I Can’t Know Until I See

Nathan Richardson

The phrase “perfect knowledge” is used fifteen times in the scriptures. Sometimes it just means “knowing a lot about something,” such as when Luke mentions the Roman ruler Felix “having more perfect knowledge” about the new sect, Christianity (Acts 24:22).

You have to see God in order to have a “perfect knowledge” … right?

Sometimes, though, the prophets seem to have a specific doctrine in mind—a certain concept that they are trying to get across (e.g., Alma 32). I don’t know everything about what is meant by “perfect knowledge” in the scriptures, but I have ruled one idea out. I used to think perfect knowledge meant seeing God, but I changed my mind because of the book of Ether.

Perfect Knowledge as Seeing God

I used to explain the phrase “perfect knowledge” to mean “you’ve seen God,” and I’ve heard others describe it the same way (one blogger calls perfect knowledge “the type of knowledge that you can see with your own two eyes”).1 It’s a very common use for that phrase, and I can understand how people come to that conclusion. After all, Alma says,

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. … Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. … It hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. (Alma 32:21, 26, 29)

Since Alma says that faith (1) involves things that are not seen and that it (2) precedes a perfect knowledge, it seems sensible to conclude that perfect knowledge is the result of seeing something. We would diagram this understanding of perfect knowledge like this:

Faith --- See God --- Perfect knowledge

The Brother of Jared

The story of the brother of Jared is often used as an example of this sequence. Moriancumer2 had faith that the Lord exists, but not a perfect knowledge. Then he exercised his faith—in prayer, in obedience, and in believing in God. As a result, the veil was parted and Moriancumer saw the Lord. Because he had seen God, Moriancumer now had a perfect knowledge.

At least, that’s how I used to summarize the story.

When I read the story of the brother of Jared more closely, I realized that when I told the story in my own words, I had been retelling it wrong. If the relationship between faith, seeing God, and perfect knowledge were truly as I had conceived them above, then Moriancumer’s story in Ether chapter 3 would sound something like this:

The Lord said: Because thou hast seen me and art brought back into my presence, therefore thou knowest these things. (cf. Ether 3:13)

And because of the faith of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus;
Wherefore, having this faith in God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him. (cf. Ether 3:19–20)

Since that is not what I actually read in Ether chapter 3, I knew there was something wrong with my diagram. I’ll tell you how I changed it in my next post … if you don’t figure it out first by going to Ether chapter three on your own.3


Painting: Arnold Friberg, The Brother of Jared Sees the Finger of the Lord.

1. LDS Anarchist, “The Faith of God, Part 12: Truth,” ldsanarchy.wordpress.com.

2. Joseph Smith identified the brother of Jared’s name as “Mahonri Moriancumer.” Since that can be a mouthful, and quickly becomes laborious to read, I prefer to use the shortened form that is found in Ether 2:13.

3. Yes, I know it sounds like Reading Rainbow to end an article like that. “If you want to know how the book ends, you’ll just have to read it yourself!” The thing is, we try to keep these articles brief, and this is a natural breaking point. 🙂


  1. As I understand it, a perfect knowledge of God is seeing Him combined with a witness from the Holy Ghost at the moment of seeing God. Until that point in time, everything else is just faith. But as faith strengthens we may reach the point where it cannot increase anymore; all that is left is to achieve the perfect knowledge.

    The Bro. of Jared saw the finger of God because his faith had reached its max, not because the Lord intentionally made his finger visible, although I am sure He knew what was happening. In the same way, the woman touched the Lord’s clothes and was healed because her faith was sufficiently strong enough to unleash the Lord’s healing powers upon her. He did not initiate the healing miracle, she did.


  2. Dave C.: As I understand it, a perfect knowledge of God is seeing Him combined with a witness from the Holy Ghost at the moment of seeing God.

    The way I read Ether 3, I think it might be a little different. But this makes me want to start looking up what modern prophets have said about a “perfect knowledge.” It’d be interesting to see what they’ve said. I’ll tell you more about Ether 3 in the second half of this article, which should show up on the site in about a week and a half.

    Also, that’s interesting what you said about the woman with the issue of blood. I hadn’t thought much about miracles that way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *