Murder and Punishment

By Loyal to the Word


         A sometimes misunderstood doctrine of the gospel which is closely connected to the atonement of Jesus Christ is that surrounding the subject of murder. This article will discuss the nature of murder, what its eternal consequences are, and what its appropriate punishment should be.


Sins unto Death


         It is often said that it is never too late to repent or that we can be forgiven for anything. This is generally true doctrine, but it needs to be qualified somewhat before it becomes completely accurate. There are some sins for which there is no forgiveness. The sin against the Holy Ghost is one of these. John the Beloved taught, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death” (1 John 5:16-17). God revealed, “I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death” (D&C 64:7). In other words, there are sins which are forgivable, and there are sins “unto death” which are not forgivable.

         The great sin unto death is the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is denying the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ taught, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men…whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).

         The second sin unto death, which is murder, is like unto the first.


The Hierarchy of Sins


            The Book of Mormon makes clear what the hierarchy of the three worst sins is. Alma explained it to his son, when he said of sexual sins, “Know ye not, my son, that these things [sexual sins] 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?” (Alma 39:5). In other words, the greatest sins are 1) denying the Holy Ghost, next, 2) murder, and then 3) sexual transgressions in all their varieties. The third has forgiveness available, although it is very hard won. The first two, on the other hand, are unforgivable. However, they are not unforgivable in the same sense, and the fate of a murderer is not the same as the fate of a son of perdition.


The Fate of a Son of Perdition


            Once a person sins against the Holy Ghost, they remove themselves completely beyond the pale of grace. Their irreversible fate is to suffer in hell until the last resurrection, in which they will receive a resurrected body without glory, and then they will be cast straightway into outer darkness with the devil and his angels for all eternity. Joseph Smith taught that the sons of perdition can never be redeemed and are eternally lost, and that the idea that they can be restored is a “doctrine of devils” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 24).


The Fate of a Murderer


         What is the fate of a murderer? It is clear from the revelations of God and the teachings of Joseph Smith that murderers receive no forgiveness. “Thou shalt not kill;” the Lord declared in the early days of our dispensation, “and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come” (D&C 42:18, emphasis added). This is the same phraseology that is used for sons of perdition. However they will not share the same fate, since the telestial kingdom is the place where murderers go, unless they have also sinned against the Holy Ghost, “But…murderers…shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimestone” (Revelation 21:8) until “death and hell [shall deliver] up the dead” (Revelation 20:13). At that time, murderers who have not also sinned against the Holy Ghost shall finally inherit the telestial kingdom, which consists entirely of those who have previously spent their time in hell (D&C 76:84, 106). All murderers go to hell. As soon as a person commits murder, they become completely ineligible for the celestial kingdom forever, even if they desperately want to repent.

            Joseph Smith taught all of this. His words about the fate of murderers are thus:


                             [N]o murderer hath eternal life. Even David must wait for those times of refreshing, before he can come forth
                             and his sins be blotted out. For Peter, speaking of him says, “David hath not yet ascended into heaven, for 
                             his sepulchre is with us to this day.” His remains were then in the tomb. Now, we read that many bodies of
                             the Saints arose at Christ's resurrection, probably all the Saints, but it seems that David did not. Why?
                             Because he had been a murderer. If the ministers of religion had a proper understanding of the doctrine of 
                             eternal judgment, they would not be found attending the man who forfeited his life to the injured laws of his 
                             country, by shedding innocent blood; for such characters cannot be forgiven, until they have paid the last
                             farthing. The prayers of all the ministers in the world can never close the gates of hell against a murderer.
                             (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 188.)


            Joseph Smith also taught,


                             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...

                            This is the case with murderers. They could not be baptized for the remission of sins, for they had shed 
                             innocent blood.
                            (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 339.)


            And so we find the very interesting truth that murderers cannot be baptized, even if they wish to be very much. This means that they absolutely cannot go to the celestial kingdom, for baptism is a prerequisite to that kingdom. And, as we have already established, no murderer will go to the terrestrial kingdom either, since murderers suffer the torments of hell, and those who go to hell but have not denied the Holy Ghost can only inherit the telestial kingdom (D&C 76:83-84). To summarize, at the moment a person commits murder, they are doomed to suffer in hell once they die, be resurrected at the last resurrection, and finally inherit the telestial kingdom only after terrible suffering.


What is Murder?


            Murder, in order to be murder, is a wrongful killing. Murder is not a self-defense killing, a wartime killing, nor a killing accomplished by due process (i.e. a lawful execution). Moses killed an Egyptian in order to defend one of his Hebrew brethren (Ex. 2:11-12), but he is not thereby going to hell and then to the telestial kingdom, since the act was defensive in nature and did not qualify as murder. Likewise Nephi killed Laban, and even though it was somewhat of a pre-emptive strike, nevertheless it was defensive in nature, since as Nephi remembered just prior to the killing, Laban “had sought to take away mine own life...and he had also taken away our property” (1 Ne. 4:11), not to mention the fact that Laban surely would have searched out Nephi and his family to kill them once he realized the plates were gone. Therefore, not all killing qualifies as murder. The First Presidency stated in April 6, 1942, that those who kill their fellowman during wartime are not guilty of murder. They have said:


                            The whole world is in the midst of a war that seems the worst of all time. This Church is a worldwide Church.
                            Its devoted members are in both camps. They are the innocent war instrumentalities of their warring
                            sovereignties. On each side they believe they are fighting for home, and country, and freedom. On each side,
                            our brethren pray to the same God, in the same name, for victory. Both sides cannot be wholly right; perhaps
                            neither is without wrong. God will work out in His own due time and in His own sovereign way the justice and
                            right of the conflict, but He will not hold the innocent instrumentalities of the war, our brethren in arms,
                            responsible for the conflict. This is a major crisis in the world-life of man. God is at the helm.
                            (Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus
                            Christ of Latter-day Saints
, 6: 159.)


         Murder is an act of malicious intent; it is by its nature a wrongful killing, and those who have killed under other circumstances are not guilty of it.


God’s Prescribed Punishment


         What is the proper earthly punishment for murder? Much is said by the liberal-minded that execution of murderers is inhumane or morally wrong. But this is entirely out of sync with what God has prescribed for murder. In every age of the world, God has prescribed the death penalty, capital punishment, for the crime of murder. God commanded Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6). In the Mosaic dispensation, God prescribed death penalties for many crimes. But these crimes could all be satisfied through alternate penalties, chief of which was monetary reimbursement called “satisfaction.” The exception, however, was murder. “Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall surely be put to death” (Num. 35:16). The Nephites’ law was clear in its punishment for murder. Jacob the brother of Nephi declared, “Wo unto the murderer who deliberately killeth, for he shall die” (2 Ne. 9:35). Later in the Book of Mormon, it is made clear that “the laws which have been given unto [the Nephites] by our fathers, which are correct…were given them by the hand of the Lord” (Mosiah 29:25). And these correct laws from God verily declared that “he that murdered was punished unto death” (Alma 1:18). Now coming down to our own day, to our own dispensation – what has the Lord declared regarding murder in the latter days? God said, “And again, I say, thou shalt not kill; but he that killeth shall die” (D&C 42:19). The First Presidency has declared, “The revelations of God to this Church make death the penalty for capital crime, and require that offenders against life and property shall be delivered up to and tried by the laws of the land” (Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, Messages of the First Presidency, 3: 185). In other words, it is God’s will, and it is proper and correct that a murderer should die. It makes the world a better place when a murderer is destroyed, and it gives the victims and the family of victims justice for the perpetrator to be executed. What if the nation in which a person lives does not observe the God-ordained death penalty? There is a provision in God’s law that “if any persons among you shall kill they shall be delivered up and dealt with according to the laws of the land” (D&C 42:79). In other words, follow the law. But to forego the death penalty is not the preferred, nor the proper scenario.

         The idea that a murderer’s life must be forfeit ties in to the oft-misunderstood doctrine of blood atonement. In relation to this doctrine, Joseph Fielding Smith taught:


                                Just a word or two now, on the subject of blood atonement. What is that doctrine? Unadulterated, if you
                                please, laying aside the pernicious insinuations and lying charges that have so often been made, it is simply
                                this: Through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the 
                                gospel. Salvation is twofold: General-that which comes to all men irrespective of a belief (in this life) in
                                Christ-and, Individual-that which man merits through his own acts through life and by obedience to the laws
                                and ordinances of the gospel.

                                But man may commit certain grievous sins-according to his light and knowledge-that will place him beyond the
                                reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved he must make sacrifice of his own life to atone -
                                so far as in his power lies-for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail.
                                (Doctrines of Salvation, 1: 133-134.)


         It is apparent, therefore, that the punishment of death is the very best thing for everyone involved when considering the crime of murder. It gives justice to the slain victim, peace to the family of the victim, and when a murderer voluntarily submits to death it allows him to begin his process of repentance, so far as he is able, and if done with the proper spirit of contrition, no doubt makes his suffering in hell less severe. From the foregoing, therefore, it is very obvious that members of the Church should believe in capital punishment. There are liberal voices that say that capital punishment is somehow wrong. But this is a completely mistaken and unscriptural idea. If capital punishment is wrong, as the liberals say it is, then God himself is guilty of wrong-doing. A notion like that, of course, is complete absurdity.


Exceptions to the Rule: Cain and David


         In all the record of humanity found in Holy Writ, there has been only two exceptions to the rule of God ordaining capital punishment. This is the cases of Cain and David. 


         When Cain murdered his righteous brother Abel, God did not prescribed death but said, “A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” and also cursed him in his livelihood, which was “a tiller of the ground” (Moses 5:37, 17). In addition to this, God did a very peculiar thing. Cain complained that someone finding him would surely carry out a penalty of death upon him, “it shall come to pass, that he that findeth me will slay me, because of mine iniquities.” The Lord declared in reply, “Whosoever slayeth thee, vengeance shall be taken upon him sevenfold. And I the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” (Moses 5:39-40).

         Why would the Lord do this? Why would God set a distinctive mark upon Cain so that he would be spared from death? Certainly it was done so that a certain number of spirits who “could not have the right of Priesthood” (Abr. 1:27) could be born through Cain’s lineage. It was also necessary that this group of God’s children be easily identified from others, which was the purpose of the mark. In the case of the Lamanites, their mark was given with this specific purpose in mind: “[T]he Lord God set a mark upon them…And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction” (Alma 3:7-8). We can only assume a similar reason for the mark placed upon Cain and his seed, that is, “that they might not mix” with the priesthood-holding people while the seed of Cain were still under the curse of priesthood restriction.

         It cannot be denied that the seed of Cain are the blacks. There are liberal voices that would cringe at the notion that black people are descended from such a notorious character as Cain. They would see it as offensive and against the social progress that has occurred for these people. But this matter is set forth far too clearly in scripture. And no offense is intended. Certainly we wish to afford blacks their proper and due respect as fellow children of Almighty God, and who are our brothers and sisters, for the Lord “hath made of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26). But in doing so we cannot decide to ingore (or worse yet, deny) the story of their lineage in a misguided effort to be polite. And the matter of Cain and his descendents happens to be relevent to the topic of murder and punishment. No offense is intended; we wish simply to discover the truth as God has revealed it, and if that runs counter to modern political correctness, then this author would suggest that it is the fashionable notions of modern-day political correctness that are in error, and not the Word of God.

         Let us now proceed to prove by scripture that the blacks who were denied priesthood until 1978 are the descendants of Cain. This will demonstrate that the reason Cain was not executed for murder was so that those who were not allowed to hold the priesthood could be born over the years through his identifiable lineage.

         A mark, similar to that placed upon the Lamanites (Alma 3:7, 2 Ne. 5:21), was placed upon Cain (Moses 5:39-40). The scriptures tell us that “the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among [the rest of Adam’s children]” (Moses 7:22). These were the same people who were known as “the people of Canaan” in pre-Flood times, who were separate from all the others of Adam’s children, and upon which “a blackness came upon” them, meaning their skin (Moses 7:7-8). Like Cain, the people of Canaan were cursed pertaining to success in agriculture, dwelling in a land that was barren and unfruitful (Moses 7:7). The lineage of Cain survived the Flood when Ham, Noah’s son, married a descendent of Cain name Egyptus (whose name means “forbidden”). The story of these pre-Flood Canaanites is given in Abraham:


                                  Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the
                                  Canaanites by birth
. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was
                                  preserved in the land
. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and
                                  the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; When
                                  this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham,
                                  sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land
. Now the first government of Egypt was established by
                                  Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham,
                                  which was patriarchal. Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and
                                  justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first
                                  generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his
                                  father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as 
                                  pertaining to the Priesthood
. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of
, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was
                                  led away by their idolatry;
                                  (Abraham 1:21-27, emphasis added.)


         It can further be established that Ham is the father of the blacks. When Ham uncovered the nakedness of his father Noah after the flood, Noah renewed the curse as pertaining to the priesthood upon Ham’s posterity (Gen. 9:22-26). Noah decreed that God would “dwell in the tents of Shem” meaning that God would reveal himself to the world through Shem’s descendents. Canaan, the youngest son of Ham here representing Ham’s entire posterity, would receive no such privilege (Gen. 9:24-27). In other scriptures Ham’s posterity is clearly designated as the blacks. Ham had a son named Cush (Gen. 10:6; 1 Chron. 1:8-10) for whom Ethiopia, a portion of black Africa, was designated as the land of Cush (Isaiah 18:1 see footnote c). The continent of Africa is known in the scriptures generally as the “land of Ham” (Ps. 105:23; Ps. 106:21-22). Also, the Bible Dictionary under the heading “Ham” reads, “Cush = dark-skinned race of eastern Africa and Southern Arabia: Mizraim = Egyptians; Phut = Libyans; Canaan = inhabitants of Palestine before arrival of the Semitic races” (p. 698).

         Who else was “of that lineage by which [they] could not have the right of Priesthood” except the blacks of Africa? They are the only people of whom we have record of having had such a restriction on priesthood as this. From the foregoing therefore, it is very apparent that the blacks are the descendants of Cain. The most irrefutable proof that the blacks are indeed descendants of Cain, however, is the fact that the Prophet Joseph Smith himself taught that this was so. He explicity referred to the “negroes” as the “sons of Cain” (History of the Church, 4:501). Therefore, there is simply no disputing this curious fact. And whether this fact is politically correct or not makes no difference, since it is nonetheless true in any case. The descent of black people from Cain is an interesting fact that should be accepted but not used as a basis for derision. Again, why is the lineage of the blacks significant to this subject of murder and punishment? It is significant because it serves to demonstrate why Cain, as the first murderer, was spared from the earthly penalty of murder: God had a plan for Cain’s descendants, and therefore his life necessarily had to be preserved.



         David was the next exception to the general rule of capital punishment. David was guilty of killing Uriah, a member of his elite forces (see 2 Sam. 23:8-39; 1 Chron. 11:11-41), in order to disguise Davids love affair with Uriahs wife Bathsheba (see 2 Sam. 11). While David did not personally slay Uriah, he did deliberately send him to his death by having his general Joab place Uriah “in the forefront of the hottest battle” (2 Sam. 11:15). The design and intention was to have Uriah killed so that David could conceal his guilt with Bathsheba.

         Ordinarily one would expect a death sentence to have passed upon David. But perhaps because he was king, or because the Lord decreed that he had further use for David in mortality, the penalty of death was foregone in Davids case. David was told through the prophet Nathan that “The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die” (2 Sam. 12:14, emphasis added). Note that a special declaration of exemption was necessary: the specific declaration that thou shalt not die” was required. Why? Because the law was: Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death” (Num. 35:31). 

         A likely reason for David’s exemption from the penalty of death was so that David could sire his son Solomon through Bathsheba. The scriptures say, And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him” (2 Sam. 12:24)Solomon became a great ruler, a builder of Gods temple, and ultimately an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ.




         There can be no forgiveness for murder in the sense that the murderer can escape the torments of hell or be saved. Murderers must always go to hell. But ultimately they are cleansed and forgiven in the sense that they inherit telestial glory, which is after they suffer in hell and are resurrected. Those like Cain, who are sons of perdition in addition to being murderers, of course will never escape hell. God has long decreed that death is the appropriate punishment for a murderer, and no amount of liberal thinking makes any difference to this fact. There has only ever been two recorded exceptions to God's standard of capital punishment for murder: the peculiar and atypical cases of Cain and David. There is no provision in the gospel that makes it acceptable to reject the death penalty for murder. All Latter-day Saints who know and understand these things should therefore believe in capital punishment.



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