Ether 12:27 is perhaps one of the most misquoted scriptures in the Book of Mormon. This means that many church members are probably misunderstanding the true meaning of weakness, or they are even believing false doctrine. So, what does the word “weakness” actually mean in this verse? And what is God saying?
We must first understand the context. Moroni was commanded to continue the record of the Book of Mormon, but he feared the Gentiles would mock the great things of God because of his inability to record them properly. The Lord’s response to Moroni was the following:
“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” (Ether 12:27).
“Weakness” Under a Microscope
The failure to correctly pronounce this single word is the difference between teaching true doctrine, or false doctrine.
Many people, including myself for YEARS, mispronounce the word weakness as weaknesses when reading the verse. I don’t know why we do this exactly, but I think it may partially have to do with the fact that the word weaknesses was actually incorrectly written in the chapter heading of Ether 12 for years.
In the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon, the chapter heading for Ether 12 summarized that “the Lord gives men weaknesses.” When releasing the 2013 edition, we corrected the word to weakness. I dug up a copy of the 1981 edition and compared it to the 2013 edition and voilà! It was changed! But why is this small thing so important?
The failure to correctly pronounce this single word is the difference between teaching true doctrine, or false doctrine. And believe me, I had fallen into that trap without even realizing it! So what’s the true meaning of weakness?
Weakness vs. Weaknesses
So what’s the real difference? As an English major, I jump for joy because the difference is in the plurality.
“And if MEN come unto me I will show unto them their WEAKNESS…”
The first word, men, is plural, which means we aren’t just talking about one man. And because the group of men is not specified, we can be assured that we are talking about all men. The second term, weakness, is singular, which means we’re talking about a single weakness that all men have.
The Definition of Weakness
So what is this weakness that we all have? And what does it mean for us? The Brother of Jared in Ether 3:2 gives us our definition:
” Oh Lord, thou has said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant, because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; and because of the fall of our natures we have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou has given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires” (Ether 3:2).
Our weakness is our unworthy and fallen state before God. We are fallen and separated from God because of the fall of Adam. And from other scripture, we know that “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Cool, now let’s plug that definition into the first part of Ether 12:27:
And if [all men] come unto me I will show unto them their [unworthiness and fallen nature].
“Weakness” and the Plan of Salvation
So did God give us this weakness? Yes, he did! But He didn’t just give it to us, he gifted it to us. To understand this, we need to first answer another question: What happened in the premortal existence?
Before we came to earth, God gathered all of his children and held a “Grand Council to present His plan for our progression.” Here, we learned that we would all experience trials in mortality. We knew we would be susceptible to disease and death. But “we also learned that because of our weakness, all of us except little children would sin” (Topics: Council in Heaven).
In the Council of Heaven, God offered His plan and allowed us to choose for ourselves whether or not we would accept it.
The Gift of Weakness
Once we understood the Plan, we understood that the only way we would be able to become like God is if we experienced a mortal life on earth, and scriptures say we actually “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7) because of this opportunity. We knew this difficult mortal experience was actually a gift from God because it would ultimately help us learn how to be humble, have faith in Him, bring us eternal joy, and help us become like Him.
So, now we know the true meaning of weakness, and we know how we received it, so let’s continue to plug this context into the verse:
And if [all men] come unto me I will show unto them their [unworthiness and fallen nature]. I [offered men this weakness in the premortal world] that they could [learn to] be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that [learn to] humble themselves before me; for if they [learn to] humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
The Symptom of “Weak Things”
Moroni worried about his weakness in writing. So, how does this relate to him? And us?
Because of our mortality, “weak things” are something we all experience. I like to call these “weak things” symptoms of our mortality. In the Guide to the Scriptures, we read that “This weakness [our fallen nature] is manifest in part in the individual frailties that each person has. In the article, “It isn’t a Sin to Be Weak” this is clarified further:
“As mortals, we are born helpless and dependent, with various physical flaws and predispositions . . . in our weak, and mortal state we suffer physical and emotional illness, hunger, and fatigue. We experience human emotions like anger, grief, and fear. We lack wisdom, skill, stamina, and strength. We are subject to temptations of many kinds” (Wendy Ulrich).
So, these symptoms of our mortal weakness are things like: being susceptible to disease, unusual desires, addictive tendencies, etc. But let’s be really clear about something here: God does not give us these weaknesses. These are natural symptoms of our fallen nature.
Sometimes people say, “God made me this way, so it’s not my fault,” or, “Why would God make me this way, and then tell me it’s wrong?” But this is not the true meaning of the word. If God were to make us this way, it would compromise our agency and negate God’s entire plan. These “weak things” are also not sins in and of themselves, but how we chose to react to these things can lead to sin.
“Weak Things” and Sin
We cannot simply repent of being weak — nor does weakness itself make us unclean.
The definition of sin is to willfully disobey God’s commandments or to fail to act righteously despite a knowledge of the truth (Topics: Sin).
When Moroni was concerned about his weakness to write, “God did not tell him to repent. Instead, the Lord taught him to be humble and have faith in Christ.”
“We cannot simply repent of being weak — nor does weakness itself make us unclean. We cannot grow spiritually unless we accept our state of human weakness, respond to it with humility and faith, and learn through our weakness to trust in God” (Wendy Ulrich).
It’s About Our Attitude
A “weak thing” has the potential to lead to sin depending on our attitude. Moroni was strengthened through his weaknesses because he humbled himself and had faith in God. However, if he had reacted negatively to his weakness and become angry with God, his story would have been very different.
Because we are mortal, we don’t always have the best attitude about our trials, temptations, or circumstances. However, when this attitude causes us to sin, we must work to humble ourselves, have faith in God, and trust in His plan for us.
And when we sin it is only through the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we can be saved and strengthened against these “weak things” in our lives. Does that mean the “weak things” will disappear? Not necessarily. But we will be better equipped to withstand them as we humble ourselves before God and have faith in Him.
The True Meaning of Weakness
God is not saying He gave us our weaknesses. Instead, He is teaching us about our mortality and the Plan of Salvation. This is what Ether 12:27 is all about, and it started with just one word: weakness.
So just as Moroni chose to humble himself and have faith, we must do the same. Our mortal weakness and it’s “symptoms” do not define us, but how we chose to react to these weaknesses does.
When we fall short, we must choose to humble ourselves and have faith in God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ will be there to cleanse us, strengthen us, and keep us worthy to make it back to God’s presence and experience eternal joy. This is the true meaning of weakness in Ether 12:27.
And if [all men] come unto me I will show unto them their [unworthiness and fallen nature]. I [offered men this weakness in the premortal world] that they could [learn to] be humble, and [because of the Atonement] my grace is sufficient for all men that [learn to] humble themselves before me; for if they [learn to] humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.