The reference is to Nehor, a rebel preacher, first named in Alma 1:15. This man, large of stature and “noted for his much strength” (Alma 1:2), is brought before Alma during his first year as chief judge around 91 b.c. Nehor’s agenda among the people is to persuade them that the ministry should be supported out of the public coffers. His philosophy is designed to appeal to the masses: “And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4).
Intoxicated with success and inflated in his pride, Nehor begins to build up a church of his own consisting of the followers he is able to lure away from the people of God. In this he is met with resistance from the faithful, including the aging Gideon who has been instrumental in assisting the colony of Limhi to escape Lamanite bondage and return to Zarahemla (see Mosiah 22:3–9).
His devious philosophy, however, is not even expunged from the undercurrent of society with his death, “for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor” (Alma 1:16). Not many years later, Amlici, another disciple of Nehor, arises to cause difficulty among the people. Alma contends with Amlici “face to face” (Alma 2:29), putting down the insurrection he has caused. Thereafter the Nehoristic philosophy rears its ugly head from time to time among the people in the form of factions desirous to undermine liberty and righteousness (see Alma 14:16–18; 15:15; 16:11; 21:4; 24:28–29). Nehor is one example among many in the Book of Mormon concerning “the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men” (Alma 46:9).
George Q. Cannon points out the contrast between the authority of the priesthood of God and the soulless, counterfeit initiatives of Satan:
The full recognition of God’s authority as bestowed by Him and man’s equality with his fellow man constitute the vitality of the kingdom of God. But Satan prompts man to establish creeds of man worship, in which priestcraft, as opposed to priesthood, prevails. He appeals to the avarice and ambition of men and divides society into classes, making worldly learning, the possession of wealth, and the “accident of birth,” the distinctions which command respect and honor” (The Life of Joseph Smith, the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986], 80).
Nehor serves as a good example of someone laboring under the banner of “irreligion,” as Elder Neal A. Maxwell aptly expressed it:
Even in the seemingly miscellaneous gospel gems there is plainness and preciousness. If, for instance, we assume there is only ancient relevance concerning the practice and purposes of priestcraft, we need to be braced by how germane that definition is for our time. “He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” (2 Nephi 26:29.) Do we not see such people working today (minus the label, of course) among the children of men? Alas, such match the criteria set forth not only as some lead out in the realm of religion but in the realm of irreligion. (Plain and Precious Things [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983], 86–87)