First, the structure of the text. Alma 30-34 are really one unit, which we break up. In the 1830, they constitute one chapter (Alma XVI). Presumably, we’re breaking these up because of their doctrinal nature.
Today we cover Alma 32-34, which looks like thisin the rough big-picture outline.
32– Alma continues preaching at Antionum; “faith sermon” on the hill Onidah.
33– Crowd’s negative response; Alma continues his sermon.
34– Amulek takes over, and preaches to the crowd on the hill.
Surprisingly, not a ton has been written about Alma 32 from an analytical (as opposed to devotional/Ensign-style) perspective.
- In this post, I provide a close-reading/paraphrase of part of the chapter.
- Feast Upon the Word (a Mormon Theology Seminar devoted to Alma 32, now hosted by the Maxwell Institute)
- “Watermelons, Alma 32, and the Experimental Method” BYU Studies 23:4
- This chapter from the RSC at BYU.
- David Bokovoy’s “The Word and the Seed: The Theological Use of Biblical Creation in Alma 32″ in JBMS, summarized by Book of Mormon Central here.
A few notes, then, on Alma 32-
First, a comment based on Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible. There, “faith” and a whole series of words come from the same root, ‘mn (aleph, mem, nun). In the KJV, those words would include faith, faithful, trust, trustworthy, reliable, truth,true, to believe,), to establish, assurance, to verify or be verified, pillar/support (apparently in 2Ki 18:16) and amen or more accurately, ‘amēn, transliterated into English directly from the Hebrew. Note all of these seem to get at ideas of reliability, certainty, firmness.
When the KJV reads “verily verily” (unique to John’s gospel) what Jesus is saying is “amen amen,” which other translations read as “most assuredly,” “very truly,” “I assure you,” “I can guarantee this truth” and “yes indeed!”
Isa 7:9 uses two forms of ‘mn to make a wordplay of sorts.
KJV “If ye will not believe (‘mn), surely ye shall not be established (i.e. made firm, ‘mn)”
NRSV- “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.”
The prophet calls for the king to “pull himself together,” to strengthen his faith, as a necessary condition to being confirmed in office by the Lord and by his people. – Word Biblical Commentary.
Is this the concept of faith that Alma understands? He’s several hundred years removed from native Israelite Hebrew speakers, and we don’t know what language he’s speaking. Alma distinguishes between knowledge and certainty in chapter 32. Knowledge has to do with seeing, as is also backed up by the mention of the unseen in Heb 11:1 and the connection with seeing in Eth 3:19. Is faith, for Alma, certainty without demonstrable proof? This was the question I tried to answer in my smpt presentation, but I found it too ambiguous to conclude one way or the other. I strongly suspect, however, that the conception of faith varies throughout our scriptures, differing from our modern conception as well.
Two things about this chapter are almost funny to me. Remember that the people come to him with a problem, that they can’t get in to the synagogue. You would expect the high priest and prophet to solve the problem… but he doesn’t. After Alma finishes, the people are still poor, still not permitted in the synagogue, and moreover, they’re confused. We really elevate Alma 32, but when you try to read it as The Solution to their problem (as they understand it), the solution doesn’t work very well. Alma finishes preaching and the response of the crowd is, paraphrased, “uh, ok. That’s great and all about faith, but what should we do?”
they sent forth unto him desiring to know whether they should believe in one God, that they might obtain this fruit of which he had spoken, or how they should plant the seed, or the word of which he had spoken, which he said must be planted in their hearts; or in what manner they should begin to exercise their faith. (Alma 33:1)
In other words, Alma doesn’t answer the question they ask in 32:5 Instead, he questions the assumptions the question is founded on.
Sometimes the answer to a problem is to question and rethink why we consider it a problem.
now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need– I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. Alm 34:27-28
But remember who he’s talking to! These are the poor people in town, kept out because they can’t afford the “right” clothes for synagogue worship! In essence, Alma says righteousness doesn’t come from a to Church every attending the synagogue and wearing a white shirt. It comes in keeping the commandments as part of our covenantal relationship with God. (See here.)
Our relationship with God (which, again, in some sense is what “righteousness” is, a right-relationship with God) is often most visible in our relationships with people. How do we treat the poor, sick, and afflicted? How do we treat our enemies? Are we generous with our offerings? Alma reminds me here both of Deuteronomy, which nails this topic repeatedly, but also James.
NRSV James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
- When Amulek preaches about the death of Jesus as atonement in Alma 34:10, he says
it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
One of BYU’s resident Mesoamericanists reads this and verse 11 in terms not of the Law of Moses, but of Mesoamerican bloodletting by divine kings and sacrifice of actual humans.
- Alm 34:15 uses the phrase “bowels of mercy.” Again, while we don’t know about the language or translation, the idea of bowels as deep-seated feelings is a Hebrew bible cultural assumption. A serious of related words that originally meant “inner organs” came to mean the inner self, womb, mercy/love/compassion. See Gen. 43:30, 1 Kings 3:26. Jeremiah 4:19. Jeremiah 31:20.
- Alm 34:34 continue reading to v. 35 &36 to understand what spirit is mentioned in 34.
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