Book of Mormon/Nephi's killing of Laban/Could Satan deceive Nephi
Critics charge that the story of Nephi being told by God to slay Laban (found in 1 Nephi 4:5-18) is problematic because
- the angel which came to Nephi could have been a demonic "angel of light" sent to deceive him;
- Nephi was listening to "a voice in his head" telling him to kill Laban; this could be psychosis or delusion.
- Nephi has experience with both the voice of the Spirit and the voice of the Lord prior to being sent to Jerusalem.
- The angel's credentials are established by his telling Laman and Lemuel something which God had previously only told Nephi.
- The fact that the Nephi is having his "discussion" with the spirit while standing over Laban is clear evidence that he is not discoursing with a demonic power, since such powers have no access to inner mental states.
- The "inner discussion" is also unlikely to merely be a delusion, since
- (a) Nephi is being told to do something he does not want to do;
- (b) He gets the same message repeatedly, with further information
- (c) The further information invokes what God has told him previously by both the Holy Ghost and the voice of the Lord;
- (d) The angel, visible to Nephi and his brothers provides another witness, since he commanded Nephi to go back to the city and promised/warned than Laban would be delivered into Nephi's hands.
Any witness alone might be questionable—but, the interlocking witnesses available to Nephi give him ample reason for confidence. No other explanation matches all the data, except that the angel and the voice of the Spirit both spoke from a divine source.
(This analysis presumes, of course, that the Book of Mormon is true history, and not fiction—but, the critics cannot dismiss it as fiction, or insist that its lessons should be disregarded simply because of the Laban episode, since the narrative permits only one conclusion: the command to slay Laban was from a divine source.)
The Book of Mormon provides abundant textual evidence which puts these issues to rest.
Nephi did not receive the command to kill Laban in a vacuum. It was not his first experience with God. Prior to being sent back to Jerusalem for the brass plates, Nephi had experiences with God:
- And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. (1 Nephi 2:16-17)
Nephi began his "spiritual journey" by having his heart softened by the Lord by the Holy Ghost. This then leads to a more direct experience with the Lord:
- 19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
- 20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
- 21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
- 22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren. (1 Nephi 2:19-22)
Nephi here has more than the "Holy Ghost." He has the Lord "speaking" to him, which seems to be something more direct than the Holy Ghost. Nephi has actually heard the divine voice speaking to Him.
Nephi and his brothers twice attempt to recover the plates. In both cases, Laban attempts to murder them. (See: Nephi and Laban: Legal issues.) The brothers hide in a cave, and Laman and Lemuel begin to beat Nephi and Sam with a rod:
- And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands. And after the angel had spoken unto us, he departed. (1 Nephi 3:29-30.)
Critics charge that this could be a devil appearing as "an angel of light" to mislead Nephi. The critics, however, overlook the contents of the angel's message: he has told Laman and Lemuel that Nephi will rule over them, which is something that God has already told Nephi privately. Since Satan does not know the mind of God (Moses 4:6), a demonic messenger would be unaware of the Lord's previous message to Nephi.
The divine messenger's words would also be accompanied by the spirit of the Lord, with which Nephi also already has experience. Thus, his spiritual witnesses form an interlocking, mutually reinforcing witness. Satan cannot counterfeit the influence of the Holy Ghost, nor can he access the mind of God to mimic the Lord's message to Nephi, unless the critics wish us to conclude that Satan can "eavesdrop" on God's conversations with others.
The command to kill
Nephi has been told by the angel that he is to go back to Jerusalem, and that the Lord will "deliver Laban into your hands" (1 Nephi 2:29). Thus, the idea that the Lord will cause Laban's death has already been mentioned by a divine messenger, as discussed above.
Nephi finds the drunken Laban, "[a]nd it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban" (1 Nephi 4:10). Nephi's reaction is interesting: "but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man" (1 Nephi 4:10, emphasis added).
Nephi is not speaking aloud—one cannot, therefore, conclude that the voice of "the spirit" was, in fact, an evil power giving him commands. LDS theology holds that Satan cannot know the thoughts of mortal hearts, save if mortals express those thoughts through words and actions. Nephi thus replies to the voice in his mind, and gets a reply to his concern—clear evidence that it is not an evil spirit with whom he is conversing, since an evil spirit would have no access to his inner thoughts, as God or the Holy Spirit would.
A secularist critic at this point might insist that Nephi is merely listening to himself in his head—he is delusional or psychotic. This position would be a possibility, were it not for the fact that Nephi has already seen an angel, whose divine credentials are clear. And, Nephi has not seen this being alone—his three brothers have also seen, including Laman and Lemuel, who are not inclined to do more to recover the plates. Thus, Nephi can be confident that the angel is no delusion, and the angel has both reinforced what God told him earlier, and given him a command to go back and find Laban.
After Nephi's initial mental refusal to kill Laban, the Spirit speaks to him twice more, and provides Nephi's mind with thoughts and reasons to obey the Lord:
- "Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands." (1 Nephi 4:11 - the Spirit says the same thing that the angel told Nephi would happen.
- "I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property." (1 Nephi 4:11).
- "And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands' Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief" (1 Nephi 4:12-13).
The Spirit again repeats the angel's message, and Nephi then realizes that this commandment ties into something which the Lord told him earlier:
- I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise. Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law. And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass (1 Nephi 4:14-16).
- [note] DC 6:16: Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.