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The relationship of Chapter 12 to the rest of Chapters 8-16 the book is discussed at Chapters 8-16.
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- Alma 12:9: Mysteries. While we don't know exactly what word is being translated here as "mysteries", in the New Testament the English word "mystery" is a translation of the Greek noun musterion, which originally meant the secret teachings and religious rites of ancient religious orders—such as the Orphic mysteries. The equivalent Hebrew word of mystery means ordinance or hand.
- Alma 12:9-12. At first blush it may not be obvious how this verse is the beginning of the answer to the question that Zeezrom has just put to Alma "What does this mean ... 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?"
- How this is the beginning of an answer to Zeezrom's question only becomes clear as we read the subsequent verses. Alma is answering the question by explaining how it is that some people will receive the mysteries of God in full while others shall be condemned at the judgement. And the reason that some receive the mysteries of God in full while others are condemned is because some do not harden their hearts and for this reason are given more of it until they know the mysteries in full (v 10); while others harden their hearts and receive the lesser portion until thye know nothing concerning God's mysteries (v 11).
- The question remains though of how the following clause fits into that explanation: "nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart [the mysteries of God] only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligince which they give unto him." To explain this it is helpful to split this into two parts and explain each separately. 1st) those who receive the mysteries of God are laid under a strict command not to share them. 2nd) the exception as to when sharing is allowed. In this reading the point of the first part is to emphasize the point that hardening your heart vs knowing God's mysteries is an individual choice. Those who know the mysteries are strictly commanded not to share them. Or in other words, someone who has hardened their heart and received the lesser portion won't be able to simply get them from someone else who has not hardened their heart. The 2nd part exlains when in fact others are allowed to share the mysteries of God. Unsurprisingly we find out here that it is only when God allows it ("according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men"). Finally we are told when God does allow it. Again, nothing new here, God allows the mysteries to be shared depending on whether people listen to him, which is just another way of saying that they do not harden their hearts ("according to the heed and diligence which [those who would receive] give unto [God]"). The rule then is the same whether God reveals mysteries directly or through other people--either way it is only when we do not harden are hearts, and instead give heed to God's words and diligently follow them that more is given unto us.
- Others read this verse differently though. In that view the phrase "only according to the portion of [God's] word which he doth grant unto the children of men" means that people who receive personal revelation, i.e. God's mysteries, should only share that portion of what they receive with others which God has already given unto the children of men.
- Alma 12:18: Cannot be redeemed. God cannot save everyone, because to do so would make him a liar and he would cease to be God (see Alma 42:13). God's justice is based on just (true, correct) principles; he has clearly set forth the rules and the punishment for breaking those rules. All we can do is to choose to obey them or not (see Mosiah 15:26-27). Ultimately, our downfall will be our own doing.
- Alma 12:21. Antionah's question is decisive because he draws explicitly on Gen 3:24, that is, on the conclusion of the Fall story as it is recorded in Gen 2-3. But it must be clear at the same time that Antionah seems to draw on something more than just what is recorded in Genesis: the Genesis text is hardly as specific as Antionah is. The Genesis text reads: "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." The precision with which most of Antionah's quotation and the Genesis text match up is remarkable, and this very precision highlights the few differences between them: though the Genesis text implies that Adam and Eve are to be kept from the tree of life, there is no specific mention of entering or partaking, and certainly not of living forever! (It is perhaps also worth mentioning that the Genesis text mentions only the man here, while Antionah has reference to "our first parents," perhaps an echo of Lehi's discourse to his son Jacob—especially 2 Ne 2:15. It is probably worth exploring the filiation that seems to obtain between Antionah's reading and the remarkably theological discourse of Lehi.) What is to be made of this difference? More importantly, perhaps: how does this difference alter the direction in which Alma takes his discourse?
- As it turns out, the difference is hardly a minor one: it is the business of living forever that is the most important element of "the scripture" for Antionah. His conclusion draws on that phrasing only: "And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever." Although it seems that Antionah is familiar with some scripture, it seems he is not familiar with Jacob's teachings in 2 Ne 9:13, 15.
- Alma 12:25. One way to read this verse is to consider the possibility of Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit of the tree of life before having time to prepare to meet God. If this were the case, Adam and Eve would not have died before becoming immortal, and would therefore not be resurrected (emphasis on the re- prefix, that is, without dying, it does not make sense to be raised from the dead as the term resurrection implies).
- Alma 12:31. Alma here brings to bear on each other two sets of commandments: the "first commandments" and a second set of commandments imposed because the first set was "transgressed." This doubling of the commandments is of some significance, especially given the flavor of the following verse: God's words had at once to be transgressed and yet never violated, never brought to naught. This doubling of the word through which it is at once annulled and yet maintained deserves careful attention.
- Also of interest is the peculiar phrasing in the beginning of this verse. The verse starts with a use of the term "commandments" without any indication as to whether these commandments given were what will later be referred to as the first commandments or the second commandments. If we consider the similar phrasing in the beginning of verse 32, it seems the commandments being referred to are the second commandments—that is, commandments given after the transgression of the first commandments.
- Another issue in this verse that deserves careful attention is the way in which the transgression of the first commandments allows "men" to "act according to their wills and pleasures." How could the first commandments have been transgressed if men were not in a "state to act" before the first commandments were given? This question, which seems a rather natural, albeit implicit, question arising from this verse, may help us understand the why "the commandments" described at the beginning of both this verse and verse 32, is not more explicit. That is, perhaps Alma is trying to describe something that does not lend itself to analytic description. If the separation between the first commandments and later/second commandments is not meaningful until after the first commandments have been transgressed, then it would only make sense to refer to such a distinction in retrospect. In this sense, then, the transgression of the first commandments may be something very different from the kind of acting according to one's will that is later described. That is, we might take the transgression of the first commandments as being juxtaposed, even contrasted, to the acting according to one's will that seems to accompany the second commandments.
- Alma 12:32: Commandments. What are the commandments which God gave unto them? We aren't told in this verse or in the section. It likely doesn't matter to Alma's point. When God gave Adam and Eve the commandments, they had taken the fruit and therefore already knew good from evil. From that, one might conclude that God would not need to give them further commands, or maybe that God would only say "don't do evil." In fact, and consistent with our own experiences in life, He did more than that because, we assume, Adam and Eve, like us, need specific commandments so that they would not do evil.
- Alma 12:36: Provocation. The first provocation seems to refer to the time when the children of Israel hardened their hearts against the Lord after leaving Egypt. See Num 14:23, Ps 106:7, Heb 3:8, 15-19, and D&C 84:23-25.
- Alternatively, the first provocation in this context may be referring to the cherubim that God sent to ensure Adam and Eve would experience physical death as a consequence of partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In this case, the second provocation would seem to refer to spiritual death. On this reading, the last part of the verse about "the last death, as well as the first" offers a parallel description of the same events described by the first and second provocation.
- Alma 12:37: Second commandments. If the first commandments were to multiply and replenish the earth and not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then the second commandments are those referred to in verse 32.
- Alma 12:36-37: "Rest of the Lord" and "rest of God." In these verses, the phrases "rest of the Lord" (v. 36) and "rest of God" (v. 37) seem to be used in parallel. They could also signify the following chiastic arrangement of thoughts:
- A. if ye harden your hearts ye will not enter into the rest of the Lord (v. 36)
- B. your iniquity provoketh God (v. 36)
- C. let us repent (v. 37)
- B'. that we provoke not the Lord our God (v. 37)
- B. your iniquity provoketh God (v. 36)
- A'. let us enter into the rest of God (v. 37)
- A. if ye harden your hearts ye will not enter into the rest of the Lord (v. 36)
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I like Alma 12 because of how it addresses the fundamentals of our existence, the overarching explanation for the purpose of our lives.
Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. They chose to, creating the first sin, which was necessary for the plan of salvation and for us to have the opportunity to learn good from evil. However, they were fulfilling God's plan, which could not be contravened, so the idea of sin here is confusing.
I like verse 28 that says that 'after God had appointed that these things should unto man, behold then he saw that is was expedient that man should know concerning the things wherefore he had appointed unto them', which goes into an description of communication between man and God and prayer, and why he converses with men about the plan of redemption and makes spiritual knowledge known to us according to our faith, repentance and works. He talks earlier in the chapter about having a soft or hardened heart and how that also effects the level of knowledge we can receive. That gave my mind a very fundamental explanation for prayer that I had not previously registered.
I like that this chapter gets to the fundamentals of why we are here, why we communicate with God and what the overall plan is.
However, I still find it quite mysterious why the word of God is impossible to contravene or be false. Why is that? Why is resting in his presence what we should be aiming for? What is his presence and why is it restful? And who is God anyway? Where does he come from? And why is he perfect? And how is he perfect? No matter how long I spend with the gospel and scriptures, I still have such questions. I don't hear people who are faithful, very often talking about why God is, or where he comes from, perhaps because there is no way of knowing, so what is the use of asking? But also sometimes there is a sense that it's just a given, God is good, God presides over all and that's that. But that's not that really truly is it? There are many mysteries even within a knowledge that God exists. I still like those questions, because it reminds me of these great mysteries.
What is consciousness? Why does it exist? Where did it come from? Why does God exist? Where did he come from? How did he become perfect? Where does intelligence come from? Why is there a will in God to organise creation? Was our intelligence always our own or did he separate us into separate entities? Why did he do that? How did he do that?
These questions fascinate me.
I also acknowledge that the benefit of being in his rest can already be felt in my daily life. It is immediately relieving and it's therefore possible to be present with these questions and feel into the value of them and the answers, by experiencing my own being. That is enough too.
Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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- Alma 12:1: How had Zeezrom been caught in lying?
- Alma 12:1: Zeezrom has become conscious of his guilt. What in particular might have brought about that consciousness? In what sense is Alma “unfolding the scriptures"?
- Alma 12:3-6: Satan laid a trap for Zeezrom by getting Zeezrom to lay a trap for Alma. How is Satan’s trap similar to Zeezrom’s?
- Alma 12:8: Zeezrom's change. How has Zeezrom changed? (How can you tell?)
- Alma 12:8: First question. Why are these questions the first ones that Zeezrom asks?
- Alma 12:9: Mysteries. What is a mystery of God? “Mystery” and “mysteries” are used 70 times in the English scriptures (see link below). Its most common synonym is “secret.” If many know the mysteries of God, how are they a secret? Notice that these words occur much more often in Restoration scriptures than in the Bible. Why do you think that is?
- Alma 12:9: Impart only. What does “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” mean in contemporary, ordinary English?
- Alma 12:9-15: Resurrection and mysteries. Here Alma indirectly explains why he told Zeezrom about temporal death and the resurrection. What is his explanation—what does it have to do with the mysteries of God?
- Alma 12:13: Hardened our hearts against the word. Why does Alma modify or clarify his statement "if our hearts have been hardened" with "against the word" (cf. verse 10)?
- Alma 12:16: What does it mean to die in sin? Does the word “in” carry any particular weight?
- Alma 12:17-18: Why is it a punishment to continue to live in our sins? How does this square with the discussion of everlasting punishment in D&C 19? Do you think Alma knew of the explanation we see in the D&C?
- Alma 12:17-18: Cannot be redeemed. Why would God create a plan in which he knew that some of us would not be able to return to him?
- Alma 12:20-21: Do you think that Antionah’s questions are sincere? Why or why not?
- Alma 12:22: It appears that Alma's main concern about Adam and Eve partaking the fruit was the truthfulness of God. Why does the veracity of God's word hold such weight for Alma?
- Alma 12:24: Probationary. What does it mean to say that life is probationary? Is the word being used as it is when we speak of criminals on probation? If so, is the implication that we have already been convicted? Alma teaches here that life is the time given us to repent. How do we avoid a belief in original sin given these teachings?
- Alma 12:26-27: These verses seem to answer the question in v. 24 about why life is probationary. How?
- Alma 12:31: Gods. Why is “Gods” capitalized in this verse? Usually it is capitalized only when it is used as the name of Deity, not when it is used to refer to an office or position. In what ways are we like Gods? Why is that significant?
- Alma 12:31: Placing themselves versus being placed. What is the difference? Is Alma correcting himself by using the second phrase?
- Alma 12:31-32: Wherefore. Both verses 31 and 32 begin in the same way, “wherefore” in one case and “therefore” in the other, but the two mean the same. That suggests that they logically follow from verse 30. How so? What things has the Lord done to make it possible for us to return to him?
- Alma 12:33: What does it mean to say that God called on men "in the name of his Son?"
- Alma 12:36: Provocation. What is the first provocation? What is the last provocation?
- Alma 12:37: Rest of God. What does “the rest of God” mean? How do we enter into it? How does chapter 13 relate to "the rest of God"?
- Alma 12:37: Ye versus us. Why does Alma switches from second person plural in verse 36 to first person plural in verse 37.
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- Alma 12:14: In what sense do thoughts condemn us? Ben S. at the Times and Seasons blog suggests that it is not the having of evil thoughts but the cultivation of evil thoughts that condemns us (that is, the adversary can put the thoughts in our mind, but it is only a sin if we entertain such thoughts).
- Alma 12:15. Marcus B. Nash, "The Great Plan of Happiness," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 49–50. Elder Nash said: "Each of us needs to repent to some degree or another. To repent means to make the real changes in your life the Savior desires you to make for your happiness... As you seek to change, remember that our loving Savior, as Alma states, has 'all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance.' This is powerful, liberating, hope-filled doctrine!"
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