We all know the story. Corianton leaves his mission to go after the harlot Isabel. Alma tells him that his sexual sins are next to murder and denying the Holy Ghost. And that’s why the Law of Chastity is so important.
Is that really what the scriptures teach? Let’s start with the incident in question.
2 For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry,and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
5 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?
What are the things that Corianton did that were grievous to Alma:
- Boasting in his strength and wisdom
- Forsaking the ministry and going to the land of Sidon after Isabel.
In verse 4, he tells him he should have tended to the ministry that was entrusted to him. Do you notice he doesn’t mention sexual sin? Why isn’t he calling him out on violating the Law of Chasity? If sexual sin was next to murder, why bother talking about trivial things like boasting in his strength and forsaking the ministry?
4 For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.
Boasting is bad. In fact, in the previous chapter, Alma had just warned Shiblon about boasting.
11 See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.
In verse 5, he says that these things are an abomination, but he has never said Corianton had sex with Isabel, just that he left his ministry to chase after her. I suspect sex did happen, but the fact that it isn’t clearly indicated should tell us something. Alma’s focus is on the ministry that Corianton abandoned, not the reason he abandoned it.
Alma continues to discuss the impact to the ministry a few verses later.
11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.
12 And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;
13 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.
The great iniquity that Corianton did wasn’t having sex outside of marriage. Sexual iniquity would have been brought upon himself, not the Zoramites. Alma specifically says the great iniquity was something Corianton brought upon the Zoramites. Specifically, that after seeing Corianton’s conduct the Zoramites wouldn’t believe Alma’s words.
Alma’s focus is on the effect Corianton’s actions are having on others. Alma places no emphasis on the impact those actions are having on Corianton himself. When Alma says these things are most abominable above all sins, he’s talking about leading people astray, not having sex outside of marriage.
Now I’m not arguing that God has given us a green light to have sex outside of marriage. But Alma is not saying that sex outside of marriage is next to murder. He’s saying that leading people astray is next to murder. He should know – he was guilty of it himself!
6 For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
Alma uses murder to describe his own actions of leading people away from God. He viewed it as committing spiritual murder. Alma was seeing similar behavior in his son Corianton and used similar language (shedding innocent blood) to describe his actions.
If the worth of souls is great, I suspect that Alma was thinking, “how great shall be our sorrow in the soul that doesn’t repent because of our bad example.” The scriptures paint a pretty grim picture of the suffering that those who don’t accept Christ will have to go through. That isn’t something you want to have to answer for on your own behalf. I can’t image how much worse it is when you have to account for someone else whom you prevented from repenting.
Corianton is spiritually killing people. That’s a grave sin. That would sound like something that is next to murder. And for an authorized servant of the Lord to turn his back on what he knows to be true and lead people away from the truth is close to denying the Holy Ghost. So that all makes sense.
But isn’t sex outside of marriage a grave sin too?
In 1942 the First Presidency stated: “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.” (Improvement Era, Nov 1942, 45:758)
President Harold Lee taught that “the Master used interchangeably the words adultery and fornication in defining sexual impurity, and it has been severely condemned in every dispensation by authorized church leaders” (Stand Ye in Holy Places 332).
Is that really true? Let’s look at the Law of Moses.
10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Well, that’s pretty severe: death penalty. Sounds like adultery is bad. How about sex between unmarried people? That’s got to be just as severe if the Lord has drawn no essential distinctions and it has been severely condemned in every dispensation.
16 ¶ And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.
What? The Law of Moses, all justice and no mercy, tells the guy he just has to marry the girl? And if the father refuses the match, he just pays the dowry and goes on with his life? It’s the same physical act, but the punishments are vastly different. Maybe Moses wasn’t an authorized church leader!
We could spend a lot of time speculating on why this is, but it’s just speculation. The scriptures are quite clear that adultery is very bad and not to be tolerated. Non-adulterous sex outside of marriage, while discouraged, is tolerated. The scriptures don’t tell us why they are different, just that they are.
Which takes us back to Corianton. Alma doesn’t accuse him of adultery. There is no discussion of Corianton having a wife at this time. In fact, Alma 39 says:
10 And I command you to take it upon you to counsel with your elder brothers in your undertakings; for behold, thou art in thy youth, and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers. And give heed to their counsel.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: youth
- The part of life that succeeds to [comes after] childhood. In a general sense, youth denotes the whole early part of life, from infancy to manhood; but it is not unusual to divide the stages of life into infancy, childhood, youth and manhood.
This seems pretty consistent with the idea that Corianton isn’t married. So under the Law of Moses, his sexual sins fall under the rules of Exodus 22 instead of Leviticus 20. Sorry First Presidency of 1942, the Nephites at the time of Alma were living under the Law of Moses and that law drew significant distinctions between fornication and adultery.
Once Alma is done reprimanding Corianton for his sins, what does he do?
31 And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words. Amen.
What happened to being sent home early? The shame of the one year waiting period? Groveling before a bishop to prove to him that you are truly sorry? Alma just told him to repent and get back to work?!? But we all know that you can’t repent that easily of something so serious. Even if Alma is out of line, the Lord won’t sustain such a bad decision. Right?
1 And now it came to pass that the sons of Alma did go forth among the people, to declare the word unto them. And Alma, also, himself, could not rest, and he also went forth.
2 Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called.
If Corianton was able to preach the word with the spirit of prophecy and revelation, we might have to re-evaluate some of our assumptions.
So what should we take away from this post? The real takeaway has nothing to do with sex. The gravest possible sin next to murder itself is to lead people away from God. If we are in a position where others are looking to us for spiritual guidance, and we boast in our strength and wisdom, we’re treading on very thin ice. Alma 39 is a strong message to ministers that they need to be on their best behavior. And when they, through their conscious actions, turn people away from God, that is an abomination in the sight of God. Indeed, most abominable above all sins save the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost.