“Nehor’s Narcissism: The Influence of a Popular Renegade,” Ensign, April 2020
The book of Alma begins with the story of a large, strong man named Nehor. Accused of slaying an older Nephite hero and teacher named Gideon, Nehor is condemned to die before the new chief judge, Alma the Younger (see Alma 1:10, 14). Nehor suffers an “ignominious death” (Alma 1:15), but his selfish, narcissistic message leaves a lingering appeal among the Nephites.
Nehor preached what “he termed to be the word of God” while ironically “bearing down against the church” of God (Alma 1:3). First, he taught that priests should become popular and be supported by the people rather than have “to labor with their hands” (Alma 1:3). Second, he preached “that all mankind should be saved at the last day.” With no effort on their part, “all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4).
Nehor’s teachings became so popular that many Nephites practiced what he preached: “they began to support him and give him money” (Alma 1:5). His selfish appeal to a life of spiritual ease without the acceptance of personal responsibility for our choices remains a siren call in our world today. Such a call can lure God’s children from the covenant path of following Jesus Christ, with its attendant blessings of repentance, growth, service, and sacrifice.
Despite Nehor’s demise, his influence continued to permeate Nephite culture and politics because of the motives of those who accepted his false doctrines. Nehor’s followers demonstrated a love for “the vain things of the world,” including “costly apparel” and “riches and honor.” They told lies, committed whoredoms, and persecuted believers (see Alma 1:16, 32).
Nehor’s sad legacy can help us examine ourselves and our motives. Do we long for the praise of the world? Do we use our prosperity for unrighteous purposes? Are we tempted by sexual practices God has prohibited? Do we exercise unrighteous dominion at home, at work, or in the world to gratify our pride? Do we hide our sins?
Contrast the fruits “of the profession of Nehor” (Alma 14:18) with the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. To the faithful, the God of Israel promises property, posterity, and priesthood.1 Through His righteous covenant people “shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel” (Abraham 2:11).
The staining influence of Nehor can be seen four years later when Amlici rises to power, is crowned king by his followers, and wars against Alma and the Nephites.2 Mormon’s commentary helps us evaluate the lasting impact our attitudes and actions can have on others. He uses the word distinguished (see Alma 2:11; 3:4) while explaining that Amlici’s followers desired so passionately to differentiate themselves from the Nephites that they changed their name to “Amlicites” and “marked themselves with red in their foreheads” (Alma 3:4).
Contrast the external change of the Amlicites with the internal change of another Book of Mormon people. Mormon again uses the word distinguished (see Alma 23:16; 27:26–27) but this time to capture the spiritual transformation of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. For generations, they are remembered as being so “converted unto the Lord” that they “never did fall away” (Alma 23:6). They were known for their internal makeover, “for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27).
They also received a new name but were differentiated by the spiritual appearance of a new heart.
When it comes to the generational influence we can have on our family, friends, and fellow Saints, we would do well to ponder this question: Will we be distinguished for our dissension, like Nehor and the Amlicites, or will we be distinguished for our discipleship, like Alma and the Anti-Nephi-Lehies?
Ironically, the sin of priestcraft—which ultimately led to Nehor’s act of murder and subsequent conviction—is a vice that focuses entirely on the individual. Priestcraft is a sin of selfishness whereby men “set themselves up for a light unto the world … but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2 Nephi 26:29).
The Savior teaches, “Let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works.” And He tells us why: to “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (3 Nephi 12:16).
May our actions and motives never cast shadows that eclipse the light of the Son. Rather, let us so live that our actions help God’s children find and follow illumination from that Light.