent.

      I’m guessing of course, but he was certainly in a position to lead “many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.”


  2. Steve H. says:

    I think it’s iniquity, too, to turn a blind eye to the iniquity around us. Is what we tolerate now becoming what our children or grandchildren embrace? It is said the only way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Satan knows this and his mortal minions try to silence opposing voices through ridicule and falsely imposed shame. So now what used to be hidden and never mentioned in polite circles is out in the open and righteousness is being driven into hiding. It’s up to us to stand now, with the legacy of Samuel the Lamanite as our standard. We cannot afford to give any more ground.


  3. Don says:

    In my Sunday school class (15 year olds) I ask the kids, “because iniquity is used so often in the book of Mormon, what does it mean?” No one in the class knew. Even if you think you know what a word means, if you are incorrect, you sometimes, cannot understand exactly what is being said. Our use of language is surprisingly different than it was even in Joseph Smith’s time, especially with the youth today. So I always ask them about many words they don’t commonly use and if they don’t know or understand, we look it up in the dictionary. As much as possible we use the bible dictionary, if necessary we go to Mr. Webster. It is surprising not to just the kids, but sometimes to me, how powerful scripture meaning can be if you know what the words mean. In the dictionary we used, iniquity means, an act of evil. This defines the use of iniquity not only as bad as you can be, but a deliberate, defiant act. Even translated into any language, this is more powerful than just a simple mistake or sin or something easily overcome. When it is used to describe an entire society, that sounds like a pretty scary place. It then places in context why the Lord said thought Abinadi “they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them…”. Something that changes the Lord’s attitude towards men from love and long suffering to fierce anger is not something anyone would want to receive. Thank you again for your incites that help me try to be better during the week. The attitude of any society I think starts with the individual then can spread to all. With King Noah it was bad, with good men like you and our living prophets to guide us, goodness can spread to all. I often pray that we as individuals and a society never have to receive the fierce anger of the Lord.


  4. TDG says:

    John, I find this post interesting, and informative, but in some ways disconcerting.

    It sounds like iniquity may be difficult for a particular culture to identify because it would pass as the accepted and expected standard of conducting societal affairs. Those who did recognize this iniquity for what it was might be ridiculed for not sustaining political or religious authority within the culture. Even righteous individuals may not be able to identify the iniquities within their own society.

    Nephi said, “… they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. 2 Nephi 28:14.

    I suppose that iniquity can be so deeply intrenched, through the traditions of the fathers, that it can only be overcome by the Lord’s intervening mercy or justice.


    • I agree. Iniquity – at least by that definition – is a sin of society and would be traditional and very hard to change. Slavery would be a form of iniquity, as well as a class system that dominates and controls people. A grevious tax system that misuses the funds to enrich an elite class, or that is used for evil purposes would be iniquity. I think personal iniquity would be dominating a spouse or children, employees, investors or anyone under your control.




  5. (This comment is from Strategic Reader who was having problems posting his comment)

    John, I don’t know why I cannot post to the comments. I have failed now four or five times.
    Here is my comment on iniquity.

    I agree with the post. I seldom see iniquity spoken of. I have found it helpful to think of iniquity as placing one flesh above another (vs. thy neighbor as thyself) becoming a respecter (God is not), inequity or inequality (vs. having all things in common or Zion). It is easy to observe in society once we know what it is. It is easy to see looking outward.
    The true opportunity to remove iniquity comes from looking inward and in self assessment, self honesty, and repentance where needed.
    Do I oppress my workers in their wages? Do I withhold from my employer because of his oppression? Do I prefer to retain the perception of my good name to telling an unflattering truth? Will I judge another man with a standard of justice that is heavier than the standard of justice I apply to myself? Is my self flattery and my longing for wealth and a higher social class more important to me than what Jesus Christ has required at my hands? Certainly I am educated therefore I am entitled to more. Surely I am living beneath my entitlement. All these vain things I sought!
    I find myself frightened, humbled, and weak…very very weak when I turn the lens upon myself.
    I am grateful for our dear Lord Jesus.


  6. Steve H. says:

    I really like the direction this post took, being a small-government, pro-free market guy. When we are taxed beyond reason and billions upon billions go to certain political supporters and cronies; when it seems ol’ Gadianton is back from the grave and running the show bigger than he had ever hoped for in his lifetime, can one doubt we, as a nation, are on the very cusp of ripeness for that prophesied destruction?

    *Opinions expressed by Brother Steve are not necessarily those of the Unblog or its management.


  7. Jared says:

    I find it interesting you would bring this up. In Gileadi’s book, “Isaiah Decoded,” Gileadi differentiates sin from iniquity by defining sin as a blatant transgression of God’s laws and commandments; while iniquity is more of an inherited sin–a family or cultural tradition which is passed from generation to generation.

    When we repent of our sins and iniquities, we become saviors to our seed for many reasons; one being that our iniquity, if it is repented of in time, is not passed to our posterity.

    I really like your assessment, as well. Iniquity, as a sin of society, becomes a sin of complicity. When we do not act in faith, or repent, or speak out against iniquity, we become complicit and the blood and sins of that generation (or iniquity) stains our robes. It seems this is a part of temple doctrine.



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