Alma 12


MDC Contents



Alma 12:1
1 Now Alma, seeing that the words of Amulek had silenced Zeezrom, for he beheld that Amulek had caught him in his lying and deceiving to destroy him, and seeing that he began to tremble under a consciousness of his guilt, he opened his mouth and began to speak unto him, and to establish the words of Amulek, and to explain things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done.
Alma 12:2
2 Now the words that Alma spake unto Zeezrom were heard by the people round about; for the multitude was great, and he spake on this wise:

Textual: This new chapter follows one of the most regular of Mormon's chapter break indicators. He has changed to a different person's discourse, and so he begins a new chapter. In this case, he finished with Amulek's discourse, however prematurely (see the comments at the end of chapter 11). We now have Mormon's introductory text to Alma's discourse. As with the other interjections, this appears to be Mormon's interpretation of Alma's reasons rather than anything that would be specifically mentioned in his source material.

Alma 12:3
3 Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit;
Alma 12:4
4 And thou seest that we know that thy plan was a very subtle plan, as to the subtlety of the devil, for to lie and to deceive this people that thou mightest set them against us, to revile us and to cast us out-
Alma 12:5
5 Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee. Now I would that ye should remember that what I say unto thee I say unto all.

Rhetorical: Alma's opening statements go directly to the weak point that Amulek has opened. Zeezrom is trembling because he has been unexpectedly caught in a trap that he attempted to lay. Alma reinforces Amulek's illumination of Zeezrom's dark plan. What he now does is make sure that the assembled crowd may not disassociate themselves from Zeezrom. They may not assume that Alma will be speaking only to Zeezrom, even when he is addressing Zeezrom directly. Alma has included all of the audience as the recipients of his discourse, while continuing to most immediately engage Zeezrom. This is the reason that he says "I would that ye should remember that what I say unto thee I say unto all."

Alma 12:6
6 And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity.

Rhetorical: Alma is attempting to give the people a chance to separate themselves from the teachings they have learned at the feet of the lawyers such as Zeezrom. Alma tells the people that just as Zeezrom attempted to ensnare Amulek, he (and others like him) have already ensnared the people. He hopes that by using the now clear plan of Zeezrom as a model, the crowd might see that they had also been captivated by a similar line of argument.

Alma 12:7
7 Now when Alma had spoken these words, Zeezrom began to tremble more exceedingly, for he was convinced more and more of the power of God; and he was also convinced that Alma and Amulek had a knowledge of him, for he was convinced that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart; for power was given unto them that they might know of these things according to the spirit of prophecy.
Alma 12:8
8 And Zeezrom began to inquire of them diligently, that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God. And he said unto Alma: What does this mean which Amulek hath spoken concerning the resurrection of the dead, that all shall rise from the dead, both the just and the unjust, and are brought to stand before God to be judged according to their works?

The greatest effect of Alma's words is upon Zeezrom. While Mormon generously attributes the change in Zeezrom to the ability of Alma and Amulek to see through his designs, it is most probable that we are seeing the Spirit on Zeezrom. His plan was not so cleverly cloaked that it was that difficult to uncover. These were rather standard points of difference between the Nephite religion and the order of the Nehors. Something was being awakened in Zeezrom that he had perhaps not known before. The result of Zeezrom's confrontation so far was that the Spirit has begun to touch him, and now he relinquishes the role of the questioner-to-entrap, and becomes a questioner-to-learn.

Zeezrom's question picks up where Amulek left off. This is precisely a point where Zeezrom's learning has given him different answers than he has just heard from Amulek, and he is now open to learning more.

Alma 12:9
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

Rhetorical: Zeezrom has asked for information, and Alma's first statement is that the Lord tells some people, but that the Lord also constrains some information. Why does Alma begin this way, and then start explaining things? Alma is answering the implicit question that Zeezrom is asking, not the explicit one. While Zeezrom has opening asked for more information, it would appear that Alma's perception of his heart sees another unstated question, which is "why don't I know about this?" Zeezrom was a lawyer, and well educated man. He expected that he had received an education sufficient in the most important things, and he has now found that background wanting. Why didn't he know this?

Alma tells him that there are things that the Lord can only reveal to those whose hearts are ready for them. Zeezrom and his fellow lawyers, those who have created the acceptance of the order of the Nehors, were not in a position to want to hear. However, now Zeezrom's heart has been opened, and therefore Alma can answer his question.

Alma 12:10
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
Alma 12:11
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

Rhetorical: Alma is simultaneously addressing Zeezrom and the crowd. He is answering Zeezrom's unstated question, but he is also attempting to reinforce his comments to the crowd. To understand how he is doing this, we need to return to an earlier verse:

Alma 12:6 And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity.

The words "chain" and "captive/captivity" and been italicized in verses 11 and 6. Alma is picking up on the themes he used in verse 6 when addressing the crowd and using them again in a slightly different context. In verse 6 the lawyers had the people in chains and captivity. Now Alma uses those terms for the chains of hell. There is a strong implication drawn that the lawyers are cohorts with the devil. While they might proclaim their belief in God, Alma associates them with a very different being.

We cannot be certain why Alma brings up this reference to the chains of hell. It is not required by the context of the interchange so far. However, it is a theme that Alma has used in the past, most notably in his discourse in Zarahemla (see Alma 5:7-10).

Doctrinal: Alma gives a definition for the chains of hell that is metaphorical rather than literal. It is instructive to examine the process that he considers the chains of hell. We will analyze verse 11 phrase by phrase:

[And they that will harden their hearts] There is a particular type of person who will be subjected to the chains of hell. The beginning of the process is that the person will harden his heart. This process is one where the person begins to actively reject the promptings of the spirit. The heart is used as the metaphor for the way we feel these promptings, and the hardening of the heart as the process by which we begin to reject the promptings of the spirit.

[to them is given the lesser portion of the word] As a person's heart becomes increasingly hardened, they receive less and less of the word of God. Of course this is not because the Lord no longer offers it, but because of their increasing unwillingness to what they hear as the word of God.

[until they know nothing concerning his mysteries] One of the important terms in this phrase is the word "until." This indicates this is a process. It is not something that occurs overnight, but rather over time. The more one hardens their heart, the less one hears of the word. The less one knows of the word of God, the less one knows of the mysteries. In this case, the "mysteries" should not be considered to be the great imponderables about God, but rather any understanding of him at all. Because God is so much greater than man, all true information about his is a "mystery" in that it is beyond the scope of normal human logic and understanding.

[and then they are taken captive by the devil] Satan steps in where there is a void in our understanding of God. If we will not worship God, Satan will find a way for us to worship him.

[and led by his will down to destruction.] No one who is so gently led down by the devil willingly walks to his own destruction. They go because they do not recognize the path they are on. They go willingly, thinking they are on a very different road. The spiritual destruction will be the same whether they see it coming or not.

Alma 12:12
12 And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged according to our works.
Alma 12:13
13 Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.

As Alma notes, Amulek concentrated on the physical death and resurrection. Alma will discuss the more spiritual aspects of the atonement, the need for repentance. Where the physical resurrection is a free gift to all, our ultimate salvation depends upon each individual.

As Alma sets up his discourse, he begins by placing the resurrected persons before the bar of God. At that time he speaks of having hard hearts, and if the hearts are hard against the word, then we should be condemned. As Alma will explain later, we cannot hope that the change of location will automatically make a change in our hearts. What our soul is upon death rises with us, and continues to demonstrate our learned reaction to the gospel (Alma 34:4).

Alma 12:14
14 For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.

This is the state of those who come before God with hard hearts. Because of their hard hearts, they will have done and said thinks contrary to the gospel, and those things will condemn them. It is interesting that Alma shows here the nature of the condemnation of God. It is more of a self-judgment. It is the person before God who dare not look upon him. It is not God who exercises condemnation, but the person himself.

Literary: It is possible that Alma is making a glancing reference to a passage in Isaiah when he discusses the desire to hide of the person with sin before God:

Isa. 2:10 Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.
11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

The imagery is of one hiding in the hiding places outside Jerusalem, which were traditionally multiple caves. In this case, Alma has amplified the imagery, and instead of simply hiding, the sinful person will want to be so far hidden from God that he will want the mountains themselves to be on top of him, that is, between himself and God.

Alma 12:15
15 But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance.

Rhetorical: Alma is using a device that shows a contradiction that the audience can see, but may not be able to see the solution. Such a presentation of a problem piques the interest of an audience so that they might better follow the argument.

In Alma's discourse, the contrast between verses 15 and 16 set the stage for the problem that Alma will resolved. He has noted that the wicked will stand before God, and be afraid. In verse 15 he notes that this isn't what is supposed to happen. What should happen is that we stand before him and acknowledge him, not run from him. What makes the difference? That is what Alma will discuss.

Alma 12:16
16 And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.

Alma uses the idea of physical death to create a way of describing the second effect of the Fall. The physical death is a separation of body and spirit. He now describes a second "death." This "death" occurs at the time of the judgment when the unrepentant man stands before God. God righteously precludes such a man from the His presence. This separation of man from God's presence is called a "second death."

"Things pertaining unto righteousness" at this point would be the acceptance of the repented soul into heaven. That is the location of righteousness. Where the unrepentant will go is not part of that realm, it is a realm of unrighteousness. Alma further describes that location in the next verse.

Alma 12:17
17 Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will.

Alma links the place of fire and brimstone to the chains of hell. Both of these terms are metaphors and it is most probable that his audience understood them as metaphors rather than descriptions of a reality. He notes that the torments of the unrepentant "shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone." He has used the chains of hell previously. These are descriptions of the eternal emotional condition, not the physical environs.

Literary: The allusion to a lake of fire and brimstone depends upon language frequently used in both the Old and New Testaments. For the meaning of the allusion, see this commentary, following 2 Nephi 28:23.

Alma 12:18
18 Then, I say unto you, they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God's justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption.

This passage may be analyzed by pulling apart the phrases in it.

[the shall be as though there had been no redemption made] It must first be remembered that this verse deals with one who is unrepentant and is judged of God. This phrase indicates that for the unrepentant, they are in the same condition as if Christ had never atoned for them. In this specific case, Alma is speaking of the redemption from sin, not the redeption from death. To understand Alma's argument, we must understand that he separates the atonement into two separate aspects, the atonement for death and the atonement for sin. This argument depends upon the completion of the atonement for death (the person is resurrected) but the personal denial of the atonement for sin (the person remains sinful).

[for they cannot be redeemed according to God's justice] The reason that this person is unaffected by the atonement is that it is impossible for God to redeem him. The atonement for sin is conditional, and the person has not met the conditions. Thus a just God is unable to redeem him. This is not God's choice, it is the choice of the one who elected to remain unrepentant, and therefore sinful. Having rejected the way God provided for the removal of sin, the person is now without any other recourse. Not even the all powerful God can help him, for God is just, and justice requires that the law be applied.

[and they cannot die] This is where we must remember that Alma has separated the aspects of the atonement. This is a person who has been resurrected, therefore, he cannot die. Without death to change one's state, there is no opportunity to come for future repentance.

[seeing there is no more corruption] This phrase depends upon the language of Paul (see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15:42-50). The "corruption" is mortal life. The phrase might be rewritten "seeing there is no more mortality." Since mortal life is over, and the resurrection has supplied a body that will not die, the person is condemned forever with no means of changing his fate.

Alma 12:19
19 Now it came to pass that when Alma had made an end of speaking these words, the people began to be more astonished;

This is most likely Mormon's interjection. It is not written as though Alma or Amulek had written the statement, and we may suspect that it is another of Mormon's editorial comments. Whether or not it is based upon a statement in the text Mormon was using, or is simply the result of Mormon's effort to move the spiritual story along is information beyond our current grasp.

Alma 12:20
20 But there was one Antionah, who was a chief ruler among them, came forth and said unto him: What is this that thou hast said, that man should rise from the dead and be changed from this mortal to an immortal state that the soul can never die?
Alma 12:21
21 What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever.

Antionah is trying to pick up where Zeezrom has left off. This is not a sincere question, but one designed to trap Alma. What Antionah is trying to do is suggest that Alma is contradicting scripture. To make this point, he contrasts the most recent statement by Alma, that a man might live forever in his sins, with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, where the way was blocked to the Tree of Life specifically to prevent them from living forever in their sins. In Antionah's eyes he has just caught Alma in a major contradiction with the scriptures.

Alma 12:22
22 Now Alma said unto him: This is the thing which I was about to explain. Now we see that Adam did fall by the partaking of the forbidden fruit, according to the word of God; and thus we see, that by his Fall, all mankind became a lost and fallen people.
Alma 12:23
23 And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die.

Alma begins with the place where Antionah thinks he has found a contradiction, in the story of Adam. Alma suggests that he was about to explain this, and now launches into a detailed discussion of the spiritual implications of the Garden of Eden.

The first point Alma makes is that the entire world became "lost and fallen" by reason of the Fall. This would be a point on which Antionah would likely agree. The second point deals directly with the problem of Adam's death and the flaming sword. The first part of this is that Alma must show that Adam was required to die. He does this by citing the same text as did Antionah, and showing that God had decreed that Adam should die. Thus it is God who dictated that Adam's actions would result in death. This death was inevitable upon the partaking of the fruit.

Understanding the Symbols of the Trees in the Garden

The problem of the Garden of Eden is more than the first story in the Bible. It is the foundation of the way we understand the order of the world, and so it is important to understand what that story means for us. For many, the idea that God made the Garden, and made it such a beautiful place, is an indication that God intended that we always remain there. In such an interpretation, mankind must not only be a severe disappointment to the God who created us, but we must be surprising characters indeed to have so completely undermined God's great plan with the very first pair of us He placed on earth.

To understand better what the intent of the Garden was, we need to read the text not just as a story, but as a symbolic story. This is not to say that we must assume this is just a story. It is rather to suggest that the way the story is constructed is designed to present symbols that show us the meaning above and beyond the simply language that presents the sequence of events.

We begin with the text:

Genesis 2:8-9
8. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
9. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil

When Eden is created, it is as Good a place as you might expect God to make it. Nevertheless, the Goodness of the Garden really gets very little discussion. The next several verses simply define the lay of the land.

Genesis 2:10-14
10. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12. And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.

For modern man, these verses hold little importance. They do not seem to advance the crucial story of the Garden. For the ancient world, however, they were a direct tie between their world and the primordial world described in Genesis. These verses functioned to place the story in a real place, although not in real time. This was to be a real story, not a pretend one. This does not mean that this was the precise location of the Garden, but rather that it symbolically existed in real space. It was a real place for the ancient reader, even if it happened in a not-real time.

The next set of verses set up the tension of the story:

Genesis 2:15-17
15. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17. but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die

In verse 9, when the Garden was formed, there were two prominent trees, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet in these verses, only the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is mentioned. In spite of the lack of an explicit presence, the Tree of Life is implicit, and helps to set the contradictions which are the crux of the story.

The first complementary dichotomy is that of Good and Evil, represented by the Tree of Knowledge. The second is that of Life and Death, represented by the Tree of Life, and the penalty of death pronounced upon those who partook of the Tree of Knowledge. The whole impact of the story of the Garden of Eden is condensed into the tension between the two symbolic trees, and that tension involves two sets of polar opposites. By implication of the Goodness of the Garden, Life and Good have been set as the standard, and should prevail, unless man partakes of the Tree of Knowledge.

The symbolic tension between the two Trees is even greater when we ask more questions about it. If there was a Tree of Life, was there a Tree of Death? Yes and no. No, there was no tree so named, but clearly the Tree of Knowledge was for Adam and Eve the Tree of Death, for that was the penalty for eating the fruit thereof. If there was a Tree of Knowledge, was there also a Tree of Ignorance? While not explicitly a tree, nevertheless the Knowledge contrasts with the naive ignorance which was the natural state of Adam and Eve.

Symbolically, the structure of the Garden story provides a series of polar opposites, and Adam and Eve are placed in a situation where their actions will select one of the sets. By their obedience to the commandment not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, they "choose" Life and Ignorance. By partaking, they "choose" Death and Knowledge. The story of the Garden is not simply the story of a Fall, it is the story of a choice.

The instrument of the choice is the serpent:

Genesis 3:1-7
1. Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2. And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
3. But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5. for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
7. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

As is always the case with Satan, there is half-truth in all he says. He truthfully tells Adam and Eve that their eyes will be opened, and that, as the gods, they will know Good from Evil. That was indeed the effect of eating the fruit. Their eyes were opened. The only hint we have at their subsequent ability to tell Good from Evil was that they noticed their nakedness and sewed fig leaves. It must be presumed that in the context in which this tale was told to ancient Israel, the nakedness was clearly on the "evil" side of the equation, since it is structurally used to prove that point in this story.

What of Satan's assertion that they "shall not surely die" (Genesis 3:4)? Clearly this is in direct contradiction to God's pronouncement of penalty of death, a penalty so great that it could be imposed if Adam or Eve even touched the fruit (Genesis 3:3). Again, it is bits and pieces of truth. Neither Adam nor Eve died immediately, so Satan was right, or at least apparently right. Mortality was imposed upon Adam and Eve at that point, however, and so God's word was fulfilled. Depending on which time point is selected, both statements were correct.

Alma 12:24
24 And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.

Alma clarifies that the temporal death of which he had spoken earlier is precisely the same death that came upon Adam and all of mankind. Because of Adam we all die a temporal death.

The next thing Alma does is provide a context for earth life. This life is the "space grated unto man in which he might repent." What we do in this life is prepare ourselves to receive the joy of God, a state that will come after the resurrection, and by implication, after the judgment.

What Alma does not say explicitly we must imply. Alma implicitly suggests that it would have been possible for God to cut off mankind right at that point. After the Fall, there could have been an immediate cessation of the earth, and then all would be condemned, since they were all subject to death. It is only in the mercy of God that the earth life is allowed, and it is the purpose of that life to prepare ourselves for the next state of life, that "endless state."

Alma 12:25
25 Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, of which has been spoken.

Alma has now described a situation that is not permanently acceptable to God. We have man who must die, and suffer the temporal death. We also have a sinful man who is in a probationary state. However, he is a sinful man in that state, and Alma has just spoken of the fate of the unrepentant. Therefore, God has a situation that should not be, one in which there is no good result. The result at this point is simply temporal death, and ultimately, spiritual death.

Alma 12:26
26 And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect.

This untenable situation of a mankind inevitably facing both a temporal and spiritual death was tolerable as long as there was a way out. What Alma now does is to show that it is Antionah who has misread the scriptural text. Alma has first shown that the condition of mankind after the Fall was untenable. Now he shows that the statement of the Lord about the reason for the flaming sword was specifically to create the ability to have a "way out" of the problem. Had Adam and Eve been able to eat of the fruit, they would have lived forever. There would have been no change of states, so the fallen body would be theirs forever, not the resurrected body. While it would live forever, it would not be changed. If we were to be allowed to go through this life without changing, it would defeat the entire plan of God. In Alma's terms, it would so destroy God's plan, that it would have had no effect upon us at all.

Alma 12:27
27 But behold, it was not so; but it was appointed unto men that they must die; and after death, they must come to judgment, even that same judgment of which we have spoken, which is the end.

Alma now begins with the solution, which is the Atonement. The first problem of temporal death is resolved in the Atonement. While all men must die, the atonement allows for them to be resurrected. This aspect of the Fall is redeemed. It is after this physical redemption, however, that the second aspect comes to play.

To this point, Alma has simply returned to his original statement, that a man might live forever after the resurrection. What Antionah was emphasizing was the problem of sin, a natural question for one of the order of Nehor, as one of their tenets was to deny that there was sin.

Alma 12:28
28 And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them;
Alma 12:29
29 Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory.

Alma is perhaps a little less clear here than he has been before. He has argued that the Fall required the ability of man to die, so that his state might be changed. He is now arguing that after God provided for the Atonement, it was important that God tell man about it.

After the Fall, God sent angels to converse with Adam and Eve to teach them about the plan of redemption. After creating the conditions for the Fall, and the conditions for the redemption from the Fall, God informed man of what had been done, and what man's role would be. This is the revelation of the gospel to man.

Alma 12:30
30 And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works.

The ability to know about the plan of redemption (or the Atonement) is contingent upon our faith and repentance. These two requirements are not simple throwaway religious language. They really are requirements for understanding the plan of God.

First, without faith we do not ask for more information, and we do not have the motivation to act upon the information we receive. Without faith in God, the plan of redemption would be a curiosity, similar to creation mythologies from various peoples all over the world.

Second, repentance allows us to be of an accepting mind. Repentance humbles us and opens our soul to receive the spirit. If we hear the word of God and remain unrepentant, it does us no good. This is the thrust of Alma's message to the Ammonihahites. If they remain unrepentant, then his preaching will do them no good, and their destruction will be assured.

Alma 12:31
31 Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good-

The first phrase of verses 31 and 32 are the same because the rest of verse 31 is an historical aside. Alma wants to speak of the God-delivered commandments, but first clarifies the situation into which they are given. Alma recaps the events of the Garden of Eden.

The first part of the aside discusses the partaking of the fruit. Alma's take on the theological problem of Adam's violation of the command to not eat of the fruit is an interesting one. Alma concedes that it was a commandment. He calls it part of "the first commandments." What is interesting is that he limits the scope of those commandments. He says that they pertained "to things which were temporal."

For Alma, the eating of the fruit was a temporal commandment, and had a temporal result. Of course we should remember that when Alma has been using the word "temporal" it has been in the context of the physical, and not the time-delimited. That is, for Alma, "temporal" is the word he has used for physical death (the "temporal death"). Thus when he says that this is a "temporal" commandment, he means that it pertained to the life of the body. The eating of the fruit caused death. It created the temporal death for which the Savior atoned.

The second part of the condition of the Fall is the susceptibility to sin. Alma does not indicate that Adam has sinned, but rather than he now might sin. Alma says that after the imposition of the temporal death, the next effect of the Fall was that Adam and Eve became "as Gods, knowing good from evil." Of course this is precisely what Genesis tells us, but for Alma it provides the clear indication of how the spiritual death began. It was not imposed, but rather came as a result of this new gift to man.

The "becoming as Gods" was the process of "knowing good from evil." Clearly, Alma suggests that this was not possible for Adam and Eve prior to the eating of the fruit. They only now know the difference between good and evil. Was this sin?

For Alma, the answer is a resounding no. What this knowledge did was to place Adam and Eve "in a state to act´┐Ż whether to do evil or to do good." In this definition, Alma makes sure that we understand that not only may Adam and Eve now act upon this information about good and evil, but that they do so "according to their wills and pleasures." In other words, Adam and Eve may now act upon their knowledge of the difference between good and evil, and they do so with their own agency. The act of eating did not impose sin, but rather imposed a condition which allowed Adam and Eve to chose sin, just as it allowed them to chose righteousness.

If Alma were to weigh in on modern debates about the sin in the Garden, and whether or not Adam sinned when he ate the fruit, Alma would say that the question has no application. Since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit before they knew good from evil, before they were accountable for making choices according to their agency, it would be a moot point. By his definition, sin could only occur after the partaking of the fruit. What the fruit did was institute the temporal death, because not eating the fruit was a temporal commandment. Eating the fruit opened the possibility of spiritual life through agency, but it also opened the possibility of sin through our willful violation of the commandments of God. Adam may have brought death upon us all, but we bring the second death upon ourselves through our own exercise of agency.

Alma 12:32
32 Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God.

Of course the potential consequence of the spiritual Fall could be even more devastating that the first death. For both consequences of the Fall, however, God had an answer, and that answer was the plan of redemption. Both the temporal and spiritual deaths would have a solution in the mission of the Atoning Messiah. However, while the temporal death had an automatic solution, the redemption from the effects of agency required even more exercise of agency.

God gave Adam and Eve commandments, "that they should not do evil." What Alma is telling us is that after God imposed the conditions of the Fall, he taught Adam and Eve what they needed to do to be redeemed. The first is that they should eschew evil. Now that man knew the difference between good and evil, God made sure that man knew that he wanted us to do good, and not do evil.

It is too easy to assume that it would be obvious to Adam and Eve that they should do good and not evil. We expect that since we use the terms good and evil that they immediately understood that good was, well, good. What the knowledge of the Gods (knowing good from evil) did was to institute the ability to discern differences. Knowing which of those different things was the right one to chose is not obvious to from the choice itself. God's commandments tell us it is right.

For example, is it good to steal? It is quite possible that one might think that it is. If you steal, you end up with something that you wanted, and you get it for free. Surely getting something you want for free is good? Isn't stealing very close to getting a gift? In both cases you get something for free.

The difference is that God tells us that stealing is evil. Therefore when we are faced with the decision, we can know which option is good and which is evil. Even though we might see some good things coming from the theft, we yet know that it is evil. Nevertheless, this is something that we must learn, and the fact that so many in the world chose to steal tells us that the choice between good and evil is not necessarily obvious. When we see a power saw, we have a rather quick realization that sticking our hand in it so that it is cut off is not a good thing. Most of the ways in which we exercise our agency are not nearly so well defined. Most of them really do have ways in which both sides of the issue can seem "good." In those cases, it is God who provides the ultimate definition. He did this from the beginning through the commandments.

Rhetorical: Alma concludes this part of the argument my defining the doing of evil as the second death. The consequences of choosing to do evil (and not repenting) is that one will stand before God in one's sins, and justice will require the exclusion from God. At this point he has not yet begun to emphasize the redemption of sin. In the way he is building the argument, it is more important to emphasize the extent of the problem first. The reason he adopts this particular mode of reasoning is that he is speaking to a group of people who do not accept this part of the redeeming mission of Christ. Thus he must clearly set up the need for the redemption from sin, precisely because this is a people who do not believe in a Savior from sin.

Alma 12:33
33 But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;

Now Alma begins to introduce the most important part of his sermon. This is where he solves the dilemma. He has created a condition where choice can lead to eternal condemnation. Clearly this is not the preferred outcome of earth life, and there must be a way out of temporal and spiritual death. There is such a way, and it is through the Son. The Son provides the Atonement, and this allows men to repent. Through repentance, the effects of sin may be removed, while the benefits of agency are retained. Men may learn to chose God, and not harden their hearts. Then their sins may be removed, and they may stand justified before the bar of God. Mercy may override justice because the sins are removed.

From a theological standpoint, we must understand that justice will always prevail. Justice requires that a sinful man be excluded from the presence of God. Mercy does not contradict this requirement. What mercy does is remove the sin, and therefore justice does not apply.

Alma 12:34
34 Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.
Alma 12:35
35 And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.

Here are the conditions placed upon us. If we repent and do not harden our hearts, we can have our sins cleansed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. With no sin, we may enter into the rest of the Lord.

However, if we do harden our hearts we will not repent. As an unrepentant one, we cannot enter into the rest of the Lord.

Alma 12:36
36 And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first.

Alma punches home his point. He has been discussing the Atonement in the abstract, and he now makes it personal. He specifically tells the people of Ammonihah that their hearts are hard, and that they will not enter into the rest of the Lord.

The next set of phrases pronounce penalties upon Ammonihah. First, Alma tells them that their iniquity "provoketh" God. In other words, they have incurred his just wrath. God is not turning on them unjustly. Alma then speaks of two "provocations." The two provocations will lead to two destructions.

The first provocation is their current cultural rejection of the gospel. The Lord has warned them that they will be destroyed if they do not repent. When they do not repent, Ammonihah is destroyed according to the word of the Lord.

The second provocation is much more serious. While their unrepentance will lead to their temporal destruction, their unrepentance will also lead to a second destruction. This second will not just kill the body, it will be "the everlasting destruction of your souls."

[unto the last death, as well as the first.] The "last death" is the spiritual death, or the second death. The "first" is the temporal death. Alma indicates that both temporal and spiritual death await them. In this case, both come because of their unrepentant state.

Rhetorical: Alma has very nicely tied his entire sermon together at this point. He has described a temporal death, and a spiritual death. Now he makes both very personal by declaring that both of them imminently await the unrepentant people of Ammonihah.

Alma 12:37
37 And now, my brethren, seeing we know these things, and they are true, let us repent, and harden not our hearts, that we provoke not the Lord our God to pull down his wrath upon us in these his second commandments which he has given unto us; but let us enter into the rest of God, which is prepared according to his word.

Alma calls for repentance. He has no joy in the doom he has forecast, and he continues to appeal to the Ammonihahites to do the one thing that will prevent the predicted temporal and spiritual death. He asks them to repent.

Alma mentions "these his second commandments." To understand to what Alma refers, we need to remember that he has begun with the story of the Garden of Eden. The first commandments were given at the beginning of Eden. "These his second commandments" are those that were given after the Fall, so that mankind could learn how to repent and chose good over evil.

Textual: This chapter is broken in the middle of a paragraph of the 1830 edition. We should understand that there is no conceptual stop here. Alma continued his discourse without significant pause.








by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2001