Alma 13:10-13, 16

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.

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25 Comments

Filed under Alma 13

25 responses to “Alma 13:10-13, 16

  1. V.10 – It does repeat it backward! I hadn’t even noticed. It probably does signal a transition, very nice.

    v. 11 – gorgeous imagery of having “garments … washed white through the blood of the Lamb.” I hadn’t felt the sense of glory as you had but once you pointed it out, it is quite poetic, isn’t it! I’d noticed the irony of blood washing something, of it cleaning it to white rather than staining it red.

    I wonder what else we can take from this, if we see the priests as mirroring Christ in some way. As you pointed out, it does sound similar enough to Jacob 1 that it’s worth working on what connections there may be there. In Jacob (and also at least in King Benjamin – see Mosiah 2:27), the people’s blood is on them unless they teach. This blood doesn’t clean to a pure white, this blood will stain, unless they teach and rid themselves of the people’s blood. Christ’s blood cleans, people’s blood stains.

    How else could we think about these two somewhat parallel ideas? Christ’s blood was split, or He became bloody, because of us. In some sense His blood is symbolic of our blood. But He suffered and plead with God etc in such a way that our sins were overcome; in some sense, because of His righteousness, He was freed from our sins. That is, He offered to take our sins (our blood, symbolically) on Himself. The only way that He was rid of those sins was through His willingness to suffer, His humility before God, and because of His love for us. In some way, then, can we say that priests are also the same? They become priests who offer to take on the responsibility to teach the people. Jacob and King Benjamin feel that the blood (or sins) of the people are on them unless they teach, suffer, love, plead with God, etc. Once they have done all of that, then they are freed from the people’s blood and whatever consequences occur are the responsibility of the people. Similarly, Christ has suffered for all of our sins and so the blood/sins of all people have been overcome, or are off of Him. Everyone can be saved; all that remains is to teach the people about that salvation. And then, whatever consequences occur are our responsibility.

    Hmm, I don’t know what I think about it, but it’s a start. There is definitely some sort of theology with Jacob and King Benjamin that if they don’t teach, the blood of the people are on them.

    So what do we make of these priestly garments being made white? Are we talking about their own sins being forgiven? Or are we talking about God accepting their work as priests and so they are clean from the blood of the people too?

    I’m out of time so I’ll have to read the rest and respond later. Good work Kim!

  2. I’m just going to have to read and respond in chunks this round. Here’s thoughts up through the end of v. 13:

    –The reference to 1 Nephi 12:10-11 is interesting and I’m glad you mentioned it! Verse 10 does mention priests — sort of. It is talking about the 12 apostles/disciples/”ministers” which “are chosen to minister unto thy seed” (v. 8). While he doesn’t use the word “priest” here, I think the idea is similar. They are called & chosen to take upon them the responsibility of teaching (ministering, judging) the people.

    Now, as far as verse 11 goes, I’m not sure. It could mean generations of priests. But, I’m inclined to think refers to the people as a whole. Which, as I’ll get back to now, sounds similar to what you’ve said already about v.6 & 13 of Alma 13. (Sidenote: I wonder why the Nephite Zion didn’t get translated up to heaven like Enoch’s city? I did some thinking about that once… maybe they didn’t last long enough? Enoch’s city lasted over 300 years, not 3 generations. Other cities have made it. Well, at least one: it’s not mentioned much, but Melchizedek’s city is said to have obtained heaven in the JST for Genesis 14:34. Anyway, interesting side question.)

    — I like the reading that the “many” in verse 12 means priests. With the “many who were ordained and became high priests of God” in verse 10, it makes sense.

    — I’m also glad you pointed out v.13′s firstfruits imagery as ritual imagery.

    On to v. 16 tomorrow!

  3. v. 13 – I’m thinking more about the words “bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.” While we are assuming that the “fruit” here is symbolic, it still sets up a ritual structure. By asking the people to “bring forth” something, it sounds as if Alma is asking them to bring it to him, as if he is going to offer up this symbolic fruit. I think the structure itself is interesting because it puts the people is the same position they would be in if they were performing a firstfruit ritual. It keeps the people in Ammonihah in the position of “the people” rather than “the priests.” But then the interesting part of this invitation is that even though they aren’t in the position of “the priests,” they can still enter into the same rest that the priests do. It’s as if he’s saying: “become like the people that aren’t priests but respect the priestly duty, and then you can be like priests” or rather “it will be as if you had been priests, because you will have the same blessings they have.” Somewhere in there there is something to think about.

  4. I didn’t think to do this at first, but I just searched for “bring forth fruit repentance” and got 5 references. 2 are in Alma (here and in Alma 34), and the other 3 are from the story of John the Baptist (one in Matthew, one in JST Matthew, and one in Luke).

  5. Karen, I love the direction your thoughts are going on this. You’re really opening my eyes to some fun possibilities. I guess that’s what group study is all about, huh?

    I particularly love your reflections on the Jacob 1 connection in v. 11. All this blood imagery points quite naturally to the atonement, and connecting it with teaching, as Jacob does, is something I hadn’t considered. I love it! The responsibility of the priesthood is to teach, but not in some sort of benign Sunday-school iteration of commandments; it’s teaching in a way that you bear others’ sins as your own.

    What’s fascinating to me about this is that it puts the priest in the position of the sacrificial animal! He now bears the sins of the people, represents Israel, etc. We’re used to thinking about sacrifice in the way it points to Christ–the Savior takes on our sins and dies for them, just as the sacrificial animal did in the OT–but this opens up possibilities for seeing the priests doing the same thing. The priests are figures for Christ because they also share in the sacrifice symbolized at the altar. The priests, like Christ, take on accountability for the people, to the degree of letting themselves be bloodied.

    I’m also really touched at the way the BoM picture of priests (or, at least, Jacob’s picture of his duty in Jacob 1) infuses such deep feeling into the dry, regulatory ritual literature of the OT. Here we see Jacob interacting theologically with the symbolism of priestly ritual! That’s fascinating! It never before occurred to me that Mosaic priests might respond creatively and emotionally to the ceremonies they’re performing, but in retrospect, it’s perfectly natural; it’s what all religiously committed people do.

    Thanks, as well, for your further thoughts on v. 13. I think calling this a “ritual structure” and talking about the “position” of the people relative to Alma is all nicely articulated. I think it bears out my reading that priesthood is in some ways merely incidental to this chapter. The important thing is entering God’s rest, and the people are able to do that without becoming priests (apparently). There’s no necessity to become a priest in view, here. The priests are simply aides in attaining God’s rest, and they can be effective in that capacity because they themselves have already attained it.

    I guess in the end, after all this thinking, I’m re-picturing what an encounter across this symbolic altar might amount to. If we infuse the picture with Jacob’s emotion, there’s a sense in which Alma is pleading, “Come to this altar and bring your fruits, because here you’ll meet those who willingly carry your blood, and they will do everything in their power to deliver you into God’s rest.” The self-sacrifice and emotion behind the BoM’s priestly tradition is a real–and beautiful!–surprise.

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying this nice surprise! It is interesting to think of what sounds like dry, strict ritual being thought in such emotional ways. I think I’d like to keep thinking about the relationship between the priest and Christ.

      I like idea that “The responsibility of the priesthood is to teach, but not in some sort of benign Sunday-school iteration of commandments; it’s teaching in a way that you bear others’ sins as your own.” Do we take that seriously as a way of thinking about priesthood today? The structure and hierarchy that we have is so different that I’m not sure how to make sense of this. Could we say that every Bishop, or every Stake President, or even every father of a family in some way is offering to take on them the sins of those they are over unless they teach and offer ordinances? Or even every deacon’s quorum president? How far does this go? Does this get mirrored in non-priesthood callings like YW leader or RS President? Talks about visiting teaching sometimes feel this way: if you don’t go, you are incurring some sort of guilt on yourself, and/or, you aren’t helping someone through sin when you could be!

      That just leaves me with a whole lot of guilt, stress, and concern though. I don’t know that we should really actually apply this at every level of every calling. I think there was something significant about Jacob’s view because of how he had been consecrated a priest and a teacher, and likely someone who spent all his time in the temple or teaching the people. That’s a very different sort of calling and it appears that the responsibilities were explained to him at the time of his calling.

      Since we don’t have just one “high priest” in the Church right now, how do we think about Jacob today? Does Pres. Monson feel this weight? (But it’s distributed through millions of callings throughout the Church?)

      I would find it fascinating if there were some weight attached to every priesthood calling, specifically to Melchizedek priesthood callings or even to high priests specifically. If that were actually really there and taught, I imagine that would change the tone of those wanting to advance in (or to get) the priesthood. 🙂 🙂 But seriously. What an amazing person someone like Jacob was, to offer himself as a teacher knowing (as I’m assuming he did) the responsibility placed on him. Wow!

      • I actually think we should take it seriously in every calling, but perhaps not strictly. That is, I don’t think a priest/sunday school teacher/Relief Society president is actually responsible for anyone else’s sins, and so this kind of attitude ought not incur guilt.

        Rather, a teacher’s job is to realize that in that moment they have the potential to help a student repent, and that if they don’t live up to that potential, that student remains in sin because of a missed opportunity. A teacher/priest/Relief Society president needs to take that level of awareness and commitment into every teaching moment.

        I have in mind the same kind of paradigm we hear in the statement “Pray as though everything depends on God; work as though everything depends on you.” Things really do depend entirely on God, but that doesn’t absolve you of your need to work. I’m seeing the same thing here: their sins, in some ways, aren’t your concern at all; God has already taken care of them. But that doesn’t alleviate you of your task.

        So, yes, I think we can take this extremely seriously. But I think there’s a way to do it gracefully, as well.

        • I think you must be right, of course, that every teacher and leader in the Church doesn’t actually take on others’ sins. But I do think Jacob saw it that way, which really, really intrigues me.

          I just did a search for “sins be upon” to see if there are other places in scripture that have this idea. There are! Sometimes it is about parents and children, sometimes it is about those who are leaders over a group of people. Here’s what I found (I left out all the ones about Christ, except one that connected His role to the fact that He had created men, making Him sort of parallel to a parent or guardian):

          Jacob 1:19 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 3: 10 Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day.

          Mosiah 2: 27-28 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you. I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.

          Mosiah 26: 23 For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.

          Mosiah 29: 30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

          Mosiah 29: 31 For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.

          D&C 68: 25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.

          D&C 88: 81-82 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.

          Moses 6: 54 Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.

          Moses 7: 37-38 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods;

          Isaiah 6:5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

          That last one I included because it seems that Isaiah is afraid not only of his own sins, but of the people’s sins. Does his purging include whatever responsibility he had as a priest for the people’s sins?

          This reminds me of something in the temple, which I won’t type out at length of course. 🙂 But when we become cleaned at a certain point, we are cleaned not just from our sins, but from the sins of the time in which we live, if I understand right. I can see other interpretations of the wording in the temple, but this is at least one possible interpretation and thus one possible connection to this theme.

          What I’m seeing is that there are times when one person or small group (like parents!) is so connected with the teaching of “the people” (or “the kids”) that their influence could hinder a group who could otherwise be quite faithful. When we are put in that sort of position, then the weight of their sins can be actually though of as on us — unless we teach. When someone is taught, and then sins, their sins are on them. If they do not know that they are sinning, then their sins are on whoever was supposed to teach them. If no one was supposed to teach them, then they are simply “without law” and Christ has already suffered for them.

          So I don’t think this applies to Sunday School teachers, but it does seem to apply to parents! And perhaps to some priesthood callings, though I don’t think we can start making any assumptions about how that works today. But at the least, we can say the theme is definitely present in scriptures beyond Jacob and Alma.

  6. Kim I have lots of thoughts that I’ll get to soon. Just one that I think you’ll like. I think we’re both liking the idea that the people can receive what the priests receive w/o being a priest. This reminded me of a study we did of D&C 84 this summer. The section seems to distinguish between those who “obtain” the priesthood and those who “receive” servants. The verse about the Oath and Covenant (v. 40 that is) uses the word “receive.” If our reading from this summer holds, then it appears that the Oath and Covenant is something that everyone can receive, both those who have obtained the priesthood and those who receive those with the priesthood. (And perhaps this is exactly what happens when the people receive the priests: they receive the message of the Oath and Covenant.) Anyway, perhaps there is a similarity here to Alma 13, where both the priests and the people can receive God’s rest. And, also, it is precisely because the people receive the priests that they even know about this and thereby can also receive God’s rest.

    • I actually articulated it more carefully on my blog this summer: So, as we read it, there are two ways to receive all that the Father hath: either obtain the priesthood itself and magnify its calling (or your calling, depending on how you read the grammar there), or, receive a servant, which means receiving Christ, which means receiving the Father, which means receiving the kingdom. That sounds more like Alma 13 now.

  7. You’re right. I LOVE it. 🙂

  8. Some thoughts on verse 16 (though I want to keep thinking about the directions we’re going with the other verses too). I have no idea what to do with that thing. It doesn’t really seem to fit anywhere (not that we’ve felt that way about any other sentences or words in this chapter along the way…). 🙂 I reread Grant’s article, and he makes a really good case. And, Joe really likes how it strengthens the case that this really was a text revealed to Joseph which he dictated, rather than Joseph having more control over the text. I like all of that too, and I think his article is an intelligent and important contribution.

    But, still, even putting it between 12 and 13, it still feels a bit awkward. I mean, it fits there way better than where it’s at, but why not somewhere else in the chapter? It feels a bit too redundant right there (but that’s common enough in chapter 13, so that doesn’t throw out that idea by any means!) But, looking through the chapter, I thought, why not put it between verses 6 and 7? Here are my reasons, but don’t take me too seriously, I’m mostly just playing around with ideas:

    Verse 6 also summarizes the 3-fold pattern we’ve been discussing, and ends by talking about how the priests are ordained specifically “to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—.” Verse 16 could be put there, so that “these ordinances” would refer to the ordaining, or appointing, to teach mentioned in verse 6. Verse 16 could be a sort of further exposition on that appointment to teach, explaining how teaching and priesthood are related. The end of verse 16 (“that they might enter into the rest of the Lord”) echos the end of verse 6 just as much as verse 12 or 13, so it seems like it could still be an exposition of verse 6.

    Though I just noticed one odd thing about verse 6. Why does it say that they might “also” enter into his rest, when so far we haven’t described anyone as entering into God’s rest, have we? Yikes!

    Anyway. 🙂 I’m not as experienced as Grant Hardy obviously. I do find his reading that verse 16 is out of place convincing (though I’m open to it being in its right place where it is, and I’ll have to defend that somehow in the next post), but it’s hard for me to fit it in anywhere, since Alma 13 is such a tangled web already! It’s like finally putting part of a puzzle together, and then finding a piece that obviously needs to go in an area you’ve already finished. There are two pieces that looked like they went together (after lots of work looking and trying) and now you’re realizing you’ve got to go back and rework that part of the puzzle!

    Anyway, more playing around. Just some ideas.

    • Interesting thoughts, Karen! You are constantly astounding me with your creative readings of scripture. I never would have considered putting v. 16 after v. 6. That’s just… clever! And you’re right that it makes a kind of sense.

      I still prefer Grant Hardy’s reading, though. As you point out, that makes the language a bit redundant, but I think the logic fits better. I feel like v. 16 is the point Alma has been trying to make all along (that all of this priesthood stuff points to the Son; cf. verse 2) so it makes sense to me that he’d save it for last, as a kind of culmination.

  9. Back to the idea that “priesthood is in some ways merely incidental to this chapter.” I think part of what we are seeing is that not only is it incidental to this chapter, it’s incidental to God’s plan of salvation. Except, it was also prepared from the foundation of the world in connection with that plan of salvation! Not necessary, but intrinsic? (I can’t think of the right word here.) God chose to set these two things up side by side, so that the priesthood would be the instrument of the plan. It isn’t that the priesthood is part of the plan of salvation (thereby making it necessary for all to become priests) but it is a “necessary appendage” you could maybe say? I don’t know — what are your thoughts?

    Also, though, eventually we are all promised to become kings and priests, queens and priestesses — does that mean it is necessary to become a priest for salvation? Or, is it that entering the celestial kingdom means we are perpetually aiding in others’ salvation?

    Also, perhaps we could say that bearing the priesthood (or having the priesthood exist at all?) isn’t contained as a necessary feature within the plan of salvation, but this always has been around to bear the message and ordinances, thereby enabling the plan to function? If the priesthood has always been around, or at least as been around as long as the plan has, then from our view looking back through time it’s going to appear that the priesthood is inseparable from the plan of salvation. Or, at the least, it’s just a hair’s width off from being a necessary part of salvation. So it seems.

    Is any of this productive? It seems to interest me but then I’m not sure if it’s really worth saying. I do think that where we were heading earlier is quite productive: that you can enter God’s rest with or without the priesthood. Or, the way I really liked putting it: it’s as if you can be a priest without being a priest. For some reason, I really like that way of saying it a lot better.

    If I followed out that way of saying it, then the blessings of salvation seem to be something that comes to the priests. Or perhaps I can wrap this all up together, and I think it’s actually going to sound a lot like Alma. It’s not that the priests are the only ones that can enter into God’s rest, clearly. But as mortals on earth, we aren’t going to know about entering into God’s rest until someone tells us about it! The priests are called to teach and I think to enter into God’s rest early. The rest of the people hear and see them and this creates a desire in them to enter into God’s rest and be like them. The priests teach them how to do that, and the people imitate the priests by entering into God’s rest also. They become like priests not because it is necessary to become a priest, but because they are copying something that only the priests had done.

    • I actually really loved these thoughts, Karen; I’m glad you shared them. That formulation works nicely for me–priesthood as side-by-side with the plan, as its instrument.

      And the idea that not everyone needs to become priests fits pretty well with scripture generally, I think. We’ve seen it here in Alma 13, certainly. And I think there are several instances where God gives a certain group of people a particular task–the Gentiles and the Book of Mormon, for instance. Our task is to deliver that book to the remnant of the Lamanites. We’re an instrument, not part of the plan, as it were.

      I wonder if we can’t draw some implications for Mormonism more generally, too. It reminds me of something I heard Richard Bushman say on the FAIR Mormon podcast with Blair Hodges. I really liked the idea, so I hunted it down and typed up the quote. (Hopefully it’s not too long!)

      “One issue that has intrigued me is population. You know, we’ve got all of these Rodney Stark projections about Mormon growth—which are challenged and which now are not being fulfilled—but the fact is that 99.7% of the world is not Mormon. We are an infinitesimal little speck. So the question is how do we fulfill our mission? … Do we have some mission that goes beyond the limits of our own membership? That is, are we a leaven in the lump? Are we in some way mean to improve the world? By alliances with other good forces, by other things we say or do that could be helpful to people without them joining the church? And I don’t know the answer to that, but the one I am working on right now is the Mormon talent, which is embedded deep in our culture, to know how to work together. And it seems to me you could picture a time that would grow out of what Mormons are thought of as today, as the people who in any situation work for the good of the cause, and know how to help people work together. For two reasons: one, we tend to be selfless. We’re taught not to promote ourselves in group project situations. And two, we respect authority. We know the value of having someone who has the last word, and we want to support those authorities; we don’t want to resist them. And with those two instincts, I would hope that Mormons … would be sort of coagulating forces. They would bring people together and help them to work together. … I don’t think it hurts to articulate it, so we recognize what … we do almost naturally.”

      • Hmm, that is an interesting quotation. Richard Bushman is always so thoughtful about this sort of thing. I was at a conference once where he was talking about the advantages the Relief Society might have because it doesn’t deal with hierarchy in the same way. He was responding to a story where two wards were merging, and the men had troubles letting go of authority or respecting new authority, where as the two RS’s combined well and the one was grateful for the other’s piano, etc. He related other times where one RS can send relief to another RS across the world w/o various heirarchy concerns getting in the way in the same way it might with two elders quorums. I’m obviously summarizing, and the point of my comment isn’t really to decide whether he’s right or not. My point is just that Bushman is always impressing me with how he can think outside the box about Mormonism and see advantages where others never had! I think that goes for your quotation too.

        What it means for priesthood, I’m not quite sure. But I like the quotation a lot!

  10. More thoughts coming on the above, but I wanted to add Skousen’s finds finally!

    As usual, there isn’t a whole lot to report on this chapter. But, there were two times where the mere possibility of change helped me see what was interesting in the verse as it is.

    Both are from verse 16:

    The printer’s manuscript read “their ordinances” instead of “these.” The printer himself set it as “these.” Skousen assumes that it said “these” originally, but it was accidentally read as “there” mentally and changed to “their” to fix the spelling. He gave lots of examples where this sort of thing happened a long the way. He’s confident that “these” was the original wording and ought to be kept.

    He also considers that the “on” in “look forward on the Son” might be changed to “to,” to match the phrase “look forward to him” later on in the same verse. He comes down on the side of keeping the “on,” even though it’s a bit unusual. But what caught my eye actually is the word “forward,” since we also have an unusual usage of that word early on in the chapter: “cite your minds forward to the time.” It might be worth looking at all of these instances of “forward” to get a better sense for what Alma means by “look forward” at all. (And how the priesthood enables that.)

    • Really nice catch, Karen! (And thanks for checking Skousen, too.)

      To me it suggests that there’s a stronger temporal element in this than I’d perhaps been reading before. v. 1 uses “forward” along the lines of “moving forward in the story,” and I suspect that it’s used the same way when referring to Christ–he’s the Messiah who’s going to come in the future, later on in the story, so to speak. But I do wonder why in the first case it’s a matter of “cit[ing your minds forward” and in the second it’s “look[ing] forward.” Mind vs. sight, etc.

  11. There’s one more part of your original post that I want to make sure I comment on: “manner.” By now, we’ve come up with several interpretations of the word “manner” and how it applies to priests and also to the people’s worship (in what “manner” to look forward to his Son). I like the one you offer in this post, but I think it’s a good time to step back and review all the various ways we’ve thought about this “manner” and see what we think of those readings now. Some of these will overlap or seem a bit redundant, but I tried to review each reading chronologically, and in the way we talked about them as we went along. So, here they are (and please correct me if I misrepresented any of these possible interpretations):

    1) The “manner” of ordination could be some specific ordinance, something perhaps even public enough so that the manner of ordination itself was a viewable, physical teaching tool.
    2) The “manner” of ordination was something private, like calling & election ordinance, that was private but somehow still served a teaching role.
    3) The “manner” of ordination was that priests were called because of faith and good works. That teaches the people that they are saved in a similar “manner” — they are saved because of faith and good works.
    4) The “manner” of ordination refers to the three steps laid out in verse 8: calling, ordination, and priesthood. (How does this teach, exactly? That there is an order in how we come to God? That faith, good works, as well as priesthood ordinances are necessary for salvation?)
    5) The “manner” of ordination should be understood as “manner whereby they became teachers.” These men became official teachers by an ordinance setting them apart as such. Then then were authorized to teach the “manner” in which the people could look to Christ. (This reading assumes that the word “manner” is not always being used in the same way, ie, the manner of ordination is not the same as the manner of looking forward to Christ.)
    6) The “manner” of ordination was simply ordination to the order of the Son, and the fact that this is His order is what alerts the people to look forward to Christ.
    7) The “manner” of ordination means positioning the priests as responsible for the people’s sins unless they teach. This teaches the people that their Savior suffered for their sins. As Kim put it, “The priests are figures for Christ because they also share in the sacrifice symbolized at the altar. The priests, like Christ, take on accountability for the people, to the degree of letting themselves be bloodied.” Their symbolic role is the “manner” in which they are ordained and the “manner” that teaches.
    8) The “manner” of ordination is not just an appointment or a positioning, but involves an actual cleansing ritual (garments made white) and an entering into God’s rest, both mentioned in verse 13. The reason this “manner” teaches, is because without the priests, the people wouldn’t even know about that possibility. The priests become examples for the people to follow.

    Whew! Am I missing any we’ve discussed so far? (Let’s hope not – whew! 🙂 ) What do you think is the best reading at this point and why? Could we proceed with many readings all in play at the same time, or would we like to narrow it down to, say, our top two readings?

    • I like #4 and #6 because I think they’re the closest to the text, to what Alma himself seems to be doing with the word “manner.”

      I think the “manner” stuff in v. 2 only works if we take it loosely. In fact, I almost wonder if we should think of this along the lines of the formula I offered in an earlier post, that Alma distances himself from the first few verses and clarifies as he goes along. I think that would work here, since v. 16 seems quite parallel to v. 2 (it talks about a “manner” that “thereby” the people can typologically “look forward on the Son”). So maybe v. 16 is meant to be precisely the clarification/correction we’re looking for.

      If that’s the case, then the question isn’t “what does the manner refer to?” because I think that’s been very clearly answered for us in v. 8–calling ordination and priesthood. The real question is “how is the manner typological?” and the answer to that, I think, is that it’s not! v. 2 makes it sound like it is, but v. 16 clarifies that, in fact, it’s not the particular manner of ordination that points people to the Son, but the priesthood order as a whole. (And that could be for any number of reasons, along the lines of #7, although I think Alma himself tells us what he has in mind in v. 16, and that’s what you’ve outlined in #6.)

      On this reading, then, the “thereby” in v. 16 doesn’t refer to “this manner” but to “given”–the ordinances were given that thereby the people might look forward on the Son.

      I’ll admit, however, that I could really easily be persuaded otherwise. Because the text does make it sound like there’s something more fundamental to the manner itself. And if that’s the case, then I might want to point to something that I offered in this point–the priests didn’t do anything; they chose faith/righteousness, and God responded by calling/ordaining them. And that would make an excellent pattern for redemption through the Son, too.

      But v. 16 clearly says that the reason people look to the Son is simply that it’s His order!

      What I’m trying to say is this: I’m confused by it, too. What do you think?

      • It seems to me that if verse 16 really goes between 12 and 13, then “these ordinances” needs to mean being made pure and entering into God’s rest. The “after this manner” might mean that these ordinances were only given to those who were called, ordained, and a part of the holy order. That is, there is a “manner” in which the ordinances surrounding entering into God’s rest are given, which is, you need to be a high priest in the holy order of God’s priesthood.

        That, of course, goes back to our discussion earlier that of course not everyone will be a priest. And Alma himself goes on in verse 13 to talk about how his audience can also enter into God’s rest. My easy-answer version is to say that those who are of the holy order can enter into God’s rest early, while the remainder of the people enter into God’s rest after they die. That’s not a bad answer but I don’t know that it’s grappling with everything the text is offering. (That reading of course might also provide a nice simple reading of the “preparatory redemption” of verse 3.)

        Whether it’s a type of his order, or actually is his order seems a bit messy to me. I think there’s a reason he says type first. In Alma’s head, it seems it is both a type and isn’t. It is a type of the heavenly order? Kim, you’ve played around with this some, that angels and priests are both figures that cross boundaries and teach the people. Perhaps Alma sees earthly priests or the earthly order as a type or shadow of those in the heavenly council surrounding God’s throne singing and praising and being sent out to call the world to repent?

        So why the “look forward” in verse 16? Why do they need to look to the future? Can’t they repent and enter into God’s rest now? (or maybe not, maybe not until they die, but either way –) I think this is another way of framing one of my ongoing questions: What about the priests causes the people to look to the future? If they simply teach commandments, why the need to look to the future? Maybe that’s hitting on something that will open onto an idea: anyone can teach with words, but there is something about the priest (who has received some sort of ordinance, in some special manner), who can not just teach how to live, but point to another person in another time who will do the saving and redeeming. But what is it exactly about the priest that does this?

        • Just a quick response to your last question. I think the reason they must “look forward” is simply that Jesus hasn’t come yet. Simple Nephite typology. Sure, repentance and entering God’s rest may be a present option, but it’s still contingent on the Son’s future atonement. I think the “look forward” business is purely and simply because the Son’s coming remains in the future.

          But that’s the only thing I’m so confident on, which is why I’m ignoring all your other questions. 🙂

      • (By the way, I really liked the idea that perhaps “the ordinances were given that thereby the people might look forward on the Son.” That’s a strong reading I think, and that way of putting it made a lot of sense. I’m out of time or I’d work on it more!)

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