Alma 1:16-33

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 1b / Verses 1:16-33
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

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  • Alma 1:16: Political consequences of Nehor's execution. If Alma was hoping that Nehor's execution would end priestcraft, it did not. Unfortunately--but unsurprisingly given the politics of the execution--it didn't have the intended effect. Alma and Nephite society instead find themselves opposed on every side by followers of Nehor's doctrine (Alma 2:1, 14:18, 24:29).
  • Alma 1:17: Fear that is ironic and the compromise of religious liberty. Mormon's sympathies (and ours) lie with Alma. But to fully understand the history that is recounted, we must sympathetically imagine how the death of Nehor was viewed by his followers. In verse 12, Alma discusses the danger of priestcraft enforced by the sword. While Alma does not take money for preaching, it is clear in this verse--and unsurprising given the execution of Nehor--that Alma's views are ironically being enforced by the power of the state, i.e., by the sword. Thus other Nehorites are afraid of openly expressing their views, a fear that is probably justified given the ignominious death of Nehor. Mosiah has tried to lead his people to embrace religious liberty, but change takes time and the transition to freedom of conscience has not yet taken hold, even for Alma who is, undoubtedly, trying in good faith to uphold the legacy of Mosiah.
In certain respects, Mosiah's failure to fully establish religious liberty is analgous to the failure of the American founders to fuly establish the liberty they envisioned. The first amendment alone could not create the envisioned liberty. So while the Constitution of the United States was probably a necessariy predicate for the restoration of the gospel, it did not save the saints from persecution or Joseph Smith from martyrdom because the doctrine articulated in the first amendment had not fully distilled in the American soul. God restored the gospel at the earliest possible moment, at a moment that was too early for Joseph to survive to old age. Had he waited a few decades, Joseph probably would not have been slain by a mob because Americans eventually came to understand that local popular sovereignty must be trumped by the guarantee of freedom of religion vouchsafed by the Constitution. We should all be grateful to God (and to Joseph and the persecuted pioneers who paid the price) that the gospel was established at the earliest possible moment so that we can now benefit from its growth and maturation.
Unfortunately for Alma and his people, they do not yet fully understand how to preserve both civil order and religious liberty. The break from a past in which religion and society were coterminous is too recent for the habits of liberty to be fully formed.
  • Alma 1:21. Note how the Church passed laws to govern themselves first. The normal human tendency might be to try and enforce rules on the outside groups who were persecuting them (see v. 20).
  • Alma 1:22: Religious violence. Presumably, the violence over religious differences occurs, at least in part, between Nehorites and Christians. Alma apparently tried to suppress the conflict by excommunicating church members who engaged in violence against people with other beliefs. There is a certain irony in this given his actions in verse 15, but it may also be a token of the good faith we know characterizes Alma.
  • Alma 1:25-31: Living after the manner of happiness. The Book of Mormon gives more and clearer examples of moral degradation than of moral virtue in its discussion of peoples and societies. The book, 4th Nephi, that covers the most extended period in which a people lived up to high moral and social ideals is very short. Thus the book of Alma, which shows so much war and misery, contains 2,065 words per year covered whereas 4 Nephi contains only 5 words per year. Since passages in which people are described in some detail as living "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27) are rare, they can have special value. Verses 25 - 31 of this chapter (like 2 Nephi chaper 5) provide one of those rare glimpses into the lives of people living in nearly perfect righteousness.
  • Alma 1:26: The poetry of structure and meaning. The Book of Mormon writers are often artful in their phrasing. Verse 26 is an example. Mormon means to suggest here that priests and people were equal, that there was no status difference between them. The poetic structure of what is said reinforces the intended meaning:
And when the priests left their labor / to impart the word of God unto the people,
the people also left their labors / to hear the word of God.
The structure of the sentence equates priests with people, both being situated in the same place in their respective couplet, and both doing the same thing, leaving their labor. The only distinction between them in the sentence is that one imparts and one hears. The two couplets are bound together by the first couplet ending and the second beginning with "the people." This situates the people at the heart of the set of couplets, perhaps emphasizing the centrality of their well being. The next sentence is also gramatically and poetically parallel. It begins with the same words but now puts priest and people together in both phrases:
And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God // they all returned again diligently unto their labors
The remainder of the verse makes the equivalence of all in God's kingdom fully explicit, again with structural poetry and repetition:
for the preacher was no better than the hearer, // neither was the teacher any better than the learner;
The equivalence of priest and people is then recapped by again, as in the previous phrase, combining them in "they all":
and thus they were all equal
These well crafted expressions have a political as well as a spiritual purpose: they contrast the egalitarian ideology of Mosiah and Alma with the class riven ideology of Nehor who teaches that some labor while others teach.
  • Alma 1:32-33: Religious and political polarization. The description of the church members in verses 25 - 31 and the nonmembers in 32 is Manichean. The members are saintly, the nonmembers devilish. Verse 33 then indicates that the power of the state was used against the nonmembers to force them to conform to the values of the church. The nonmembers dared not act in harmony with their own wishes. If the nonmembers were as deeply wicked as suggested in 32, Alma may have had no choice but to use state force to constrain them. But it is possible that political polarization has resulted in them being painted in blacker hues than they deserved. In any case, verse 33 is the perfect recipe for civil war which duely follows in chapter 2. See the comment below assessing Alma as a politician for additional discussion of Alma's high stakes approach to governance.

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Alma 1:19-22: The non-members persecuted the members “with all manner of words.” On the other hand, there was a strict law that forbade the members from persecuting others or each other. What was the result? (Be sure also to look at v. 24.) What lesson is in this for us?
  • Alma 1:25-27: What are the three things that distinguish this church?
  • Alma 1:29-30: Why do you think the writer felt it so important to record these two verses?
  • Alma 1:31: Prosperity is here linked with wealth. Is this always the case when prosperity is mentioned in the Book of Mormon? What does it mean that the members of the church were "far more wealthy" than those around them? Did this cause any problems?
  • Alma 1:32: What is meant here by "sorceries"?
  • Alma 1:32: Is the idolatry mentioned here idol worship, or just "idleness"?
  • Alma 1:32: What is the connection between "wearing costly apparel" and the other sins mentioned here?
  • Alma 1:32: This verse makes it sound like a good portion of the Nephite society was very wicked. What proportion of the people were actually righteous at this time? How much of wars and destruction during this time are the result of this wickedness?
  • Alma 1:33: What do we know about Nephite laws and penalties? Were these in any way related to what we consider to be the Laws of Moses?

Resources[edit]

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  • Alma 1:18, 30: Robbing versus stealing. John W. Welch discusses the ancient distinction between robbing and stealing here. It is quite clear in verse 18 that robbing and stealing are seen as two different things and that this distinction was an important one anciently.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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