First things first: why are we including v. 16 with this post? Grant Hardy argues that v. 16 was accidentally misplaced when Mormon was copying Alma’s words into his abridgment. Its proper position is right between our current v. 12 and v. 13. For the full argument, see here. If you’re still unconvinced, never fear; Karen will be offering an alternative reading in the next post that accounts for v. 16 in its present position. I think Hardy’s argument has enough merit, though, to accept it for the course of this post and see what fruit it bears. With that explanation out of the way, let’s dive in!
Verse 10, I think, is pretty straightforward. Alma is summarizing what he said in v. 1-9, but doing it in reverse order: where v. 3-7 move from Calling (v. 3) to Faith (v. 4-5) to Ordination (v. 6) to High Priesthood (v. 7), v. 10-11 move from High Priesthood to Ordination to Faith/Repentance to Calling. Or (in obnoxiously non-indented format because I don’t know html), as follows:
A – Priests were called (v. 3)
B – Because of their faith (v. 4-5)
C – Priests were ordained (v. 6)
D – High priesthood (v. 7)
E – Summary + doxology (v. 8-9)
D’ – High priesthood (v. 10)
C’ – Priests were ordained (v. 10)
B’ – On account of faith and repentance (v. 10)
A’ – Therefore priests were called (v. 11)
Why Alma chooses to present this in reverse order is an open question. I can’t think of any good reason, except that he prefers this style (as we see later in Alma 36, for instance). Whatever the reason, I think it’s clear that he’s trying to provide a summary before he moves on.
Verses 11 and 12 really interest me because of the focus on “garments,” particularly the gorgeous imagery of having “garments … washed white through the blood of the Lamb.” First, I think it’s worth pointing out that this is a process that occurs only after one is made a priest. Ordination to the priesthood, for Alma, is only a middle step on the way to God’s rest, not the ultimate or even penultimate achievement. Sanctification, having garments made white, and abhorring sin (v. 11-12) all occur after the priests are ordained.
Second, I was surprised to find out that this imagery is unique to the Book of Mormon. This language only appears four times in the Book of Mormon, first showing up in 1 Nephi 12:10-11 (where Nephi isn’t saying anything about priests), and then getting adopted by Alma in Alma 5:21; 13:11-12; 34:36.
Although OT priestly literature does spend a lot of time talking about priests in relationship with their vestments (see Exodus 28-29, for instance), we never get the unique image of washing garments in blood, as far as I know. That’s surprising enough on its own terms, but in particular because of how ritualistic this sounds: washing clothing in blood, specifically the blood of a “lamb,” which is one of the standard sacrificial animals of the Israelite cult, sounds like it would be right at home in a symbolic priestly ritual of some sort. (And we may want to think about ritualistic language running all through this chapter, as well–v. 13’s “bring forth fruit meet for repentance” uses firstfruits imagery, for example.)
And here comes the really fascinating part–this sounds very close to Jacob 1:
“For I, Jacob, and my brother Joseph had been consecrated priests and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi. And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.” (Jacob 1:18-19)
Alma 13:11-12 and Jacob 1:18-19 both share a priestly context and the elements of blood, sins, whiteness/spotlessness, and garments. I’m absolutely convinced that there’s some sort of connection, but I’m not entirely sure what it might be. Perhaps a biblical ritual that Alma glosses with this language drawn from 1 Nephi 12? Or perhaps there’s no ritual in question, just a potent image drawn from the priestly cult? I don’t have any solid ideas there, but it’s obvious that this image, at least, was important to Book of Mormon priests.
However we want to address that similarity the end result of this process is that “many … were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord” (v. 12). At first I thought this was talking about the people more generally, but on second thought I think the “many” here has to refer to the priests. If it were referring to the people, it would create too big a leap in the logic. In addition, the nearest possible referent for “many” is the priests and “made pure” echoes “being pure” from earlier in v. 12. I think this helps explain the “also” at the end of v. 6 and v. 13, as well. The “children of men” (v. 6) can only “also” enter God’s rest if someone else has done it first. In this case, I think that has to be the priests.
Now for verse 16. Again, I think Alma is summarizing, returning to his main point. He returns to talk about “ordinances” (which I think we should still continue reading in the sense of “appointments,” that is, ‘appointments to the priesthood’) and the “manner” of ordination. He repeats the now-familiar point that this manner is given “that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God.” But then he gives us a reason for why people will look forward to the Son: “it being his order.” I think this is probably key to “the manner” business we’ve been wrestling with all through this chapter. The reason people will look to the Son is not because of some particular ritual of ordination, or some pattern of priesthood more broadly, but because the priesthood order is His order. That’s it! Now, there’s a lot left to clarify about that, but I don’t think Alma has given us any satisfying alternative interpretations. His point is: people will look to the Son simply because it is the Son’s order of priesthood.
In saying all that, however, I’ve glossed over one detail. When he introduces this idea, Alma seems to correct himself. He says: “it being a type of his order, or it being his order.” Instead of saying that it’s “a type” of the Son’s order, he wants to be clear that it actually is the Son’s order, and the language of “type” was inaccurate. But the fact that Alma slips up and introduces the word “type” at all, even accidentally, suggests that something in all this does seem typological to him, and I wonder what that might be. In thinking about it, I can see three possibilities:
1) The priests entering God’s rest – this would be typological in the sense that the priests follow the pattern that everyone else is meant to follow
2) The Law of Moses – there’s precedent elsewhere in the Book of Mormon for understanding the Law as typological
3) Anything that points to the Son – on this interpretation, “type” is simply part of Alma’s technical vocabulary any time we’re supposed to be looking forward to the Son.
I guess if I have a favorite interpretation it’s probably #3, because I don’t think Alma is being terribly rigorous on this particular point, especially since he distances himself from it so quickly. But it’s an interesting thing to think about.
I want to make one final point about the “manner” stuff. I’ve said above that the reason the manner points to the Son is because the priesthood is the Son’s order. But that still doesn’t explain what the manner is. Since Alma is going to move on to a pretty different topic after this, I think it’s safe to say that he’s given us everything he’s going to say on the matter, and we’re now in a position to synthesize what this “manner” might actually amount to. It strikes me that the only element in this entire discussion over which the priests themselves had any control was in choosing to repent and having faith. Notice that these are the elements Alma himself will emphasize in v. 13 as the take-away: “and now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves … and bring forth fruit meet for repentance.” Those are the only elements out of this entire discussion that he includes in the take-away message, presumably because these are the only elements over which his audience has any control.
I think the “manner” that’s meant to point people to God is this: you exercise faith, repent, and be righteous, and God will respond with a certain calling that will bring you into His rest. Your job is simply to repent, and God responds as he will.
This is perhaps disappointing from a priesthood point of view, but I think it’s very rich when we’re thinking in terms of grace. (Remember, too, that the idea that “all we can do” is repent is found elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. There’s precedent! 🙂 ).
If priesthood, then, is so incidental to Alma’s point, why on earth does he spend so much time on it in chapter 13? That is, if Alma simply wanted to say “have faith and repent,” why is he talking so much about priesthood? Remember that, under the law of Moses, there was only ever one high priest at any given time. In talking about the “high priesthood” (v. 8), Alma isn’t talking about his contemporary version of the Elder’s or even High Priest’s Quorum, but more like his contemporary version of the President of the Church. Just like we can point to the prophet as someone we can confidently say has “got it,” has figured it out, is probably the most righteous person on earth and the most likely to have entered God’s rest, I think that’s how Alma is using the office of high priest. High priests are iconic for righteousness. Priesthood, here, is a kind of sign that “they made it,” or something.
Not to spoil Karen’s party for the next post, but I think the Melchizedek section will bear me out on all this. Melchizedek was a high priest, he taught his people to have faith and repent, and they all entered God’s rest. It’s as simple (and as graceful!) as that.