You are Laman and Lemuel, not Nephi

Poor Wayfaring Man

My professor at BYU once asked us to read the first couple of chapters of the Book of Mormon–the First Book of Nephi. The book starts with a story about Nephi’s father, a well-heeled man named Lehi, who has a vision from God, in which the Lord tells him to pack up his things, leave his home in Jerusalem, and depart with his family into the wilderness. Lehi obeys, but some of his sons are harder to convince than others that Jerusalem is to be destroyed and that wandering in the wilderness is the will of God for them. The skeptical sons in the family are Laman and Lemuel, and the believers are Nephi and Sam. My professor asked us, as devout Mormons, which of the brothers we were like.

In case you are wondering, the right answer is always “Nephi”.

When my professor heard that answer from us, he laughed. He told us that if a guy like Lehi were to tell us to leave our homes and go camping with him for an indefinite period of time to escape the evils of our community in Provo, Utah, we–along with most other Mormons–would refuse out-of-hand, saying something like

We know that the people in Provo are a righteous people; for they keep the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, and go to church every Sunday, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and you are judging them (which you are not supposed to do), and you are only trying to lead us away because you think we are gullible.
Very similar words, of course, are spoken by the rebellious (and latently evil) Laman and Lemuel in 1Ne 17:22:
22 And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words…

My professor thought that we students, and most other mainstream Mormons, would probably not have seriously considered following Lehi, because we were already convinced that our church leaders, and LDS culture along with them, were on the right path. We fully bought into the mainstream LDS idea that if we stick with the herd, we cannot be led astray.1234

Nephi, on the other hand, was not dogmatic about the perfect safety of sticking with the Lord’s chosen people. Even Laman and Lemuel, despite their complaining, still abandoned the chosen people of God to follow Lehi into the wilderness.

My professor’s point was that we shouldn’t give Laman and Lemuel such a hard time for their difficulty conforming to the expectations of their highly non-conformist father Lehi. To ignore or discard the expectations of one’s culture is abnormal and often imprudent. Laman and Lemuel were normal and prudent, operating within the paradigm in which they were raised. They had firm concepts of right and wrong, and they believed the religious dogma they were taught when they were young. Just like most Mormons.



  1. “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.” –President Wilford Woodruff, Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.; see also D&C Official Declaration — 1 []
  2. “Joseph the Prophet … said, ‘Brethren, remember that the majority of this people will never go astray; and as long as you keep with the majority you are sure to enter the celestial kingdom.’ ” –Apostle Orson Hyde, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, June 21, 1870, p. 3. []
  3. “I have heard the Prophet speak in public on many occasions. In one meeting I heard him say: ‘I will give you a key that will never rust,—if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.’ The history of the Church has proven this to be true.” –William G. Nelson, in “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal, Dec. 1906, p. 543; paragraph divisions altered. []
  4. “I heard the Prophet Joseph say that he would give the Saints a key whereby they would never be led away or deceived, and that was: The Lord would never suffer a majority of this people to be led away or deceived by imposters, nor would He allow the records of this Church to fall into the hands of the enemy.” –Ezra T. Clark, “The Testimony of Ezra T. Clark,” July 24, 1901, Farmington, Utah; in Heber Don Carlos Clark, Papers, ca. 1901–74, typescript, Church Archives. []

One Response to “You are Laman and Lemuel, not Nephi”

Leave a Reply