In a post entitled, “Why Was Corianton’s Sin So Serious?”, dated July 20, 2016 on Book of Mormon Central, Michael R. Ash is sourced as teaching that the traditional interpretation of Alma 39:5 is perhaps incorrect.
Book of Mormon Central is referencing a Sunstone article entitled “The Sin ‘Next to Murder’: An Alternative Interpretation”, where Ash states,
This verse seems to be the impetus for the LDS belief that sexual transgressions are second only to “murder” in the eyes of the Lord. . . . I believe there is a more logical interpretation of the “sin next to murder”—a sin that doesn’t involve sexual transgression. 1
Is Brother Ash correct in his interpretation? Note that the First Presidency and Presidents of the Church are extremely clear that sexual sin is next to murder, in seriousness.
First Presidency Statements
Read the full First Presidency message here.
“The doctrine of this Church is that sexual sin — the illicit sexual relations of men and women — stands, in its enormity, next to murder. The Lord has drawn no essential distinctions between fornication, adultery, and harlotry or prostitution. Each has fallen under His solemn and awful condemnation.” (First Presidency Message of October 1942)
Presidents of the Church
Joseph F. Smith
We accept without reservation or qualification the affirmation of Deity, through an ancient Nephite prophet: “For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.” (Jacob 2:28.)
We hold that sexual sin is second only to the shedding of innocent blood in the category of personal crimes; and that the adulterer shall have no part in the exaltation of the blessed.
We proclaim as the word of the Lord: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” “He that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith.”—Improvement Era, June, 1918, Vol. 20, p. 738; Doc. and Cov. 63:16. 2
And now we desire with holy zeal to emphasize the enormity of sexual sins. Though often regarded as insignificant by those not knowing the will of God, they are, in his eyes an abomination, and if we are to remain his favored people they must be shunned as the gates of hell. The evil results of these sins are so patent in vice, crime, misery and disease that it would appear that all, young and old, must perceive and sense them. They are destroying the world. If we are to be preserved we must abhor them, shun them, not practice the least of them, for they weaken and enervate, they kill man spiritually, they make him unfit for the company of the righteous and the presence of God.—Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 37, p. 400, July 1, 1902. 3
The man and the woman who engage in this ordinance of matrimony are engaging in something that is of such far-reaching character, and is of such vast importance, that thereby hangs life and death, and eternal increase. Thereupon depends eternal happiness, or eternal misery. For this reason, God has guarded this sacred institution by the most severe penalties, and has declared that whosoever is untrue to the marriage relation, whosoever is guilty of adultery, shall be put to death. This is scriptural law, though it is not practiced today, because modern civilization does not recognize the laws of God in relation to moral status of mankind. The Lord commanded, “Whosoever sheddeth innocent blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Thereby God has given the law. Life is an important thing. No one has any right to take life, unless God commanded it. The law of God as to violation of the marriage covenant is just as strict, and is on a parallel with law against murder notwithstanding the former is not carried out. 4
Harold B. Lee
Satan is trying to inflame these people to engage in sexual relations, outside holy wedlock, the sin which the Lord has said is next to murder in its seriousness.
Clothe yourself with the armor of righteousness. Don’t give way in a moment of weakness. Safeguard that citadel of purity. Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, if you will keep it clean and pure. (73-06, p. 4) 5
Spencer W. Kimball
It was Alma who said there is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no repentance without suffering. (Alma 39:6.) Many people feel a little sorry and offer one or two little prayers to their Heavenly Father for forgiveness. But that is not enough when they have committed a serious sin. Breaking the law of chastity is one of the most serious sins next to murder. 6
One crime seems to demand another, and sometimes cowardly people, because of possible scandal and social ostracism and not having the courage to meet and solve problems, add to their sexual sin that crime of destroying an unborn child. These twin crimes rate very high in the category of horrible ones, next to murder, according to the scriptures. 7
Next to Murder in Seriousness – The enormity of this sin is underlined by numerous scriptures, and particularly by Alma’s words to his immoral son:
Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost? (Al. 39:5.)
The Lord apparently rates adultery close to premeditated murder, for he said: “And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife; nor seek thy neighbor’s life.” (D&C 19:25.) To a young man seeking help who had allowed himself to indulge heavily in fornication but was not quite yet repentant, I wrote:
… Your sin is the most serious thing you could have done in your youth this side of murder. 8
The Church of Jesus Christ has gone forward with its policy of progress and development. Its teachings are designed by God to give to men an abundant life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. It teaches that men should be honest and upright, and that they should love their fellowmen next to God. It teaches a single moral standard by which men and women everywhere should adhere to the high standard of chastity. “Immorality is next to murder,” is a statement frequently made by its leaders. 9
Ezra Taft Benson
In the category of sins, the Book of Mormon places unchastity next to murder (see Alma 39:5). As Alma states, “Now . . . I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, . . . for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Alma 39:9). If we are to cleanse the inner vessel, we must forsake immorality and be clean (see Alma 60:23). 10
“Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and also, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:14, 17). Here God gives the great law of chastity that lies at the base of purity of family blood and the undefiled home. When the ancient prophets desired to excoriate Israel for her sins, they did it by comparing her to the prostitute. In the category of sins, unchastity stands next to murder, nor may we forget that growing crime of abortion, which often follows unchastity. 11
I think also that our Heavenly Father expects the youth of our church to become exalted in the celestial kingdom. We’re not striving for the lower kingdoms. We’re not candidates for the telestial or terrestrial kingdom. The young people of this church are candidates for the celestial kingdom and the highest degree of glory in that kingdom. That requires a great deal that has to do with our day-to-day standards. This means not just being married in the temple; not just being a good citizen; not just being happy, as measured by the world. It means living every standard of the Church fully.
To our young people it means keeping themselves clean in body and in mind. It means that they go to the marriage altar pure and clean. It means that they will reserve for the marriage relationship those sweet and intimate associations which the God of heaven intended should be a part of marriage, and not be indulged in outside the marriage covenant. The curse of this age is unchastity—next to murder in the category of crimes.
No, we cannot let down our standards. We cannot indulge in promiscuous relations outside the marriage covenant without suffering ill effects from it. Any time we break a law of God, we pay the penalty in heartache, in sadness, in remorse, in lack of self-respect. 12
Immorality is next to murder in God’s category of crime, and always brings with it attendant remorse. A person cannot indulge in promiscuous relations without suffering ill effects from it. He cannot do wrong and feel right—it is impossible. Anytime one breaks a law of God, he pays a penalty in heartache, in sadness, in remorse, in lack of self-respect, and he removes himself from contact with the Spirit of God. Is it any wonder that those who indulge in sex relations outside of marriage deny God? 13
Gordon B. Hinckley
The Church lays great stress on the sanctity of the home and teaches that children are a blessing from the Lord. There is no principle on which the Latter-day Saints lay greater emphasis than the sacredness of the marriage covenant. In Mormon theology adultery is next to murder in gravity. Strict morality is taught, and the Church has used its means and facilities liberally to teach its youth the necessity for moral cleanliness and the blessings of happy marriage. (What of the Mormons? pamphlet, 1982, p. 11.) 14
Little commentary is needed. The statements of the leadership of the Church stand on their own in regard to sexual sin.
In reaffirming the position of the Presidents of the Church in regard to sexual sin we are in no way diminishing the seriousness of the sin of destroying faith as cited in Michael R. Ash’s article, “The Sin ‘Next to Murder’: An Alternative Interpretation”. Destroying the faith of the unsuspecting has also been emphasized by the Lord in these words:
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
- Michael R. Ash, “The Sin ‘Next to Murder’: An Alternative Interpretation,” Sunstone, November 2006, 34–43. ↩
- Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, compiled by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 310. ↩
- Ibid. 275. ↩
- Ibid. 342. ↩
- Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 215. ↩
- Amsterdam, General Session, pp. 4–7. ↩
- Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 177. ↩
- Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], . ↩
- Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 150. ↩
- CR April 1986, Ensign 16 [May 1986]: 4-5. ↩
- Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 277. ↩
- Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 195 – 196. ↩
- Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 122. ↩
- Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 5. ↩