Alma 13:6-9

Sorry I’ve been so out of commission during the last few weeks! And then it’s harder to jump back in after a hiatus. But let’s do it; let’s get back to Alma 13! There’s always a lot more to do, but I think this post will be good enough to get some discussion started.

Alright. As a review from Kim’s last post, let’s remember that verse 8 laid out a nice pattern for us. I’ll copy it here and add some numbers:

Now they were ordained after this manner: 1) being called with a holy calling, and 2) ordained with a holy ordinance, and 3) taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling (1) , and ordinance (2) , and high priesthood (3), is without beginning or end—

I almost didn’t believe it, that it was possible to have a direct, clear list like this in Alma 13. I’m glad he repeated it in the same verse so I could be completely convinced. I still find it odd that “ordained” is one of the elements of “ordained,” but I can work with that.  🙂 I guess it’s really the word ordinance rather than the word ordained that I should count as number 2.

So, as Kim already said, it looks like Alma will spend a while on calling, then on ordinance, and finally on high priesthood. Except, does he really talk about the ordinance at all? Verses 3-5, and on into verse 6, talk about the “calling:”

6 And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—

Then verse 7 goes on to talk about the “high priesthood:”

7 This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things—

And verse 8 is the review, and verse 9 sums it up: now they are high priests forever.

So where is the talk of the ordinance? Verse 6 says the word “ordained,” but there is no mention of the word “ordinance.” What we do get instead, it seems, is what they were ordained to do. They were ordained “to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest.” (I personally would have placed that explanation with “calling,” since that is how we use the word today. We are “called and set apart” to be a missionary, a teacher, etc. But Alma instead focuses his explanation of “calling” on why they were called upon, not what they were called to do. The “what” is attached to ordination, not calling.)

So it seems anyway. Although, verse 6 could be read that they were “called by this holy calling … to teach….” I could see it that way too. But, since Alma has already spent so much time discussing “calling,” and all of it focused on “why” someone was called, I’m inclined to read verse 6 as “ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach….” I suppose I’m suggesting we just delete that comma after “holy order of God.”

If that is the case, what do we make of the words “ordained” and “ordinance”? Do we really learn anything from verse 6 is we read it in the way I am suggesting? Or do we just return to this general point that “the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people,” which is already present from verse 1?

I might be getting more focused and clearer, or maybe I’m muddying things up. What do we make of the fact that verse 8 mentions an ordinance, but then there doesn’t seem to be an ordinance explained anywhere? It makes me wonder if it should be read not as a physical event, as I am usually inclined to read it, but rather as an assignment. I’m okay with saying someone was “ordained to do ________.” Can I call that whole thing the “ordinance?” For example, if someone is ordained to be a sealer, can I say that they received an ordinance to be a sealer? I usually wouldn’t; I think I would say they received an ordinance whereby the could be called as a sealer, or some such thing. But I don’t know that I have to say it that way at all. And I know that the concepts of priesthood offices and priesthood itself were being developed over the first few years of the Church’s history, which of course is after the translation of the Book of Mormon.

So I’m suggesting this reading, and tell me what details work or don’t work with it:

“Now they were ordained [that is, these people became the priests who taught, which were mentioned in verse 1] after this manner—being called with a holy calling [because of their faith and holy works], and ordained with a holy ordinance [which set them a part as teachers, specifically] and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order [which is after the order of his Son, and was prepared from the foundation of the world]”

Is this a fair summary of the “manner” after which priests are ordained? What think ye?




Filed under Alma 13

4 responses to “Alma 13:6-9

  1. I think your reading is totally correct. “Ordinance” is simply the noun form of “ordain.” In fact, Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “ordinance” only lastly as a “rite or ceremony.” Right above that is the definition “appointment,” and I think that’s clearly how we should read all this. So every time the word “ordain” appears, we can think of it as “appoint,” and every time there’s the word “ordinance,” we can think of it as “appointment.”

    It’s productive to rethink modern Mormon use of the word “ordinance” along these lines. When you’re baptized or go to the temple, you’re being assigned/appointed to something, and agreeing to let it “order” your life.

    And I also agree with your reading of v. 6–the priests are “ordained … to teach his commandments.” And I hadn’t noticed that v. 6 really, in the end, just seems to be reiterating v. 1. The only thing I think we might have gained by v. 6 is some specificity. Now we’ve learned that the assignment to “teach these things” is proper to the ordination (read: appointment) in particular.

    I also think it’s interesting, as you point out, that we’re more apt to talk about being called to do something, rather than ordained to do something, because it gives our idea of ordinances a higher… I don’t know…. ontological status? Whereas in Alma 13, and I think in scripture generally, that gets reversed–calling has a weightier ontology. For example, think of Abraham. God says “Abraham” and he simply responds “here am I.” He’s simply called. Not called to do anything. And I think there’s a lot of power in that idea of calling. It leaves room for a response that comes entirely from faith. Abraham faithfully responds to God, signals his willingness to do whatever he’s asked, even before he knows what it is! I think that’s the model Alma is working under, as well.

    And on a minor side note: I wonder if we should think of the phrase “after the manner” as something like “in this order–steps 1, 2, and 3?”

    I’ll try and look through v. 6-9 some more this week and see what else I can add to the discussion. Thanks for the post, Karen!

  2. I like your way of framing calling & ordinance! As you put it: “in Alma 13, and I think in scripture generally, that gets reversed–calling has a weightier ontology.” I liked your example of Abraham, and I think you are right about scripture generally. It rings a lot of bells, though I hadn’t thought to line up all those examples of calling and see that it was the general rule not the exception until you pointed this out. Nice!

  3. Skousen update: I remembered to check variants this morning. While he considers some changes to the verb-tenses, he comes down on the side of maintaining the text as we have it throughout verses 6-9.

  4. Two more small thoughts:

    First, I think Alma corrects himself in v. 7 with the phrase “or in other words.” He begins by saying that the priesthood “was from the foundation of the world,” but then clarifies that no, the priesthood is actually “without beginning of days or end of years, … from eternity to all eternity.” Priesthood is eternal in nature, and Alma wants to make sure that we don’t misunderstand that. Despite all the confusion of this chapter, Alma really is trying to be precise. (Bless his heart. 🙂 )

    Second, v.9 ends with a kind of doxology, quoting Alma 9:26. It may be that the word “Amen” is included less as a structural marker and more because that’s simply the format of a doxology (cf. Matt 6:13). I still think v. 9 is concluding the section on the “manner” of ordination, but seeing a doxology here really has me intrigued. Especially since we might think of it as a priestly utterance–the Psalms, for instance, are priestly hymns. Maybe this is functioning the same way? Maybe Alma is performing his priestly role as much as he is explaining it? Or something?

    Anyway. Not very productive, I know, but I’ll keep things bouncing around in my head and see what else pops up.

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