1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy—
2 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done. (Omni 1:1-2)
Omni is mostly remembered these days as one who admits his own wickedness and we take his statement pretty much at face value. I for one have surmised that he was at the end of his life staring into the face of eternity and feeling the pangs of regret. However, there is a subtlety in the text that I noticed recently that gave me pause and made me realize that judgment of Omni is not so simple.
Notice that he writes, “I of myself am a wicked man..” I wondered what the difference was between “I of myself am a wicked man” and “I myself am a wicked man.” There has to be a reason that of was inserted in there. So, I went searching the scriptures, and I found out the phrase “of myself” is used often when a speaker refers to themselves in the natural man without the help of God’s grace or godly wisdom.
Consider the following elsewhere in the scriptures:
Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. (2 Cor 12:5, emphasis added)
I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. (Mosiah 2:10, emphasis added)
Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever. (Alma 26:12, emphasis added)
I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy. (Alma 29:9, emphasis added)
31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
32 ¶There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. (John 5:31-32, emphasis added)
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17, emphasis added)
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. (Joh 8:28, emphasis added)
There are other instances when a speaker says they know things “of myself,” (possibly meaning they know for themselves), but the above instances denote speaking on one’s own authority or to refer to the natural man.
Further, Omni’s own admission may be an argument that he is better than he says he is. Those given over to wickedness tend to think they are okay when they aren’t, whereas those given to righteousness often are bothered by their own faults and how they are not living up to their view of righteousness. We have Nephi’s agonized cry of “Oh wretched man that I am!” and his detailed record that when he wanted to rejoice he found himself sorrowing over the sins that so easily beset him. It may be that Omni’s brief admission, “I of myself am a wicked man and have not kept the statues…as I ought to have done” is a lament in that vein, however brief. He gives no testimony of Christ, so we don't know if his sense of guilt was swallowed up in faith in Christ or not.
It is too bad there is not more in the record about Omni. One thing he says is that he wants us to know that he fought much to keep his people safe from the Lamanites, so we know that he was a valiant and courageous warrior. Perhaps it is his way of saying he is a man of action rather than a man of many words. Because there is so little of his record, we really can’t make a good assessment of Omni as a person. We can say that he had a poor opinion of his own virtues and we can make small comments about what little he wrote, yet we know so very little context about what he says that our conclusions are still highly tenuous. Even what I have said here can only be classed as speculation.