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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

"we desire with holy zeal to emphasize the enormity of sexual sins." (Joseph F. Smith)

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

"the Book of Mormon places unchastity next to murder" (Ezra Taft Benson)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)


  1. Michael R. Ash, “The Sin ‘Next to Murder’: An Alternative Interpretation,” Sunstone, November 2006, 34–43.
  2. 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.
  3. Ibid. 275.
  4. Ibid. 342.
  5. Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 215.
  6. Amsterdam, General Session, pp. 4–7.
  7. Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 177.
  8. Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], .
  9. Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 150.
  10. CR April 1986, Ensign 16 [May 1986]: 4-5.
  11. Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 277.
  12. Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 195 – 196.
  13. Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 122.
  14. Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 5.


  1. It seems that this sin is as open as all the others now. More and more you see the casualness people have towards this act, disregarding anything to God and His laws. But God will not be mocked and this sin is serious, as it destroys the family unit, the core of society. One just needs to spend 5 mins in the scriptures to understand the consequences of breaking His laws.

  2. I think your quoting of Presidents of the Church is a pretty weak argument. It doesn’t prove anything other than these men believed sexual sin is next to murder. But it doesn’t answer the question if sexual sin is REALLY next to murder. Could it not be that all the Presidents you quoted were raised to believe in the incorrect interpretation of these verses? If yes, then we can hardly rely on their statements as trumping the verses in the Book of Mormon. A quote from Joseph Smith would hold a bit more weight as he was the one who translated these verses and probably had more insight than anyone else. Is there a quote from him about this?

    • I agree (and I believe the prophets through the ages would) that the Prophet Joseph Smith knew more about this subject than any man, save the Lord only and he had strong words to say about it. You can find this quote on wiki that was linked but I think it merits a place here.

      “I was present with several of the Twelve, and gave an address tending to do away with every evil, and exhorting them to practice virtue and holiness before the Lord; told them that the Church had not received any permission from me to commit fornication, adultery, or any corrupt action; but my every word and action has been to the contrary. If a man commit adultery, he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom.

      …I condemned such actions in toto, and warned the people present against committing such evils; for it will surely bring a curse upon any person who commits such deeds.” (HC 6:81)

      I understand this doesn’t directly speak of the verse we are referring, but as far as I know Joseph Smith never wrote a commentary on the Book of Mormon as it is written “in plainness, even as plain as word can be.” (2 Nephi 32:7). That plainness can often be sharp. (2 Nephi 1:26) The Lord is not trifling with us. Where will we draw the line? We cannot afford to overlook the gravity of such sins or we will promote the loose wantonness and irresponsibility the world has adopted. Sexual sin does not merely damage testimonies though it indeed does that. The harm it causes certainly does not end there. It poisons conscience, dulls the spirit and will reap awful and tangible consequences. To the mind, body and soul. Solomon (said to be the wisest man in the bible) Samson (said to be the strongest man in the bible) and David (said to be a “man after God’s own heart”) each fell to the same fate because they let their guard down to the seriousness of this transgression. Life is not a game. The Lord does not treat lightly the taking or creation of life and neither should we. No matter how enticing and ameliorating a modern supposition may be, a correct interpretation of Alma 39 is the only way to not only prevent but actually assist those who have slipped.


    • Michael,
      If you can’t quote the Presidents of the Church as your argument who can you quote? These quotations are clearly from times when these prophets were acting as such. Either you accept that they speak for the Lord and their word is scripture or you reject them as false.

    • Yes. Read Joseph Smith’s words in the King Follett Discourse in which he clearly states that there is no sin (other than that of denying the Holy Ghost) which is irreversible in the Lord’s eyes in this world or the world to come. I think it’s very dangerous to teach this subject matter without the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  3. In case some people think it right to condemn sexual sinners to hell, this was published by BYU

    Joseph Smith declared: “If a man commit adultery, he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom” (HC 6:81). This troublesome statement has caused some to feel a hopelessness because of their transgressions. However, after making a thorough review of scriptures on repentance revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Spencer W. Kimball observed: “Going back to the Prophet’s original statement, had he inserted in it the three words I believe it implies ‘and remains unrepentant,’ this statement would fit perfectly in the program as given in the numerous scriptures, many of which came through the Prophet himself (Miracle of Forgiveness 350).

    • It is also important to note that President Spencer W. Kimball was not justifying the serious danger of such actions.

      “In offering these suggestions let it be understood that I have no intent to minimize the seriousness of the sexual sins or other transgressions but merely to hold out hope to the transgressor, so that men and women of sin may strive with all their power to overcome their errors, wash themselves “in the blood of the Lamb” and be purged and purified, and thus be able to return to their Maker. Those involved must not relax because of the possibility of forgiveness. Let me repeat that it is a serious and solemn matter when people permit themselves to get into sexual sins, of which adultery is only one of the more serious ones.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness p. 351)

      Dismissing the severity of transgression is extremely perilous. The prophets had good reasons to warn us about the repercussions and it’s not to condemn anyone to hell but to keep them from the regret that will come when it’s treated as “no big deal”. I would submit, it is only when we face up to our sins and take responsibility and repair the damage that we prove to be truly penitent. As an addendum, the scriptures, particularly Alma 39, is the playbook for anyone caught in this snare. First recognize the seriousness of the crime and not seek to dismiss or excuse it (Alma 39:3-6). Such reflection will be painful, but will turn to your good. (Alma 39:7) Next it is imperative to “repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.” (Alma 39:9) Then seek the counsel with those who can help you (Alma 39:10)

      Finally Alma instructed his wayward son, “That ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done.” (Alma 39:13). They were written for our day and the answers to all the complexities and problems in our world are within.

    • An easy answer for more wicked times. If you don’t like what Joseph taught then don’t you dare study what John Taylor taught about members who have been to the temple and then commit adultery.

  4. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we as a people would accept God’s Torah or instructions /commandments as the light and truth that it is, and accept the interpretations of Prophets as the same as God’s word, and further, quit trying to wrest (twist like a wick in a lamp, which twisting is where the word wickedness comes from) God’s word and mingle the mocking ways of Babylon or the world to create false flattering interpretations probably for the purpose of gratifying their own sins and gaining praise of other wicked men or maybe for money? That was a long sentence. We should all immediately recognize the fruits of all sexual sin including but not limited to ALL of it! Immodesty, pornography, homosexuality, adultery, etc. etc. can and do destroy the soul, family, body, everything. We treat lightly the teachings of our Father and we need to repent! There should be no argument with this, but instead we should be grateful that we have these teachings.

  5. Do we not believe any more in what the scriptures clearly say, or the prophets teach? “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)

  6. Thank you for clearing that up Margaret. I am glad that was brought up simply because dismissing the Prophets as “mistaken” or “misquoted” is clearly a process of justification. Especially the early Prophets, being much closer to Josephs time. If we point out supposed “misquotes” of the Prophets on this subject, why would I not excuse myself by saying the same with any other subject?

    Also, would a subject serious as this not be continually thought of, studied and prayed about by these leaders?

  7. How could quoting several prophets of God, whom one must guess that you’ve sustained each year, is a weak argument?
    How could Joseph Smith’s quote be troubling?
    Either you believe them to be called of God or you don’t.
    In my experience, of 63 years, the only ones who are bothered or offended by the truth are the guilty.
    I don’t believe that this is a debatable issue. If one prophet says something and is then contradicted by his successors then we know that he was not speaking by the Spirit, if all agree and you still don’t accept/believe: who most likely is wrong?

  8. I thought that those sins were on par with one another simply because it is impossible to make restitution for either of those acts. Repentance requires making restitution. Murderers cannot give back the life, mortal experiences and missed opportunities of their victims, let alone the progeny they would have had. Those who commit sexual sin cannot restore their own or others’ chastity, or erase the memories of that experience.

  9. When used properly the sexual act is a life giving creative power. Akin to Godhood. It is also an expression of love between husband and wife.

    When used improperly the sexual act prostitutes the powers of life and lust is involved not love. Hence its seriousness. Just as murder takes life, sexual sin, since it involves the powers of life, is next to murder in seriousness.

    Chastity and virtue on the other hand protects this creative and life giving power. The Holy Ghost will be your companion and, Parley P. Pratt taught us, the powers of the Spirit are intelligence and life, by living a chaste life and using the power properly will invigorate “the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”

  10. Chastity is a sacred gift from God, and is intended to be lived on a daily basis. He wants us to clean and pure all the time, developing charcter.

  11. Sexual sin is a very broad rubric. If we are going to understand sexual sin we need to tighten our definitions.

    While not found in the Scriptures I prefer to define Adultery as a man and a woman, whom he isn’t married to, engaging in sexual intercourse without the knowledge or permission of her husband. Fornication I define as a man engaging in sexual intercourse with a single woman without the knowledge or permission of her father. I derived these definitions from a careful reading of the Old Testament which shows that Adultery is much different than Fornication. Adultery was so serious that those guilty were subject to stoning which supports so the quotes by our Church leaders. Fornication on the other hand was treated in a much different way. Those men who were guilty of fornication were faced with a choice. They could either marry the girl or pay a dowry the father of the girl.

    You can see this difference in section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants as well.

    Today this difference plays out in how the Church handles either sin. In the case of Adultery the usual punishment is excommunication. In the case of Fornication if the girl is pregnant then a civil marriage is encouraged. If she isn’t pregnant and the couple wants to marry in the Temple then there is a one year waiting period.

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