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Relationship to Chapter 32. The relationship of Verses 32:26-43 to the rest of Chapter 32 is discussed at Chapter 32.
Story. Verses 32:26-43 consists of ___ major sections:
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 32:26-43 include:
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- Alma 32:27: Particle. Webster's 1828 definition for particle is, first, "A minute part or portion of matter; as a particle of sand, of lime or of light." It may be that the faith required to "give place for a portion of [Alma's] words" is small relative to the faith required to "nourish the word" as described in verse 41. Also, it may be that the subsequent discussion using the metaphor of a seed should be viewed as an elaboration of this initial idea of "a particle of faith." In particular, it seems that the description of initially planting the seed in verse 28 may be analogous to exercising a particle of faith.
- Alma 32:27: Relation to v. 21 (hoping for what is true). The "particle of faith" mentioned in this verse seems to be equated to a "desire to believe" which results in giving a "place for a portion of [Alma's] words." This description is very interesting since it seems to be describing the beginnings of faith. A question that the modern reader may be tempted to ask, prompted particularly by verse 21, is a chicken-or-egg type problem: how does one begin to exercise faith if faith requires that one already know what is true, and yet faith is required to learn if something is true or not? This verse seems to introduce a way to answer this question. (Although this does not seem to be a focus of Alma's sermon, the following discussion may be of interest to the modern reader wondering whether Alma's sermon relies on circular logic.)
- One approach to this question is to view it in probabilistic terms. If I don't know whether X is true or not, I could be described as granting the possibility (a probability) that X is true. Granting this possibility/probability may be a way to interpret Alma's phrase "give place for a portion of my words." However, this view seems to make the phrase "desire to believe" a tad awkward. On this probabilistic view, it would seem more natural to describe the desire as wanting to find out whether or not something is true, not desiring to believe (that something is true, presumably).
- Another approach, one that seems closer to the context of the sermon, is to interpret "true" in terms of what is described in the subsequent portion of the sermon. In this latter portion of Alma's sermon, he describes what seems to be two processes: first is the process of learning whether the seed is good (vv. 26-35), second is the process of attaining (unqualified) perfect knowledge (vv. 35-43). It may be that the first process is effectively describing how to learn whether something is true or not, and the second process is describing how to excercise faith in something that is already known to be true. On this view, it may be that the initial "particle of faith" is simply a desire to believe that something is true, and one does not know whether faith is actually being exercised until after it is learned that the word is true (i.e. that the seed is good).
- Alma 32:27: Even if ye can no more than. The first three verbal clauses in this verse seem to describe a rather active process that is required of faith: "awake and arouse your faculties"; "experiment upon my words"; "exercise a particle of faith." In comparison, the three remaining verbal clauses seem somewhat weaker in terms of what is required of the listener: "desire to believe"; "give place for a portion of my words"; "let this desire work in you." Separating these stronger and weaker verbal clauses is the conjoining phrase "even if ye can no more than . . . " which seems to emphasize this contrast. That this contrast immediately precedes an extended metaphor about the word as a seed suggests a framework for interpreting the purpose of the metaphor. In particular, it seems that Alma is trying to get his listeners either to believe that they are capable of developing genuine faith that will eventually grow into perfect knowledge, or to realize that the first step of faith does not require something extraordinary.
- Alma 32:27: Even if ye can no more than desire to believe. The phrase begins with "even if ye can no more than" which tells us that Alma is giving us the minimum example of what is required in order to gain faith. And, as he explains, this minimum example is to start with a desire to believe. It is significant that this is a desire to believe instead of a desire to know the truth. This minimum case begins with a desire that the gospel is true--we have to start by wanting it to be so. The experiment Alma teaches us then, is no impartial experiment. Those for whom truth means only those things we can discover through impartial analysis, will find no way here to discover these truths. In their eyes Alma's begins the experiment by stacking the deck in his favor because the experiment only begins with those who want to believe that the gospel is true. We see here that God has setup this world up in such a way that the most important truths, e.g. God is a merciful god who wants to hear from all his children, rather than hearing only once a week, in a synagogue from the well-off, are revealed only to those who, at a minumum, want to believe in such. And, as we see in the surrounding chapters, those who want instead to believe in a God who elected just themselves to be holy "whilst all around [them] are elected to be cast by [God's] wrath down to hell," to such people, so long as their desires remain so, Alma has no way to give them faith.
- Alma 32:28: Acrostic. Verse 28 uses an acrostic: In the English translation, Alma is speaking about a seed, and then spells out "seed" by using the verbs "swell," "enlarge," "enlighten" and "delicious." There is no way to know, of course, whether the acrostic was present in the original, although there are some examples of acrostic poetry in the Psalms.
- Alma 32:28: The word as a seed. In launching into this extended comparison with a seed, Alma interstingly says twice in this verse "the word" not "my words," even though he has said "my words" in verses 26-27. It may be that Alma is simply switching back to the singular form for word because it makes for a better comparison (seed instead of seeds). On the other hand, Alma may be subtly making a point that it is not his words that will grow, but the word that will grow if nourished by faith. Notice that in verse 1 the phrase "the word of God" is first used in this chapter, and then, presumably, referred to simply as "the word" subsequently (cf. vv. 6, 14, 16).
- Alma 32:28: If it be a true seed. The conditional clause here suggests the possibility of a seed not being true. The word true first appears in this sermon in verse 21 in describing faith as a hope "for things which are not seen which are true." It seems the second usage of this term here can be taken as an explanation-by-comparison of how truth can be determined. If the word-as-seed is not true, it will not swell, enlarge the soul, enlighten the soul, or become delicious. The description of what constitutes a true seed seems key to understanding the process being described from this verse until verse 35, coming to know that the seed (word) is good (true).
- Alma 32:28: Unbelief. In terms of coming to know whether the seed (word) is good (true), un/belief seems to play a critical role. In verse 16, Alma mentions belief in the word of God in elaborating on what it means to humble oneself without being compelled. Here, in verse 28, Alma connects unbelief with resisting the Spirit. The implication seems to be that resisting the Spirit is closely connected to not being humble, and that in such an environment, the truth of the word of God will not be able to be known.
- Verse 18 also discusses belief and contrasts it with knowledge. In terms of the truth-discovery process that Alma is describing, this implies that belief does not entail knowledge about whether something is true or not. This seems to complement the idea expressed about belief in verse 27, that the important role for belief to play in developing faith is to actively grant the possibility that the word is true (perhaps; this assumes a rather modern reading of the phrase "give place for a portion of my words"). On this view, it is also interesting that verse 22 says that "God is merciful unto all who believe on his name." What is described as commendable both here and there is belief. Although faith and baptism and other acts are discussed in connection with belief, it is belief itself that seems to be urged most directly, and belief does not presume any sort of knowledge, but rather a failure to resist the Spirit, a humbling of oneself sufficiently to simply grant the possibility (albeit in what seems a rather active sense—metaphorically nourishing the seed) that the word of God is true.
- Alma 32:29: Faith and the seed. This verse seems peculiar in that it talks about faith a manner that seems somewhat analogous to a seed, even though it is "the word" that is compared to a seed in verse 28. Although this kind of shift in comparison does not seem particularly unusual in, for example, the Old Testament [examples or citation needed here], the discussion of faith in terms that one might expect Alma to use to describe the word, according to the comparison he begins in verse 28, is intriguing, particularly to the contemporary reader who is aware of the comparison of Christ to the Word in John 1:1.
- Alma 32:29: Relation to 12:10. Alma's statement here about faith's possibility to "increase" and be "grown up" suggests an aspect of faith reminiscent somewhat of Alma 12:10 where Alma says "he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full." In both passages, Alma is describing a process that increases up until a certain point. If this comparison is taken further, it seems that not hardening one's heart is analogous to giving a place for a portion of Alma's words and not casting the seed out with unbelief or resistance to the Spirit.
- Alma 32:34: Is your knowledge perfect? Yea ... in that thing. The affirmative answer discussed here contrasts sharply with the same (or at least very similar) question asked at the end of verse 35 and answered negatively in verse 36. One noticeable difference is that the answer here qualifies "perfect knowledge" by the phrase "in that thing." It may be that the type of knowledge that is perfect only pertains to knowledge that the seed is good. This view seems to be supported in verse 36 by the phrase "ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed . . . to know if the seed was good" (emphasis added) and the description in verse 26 that "Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection."
- Alma 32:35: Real. The word "real" is not used in the KJV of the Bible, and is typically used in the Book of Mormon in the phrase "real intent." Webster's 1828 second definition for "real" reads "true; genuine; not artificial, counterfeit or factitious." This definition suggests a possible link with the word "true" used in verses 21, 24, and 28. If this is the case, then this verse can be read as expounding on what it means for the seed to be true.
- Alma 32:36: Exercise. Webster's 1828 Dictionary define's exercise in its first definition as "to use; to exert; as, to exercise authority or power." The second definition is "to use for improvement in skill; as, to exercise arms." It seems that both definitions may be applicable here: in the comparison, faith is exerted by planting the seed, and faith is used for improvement as attested by the increase in faith described in verse 29.
- Alma 32:36. The description of faith here that should not be laid aside creates a tension with verse 34 where faith is described as dormant, the same kind of tension that exists for "perfect knowledge" between verses 34-35 and verse 36. If the kind of faith being described in verse 34 is qualified as a faith "in that thing"—the same way that "perfect knowledge" is qualified—then perhaps Alma is talking about two different kinds of faith. But if this is the case, it seems these two different kinds of faith are not unrelated to each other: the statement in verse 29 that describes an increase in faith seems to link these two different kinds of faith. If verse 29 indeed establishes a link between the dormant faith of verse 34 and the faith that should not be laid aside described here in verse 36, then the increasing faith seems to parallel the growing seed. However, faith does not appear to be equivalent to the seed in Alma's comparison (at least not yet...). Faith is used here to describe what is exercised in order to plant the seed. Although faith appears to increase as the seed grows, this relationship between faith and the seed, though intimate, perhaps even dialectical, but it does not seem to be an equivalence. Similarly, in verse 41, the word/tree is described as being nourished by faith. There too the word/tree is the grammatical direct object of faith, a position which seems to imply a required action on the part of the listener in order to bring about the growth of the word/tree. At the same time, "required action" may be putting this too strongly since faith here is simply not laid aside; indeed, it seems the "particle of faith" described in verse 27 is all that is needed and that the word/seed is what causes the listener's faith to increase (cf. "faith as a grain of mustard seed" in Matt 17:20 and Luke 17:6).
- Alma 32:38: If ye neglect the tree. If faith is what nourishes the tree (cf. vv. 36, 40) then, based on Alma's earlier discussion of sign-seeking (vv. 17ff), then neglecting the tree might be taken here as not exercising faith.
- Alma 32:38: Heat of the sun. It seems the heat of the sun is an essential ingredient for growth of a tree, and yet too much heat relative to the roots of the tree will lead to the death of the tree. Note also that the sun is used as a symbol in 1 Ne 1:9 for describing the luster of Christ (presumably). This seems consistent with the idea of judgment as a day of heat and burning of the wicked.
- Alma 32:38: Withers away. (Cf. 1 Ne 17:48, 52-54; Jacob 5:7, 40, 43, 45.) How would a seed be planted, begin to grow, but then not take sufficient root so that it withers away in the sun? It may be that this is symbolically describing what Alma describes earlier in this chapter as being "compelled to be humble" and "brought to know the word" before believing. On this view, it might be that those who are compelled to be humble rather than humbling themselves because of the word, will not continue unto everlasting life (v. 41) because they will not have sufficient faith to nourish the tree so as to survive the heat of the sun. The danger, then, that Alma described earlier with being compelled to be humble, or—in terms of faith and knowledge—being brought to knowledge before believing, is that there will be faith enough to continue nourishing the word so that it can grow into a fruit-bearing tree. Being compelled to be humble or being brought to know the word rather than coming to knowledge by first exercising faith might not last. The temporariness of this condition is then set in contrast to the everlasting (non-temporary!) condition of those that exercise faith. (Compare also the difference between the temporal vs. the spiritual described elsewhere by Alma, e.g. in Alma 7:23; Alma 12:16; Alma 36:4; Alma 37:43; Alma 42:7, 9.)
- Alma 32:42. Verse 42 introduces something akin to dualism--identical adjectives that are yet different and organized hierarchically: "sweet above all that is sweet," "white above all that is white," "pure above all that is pure" (emphasis added). Although this dualism reaches a culmination in verse 42, it is consistently hinted at throughout the chapter:
- Two communities: The poor in heart vs. the rich Zoramites (v. 3)
- This is further underscored, quite dramatically, when Alma physically turns from one group to the other
- Two humilities: True humility vs. compelled humility (v. 16)/Humility arising from seeing and humility arising from hearing (see above Exegesis on v. 13-14)
- Two seeds: Good vs. bad (v. 32)
- Word/Words: Singular vs. plural (v. 22 and 26, for example)
- Two Trees
- There is a possibility that Alma is presenting two different Trees, as well--the tree grown within you from the planting of the seed (v. 37), and the Tree of Life (v. 41-43). It remains unclear, however, whether these trees are separate or one and the same.
- It is also possible that there is a dualism between the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. In v. 34, Alma points out that the fruit of the one tree is perfect knowledge, while the fruit of the second tree, described in v. 42, is the fruit of the Tree of Life, as described in Lehi's vision (1 Ne 8:11-12)
- This second reading suports the Exegesis on v. 19 above--it was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that led to Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden and the presence of God. A life of knowledge could be viewed as similarly damning. It is also interesting to note that Alma used the word "transgression" in v. 19, as well as the question "after ye have tasted [of the fruit]...is your knolwedge perfect?" in v. 35, both of which strongly emphasize Garden/Fall imagery.
- If we continue to delve deeper into the subtleties of the text, other dualisms emerge:
- Two faiths: Faith vs. knowledge
- Alma's entire discourse fleshes out the (seeming) dialectic between faith and knowledge, but in v. 27, he points out that knowledge must be based on faith ("exercise a particle of faith"; see commentary) and introduces a growing process of faith that leads to knowledge
- In this sense, knowledge that extends out of faith, thus becoming a 'faith beyond faith', is beneficial.
- See also Exegesis on v. 16 (seventh and eight paragraphs), v. 17 (third paragraph), and v. 18 (second and third paragraphs)
- Christ vs. principles
- As mentioned above, Alma distinguishes "the Word," and "words."
- In one sense, Alma may be working with the Zoramites on their level, assuming their language, and walking them through many little "words"/principles in hopes of eventually bringing them to the Word/Christ.
- From the garden of Eden imagery emerges the possibility of viewing Alma's discourse as an attempt to lead the Zoramites back into the garden--into the presence of God.
- Because Adam and Eve were in a "state of inncoence" in the Garden (2 Ne 2:23), it is possible that in order to return to God, we too must be innocent in some way
- Is it possible that Alma is describing this innocence as an 'innocence beyond innocence' through acquisition of faith-based knowledge? We want to be innocent again, but with a new type of knowledge?
- Alma's dualism opens up many interpretive possibilities. One option is that he is drawing a distinction between Terrestrial and Celestial existence, both of which are similarly sweet, white, and pure, but the Celestial remains beyond normal sweetness, whiteness, and purity. In other words, Terrestrial and Celestial lives may not differ in outward manifestations, but their motives are entirely other (see Exegesis for v. 16, fourth paragraph)
- Alma 32:43. The phrase "waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you" seems to be a reversal somewhat of the phrase in verse 42 "ye shall pluck the fruit thereof." Whereas in verse 42 the person is the subject and the tree is the object, yielding her fruit, in verse 43 the tree is the subject "bring[ing] forth" her fruit to the diligent and faithful person.
- More generally, verses 41-43 are a sort of positive reversal of the negative discussion in verses 38-40 ("if ye will not nourish the word . . . "). A rather striking feature in this positive reversal is the three-fold repetition of the three words faith, diligence, and patience, followed by the word fruit:
- (A) "if ye will nourish the word . . . by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit" (v. 41)
- (B) "because of your diligence and your faith and your patience . . . by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof" (v. 42)
- (A') "ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence and patience . . . waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit" (v. 43)
- (A) "if ye will nourish the word . . . by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit" (v. 41)
- Considering just the movement of this structure, we see (A) prefaced with an "if," (B) is prefaced with a "because," and (A') is prefaced with a "then." This three-fold movement might be considered in various ways, for example: pre-mortal/past, mortal/present, and post-mortal/future. Alternatively, we might think about these three-fold movement more in terms of the structure of the previous analogy of the seed:
- (A) desire, or giving place for a seed to be planted (v. 28)
- (B) growth and knowledge that the seed is good (vv. 30-35)
- (A') nourish the tree to bring forth fruit (vv. 36-40)
- (A) desire, or giving place for a seed to be planted (v. 28)
- This framework might be considered more generally in terms of an hour glass shape where we first come to a knowledge of the Lord through a narrow gate, and then nourish this beginning step by going forth and sharing such knowledge with others. However, exploring such thoughts would take us away from the text given here. What is important to consider here is the fact that the movement from (A) to (B) is effect by faith, but of itself not sufficient to yield fruit. What is needed is faith to nourish the seed in order to continue from (B) to (A'), otherwise the swelling seed "will not get any root" (v. 38). In other words, if (B) is not viewed as a point-on-the-path toward (A'), then no fruit will be obtained. It is this continuation from (B) to (A') that leads to "a tree springing up unto everlasting life" (v. 41). Notice that the discussion of the fruit being "most precious" and "sweet above all that is sweet," etc. all occurs after the second mention of "faith, diligence and patience, that is after (B) and on the way toward (A')—a position we might term "faith beyond faith."
- Somewhat curiously, the partaking of the fruit is mentioned twice in these final two verses of the chapter. Whereas verse 31 talks about "looking forward" to the fruit, verse 42 says "by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof . . . and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled." So, when verse 43 says "ye shall reap the rewards of your faith . . . waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you," it seems to be reversing the timing, going back to before the feasting on the fruit mentioned in verse 42 to a point of again waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit. This peculiar feature in the text might be interpreted in several ways. It could be that the the being filled in verse 42 is not meant to be an "end"—that is, verse 43 could be pointing to many feasts, either more fruit that might be brought to the faithful, diligent and patient person, or more fruit that might partaken of in future "seed"/posterity (in this sense, there might be a strong allusion back to Lehi's dream when, after partaking of the fruit, he looks around desiring for his family to also partake). Another possibility is that this is more of a feature of a syntactic structure, perhaps a chiasm with the actual feasting in the middle of the chiasm (v. 42) with verses 41 and 43 pointing toward it. Exploring these and other possibilities might itself be a fruitful area of study.
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- Alma 32:28: What connections could be made between the swelling of the word here, and Korihor's "swelling words" in Alma 30:31?
- Alma 32:30: Strengthen your faith. How should strengthened faith be understood? Is it dormant in the sense of verse 34, or is it still growing in the sense of verses 36ff? How is strengthened faith related to the seemingly two different kinds of perfect knowledge described in verses 34 and 36, and the notions of enlightened understanding and expanded mind in verse 34?
- Alma 32:34: Knowledge, understanding and an expanding mind. Is the understanding mentioned in this verse the same as knowledge? the same as an expanding mind? Should the expansion of mind be viewed as the same thing as the new knowledge "that the word hath swelled your souls," or is the enlightenment referring to the swelling itself, or something else entirely?
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- Alma 32:27-34: Experiment on the word.
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Power of a Personal Testimony," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 37–39. Elder Uchtdorf outlines the pattern for receiving a testimony: desire to believe; search the scriptures; keep the commandments; ponder, fast, and pray.
- See related quotes by Henry B. Eyring and Joseph B. Wirthlin here.
- Alma 32:41. Compare Alma's advice for nourishing a seed of faith here (esp. v. 41, have desire and nourish this desire with faith, diligence and patience) to Nephi's steps in having the mysteries of God unfolded in 1 Ne 10:17-19 and 1 Ne 11:1: (1) have a desire to know and (2) have faith.
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