1 And now king Mosiah caused that all the people should be gathered together.
2 Now there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness.
Skousen reads “Muloch” instead of “Mulek” here.
Why did Mormon think that we should know this? Isn’t it sort of inside baseball? (Same with v3.)
Brant Gardner has some interesting thoughts here on why their would have been a population difference between the Lehites and the Mulekites when they both left at roughly the same time, and then why that information might matter enough to make it worth mentioning.
3 And there were not so many of the people of Nephi and of the people of Zarahemla as there were of the Lamanites; yea, they were not half so numerous.
One wonders if the point of all of the census-reporting is a subtle hint that some groups had been intermarrying with local populations, and others (namely, the Nephites) not as much.
4 And now all the people of Nephi were assembled together, and also all the people of Zarahemla, and they were gathered together in two bodies.
This strikes me as a bad omen, that these people are still very much divided. (Spoiler alert: I wonder if the creation of “churches,” a new thing, that happens in this chapter, has anything to do with the continuing divisions of the people. Perhaps the “church” entity is meant to displace the ethnic/social identity to which they have been clinging.)
5 And it came to pass that Mosiah did read, and caused to be read, the records of Zeniff to his people; yea, he read the records of the people of Zeniff, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until they returned again.
Skousen reads “until the time they returned again.”
Usually in the BoM, we get “X, or Y,” which I take to mean, “I wrote X, realized it wasn’t quite right, but you can’t erase on these darn plates, so I’ll write Y to clarify.” But that isn’t quite what we have here–we have “did read, and caused to be read.” It isn’t an “or,” so I don’t think it is a correction by a writer/redactor who wanted to make clear that he (=Mosiah) personally didn’t read it. Perhaps it is meant to allude to a Ben-style situation where there were so many people that they couldn’t all hear him. (That would be very interesting, given that we just got a lecture on how small their numbers are.) (For all we know, he’s reading this from Ben’s tower. But the text doesn’t point that out.)
Can you discern a motive here? Is this just an interesting bit of history? Or were they to learn a moral lesson from the record of Zeniff? (I commented in the notes on the Zeniff section that the moral is much harder to derive than it is in other sections of the BoM. Perhaps that is because Mormon’s guiding hand is not as heavy in that section? I don’t know.)
In the OT, the only thing that gets read to groups is the Law (am I forgetting anything?). Is it significant that all of the people are brought together to hear the story of some neighbors (and new immigrants)?
6 And he also read the account of Alma and his brethren, and all their afflictions, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time they returned again.
Wait–when were Alma and his brethren in the land of Zarahemla? (This article offers two possible explanations for this phrase.)
I do suspect that the way the material is structured as “the record of Zeniff” and “an account of Alma” that the purpose of the reading is that we’d compare the two, and learn from the experiences of one group that was slow to focus on the Lord and another that was better sustained in their trials because of their righteous choices.
7 And now, when Mosiah had made an end of reading the records, his people who tarried in the land were struck with wonder and amazement.
Really? I’ve read (Mormon’s abridgment of) that record, and that wasn’t my reaction . . . (Later, when they hear the Jaredite record, they mourn.)
8 For they knew not what to think; for when they beheld those that had been delivered out of bondage they were filled with exceedingly great joy.
Why didn’t they know what to think? Is that the reaction that we should have when we read this section of Mosiah?
How does not knowing what to think relate to being filled with joy? (Or the wonder and amazement of the previous verse?) Is that a contradiction (=they did know what to think)? Or does it suggest that joy and confuzzlement can coexist?
9 And again, when they thought of their brethren who had been slain by the Lamanites they were filled with sorrow, and even shed many tears of sorrow.
I love this–these are people who didn’t follow Mosiah1, or left after the civil war that Zeniff caused, and they are brethren, and their loss is mourned. No schadenfreude here.
So from v7-9, their reactions are: wonder, amazement, not knowing what to think, major joy, and sorrow. Are these people just melodramatic, or what? And, given the highly compressed nature of this record, why do we get this panoply of emotions? What are we supposed to take from it? (And note that their next thought, if not emotion, is the goodness of God in v10.)
10 And again, when they thought of the immediate goodness of God, and his power in delivering Alma and his brethren out of the hands of the Lamanites and of bondage, they did raise their voices and give thanks to God.
Does this verse imply that God didn’t help Limhi’s people?
11 And again, when they thought upon the Lamanites, who were their brethren, of their sinful and polluted state, they were filled with pain and anguish for the welfare of their souls.
This is even better than v9–they have been separated from the Lamanites for 500 years, but still consider them their brethren. (You could make a nice application here by thinking about how we are all, ultimately, God’s children.) And they still care about them, a lot.
Are “sinful” and “polluted” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
Are “pain” and “anguish” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
I’m struck by the balance of sinful/polluted and pain/anguish: Are these pairs (and/or the items constituting them) related in some way?
Notice the structure in v8, v9, v10, and v11: each verse introduces a topic (those delivered, brethren slain, goodness of God, the Lamanites) and then gives a reaction to is (joy, sorrow, gratitude, pain). What can you learn from this pattern? (So maybe the part about not knowing what to think is that they didn’t know how to reconcile all of these conflicting emotions in to one overriding emotion. And that’s rather grand of them, not to just brush off the loss of some people in their joy over other people).
If one tries to imagine this scene, the importance of Mormon’s editing becomes obvious. The people were undoubtedly moved by what they had heard. Yet are we to suppose that the people in unison thought of each of these things in turn, with one voice weeping and then praising as if on cue? (Remember that this behavior was described as occurring after the reading had finished.) Or is it more probable that some shed tears while others rejoiced, each reflecting individually on the great events that had been recounted? The reactions of crowds are difficult to describe. Here, though Mormon apparently took a few liberties with the actual event, he established a vivid sense of the emotions that the people must have felt. Perhaps more importantly, Mormon’s account is itself moving. Note how it shifts back and forth from joy in verse eight to sorrow in verse nine, to praise in verse ten, and back to pain and anguish in verse eleven. In each case, the pains of the disobedient contrast sharply and immediately with the joys of the obedient. The exposition of God’s justice is clear, simple, and concise, and it owes its striking form to Mormon’s editorial hand. Citation
Sidenote: I’d happily sell my firstborn if Grant Hardy would write a verse-by-verse BoM commentary. (Heck, I’d throw in the other two kids if I had to.)
12 And it came to pass that those who were the children of Amulon and his brethren, who had taken to wife the daughters of the Lamanites, were displeased with the conduct of their fathers, and they would no longer be called by the names of their fathers, therefore they took upon themselves the name of Nephi, that they might be called the children of Nephi and be numbered among those who were called Nephites.
Wait–what? What happened here? This is huge! Why do we not hear about it in any detail? Whassup, Mormon?
This is the first time we learn of children of Amulon being among those who arrive in Zarahemla. Not only is this the first time we are made aware of them, Mormon neglects to tell us whether they arrived with Limhi or Alma. Citation
What effect does it have on the reader to have these people come, textually, out of nowhere?
It’s worth noting again that by this point, “Nephite” and “Lamanite” are cultural and religious distinctions, but not ethnic ones.
Does this verse imply that the children of Amulon did not know their history until Mosiah2 read the records, or is v12 introducing an entirely new topic?
Methinks those Lamanite daughters purified this line of the wickedness of Noah’s priests.
Brant Gardner points out that these “children of Amulon and his brethren” may be the children born *before* the escape with the dancing Lamanite daughters and abandoned in the battle with the Lamanites.
13 And now all the people of Zarahemla were numbered with the Nephites, and this because the kingdom had been conferred upon none but those who were descendants of Nephi.
Was there something wrong with conferring the kingdom to a descendant of Zarahemla?
Is this numbering a new thing? Does it suggest that the divisions highlighted at the beginning of the chapter have been overcome? If so, did the reading of the Zeniff and Alma records have anything to do with that? (I find it interesting that the reading of the records is sandwiched by references to the political situation of who is numbered with who in Zarahemla.)
Is there a relationship between v12 and v13? That is, did the numbering of Amulon’s people with the Nephites somehow (how, exactly?) lead to the people of Zarahemla wanting to be numbered among the Nephites?
How does the first part of this verse relate to the second part? That is, what is it about conferring the kingdom on descendants of Nephi that would make the Zarahemla-ites want to be numbered with the Nephites? (Did they sense some kind of protection in that? Or, per the example in v12, some element of making a righteous choice to identify that way?)
14 And now it came to pass that when Mosiah had made an end of speaking and reading to the people, he desired that Alma should also speak to the people.
Note that he actually finished speaking/reading in v7. What is the result of repeating that information here?
Do you read this chapter differently if the reading of the record of Zeniff and of Alma was for the purpose of introducing Alma to the people, as happens in this verse? In what ways would a reading of the record be a different introduction to Alma than other possible introductions that we might imagine?
15 And Alma did speak unto them, when they were assembled together in large bodies, and he went from one body to another, preaching unto the people repentance and faith on the Lord.
I wonder if it was difficult for the audience to accept Alma–an outsider, an upstart, culturally different, and without the same depth of knowledge or years of religious experience and leadership (esp. Mosiah2, presumably) that they had.
16 And he did exhort the people of Limhi and his brethren, all those that had been delivered out of bondage, that they should remember that it was the Lord that did deliver them.
This is very interesting, because I think Mormon really wanted us to compare the Alma and Limhi escape-from-bondage stories and to conclude that the Lord helped Alma’s people more than the Lord helped Limhi’s people precisely because they trusted in the Lord more. (For example, Alma’s people didn’t have to get their guards drunk–the Lord took care of that.) So now, what do we make of Alma telling them that they should remember that the Lord got them out of bondage?
Interesting that the first thing we learn about Alma’s preaching is faith and repentance in the previous verse, but the next thing is a message delivered particularly to Limhi’s people.
Who else had been delivered out of bondage besides Limhi and his people? Well, an obvious answer is Alma’s people. One wonders why they were not specifically mentioned in this verse and just included in the “all others” umbrella.
Two assumptions about this passage seem reasonable: Limhi and his brethren made up one of these large bodies of people, and Mormon had access to records of Alma’s words to each of these groups. Mormon mentioned general preachings of repentance and faith, but the only specific instruction he recounted was the exhortation to Limhi’s people to remember that the Lord was responsible for their deliverance. Why is this detail so important that it alone received attention when so much else was left out? This editorial choice is especially puzzling when we recall that Limhi’s people had freed themselves by getting their Lamanite guards drunk (see Mosiah 22). We even know the name of the man who concocted the scheme—Gideon. We also remember the conference in which Ammon and Limhi “began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves out of bondage” (22:1). Their liberation seemed to be the result of sheer cunning—chapter twenty-two does not mention God once. And yet in chapter twenty-five, Mormon’s editing stressed that, despite appearances, God delivered Limhi’s people just as much as he did Alma’s people (who had made a miraculous escape, recorded in Mosiah 24:16-25). Of course this is precisely the point behind Mormon’s editing—no matter what we may think about our own resourcefulness, decisiveness, and timing, God is still in charge. Mormon tended to interpret political and historical events in spiritual terms, and this inclination is evident in his editing as well as in his direct “thus we see” comments. Citation
17 And it came to pass that after Alma had taught the people many things, and had made an end of speaking to them, that king Limhi was desirous that he might be baptized; and all his people were desirous that they might be baptized also.
This is a little a weird, because it makes it sound like a new desire, when we know that they had this desire before. A more interesting question is why the desire wasn’t manifest before this time (especially because the Limhi people landed in Zarahemla at least awhile before Alma’s people did). Is there something about the preceding verses that (re)triggered their desire for baptism?
18 Therefore, Alma did go forth into the water and did baptize them; yea, he did baptize them after the manner he did his brethren in the waters of Mormon; yea, and as many as he did baptize did belong to the church of God; and this because of their belief on the words of Alma.
“Words of Alma” as opposed to “words of the Lord” makes me a little nervous here.
Note that the result of baptism here is belonging to the the church of God. (That is, it is primarily described in terms of its communal, not individual, effects.) This supports my thinking from the last set of notes that Alma’s innovation is in community-formation. Religion is starting to be independent of politics/society, we might say in modern terms.
19 And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church.
This is a little weird–why didn’t they have churches before this? (Does v20 answer the question?) (Did they have priests and teachers?)
What do you make of the fact that the king is in charge of the church? Is that a good thing?
The separation of realm of influence now extends to Mosiah himself. Mosiah grants to Alma the power to ordain priests and teachers over each “church.” Effectively this diminishes the regnal power of Mosiah, as he is now removed from an essential role in the religious institution of his society. While Mosiah would certainly be titularly the head of the “church,” he was no longer the effective leader of it. That position passed to Alma. Citation
20 Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly;
But it was also true during Ben’s time that all the people couldn’t hear the word of God in one assembly, but they didn’t create churches then.
I don’t want to attack the memory of dear old Ben, but given the problems that arise with the rising generation that doesn’t believe him, and the actions taken in this verse, one wonders if administration just wasn’t his strong suit (remember all that bumbling about the people not being able to hear him?) and the lack of structure for the church was a problem that Alma (not Mosiah2) was uniquely capable of solving. (I’m probably too mean. But I think it is useful to recognize that all human leaders have weaknesses.) One wonders, then, what it is about Alma’s background (in the courts of Noah of all people!) that gave him this organizational ability. (Perhaps you’ll say that it wasn’t Alma but God. Fine, but then why didn’t Ben or Mosiah2 clean house under God’s guidance?)
21 Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
Once again, I note that in the OT, priests do temple rituals. Now in the BoM, their role seems different.
What the heck happened to the legitimate authority of Mosiah2? This is Ben’s kid, duly authorized, but you’d get the impression here that the situation in Zarahemla was a complete apostate mess until Alma showed up.
22 And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.
What does this verse tell you about what the word “church” means (and doesn’t mean) in the BoM?
I think the second phrase is a most interesting definition of what it means to be “one church.”
Were they teaching the law of Moses?
23 And now there were seven churches in the land of Zarahemla. And it came to pass that whosoever were desirous to take upon them the name of Christ, or of God, they did join the churches of God;
Seven is one of the most frequently used numbers in the scriptures as a symbol. (It is a symbol for completeness.) Could that be its meaning here? Could it be related to the seven churches to which John sent his revelation?
24 And they were called the people of God. And the Lord did pour out his Spirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land.
What does the phrase “pour out” suggest to you about the Spirit?
Are being blessed and prospering the result of having the Spirit?
Are “blessed” and “prospered” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing? What does prospered mean?
1 Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
There was no chapter division here in the 1830 BoM. What is the relationship of this verse to the material in the verse before it? (It is quite jarring if you read it without the distance that the chapter division creates.)
It seems to me that “being too young to hear Ben” is not a sufficient cause for “not believing parents.” What else might be going on here? (One possibility: there was civil unrest–perhaps a civil war–caused by Zeniff’s desire to leave.)
I’m curious about the present tense of “could not understand,” when the verse is clearly describing something that happened in the past of the story. Perhaps accidental, but perhaps it is suggesting that their problem is not that they were young when Ben gave the talk (presumably others were, who now believe his words), but that they chose not to understand the talk (now).
Usually “traditions of the fathers” is a negative thing in the BoM, so it is interesting to me that it is positive here.
I’m curious about the semantic shift from “the words of king Ben” to “the traditions of their fathers.” Is that two ways of saying the same thing? Two different things? How are those things related?
Remember that Ben is no longer king; his son is. Why is Ben’s discourse mentioned when it is old news?
So is this a big old parental fail that their parents hadn’t taught them what Ben taught?
Is “fathers” literal here (therefore meaning the people in Ben’s audience) or more metaphorical (=the prophetic tradition, which would include Ben and may or may not include their biological fathers)?
2 They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
Why single out these two items? (My thought: these seem, in a sense, sort of ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,’ in that they have no direct impact on their lives, but have to do with future [to them] events. Of course, that would then be precisely the point of the passage: that what we believe about future events [such as the Second Coming and judgment] absolutely does impact our lives in the present.)
3 And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
What is it about not believing about the resurrection and incarnation that would lead them to not understand “the word of God”? What precisely is the cause and effect described in v2-3?
I find this verse fascinating, because it suggests that faith (and the lack thereof) impact our ability to understand things. (This is maybe obvious, but we act like it isn’t sometimes.)
Does this verse suggest that they wanted to understand the word of God, but couldn’t? (I don’t think they wanted to, but then why bring it up?)
Who hardened their hearts? Are you surprised to see heart-hardening as the result of disbelief instead of the cause of disbelief? What might this imply?
If you think about the biblical meaning of hearts as minds, this verse makes perfect sense: they didn’t believe, they couldn’t understand, and their minds were closed.
Brant Gardner suggests that, because this apostasy developed so quickly and because it is the same as other BoM apostasies, it seems to have the same source: outside influence. These kids appear to be succumbing to the non-messianic beliefs of people they know (as do other apostate BoM groups). Once again, we see more evidence for interaction with native people suggested but not directly mentioned in the text.
4 And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.
Does this verse affirm or deny the idea (suggested before) that being baptized and joining the church are the same thing?
What do you make of the “ever after,” since this is not literally true?
So: What went wrong here? What is the moral of the story for the apostasy of these people–what is the warning to us? Does the text give you any clues?
5 And now in the reign of Mosiah they were not half so numerous as the people of God; but because of the dissensions among the brethren they became more numerous.
Does this verse have any relation to the material about Nephite v. Lamanite numbers at the beginning of ch25?
Does “among the brethren” mean dissension within the church? (Note that, in the Bible at least, brethren is nothing more than the plural for brothers [or brothers and sisters].) Is Mormon attributing this episode of apostasy to conflict within the church and/or its leadership?
Is this verse suggesting that an apostasy that began with the children filtered upward [in age]? If so, how might that happen today?
6 For it came to pass that they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church.
What would be some modern examples of this? How does flattery lead to deception? (Note that it is of people in the church–is there anything that might make church members particularly susceptible to flattery?)
Who is the “they”–the children who started this or the brethren?
Does this verse describe the dissensions that are mentioned in v6, or does it describe the result of those dissensions?
Think about the flattery -> deception -> sins sequence that this verse sets up. What might we learn from that? How might that happen today?
Note that the kids did not object to a practice but to a belief. But here, that unbelief has led to action.
In what situations should sinners be (or not be) admonished by the church? (I’d like to point out that sacrament meeting would be a lot more interesting if we got to listen to the bishop admonish specific people [but not me] for their sins.)
7 And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and delivered up unto the priests by the teachers; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest.
This verse suggests that the priests have a higher rank than the teachers; it also suggests that the teachers had a role in church discipline and didn’t just teach.
What should we gain from this chain-of-command verse? Should the teachers have just taken the apostates straight to Alma?
I think this verse goes in a non-chronological order: Did they go to the teachers or the priests first? I think they started with the teachers and then they were delivered up to the priests. This is interesting because it suggests that the teachers were not just Spewers of True Doctrine, but were taking the spiritual temperature of their flock and therefore knew that there was a problem with their belief/practice, and then turned them over to the priests.
8 Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church.
9 And it came to pass that Alma did not know concerning them; but there were many witnesses against them; yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance.
Skousen reads “Alma did know” here.
Skousen reads “for there” instead of “but there” here.
Why didn’t Alma know about them? Does this suggest some neglect on his part? (Pretty amazing to think of this big apostasy and him not knowing.)
10 Now there had not any such thing happened before in the church; therefore Alma was troubled in his spirit, and he caused that they should be brought before the king.
Really–apostasy hadn’t happened before?
So the king is the religious superior to the high priest? Interesting . . .
11 And he said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes.
I find it interesting that the issue here is sin, not disbelief. The story was introduced with Mormon’s gloss that the underlying issue was their disbelief.
Why do you think Mormon wasn’t more specific about exactly what these people had done?
12 But king Mosiah said unto Alma: Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged.
Was this the right or wrong thing to do? (Was Alma right or wrong to turn the apostates over to the king?)
Is it right to say that Alma thought the issue was civil, so he handed them over to Mosiah, while Mosiah thought the real issue was religious, so he punted them back to Alma? (Is this not, perhaps, part of [or similar to] the dissension among the brethren in v5?)
13 And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.
How do you read Alma’s troubled spirit? Is it the Lord’s way of telling him that he’s messing up? That he has work to do? Or just that the whole situation is sad?
Shouldn’t he have inquired of the Lord before all this? Is this story meant to suggest a learning experience for Alma as a newish high priest (over all of these Zarahemla people, anyway) who doesn’t quite know how to do things? (Was that the point of v10–that Alma had never had to deal with this before?)
14 And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:
15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
Remember that, at this point, Alma is the high priest for a lot more people than just those who were baptized at the waters of Mormon–at least the Limhites and presumably other people from Zarahemla. Why would the Lord single out the waters of Mormon people at this point?
Does “words alone” mean that Alma wasn’t overly swayed by Abinadi’s martyrdom, or does it mean that Alma had no other person’s words to convert him? (What about the Isaiah record that Alma had access to? Don’t those words count? Were they not part of his conversion? What about the idea that the truth is established by two or three witnesses–why didn’t that apply to Alma? Wouldn’t Ben’s words be a part of Alma’s faith by this point?) (See the next verse for more on this.)
Note how long it takes the Lord to answer Alma’s question, and everything the Lord does before actually answering the question. I think it is very significant that the Lord doesn’t lead with, “You really screwed up by allowing this huge apostasy to happen because you didn’t know your people very well and then trying to dump it all in Mosiah’s lap.” (Although it appears that Alma did in fact do those two things.) The Lord leads with reassuring Alma of his worth and recognizing his faith.
16 And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.
I suspect the phrase “words alone” is related to the same phrase in the previous verse, but I am not entirely sure how. One thing it seems to be doing is suggesting that Abinadi : Alma :: Alma :: Alma’s people.
17 And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
Note again that the same kind of syllogism is developed: Alma establishes a church among the people, the people shall be established. Is this related to believing on “words alone” in the previous two verses? (And, again, why the emphasis on “words alone”: was this not a day of miracles?)
Perhaps the recent events had raised some question in Alma’s mind about the wisdom of the churches since they appear to have engendered divisions as a side effect. The Lord may be allaying those fears by telling Alma that his establishment of the church is accepted. Citation
18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.
What does the word “bear” convey that another word (honor, carry, be called by, etc.) might not? Why is the idea of bearing the Lord’s name a good metaphor for, um, whatever it is a metaphor for? (What is it a metaphor for?)
19 And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.
Does “transgressor” imply that the issue is behavior and not belief?
Why is “transgressor” singular here?
Note that the structure of the Lord’s speech so far has been to list things for which Alma is blessed. And Alma’s question falls right into that list of blessings–it isn’t treated as a separate thing.
You know that expression “it’s always easier to ask forgiveness than permission”? It might be true at work, but it isn’t the Lord’s way. Here, Alma is called blessed for asking what to do. I think one of the vast unexplored frontiers of pride afflicts leaders (which is all of is, in some sphere or another) who assume that they know what to do instead of asking the Lord what they should be doing.
20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
What does the metaphor of sheep suggest to you about what Alma should do as a leader?
Jim F.: “Three things occur in this verse: the Lord calls Alma his servant; the Lord covenants that Alma will have eternal life; and the Lord says that Alma will serve him. (This rhetorical pattern, a cousin of chiasmus, is called inclusion.) How are these things connected to one another? Why is the covenant “sandwiched” between the descriptions of Alma as a servant—what does the arrangement tell us? What is a covenant? (It is more than a contract or mutual promise.) What does this covenant mean? What does it mean to have eternal life?”
Note the structure here: the Lord mentions a bunch of things for which Alma is blessed, with the last item on the list being asking about the church discipline hot potato. Then immediately after, the Lord covenants with Alma. So: What is the relationship between v19 and v20, which is another way of saying: what is the relationship between Alma asking his question and Alma being offered this covenant? (I would guess that Alma’s willingness to ask the Lord for guidance was the indicator of his readiness to enter into this covenant.)
I’m trying to get my mind around the relationship of the parts of this verse, which I see as:
(1) thou are my servant
(2) thou shalt have eternal life
(3) thou shalt serve me
(4) [thou shalt] go forth in my name
(5) [thou shalt] gather my sheep
Is (1) just an intro? Do (4) and (5) explain what (3) is? Or does Alma do three things (3, 4, and 5) in order to get (2)? Or are there other ways of understanding the relationship of the parts of this covenant?
Does the “gather my sheep” part of this covenant relate in any way to the fact that Alma’s question that prompted the Lord’s statement was about what to do with apostates? (Save thoughts on this for the next verse.)
21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
I think the point of this is to explain who is to be gathered, per v20.
What does “hearing his voice” suggest about our relationship to the Lord?
I think most of us secretly hate being compared to sheep. Why do the scriptures do this so often? What can you do to be more sheep-like?
Note that the Lord receives whoever Alma receives into the Church. What should we learn from this?
22 For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive.
What does “unto repentance” mean? (I would have picked a different preposition.)
Would you read this verse differently if there were a colon instead of a semi-colon after church? (Woohoo! That multi-tens-of-thousands-of-dollars English BA is really paying off now, Mom and Dad!)
Does “this is my church” relate to the material before it in v21 or the material after it in v22?
Note that v21 said that whoever Alma received, the Lord would receive. (What does “receive” mean in this context?) Here, whoever Alma receives will be freely forgiven. What is the relationship of all of these ideas?
Does being received by Alma cause the believing on Jesus’ name? (That doesn’t sound quite right, but I’m trying to figure out how “shall believe in my name” fits in to the train of thought here.)
The Lord uses the word “sheep” here. In a New World context this would be rather out of place. While one may discuss what other animal might be meant by “sheep” in some verses, the “sheep” here are clearly humans. This is a literary device, not a specific animal. It may or may not have been the precise word Alma understood, but it is the term used for similar meaning in the New Testament, and therefore is used here. It is understandable in its imagery, even though the imagery is more modern than ancient in this context. Citation
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.
Skousen reads “in the end” here.
Note how this verse relates to v22 (the “for” here encourages us to read it as “the reason for” the conclusion to v22).
What does “taking” sins suggest about sin?
Why does the Lord mention that He created people here? (In other words, how is that idea related to taking on the sins of the world?)
The obvious antecedent of “them” is “sins of the world,” but that doesn’t quite work. (I presume that the them is all the people from v22.)
What does the place at the right hand symbolize?
24 For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.
What does it really mean to “know” the Lord?
The idea of being called by someone else’s name is . . . weird. What does it suggest about our relationship to the Lord?
Compare with v23: both verses end the same way, but this verse adds “eternally.” Is that change significant? What does the paralleling of “believe unto the end” (v23) and “know me” (v24) suggest about those two ideas?
25 And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me.
How literally do you take the second trump? What might it symbolize?
26 And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed.
Is the “knowing” in this verse the same as the “knowing” in v25?
27 And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
What is the relationship between the Lord’s (not) knowing them and their (not) knowing the Lord? Why is knowledge the metaphor used here for the covenant relationship?
It is, of course, not literally true that the Lord did not know them. (A cynic might even say that this statement is a lie.) What is the Lord accomplishing by describing his relationship to the people who refused redemption in this way?
Previously, in Ben’s speech, we saw that the fiery (It just struck me how weird it is that fire become fiery–how does the ‘e’ get on the other side of the ‘r’?) description of hell was metaphorical. Is that the case here?
28 Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day.
I think it is safe to say that this verse assumes that the church should be a template, at least in some ways, for the afterlife.
Notice how the Lord has presented the policy on apostates not as some discrete “policy,” but as the logical conclusion (seriously, note how carefully controlled the logic is in this passage) of doctrine concerning the final judgment, which is based on covenant-keeping. Sometimes I see some LDS make a firm distinction between “doctrine” and “policy” (usually this is done to avoid stigma for any unfortunate past policies, or to minimize the importance of current policies perceived to be unsavory), but this passage suggests, I think, that policies should be firmly rooted in doctrine and treated as such.
For what is “hearing his voice” a metaphor?
Note how thoroughly the sheep-shepherd imagery imbues this passage. Why do you think the Lord chose to use a metaphor, and why this one?
29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.
Does “according to the sins” mean that beliefs are not a problem? (Or is lack of belief a sin?) I’m still trying to work through the implications of the fact that this story begins by pointing out that these people did not believe, but then pivots to talking about their sins and not about their lack of belief.
This verse implies that a dual confession (=before the Lord and before the high priest) is required as is a dual forgiveness. Why might this be so?
What is “go” doing in this verse?
What do you make of “transgress against me” as opposed to “transgress against the law”?
As we get the answer to Alma’s question, we see how far out of line the idea of turning people over to the king was: this is a matter with eternal consequences, patterned after eternal realities. It is not a political or civil matter.
Given that the Lord has framed the church as a template for the heavenly realm in this answer, what should that teach us about the church? About heaven? What other church policies might we intuit from this passage, besides those related to excommunication?
When we talk about sins being forgiven, we usually think about our sins. Think about a pedophile’s or a terrorist’s sins and then reread this verse.
30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
The cynic asks: How is this not a license to sin?
31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.
Shouldn’t it be “one another their trespasses”?
What are we to do about the problems that can arise when someone lies about having repented?
In the NT, “verily I say unto you” is sort of a technical phrase meaning something like, “listen up, this is really important!”
Note that forgiving gives us an opportunity to be literally Christ-like.
Note that we have to take our neighbor at her word when she says that she repents. That’s kind of scary.
What do you make of the word “neighbor” (as opposed to friend or church member or fellow child of God or whatever) in this verse?
32 Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward.
So I’m fascinated by the fact that Alma approached the Lord with the question, “Who is supposed to deal with apostates?” And the Lord gave him v15-31 before answering his question. It would probably be a good idea to review those verses and consider why the Lord told all that to Alma instead of just sticking to v32. Also, notice how (not just what) the question was answered–what do you see in the Lord’s answer that you might want to use as a pattern?
Also, why didn’t Alma have this information before he needed it? Now that we know this, it looks like there was a lot of bumbling from teacher to priest to high priest to king and back to high priest when it should have just been the high priest. Also, doesn’t it kind of make Alma look bad that he wanted to pawn off on Mosiah2 something that the Lord wanted him (Alma) to do? And why didn’t Alma ask the Lord for direction before to sent them to Mosiah2?
This is the second “go” statement: How does it relate to the first?
What does the idea of “numbering among people” suggest? (It seems we have switched from a sheepfold to a census or list or some sort.)
Is this only supposed to apply to big, fat, hairy sins? (Because it doesn’t say that. It actually says anyone who won’t repent.)
Why do you think the Lord chose to wait to give Alma this information until (1) after there was a crisis and (2) after Alma asked about it, instead of putting it in the handbook Alma got when he was given this calling? In what situations might the Lord do the same thing with us? (And is this fair?)
33 And it came to pass when Alma had heard these words he wrote them down that he might have them, and that he might judge the people of that church according to the commandments of God.
Why did we need this verse in the record?
Honestly, did Alma think he might forget this?
34 And it came to pass that Alma went and judged those that had been taken in iniquity, according to the word of the Lord.
35 And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church;
Wouldn’t they already have been numbered among the people?
36 And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out.
“Blotted out” suggests the image of a book with the names of church members in it, with names removed. What can this image teach us about the Church?
37 And it came to pass that Alma did regulate all the affairs of the church; and they began again to have peace and to prosper exceedingly in the affairs of the church, walking circumspectly before God, receiving many, and baptizing many.
Webster 1828 circumspectly:
Cautiously; with watchfulness every way; with attention to guard against surprise or danger.
Are “receiving” and “baptizing” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
38 And now all these things did Alma and his fellow laborers do who were over the church, walking in all diligence, teaching the word of God in all things, suffering all manner of afflictions, being persecuted by all those who did not belong to the church of God.
39 And they did admonish their brethren; and they were also admonished, every one by the word of God, according to his sins, or to the sins which he had committed, being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.
A talk from Elder Oaks stemming from the admonition to “give thanks in all things” in this verse.
Notice how careful this verse is to point out that the leaders of the church needed, and received, correction.
1 And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests.
Does murmuring strike you as an odd reaction to persecution? I think murmuring usually happens in the scriptures when you don’t like what a leader did. Is there some implication that they didn’t like Alma’s excommunication policy and perhaps they saw a link between it and the persecutions? Total speculation alert, but I am wondering if there was a faction that thought everyone should just be kept in the church, because if they were kicked out, then they’d fight the church, but if they were in the church, then they wouldn’t fight the church.
I see a fascinating parallel with the last chapter, where Alma also turned an issue over to Mosiah. (Of course, we later learn that the Lord wanted Alma to handle that issue himself.) Here, Alma is again turning a problem over to Mosiah–but this time, the problem is persecution (or church members complaining about persecution). Are you surprised that Alma didn’t ask the Lord what to do about this?
Are murmuring and complaining two different things in this verse, or two ways of saying the same thing?
Are they right to murmur/complain about this?
Now, the last time Alma took something to Mosiah, it didn’t turn out well. Does that incident predispose us to expect the same here?
Notice what happened: Alma went to Mosiah and Mosiah went to his priests. But Alma is a high priest. So are they just playing hot potato, or what?
2 And it came to pass that king Mosiah sent a proclamation throughout the land round about that there should not any unbeliever persecute any of those who belonged to the church of God.
3 And there was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men;
What is the relationship that this verse is suggesting because equality and persecution? What does equality mean in this verse? Does the phrase “that there should be equality” apply just to v3, or also to v2?
Note that, while v2 is concerned without people outside the church persecuting those within the church, that this verse is concerned about people within the church persecuting other people within the church. How might that happen today?
4 That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.
Does this verse answer the question about what equality means above?
The BoM places a huge emphasis on laboring with one’s own hands. Is this about the virtues of manual labor, self-sufficiency, or something else? How is it relevant today? (How does it apply to SAHMs?)
What is the link between the material in this verse and the problem of persecution? (I suspect that the persecution had a socio-economic as well as a religious component based on this verse.)
5 Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God.
The idea of priests laboring is such a theme in the BoM . . . I am half wondering if the issue isn’t so much that they would be moochers as that priests/teachers need to be connected to the “real world” of employment (farming, whatever). There are problems that arise when priests/teachers are insulated from the “real world” because they don’t have to work in it (especially with the people in it) (and, yes, I am concerned about how this might apply to full-time CES people).
6 And there began to be much peace again in the land; and the people began to be very numerous, and began to scatter abroad upon the face of the earth, yea, on the north and on the south, on the east and on the west, building large cities and villages in all quarters of the land.
So in this case, a king passing a law ending religious persecution had a good outcome. What is the moral of this story?
7 And the Lord did visit them and prosper them, and they became a large and wealthy people.
8 Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
Interestingly, there isn’t much idolatry in the BoM. Do we have any indication from his background or from the situation in Zarahemla as to why idolatry would appeal to Alma2?
How would you respond to the cynic who suggests that this verse implies that parenting doesn’t matter?
The “wicked” might lead us to think of any number of possible sins, but why is Alma the Younger “idolatrous?” Clearly to be guilty of that sin he is not only an unbeliever in the Nephite religion, but is apparently abeliever in an idolatrous religion. In the context in which we have been viewing these events, Alma the Younger has adopted the idolatrous “outside” religion. Having adopted that position, he actively encourages others to follow his lead. Citation
9 And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.
Remember that in the OT, hearts usually means minds.
What do you learn about Satan from this verse?
10 And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king—
I find it interesting that our last references to secrecy were about Alma1 hiding from Noah to build up the church, but here Alma2 goes about secretly to tear it down. Is this just an ironic reversal, or what?
What work is “or even the king” doing in this verse?
11 And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
What happened to “faith precedes the miracle”? Does it strike you as odd that wicked people would see an angel?
Why don’t all wicked people see an angel?
What work is “as it were in a cloud” doing in this verse? What does that even mean?
Note that, in Paul’s conversion, the Lord comes in light; here, it is a cloud. Is that a significant difference?
Why the voice of thunder? (And now I’ve got that song in my head.)
What is the earth shaking supposed to do to Alma2 and the sons of Mosiah?
I’m thinking that the cloud/thunder/earthquake is meant to suggest natural phenomenon, but that is kind of weird in a verse about an angelic visitation. What’s going on here?
So not only does this conversion story have many parallels to Paul’s in content, but also in form, in the sense that the NT has multiple accounts of it and the BoM has multiple accounts of Alma’s. Note that we also have multiple accounts of the First Vision. (Do you consider that a conversion narrative? It is missing the element of hostility to the church that Alma and Paul had.) How might this be significant?
12 And so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth, and understood not the words which he spake unto them.
Why couldn’t they understand him?
13 Nevertheless he cried again, saying: Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people.
There are obvious parallels here to Paul’s experience. What can you learn from comparing the two? Why do you think there was such dramatic intervention in these cases but not others?
Note that we are not given the angel’s first words, the words that they didn’t understand. Why is that? Is it safe to assume those words were identical to this verse?
What is the point of “arise and stand forth”?
Does “why are you persecuting the church” seem like an odd opener to you? (As if there were anything that Alma could say that would make the angel respond with, “Oh, well, in that case, OK. Carry on. Good day, then.”) Why does the angel ask this question? Why not just say “Stop persecuting the church!”?
I find the idea that transgressions could overthrow the church intriguing. It suggests that they are powerful.
14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
It is worth noting that even someone like Alma1 could end up with a totally wayward child.
What do you take from the fact that the angel conceives of convincing Alma2 of the power and authority of God as the solution to his problem?
Howard W. Hunter:
If a parent has made what could be considered an error—or, on the other hand, has never made a mistake, but still the lamb has wandered from the fold—in either case there are several thoughts I would like to share with you. First, such a father or mother is not alone. Our first parents knew the pain and suffering of seeing some of their children reject the teachings of eternal life. (See Moses 5:27.) Centuries later Jacob came to know of the jealousy and ill feelings of his older sons toward his beloved Joseph. (See Gen. 37:1–8.) The great prophet Alma, who had a son named Alma, prayed at length to the Lord regarding the rebellious attitude of his son and no doubt was overwhelmed with concern and worry about the dissension and the wickedness his son was causing among those who were within the Church. (See Mosiah 27:14.) Our Father in Heaven has also lost many of his spirit children to the world; he knows the feelings of your heart. Oct 83 GC
Boyd K. Packer:
He was struck down by an angel, not because he deserved it but because of the prayers of his father and others (see Mosiah 27:14). Apr 06 GC
15 And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
Here’s the thing: if a little celestial fireworks are all it took to get Alma2 to repent, then do you assume that Alma2 has never seen a miracle before? By which I mean: it seems hard to imagine Alma2 in this situation if he had grown up ‘feeling the spirit’ and seeing the Lord’s power.
So the set-up here is that a little angelic appearance would convince Alma of the truth. But: When we read the story of Laman and Lemuel being visited by an angel and not reforming, we take that story as evidence of the fact that miracles do not produce belief. So how might we resolve this paradox?
16 Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
What is remembering the recent captivity supposed to do for/to Alma?
What does “cast off” mean here? (There is some debate by scholars as to whether, in the OT, it means death, excommunication, eternal punishment, disinheritance, etc.)
17 And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.
Why is the message targeted so specifically at Alma and not really at the people with him?
What is the point of this verse?
18 And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
There’s something about this story that seems . . . unbiblical . . . to me. I just don’t like the idea of Alma converting because of a magic show as it were.
19 And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father.
Are the muteness and weakness literal? Symbolic? What might they represent?
20 And they rehearsed unto his father all that had happened unto them; and his father rejoiced, for he knew that it was the power of God.
Why do you think the people with Alma (who are always narrated as having precisely the same reaction as Alma) do not have the physical consequences of the visitation that Alma has?
21 And he caused that a multitude should be gathered together that they might witness what the Lord had done for his son, and also for those that were with him.
22 And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength—that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.
What does the fasting in this verse tell us about the practice of fasting?
If Alma’s muteness and weakness are the result of divine intervention, should they be praying for them to end?
I find it interesting that we hear about Alma’s mouth (makes sense), Alma’s limbs (also makes sense), but then the people’s eyes (seems to come out of nowhere).
In the context of the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger has been fighting against the church, and particularly against the coming atoning Messiah. The prophecies of that Messiah are that he will die and be resurrected. In a very dramatic fashion, Alma the Younger becomes the visual symbol of that coming atoning Messiah. Alma the Younger, symbolically dead, will be resurrected to life. As with the atoning Messiah, where the pre-death being was mortal and subject to the world (as Alma had proved to be) the post-resurrection being would be God. While Alma was certainly not resurrected to the status of god, his transformation was still tremendous, and the new person was a powerful advocate for the church he had once persecuted. This possible resurrection theme places a context to this particular difference between the experiences of Alma the Younger and Saul. Where Saul is blinded (perhaps symbolic of his prior refusal to “see” the reality of Jesus as Savior), Alma is debilitated. Symbolically, Alma the Younger also underwent an experience that was highly symbolic, but in Alma’s case, most directly related to the nature of his particular apostasy. Citation
23 And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:
Is the timing of the fast symbolic?
What do you make of the fact that the scriptures usually (always? almost always?) link fasting and prayer?
Where does the “good comfort” message come from?
What do you learn about fasting from this verse?
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
What does “born of the Spirit” imply?
I’m interested in the repented–redeemed–born pattern here . . . what could we learn from it?
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
Note gender-inclusive language in this verse (twice).
Do you read this verse to suggest that Alma had been marveling that people needed to be born again?
We hear the phrase “born again” so frequently in our culture that it can become disassociated from its meaning. What is accomplished by describing the repentance/redemption process in terms of birth imagery?
What does this verse teach you about the Fall?
James E. Faust:
A rebirth out of spiritual adversity causes us to become new creatures. From the book of Mosiah we learn that all mankind must be born again—born of God, changed, redeemed, and uplifted—to become the sons and daughters of God. Apr 79 GC
Dallin H. Oaks:
The question of whether a person has been saved is sometimes phrased in terms of whether that person has been “born again.” Being “born again” is a familiar reference in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. As noted earlier, Jesus taught that except a man was “born again,” of water and of the Spirit, he could not enter into the kingdom of God. The Book of Mormon has many teachings about the necessity of being “born again” or “born of God.”As we understand these scriptures, our answer to whether we have been born again is clearly “yes.” We were born again when we entered into a covenant relationship with our Savior by being born of water and of the Spirit and by taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We can renew that rebirth each Sabbath when we partake of the sacrament. Latter-day Saints affirm that those who have been born again in this way are spiritually begotten sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, in order to realize the intended blessings of this born-again status, we must still keep our covenants and endure to the end. In the meantime, through the grace of God, we have been born again as new creatures with new spiritual parentage and the prospects of a glorious inheritance. Apr 98 GC
26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
What does “new creatures” suggest to you? Is there any relation to the creation?
What does the “inherit” language suggest to you about the kingdom of God?
Brant Gardner points out that Alma’s experience here is not connected to baptism (we usually connect baptism and being born again). What are the implications of this?
Corbin T. Volluz points out that this passage uses multiple synonyms for the same concept:
- “Redeemed of God”;
- “Born of the Spirit”;
- “Born of God”;
- “Born again”;
- “Becoming [God's] sons and daughters”; and,
- “Becom(ing) new creatures.” Citation
27 I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.
I’m curious about the relationship of knowledge and experience in this verse.
28 Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.
What does “wading” imply to you?
What does “repenting nigh unto death”?
What does “snatching” suggest?
Is the “everlasting burning” literal or figurative?
Is being born of God (this verse) the same as born of the Spirit (v24)?
Does this verse provide a definition of what it means to be born of God?
29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.
Webster 1828 gall:
1. In the animal economy, the bile, a bitter, a yellowish green fluid, secreted in the glandular substance of the liver. It is glutinous or imperfectly fluid, like oil.
2. Any thing extremely bitter.
3. Rancor; malignity.
4. Anger; bitterness of mind.
Why are “bonds” a good metaphor for the results of iniquity?
Webster 1828 abyss:
1. A bottomless gulf; used also for a deep mass of waters, supposed by some to have encompassed the earth before the flood.
2. That which is immeasurable; that in which any thing is lost.
3. In antiquity, the temple of Proserpine, so called from the immense treasures it was supposed to contain.
4. In heraldry, the center of an escutcheon.
Webster 1828 racked:
1. Tortured; tormented; strained to the utmost.
2. Drawn off, as liquor.
Boyd K. Packer:
The prophets teach how painful guilt can be. As I read what they have said, be prepared for very strong words. Even so, I will not read the strongest things they have said. The prophet Alma, describing his feelings of guilt, said, “I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.” The prophets chose very graphic words. Racked means “tortured.”Anciently a rack was a framework on which the victim was laid with each ankle and wrist tied to a spindle which could then be turned to cause unbearable pain. A harrow is a frame with spikes through it. When pulled across the ground, it rips and tears into the soil. The scriptures frequently speak of souls and minds being “harrowed up” with guilt. Torment means “to twist,” a means of torture so painful that even the innocent would confess. The prophets speak of the “gall of bitterness”and often compare the pain of guilt to fire and brimstone. Brimstone is another name for sulfur. King Benjamin said that those who are evil will be “consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment.” The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner. … The torment of disappointment in the mind of man [or woman] is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone.” That lake of fire and brimstone, ever burning but never consumed, is the description in the scriptures for hell. Suppose there was no cure, no way to ease spiritual pain or to erase the agony of guilt. Suppose each mistake, each sin, was added to the others with the racking, the harrowing up, the torment going on forever. Too many of us needlessly carry burdens of guilt and shame. Apr 01 GC
30 I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.
Skousen reads “but now I know that they may foresee” here.
Who is the “they” who are foreseeing in this verse? This verse doesn’t make sense to me on a grammatical level: I think he is saying that he no longer rejects his Redeemer because “they foresee.” But they (assuming this means prophet) *always* foresaw Christ, it was just that Alma wouldn’t recognize that. So how exactly does this verse work?
Is it literally true that Christ will manifest himself unto every creature?
31 Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye.
Is there a relationship between the quaking and trembling here and those things in the angelic visitation?
32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.
33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.
34 And four of them were the sons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.
It is somewhat odd to name people after the major event in which they are participants. Why do you think Mormon did so here?
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.
We know that Zeniff’s “overzealousness” was bad. Is “zealous” good here?
Interesting–where/how did they get this knowledge of the scriptures?
We don’t get too many pictures of restitution for sins in the scriptures, so this is a nice one. (It is also a great picture of humility.)
36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.
Gideon was described also as an instrument in the hands of God. What does that image suggest?
37 And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth.
I pray that you will develop the bravery and love for Heavenly Father’s children that led the sons of Mosiah to plead for the chance to face death and danger to take the gospel to a hardened people. Their desire and their bravery came from feeling responsible for the eternal happiness of strangers in danger of eternal misery. Apr 09 GC
1 My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.
2 I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.
Is “in their afflictions” (as opposed to “from their afflictions”) significant here?
3 And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.
Note that the trials, troubles, and afflictions don’t go away–you are just supported during them.
Is “lifted up” meant to make a link to the crucifixion?
4 And I would not that ye think that I know of myself—not of the temporal but of the spiritual, not of the carnal mind but of God.
What does this verse suggest about epistemology?
5 Now, behold, I say unto you, if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself;
What is this verse suggesting about the nature of knowledge?
What does this verse suggest about the role of personal worthiness in receiving revelation? (Is that what you would have expected?)
6 For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
7 And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.
8 But behold, the voice said unto me: Arise. And I arose and stood up, and beheld the angel.
9 And he said unto me: If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God.
It has been suggested that this means “even if thou wilt.” (See Mosiah 27:16, which uses that language in another retelling of Alma’s conversion experience.) The phrase is difficult. The text was changed in the BoM, but what we have here now appears to be the original–with emendations added (presumably to make the text make more sense) and then removed (since the original text didn’t support the changes). Note that the phrase is repeated in v11.
How does the “if . . . then” statement work in this verse?
10 And it came to pass that I fell to the earth; and it was for the space of three days and three nights that I could not open my mouth, neither had I the use of my limbs.
Are the 3 days/night symbolic? Meant to link to Jesus in the tomb? Jonah?
11 And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them; for when I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more.
Why is the angel telling him things he can’t hear?
12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
“Harrow” is a very rich word. More here.
It seems that Alma is acting as if he has been condemned to hell, but instead he’s had an angel tell him to stop destroying the church. Does that seem like a disconnect?
One thing that I find interesting: it is as if he is already in hell.
13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
Is the angel (or the Lord) presenting his sins to him, or is this all internal? What is happening and why is it happening?
14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
So was he a literal murdered? Or is he using that metaphorically to suggest that he misled people? What is accomplished by comparing murder and leading people away?
So . . . before this moment, he never thought about entering the presence of God?
I think it is interesting that you could read some of this material (such as the “pains of hell” in v13) as supporting the traditional fire-and-brimstone view of hell, but then this verse clarifies that the thing that causes pain is not fear of future (literal) fire, but the thought of being in God’s presence.
15 Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
Why does he think he is damned? Is this a ‘knowledge of the way atonement/repentance works’ fail?
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Why didn’t he remember this until this point?
Does “a” Son of God surprise you?
Jeffrey R. Holland:
That brief memory, that personal testimony offered by his father at a time when the father may have felt nothing was sinking in, not only saved the spiritual life of this, his son, but changed forever the history of the Book of Mormon people. Apr 99 GC
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
What can you learn from the image of a mind “catching hold” on a thought?
What do you learn from v17-18 about teaching and/or parenting?
D. Todd Christofferson:
Confessing and forsaking are powerful concepts. They are much more than a casual “I admit it; I’m sorry.” Confession is a deep, sometimes agonizing acknowledgment of error and offense to God and man. Sorrow and regret and bitter tears often accompany one’s confession, especially when his or her actions have been the cause of pain to someone or, worse, have led another into sin. It is this deep distress, this view of things as they really are, that leads one, as Alma, to cry out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.” Oct 11 GC
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
What do you make of the outsized role that thoughts play in this conversion narrative?
Um, this isn’t literally true since he’s just been writing about his pains! What, then, does he mean by “I could remember my pains no more” since it isn’t literally true?
What do you make of the “amnesia” theme?
Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
Satan will try to make us believe that our sins are not forgiven because we can remember them. Satan is a liar; he tries to blur our vision and lead us away from the path of repentance and forgiveness. God did not promise that we would not remember our sins. Remembering will help us avoid making the same mistakes again. But if we stay true and faithful, the memory of our sins will be softened over time. This will be part of the needed healing and sanctification process. Alma testified that after he cried out to Jesus for mercy, he could still remember his sins, but the memory of his sins no longer distressed and tortured him, because he knew he had been forgiven. Apr 07 GC
Neil L. Andersen:
The scriptures do not say that we will forget our forsaken sins in mortality. Rather, they declare that the Lord will forget. Oct 09 GC
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
What do you make of the opposition of joy and pain? (How might this relate to the story of the Fall?)
Where does the light come from? Is it literal or metaphorical?
What is the relationship of joy and light in this verse?
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
What do “bitter” and “sweet” suggest to you in this verse?
This verse duplicated material from the previous verse; why was this material important enough to warrant emphasis?
22 Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.
Does “methought” imply that he didn’t?
How literally do you take this throne? Of what might it be a symbol?
Remember that concourses implies movement–does this imply that singing and praising require motion? (Was it interpretive dance? Please tell me it wasn’t.)
There are a lot of theophanies in scripture, but I don’t think any others have the note that the viewer wanted to be there (usually, the viewer is fearful). This is, of course, a perfect inversion of his earlier sense of being horrified beyond words at the thought of being in God’s presence. I think that the quick test of “How would I feel in God’s presence?” is probably as good of a barometer as any for our personal righteousness.
23 But behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God.
Is the return of limb strength related to the previous verse? (I am wondering if the shift to desiring God’s presence has affected him physically.)
How precisely did he manifest that he had been born of God? (And why doesn’t he tell us?)
24 Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
What does “taste” imply about joy?
25 Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors;
26 For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.
What does “eye to eye” mean? Whose eyes?
The important result of Alma’s conversion has been that he as been able to pass on his experiential understanding of God. Alma no longer understood God as a theoretical being, but rather as one with a powerful reality. Note the language used to describe the experience: taste, seen.Alma knows but knows through a deeper understanding that the intellect alone, or the heart alone. What is even more remarkable, he indicates that others “have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen.” Citation
27 And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.
Skousen reads “prisons” here.
I presume “prison” is metaphorical?
28 And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever, for he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea; and he led them by his power into the promised land; yea, and he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity from time to time.
Why mention this “ancient history” in the midst of his very personal and very current story?
29 Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day; and I have always retained in remembrance their captivity; yea, and ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, their captivity.
It is pretty weird to think that “remembering history” is a core part of conversion, but there you go.
30 But behold, my son, this is not all; for ye ought to know as I do know, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence. Now this is according to his word.
(1) This chart compares the three BoM accounts of Alma’s conversion. I think it would be worthwhile to study the similarities and differences in depth. This article is also useful. Why would three accounts of the same event have been included in a record that frequently reminds us of how very little it had space to include?
(2) This chart shows the famous chiasmus in Alma 36. (Article here.) My sense is that LDS scholars have generally been more concerned with the apologetic than the literary uses of chiasmus; I am more interested in the latter. In that vein, I think it significant that the focus of this chiasmus is on crying to Christ. It would be easy, I think, in reading this to focus on the angel, because that is outside of normal experience. But that isn’t the focus of this story as written–this story is focused on calling out to Christ. (Also note what isn’t at the center: pain, fear, etc.) Also note that calling on Christ is literally surrounded by being harrowed up–I think that is also very telling. Other notes on the structure:
–verses 1 & 30
–Alma’s word is associated with the Lord’s word.
–‘Keep the commandments’ is big picture.
–verses 2 & 28?29
–Notice link between knowing and doing
–What’s the point of remembering the captivity and liberation?
–Alma is associating his own release from sin with the historical release from sin, thereby teaching something about how to read the scriptures
–verses 4?5 & 26
–point about how we know what we know
–notice 4-5 are personal, but 26 shows how anyone can do this; this is important
–verses 6 & 24
–notice complete shift in attitude
–verses 10 & 23
–Ask: what’s the symbolism here?
–verses 14?15 & 22
–thoughts of being in presence of God
–this may a be good personal worthiness interview question . . .
–verses 16 & 20
–Ask: do you have this attitude that your joy will ultimately exceed your pain?
(3) Note that the structure of these lessons means that we lose the context of Alma 36, which is that Alma is about to hand over the plates to his son Helaman. Do you read it differently in that context?
(4) I can’t convince myself to get interested in this, but maybe someone else will find it helpful.
(5) The cynic says: It is a good thing that some of the kids who listened to Ben’s speech went apostate, because otherwise we never would have gotten Alma’s powerful conversion story and the record of it. Response?
(6) Can you make any interesting comparisons between the conversion processes of Alma1 and Alma2?
(7) The heading before Alma 36 reads “The commandments of Alma to his son Helaman. Comprising chapters 36 and 37.” In what way might we read Alma 36 as “commandments”?