Alma 5

 


MDC Contents

   

The words which Alma, the High Priest according to the holy order of God, delivered to the people in their cities and villages throughout the land. [Comprising chapter 5.]

Textual: This introduction does appear in the 1830 edition, although the text in brackets does not. This is a similar introductory remark to what we find in the record of Zeniff in Mosiah 9. As with that introduction, it would appear that this is from Mormon's hand, and is intended to introduce a cited record.

Alma 5:1
1 Now it came to pass that Alma began to deliver the word of God unto the people, first in the land of Zarahemla, and from thence throughout all the land.
Alma 5:2
2 And these are the words which he spake to the people in the church which was established in the city of Zarahemla, according to his own record, saying:


Even though Mormon provides a formal heading, he sees it necessary to provide a direct introduction. Even though he is going to be citing a direct record, he provides a brief introduction to that record in verses 1 and 2. The first part of the introduction ties the new text to the history he has just finished recounting Alma's renunciation of the judgment seat. The second verse serves to introduce the following text as a direct quotation.

Alma 5:3
3 I, Alma, having been consecrated by my father, Alma, to be a high priest over the church of God, he having power and authority from God to do these things, behold, I say unto you that he began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon.


Textual: This is the sermon of Alma the Younger to the church in Zarahemla (see verses 1 and 2). Thus this is a sermon to those people who should know Alma as well as anyone, as this is where Alma has lived and served as both the chief judge and the leader of all of the churches. It is therefore interesting that Alma begins by establishing his authority to speak through the authority of his father. He has a reason for doing this that is much beyond simply establishing his own authority to speak, and authority that would have been unlikely to have been in question.

Alma refers to his father because his father faced the same kind of opposition in the land of Nephi that Alma the Younger is facing in Zarahemla. Alma is attempting to purge the present by reminding his people of the past. The current social contention is similar to that which Noah and his wicked priests had promulgated, and Alma will plead his case that their current situation may have a similar fortunate end, if this people will follow the example of their fathers of faith in God.

To this end he begins by returning the audience to the important part of the story of his father, the establishment of the church near the Waters of Mormon. Thus the current church is to conceptually connect themselves with that earlier church.


Alma 5:4
4 And behold, I say unto you, they were delivered out of the hands of the people of king Noah, by the mercy and power of God.


The social conditions under Noah were part of the heritage of the people of Alma and of the Limhites, both peoples which had come to Zarahemla and had been incorporated into the people of Zarahemla. However, it is not at all certain how many of the people in Alma's current audience would be descendants of any of those two bodies of people, each of whom were probably given a land of inheritance of their own that would have been part of the land of Zarahemla, but not necessarily inside the city of Zarahemla. Nevertheless, it is very likely that the story was very well known. Alma gives only the highlights, suggesting that he is telling a well-known story, and chooses the parts he presents for their importance to his current intent.


Alma 5:5
5 And behold, after that, they were brought into bondage by the hands of the Lamanites in the wilderness; yea, I say unto you, they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word; and we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also.


Rhetorical: There are three elements in this particular sentence, and each one is a planned and important point in Alma's sermon. Alma needs to establish the important elements of connection between their current situation and that of his father's church by the Waters of Mormon. The first point he makes is that they were in bondage to the Lamanites. While this is certainly historically accurate, it is also a point that Alma wants to make for the current situation. The social ideas of the Nehors follow those of the Lamanites, and were precisely the types of changes that King Noah had made in Lehi-Nephi. Alma purposefully reminds his congregation of the bondage because he wants to highlight that the current contentions (with the order of the Nehors) would lead to a similar bondage.

Alma's second point is that Alma's people were delivered from the bondage of the Lamanites through the power of God. Certainly Alma wanted to highlight to his own people the power of faith in God, and the power of God to deliver from this type of bondage. This sets up the argument that their current situation will also be resolved through the power of God.

Alma's final comment is that his father's people came to the land of Zarahemla and in Zarahemla established churches. Since Alma is currently preaching to a church, this brings the history clearly to the present. Symbolically, this current church will have the same option as that earlier church, and it too may be delivered by the word of God.


Alma 5:6
6 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?


Rhetorical: Alma now hits home this connection between current church and the church of his father. Alma directly asks his people of they remember the captivity of their fathers. While this might seem to indicate a lineal connection to those people, we need not read it as a literal lineage, but rather a spiritual connection to that earlier church.

Alma also moves away from the communal and into the personal in this verse. Where he begins by addressing the entire community and suggests that they should have a communal memory, he makes it much more personal when he suggests that God has already performed a miracle of deliverance for their own souls, and that they should also remember that. He has deftly moved from the group to the individual, from history to the present, and the particulars of each person's conversion and baptism. Even though they might have been Nephites from birth, the establishment of the church apparently required some initiative to join, as there were others of Zarahemla who did not belong to the church.


Alma 5:7
7 Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.
Alma 5:8
8 And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.


Rhetorical: Alma returns to the historical to push home his point to the current audience. He describes the people of his father again in terms of their bondage. This time, however, Alma moves away from the physical bondage to the spiritual. His images here are not of physical deprivation, but of spiritual separation from God. When his father's people were in spiritual bondage, what was their condition? They were "in the midst of darkness." They were "encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them." All of these conditions describe their spiritual condition under Noah, and the condition that might have awaited them had they returned to that way. Alma contrasts this surrounding problem with their inner condition, for he notes that "nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word."

What is Alma doing in this verse? Alma is setting up a situation in which the surrounding conditions are grim, but in which those inside the church may be illuminated by light. Alma is making a direct connection between that previous church and the condition of the current church. This current church is also surrounded by the darkness of the presence of the Nehors and the current contentions. Just like that earlier population, however, Alma is telling them that they have light inside of and because of the church.


Alma 5:9
9 And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.


Rhetorical: Alma now moves very clearly away from the physical and into the spiritual. Alma does so by mixing his language with possible references to the past and language that at least a modern audience recognizes as eschatological language. When Alma asks "were the bands of death broken?" what does he mean?

It is possible that there were some who had died, but since this is still prior to the first resurrection, this should not have the meaning that we typically ascribe to those words. In the context of his story, Alma is referring to the fact that the peoples escaped without great loss of life. This is a return to the theme of God's miraculous deliverance. If the deliverance from death was literal, what about the "chains of hell?" In Alma's sermon, the religious ideas were as dangerous as the physical bondage, and it is probable that it is these competing religious ideas that are equivalent to the "chains of hell." When Alma the Elder's people lived under the reign of King Noah, they would have been followers (if not believers) in that other religion. That religion would, in the afterlife, lead to the chains of hell because it was powerless to save. Thus the two conditions of Alma the Elder's people are here repeated in a slightly different format. They were under physical and spiritual danger. From both of those they were saved.

Of course the concept of being saved has a dual meaning as well. They were temporally saved because they were physically delivered from the dangerous conditions. They were spiritually saved because they were able to find the truth in the church, and through that truth (and particularly the belief in the Atoning Messiah) they were spiritually saved.


Alma 5:10
10 And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

Rhetorical: Alma expects that his audience believes that Alma the Elder's church was saved. What Alma the Younger wants to do is use that experience to change the present. To do so he asks the rhetorical questions about how that earlier salvation came about. Clearly, what he intends is to set up the earlier experience as a model, and to use the reasons for the earlier salvation to model the salvation for the current church and congregation.

Alma 5:11
11 Behold, I can tell you-did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?

Alma now established the mechanism of the earlier congregation's salvation. That mechanism is founded upon the word of God through a prophet. Alma does not claim for himself the prophetic mantle, but rather places the foundation of his argument on the shoulders of Abinadi, whom his audience clearly already accepts as a true prophet of God. Thus Alma founds the salvation of the people on the word of God through a prophet.

Alma 5:12
12 And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.

This verse depends upon the last sentence of verse 11. That sentence focuses on Alma the Elder believing the words of Abinadi. In this verse Alma the Younger suggests that the belief of his father in Abinadi wrought a "might change" in Alma the Elder's heart. Doubtless the current congregation remembers the story of Alma the Elder, and would understand just how great this "mighty change" was. Alma the Elder was a priest of Noah, and as a priest of Noah would have been active in preaching against the word of God in the same way as the priests questioned Abinadi. Alma the Elder would have been a supporter and at least a spiritual enforcer of what Alma the Younger has described as the "chains of hell."

To move from a supporter of the opposition to a leader of the people of God indeed required a mighty change of heart. At the end of this, we have Alma the Younger's affirmation that "behold I say unto you that this is all true." This declaration of testimony is all the stronger because Alma the Younger is not just alluding to his father, but to his own mighty change. He knows firsthand what is required to change from a persecutor to a leader of the people of God. His audience would also certainly know his personal story, and they would not have missed this double intent of Alma the Younger's declaration of truth.

Alma 5:13
13 And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.

Rhetorical: Alma once again brings the past into the present. This might change occurred in the past for Alma the Elder. When Alma the Elder came to Zarahemla, he organized churches, and that same "mighty change" happened in the hearts of the fathers of those seated in this congregation. Just as Alma the Younger could speak of his father's conversion and then move to his own, he is urging his audience to do the same. They too will understand the change that their fathers made, and then understand that they also will have to make such a change.

Alma 5:14
14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

Rhetorical: The implicit is made explicit. Alma the Younger specifically asks the current congregation if they have undergone that "mighty change." In the context of the contentions of the times, one of the implicit meanings of the "mighty change" is to give up the temptations of the ideas of the world such as the Nehors, and to stick to the word of God. Alma the Elder's "mighty change" was precisely such a renunciation of the competing religious ideals and a full acceptance of the word of God. Alma the Younger is asking his people if they too have made that "mighty change," a shift away from the temptations of the world and toward the word of God. This current population should expunge the feelings of desire for the things of the world (typified by the Order of the Nehors) and place their faith and efforts in the word of God.

The spiritual birth refers to Benjamin's declaration of the nature of the covenant his people made:

Mosiah 5:7
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

Alma's "spiritually born" should be understood in this context. He is speaking to the members of the church, and clearly this commitment to becoming born of Christ, to become his spiritual children, continued to be part of the church, even if it were no longer a covenant accepted by all of the people Zarahemla. That this particular spiritual rebirth should be seen as part of the covenant with the Christ will be further developed in the next verse.
Spiritual: Of course we do not need the specific social context of Alma's discourse to feel the import of these words in our own lives. For all of us, the effect of a complete acceptance of the gospel is to create a change in our hearts. We too have a competing worlds around us, and we too need to mightily change our hearts away from those temptations that surround us. Just as the ideas of the world were for Alma the Elder's people the "chains of hell," so too can the world today wrap us in chains of bondage.

Alma 5:15
15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?

Rhetorical: After asking if his people have been spiritually born, Alma immediately asks of they exercise "faith in the redemption of him who created you?" This is no accident, and follows both directly from the concept of being spiritually born as well as from the social issue that Alma is addressing. It is helpful to review one of the doctrinal statements that we have associated with Nehor so we can better understand what Alma is combating:

Alma 1:4
4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

As was noted in the commentary on this verse, one of the essential aspects of this "doctrine" is the denial of the Atoning Messiah. The argument that "the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men" is an attack against the necessity of the mission of the Savior. If God had already saved all of those he had created, there would be no need for a Savior. Thus one of the principle tenets of the Order of Nehor was the denial of the need for the Atoning Messiah.

It is for this very reason that Alma specifically asks his congregation if they "exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you?" Notice how directly this question combats the doctrine of the Nehors. Alma is very specifically asking his congregation to renew their covenants with Christ, and to remember the specific teachings about the Atoning Messiah that they have already accepted. Since this is the first sermon Alma delivers (at least of which we have record) after giving up the judgment seat to combat the religious contention, we should not be surprised if his text is pointed directly at the heart of the religious tension in the community. Indeed, this contention between the need for the Atoning Messiah that the Nephite prophets have preached, and the denial of that Atoning Messiah by some other organization (be it Lamanite, Noahite, or after the Order of the Nehors) is at the heart of most of the internal contentions in the Book of Mormon.

Alma 5:16
16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

Rhetorical: Alma now asks his congregation to personalize their covenant. It might be possible to say that they believe in the Atoning Messiah (here simply called "the Lord"), because they belong to the church. That is not a sufficient level of commitment for Alma. Alma wants a personal renewal of the covenant, and so he very specifically asks if the individual is able to see themselves in a position where they would be accepted of the Lord.

Alma specifically mentions "works." In the context of Alma's discourse, it would be a mistake to read this as a modern polemic against salvation by grace. Alma isn't discussing the Grace of the Lord, he is directing his comments to the actions of his people. In the context of the times Alma is combating a severe social division that is based on religious principles. It is in that context that Alma needs to emphasize that the actions of the congregation should be in harmony with the principles of the gospels. If they are not, the social problems would be immediately exacerbated.

Remember that in Alma 1 we saw that the persecution of the members of the church had lead to some un-Christian retaliation:

Alma 1:22
22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.

It is this type of response that cannot continue, and thus the emphasis on the personal works of righteousness emphasizes to the congregation their responsibility to follow the code of the Savior, to react to their situation in appropriate ways.

Alma 5:17
17 Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say-Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth-and that he will save you?

Rhetorical: Of course Alma's words have a resonance for the modern day. We as well as his congregation need to understand that we must truly live the gospel, for we will be unable to lie to the Lord. However, in the context of his speech this is very clearly a plea with those of the congregation who might be fooling themselves into believing that they are Christians because of the church, and not because of their actions. Alma is appealing to those who had lost their tempers, and used their fists and thus increased the social tension in Zarahemla. It is specifically to those members of the church that Alma is directing this particular message. They will not be able to lie to their Savior. Their actions must actually be in accord with his teachings, for mere membership will not save them.

Alma 5:18
18 Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?

Rhetorical: This verse continues the image of members of the church attempting to lie to God about their actions. Alma is hitting home the idea that their individual actions will not be hidden, even if they might have been hidden by being in a group here on earth. Those actions are know, and will be judged against the principles they should have kept. Note that Alma specifically accuses them of having "set at defiance the commandments of God." While this could certainly apply to any sinner who knew that he was sinning against the commandments of God, in this particular context it should be seen as a condemnation of those who promote the strife that Alma has given up the judgment seat to combat.

Spiritual: Alma suggests that part of the process of judgment is very personal. It is a judgment that will brings to remembrance our actions, and certainly will judge us for the knowledge we have and what we have done with it.

Paul indicated:

Romans 2:13 " (For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)"

As with Alma, the simple membership (being a hearer or the law) is not sufficient, but our actions must be in accord with the law that we have "heard." Alma also suggests that rather than an external presentation of our guilt, we will perceive it ourselves. We will no longer even be able to lie to ourselves or rationalize our actions. We will see them for what they are, and the guilt will be self-imposed.

This complex interaction between law and our own volition is further expounded in the Doctrine and Covenants:

D&C 88:31-35
31 And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
33 For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
35 That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.

Verses 34 and 35 discuss the importance of law to our judgment. It is verses 32 and 33 that expound the same theme as Alma's personal understanding of guilt. Just as the guilt is internally imposed by the guilty, and not forced upon the individual by the Lord, so in D&C 88:32 the final judgment is also personalize. Those who receive a glory receive it not because God assigns them to it, but rather they will receive "that which they are willing to receive." (see also D&C 88:22-24).

Alma 5:19
19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?
Alma 5:20
20 I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil?

Rhetorical: While verse 19 and a beautiful image (having the image of God engraven upon your countenances) and is a much more pleasant verse to discuss than verse 20, nevertheless the two should be seen together. Alma is creating a contrast, and to separate these verses diminishes the impact that Alma is trying to make.

We must continually remember that Alma is speaking to members of the church here, and is calling them to repentance. Alma must therefore convince those of the congregation who had fomented contention in their own way that they should return to proper actions. He does this by contrasting the two types of believers standing before the judgment bar of God. There will be those who have had the proper works (symbolized by the pure heart and clean hands) and therefore have become similar to their God (having his image on their countenances). There will also be those who have served a different master. While Alma does not complete the image by suggesting that they will have the image of devil on their countenances, the idea of their close association with the devil is clear, and it is clear that it is based on whether or not their actions followed the principles that they should espouse if they truly kept their covenant with the Christ.

The poetic picture of the image of God engraven on their countenances appears to be unique to Alma. It is possible that Alma is expanding the imagery that Benjamin used, since we know that Alma is referring to the covenant made under Benjamin. In Benjamin's speech it is the heart and not the face that is the focus, but the concepts are parallel:

Mosiah 5:12
12 I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.

Of course, it is also very possible that the specifics of the Benjamin text were influence by Joseph's reading of Paul who explicitly uses this imagery:

2 Cor. 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

Alma 5:21
21 I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.

Spiritual: Alma is not explaining the relationship of the Atoning Christ to those who have accepted his name and covenant. In particular, Alma is addressing those who have at least verbally accepted the Atoning Messiah, but whose actions do not follow the gospel of Christ. In verse 20 Alma has indicated that those who do not follow Christ are following the devil, and that this "following" is very specifically related to what we chose to do rather than what we verbally profess.

In the day of judgment, Alma suggests that the atonement is not universal. The only ones "saved" are those whose "garments are washed white." This symbolic washing of the garment uses the garment as a metaphor for the person, and the washing of the garment is the washing of the person. Of course washing is understood and cleansing, and that is the imagery of this verse.

Alma explains that the only way to be washed clear is "through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins." This statement has two reasons behind it. In addition to the very clear reference to the Atoning Messiah is the reference to the tradition of the fathers. This is important in the context of the times as this difference between the tradition of the Nephite "fathers (prophets)" is precisely one of the points of contention between those of the church and those who believe in the "foreign" religion that denies the Atoning Messiah.

This washing of the garments/person comes through the Atonement, and is specifically symbolized in baptism, which we know was practiced among the Nephites (particularly after Alma the Elder established the church). However, the washing in blood presents another metaphor that should be examined. How does washing in blood cleanse anything?

The salvific power of blood depends upon the sacrifices of the Law of Moses. The blood of the sacrificial lamb had the power to save when painted on the doorposts of Israel in Egypt. Thus this imagery of blood and salvation is combined with the washing of water to complete the symbolic set of images in this verse.

Once again, we must remember that Alma is speaking to the church, and we may therefore expect that these are people who had already been baptized. Thus we must also understand that Alma did not see the baptism as having provided a universal salvation, but rather a temporary cleansing that could be maintained by proper actions, or denied by a return to the un-Christian lifestyle. Of course this is similar to our modern conception of baptism, where it is an entrance ordinance and our lives need to conform to the gospel to continue to have the cleansing effects applied to us.

Alma 5:22
22 And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you?
Alma 5:23
23 Behold will they not testify that ye are murderers, yea, and also that ye are guilty of all manner of wickedness?

Rhetorical: Alma continues to press the sins of his congregation. His theme has been the possibility of redemption through the Atoning Messiah, but his direct focus has been on the sins of his congregation. In verse 23, those sins are exposed as gravely serious. We need not suppose that Alma is exaggerating for emphasis here. In the context of the times and the sermon, it would appear that there are those in his congregation whom he is justly accusing of "all manner of wickedness" including that some are "murderers."

The contentions in Zarahemla are not limited to church-members/non-church-members. The contentions and causes of division have arisen within the church also, and Alma is combating those contentions directly. In this particular case, Alma begins with the declaration that there are gross sinners among the congregation claiming to be the church. Perhaps such people have justified themselves in their actions because they were members of the church. Perhaps they thought that having been baptized once that they were somehow immune from sin. Alma needs to impress upon them that while the baptism into the church begins the journey, one is required to continue to monitor his actions and have them conform to the gospel.

It is in this context that he identifies the sins of the sinners, and specifically asks them how they will feel standing before the bar of God with those sins. Perhaps they had thought them erased, but Alma is telling them that they are not. Those who commit such acts (whatever "all manner of wickedness" might be) and are unrepentant, they will have to face God in that condition.

Social: The divisions among the people of Zarahemla are apparently not simply ones of theological differences. The passions behind the divisions have apparently been sufficient that Alma may justly accuse members of his congregation of murder. While it is certain that the anti-church forces would have been equally as forceful, and perhaps murderous, the body of the church was not without culpability. In some ways, this is eerily prescient of some of the problems between the early modern church and its enemies. While the enemies were culpable of sins, those inside the church were not always wholly innocent either.

Alma 5:24
24 Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?

Rhetorical: Alma emphasizes the seriousness of their sin by contrasting their state with that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why should Alma assume that this argument will impress his people? Does he really expect that they believe that they compare with those prophets? The answer is not in the comparison, but in the "place to sit down" with. One of the aspects of heaven that became a metaphor for the future life was that one might be in the bosom of the prophets (see Luke 16:23). Clearly Alma's congregation held to a similar notion that heaven would be where they would have place with the prophets. What Alma is telling them is that heaven is denied them unless they repent.

Alma 5:25
25 I say unto you, Nay; except ye make our Creator a liar from the beginning, or suppose that he is a liar from the beginning, ye cannot suppose that such can have place in the kingdom of heaven; but they shall be cast out for they are the children of the kingdom of the devil.

Rhetorical: This is our confirmation that the idea of sitting with the prophets is the metaphor for heaven. Alma denies that they can be with the prophets, and so they "shall be cast out for they are the children of the kingdom of the devil." Since they cannot qualify for the kingdom of god, they must be of the other kingdom.

Alma 5:26

26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

Rhetorical: In the context of these last verses, Alma's question about their continued commitment to the gospel involves more than just a possible temporary lapse. In this context, Alma is suggesting that there are those who may have been truly converted, but who have since fallen. When he asks "can ye feel so now?" Alma is asking whether or not they have committed any of these sins of which he has been speaking. He is pointing his question at every person in the congregation and asking them to examine themselves and their actions.

Spiritual: We need no assume that this question must be pointed at those who sin gravely. It is quite possible that all who have at one time sung "the song of redeeming love" may have become complacent, and no longer have present in our hearts that same passion for the gospel. Alma is not only commanding introspection, but encouraging us that it is possible that we might continue to feel that way with God. The way, of course, is to follow the gospel, and do those things which are pleasing to God.

Translation: Joseph Smith used the available vocabulary of his day to express the concepts that Alma is describing. Such phrases as the "mighty change" and the "song of redeeming love" were common phrases in the religious revival camps with which Joseph was familiar (see Thomas, Mark D. Digging in Cumorah. Signature Books, 1999, 132-4). The presence of this particular phraseology is no more surprising than the clear usage of New Testament phrasings in the Book of Mormon which took place prior to the New Testament times. It indicates no more than that Joseph used models of speech in his translation with which he was familiar.

Alma 5:27
27 Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?

Rhetorical: What is Alma's first "evidence" that one might have continued to sing the song of redeeming love? Alma's first question is "have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless…" What Alma is telling his congregation is that the commitment to the gospel must be greater than words alone. The commitment must be to live according to the dictates of the gospel (which certainly do not include the murders nor "all manner of wickedness" of which Alma has accused some of them!). Alma then moves to a deeper plane of righteousness. Even should they believe that they had been walking in the ways of God, have they "been sufficiently humble?" Why does Alma specifically bring humility in to the picture?

While it is true that humility is an important attribute to cultivate, Alma's use of the term here has some very specific connotations that will become clearer as he develops his argument. In this particular case, Alma is moving from the egregious sins against the laws of God (and not so incidentally which would also disrupt society) and into those which may appear smaller, but which nevertheless are at the heart of the current social unrest.

What Alma has done is chastise first those who are blatantly causing strife. He will now press home on those who perhaps are inadvertently creating the strife through some of their actions that they might not even consider sins. These specific actions, according to Alma, will grow out of their lack of sufficient humility.

Alma 5:28
28 Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
Alma 5:29
29 Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.
Alma 5:30
30 And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?

Rhetorical: Alma gives three specific traits that he suggests should be eliminated from one who is preparing to enter the kingdom of God. Why does he chose these three? In the context of the times, Alma is specifically countering the social evils he sees as being caused by the members of the church.

Let us examine each of these traits in light of the social disruption that has caused Alma to leave the judgment seat:

Pride: This is a trait that tends to divide, to lift up one person over another. The pride that Alma decries is a divisive one. The semantic range of the English word "pride" covers wide territory, from the arguably meretricious to the blatantly disruptive. In Alma's case, there is no question that he sees pride as disruptive. In his case, however, what is the pride that he sees?

In the Book of Mormon, pride is inextricably linked with a shift in social patterns that favor the foreign influences. Pride is associated with the wearing of fine apparel, with riches, and with social distinctions. When Alma tells his people to be stripped of pride, he is just as clearly telling them to cast off the trappings of the world that they have adopted, and which are the root cause of contentions in Nephite society.

Lest we be uncertain that this is Alma's meaning, he very specifically reiterates this principle later in this same sermon:

Alma 5:53
53 And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?

Notice that the "pride of your hearts" is directly equated with "wearing of costly apparel" and "setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, your riches." For Alma, pride and the social divisiveness of the way the Nephites approached wealth are equated. As we have been discussing, this particular relationship between pride and a wealth that could be encapsulated as the "wearing of costly apparel" is a peculiarly Mesoamerican combination.

Envy: This trait is much simpler to analyze. Envy is the desire for something that someone else has. It is no coincidence that it follows pride in Alma's list of traits to be excised from one's heart. Envy of "costly apparel" leads to the acquisition of it, and then the pride in that "costly apparel." The pride is the sin of those who have, envy is the sin of those who want. In Alma 5:53 Alma specifically notes that his people are "setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world." This is envy. They are seeing, and desiring what they see. To Alma, what they see are the "vain things of the world." Clearly, the people see the "riches" and all that goes with them.

Mock or persecute brethren: Pride and Envy lead to divisiveness, and a feeling of superiority over those who do not have that in which one has the Pride - or that which is the object of Envy. Note that in verse 54 Alma asks: "Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren. . ."

The pride of the churchmen is creating social disruption, just as similar attitudes among non-churchmen are creating the tension from a different position. What is more disruptive, however, is that the social division is not simply one of separation, but of derision and persecution. Lest we think it only the non-churchmen who are guilty of these more serious incidents, we need only remember Mormon's synopsis of the situation that faced Alma:

Alma 1:21-22
21 Now there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be no persecution among themselves.
22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.

The social divisiveness came as much from the church members as from those outside of the church, and this divisiveness included both verbal and physical persecution. This is the reason that Alma specifically wants to eliminate the mocking and persecution of their brethren. This is not a hypothetical sin, but one that they were currently engaging in, and one that was directly ripping at the social fabric.

Spiritual: While Alma's people were guilty of very specific forms of these sins, the same sins and temptations face modern members of the church. Sometimes we too have pride in our wealth, but wealth need not be the object of pride for pride to be divisive. If we have a pride in our faith that leads us to demean other faiths, then we have a pride from which we should be stripped.

We may have an envy of wealth and position, but if we also have an envy of a church calling, or a particular set of friends within the church, we have an envy of which we still need to be stripped.

Certainly, anytime we mock our brethren, either inside or outside of the church, we are setting ourselves above them in our assumption that we may judge them. This self-elevation, and self-importance is a sin from which we too must be stripped.

Even though Alma's discourse has a very specific message for the people to whom it was given, it nevertheless continues to have a powerful meaning to a modern audience, who share human weaknesses with the Nephites of Alma's day.

Alma 5:31
31 Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!
Alma 5:32
32 Yea, even wo unto all ye workers of iniquity; repent, repent, for the Lord God hath spoken it!

Rhetorical: Of course after the very specific listing of traits of which his congregation should be stripped, Alma formally calls for repentance. Repentance is the process by which the un-godlike is stripped from our hearts, and the healing hands of God may enter to help us. This is a greater call than to simply cease. Alma is not simply saying that they should stop being prideful - but that they should repent of being prideful. It is not saying simply stop persecuting, but to repent of persecuting. Where the stopping is a physical action, the repenting is a spiritual one, and there are tremendous differences to the soul between the cessation of an untoward action or trait, and the repentance of the same.

Alma 5:33
33 Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.

Rhetorical: Alma has made it abundantly clear that there is no acceptance for those who have committed the particular sins he has mentioned. Here is specifically notes that there is acceptance for those who repent of them. This is an important point, not only for his audience, but for all of us. There are sins which preclude us from the benefits of heaven. However, we are able to repent, and upon repentance, those benefits are once again open to us. It is the sin, not the person, that is precluded. If we sincerely repent, the Lord says: "I will receive you."

Alma 5:34
34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;

Symbological: There are two different but connected images here. The first is partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, and the second is the eating and drinking of the bread and waters of life. Both of these images have root in the same symbols, but have probably taken different paths to Alma's expression.

It is most likely that Alma's imagery of partaking the fruit of the tree of life is related to Lehi's dream (see 1 Nephi 8:10-12). While there are no obvious restatements of the dream, certainly the dream of Lehi and subsequently Nephi would have continued to influence their progeny in the ages to come.

The second of the two images concerns the bread and waters of life. The most obvious reference for this imagery is found in the Gospel of John:

John 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

While the imagery of the water of life is not as explicit as the bread of life, nevertheless, the structure of the verse clearly implies the water. In the structure of John 6:35, we have the following logical pairings:

Bread of life: never hunger
(implied Water of life): never thirst

The structural pairing is very clear, and the "never thirst" must refer to a liquid rather than the "bread." Thus the Waters of Life are implied in that statement (the connection between Christ and the Waters of Life is made explicit in Revelations 21:6).

In spite of this usage in John, we need not require a New Testament source for this imagery in the Book of Mormon, as the New Testament imagery is dependent upon the Old World tradition of the Tree of Life - that tradition with which Lehi and Nephi would have been familiar prior to the newer vision of Lehi.

The symbology of the Tree of Life emphasized the dual aspects of the tree, the fruit of the tree itself, and the water that flowed from the base. Both of these were powerful to provide life to any who would partake of them (see, for instance, Ginzberg, Louis, The Legends of the Jews, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909), v.1 p.93).

How do we know that these images come from the two differing sources, since both of them are related to a "tree of life"? The answer comes in the nature of what happens when one partakes of the fruit. In the case of the bread and water of life, those symbols imply life. Those who partake, according to Jesus as cited in John, will never hunger nor thirst. The effect is eternal.

On the other hand, those who partake of the fruit in Lehi's dream have no such promise of eternal benefit. For them, the taste of the fruit may be had, and subsequently lost (1 Nephi 8:28). This essential difference in the two images justifies the assertion that they come from different traditions.

That the tree of life here noted is specifically that of Lehi, where one may fall after tasting it, is not explicit, but rather is implied from both the text leading up to this statement, and the text which follows. Alma is speaking to members of the church who have fallen - who had once sung the song of redeeming love. He is calling them to repentance. It is specifically these to whom the repentance and ultimate acceptance of the Savior is directed. Thus this imagery of the fruit from Lehi's dream much better fits the context of Alma's sermon that the eternal aspects of partaking the fruit which were the tradition of the Old World Tree of Life.

Nevertheless, that imagery was also available, and in the context of the repentance of the sinner and acceptance by the Savior, this bread and water of life of which the repentant may partake also fits the symbolic context.

Alma 5:35
35 Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire-

Textual: This verse is clearly dependent upon Matthew:

Matt. 3:10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

In the context of Alma's sermon, the imagery of the fruit is tied directly to the fruit of the Tree of Life. The shift has been that the person now becomes the fruit, rather than simply partaking it. The emphasis in Alma has always been on the individual, and now that emphasis returns to the problem of church members who fall from the proper path. As with the earlier phases of the sermon, those members of the church who do not follow the gospel are under condemnation. They have tasted of the fruit - but have not produced fruit that indicates that they have undergone the mighty change.

Alma 5:36
36 For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn.

The imagery of the fruit is here based on the same concept as Matthew rather than the fruit of Lehi's tree. This imagery does not depend upon eating (or accepting) the fruit (the gospel) but rather upon one's actions after the fruit has been eaten. Metaphorically, Alma is using a concept that we might know as "you are what you eat." In this case, Alma expects that the effect of the gospel upon the person is to create a transformation - a "mighty change" (verse 12). The change in the person will change the nature of the "fruit" he produces. The fruit is the metaphor for our actions, and the change in us will change the nature of our "fruit" or actions. Alma suggests that if the actions have not changed, then the "mighty change" has not occurred, and we will be under condemnation.

For Alma, it is not membership in a church that provides the benefits of the gospel, but the changes that the gospel effects in us that are the important aspects of the church. Alma is preaching to people who claim to be members of the church, but who are guilty of "all manner of wickedness." The membership in the church does not automatically erase these sins, and without a renewed repentance, those people will surely be condemned before the judgment bar of God.

Alma 5:37
37 O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice!

Rhetorical: Alma addresses the fallen of his congregation. The text calls those people "sheep having no shepherd." The imagery is that of a congregation that has lost its way. Of course one of the ways that the "sheep" could lose their way would be for the shepherd to be absence. Indeed, this is the image of the way that they are acting. However, this has not been the case. The shepherd has actually been there, calling. Alma specifically says: "notwithstanding a shepherd had called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice."

Of course the Savior is the quintessential shepherd, and it is certainly appropriate to read this passage as a reference to the Savior, who has called his sheep, and who continually calls them. However, it is also possible that Alma is here referring to himself. Certainly Alma has been with his people, and in his official capacity of head of the church, he is also quite appropriately a "shepherd." It may be that Alma is reminding them of his own teachings and exhortations, the current sermon included.

Alma 5:38
38 Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.

Rhetorical: In this verse, it is very clear that the shepherd referred to is the Savior. Is this the same shepherd as the previous verse, or a different one?

Ultimately, it does not matter, but the addition of "the good shepherd" in this verse suggests that Alma does subtly shift from their shepherd who is physically present to the spiritual "good shepherd." Regardless of the nature of the previous shepherd, this one is very clearly the Savior, and Alma picks up on the theme of the shepherd "calling" to remind them that it is this name by which they are "called." Nevertheless, regardless of the name that they might claim, they "are not the sheep of the good shepherd." They may claim the name through membership in the church, but their actions belie that name.

Alma 5:39
39 And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.

Rhetorical: Alma drives home his point as forcibly as possible. Alma openly accuses some in his congregation of being not of Christ, but of Satan. Of course we may assume that he does not mean every person listening to the sermon, but certainly there were a large number to warrant both Alma's resignation from the judgeship and this very pointed sermon.

It is interesting that Alma even sets up a "proof" of his contention that those wicked in the congregation are "of Satan." He suggests that if they deny it, that is in itself an indication that they are a "liar and a child of the devil." How can this be true?

One of the most common of human traits is the technique of self-preservation through rationalization. We make ourselves believe that our actions are acceptable, even when they are not. Alma knew full well that there were those in the congregation who had been able to rationalize their actions. For those who had been pierced in their hearts sufficient to repentance, they would admit their sins and begin the process of repentance. For those who continued to deny their wrong-doing, they were continuing to deceive themselves. Those people would not begin the repentance process, and thus would find themselves aligned with Satan at that last day.

Alma 5:40
40 For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
Alma 5:41
41 Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.

Rhetorical: Alma elaborates on the what he desires of his congregation. He has just spoken of those who would deny their culpability, and thus were children of Satan. The reason that Alma gives is that they will not have the good that comes from God, but rather the evil from the devil. In verse 41, this is translated directly into their actions. If one follows the good shepherd, then his actions will be good. If one follows the devil, then his actions will be evil.

Alma is very clearly pointing his sermon at the cessation of the "murders" and "all manner of wickedness" of which he has accused some in the congregation.

Alma 5:42
42 And whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works.

Alma describes the condition of those who follow Satan. First, he notes that we must receive "wages" of the one who we follow. He has indicated that there are only two choices, to follow Christ or Satan, and that we will receive "wages" of him whom we follow.

In this case, Alma is only concerned with the "wages" pertaining to one who follows Satan. It is not that he does not care about the excellent wages of one who follows the Savior, for he clearly understands those wages from personal experience after his conversion.

The reason for emphasizing the wages of evil is that this entire sermon is designed to create a change in his congregation that eliminates the specific evils that are plaguing his city and nation. He emphasized the negative aspect to call to repentance. For those who are already receiving wages of the Savior, they have the greatest reward and are in no need of change.

The idea that the "wages of sin" would be "death" clearly echoes the Pauline language in Romans:

Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In spite of the clear similarity, the contextual meaning is very different. In Paul's case he contrasts death in sin with life through Christ. This is very certainly a reference to a final judgment and the eventual state of the soul. In Alma's case the effects of the "wages of sin" is a more immediate spiritual death. For Alma, following Satan leads to a "death" of good works. In the context of his particular sermon, Alma's meaning is quite immediate. Alma is not after an eventual change, but rather an immediate one. He wants the actions that should follow believing in Christ to begin right now. Since his social problem is clearly present, the solution must also be found in the present, not some future life.

Alma 5:43
43 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should hear me, for I speak in the energy of my soul; for behold, I have spoken unto you plainly that ye cannot err, or have spoken according to the commandments of God.

Rhetorical: This verse serves as Alma's transition into his conclusion. While it is a long conclusion, it is nevertheless the summation of his sermon. After having delivered a rather pointed sermon, he now declares his authority for speaking sharply. He tells his audience that he as "spoken according to the commandments of God." As he will make clear in the next phrase, this is not according to his interpretation of written commandments, but rather that he is speaking specifically according to a commandment from God that he should speak thus to them.

Why does Alma wait until this late in his sermon to declare that these things come directly from God? It is quite probable that the congregation came to hear the "pleasing word of God" as did a congregation long before when Jacob had to chastise them (see Jacob 2:8). Comfortable in their actions, they would not have come expecting to have Alma so dramatically delineate their sins and call them to repentance. In that case, Alma needed to move his congregation into the spirit of the sermon. At this point in the sermon, Alma invokes the direct command of the Lord to provide not only the testimony of the things spoken, but the firm declaration that the Lord has seen and judged them.

Alma 5:44
44 For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things which have been spoken by our fathers concerning the things which are to come.

Rhetorical: Alma declares that he speaks both through his authority as the chief high priest ("according to the holy order of God") but also by direct commandment. He is commanded by no less authority than God to stand and testify of these things.

Alma 5:45
45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?

Rhetorical: Alma is bearing testimony, and is certainly invoking his own conversion experience, which is equally certain to have been know to his congregation. However, it is also possible that Alma intends his question "do ye not suppose that I know these things of myself?" to have a dual meaning. For the purposes of his testimony, he surely knows of the "things which are to come" (verse 44) because of his own experience. However, the nature of his conversion was from evil to good. Alma may be very directly discussing not only the positive aspects of repentance, but very specifically the road of those who have chosen to follow Satan. Alma knew that road intimately prior to his conversion. When Alma is preaching to his congregation of the fate of those who chose to follow Satan, he is also preaching from personal experience. Fortunately for all of us, he also preaches from the knowledge of the power of repentance, a course that he is actively recommending to his congregation.

Alma 5:46
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.

Spiritual: Alma's conversion experience was certainly a well known event among the members of the church. It could hardly have passed notice that Alma once persecuted the church, and now lead it. Nevertheless, Alma specifically speaks here of learning these particular things through the Holy Spirit after fasting and prayer. This does not describe his conversion experience. Alma's dramatic conversion may have come after his father's fasting and prayer, but not his own.

Clearly, in spite of the miracle of his conversion, Alma found it important to continue to have revelation from the Spirit, and he approached that continued communication through prayer and fasting. In this particular case, we may presume that he fasted and prayed to know what to say in this particular sermon. In the context of the social background of this sermon, Alma's declaration that he has "knowledge" of certain things may have struck his audience with a dual meaning. Those who were following the gospel would hear it as an affirmation of the truth of the positive aspects of repentance and the ultimate redemption through the Savior. Those who were following what Alma had declared to be the way of Satan might here in this declaration a revelation that their sins had been made known to Alma. They would have known that Alma was not speaking in generalities, but very directly at their actions.

Alma 5:47
47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God.

Rhetorical: Alma also bears testimony that "the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true." Alma probably also has a dual purpose in this declaration. In addition to simply bearing affirming testimony, Alma is reminding his people that as Nephites they have a particular tradition and that it is true. This tradition is centered on the atoning Messiah, and that is one of the first points of contention between the church and those outside of the church. Alma is very likely emphasizing the truth of the atoning Savior as a core belief that must be preserved.

Alma 5:48
48 I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.

Rhetorical: Alma now emphasizes the positive aspects of his message. While there may be sin, there is also repentance, and the essential message of the atoning Messiah is precisely the ability to repent and to "take away the sins of the world." Very particularly, in the light of the sins of this particular congregation, Christ will also take away "the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name."

Note that one of the phrases that Alma uses is "concerning that which is to come." This phrase refers to the coming of the atoning Messiah. This is also a particular contention with those who are not church members. In fact, it is this particular teaching that will become even more important in the next several years as the time of the Lord's first coming approaches.

Alma 5:49
49 And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again.

The specific language "this is the order after which I am called" appears to have reference to his statement in verse 44: "For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus. ." While the language is very similar, the first reference appears to be related to priesthood authority, and the second to priesthood position. We should remember, however, that there would have been no discernible difference for Alma between these two concepts. His priesthood was his calling and position, and his calling and position were his because of the he priesthood. In this verse he is simply emphasizing a different aspect than his earlier statement.

Social: Alma gives a list of people to whom he is to preach. The general idea is that he is called to preach to everyone, but the artistry of the speech places this idea as an expansion of multiple paired sets of opposites. Alma says that he is called to preach "unto all" and then defines "all" as: "both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation."

It is unclear why Alma repeats the general contrast between old and young in the expanded age generation phrase including the "aged…middle aged…rising generation." What is most fascinating from a social perspective, however, is the middle contrasting set: bond and free.

Since it is abundantly clear that Alma would be speaking to those who are literally old and young, we must assume that his call to preach to "bond and free" was also real. Since Alma is called to preach in the land of Zarahemla, we must assume that either this is pure rhetoric, or there actually were bond and free in the land of Zarahemla. It is hard to make the case for pure rhetoric, since the statement has no rhetorical force if it is not a possibility. For the rhetoric to have any power, it had to have indicated a possible condition.

This leaves us with the fascinating possibility of slavery in the land of Zarahemla. This would be in direct contrast to the Zarahemla of King Benjamin where Benjamin had prohibited slavery (see Mosiah 2:13). If there is now slavery in the land of Zarahemla, it must be seen as one of the several cultural imports that have accompanied the adoption of other foreign ways, such as the wearing of costly apparel.

Literary: The particular phrasing "bond and free" no doubt owes a debt to the translation of Paul. Alma will repeat the "bond and free" phrase in Alma 11:44, but in that verse will also give a "male and female" pair. In particular, the doubling of this phrase clearly shows the literary debt to Paul:

Gal. 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Alma 5:50
50 Yea, thus saith the Spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, that the Spirit saith: Behold the glory of the King of all the earth; and also the King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men.

Alma continues his call to all. His specific message is one of repentance and preparation for the coming of the atoning Messiah. It is interesting that even in the prophetic foreknowledge of the atoning mission of the Messiah, the more humble circumstances were not a part of the general understanding. Thus Alma can proclaim the coming "Son of God" but have him "come… in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion." While Jesus' appearance to the Nephites in the New World certainly comes closer to this description than the Old World events of Christ's life, the specific descriptions of the glory of the Messiah are much more often reserved for his appearance at the last days. Regardless of the nature of the predicted coming, Alma is clear that it is close at hand, and he warns his audience that this great occasion is "very soon."

Alma 5:51
51 And also the Spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying: Go forth and say unto this people-Repent, for except ye repent ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Literary: The phrase "inherit the kingdom of God" is by Paul (1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Cor 15:50; Gal 5:21), and may provide the general structure of the "inherit the kingdom of heaven" phrase used in the Book of Mormon. However, the more logical model phrase is found in John:

John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

In John we have a much closer phrase, including the similar position of the "except" and ending with the statement that such a person cannot enter the "kingdom of God/heaven."

This general idea of tying baptism with the entrance into the kingdom of God is repeated in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 27:25-26; 3 Nephi 11:33). In Alma, the typical emphasis is not on baptism, however, but on repentance, as in this verse (see also Alma 9:12; Alma 11:37; Alma 39:9; Alma 40:26; Alma 41:4).

This is not the conceptual division that it might appear, as repentance is an important precursor to the baptism to accept the atonement. Alma himself will note in a later chapter:

"Alma 7:14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins…"

In this verse Alma is very clear that there is both repentance and the process of being born again that precede entering the kingdom of heaven.

Alma 5:52
52 And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it.

Rhetorical: Alma is referencing his earlier statement in verse 35 that his people should "bring forth works of righteousness, and [they] shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire…" Alma is emphasizing the major point of the sermon. His people must change their actions.

Translation: This verse very clearly echoes Matthew 3:10 (and Luke 3:9):

Matt. 3:10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

The language is so close that there can be no question that the New Testament phrases were the model for the phrases in the Book of Mormon. However, as has been noted several times before, this does not deny that a similar meaning was on the plates. Indeed the imagery of cutting down unproductive trees would have been sufficiently familiar to a New World audience.

Alma 5:53
53 And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?

Rhetorical: "… can ye withstand these sayings…" Alma is asking his audience of they can hear these words and not be effected by them. Can they hear these things and [still] "trample the Holy One under your feet…"

Note the very specific evidence that he gives of those who are currently "trampling" the Holy One - those who wear costly apparel and set their hearts upon the riches of the world. As we have seen, these are the specific traits of the competing religious idea that have been plaguing Nephite society from at least the days of King Benjamin, and were probably at the heart of the reason Mosiah I fled the city of Nephi.

Alma 5:54
54 Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God, wherewith they have been brought into this church, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and they do bring forth works which are meet for repentance-
Alma 5:55
55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?

Alma continues with a very specific catalogue of the traits that are causing them to stumble. In addition to the wearing of costly apparel and setting their hearts upon the riches of the world, they are also exalting themselves over their brethren. This class division was one of the subjects of Benjamin's discourse, and it one of the other imported ideas of the competing religion. One of the effects of this social stratification is the belief that the higher social class "deserves" their wealth, and that the lower classes also "deserve" their fate. This social division on the basis of economics leads to the situation where they "turn… [their] backs upon the poor, and the needy…"

Alma 5:56
56 And finally, all ye that will persist in your wickedness, I say unto you that these are they who shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they speedily repent.

Alma makes it clear that any in the congregation who persist in these actions are precisely the ones that the Lord has declared that they should be "hewn down and cast into the fire." Of course Alma leaves open the possibility of repentance, which is what he really wants.

Historical: The irony of this situation is that the coming events will have those who follow the church in greater danger of death by fire than the wicked. Clearly the Lord's declaration has a much more eternal perspective.

Alma 5:57
57 And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;

Alma is calling for a physical separation between the righteous and the wicked. It is unclear why Alma calls for the righteous to "come ye out" rather than expulsing the wicked from their midst. Perhaps it is simply another way of saying the same thing. In any case, Alma is suggesting that those who do not repent will no longer have place in the church, however much they might currently claim it. The final concept of the removal of the wicked is that they will have their "names… blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous."

This appears to refer to an actual event. In Alma 1 we learn:

Alma 1:24 For the hearts of many were hardened, and their names were blotted out, that they were remembered no more among the people of God. And also many withdrew themselves from among them.

This blotting out of names had occurred but four years before. The idea that the names were part of a heavenly record, as well as an earthly record, is likely based upon Psalms:

Ps. 69:25-8

25 Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.
27 Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.

Alma 5:58
58 For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.

Rhetorical: Alma's question; "what have ye to say against this?" is reminiscent of the question asked in verse 53; "can ye withstand these sayings…." Alma is pointing his sermon directly at those who are in need of repentance. It would appear that he is expecting that there might be some dissention among the church members. Those who are righteous will have no argument with his sermon, but those who have been following the world, those to whom he has specifically addressed this sermon, might surely find this sermon spiritually painful, and might argue against it. To those who might cause such contention, Alma dismisses their arguments beforehand. While they might argue that Alma has misinterpreted something, Alma firmly declares "if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled."

Alma 5:59
59 For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him.

Rhetorical: Alma is restating his authority and reason for giving this sermon. In this case, Alma is the shepherd who is watching his flock, and attempting to drive away the wolves from within. As we will see in the next verse, the shepherd becomes the Savior. This is a similar shift in the identity of the shepherd that we saw in verses 37 and 38.

Translation: There is a good deal of sheep/shepherd imagery in this text, and this particular passage appears to appeal to a common knowledge of the problems of shepherds. This is an imagery that is completely at home in the world of the Bible, as attested by several references:

Ezekiel 22:27
27 Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.

Luke 10:3
3 Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.

Acts 20:29
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

All of these verses are effective because the imagery is well known. Even in a modern world where we are much less personally cognizant of the problems of wolves and sheep, the images are still sufficient, and have been reinforced by the Biblical passages.

None of these reasons can easily explain Alma's use of the imagery, however. Neither wolves nor sheep are attested for the New World, in particular the Mesoamerican area that we are considering. It should be noted that while this is generally true, we may not yet have all necessary data. As John L. Sorenson has noted:

"The Eurasian sheep is not supposed to have been in pre-Columbian America either, yet real sheep's wool was found in a burial site at Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, in an archaeological setting that gave no other indication of dating after the Spaniards arrived. This lone specimen doesn't take us far toward a literal reading of the Book of Mormon term sheep, but perhaps we should keep this door too ajar a little. An Ancient American Setting For The Book Of Mormon. FARMS 1986, p. 296).


What does this mean for Alma's text? It may mean that once again the Bible's imagery and language is influencing the translation given by Joseph Smith. While the Mesoamerican peoples might not have been familiar with sheep and wolves, they were certainly familiar with kept animals and predators. Thus the intent of the imagery is applicable, and the particular language may be more directly due to the Biblical influence than a direct translation of what was on the plates.

Alma 5:60
60 And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.

Just as in the verse 37-38 shift, we have here a shift from "shepherd" to "good shepherd." The Good Shepherd is clearly the Savior, and it is the Savior who is calling after his people in this verse. Alma has aligned his position with that of the Savior, not to be equal to, but to emphasize his calling from the Savior to his position as the current leader of the church.

Alma 5:61
61 And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you.

Alma very clearly notes that he is speaking under the direction of the Savior, the Good Shepherd. This reiterates his earlier statement in verse 44.

Alma 5:62
62 I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.
Alma's direct audience is church members. He has called to repentance those members of the church who have strayed too close to the ways of the world. It is in this context that he can also call upon those who do not belong to the church.

In Zarahemla, we have record of only two major politico-religious trends. The first is the traditional Nephite way - the way of the gospel that has been the subject of all of the Nephite prophets. The second "way" is that of the world, with its costly apparel, social and economic stratification, and denial of the atoning Messiah. While the members of the church had apparently not denied the atoning Messiah, they were yet guilty of these other traits of the "other" religion. Since they were in danger of becoming too much like the world in their actions, this connection opens Alma to those who are not church members. He extends to them the invitation.

As his conclusion, he brings back the theme of the fruit if the tree of life. As was noted, this particular symbol was related to Lehi's dream among the Nephites, and was a symbol of accepting the atoning Messiah. It is to this that the non-members are invited, that they too might be filled with the joy of the gospel.

Textual: The end of this sermon to the congregation in Zarahemla ends a chapter for Mormon.

       
      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2000