Working through Alma 13 (a little at a time)

 1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.

First of all, I think it is important to recognize what him means by “these commandments.” In the previous verses (remember that our chapter breaks weren’t the same as the original chapter breaks!), he has been explaining that after Adam and Eve transgressed the “first commandments” about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, two things happened. One, they had to leave the garden and were thereafter blocked from coming back to the tree of life by an angel. Two, as God had already planned for their redemption he sent other angels to converse with Adam and Eve and teach them about the plan. This plan included commandments, or “second commandments,” as Alma calls them in Alma 12. That appears to me to be what Alma here, in Alma 13:1, means by “these commandments.”

Secondly, some have worried about the phrase “cite your minds forward” since to us (and to Alma) these events are in the past. This doesn’t seem to be a problem to me; I assume that what Alma is saying is that we are citing our minds forward from Adam and Eve leaving the garden to this next point in the story, where they have been given new commandments and priests are now being ordained. We’re jumping ahead within the story that Alma is telling.

What I’d like to figure out is when exactly that time is – are we talking about soon after Adam and Eve? Alma is talking about a time when priests were ordained to teach the gospel. That doesn’t seem to refer to Adam, does it? I suppose it could, in which case Adam is ordained to teach his children. But if that were what Alma was talking about, why doesn’t he say that? He’s already been talking about Adam, so why not use his name again?

Based on the wording in Alma 13:1, it seems to me that he is not thinking of Adam himself. First off, he doesn’t mention Adam’s name at all, but second, he has specifically put some distance between Adam and Eve’s story and this situation of priests being called by asking us to “cite our minds forward to the time…”. If this were simply the next moment in Adam and Eve’s story, then there wouldn’t be a need for us to jump to a later moment in history, so it seems to me.

So when is this time? When were men ordained priests? His language suggests a time when many (or at least more than one!) were ordained priests. The earliest record of a group of priests that I know of is actually from the Book of Moses, where, when Adam had a son and a grandson who were righteous, there began to be a priest-hood of sorts (meaning, a group of priests). This is a possibility as to what Alma means, though, again, I am curious why he didn’t mention Adam’s name. There could be other times that he is talking about. I instantly think of Moses and Aaron, but I doubt that is what he has in mind. Mostly, I assume that isn’t the context because he will go on in later verses to talk about Abraham and Melchizedek, which came before Moses and Aaron. Are we talking about Abraham’s time, then? Not sure I can justify that either. But here’s that passage from the Book of Moses so we can look at that further:

3 And God revealed himself unto Seth, and he rebelled not, but offered an acceptable sacrifice, like unto his brother Abel. And to him also was born a son, and he called his name Enos

4 And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them

So now we have Adam, who is righteous, Seth, who is righteous, and Enos, who, I presume, was also righteous. And “then” began these men to call upon God. Why “then”? Because there were three? Because at that point the angels revealed more information to them? A few verses later, Adam will prophecy that “Now this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also.” (There’s more that one way to read the connection between these verses, but on my reading, this is the prophecy that verse 8 is referring to.) If that is the case, then it seems perhaps that “this” priesthood is the same as when the 3 (Adam, Seth, and Enos) began to call upon God? A sort of “presidency” of sorts? That reminds me of all sorts of tangents I could go on. For example, if a Melchizedek priesthood holder is acting as Bishop, he needs a presidency (or a Bishopric, as we call it). But, if a literal descendant of Aaron is a Bishop, he can act alone, without counselors (D&C 107:76). Is there something about the Melchizedek priesthood that requires or functions ideally with a presidency of three?

But anyway, that’s a tangent. Kind of. It might really help us see what Alma is referring to. To get a little more context to Moses 6:4, here’s the last few verses of Moses 5:

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

59 And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance, and the Gospel preached, and a decree sent forth, that it should be in the world, until the end thereof; and thus it was. Amen.

I have lots to say about verse 59, but for now I’ll stick with 58. This sounds like what Alma is talking about, or at least what he was talking about in Alma 12: angels coming to reveal the plan of redemption. Verse 59 hits on some questions I have about the rest of Alma 13, so for now I’ll continue on to verse 2.

 2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.

And “those priests” (whatever time period that might be, Adam/Seth/Enos, or another time) were ordained after this “order,” which I assume refers to the Melchizedek priesthood. I don’t have any questions about that part of the verse so far. But I don’t quite know what to make of the second half, and of its curious phrase that will reappear elsewhere in chapter 13: “in a manner” that the people might now “in what manner” to look forward to Christ. What “manner” are we talking about? And how does this “manner” let the people know to look to Christ? And what do we mean by the people knowing “in what manner” to look to Christ?

Let’s see if the next verses shed any more light (or give us more substance to our questions, anyway):

 3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

“And this is the manner” says verse 3. What manner is that, exactly? Are we heading into a tangent and then later we’ll address the “manner,” or rather what follows is the manner- that is, that someone was called and prepared from before they were here on earth? Is that the manner? Chosen by God’s foreknowledge? That doesn’t seem satisfactory. How does that teach the people to look to Christ? And how does that teach the people the very “manner” in which they should look forward to Christ? Simply that there is a parallel that Christ was also chosen from the foundation of the earth? Does that serve as a confirmation that God has a plan and that they can rely on Him to have been in control from the beginning? But how does someone know, from the outside, that a priest was foreordained? How does this “show” to the people anything that causes them to know how to look forward to Christ?

Perhaps rather this is a tangent (the Book of Mormon authors aren’t known for those, are they? 🙂 ) I want to keep looking at the next verses to see what I can learn about the “manner” in which they were ordained. I know I’m leaving out a lot of verse 3, but maybe it’ll get picked back up as I go on. We’ll just see. 🙂

Ah-ha! I just looked ahead and I think I see where this tangent ends and we pick back up with “manner.” So, I’ll quote here all the verses so you can see how the tangent continues and then the topic switches back:

 4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—

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

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

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

9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.

Thank you verse 8! Back to my question. But what else do we learn here? Are we finally being told the “manner” or are we going on a clarifying, preparatory tangent again? Alma says the priests were “called with a holy calling” (mentioned often during the verse 3-7 tangent), which again, I assume is becoming a high priest in the Melchizedek priesthood. Next, Alma says they are ordained with a “holy ordinance.” (I have my guesses from Moses 5 that perhaps this means the endowment? But that’s a just a fun guess for now.) Finally, we are reminded that this calling, ordinance, and priesthood are without beginning or end and thus they are “high priests forever.” This ends with an “Amen” and there we are. I think that this is still a tangent, don’t you? Let’s keep going in chapter 13.

10 Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;

11 Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

12 Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

Again, Alma seems mostly to be focusing on who became/becomes a high priest, and of course why those people became/become high priests. I wonder why he is so obsessed with that topic? Is he trying to explain why he himself is a high priest? But why that, then. Would he be trying to separate himself as an authority afterall (remember that the people in the city have pointed out that since he is not chief judge he can’t tell them what to do), or, would he be trying to level things a bit, and show how they could also have his privileged priesthood position if they but wanted to have it (and of course then if they choose good, etc.)? Or, are we still trying to answer Antionah’s question more generally, the one he had about how to get past the angel to the tree of life? That is, we can all choose good or evil, now what we (thanks to Adam and Eve) know good and evil? But whatever the reasons, I think we are perhaps still on a tangent from the topic of what this “manner” is of which I’m so curious.

Verse 11 begins to talk about sanctification, and about garments being made white. This, I could see, could show the people an example of how to return to a garden-like state, but I still don’t see what this “manner” is or how it teaches the people anything. We aren’t talking about literal white garments, I assume, so how does this show anything?

Still not sure… (any ideas?)

The next verse reads:

 13 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.

Alma then begins here to explain to the people that they too can be pure and enter into God’s rest. Perhaps he was going on those earlier tangents to set up the possibility of the people choosing good and being like him. That sounds like D&C 84, which talks about Moses hoping to help all his people to be sanctified and enter into God’s rest.

Hmm, and looking ahead, I don’t see him going back to the topic of “the manner” in which they were ordained. I do see one more use of that word, in verse 16. (And here it is the ordinances which are given in a certain manner, not the ordination. But perhaps those are the same thing here in Alma 13, which again makes me curious if we are talking about the endowment experience, wherein we learn a lot about the Melchizedek priesthood.)

Is the “manner” really then, that those who chose good were ordained to teach others? And that those who chose good and were ordained were sanctified? And that we can also choose good and be sanctified? Are those really the only descriptions or definitions we get of the “manner” here?

What do you see that I am missing?

As a further tangent of my own, verses 15 and 16 sometimes seem out of sync with the chapter. Some have suggested that verse 16 was misplaced, even. But I wonder if we might catch on to Alma’s little explanation “it being a type of his order, or it being his order.” Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and this is a type of his order, to go to another priesthood bearer? But again I get all confused. Is this the manner in which we know that Christ is important, because we all go to someone else for ordinances? We all depend on others, just like we all depend on Christ? But that doesn’t seem to be at all what he dwells on in chapter 13. He does dwell on choosing good and being sanctified… but I still can’t tell if that is the “manner” he is talking about or not. What do you think?? Any help appreciated!




12 responses to “Working through Alma 13 (a little at a time)

  • joespencer

    I’ve only read your comments on verse 1 so far, but I’m wondering about the fact that those ordained are referred to as “his children,” most obviously as the children of “the Lord God.” How to think about that?

    In the meanwhile, I wonder if some of the problem isn’t solved by noting that Alma cites the minds of his listeners forward not (necessarily) to the time when ordinations took place, but to the time when “these commandments” were given, and it seems clear enough that the commandments in question were given to Adam and Eve. I assume for that reason that it is Adam and Eve that are in question, and that the ordination is best understood to be an event associated with their reception of angels outside of Eden….

  • Karen

    Thanks Joe for pointing out that the first part of the verse is pointing to when the commandments were given, not (necessarily) when the ordinations took place. That’s very helpful.

  • Kim Berkey

    The only indication of time we’re given is in v. 1 – “when . . . God gave these commandments,” so I agree with Joe that *this* is the time we should be looking at. There’s a further hint in v. 6, where these priests are ordained specifically “to teach [God’s] commandments unto the children of men,” which not only agrees with the time frame given in v. 1, but links these priests with the angels in chapter 12 in an interesting way. Not sure what to make of that.

    I also don’t think v. 3-7 can be written off as a tangent. I think Alma IS trying to explicate the “manner after which they were ordained” in these verses. The fact that v. 9 is so final and begins with “thus they become high priests forever” clinches that for me.

    Unfortunately, that means we have to figure out what on EARTH v. 3-7 are saying, and I have no idea. I’m still trying to work through the organization and getting completely stymied.

    What I’ve come up with so far is this: the basic “manner” is laid out in three main points in v. 8:
    1) They were called
    2) They were ordained
    3) They took upon them the high priesthood

    I then read v. 3-7 as Alma trying to explain what each of these three things means, and being entirely confusing in the process. v. 3-5 are about the calling, v. 6 is about being ordained, and v. 7 is about the high priesthood.

    Of course, I rushed into that and haven’t really grappled with anything detailed in those verses yet. They intimidate and frustrate me. I may tackle v. 3 on its own tomorrow.

    What do you think?

  • Karen

    Well, most of Alma 13 has intimidated and frustrated me for a while now. 🙂 I’m interested in saying that what I thought were tangents are not tangents. I just can’t quite wrap my brain around how that manner is how others know “in what manner” to look to Christ…

    Sorry for an all-too quick response… I’ll get back to you more later! Thanks Kim for helping me out on this.

  • Karen

    So, I was thinking about the “preparatory redemption” part of verse 3. I suppose we could be saying that some receive the priesthood and communicate with God and are sanctified and washed clean, and it is as if they are already back with God in heaven even though they are on earth teaching. And I suppose that many could see, from the outside, that these men had the power of God and were able to communicate with God. And seeing that they had that relationship with God might be a way in which they knew that they too could have a relationship with God. So maybe the “manner” of being righteous and thereby receiving the priesthood does teach others the “manner” of receiving that rest, too; that is, if they too choose good, they can become clean and participate in the power of God, to whatever extent that might mean w/o being given the high priesthood itself? And again, how much of this is wrapped up with the receiving of the endowment? I wonder, then, if those high priests administered the endowment, and others received of it, and in that way many were made pure and entered into His rest? What do you think?

  • Kim Berkey

    A couple quick thoughts:

    – “preparatory” is found only four times in the Book of Mormon, all of them in Alma: 12:26, here, 42:10 and 42:13. In every other case, it’s talking about this life as the preparatory/probationary “state” set aside for Adam and Eve.

    As I’m reading “preparatory redemption” in v. 3, it’s talking about the plan of redemption being laid from the foundation of the world, as described in 12:25, and all Alma is saying is that the “holy calling” with which these priests are called was put in place at the same time as the plan of redemption was laid, and is an integral part of that plan (“with, and according to”). I’m not sure how that leads into all of the possibilities you’re articulating, here…

    But if we’re wondering how the manner of ordination teaches the people, I think it’s significant that v. 2 says we’re to “look forward” to the Son. The “manner” is not a question of the manner in which we’re saved (or, as you put it, the “‘manner’ of receiving that rest”), but the manner in which we direct our attention to the Son. Once we’ve gotten it into our heads that redemption comes in and through the Son, things will unfold in perhaps very different terms. I think v. 16 may bear me out on this. The point at this stage is just to get the people to focus on the Son, to understand that redemption can’t happen without him.

  • Kim Berkey

    All of that, I realize, doesn’t actually answer your question, so let me apologize! For me, at least, I haven’t begun enough textual work to even understand what Alma is saying yet, let alone speculating about how it ties to the endowment. Maybe if I had been working through Alma 13 as long as you have I’d have more to say on that score. Instead, I’m flagrantly appropriating this blog post as a place to start thinking through textual details, which is probably not at all what you had in mind. Sorry!

  • Karen

    Well appropriate away because you’re certainly helping me break out of my rut I’ve been in for a while. Go Kim! 🙂

    I don’t know when I picked up the idea that it might have something to do with the endowment. I think it was an idea I picked up quite a while ago and I haven’t really thought about whether or not it’s at all justified. I’ll have to do that sometime. 🙂

  • Karen

    So I always tried to read the “in a manner that thereby the people might know” to mean that the very method or ordinance in and of itself taught the people something. But now I’m wondering Kim if the way the people know how to look to Christ is simply by their teaching about it. That’s of course part of their calling and I knew that already (see verse 1), but then verse 2 made me think that was being doubled in the very way or method of ordaining them. But perhaps I’m making way too much of the word “manner” here. Maybe I should read it more like this: the “manner” God decided on was to ordain priests to the high priesthood, because “thereby” (ie, with this authority, knowledge, and Spirit) they could teach the people “what manner to look forward” to Christ (ie, explain the plan of redemption to them).

    So perhaps all he is saying is that God’s “manner” here was to ordain some to teach others. Is that all we’re getting at, here? That does finally fit in the context of the story, I believe. They’ve already told him “Hey, you’re not chief judge anymore, so we don’t have to listen to you.” So perhaps this follows along as an explanation of why they still should listen to him, and continues to answer Antionah’s question about Adam and Eve and the angel standing guard.

    Anyway, that seems too simple so probably among the many details I was overly-obsessed with before there is some detail I’m now sweeping under the rug that I should actually be thinking more about carefully. What think ye?

  • Kim Berkey

    As I understand your question, you’re basically asking “can we ignore the phrase ‘in the manner’ in verse 2?” and I think the answer is no. I don’t know of any way to read it other than that the actual method of ordination is meant to be a teaching tool for the people.

    The alternative would work great if “in the manner” just weren’t there–for example, if the phrase in verse 2 simply read “those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, that thereby the people might know…” There it would make sense, because the “that thereby” would be subordinate to the verb “ordained,” but once you throw in “in the manner,” “that thereby” HAS to be subordinate to the “manner.” So, no, I think your initial reading is the way we ought to go, here. I can’t think how else it would work.

    My questions are still all focused in verse 3. My big one right now is this: what are we going to do with “the foundation of the world?” It’s the second indication of time that we’ve been given in this chapter (the first being “when the Lord God gave these commandments” in v. 1), and the phrase is also used in 12:25 and 30 (talking about when the plan of redemption was prepared), 13:5 (time when the holy calling was prepared), and 13:7 (time from which the order of the Son existed).

    Does the “foundation of the world” actually imply preordination the way most Mormons think it does? I only ask because v. 14 says Melchizedek was a priest after this order, and if the priests were all called and ordained from the “foundation of the world,” wouldn’t Melchizedek have to be present for that? He wasn’t around at the world’s foundation, so perhaps the “foundation of the world” is a much more expansive range of time than we normally think of it (say, all of Genesis, for example?), or Alma really is suggesting that all of these priests were ordained prior to mortality. Do you see any other possibilities?

    And is the “or in other words” in v. 7 meant to explain what is meant by “foundation of the world” (if it is, it’s just more confusing than anything!) or is Alma/Mormon trying to correct a mistake?

  • Karen

    I was waiting until we had some of our own thoughts out before I checked on the Feast wiki to see what had been contributed there. Looks like others have had some of the same ideas and questions:

  • Karen

    Kim – I had never read “foundation of the world” to mean the time of Adam and Eve (is that what you were suggesting?). I really find that an intriguing reading of that phrase! I’m going to think about that more…

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