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What is “watching for iniquity”, as described in Doctrine and Covenants section 45?





Dear Parker,

I could not find any official or direct interpretation of this phrase, but I think we can interpret it within the context of the section.  Doctrine & Covenants 45 is speaking of the last days and the signs of Christ’s Second Coming.  In this context, verses 43 and 44 talk about those who are looking for the Savior to come:

43 And the remnant shall be gathered unto this place;


44 And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels; and he that watches not for me shall be cut off.

At the end of 44 it mentions “he that watches not for” the Savior. From this, it’s clear that the meaning is “looking with anticipation” or “waiting for”.  Only six verses later, we have the phrase in question:

50 And calamity shall cover the mocker, and the scorner shall be consumed; and they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire.

From this and the surrounding verses, it’s clear that the Lord is not pleased with the people who “watched for iniquity”.  When we compare it with the idea of watching for the Lord, it seems to me that this verse is speaking about those who were hoping for evil to triumph over those who are watching for the Lord.

Another interpretation could be those who “stood watch” or “stood guard” while iniquity was being committed – those who protected the works of iniquity.  While this seems far less likely to be the original intent (see below), I think it’s still a valid interpretation as these would be the same people either way.

I also found one reference in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 91, “Order in House of God Always the Same”:

Do not watch for iniquity in each other, if you do you will not get an endowment, for God will not bestow it on such.

Here, the prophet seems to be suggesting that if you are trying to discover other people’s sins – trying to find fault with them – you will not be worthy of receiving an endowment from God.  This would go hand in hand with the requirement to forgive one another and with the Savior’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about motes, beams, and hypocrisy.

And at another time, Joseph Smith said (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 522):

Do you think that even Jesus, if He were here, would be without fault in your eyes?  His enemies said all manner of evil against him—they all watched for iniquity in him.

Again, this suggests not just going out of your way to find fault in another, but doing so with malicious intent.  In the New Testament, those who were “watching for iniquity” in Christ were doing so hoping for an excuse to kill him.  Clearly, this is a hateful behavior.

Finally, this phrase can be found in Isaiah 29:20:

20 For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:

And that allows us to go and look at how the phrase is rendered in other versions of the Bible: having “an eye for evil”, plotting to do evil, watching for opportunity to do evil, lie in wait to do evil, intent on doing evil, and loving to do wrong are all to be found in various translations.  If you know any languages other than English, it might be interesting to read these scriptures in other languages to see what insights they offer.

I hope this answers your question, Parker, and that all of us can seek the gift of charity, so that we might see others as Christ sees us, and treat one another with patience, mercy, and forgiveness.





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