Alma 13 — Context

The discussion of Priesthood in Alma 13 comes in response to a question asked in Alma 12:20-21. Antionah asks,

What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever.

Thus the entire discussion of Priesthood in Alma 13 needs to be seen in light of Alma’s discussion of Adam and Eve, angels, and the gospel in Alma 12:22-37.

Antionah’s main problem with Alma’s teaching is that “there was no possible chance” that Adam and Eve could renter the garden, partake of the tree of life, and live forever. Now let’s see how Alma’s story overcomes that problem.

Alma first agrees that Adam and Eve didn’t go back into the garden immediately and partake of the fruit of the tree of life. He explains that death was a necessary, decreed part of the plan. God decreed death, but also, decreed a time before death so that Adam and Eve could repent and prepare for a moment of judgement when they died. After this moment, then could they partake of the tree and live forever. (See Alma 12: 23-27.)

This plan, however, wasn’t automatically known to Adam and Eve. There was a need to teach Adam and Eve about the plan. Verse 28 says,

And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them

Nice that God let us in on the plan, eh? 🙂 How did God teach Adam and Eve? What did He teach them? Alma explains that God “sent angels to converse with them” (v.29) and also that “God conversed with them” (v.30). He taught them “the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world” (v.30) and also gave them “commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption (v. 31). I’ll quote verses 32-24 in their entirety:

But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;

Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.

And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.

The plan is that whoever repents “shall enter into my rest.” Here we have an answer (or the beginnings of one) to Antionah’s question of how Adam and Eve — or anyone for that matter — could possibly return to the garden, eat, and live forever.

In chapter 13, Alma will describe how this knowledge got from Adam and Eve to the rest of God’s children. Alma will also explain what it means to “enter into God’s rest” and how to do it. (He uses the word “rest” five times in that chapter.)

As a sidenote, this is similar to the story laid out in Moses 5. We’ll get to that passage later, so for now I’ll quote verse 58:

And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Both Alma 12 and Moses 5 are followed by chapters describing Priesthood, so this connection is particularly interesting and may be helpful later on.

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10 Comments

Filed under Alma 13

10 responses to “Alma 13 — Context

  1. Thanks for this fantastic post, Karen! I wasn’t expecting a simple post on context to be so insightful, but you helped me see some new connections. You’ve clearly been thinking about Alma 13 for a lot longer than I have! 🙂

    Alma 12:32-34, which you quote in their entirety, stood out to me for some reason this time, and I have some thoughts.

    First, the line that “God did call on men, in the name of his Son” is pretty startling! We’re familiar with the idea of men calling on God in the name of the Son, but apparently that goes in the other direction, too–the Son plays a role in how God communicates with us! I think this obviously resonates with Alma 13, where the theme is still how God communicates with men, and this time it flows through those “ordained … after the order of his Son,” rather than “in the name of his Son.” But there’s got to be a connection there of some sort.

    Second, it’s interesting to me how Jesus is instrumentalized in v. 32-34. It seems like God is obliquely referencing the atonement, but leaving it implicit because he wants to emphasize repentance and the possibility of “enter[ing] into [his] rest.” But the effect is that we only mention Jesus when mercy is offered “through” him (v. 33-34)–the Son is the instrument through which mercy is extended. I wonder if this can’t be read parallel to priests being ordained “after the order of his Son,” and that’s how teaching is extended. Or something?

    (It’s interesting, too, that Alma 12 talks about “mine Only Begotten Son,” and Alma 13 talks about “after the order of his Son.” The Son doesn’t play a very active role in either.)

    Anyway. It seems to me that the role of the Son in both these chapters can be read as roughly parallel, and I want to watch and see how that develops.

    I also really liked the connection with Moses 5, which I hadn’t noticed at all! It reminded me of Moroni 7, which is the only other place I’m aware of that talks about the plan of salvation being taught through angels. And then it dawned on me that Moroni 8 could be read as talking about the false use of the priesthood for infant baptism. Not a perfect parallel, but interesting.

  2. I was also struck by the question: God needed to communicate with people through the Son, and not just the other way around? I’m curious how that might help us as we read Alma 13 too.

    I’ve always wondered what exactly this part meant: But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying. What is the parenthetical remark talking about, exactly? What is according to the plan of redemption? That God would talk to men? Or is it simply introducing what comes next? With what we’ve noticed about God communicating through His Son, I’m wondering if we ought to read this as God made a plan so that He could still communicate with men after they left the garden. Being able to communicate with people is how He reaches out to them to redeem them. But apparently even talking with them needed to be done in the name of the Son? Or am I missing something here?

    Also, I think we ought to keep our eyes out for other passages dealing with angels teaching. That’s a good idea. I can also think of Nephi, Jacob, and King Benjamin receiving messages from angels that they then taught their people. A little different, but probably worth keeping in mind.

    Anyway, a lot will open up as we proceed to Alma 13 itself!

  3. By the way, I did a search for the word “priesthood” in the Book of Mormon. It only shows up in Alma! One time in chapter 4, and the other six times in Alma 13. Fascinating! Other places in the Book of Mormon talk about the fact that there were priests, and sometimes even what they did, but only Alma is stepping back to have theological discussion about what the priesthood is.

  4. [Sorry, this is a bit of a tangent:] There are some intriguing connections between “commandments” and “destroy” or “cut off” running through Alma 8-12. There is a review of the commandment given to Lehi that if they keep the commandments they will prosper, but if not, they will be cut off. Then there are two different scenarios laid out: when the Lamanites don’t keep the commandments, they are cut off spiritually but not destroyed temporally; when the Nephites don’t keep the commandments, they are threatened to be utterly destroyed. It’s like the Nephites spiritual and temporal destructions happen at the same time. So it makes me think about the Lamanites as fallen, or cut off, like Adam and Eve, but as if they haven’t received further knowledge or commandments from angels yet. The Nephites, however, received the first commandments at the time of Lehi and also have had prophets and gifts of the Spirit all along, so it’s as if they have received second commandments. Anyway, not sure if that will help with Alma 13 but it was intriguing. It might also be parallel to Alma’s own story. He was cut off spiritually until an angel came to give him further instructions. In fact, when the angel first appears to Alma, he talks about Alma being “destroyed” (Alma 36) or “cast off” (Mosiah 27). When an angel appears in Alma 8, he compliments Alma for having kept the “commandments” he received the first time he (the angel) appeared. Is it is as if Alma kept his “second commandments”? None of this seems to be directly related to Priesthood, but since it is part of the setting-up of Alma 13 there’s a chance it might be helpful later on. 🙂 And it was fun in the meanwhile anyway. 🙂

  5. Ooh! I like it! My favorite part in here is the difference you draw out between Nephites and Lamanites, and the possibility for reading the Lehitic covenant (Lehi’s promise about keeping the commandments and prospering) as the law given in the Garden of Eden, or something like that. That’s really rich! Especially because Alma uses the phrase “cut off” to refer both to the Lamanites (as in Alma 9:14) and to Adam and Eve (as in Alma 42:6-7)! I have no clue what to do with it, but I really like it.

    If these are the quality of your tangents, Karen, then keep ’em coming!

  6. jennywebb

    Great insights here; I was especially intrigued by the discussion of God speaking to men through his Son. That seems like the somewhat counter-intuitive logic we find whenever the “plan from before the foundation of the world” is discussed in scripture (I’m thinking of D&C 128 here, and the idea that the plan was to baptize the dead rather than convert all the living). Definitely more to think about!

    I wanted to bring up another passage regarding angels and teaching that I think might be relevant here: 2 Nephi 32: 2-6. I’ll quote the most relevant section here:

    2 Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

    3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

    The tangle between receiving the Holy Ghost, men speaking the words of Christ as angels, and the words of Christ as that which provides a sort of ultimate instruction or teaching has always struck me as significant, but I had never put these verses in the context of an instruction on the plan of salvation quite this way before. However, reading the rest of chapter 32 and chapter 33 with this in mind, it was really interesting to think about the prayer and veil themes in the context of a possible priesthood teaching as well.

    Looking forward to this blog!

  7. Jenny, I’m glad you brought my attention back to this discussion! I hadn’t thought more about the odd and interesting detail of God speaking to mankind through His son until this morning, but with you pointing to 2 Nephi I have some further thoughts. Rather than just simply “God works through the power of His Son,” or some such general idea, perhaps we could see it describing the order of priests set up “after the Order of the Son.” God speaks to prophets/priests, who then speak to mankind. Through those ordained to the priesthood after the order of the Son, God speaks to man. If that is a fair reading, then the whole introductory part of verse 32 seems to say that the priesthood was indeed a part of the plan of redemption: “But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid).” (But, this parenthetical part could refer to the gospel message about to be described; it depends on how you punctuate it. 🙂 Good ol’ Book of Mormon punctuation!)

    Also, the general connections to 2 Nephi 32:2-3 make me think more seriously about the relationship between priests and angels, something that Kim has picked up on in other posts too. I think I’ll reread those few chapters as you suggest before I comment further though.

    Thanks for joining in Jenny! We’re so excited to have you in the conversation!

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