The Murder Paradox

It’s presented as a black and white truth: There is no forgiveness for murder.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says:

Murder violates the sanctity of life and cuts off the ability of its victims to “work out their destiny” (Benson, p. 355). Moreover, because “man cannot restore life,” and restoration or restitution is a necessary step for repentance, obtaining forgiveness for murder is impossible (Kimball, 1969, p. 129; D&C 42:18-19).
https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Murder

The encyclopedia cites D&C 42, which states:

D&C 42
18 And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come.

But in the Book of Mormon, we have the Anti-Nephi-Lehites, Lamanites who repented, buried their weapons of war, and chose to suffer death rather than take up arms to defend themselves. These people admitted to committing many murders. How is it possible that the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s were forgiven of their many murders?

Alma 24
9 And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.
10 And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.
11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

How can the Encyclopedia of Mormonism claim forgiveness for murder is impossible if the Book of Mormon highlights a group of Lamanites that had committed many murders and yet were forgiven by God? Is the Book of Mormon teaching false doctrine? If the Book of Mormon is true, that would seem to indicate the Encyclopedia of Mormonism teaches false doctrine. Perhaps if the authors had referenced the scriptures instead of Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, they would have not contradicted the “keystone” of the Church.

We are judged according to our knowledge. The more knowledge we have, the more accountable we are.

Alma 29:5
5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.

What does the Book of Mormon say about the Lamanites?

Mosiah 10:17
17 And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.

These Lamanites had been taught from birth that murder was acceptable. God accommodated their incorrect knowledge and forgave them of their murders once they learned it was wrong and repented of their murders.

So what about D&C 42? This section is the law for those who will live in Zion. These people will know good from evil. In particular, they know that murder is not acceptable. So a resident of Zion who kills won’t be held blameless. He knew better and chose to kill regardless. That seems to be the reason he won’t receive forgiveness, whereas the Lamanites had not been taught to know good and evil, and could receive forgiveness in this life for their many murders.

3 Nephi 6:18
Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.

Helaman 7:23-24
It shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent. For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent.

This demonstrates how important it is to look at the context of each scripture. The Lord has different messages and different expectations for different audiences depending on their level of knowledge. Misapplying a message to the wrong audience can lead to false doctrine that contradicts scripture – like claiming that murder can’t be forgiven.

6 thoughts on “The Murder Paradox

  1. My son a missionary in Brazil could not continue to teach a former gang member/ drug dealer due to murder. He was repentant, the mission president said no.

  2. How does the story of Alma the younger compare to the idea that “restoration or restitution is a necessary step for repentance”?

    It appears he was forgiven immediately after asking for forgiveness, even when restitution was impossible. Leads me to believe restitution is for the benefit of others not the one performing the restitution. It seems more like Alma did it out of love and perhaps to wipe away any chance someone could continue to blame him for their sins in relation to what he had previously done.

    1. That’s a great question. We’re taught today that we must make restitution before we can receive forgiveness, but as you point out, Alma received forgiveness before he regained his strength.

      Rather than restitution being a condition of forgiveness, I think it’s a consequence of forgiveness. Once we have truly repented and received forgiveness, we want to undo the damage we have done to others.

      The Anti-Nephi-Lehites had already been forgiven of their murders, yet they are willing to go into slavery to “repair” it:
      Alma 27:8 And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.

      Alma and the sons of Mosiah had a similar attitude. In Alma 36:14 he speaks about his time spent seeking to desotry the church of God and says:
      “I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction.”

      And what do he and the sons of Mosiah do after they have been forgiven?
      Mosiah 27
      32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.
      33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.
      34 And four of them were the sons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.
      35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.

      Your assessment of Alma doing it out of love seems to be supported by the scriptures. I’d just qualify that it was a specific type of love: charity.

      1. Further evidence of their charity is the willingness of the sons of Mosiah to go and preach “the word of God to their brethren, the Lamanites.” (Mosiah 28:1)

        Vs 3 “…for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”

        They saw and felt what that endless torment would be like and they would do anything to spare any and every human soul from experiencing it. Do we feel the same about those who think of us as their enemies? Do we even feel that about our fellow countrymen who speak or look different from us.

        Charity is the key, but charity cannot be developed under false pretenses or when stumbling blocks cause us to err in what we think is faith.

  3. I’m surprised you didn’t reference this from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 339

    “A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness. David sought repentance at the hand of God carefully with tears, for the murder of Uriah; but he could only get it through hell: he got a promise that his soul should not be left in hell.”

    Is there a difference between premeditated murder as in the case with Uriah and going to war where death is the by product but not the goal?

    1. Under the Lord’s laws of warfare, you only go out to war when the Lord commands you.
      D&C 98
      33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.
      34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;
      35 And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;
      36 Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.

      When your enemies come upon you, you can fight defensively to protect yourself.
      Alma 43
      47 And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.

      Under those two circumstances, I don’t see how God could condemn you for murder when obeying his commandments. But when was the last time we were commanded by God to go into battle, or needed to defend our homes against enemies? For the individual soldiers, especially those forced to fight, I believe rendering unto Caesar and submitting to the powers that be applies, and lawful actions during warfare are not murder. To the leaders who choose to attack without a commandment from God, I suspect that even though they aren’t pulling the trigger, their actions are far closer to premeditated murder. But that’s just my opinion.

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