Moroni begins his list of spiritual gifts with two which sound similar, but which he makes clear are not the same:
For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom;
And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;Moroni 10:9-10, italics added
The apostle Paul made the same distinction in his list of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8). In an 1831 revelation received by Joseph Smith, the Lord emphasized the distinction further by saying that these two gifts were given “that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge” (Doctrine & Covenants 46:17-18).
What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge, and how do both bless our lives?
While serving as president of Brigham Young University, Cecil O. Samuelson said, “Wisdom and understanding are not of the same domain as knowledge and intellectual prowess. Stated another way, we see many examples of bright folks who are not very wise and others with excellent judgment and wisdom who seem to have modest intellectual gifts or limited knowledge.” President Samuelson pointed out that, while universities are primarily in the business of imparting knowledge, it is important for students not to neglect the acquisition of wisdom, which he defined as “insight, good sense, judgment, and a wise attitude or course of action” (“Wisdom and Understanding,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 10 January 2006).
T. S. Eliot posited a hierarchy of education as he asked two rhetorical questions in the opening stanza of his poem, “Choruses from ‘The Rock'”:
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?T. S. Eliot, Selected Poems, p. 107
I would define “information” as facts that are available to me, whether through books, through Google searches, or by talking to experts. I define “knowledge” as information and skills which I have internalized and mastered, so that I can draw upon them as needed. And I define “wisdom” as the strategies and self-discipline necessary to make good decisions.
There is no question that our lives have been enriched by the massive quantities of information that are readily available to us, so much more than in prior generations. But as T. S. Eliot pointed out, access to information does not necessarily translate into growth in knowledge, and superior knowledge does not necessarily make a person wise. (See 2 Nephi 9:28.)
To be sure, knowledge and wisdom are interrelated. The scriptures often couple them, and in some cases appear to use them as synonyms. (See, for example, Proverbs 1:7, Isaiah 11:2, James 3:13). Some of the activities which help us gain one also help us gain the other. For example, the Lord has counseled us, “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). Still, I’m grateful for the reminder that knowledge and wisdom are not synonymous, that it is possible to develop one without the other, and that both can be taught.
Today, I am grateful for the knowledgeable people and the wise people I have been privileged to learn from. I will remember that the gift to teach wisdom is separate from the gift to teach knowledge, and I will appreciate the people who have blessed my life with either or both of these gifts.