1 Nephi 4:7-18. Slaying of Laban
How is it that the Book of Mormon justifies Nephi in slaying Laban (1 Nephi 4:7-18), contrary to the commandment “thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17)?
The word used in the ten commandments means “murder,” not “kill.” Indeed, the law of Moses requires the execution of people for certain crimes (e.g., Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 20:16; Numbers 35:16-21, 30; Deuteronomy 13:6-10; 17:12; 18:20; 21:18-21; 22:21-25; 24:7). It was permissible, but not required, to kill nighttime burglars (Exodus 22:2).
Nephi hesitated slaying Laban, even after the Spirit told him to do so (1 Nephi 4:10). But the spirit insisted that he follow the commandment, for the Lord had delivered Laban into his hands (1 Nephi 4:12-17). Nephi wrote, “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).[i]
Recent research has indicated that the principles followed by Nephi in the case of Laban were in accord with ancient Jewish practice and that Jewish tradition holds that Moses was inspired by God to slay the Egyptian (Exodus 2:12) just as David was inspired to slay Goliath (1 Samuel 17:37-51). For a discussion of the evidence, see:
John W. Welch, “Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (Fall 1992)
John A. Tvedtnes, “The Slaying of Laban,” chapter 13 in Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book: Insights From a Book of Mormon Scholar (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone, 1999, later reissued by Horizon); an earlier version, “A Note on the Slaying of Laban,” was posted on the SHIELDS web site at http://www.shields-research.org/Scriptures/BoM/BOMILbn1.html
[i] See Rodney Turner, I Have a Question, “Why did the Lord command Nephi to slay Laban, when to do so was contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill?'” Ensign February 1996.