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Nephi & Alma: A Study of Their Approaches

The following has been rampant on my mind for over a year now as it is something that has transformed how I interact with people and how I approach my search for truth. The following is not meant to be a critique of either Alma or Nephi, but simply to highlight some insights about them that might be very informative for us as we navigate these times of divisiveness and uncertainty.

If anyone has issues or finds any flaws in the details below, I would be happy to hear them. With that said, the following is my best estimation of the data and details I have found.


Nephi is universally known for being someone who gets things done. He is one who treasures the words of the scriptures, especially Isaiah. He teaches in plainness that is probably unsurpassed by any other prophet. He is very bold in his teachings, at least in his earlier years. He values revelation in the sense that he understands that "God is giving away the spiritual secrets of the universe".


Alma is universally known for being a former apostate who had a miraculous intervention in his life. His missionary efforts and establishing the Church among the Nephites are most notable. His teachings on Faith, Justice, Mercy, the Resurrection, and Christ are very notable. He is the first person in the Book of Mormon we are given any details about for being possibly translated.

To Compare Them

Nephi had a tendency to revert to the sword quicker than Alma. In D&C 98 we are given the following verses:

"23 Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;

24 But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you.

25 And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundred-fold.

26 And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold;

27 And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out.

28 And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.

29 And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands;

30 And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.

31 Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.

32 Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles."

In summary, when an enemy comes against you and your family 3 times Nephi and others have been counseled to revile not. It is on the 4th occasion when an enemy does this that we have a choice to make. We are either justified in taking actions against them because the Lord has "delivered [them] into [your] hands" or we can spare them, again. 

Only one of the options has an attached blessing to it and it is the harder choice to make. Note that Nephi is mentioned specifically as having received this revelation and instruction from the Lord previously. Dr. David Pulsipher makes the following observation:

"[The Lord] singles [Nephi] out. And in singling him out, He seems to be making a very important comment on the way Nephi had told his story [about Laban]. What that seems to be revealing is that Nephi may not have told the entire story here, that maybe, in fact, he did have a choice. He had a choice to spare Laban—to get the plates without having to decapitate him. In his killing of Laban, he is justified according to the principles of Section 98, but killing Laban and then taking the sword and taking that with him into the wilderness is kind of, in some ways, symbolic of that choice that he made. He then creates a context in many ways in which his children will live by that sword for generations to come, and we see that play itself out as he uses that sword then in his conflict with his brothers and as he makes replicas of it for his children to use against the children of his brothers. They, as we all know, become the principal antagonists to one another over the course of the text." (1)

It might be troublesome for some to accept this line of reasoning for Nephi, but some further evidence is that Nephi never speaks of the sword of Laban again; we are spared the details of Nephi having to recount about the experience of Laban to Lehi; we have a few instances as Nephi gets older of showing some sort of regret or admitting to weaknesses he has (see 1 Nephi 19:6, 2 Nephi 4:17-19).

Let's look at Alma as an example now. In Alma 31 he famously says:

"And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God."

Alma, instead of trying the sword, tries the virtue of the word of God on the Zoramites. This is not to say that Alma is void of any Nephi like tendencies, but pointing out a slight Alma and Amulek tendency is instructive. Dr. Kylie N. Turley, speaking of horrific occurrences in Alma 14, explains:

 "This is absolutely horrifying. In Alma 14, we have this moment where Alma and Amulek are brought before the fire and there’s a little verb tense change in there that makes it clear that they are standing before the fire as it is burning people... They’re seeing their converts, women and children, scriptures, be burned. We never hear of Amulek’s family again. There’s a very good chance that Amulek’s family are burned in front of him.
And they sit there stunned. Stunned and in shock. And as the fire finishes burning, the chief judge comes over and stands before Alma and Amulek and he slaps them—and there’s enough slapping that goes on in this episode that you can tell it’s a hostile, demeaning experience. He slaps them and says, “After what ye have seen, will you preach again unto this people that they should be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?” This is direct. It’s pointed, and it’s mocking Alma. Mocking his words that he preached. He was the one who said, “If you don’t repent, you will suffer as if you were in a lake of fire and brimstone.” So they say, “Look what we can do Alma.”...
They don’t answer the chief judge then, and I don’t know if they’re stunned into silence or this an inspired choice not to answer. I kind of wonder if they are speechless after what they’ve seen...
They speak a little, in the prison. But then it goes silent. Really Alma, we don’t have any public sermons or public rhetoric for five years on anything. But on the lake of fire and brimstone—and this has changed how I read the Book of Mormon, to realize that after this chief judge slaps them and says, “Will you preach again of the fire and brimstone?” The answer is, “No. Never again. Not in the rest of the Book of Mormon. We will never say those words again.”...
Not just them—no one. It’s been used multiple times before, by many people—King Benjamin, Jacob, Nephi. But we’re not going to say this anymore... I don’t know that you could get a whole society on board with, “Oh yeah, we don’t say that anymore.” But could a careful editor say, “We’re not going to say that anymore” and take it out of the book? Yes. Someone recognized his pain, someone recognized what the horrific—I can’t even think of the words—horrible moment this was, to watch people be burned alive because of an unfortunate metaphor. It’s horrible." (2)

With this in mind, we can see a pattern here. To employ violence or violent imagery may be justifiable by the Lord, but that doesn't negate "a more excellent way". It interesting to note Paul's usage of that phrase:

"... covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." (1 Corinthians 12:31)

Paul just finishes listing off a litany of spiritual gifts and asks us to covet them. With that said, he transitions into 1 Corinthians 13 by noting it is a more excellent way compared to what he has just taught. Those relatively familiar with the scriptures should recognize that 1 Corinthians 13 is about Charity. With this in mind, lets read the first few verses with Nephi and Alma in mind and see if we get a little more clarity as to what is being taught:

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)

All the things listed by Paul in those two verses are teachings that Nephi employs often in his writings. This is not to say what Nephi is teaching is false, but it might highlight, again, Nephi's weakness that he laments about later in life. Nephi doesn't teach about Charity until 2 Nephi 26 and 2 Nephi 33. He only mentions and discusses it for a verse or two on both occasions.


With the previous things in mind, what can be said or what was my intent?

It is my opinion that the things Nephi laments about himself later in life have to deal with some of the choices he made in regards to his brothers and Laban. It is my opinion that Alma and prophets after him reform their teaching about repentance because of a violent metaphor employed by Amulek and prophets before him. To paint the picture one last time, Dr. David Pulsipher compares the story of Captain Moroni and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis:

"... there’s two ways in which the Book of Mormon demonstrates the effectiveness of violence and the effectiveness of other strategies. One of them is in the short-term. There are many examples of the short-term effectiveness of war. Moroni does protect his Nephite community. Benjamin protects his Nephite community. Nephi protects his Nephite community. Right? Each of these warrior prophets use violence in the form, usually, of armies to protect their people.

And yet, we also have examples of the short-term effectiveness of nonviolent techniques. The frequent examples of flight in the Book of Mormon demonstrate that flight is an effective tool to protect people. In addition to that, we have examples of loving confrontation, actually, which is very effective. One of my favorite examples is the beloved story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. We talk a lot about the burying of their swords, and we talk about the way in which they go out and meet their enemies on the battlefield and convert those enemies through their deaths. One of the things we often fail to notice is how they go out to meet their enemies. They don’t just wait for them. They don’t wait in their homes and cower to be slaughtered. They go out and confront them in a very brave, fearless sort of way. It’s that fearlessness, it’s that confrontational part of it, that actually makes what they do quite effective. If they had cowered in their homes, they probably wouldn’t have had the same effect on their enemies as they did by going out and very bravely meeting them without any weapons...

They go out and throw their bodies as shields to their families, and in doing that, they stop the violence. The Lamanites stop, and even the hard-hearted Amalekites and Amulonites who are not converted stopped their violence. That is a really salient point that the nonviolence works. Although they lose 1,005, it’s one of the lowest casualty rates recorded in the Book of Mormon. Moroni’s armies commonly lost thousands of people in battles, and here, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis protect their community with losing only 1,000. As Mormon points out, all of them were righteous. All of them go to heaven. Nobody goes to hell that day. None of the attackers die. All of the movement is towards God. It’s a remarkable moment." (3)

What a beautiful picture! Is it possible that the stories of Nephi and Captain Moroni are provided to show us how we can be justified in our efforts to preserve liberty and our religion, but we are given other examples in the text that show us that the promises made in D&C 98 are real?!

Interestingly, Alma (after Alma 14) consistently employs a different approach. He consistently tries the virtue of the word of God. It is interesting to consider that both Nephi and Captain Moroni both die of natural causes and it is Alma who is, possibly, translated and taken to heaven (see Jacob 1:12, Alma 63:3, & Alma 45:19). 

How many of us are willing to defend the truth by using the sword? How many of us are willing to spread the truth using the sword of the spirit?

For me, I realized that my violence of wording mattered just like physical violence matters. I realized for the longest time I was defending the truth in the spirit of reviling and railing:

"Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God." (3 Nephi 6:13, **NOTE** The word 'revile' is the same word D&C 98 uses)

I realized that I can exhaust trying the virtue of the word of God and invoke unimaginable blessing for me and my posterity as D&C 98 promises. Instead of having the sword of Captain Moroni, the more excellent way appears to be Charity, a.k.a the virtue of the word of God. We may speak the truth to others which cut to their very center like Nephi, but we must be prepared for the consequences of our violent wording (Alma and Amulek were not). There is a more excellent way to our railings and revilings.


  1. Interesting and thought provoking. I would like to add something that I have noticed and admired about Captain Moroni. Even though he is the captain of the Nephite army "he does not delight in bloodshed". I have long noted the numerous times that he stops the fighting and gives the other side an opportunity to lay down their weapons and covenant/promise not to take them up again against the Nephites.

    1. It is an excellent point. Captain Moroni probably does those things because of the teachings in D&C 98. He knows that all out way is not the more excellent way.


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