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Alma 32:1-5

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:1-5
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapter 32. The relationship of Verses 32:1-5 to the rest of Chapter 32 is discussed at Chapter 32.

Story. Verses 32:1-5 consists of ___ major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 32:1-5 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 32:1: Streets. If the word here for "streets" has any relation to the Hebrew word chuwts, which means "outside or street" and probably comes from a root meaning "to sever," then this may signal the beginning of an interesting temple type of theme at work in this narrative. That is, Alma and Amulek end up being themselves cut off or thrown outside of the Zoramites' temples (i.e. synagogues and houses), analogous to Man being cut off from the Lord's presence in the Garden of Eden. The word of the Lord, through Alma and Amulek, thus comes to those who have been cut off (cf. "cast off" in v. 2) by those who were rejected, and we might thus read Alma's sermon on the seed as a riff on the atonement theme of the common four-fold pattern of creation, fall, atonement, and veil (in which case the partaking of the fruit at the end of this chapter would match up with the veil, or entering the Lord's presence). Alma and Amulek, in this sense, however, would be more like a Christ or scapegoat figure, who are rejected by the world and received by those "in the wilderness" so-to-speak.
The first verses of this chapter, while clear enough in content, are somewhat ambiguous narratively: do they describe the entire story that is about to be told, or do they narrate events that occur before the story about to be told? That is, when verses 1-2 find the missionaries preaching and finding success among the poor, is one to read in the remainder of the story a fleshing out of these first details—a kind of going back to the beginning to tell how it all happened—or a continuation of the story (some success with the poor was followed by the event about to be described)? At least one aspect of this first verse would seem to point to the latter of these two options, would suggest, that is, that the missionaries had already begun to have success with the poor before the event that is detailed in the remainder of the chapter. How that is can only be explained at some length.
The "yea" and "even" in this verse sounds as if preaching in the streets was only a last resort after they had been rejected from synagogues and houses.
  • Alma 32:2: Class. The word "class" occurs only one other time in the Book of Mormon in 4 Ne 1:26 where two hundred years of peace where "their goods and their substances" were "common among them" is interrupted with the people being "divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain." Interestingly, the class distinctions described there are, as here, closely linked to ecclesiastical institutions (there "churches," here "synagogues").
The actual use of the word "class" here is of some significance: the word only appears in the scriptures in translations and revelation provided by Joseph Smith. It in fact only appears twice in the Book of Mormon: here and 4 Ne 1:26. This other instance is helpful for interpretation here, since it describes the falling apart of Nephite utopia as class-structure comes into being. The perhaps Marxist ring of the word should not be missed: while every civilization has had its poor, the Zoramites are strikingly "modern" in that they have a poor class. This deserves much further attention.
  • Alma 32:2: Synagogues. The word synagogues is used in the small plates in 2 Ne 26:26, apparently as a synonym to "houses of worship." In Alma 16:13, Alma and Amulek are said to preach in "their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews." Both of these verses use the term synagogues in a rather neutral way, referring to the building in which worship is conducted. In contrast, synagogues are described in Alma 21:4ff as being built "after the order of the Nehors" which seems to have a strong negative spiritual, even apostate, connotation (cf. Alma 1:12; Alma 14:16; Alma 24:28). Synagogues are also mentioned in Hel 3:9, 14, along with temples and sanctuaries, as well as in 3 Ne 13:2, 5, following the wording in Matt 6. Interestingly, in 3 Ne 18:32, Christ specifically admonishes his chosen Disciples (v. 26) to "not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship" who is unworthy and forbidden from partaking of the sacrament. Moro 7:1 describes Mormon teaching "in the synagogue which they had built for the place of worship." These latter verses in Moroni and 3 Nephi suggest there might be some sort of distinction between places of worship and places of teaching. That is, synagogues might have been primarily places to study and teach, as opposed to worshiping in ways less closely related to studying and teaching—perhaps worshiping in more silent ways—like praying—or more ritualistically.
  • Alma 32:2: Poor. Though the meaning of the word would perhaps appear quite straightforward, its theological place in the broader canon is so important and so currently (constantly) controversial that it perhaps deserves at least a word or two of attention. It is often enough pointed out that the poor receive the gospel more readily than do the rich, that because they experience lack, it is easier for them to make room for the gospel message (cf. 1 Cor 1:26-29). Of course, it is not clear to what extent this is the case with the Zoramites (see exegesis), but the word "poor" cannot be read independent of this general situation. This is perhaps especially so in light of currently fashionable theological trends, such as liberation theology and its powerful influence in historical Jesus studies (Jesus came among the poor: the gospel he preached is just the same message that secular humanists have been preaching for the past century and half, etc.). There could well be formulated—though this has not as yet been undertaken systematically—a similar theology in light of LDS scripture (especially the exaltation of the poor in D&C 88 and like texts). But such contemporary theological concerns, it should be noted, are contextualized otherwise than Alma's discourse, which follows on the somewhat diagonal approach of King Benjamin (in Mosiah 4). (Of course, the rise of Nephite classes and class structure seem to be directly connected with the collapse of the kingship in Nephite society, which complicates the theological precedent that Benjamin's speech might have been.)
  • Alma 32:3: Not permitted. No form of the word permit occurs in the KJV of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, permit is used as a translation of the Greek word epitrepo (cf. Acts 26:1; 1 Cor 14:34; 1 Cor 16:7; Heb 6:3). In Mosiah 7:8ff, the word permitted is used when Ammon is standing before the king and "permitted to speak" (vv. 11-12). This is interesting because the context is one of monarchical power, whereas here the political situation is quite different. The context is also different here because the power being exerted pertains to religious life. Although there may be good reason to think about religious and political power being distinct in Nephite culture at this point in their history, the explicit class and economic relations being described here suggests at least some overlap, at least of a form of political power being exercised by the religious authorities in a peculiar way. The text here does not explicitly condemn this exercise of religious power, but it seems rather implicit (esp. if we are reading Mormon's hand at work here) that such practice is at least symptomatic of religious apostasy.
  • Alma 32:3: Dross. Dross is defined in Webster's 1828 Dictionary as "The recrement or despumation of metals; the scum or extraneous matter of metals, thrown off in the process of melting." The third definition is even more telling, "Waste matter; refuse; any worthless matter separated from the better part; impure matter." This is clarified by other instances of the word in the Old Testament, where it is plain that what is to be cast out of the precious metals is lesser metals, metals that are common or cheap. "Dross" would thus seem not to refer, strictly speaking, to what is unnecessary, but rather to what is useful only for common, everyday kinds of things, tools and the like. Helpful as well, though more on the textual level, is the only other appearance of the word in the Book of Mormon: Alma 34:29, a verse that is part of this same discourse to the Zoramites (though it is Amulek who is speaking in chapter 34). Interestingly, it is not Alma but the historian who employs the word in this earlier instance, perhaps anticipating Amulek's later use (much like the instance of "the word of God" in verse 1 here). The literary effect is beautiful: while the rich Zoramites here already regard the poor Zoramites as dross, Amulek will assert that they can indeed become dross, but only if they are without charity, that is, if they become like the rich Zoramites. The two instances of the word thus work out a kind of reversal of the entire socio-political situation (it is interesting, in this regard, that the Zoramites are said, only verses earlier in Alma 31:24 to be focused on precisely these precious metals: silver, gold, etc.). One might also point out the hint of an impossible allusion to Mal 3:3, where the apostate priesthood at the temple (in the synagogue?) is to be purified as silver (this passage was not had, of course, among the Nephites until it was quoted by Christ in 3 Ne 24:3, though Nephi uses the language of Mal 4 in a number of places: might the Nephites have had a proto-Malachi text, or might Malachi have been drawing on some imagery—including this purification of the priesthood—to be found in a text common to him and the Nephites?).
  • Alma 32:3: Things of the world. This phrase is used 16 times in LDS scripture according to this lds.org search. The usage of the term in the Book of Mormon often seems to be related to economic standing, but is not limited to that. For example, in 1 Ne 22:23, "the things of the world" are coupled with "eyes of the world" and "lusts of the flesh" (though it's not clear the extent to which that coupling represents similarity vs. a contrast). Alma 1:16 also uses "riches and honor" in describing those who "loved the vain things of the world" suggesting that honor might be included in the phrase "things of the world." Alma 4:8, in fact, explicitly mentions "riches" separately from "the things of the world." Thus, when "the poor" are not simply referred to as "the poor" but as "the poor as to the things of the world" here, it seems there is much more at work than simple "riches." For example, "the world" might be taken as a particular "place" (cf. 31:13, 21; 32:5, 22, 27-28; 34:26, 35, 38 etc.), but a place that is fallen, or corrupted (cf. the "gulf" in Lehi's dream of 1 Ne 12:18), that the poor are driven out of, perhaps not unlike Adam and Eve from the Garden (and once this link is considered, more might be thought about here in terms of the mobile tabernacle/temple among the Israelites as a world beyond the world, and yet within the world, and Alma admonition in verses 10ff).
  • Alma 32:3: Poor in heart. This phrase is little used in the scriptures. The only other occurrence is 2 Ne 28:13. Understanding the meaning of this phrase then largely depends upon interpreting it according to its context here. Unlike humility, being poor in heart is not praised as a virtue—we don't see anything here which suggests we should strive to be poor in heart. Instead, poor in heart is a description of the feelings of these people, of the feelings that come to people who are "esteemed by their brethren as dross" (verse 3) and who, essentially, define themselves according to that view. This is not the same as the humility of Moses who recognizes that all mankind is nothing compared to God. Instead this is to see oneself as worthless in a world where there are two types of people--the elect and the worthless (Alma 31:17). Note that for the Zoramites, the act of praying in their synagogue is tied to their definition of election. This prayer may have been, in their view, the single ordinance necessary and sufficient for salvation. The downcast feelings of the "poor in heart" are the feelings of those who are prevented from taking part in that ordinance. Alma rejoices in their lowliness of heart only in so far as it leads them to humility and then repentance (verses 12-13). The phrase might be compared with a few other similar-sounding phrases that ultimately seem to be quite different in meaning:
Poor in spirit Poor in heart Lowly in heart
Usage suggests it is a virtue
(a quality we should seek)?
No
(controversial)
No Yes
Matt 11:29, Alma 37:34
Leads to something positive? Yes Yes Yes
Usage suggests something negative about it? No Yes No
Other scriptures provide additional
insight to meaning?
No No Yes
While the "therefore" that opens this verse makes perfect sense, the second "therefore" in the verse seems curious. It seems the most natural way to interpret the grammar here is in terms of the poor being poor because they were cast out of the synagogues. The meaning implied by this reading, however, runs counter to the way we would probably expect to read this verse. That is, it would seem more natural to read the causation the opposite way: the poor were cast out of the synagogues because they were poor. Possible interpretations include the following: (1) "Poor" in this case might be taken to mean "poor in heart." One criticism of this reading is that if this were indeed the intended meaning, then it seems curious that the last phrase of the verse, "poor in heart," has an explicit modifier, whereas the first use of the phrase does not. If this were the intended meaning, it seems this order should be reversed. (2a) "Poor" might be taken here as a condition imposed upon the poor by the gaze of the wealthy, as more of a social class, emphasizing the "socio" aspect of their socio-economic position, rather than their economic status. (2b) "Poor" might be taken as referring to the economic status of the poor and the reason the poor are poor is a result of their being relegated to a lower social class. (3) "Therefore" might be chalked up to a mistake in translation.
Perhaps the first two of these possibilities (both variations of the second possibility) could be worked together in a single reading of the verse. While verse 2 states explicitly that the Zoramites in question were poor materially, this verse adds this curious phrasing that seems to suggest that their poverty is primarily a function of their relation to the Zoramite wealthy (it is the esteem of the others that renders them poor). This shift destabilizes the rather straightforward meaning of "poor" in verse 2 as part of a kind of movement towards the (also curious) phrase "poor in heart." This would seem to follow from the concluding "therefore they were poor as to things of the world [first meaning of "poor," displaced by the oddity of the grammar]; and also they were poor in heart [second meaning of "poor," replacing the first meaning by virtue of the odd grammar]."
It would seem best, then, to understand "poor in heart" as a question of relation, as the way in which one is regarded, almost as a social construction (cf. the lexical note above on the phrase "poor in heart"). This careful phrasing—most likely on Mormon's part?—anticipates Alma's many caveats during the discourse in speaking of the humility of his audience: they are not to be praised for their humility, because it is a compelled humility, but God can still take advantage of such a situation.
The flipside of this "poor in heart" business is also worth exploring: that the poor are poor because they are esteemed as filthiness, the rich are rich because they are esteemed as somehow clean. Such a correlation, of course, as it seems to be among the Zoramites, can all too easily be misconstrued: whoever has wealth is all too easily regarded as somehow righteous.
  • Alma 32:4: Impoverished rebels seek a leader. Onidah was, or at least became within a few years, "the place of arms" (Alma 47:5). Given the military setting of the Zoramite city—and the likely military position of their "leader," Zoram—it seems best to understand Onidah to be a place of some military importance, perhaps the headquarters of the (as yet) Nephite military. That Alma is addressing an entire multitude there (verse 7 makes quite clear that a multitude of the wealthy were gathered listening to him) would appear, then, to be of some significance: Alma is probably making a political argument. Alma 32:1-3 suggests that he is worried the Zoramites who have separated themselves from the other Nephites may be disloyal and, therefore, pose a threat. He is presumably trying to persuade the rich and powerful Zoramites to remain part of the Nephite polity. Zoram, their leader (Alma 30:59; 31:1), is probably part of the audience, and he may be the same Zoram who succeeded Alma as the overall commander of the Nephite army. Like Alma himself, that Zoram led a successful campaign against the Lamanites (Alma 16: 5). While he deferentially sought council from Alma after succeeding him and appears to have been a righteous man, he may later have become the disgruntled leader of these breakaway Zoramites. If so, he would certainly not be the first successful general to become full of himself and feel he was not given his due following a great victory. So Alma is probably striving--not very successfully--to maintain the Nephite/Zoramite alliance as he addresses this multitude of the rich and powerful.
This sudden appearance of a second multitude of the poor would, thus, represent a major disturbance, perhaps a planned one, given the rhetoric of the "foremost" among them in verse 5. Why have the poor and excluded come en masse to a place of arms and why do they appeal to Alma for an answer on what they should do? They probably know that Alma suspects the loyalty of the wealthy multitude that is at odds with the poor. And they are surely aware of Alma's great military exploits, of how he led the Nephite army in battle and defeated the formidable rebel leader Amlici (and the Lamanite king) in single combat (Alma 2:29 - 32). Alma's military and political stature would make him an ideal leader of any contemplated rebellion by the excluded, stigmatized Zoramite poor against the rich and powerful who oppress them. He is a hero whose banner they could rally to. Perhaps they intend to offer themselves as a force he can use to achieve his political objective by military means. Their rehearsal of their grievances prior to asking “what shall we do” lends support to this supposition. If that was their intention, they were probably surprised when Alma discounts their grievance and defuses the tension by telling them in 12 “it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues.”
  • Alma 32:5: Despised. The word despised is also in the famous Isa 53:1 suffering servant passage (quoted in by Abinadi in Mosiah 14:3. Whether an intended allusion or not (the Zoramite poor do, after all, display some familiarity with scripture), the parallel suggested between the poor and Isaiah's suffering servant interesting (esp. since the first Zoram mentioned in the Book of Mormon was himself a servant, the servant of Laban—cf. 1 Ne 4:35). This rhetorical link might also suggest ways to think about the Zoramite poor as playing a savior role in subsequent history, either in the way the "craft" of "the more popular part of the Zoramites" was destroyed (Alma 35:8), or by viewing the exodus described in [[Alma 35:9]ff as a Isaianic remnant (is it possible their posterity were among Helaman's 2000 stripling warriors?), or by some other means in subsequent Zoramite/Lamanite history (Alma 43:4 tells us "the Zoramites became Lamanites," so perhaps the promises to the Lamanites are tied to a savior role the Zoramite poor end up playing).
  • Alma 32:5: With our own hands. This phrase is used in Isa 2:8, as well as other passages in LDS scripture, in a negative context, referring to idolatrous worship of "work of their own hands." This statement may betray an underlying attitude among the Zoramite poor that is related to Alma's later accusation that, at least a good number of them, are compelled to be humble (cf. vv. 14ff).
  • Alma 32:5: What shall we do? This exact phrase is used in Jacob 5:33 and Hel 5:40, as well as in verse 9 of this chapter. Other passages in LDS scripture where this exact phrase is found can be found here. It seems this phrase is typically used to describe those who are humbly seeking to learn the will of God or who are awaiting further light and knowledge. This phrase, in particular, seems to offer important first evidence of the humility had among the Zoramite poor.
  • Alma 32:5: Place.Because the question raised by the Zoramite poor is grounded in precisely this question of place, and because Alma's response will effectively disengage this very question of place, a rather curious emphasis is placed on this word (see the exegesis below). Though it is unclear to what extent the Hebrew language may have still had any major effects on thinking, the Hebrew word mqwm is of some interest. It derives from qwm, meaning, quite basically, to rise or to raise (something) up. But this root is far richer as well: not only does it have reference to physical acts of rising up, it also frequently functions, in the command form, as a kind of call to attention; it often has reference to preparation (especially in military contexts); and it is a word of some importance in covenant renewal contexts (always as a confirmation, rather than an initiation, of the covenant). Place is thus, in Hebrew, determined or oriented by some kind of conscious activity: it issues from some kind of "unnatural" (vertical and hence spiritual, cultural, political, religious, etc.) movement.
If one takes the apparent formality of the title "foremost" and the still more apparent formality of the term "brethren" in the appeal made to Alma, it becomes possible, perhaps, to detect a hint of formal organization on behalf of the poor here. Rather than being faced with hungry crowds who have suddenly united in their humility and so appealed to Alma, the text presents an organized, perhaps militant, group, one that makes its appeal with formal rhetoric and perhaps in a rather public, dramatic manner (while Alma is speaking, according to appointment, to the military elite).
he fact that one person is explicitly mentioned as representing the group of people here seems to echo the organizational structure outlined in Mosiah 18:18 where there is one priest ordained to be in charge of "every fifty of their number." This, coupled with Jacob's description in Jacob 1:19 about the responsibility he felt, "answering the sins of the people upon [their] own heads," might point to a kind of mind set that carried over to the Zoramite poor of one person (typologically, the high priest) representing a group. Moreover, the one representative of the poor who is here petitioning on behalf of his brethren, seems to echo the covenant to "bear one another's burdens" given in Mosiah 18:8ff. The familiarity with scripture that Alma presupposes amongst the poor suggests that links to these previous teachings among the Nephites may not be wholly unfounded.
The usually benign reading of the foremost Zoramite's words is perhaps unsettled by the inclusive/exclusive use of the phrase "our God" in this verse. It would seem that he is trying to draw—however subtle—a distinction between the god of the Zoramites and the God of Alma. If this strengthens the remarkably political, perhaps even Marxist, reading of this passage, it remains to be worked out to what extent this difference in gods is understood by the Zoramites to be of significance and to what extent Alma dismisses the difference entirely. This question is perhaps especially important given the political position gods had generally in the ancient world.
The rhetoric of this verse really deserves extended attention: so much of the appeal and power of the group's representative is tied to the manner of his words. This is still more important given Alma's interpretation of these words: whatever is spoken in them, he understood them (or opportunistically took them) to be penitent in nature. What can be read into the rhetorical structure of this appeal?
  • Alma 32:5: Behold. Because "behold" appears as often as it does in the scriptures and because of its relatively archaic character, it is too easy to miss the thrust of the word itself. When it appears in narrative contexts, the word carries much of the weight of the narrative movement, almost like an emphatic "and then, guess what happened!" Here, of course, it does not play a narrative part, though it remains quite as emphatic: in conversation, it has the power of a commanding formality. It is undeniably a kind of summons, a call to the other to see something. Like the more current, "Look," it would seem to imply that the person being summoned has not yet grasped the weight of something, has not yet considered everything that needs to be considered. And yet it has a formalism about it: the person who is told to behold is being summoned to an almost dramatic conversation or situation, is being asked to become a part of something at least formalistic in character.
  • Alma 32:5: Place. Because of the emphasis that falls, ironically, on place in this broader situation, the weight of this word deserves some direct attention.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Alma 32:1: Yea. What is the significance of the "yea" in verse 1? Why does it separate the paired mention of synagogues and houses from the solitary mention of the streets? How does this anticipate or even interpret in advance the situation that is about to be presented to Alma?
  • Alma 32:1-5: How should one read the fact that Alma and his companions are admitted into the synagogues to teach, while the poor class who actually built the synagogues are cast out. Is there an irony at work here?
  • Alma 32:1-5: What should be read into the exclusion of the poor class from the act of worship? How is this political? How is this not political? We're they essentially excommunicated?
  • Alma 32:1-5: What should be read into the imagery of silver and dross in verse 3? What does this image imply about natural and unnatural states? Do the Zoramites not understand the poor class to be somehow necessary?
  • Alma 32:4: What kind of a setting is described in verse 4? How formal or official was this setting? How formal is the group that approaches him with their question?
  • Alma 32:5: What is significant about the active thrust of the question asked to Alma in verse 5? That is, what should be read into the fact that the poor want to know what they should do? How might Alma take advantage of this kind of a question? How might such a question make it difficult for him to teach them what he would like to teach them?
  • Alma 32:1-5: How should the ironic use of the word "abundantly" be understood, especially as it is paired with "labor"? Is one justified in reading Marxism into the rhetoric of the speaker?
  • Alma 32:1-5: How should the question of "place" be read? What of a dialectics of inside and outside here, of the shade-haunted space that is the threshold of the synagogue? Again, how political or non-political is this theme?
  • Alma 32:5: In verse 5 the poor tell Alma that they have no place to worship because they have been cast out of the synagogues. Alma 31:14 tells us that the Zoramites believed they had to go to the Rameumptom to worship. Why might the Zoramites' church leaders have wanted the people to believe that they they could only worship God on the Rameumptom?

Resources[edit]

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  • Alma 32. See Alma 32, a post by Clark at his blog, Mormon Metaphysics. Note also the link to the pdf file of Jim F.'s notes on the chapter.

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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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Chapter 32. The relationship of Verses 32:6-16 to the rest of Chapter 32 is discussed at Chapter 32.

Story. Verses 32:6-16 consists of ___ major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 32:6-16 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 32:6: They were in preparation to hear the word. Compare Alma 16:14-16 where "no inequality" and not having "any respect of persons" is linked to the people being prepared to receive God's word (although there, curiously, the word there refers to "the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming").
  • Alma 32:6: In a preparation. This phrasing seems somewhat awkward. Saying "they were prepared" would seem more natural in English than "in a preparation." One way to understand this wording might be to consider "preparation" in somewhat scientific terms. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (try clicking here) lists definition II.8.b. as, "A specimen that has been prepared for medical or other scientific examination, display, etc." This way of reading this curious wording seems to highlight (1) the "experiment" wording that Alma will use later in the chapter, and (2) the way in which the poor were compelled to be humble by outside circumstances (cf. definition II.8.a., "A specimen prepared or made up of substance, as a medicine, cosmetic foodstuff, etc."). This second point seems to suggest that the people were in a situation of external circumstances such that they would react positively to hearing the word, not that there was anything particularly internal that was ready to hear the word.
  • Alma 32:6. Alma is happy that the people are in teachable circumstances. He is not rejoicing because of their temporal trials, but that their trials have made them receptive to learning that they can worship the Lord in all aspects of their lives.
The phrase "in a preparation to hear the word of God" seems a bit unusual, if not awkward. However, an interesting use of the word prepare in the KJV of Ex 15:2 might help open up an interesting reading of this phrase. In Ex 15:2, the Hebrew word navah is translated (effectively) as "prepare a habitation" in a hymn of praise. This lexical relationship in Hebrew between praising and dwelling highlights a kind of reversal that is going on here between the Zoramites who do not give place to the Zoramite poor to worship, and the Zoramite poor who give a place for Alma and Amulek to preach.
  • Alma 32:7. The first word of this verse, "therefore," is curious. It seems to be a continuation of, and yet abrupt end to, the relationship between the poor and non-poor Zoramites which has formed such an important theme in these first few verses of the chapter. The very mention of the fact that Alma "say[s] no more to the other multitude" seems a bit superfluous. That is, why doesn't the narrator just move on with the narrative and let the course of the narrative demonstrate the fact that Alma says no more to the other multitude? It seems there is a kind of scarcity or economics that is being emphasized here: Alma turns away from the non-poor because the other multitude was humble—metaphorically, Alma is taking his seed and casting to the most fertile ground he can find. This first phrase of the verse might be profitably considered in light of Alma 12:10ff where Alma talks explicitly about those who will receive the "lesser portion" of the word. Although it seems there are many similarities between Alma's discussion there and here, such a comparison seems to make the "therefore" here all the more striking. That is, it seems here that the extent to which the non-poor receive the word is not just contingent on their own reception or hard-heartedness toward the word, but also on the next best alternative that Alma faces.
  • Alma 32:8: Behold. The word "behold" is used several times in this sermon, esp. here in verses 8-10. In Alma 26, Ammon also uses the word "behold" very frequently. The use of the word in this chapter and in this part of the chapter seems significant because of the theme of being cast out vs. hearing, giving place, and receiving the word of God. Also, in the following chapter, Alma will refer to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness who did not perform the easy task of casting their eyes on Moses's staff in order to be healed. Thus, "behold" might be taken here as an important and emphatic plea on Alma's part to ultimately look toward Christ and genuinely receive the word of God that Alma is preaching.
  • Alma 32:8. Alma first addresses the mental/spiritual state of the Zoramite poor. The point is rather clear, and certainly rather common in scripture: if they are humble, and Alma judges them so to be, then they are blessed, because they are able to be taught. There is no mystery in his claim. But what is ultimately very interesting about this verse is that it is so isolated. It marks the first word of a chapters-long discourse, the first word of a widely celebrated speech by Alma, the first word of the event that will result in the all-out years-long war that consumes the remainder of the Book of Alma. And yet it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the verses that immediately follow it. Either Alma is a very inconsistent speaker, changing gears a dozen words into his discourse (something the editor of the text had the duty to rearrange or fix somehow), or Alma is doing something rather surprising (something the editor of the text was well aware of, and which that editor would have wanted the reader to pick up on). If verse 9 marks a major departure from the content of this first word, Alma nonetheless returns to the subject in verse 12 to form an inclusio, that is, to section off verses 8-12 as a sort of textual unit worth discussing in and of itself. The role these five verses play in the discourse Alma is here giving is enormous: interpretation of the whole of the seed/word analogy depends on how one reads these first verses.
  • Alma 32:9. Following the critical language of verse 8 (critical in the technical sense, not the pejorative), which draws very much on the face-to-face situation in which the Zoramites and Alma find themselves (simply put: Alma engages the Zoramites quite personally in verse 8), verse 9 is marked by an appeal to the realm of absolute reason, an appeal that is to come to fruition (albeit ironically) in verse 10. That is, if in verse 8 Alma engages the Zoramites personally in his critical assessment of their mental/spiritual state, in verse 9 he simply notes a fact--a particular statement by the proffered Zoramite--apparently leaving the relational (Alma and the Zoramites) to speak in more universal terms, in more absolute terms, in more rational or even philosophical terms. However, even in the appeal to reason, Alma relativizes it: this is not a question of a universal proposition ("one might say"), but of something the Zoramites have specifically said ("thy brother hath said"). In the end, then, this verse is marked by a sort of tension between the situational reality of Alma's facing the Zoramites and an appeal to reason (taken, as it always must be, in absolute terms). This tension, however, can be explored more carefully in the next verse, where it comes to fruition.
  • Alma 32:10. This verse presents an obviously rhetorical question. But categorization is not enough here: the nature of rhetorical questions greatly affects the meaning of this verse. A rhetorical question is curious precisely because it is not to be answered. That is, a rhetorical question purposefully stops up conversation, encounter, engagement, and situation. In effect, a rhetorical question calls for an abolition of the existential reality of the face-to-face encounter, and it makes this call in the name of reason, of absolute reason. In other words, Alma's question, precisely because it does not call for an answer, is presupposed to have an answer logically bound up within itself anyway. The question, that is, is understood from the very start to call on a sort of universal or absolute reason in order to provide the answer, without the necessity of the situational realization of that answer. In short, a rhetorical question is always, in and of itself, an appeal to non-passional, non-situational, non-personal reason.
But even as Alma's rhetorical question makes its obvious appeal, it calls that very appeal into question. In fact, it does so doubly, and it does so from the very start, questioning the absolution of reason through and through. Doubly: "Behold I say unto you" on the one hand, and "do ye suppose" on the other. In a sense, these two phrases cancel the nature of the rhetorical question. Or rather, they reveal more precisely the essence of a rhetorical question: a rhetorical question is precisely rhetorical because it is bound up with rhetoric, the situational reality, the face-to-face encounter that calls for rhetoric in the first place. In that Alma specifically mentions his own speaking, and because he specifically mentions the audience's supposing, he recognizes explicitly--and twice--that his appeal to absolute reason is situational, is relative. In short, just as verse 9, this verse is characterized by a fundamental tension: Alma at once makes an appeal to absolute reason and cancels the same in a return to the situational, the relative. The tension opens here, and it continues to build over the next two verses.
Perhaps ironically, this textual insight into the tension between the situational and the absolute parallels wonderfully the actual content of Alma's rhetorical question (and in this way it prepares for the major discussion of the seed/word still to come). In suggesting, according to the unspoken answer to the question, that worship outstrips place (and in the next verse, time), Alma makes an appeal to a sort of absolute form of worship, perhaps a way of being that might saturate every place (and, for that matter, every time). At the same time, however, it is quite clear that worship must take place somewhere, at some time: worship--which most often means in the scriptures quite simply to bow before someone/something--is undeniably a situational reality, something performed in space and time. In other words, the same tension seems to be at work in the actual content of Alma's rhetorical question that appears in its structure: worship--what the Zoramite poor are being denied--is at once a question of situational reality and a question of absolute being. Alma confirms this point with his reference to the time of worship in the next verse, but then the subject is left off until Alma 33:2. In other words, if Alma makes an appeal here to the tension bound up in the very question the Zoramites have raised, he seems to think it worth discussing the nature of the tension--though not the tension itself--as some length before returning to the precise tension of the issue raised by the Zoramite question. It is the textual tension, then, more than the tension of the content, that must guide intepretation of the remainder of the present chapter, and the tension of the content can be returned to subsequently in discussion of chapter 33.
  • Alma 32:11. Just as in verse 10, Alma presents a structural tension in his second rhetorical question: while the rhetorical question he asks makes an appeal to absolute reason, his "I would ask" and his "do ye suppose" together ground the question in the situational reality of the missionary encounter. That is, there is a tension between the absolute, non-situational reason one should employ in thinking the question being asked, and yet Alma is careful to keep things located immediately in the situation in which the question is asked. This tension has been building, of course, since verse 9, and it will come to a first fruition in verse 12; thereafter it will guide the interpretation of the remainder of the chapter (see the commentary for verses 8-10).
Moreover, if the content of the previous verse also embodies the same sort of tension by intertwining the concrete act of worship with the abstract idea of a kind of absolute worship, the same is accomplished in this verse. Verse 10 at once points to and subverts the concrete reality of place in the act of worship, while the present verse at once points to and subverts the concrete reality of time in the same. That is, together, these two verses underscore the absolute necessity of a concrete place and time for the concrete act of worship, and yet in their very nature as rhetorical questions, they seem together to imply that worship is something abstract, a sort of broader way of being rather than a concrete act. This tension, however, is left off at this point until Alma 33:2, while the remainder of the present chapter deals with the structural tension discussed in the paragraph above.
  • Alma 32:12: Learn wisdom. This phrase is used in 6 other instances in LDS scripture: 2 Ne 28:30; Mosiah 2:17; Alma 37:35; Alma 38:9; D&C 97:1; D&C 136:32. In 2 Ne 28:30, the image of a lengthened arm is used only two verses later (2 Ne 28:32), recalling Alma stretching forth his hand here in verse 7. Also, the teaching in that 2 Ne 28:30ff about more being given to those who receive seems quite similar to the situation here where the people seem willing to receive the Alma's word, and then Alma teaches them about how to exercise faith and receive more and more fruit from the tree growing from the word of God. Also of interest is the parallel in D&C 136:32 between the persecuted, modern Saints being driven out of their lands and homes they build with their own hands and these persecuted Zoramite poor who are driven out of the temple which they built with their own hands.
  • Alma 32:12. If verses 9-11 are characterized by appeal to absolute reason, it appears quite clear that Alma abandons any such appeal in the present verse. That is, the rhetorical questions have ended, and Alma turns rather to a sort of direct engagement of the Zoramite poor in very existential terms. Leaving off the rhetorical questions entirely (Alma himself does not answer them here), he returns in full force to the situational reality of the face-to-face encounter: "I say unto you." In four words, Alma brings the Zoramites to a direct engagement with himself, and anything he goes on to say in this verse will be characterized by that situational reality. In fact, if one is inclined to read the phrase immediately following these first four words as universal in some sense, it is worth pointing out that Alma uses the word "well" rather than the word "good" to make his first point: rather than making some absolute claim about their being cast out of their synagogues, Alma describes the situation as "well," relativizing it by using an adverb. Likewise, when Alma goes on to speak of the necessity of learning wisdom, he immediately relativizes that point as well: "it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom." Undeniably, every hint of the universal, of the absolute, of non-passional reason has disappeared when Alma turns to this verse.
Or perhaps not entirely, since Alma's injunction to the Zoramites is precisely that they "may learn wisdom," that universal, rational, absolute understanding that allows for the possibility of doing things well or decently. But if the very word "wisdom" reintroduces the absolute, it is only reintroduced in tension with the paired word "humble": "that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom." Without any doubt, humility is always a question of a direct encounter, of a face-to-face reality. The tension, then, of the previous two verses is reintroduced in the present verse: humility is connected with wisdom, in that the two arise together. Curiously, this same tension characterizes almost all of the Old Testament wisdom writings. While most scholars agree that the wisdom writings draw on universal understanding, on the collective wisdom of many nations, on ideas and beliefs that transcend the particularities of Israelite thinking, those same wisdom writings nonetheless relate learning this wisdom--constantly--to one's relation to Jehovah specifically. The tension is embodied wonderfully in the rather common saying: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (see Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; 9:10). If wisdom has some sort of absolute or universal appeal, it is nonetheless a direct result of the personal encounter one might have with a very personal and real God.
In the end, this same tension between the universal and the particular characterizes the whole of the present chapter: right through to the end of chapter 32, there is a constant appeal to reason (even in the form of experimentalism) coupled with Alma's strict reminders that every word being spoken (every word and all the words) is spoken in a particular place and at a particular time and according to a face-to-face encounter that requires the personal engagement called "faith." Over the course of the chapter, the face Alma puts on the relation between faith and reason is constantly changing as each verse adds its conditional take on that relation (albeit implicitly). In order to watch the unfolding dynamic of that relation (between faith and reason) throughout the chapter, then, it is worth first taking the time to identify how that relation appears in these first five verses of Alma's discourse.
What, then, is the relation between faith and reason as Alma lays it out in these first five verses, already shown to be quite rich in implication? And just asking the question this way draws out an important point that is too easily missed. Verse 9 offers an initial reading of the relation between faith and reason that the present verse overturns. When Alma cites the leading poor Zoramite's words, he seems to recognize in it an implicit exchange of faith for reason: "What shall we do?" makes an appeal to reason, seeks for reasons, for reasoning; and this appeal to reason overthrows what had been, before, an explicit life according to faith (the Zoramite poor had before been in their synagogues to "worship our God"). In a sense, the Zoramite appeal to Alma follows a simple logic: since we have been denied any possibility of a faith relation ("cast out of our synagogues"), we appeal to reason, we seek at the hands of reason some way to remain faithful. In short, the Zoramite poor seem to be trying to replace the faith relation with an alternate faith-like relation grounded in the categories of reason.
Verses 10-11 overthrow that implicit shift, but only with verse 12 does Alma make his point explicit: being "cast out of your synagogues" does not issue in a sort of necessary appeal to reason, but rather in "a lowliness of heart," being "necessarily brought to be humble." That is, in the end, the denial of their places in the synagogue results in the very possibility of faith, according to Alma. Whether Alma means by this to suggest that their religious practices before were quite clearly a sort of rational religion rather than a religion of faith is not quite clear, but that Alma seems to be reversing the implicit logic of verse 9 is certainly suggestive on these lines: the rational is exchanged for the faithful, not vice versa. This reversal is vital to the development of Alma's theme.
  • Alma 32:13-14. In a discourse perfectly saturated by the theme of the "word," verse 14 is undeniably fundamental: it marks the first instance of "word" in the discourse. The introduction is somewhat peculiar in that "the word" comes into the story in terms of the process of humiliation: "they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word." In fact, there are several difficulties about the very phrase in which "the word" appears, all of which must be dealt with at some length.
The idea being introduced in this difficult phrase is, it must be noticed, a new idea. The "And now" with which the verse begins is a rather common locution in the Book of Mormon for clearing the slate, or for making some other necessary break in the logic of discourse. Here it is clear that the phrase means something like: "But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's leave off that business and take up an earlier statement as a new point of departure." Curiously, the statement he takes up appears only in the previous verse (13), but the latter part of the previous verse makes a rather rapid series of steps to a point well beyond the question of being blessed through compelled humility. Here Alma returns to that point.
But if Alma returns to the question of compelled humility, he returns to it only to set it against a far better situation. That is, verse 14 opens up a kind of humility that outstrips the humility of verse 13, a kind of humility that is, regardless of its apparently lesser nature, nonetheless exalted (from "mercy" to being "saved" in so many words). If compelled humility, despite its lesser nature, results in salvation, it is worth considering the comparison and relation Alma introduces in verse 14 quite carefully. Set against compelled humility is a sort of chosen humility, perhaps even--as awful as it sounds--a willful humility. But the nature of this chosen humility is somewhat peculiar: one humbles oneself "because of the word." Perhaps what is emphasized here is the "heard" nature of the word: humility that issues from hearing is being exalted over humility that issues from something else, in fact, from seeing, as will become clear in verse 17.
At work, then, in verses 13-14 is a comparison between two kinds of humility, one that issues from seeing (the lesser) and one that issues from hearing (the greater). If the former can ("sometimes") result in repentance and therefore mercy (which, if found and maintained through endurance to the end, can result in salvation), the latter is only summed up for now as resulting in being "more blessed." What perhaps deserves closest scrutiny within consideration of these two verses particularly is how it is that "seeing" compels humility but not salvation, while "hearing" apparently does not compel humility but when it results in humility it is apparently more likely to result in salvation.
It might be, though there is of course absolutely no evidence for it, that there is a play on words at work on the level of the ancient language (assuming that some relation to the original Hebrew was, by this point, still intact). The most common root in the OT that becomes one form or another of the word "humility" is `nh, which has two different, but perhaps related, meanings (most scholars claim that there are two very different roots at work in the Hebrew language, though some try to connect the two roots as linked etymologically). In one register, `nh means "to answer" or "to respond"; in another register, it means "to subjugate" or even "to browbeat." Variations of the word "humility" are generally only read into the word when it appears to derive from the latter of these two meanings: to be humble is, in Hebrew, to be subjugated or conquered (the verb can even have reference to rape). Suggested here is a compelled humility, a humility that results from a show of power, an act of subjection. But over against this might be set the former meaning of the root: "to answer" or "to respond." If this verbal root might also be read as a facet of humility, it might be read to suggest a kind of chosen humility like the one mentioned above: in response or as answer to a call, one comes in humility before the caller. In short, there may be a play between two very different meanings of the same Hebrew root: a humility-as-subjected (`nwh) and a humility-as-response/answer (`nwh also?).
Ultimately, though, whether the linguistic speculation above is justified, something like the distinction worked out there is helpful in thinking about the two kinds of humility Alma discusses: one that responds to a call, over against one that is forced into its submission by a show of power. In the end, "seeing" issues in the latter kind of humility because the eyes are dazzled by the power of the other that imposes, while "hearing" issues in the former kind of humility because the ears are open to the calling word (the cry, even, for help?) of the other: a word, a summons, or a petition draws out a very different humility from a brazen show of absolute or total power.
It might be that "hearing-humility" opens the way to a greater blessing because it results in communion or in a real, personal relation: the one who hears a summoning word is called to an encounter, called perhaps to help the other, and so is called to communion, to a common work. On the other hand, "seeing-humility," because it follows the unquestionable show of power, is unavoidable, but it does not necessarily issue in salvation (which apparently must be thought relationally, communally) because one's ultimate subjection cancels the possibility of community. (All of this might be thought in terms of the difference between the servant and the son: the son hears the words of his father, while the servant receives the physical--the visible--rod.)
  • Alma 32:14-15. This comment focuses on political and rhetorical context discussed in the exegesis on verse 4. Why does Alma tell the poor people who are listening to him and who have been compelled to be humble that others who are humble without compulsion would be more blessed? Why risk alienating his audience by tactlessly saying that here, especially when he will say much the same thing more diplomatically in 24 - 25? The most likely answer is that the poor are not the intended audience for these remarks. Prior to the arrival of the poor, Alma had been addressing a multitude of the rich and powerful. While he is now directing his comments primarily to the poor, his previous audience is also still present. His suggestion that those who voluntarily humble themselves are especially blessed is probably meant for them.
  • Alma 32:15. An unresolved difficulty from the previous verse carries over into verse 15: how is it that one can "humble oneself" without the process being ultimately self-centered or proud by nature? That is, how can self-deprecation not be selfish? The wording this verse uses is curious though: "he that truly humbleth himself...." Might it be that Alma has two kinds of self-humiliation at work, one that he would label "true," and another he would label false? This calls on the wording at the close of verse 14: "who truly humble themselves because of the word." This phrase might be understood to suggest, along with the wording of verse 15, that all humbling is self-humbling, but that there are different ways to go about doing it. However, verse 6 may suggest otherwise, since there Alma rejoices because "their afflictions had truly humbled them." This may, in fact, suggest another way of reading the phrase with which verse 14 closes: that Alma feels it necessary to say "truly" as well as "because of the word" suggests that these are two separate, ultimately unconnected concepts: the trueness of one's humility is not a function of how one humbled oneself (whether "because of the word" in verse 14 or whether "compelled" to do so in verse 25).
But whatever else might be said about how one arrives at "true humility," it is clear in these verses that Alma understands the process to be a reflexive one: one humbles oneself. And so the difficulty remains: how can "true humility" (whether compelled or voluntary) be achieved through a self-imposed act (which would seem to imply a kind of self-ishness)? The difficulty seems to be all the more frustrating because the very nature of pride—presumably the opposite of humility—is self-ishness. Humbling onself sounds like an act of abrogating pride proudly. On the other hand and at the same time, how could humility ultimately be "true" if it were absolutely imposed on one? If pride is self-centeredness, it is not at all clear how any outside force could ever, in and of itself, annihilate one's focus on oneself. In the end, all that any "outside" influence can do is either to call (as a word) or to compel (as a force, but not as an absolute force). In fact, humility, it appears, is something that can only be an act of self, a kind of self-abrogation brought about by the self. This is as much as to say that humbling oneself is a paradoxical act: the self asserts itself in its own self-disregard. That is, in losing its "life," it finds it. One might say in the end that humility amounts to a reorientation of the self, a rupture of the self that allows it to survive precisely in that it becomes something else or is directed toward something else: rather than beholding nothing but itself in a mirror (pride), the self becomes a reflection of God's continually directedness towards the poor, the suffering, the teachable. Hence in humbling oneself, one humbles one's self, de-centers it, draws attention away from it, shows it that the whole world does not bow before it.
These musings clarify the call of the word: the suffering (servant?) speaks the word, calls one to offer relief, and so summons the self to relativize itself. But if what Alma means in speaking of those "who truly humble themselves because of the word" becomes clearer here, the meaning of being "compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty" becomes somewhat more difficult. That is, because the compelling agent cannot have absolute sway, it is not entirely clear where one should delineate the power of that agent. Where does one draw the line? Perhaps the answer is in verse 12, where Alma employs the phrase, "ye are necessarily brought to be humble." This might imply that being compelled is less a question of force than it is a question of necessity: when one is compelled to be humble, outside circumstances have made it necessary for one to humble oneself; that is, if one does not humble oneself, there are to be negative consequences the would-be humble would like to avoid. In a sense, this establishes the difference between the two kinds of humility Alma is describing. The greater one is to humble oneself because of the petition of the suffering; the lesser is to humble oneself by—essentially—threat. This seems to make sense of the tendency Alma has to label the greater "to humble oneself" and the lesser "to be compelled to be humble." In the one, one is active, while in the other, one is passive.
If this is ultimately the difference Alma is establishing here, then all of this opens onto the most important new point this verse introduces: that "much more blessed" are those who humble themselves according to the petition of the sufferer than those who "are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty." In fact, after all of the above comments, this last phrase becomes all the more significant. It suggests, in the end, a further difference between the two kinds of humility Alma is describing, and one that may ultimately go to the heart of the matter. The greater kind of humility—the one that results in the greater blessing—is a responsive humility, while the lesser kind of humility is ultimately a petitionary humility. That is, the two kinds of humility being explored here represent two figures who come face to face in a very real existential encounter: the one who is "compelled to be humble because of [his] exceeding poverty" petitions the one who "truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins." The one who is, in the end, compelled to be humble seeks sustenance at the hands of the one who willingly humbles herself, and far blessed is it to give willingly than to beg necessarily.
It is worth noting that something very like this situation is at work in the very encounter in which all of these words are spoken. Alma and his brethren have been teaching in all willing humility (though not one of his sons, which will become a major question later on; cf. Alma 39:2), and suddenly the Zoramite poor have come forward in compelled humility to petition Alma. The humble encounter the humble, but there are two very different kinds of humility at work here, as Alma himself is describing: responsive humility (when one humbles oneself) and petitionary humility (when one is compelled to be humble). Perhaps the most fascinating detail of all in all of this is that the former, the responsively humble, humble themselves precisely at the word of the latter, the petitionarily humble. All of this grounds the sharp turn the discourse takes in the next couple of verses.
  • Alma 32:16: Stubbornness. This word is used four other times in the Book of Mormon, all of which occur in the book of Alma: Alma 44:17; Alma 50:35; Alma 51:14, 21. In each case stubbornness is used in the pejorative. In Alma 44:17, it is used to describe Zerehemnah's defeated army that is not willing to enter into a covenant of peace. This may describe a degree of stubbornness analogous to the possibility that Alma suggests with the word "sometimes" in verse 13 ("for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance"). In Alma 50:35, stubbornness is used to describe a battle that broke out that was caused by a group of rebels lead by Morianton. It is perhaps suggestive that stubbornness lead to contention and violence, an extreme form of pitting-of-wills that is the opposite to the contrasting humility that Alma is describing here. In contrast, stubborness in Alma 51:14 and 21 is seemingly used to describe a starkly contrasting situation where Captain Moroni is addressing the kingmen who will not take up arms to defend their liberty. A point of similarity seems to be that, like the Zoramites here, the kingmen there seemed to be separating themselves from their own people.
  • Alma 32:16: Even. The use of "or even" here is odd. The context would suggest that "or even" would better modify "compelled to know" than "brought to know." With that reversal the sentence would read, "blessed is he that believe in the word of God, and is baptized ... without being compelled to know the word, or even brought to know, before they will believe." more...
  • Alma 32:16: Blessed. Starting in verse 8, the word blessed is used in this chapter eight times, this being the final occurrence. The word is not used again in Alma and Amulek's preaching to the Zoramite poor, except for Amulek's reference to blessings in Alma 34:38 at the very end of Alma and Amulke's preaching. Alma does, however, describe a process for obtaining fruit from a tree which grows from the word (the word of God, presumably). It may be that the description of the process for obtaining this fruit is effectively taking the place of Alma's repeated affirmation that the Zoramite poor are blessed. Or, perhaps the discontinuance of this phrase on Alma's part is implicitly emphasizing the contingent status of this blessed state, that the Zoramite poor are initially blessed because they are prepared to hear the word, but that blessed state will not last unless last unless they nourish the word that they are prepared to receive (and whether or not they nourish the word is yet to be seen). Another possibility is that this discontinuance is following the shift in Alma's discourse, moving away from a discussion of (individualistic) humilty and toward a discussion of (self-transgressive) faith and knowledge. In this case, the shift seems to suggest a forgetting-of-onself once one has become truly humble (see more on this in the discussion of negation and affirmation in the verse 17 exegesis).
  • Alma 32:16. It is only with this verse that Alma finally brings these questions of humility to bear on the question of faith—or at least, of belief. This change is perhaps signaled by the transitioning word "Therefore" with which the verse begins: the first part of this verse ("Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble") seems essentially to be a summary of everything that has gone before. If this is how Alma intended it, it is somewhat peculiar in a number of ways. For example, in the previous verses, there was a clear emphasis on the difference between two types of humility and hence on the relative blessedness of those who come to be humble in these two very different ways. Here, however, Alma reduces this whole discussion to a single point: blessed are those who humble themselves without the necessity of being humble. In fact, if this verse marks a kind of departure from earlier emphases, it might also be read as effecting a retroactive interpretation on the verses that precede it. When Alma introduces the theme of relative blessedness in verse 14, it appeared that he was simply introducing a better kind of humility, a kind of "extra mile" way of becoming humble. But here it becomes clear that he meant something else, really. Now it becomes clear that he meant something like "If one is compelled to be humble, praise the heavens because there is a possibility of repentance; but let's not allow anyone to believe that that is the way things are supposed to go: God's plan is ultimately laid out for those who will humble themselves because of the word!" If this more exclusive view is difficult to read in verses 14-15, it becomes clear at this point. In short, the place Alma has got to by this verse makes quite clear that verses 14-15 are to mark a corrective transition, a clarification of the use of the word "blessed" in relation to those who are humble because they are compelled to be so.
This retroactive interpretation Alma offers in clear terms here opens the possibility for a major transition in the discourse, from the question of humility to the question of faith. After reinterpretively summarizing the thrust of the previous verses, Alma announces quite explicitly that he is changing the story: "or rather, in other words...." These two little phrases are of the utmost importance interpretively: Alma is ready to translate this question of humility into another language so to speak, that of "belief" (or "faith"?) and "knowledge." It is significance that any mention of humility drops out of the verse after the word "rather." The new terms will dominate the remainder of the discourse (Alma does again return to the question of humility in verse 25, but only for a moment, and only as a kind of aside that assures that he does not consider all of the Zoramite poor to have been compelled to be humble. Even so, that verse seems somewhat out of place, and it is possible that there is an editing error at work in the text). From the start, it appears that the "translation" being effected is quite simple: "belief" or "faith" replaces "humbling oneself," and "knowledge" replaces "being compelled to be humble." But if this "translation" seems so simple at the beginning, it is not long before it becomes as complex as the previous verses.
It is interesting that baptism appears here in the discourse not only for the first time, but also for the last time! In fact, it is perhaps of vital importance that it only appears here, of all places, at the heart of this major transition in Alma's language (shifting from humility to the question of faith/knowledge). It is perhaps, on this account, also important that the phrase "stubbornness of heart" appears only at this point of the chapter and directly in connection with the question of baptism. But if both "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" are introduced here, the role they play in the logic of the discourse is hardly clear at first. For example, one might expect them to mediate the "translation" of terms, that is, to come between the question of humility and the question of faith/knowledge. In a broad sense, perhaps they do, but in the strict sense—looking very closely at this verse, that is—they do not: strictly speaking, "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" are introduced between belief and knowledge. Literarily, one might say that the question of "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" is stretched out between faith and knowledge, that it is posed by the clash between faith and knowledge, that it forms the very tension between faith and knowledge. And reading the verse quite straightforwardly, this seems precisely to be the point: if one might be "baptized without stubbornness of heart," which would apparently be an active manifestation of one's belief, there seems to be the implication that one might also do so with stubbornness of heart, which would apparently be an active manifestation of one's knowledge.
In fact, this last way of putting things emphasizes what is certainly central to this singular mention of baptism: here—and only here in this discourse—are faith and knowledge, compelled humility and willful humility, translated into action, into something that the believer or knower, the compelled-to-be-humble or the willfully-humble, does. Here, then, at the very heart of the discourse, where Alma can exchange the language of humility (with its individualistic emphasis) for the language of faith/knowledge (with its inter-personal emphasis, that is, with its emphasis on self-transgression), all of these questions surface, as it were, rising up into the level of the active, of the "real." What is fascinating about this "surfacing" is that both faith and knowledge, just as both kinds of humility, (can) result in the same outward, active manifestation: baptism. That only here is there a question of this outward, active manifestation highlights an important facet of Alma's discourse: he is not so much trying to teach the Zoramite poor about what they should do as he is trying to get them to think about the motivations and—more importantly—the relations that underlie or even propel one's doings. At least to some degree, it is this de-emphasis on the active that grounds the Zoramites' question in the first verse of the next chapter. In fact, the way the Zoramites ask the question there perhaps betrays the fact that they hardly understood what Alma was trying to accomplish in this discourse, but that question will have to be explored further along in the text.
In the course of these last comments, a most important aspect of what is at work has emerged: this "translation" of terms amounts to an emphatic shift from the individualistic to the self-transgressive, and this shift remains to be explored. And it will become clear that the transitioning "stubbornness of heart" will lie at the core of this question. It should be pointed out that humility is, of course, always a question of engagement: one only humbles oneself at the call or under the gaze of another. However, whether it is the commanding gaze or the petitioning word that brings it about, humility is ultimately something individual, an act—to some degree at the very least—that one wills to do. Moreover, the word "humility" points more to a state of affairs, to a way of being in the world, than it does to an interpersonal relation. That is, humility remains a question of the individual, though it bears a mark or the trace of an-other. Over against this, however, is the relation of belief/faith, as well as the relation of knowledge. If the former is quite clearly an inter-personal relation in English, the latter certainly is in Hebrew (and in the Indo-European root from which the English comes): one knows someone or something, just as one believes (or has faith in) someone or something. Both faith and knowledge, that is, imply a transgression of the self, a kind of transcendence. The importance of Alma's "translation" here is therefore to be found in the connection between these two forms of self-transgression and the relative marks or traces they leave on the humble individual. Alma draws a connection between humbling oneself by the word and believing, as he draws a connection between being compelled to be humble and knowing. This is made especially clear by the phrases "being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know." The point, in the end, seems to be this: though both knowledge and faith result in humility, the humble knower bears the mark of the violence of knowledge, while the humble believer bears the trace of the revelation of faith. The difference between these two kinds of humility is bound up with one's stubbornness—or greatness—of heart: the hard heart must be broken in the violence of "being brought to know..., even compelled to know," while the soft heart has written in it the lawful word of the other (cf. Jer 31:33).
But if in the previous verses (that is, before the translation) Alma deals only with the distinction between the two kinds of humility, it is only here with the translation of humility into the faith/knowledge distinction that Alma can begin to relate the two to each other productively. That is, in dealing with humility alone, Alma only opposes the two kinds of humility, but here he begins to explore the relation between faith and knowledge. That these two intertwined or are connected is vital, since the interrelation between them becomes the subject matter of the remainder of the discourse. It is probably important to note, on this point, that Alma can only explore the relationship between the two kinds of humility once the common term of "humility" is translated out of the discussion. Though the two humilities are different from each other, Alma has intimated from the start that both are good situations, precisely because they are both humilities. In order to discuss how they relate to one another, or in order to set the one above the other and then explore how one might exchange the one for the other, Alma must translate the two versions of humility into a stronger opposition, an opposition that is not obviously mediated by a shared middle term. The translation of humility into the pair faith/knowledge allows Alma to do this, and it is already in this first verse that he begins to explore the curious relationship between faith and knowledge. The relationship, as Alma lays it out in this first verse on the subject: faith can but does not need to follow knowledge.
Obviously the terms of this first formulation are hardly clear yet (having only just been translated), but perhaps a couple of basic things can be said about this first explanation of the relation between faith and knowledge. To say that faith—or belief—can follow knowledge is to call into question common presuppositions about the relation between faith and knowledge. Alma's very first word on this subject clearly suggests that while faith does not need to follow knowledge, it certainly can. Over against this, one generally assumes that faith is a necessary step on the way towards knowledge, not vice versa. This common view might be confirmed on one level in the assertion that one can believe before knowing, but it seems to be quite clearly contradicted with the assertion that one might be "brought to know... or even compelled to know, before they will believe." There are several possible ways of explaining this difficulty from the start. For example, one might assume that belief or faith is a kind of practical relation while knowledge is a purely intellectual or rational relation. On such a reading, one might point to the example of the person who knows better than to do something, but does it anyway because she does not exercise belief/faith in the practical moment. While there is a certain appeal in this reading, however, it seems to do some violence to the meaning of the word "belief." Another way this might be read is to suggest that Alma is trying to talk about a very unlikely occurrence when he mentions knowing before believing. That is, perhaps he assumes with the rest of humankind that belief generally precedes knowledge as it clearly does in scientific method, but that there are occasions where someone will simply confront something so directly that anything like "method" has been canceled by the suddenness of the knowledge, as when someone experiences a phenomenon before being taught about it. There is perhaps also some appeal in this reading of the situation, but there is obviously some danger in reducing all knowledge and belief relations to a scientific or methodological point of view.
Perhaps the best and most fruitful way to read this curious relation between faith and knowledge is to relegate faith to one kind of experience, something one might call "religious" or even "ethical" (both of which might be summed up in the word "spiritual"), and knowledge to another kind of experience, something one might call "historical" or even "scientific" (both of which might be summed up in the word "temporal"). This reading perhaps has the potential to reduce or even to cancel the implied relation between faith and knowledge, but if it is treated carefully, it will not. But what does it mean to divide things up this way? Perhaps a few words can be said about it even at this early point in the discourse.
Even this early in the discourse, one can delineate the difference between knowing the word and believing the word. To believe something—to trust something, to have faith in something—is to give oneself to it without reserve. That is, it is not to count the cost, not to subject the thing in question to a kind of economic test. Rather, to believe is simply to give onself over, for better or for worse. On the other hand, to know the word is to appropriate it. If faith is a handing over of oneself, knowledge is a grasping, a taking, a kind of conquest. To know the word, one must be able to define it (that is, to finitize it), to label or name it, to explain it. To trust the word, one needs merely to fall before it, to give it full sway. It seems quite clear, then, what it means to say that faith can be called "religious," "ethical," or "spiritual": to believe is to sacrifice oneself in the name of the trusted, in the name of the other, of God. And it seems quite clear what it means to say that knowledge can be called "historical," "scientific," or "temporal": to know is to draw the other into one's own history, into one's own way of thinking about the world. But what is most important about the way this verse says things—and from the very beginning—is that faith and knowledge both center on the word. The word is, of course, the very mainstay of the scientific (from nomenclature to the published paper); but the word is just as much what the calling God and the petitioning sufferer speaks (from "be ye perfect" to "help!"). In short, the word can play two very different roles, and the remainder of this discourse is to work out these interrelations.
  • Alma 32:16: Without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know. It seems curious that Alma seems to be describing here a state which does not apply to those whom he is addressing. That is, if he is addressing the poor who have been compelled to be humble, why does he mention the possibility that they could've humbled themselves through the word of God without being compelled? It may be that Alma is describing a process which will apply to them again in the future sometime—that is, just because they're currently humble, does not mean that they will remain humble. This idea seems to be supported in verses 24-25 where Alma elaborates on what he may've been intending here. It may also be that that Alma knows that his words will be heard by those who have not humbled themselves and so he is mentioning this for their benefit.

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  • Alma 32:6: Did Alma actually listen to everything the chiefest member of the multitude of the poor said to him? "And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him." It almost seems like he wasn't really paying attention until perhaps some key phrase (that perhaps verse 8 and 9 hint at) was mentioned, and then he decided to engage the multitude seriously. How can this response to the multitude help us understand Alma's discourse?
  • Alma 32:6: Turned him about and face. In Hebrew, the word for face, paniym comes from a root meaning "to turn." Might there be a sort of underlying word play at work here? What is the significance of Alma facing the multitude before he rejoices in their humility? In 2 Ne 13:15 and 2 Ne 26:20, the phrase "faces of the poor" is used. Is there something significant about looking into someone's face (cf. the phrase "face to face" used in these scriptures), esp. the face of the poor, that is at work here?
  • Alma 32:7: Stretched forth his hand. Why is it that Alma "stretched forth his hand"? Why is this an important detail to note? Note that Christ does this when blessing the multitude in 3 Ne 12:1. See also the note at Ex 6:6 for more cross-references.
  • Alma 32:8: Behold. The use of the word "behold" in the beginning of this verse is followed in verses 8-10 with the use of the word "behold" (the word "beheld" is also used in verse 7). What is the significance of the repetition of this word? Is this related to the discussion of sign-seekers who want to see before they will believe? Is this related to the turning and facing that Alma is said to do in verse 7? Might this word mark the beginning of a genuine discourse, where Alma is attentively taking in the particular state of the multitude, and asking (in v. 9) for the multitude to carefully pay attention to, or give place to, his words?
  • Alma 32:12: Necessary and necessarily. Why does Alma say "it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom"? Is it necessary in order to obtain something, or something else? Does the statement "ye are necessarily brought to be humble" related to this? Is the "forced" sense in which they are brought to humble related to the reason it is necessary to learn wisdom? Is there a better, non-necessary way to learn wisdom, or is it necessary for everyone to learn wisdom, as Alma is using the phrase?
  • Alma 32:12: Wisdom vs. knowledge. What does Alma have in mind when he says "wisdom" here? How should this be understood in light of the later discussion of knowledge? How does wisdom differ from knowledge? How does wisdom relate to humility? Is a particular action required to be humble?
  • Alma 32:12: Exceeding poverty. Why does Alma refer to the "exceeding poverty" of his listeners here? Should "exceeding" be read as equivalent to "very," or is something more going on with the use of this adjective? Might this be suggesting an over-whelming role of their poverty, poverty that exceeds their pride or something?

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Alma 32:11-15

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:6-16
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapter 32. The relationship of Verses 32:6-16 to the rest of Chapter 32 is discussed at Chapter 32.

Story. Verses 32:6-16 consists of ___ major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 32:6-16 include:

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  • Alma 32:6: They were in preparation to hear the word. Compare Alma 16:14-16 where "no inequality" and not having "any respect of persons" is linked to the people being prepared to receive God's word (although there, curiously, the word there refers to "the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming").
  • Alma 32:6: In a preparation. This phrasing seems somewhat awkward. Saying "they were prepared" would seem more natural in English than "in a preparation." One way to understand this wording might be to consider "preparation" in somewhat scientific terms. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (try clicking here) lists definition II.8.b. as, "A specimen that has been prepared for medical or other scientific examination, display, etc." This way of reading this curious wording seems to highlight (1) the "experiment" wording that Alma will use later in the chapter, and (2) the way in which the poor were compelled to be humble by outside circumstances (cf. definition II.8.a., "A specimen prepared or made up of substance, as a medicine, cosmetic foodstuff, etc."). This second point seems to suggest that the people were in a situation of external circumstances such that they would react positively to hearing the word, not that there was anything particularly internal that was ready to hear the word.
  • Alma 32:6. Alma is happy that the people are in teachable circumstances. He is not rejoicing because of their temporal trials, but that their trials have made them receptive to learning that they can worship the Lord in all aspects of their lives.
The phrase "in a preparation to hear the word of God" seems a bit unusual, if not awkward. However, an interesting use of the word prepare in the KJV of Ex 15:2 might help open up an interesting reading of this phrase. In Ex 15:2, the Hebrew word navah is translated (effectively) as "prepare a habitation" in a hymn of praise. This lexical relationship in Hebrew between praising and dwelling highlights a kind of reversal that is going on here between the Zoramites who do not give place to the Zoramite poor to worship, and the Zoramite poor who give a place for Alma and Amulek to preach.
  • Alma 32:7. The first word of this verse, "therefore," is curious. It seems to be a continuation of, and yet abrupt end to, the relationship between the poor and non-poor Zoramites which has formed such an important theme in these first few verses of the chapter. The very mention of the fact that Alma "say[s] no more to the other multitude" seems a bit superfluous. That is, why doesn't the narrator just move on with the narrative and let the course of the narrative demonstrate the fact that Alma says no more to the other multitude? It seems there is a kind of scarcity or economics that is being emphasized here: Alma turns away from the non-poor because the other multitude was humble—metaphorically, Alma is taking his seed and casting to the most fertile ground he can find. This first phrase of the verse might be profitably considered in light of Alma 12:10ff where Alma talks explicitly about those who will receive the "lesser portion" of the word. Although it seems there are many similarities between Alma's discussion there and here, such a comparison seems to make the "therefore" here all the more striking. That is, it seems here that the extent to which the non-poor receive the word is not just contingent on their own reception or hard-heartedness toward the word, but also on the next best alternative that Alma faces.
  • Alma 32:8: Behold. The word "behold" is used several times in this sermon, esp. here in verses 8-10. In Alma 26, Ammon also uses the word "behold" very frequently. The use of the word in this chapter and in this part of the chapter seems significant because of the theme of being cast out vs. hearing, giving place, and receiving the word of God. Also, in the following chapter, Alma will refer to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness who did not perform the easy task of casting their eyes on Moses's staff in order to be healed. Thus, "behold" might be taken here as an important and emphatic plea on Alma's part to ultimately look toward Christ and genuinely receive the word of God that Alma is preaching.
  • Alma 32:8. Alma first addresses the mental/spiritual state of the Zoramite poor. The point is rather clear, and certainly rather common in scripture: if they are humble, and Alma judges them so to be, then they are blessed, because they are able to be taught. There is no mystery in his claim. But what is ultimately very interesting about this verse is that it is so isolated. It marks the first word of a chapters-long discourse, the first word of a widely celebrated speech by Alma, the first word of the event that will result in the all-out years-long war that consumes the remainder of the Book of Alma. And yet it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the verses that immediately follow it. Either Alma is a very inconsistent speaker, changing gears a dozen words into his discourse (something the editor of the text had the duty to rearrange or fix somehow), or Alma is doing something rather surprising (something the editor of the text was well aware of, and which that editor would have wanted the reader to pick up on). If verse 9 marks a major departure from the content of this first word, Alma nonetheless returns to the subject in verse 12 to form an inclusio, that is, to section off verses 8-12 as a sort of textual unit worth discussing in and of itself. The role these five verses play in the discourse Alma is here giving is enormous: interpretation of the whole of the seed/word analogy depends on how one reads these first verses.
  • Alma 32:9. Following the critical language of verse 8 (critical in the technical sense, not the pejorative), which draws very much on the face-to-face situation in which the Zoramites and Alma find themselves (simply put: Alma engages the Zoramites quite personally in verse 8), verse 9 is marked by an appeal to the realm of absolute reason, an appeal that is to come to fruition (albeit ironically) in verse 10. That is, if in verse 8 Alma engages the Zoramites personally in his critical assessment of their mental/spiritual state, in verse 9 he simply notes a fact--a particular statement by the proffered Zoramite--apparently leaving the relational (Alma and the Zoramites) to speak in more universal terms, in more absolute terms, in more rational or even philosophical terms. However, even in the appeal to reason, Alma relativizes it: this is not a question of a universal proposition ("one might say"), but of something the Zoramites have specifically said ("thy brother hath said"). In the end, then, this verse is marked by a sort of tension between the situational reality of Alma's facing the Zoramites and an appeal to reason (taken, as it always must be, in absolute terms). This tension, however, can be explored more carefully in the next verse, where it comes to fruition.
  • Alma 32:10. This verse presents an obviously rhetorical question. But categorization is not enough here: the nature of rhetorical questions greatly affects the meaning of this verse. A rhetorical question is curious precisely because it is not to be answered. That is, a rhetorical question purposefully stops up conversation, encounter, engagement, and situation. In effect, a rhetorical question calls for an abolition of the existential reality of the face-to-face encounter, and it makes this call in the name of reason, of absolute reason. In other words, Alma's question, precisely because it does not call for an answer, is presupposed to have an answer logically bound up within itself anyway. The question, that is, is understood from the very start to call on a sort of universal or absolute reason in order to provide the answer, without the necessity of the situational realization of that answer. In short, a rhetorical question is always, in and of itself, an appeal to non-passional, non-situational, non-personal reason.
But even as Alma's rhetorical question makes its obvious appeal, it calls that very appeal into question. In fact, it does so doubly, and it does so from the very start, questioning the absolution of reason through and through. Doubly: "Behold I say unto you" on the one hand, and "do ye suppose" on the other. In a sense, these two phrases cancel the nature of the rhetorical question. Or rather, they reveal more precisely the essence of a rhetorical question: a rhetorical question is precisely rhetorical because it is bound up with rhetoric, the situational reality, the face-to-face encounter that calls for rhetoric in the first place. In that Alma specifically mentions his own speaking, and because he specifically mentions the audience's supposing, he recognizes explicitly--and twice--that his appeal to absolute reason is situational, is relative. In short, just as verse 9, this verse is characterized by a fundamental tension: Alma at once makes an appeal to absolute reason and cancels the same in a return to the situational, the relative. The tension opens here, and it continues to build over the next two verses.
Perhaps ironically, this textual insight into the tension between the situational and the absolute parallels wonderfully the actual content of Alma's rhetorical question (and in this way it prepares for the major discussion of the seed/word still to come). In suggesting, according to the unspoken answer to the question, that worship outstrips place (and in the next verse, time), Alma makes an appeal to a sort of absolute form of worship, perhaps a way of being that might saturate every place (and, for that matter, every time). At the same time, however, it is quite clear that worship must take place somewhere, at some time: worship--which most often means in the scriptures quite simply to bow before someone/something--is undeniably a situational reality, something performed in space and time. In other words, the same tension seems to be at work in the actual content of Alma's rhetorical question that appears in its structure: worship--what the Zoramite poor are being denied--is at once a question of situational reality and a question of absolute being. Alma confirms this point with his reference to the time of worship in the next verse, but then the subject is left off until Alma 33:2. In other words, if Alma makes an appeal here to the tension bound up in the very question the Zoramites have raised, he seems to think it worth discussing the nature of the tension--though not the tension itself--as some length before returning to the precise tension of the issue raised by the Zoramite question. It is the textual tension, then, more than the tension of the content, that must guide intepretation of the remainder of the present chapter, and the tension of the content can be returned to subsequently in discussion of chapter 33.
  • Alma 32:11. Just as in verse 10, Alma presents a structural tension in his second rhetorical question: while the rhetorical question he asks makes an appeal to absolute reason, his "I would ask" and his "do ye suppose" together ground the question in the situational reality of the missionary encounter. That is, there is a tension between the absolute, non-situational reason one should employ in thinking the question being asked, and yet Alma is careful to keep things located immediately in the situation in which the question is asked. This tension has been building, of course, since verse 9, and it will come to a first fruition in verse 12; thereafter it will guide the interpretation of the remainder of the chapter (see the commentary for verses 8-10).
Moreover, if the content of the previous verse also embodies the same sort of tension by intertwining the concrete act of worship with the abstract idea of a kind of absolute worship, the same is accomplished in this verse. Verse 10 at once points to and subverts the concrete reality of place in the act of worship, while the present verse at once points to and subverts the concrete reality of time in the same. That is, together, these two verses underscore the absolute necessity of a concrete place and time for the concrete act of worship, and yet in their very nature as rhetorical questions, they seem together to imply that worship is something abstract, a sort of broader way of being rather than a concrete act. This tension, however, is left off at this point until Alma 33:2, while the remainder of the present chapter deals with the structural tension discussed in the paragraph above.
  • Alma 32:12: Learn wisdom. This phrase is used in 6 other instances in LDS scripture: 2 Ne 28:30; Mosiah 2:17; Alma 37:35; Alma 38:9; D&C 97:1; D&C 136:32. In 2 Ne 28:30, the image of a lengthened arm is used only two verses later (2 Ne 28:32), recalling Alma stretching forth his hand here in verse 7. Also, the teaching in that 2 Ne 28:30ff about more being given to those who receive seems quite similar to the situation here where the people seem willing to receive the Alma's word, and then Alma teaches them about how to exercise faith and receive more and more fruit from the tree growing from the word of God. Also of interest is the parallel in D&C 136:32 between the persecuted, modern Saints being driven out of their lands and homes they build with their own hands and these persecuted Zoramite poor who are driven out of the temple which they built with their own hands.
  • Alma 32:12. If verses 9-11 are characterized by appeal to absolute reason, it appears quite clear that Alma abandons any such appeal in the present verse. That is, the rhetorical questions have ended, and Alma turns rather to a sort of direct engagement of the Zoramite poor in very existential terms. Leaving off the rhetorical questions entirely (Alma himself does not answer them here), he returns in full force to the situational reality of the face-to-face encounter: "I say unto you." In four words, Alma brings the Zoramites to a direct engagement with himself, and anything he goes on to say in this verse will be characterized by that situational reality. In fact, if one is inclined to read the phrase immediately following these first four words as universal in some sense, it is worth pointing out that Alma uses the word "well" rather than the word "good" to make his first point: rather than making some absolute claim about their being cast out of their synagogues, Alma describes the situation as "well," relativizing it by using an adverb. Likewise, when Alma goes on to speak of the necessity of learning wisdom, he immediately relativizes that point as well: "it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom." Undeniably, every hint of the universal, of the absolute, of non-passional reason has disappeared when Alma turns to this verse.
Or perhaps not entirely, since Alma's injunction to the Zoramites is precisely that they "may learn wisdom," that universal, rational, absolute understanding that allows for the possibility of doing things well or decently. But if the very word "wisdom" reintroduces the absolute, it is only reintroduced in tension with the paired word "humble": "that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom." Without any doubt, humility is always a question of a direct encounter, of a face-to-face reality. The tension, then, of the previous two verses is reintroduced in the present verse: humility is connected with wisdom, in that the two arise together. Curiously, this same tension characterizes almost all of the Old Testament wisdom writings. While most scholars agree that the wisdom writings draw on universal understanding, on the collective wisdom of many nations, on ideas and beliefs that transcend the particularities of Israelite thinking, those same wisdom writings nonetheless relate learning this wisdom--constantly--to one's relation to Jehovah specifically. The tension is embodied wonderfully in the rather common saying: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (see Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; 9:10). If wisdom has some sort of absolute or universal appeal, it is nonetheless a direct result of the personal encounter one might have with a very personal and real God.
In the end, this same tension between the universal and the particular characterizes the whole of the present chapter: right through to the end of chapter 32, there is a constant appeal to reason (even in the form of experimentalism) coupled with Alma's strict reminders that every word being spoken (every word and all the words) is spoken in a particular place and at a particular time and according to a face-to-face encounter that requires the personal engagement called "faith." Over the course of the chapter, the face Alma puts on the relation between faith and reason is constantly changing as each verse adds its conditional take on that relation (albeit implicitly). In order to watch the unfolding dynamic of that relation (between faith and reason) throughout the chapter, then, it is worth first taking the time to identify how that relation appears in these first five verses of Alma's discourse.
What, then, is the relation between faith and reason as Alma lays it out in these first five verses, already shown to be quite rich in implication? And just asking the question this way draws out an important point that is too easily missed. Verse 9 offers an initial reading of the relation between faith and reason that the present verse overturns. When Alma cites the leading poor Zoramite's words, he seems to recognize in it an implicit exchange of faith for reason: "What shall we do?" makes an appeal to reason, seeks for reasons, for reasoning; and this appeal to reason overthrows what had been, before, an explicit life according to faith (the Zoramite poor had before been in their synagogues to "worship our God"). In a sense, the Zoramite appeal to Alma follows a simple logic: since we have been denied any possibility of a faith relation ("cast out of our synagogues"), we appeal to reason, we seek at the hands of reason some way to remain faithful. In short, the Zoramite poor seem to be trying to replace the faith relation with an alternate faith-like relation grounded in the categories of reason.
Verses 10-11 overthrow that implicit shift, but only with verse 12 does Alma make his point explicit: being "cast out of your synagogues" does not issue in a sort of necessary appeal to reason, but rather in "a lowliness of heart," being "necessarily brought to be humble." That is, in the end, the denial of their places in the synagogue results in the very possibility of faith, according to Alma. Whether Alma means by this to suggest that their religious practices before were quite clearly a sort of rational religion rather than a religion of faith is not quite clear, but that Alma seems to be reversing the implicit logic of verse 9 is certainly suggestive on these lines: the rational is exchanged for the faithful, not vice versa. This reversal is vital to the development of Alma's theme.
  • Alma 32:13-14. In a discourse perfectly saturated by the theme of the "word," verse 14 is undeniably fundamental: it marks the first instance of "word" in the discourse. The introduction is somewhat peculiar in that "the word" comes into the story in terms of the process of humiliation: "they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word." In fact, there are several difficulties about the very phrase in which "the word" appears, all of which must be dealt with at some length.
The idea being introduced in this difficult phrase is, it must be noticed, a new idea. The "And now" with which the verse begins is a rather common locution in the Book of Mormon for clearing the slate, or for making some other necessary break in the logic of discourse. Here it is clear that the phrase means something like: "But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's leave off that business and take up an earlier statement as a new point of departure." Curiously, the statement he takes up appears only in the previous verse (13), but the latter part of the previous verse makes a rather rapid series of steps to a point well beyond the question of being blessed through compelled humility. Here Alma returns to that point.
But if Alma returns to the question of compelled humility, he returns to it only to set it against a far better situation. That is, verse 14 opens up a kind of humility that outstrips the humility of verse 13, a kind of humility that is, regardless of its apparently lesser nature, nonetheless exalted (from "mercy" to being "saved" in so many words). If compelled humility, despite its lesser nature, results in salvation, it is worth considering the comparison and relation Alma introduces in verse 14 quite carefully. Set against compelled humility is a sort of chosen humility, perhaps even--as awful as it sounds--a willful humility. But the nature of this chosen humility is somewhat peculiar: one humbles oneself "because of the word." Perhaps what is emphasized here is the "heard" nature of the word: humility that issues from hearing is being exalted over humility that issues from something else, in fact, from seeing, as will become clear in verse 17.
At work, then, in verses 13-14 is a comparison between two kinds of humility, one that issues from seeing (the lesser) and one that issues from hearing (the greater). If the former can ("sometimes") result in repentance and therefore mercy (which, if found and maintained through endurance to the end, can result in salvation), the latter is only summed up for now as resulting in being "more blessed." What perhaps deserves closest scrutiny within consideration of these two verses particularly is how it is that "seeing" compels humility but not salvation, while "hearing" apparently does not compel humility but when it results in humility it is apparently more likely to result in salvation.
It might be, though there is of course absolutely no evidence for it, that there is a play on words at work on the level of the ancient language (assuming that some relation to the original Hebrew was, by this point, still intact). The most common root in the OT that becomes one form or another of the word "humility" is `nh, which has two different, but perhaps related, meanings (most scholars claim that there are two very different roots at work in the Hebrew language, though some try to connect the two roots as linked etymologically). In one register, `nh means "to answer" or "to respond"; in another register, it means "to subjugate" or even "to browbeat." Variations of the word "humility" are generally only read into the word when it appears to derive from the latter of these two meanings: to be humble is, in Hebrew, to be subjugated or conquered (the verb can even have reference to rape). Suggested here is a compelled humility, a humility that results from a show of power, an act of subjection. But over against this might be set the former meaning of the root: "to answer" or "to respond." If this verbal root might also be read as a facet of humility, it might be read to suggest a kind of chosen humility like the one mentioned above: in response or as answer to a call, one comes in humility before the caller. In short, there may be a play between two very different meanings of the same Hebrew root: a humility-as-subjected (`nwh) and a humility-as-response/answer (`nwh also?).
Ultimately, though, whether the linguistic speculation above is justified, something like the distinction worked out there is helpful in thinking about the two kinds of humility Alma discusses: one that responds to a call, over against one that is forced into its submission by a show of power. In the end, "seeing" issues in the latter kind of humility because the eyes are dazzled by the power of the other that imposes, while "hearing" issues in the former kind of humility because the ears are open to the calling word (the cry, even, for help?) of the other: a word, a summons, or a petition draws out a very different humility from a brazen show of absolute or total power.
It might be that "hearing-humility" opens the way to a greater blessing because it results in communion or in a real, personal relation: the one who hears a summoning word is called to an encounter, called perhaps to help the other, and so is called to communion, to a common work. On the other hand, "seeing-humility," because it follows the unquestionable show of power, is unavoidable, but it does not necessarily issue in salvation (which apparently must be thought relationally, communally) because one's ultimate subjection cancels the possibility of community. (All of this might be thought in terms of the difference between the servant and the son: the son hears the words of his father, while the servant receives the physical--the visible--rod.)
  • Alma 32:14-15. This comment focuses on political and rhetorical context discussed in the exegesis on verse 4. Why does Alma tell the poor people who are listening to him and who have been compelled to be humble that others who are humble without compulsion would be more blessed? Why risk alienating his audience by tactlessly saying that here, especially when he will say much the same thing more diplomatically in 24 - 25? The most likely answer is that the poor are not the intended audience for these remarks. Prior to the arrival of the poor, Alma had been addressing a multitude of the rich and powerful. While he is now directing his comments primarily to the poor, his previous audience is also still present. His suggestion that those who voluntarily humble themselves are especially blessed is probably meant for them.
  • Alma 32:15. An unresolved difficulty from the previous verse carries over into verse 15: how is it that one can "humble oneself" without the process being ultimately self-centered or proud by nature? That is, how can self-deprecation not be selfish? The wording this verse uses is curious though: "he that truly humbleth himself...." Might it be that Alma has two kinds of self-humiliation at work, one that he would label "true," and another he would label false? This calls on the wording at the close of verse 14: "who truly humble themselves because of the word." This phrase might be understood to suggest, along with the wording of verse 15, that all humbling is self-humbling, but that there are different ways to go about doing it. However, verse 6 may suggest otherwise, since there Alma rejoices because "their afflictions had truly humbled them." This may, in fact, suggest another way of reading the phrase with which verse 14 closes: that Alma feels it necessary to say "truly" as well as "because of the word" suggests that these are two separate, ultimately unconnected concepts: the trueness of one's humility is not a function of how one humbled oneself (whether "because of the word" in verse 14 or whether "compelled" to do so in verse 25).
But whatever else might be said about how one arrives at "true humility," it is clear in these verses that Alma understands the process to be a reflexive one: one humbles oneself. And so the difficulty remains: how can "true humility" (whether compelled or voluntary) be achieved through a self-imposed act (which would seem to imply a kind of self-ishness)? The difficulty seems to be all the more frustrating because the very nature of pride—presumably the opposite of humility—is self-ishness. Humbling onself sounds like an act of abrogating pride proudly. On the other hand and at the same time, how could humility ultimately be "true" if it were absolutely imposed on one? If pride is self-centeredness, it is not at all clear how any outside force could ever, in and of itself, annihilate one's focus on oneself. In the end, all that any "outside" influence can do is either to call (as a word) or to compel (as a force, but not as an absolute force). In fact, humility, it appears, is something that can only be an act of self, a kind of self-abrogation brought about by the self. This is as much as to say that humbling oneself is a paradoxical act: the self asserts itself in its own self-disregard. That is, in losing its "life," it finds it. One might say in the end that humility amounts to a reorientation of the self, a rupture of the self that allows it to survive precisely in that it becomes something else or is directed toward something else: rather than beholding nothing but itself in a mirror (pride), the self becomes a reflection of God's continually directedness towards the poor, the suffering, the teachable. Hence in humbling oneself, one humbles one's self, de-centers it, draws attention away from it, shows it that the whole world does not bow before it.
These musings clarify the call of the word: the suffering (servant?) speaks the word, calls one to offer relief, and so summons the self to relativize itself. But if what Alma means in speaking of those "who truly humble themselves because of the word" becomes clearer here, the meaning of being "compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty" becomes somewhat more difficult. That is, because the compelling agent cannot have absolute sway, it is not entirely clear where one should delineate the power of that agent. Where does one draw the line? Perhaps the answer is in verse 12, where Alma employs the phrase, "ye are necessarily brought to be humble." This might imply that being compelled is less a question of force than it is a question of necessity: when one is compelled to be humble, outside circumstances have made it necessary for one to humble oneself; that is, if one does not humble oneself, there are to be negative consequences the would-be humble would like to avoid. In a sense, this establishes the difference between the two kinds of humility Alma is describing. The greater one is to humble oneself because of the petition of the suffering; the lesser is to humble oneself by—essentially—threat. This seems to make sense of the tendency Alma has to label the greater "to humble oneself" and the lesser "to be compelled to be humble." In the one, one is active, while in the other, one is passive.
If this is ultimately the difference Alma is establishing here, then all of this opens onto the most important new point this verse introduces: that "much more blessed" are those who humble themselves according to the petition of the sufferer than those who "are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty." In fact, after all of the above comments, this last phrase becomes all the more significant. It suggests, in the end, a further difference between the two kinds of humility Alma is describing, and one that may ultimately go to the heart of the matter. The greater kind of humility—the one that results in the greater blessing—is a responsive humility, while the lesser kind of humility is ultimately a petitionary humility. That is, the two kinds of humility being explored here represent two figures who come face to face in a very real existential encounter: the one who is "compelled to be humble because of [his] exceeding poverty" petitions the one who "truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins." The one who is, in the end, compelled to be humble seeks sustenance at the hands of the one who willingly humbles herself, and far blessed is it to give willingly than to beg necessarily.
It is worth noting that something very like this situation is at work in the very encounter in which all of these words are spoken. Alma and his brethren have been teaching in all willing humility (though not one of his sons, which will become a major question later on; cf. Alma 39:2), and suddenly the Zoramite poor have come forward in compelled humility to petition Alma. The humble encounter the humble, but there are two very different kinds of humility at work here, as Alma himself is describing: responsive humility (when one humbles oneself) and petitionary humility (when one is compelled to be humble). Perhaps the most fascinating detail of all in all of this is that the former, the responsively humble, humble themselves precisely at the word of the latter, the petitionarily humble. All of this grounds the sharp turn the discourse takes in the next couple of verses.
  • Alma 32:16: Stubbornness. This word is used four other times in the Book of Mormon, all of which occur in the book of Alma: Alma 44:17; Alma 50:35; Alma 51:14, 21. In each case stubbornness is used in the pejorative. In Alma 44:17, it is used to describe Zerehemnah's defeated army that is not willing to enter into a covenant of peace. This may describe a degree of stubbornness analogous to the possibility that Alma suggests with the word "sometimes" in verse 13 ("for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance"). In Alma 50:35, stubbornness is used to describe a battle that broke out that was caused by a group of rebels lead by Morianton. It is perhaps suggestive that stubbornness lead to contention and violence, an extreme form of pitting-of-wills that is the opposite to the contrasting humility that Alma is describing here. In contrast, stubborness in Alma 51:14 and 21 is seemingly used to describe a starkly contrasting situation where Captain Moroni is addressing the kingmen who will not take up arms to defend their liberty. A point of similarity seems to be that, like the Zoramites here, the kingmen there seemed to be separating themselves from their own people.
  • Alma 32:16: Even. The use of "or even" here is odd. The context would suggest that "or even" would better modify "compelled to know" than "brought to know." With that reversal the sentence would read, "blessed is he that believe in the word of God, and is baptized ... without being compelled to know the word, or even brought to know, before they will believe." more...
  • Alma 32:16: Blessed. Starting in verse 8, the word blessed is used in this chapter eight times, this being the final occurrence. The word is not used again in Alma and Amulek's preaching to the Zoramite poor, except for Amulek's reference to blessings in Alma 34:38 at the very end of Alma and Amulke's preaching. Alma does, however, describe a process for obtaining fruit from a tree which grows from the word (the word of God, presumably). It may be that the description of the process for obtaining this fruit is effectively taking the place of Alma's repeated affirmation that the Zoramite poor are blessed. Or, perhaps the discontinuance of this phrase on Alma's part is implicitly emphasizing the contingent status of this blessed state, that the Zoramite poor are initially blessed because they are prepared to hear the word, but that blessed state will not last unless last unless they nourish the word that they are prepared to receive (and whether or not they nourish the word is yet to be seen). Another possibility is that this discontinuance is following the shift in Alma's discourse, moving away from a discussion of (individualistic) humilty and toward a discussion of (self-transgressive) faith and knowledge. In this case, the shift seems to suggest a forgetting-of-onself once one has become truly humble (see more on this in the discussion of negation and affirmation in the verse 17 exegesis).
  • Alma 32:16. It is only with this verse that Alma finally brings these questions of humility to bear on the question of faith—or at least, of belief. This change is perhaps signaled by the transitioning word "Therefore" with which the verse begins: the first part of this verse ("Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble") seems essentially to be a summary of everything that has gone before. If this is how Alma intended it, it is somewhat peculiar in a number of ways. For example, in the previous verses, there was a clear emphasis on the difference between two types of humility and hence on the relative blessedness of those who come to be humble in these two very different ways. Here, however, Alma reduces this whole discussion to a single point: blessed are those who humble themselves without the necessity of being humble. In fact, if this verse marks a kind of departure from earlier emphases, it might also be read as effecting a retroactive interpretation on the verses that precede it. When Alma introduces the theme of relative blessedness in verse 14, it appeared that he was simply introducing a better kind of humility, a kind of "extra mile" way of becoming humble. But here it becomes clear that he meant something else, really. Now it becomes clear that he meant something like "If one is compelled to be humble, praise the heavens because there is a possibility of repentance; but let's not allow anyone to believe that that is the way things are supposed to go: God's plan is ultimately laid out for those who will humble themselves because of the word!" If this more exclusive view is difficult to read in verses 14-15, it becomes clear at this point. In short, the place Alma has got to by this verse makes quite clear that verses 14-15 are to mark a corrective transition, a clarification of the use of the word "blessed" in relation to those who are humble because they are compelled to be so.
This retroactive interpretation Alma offers in clear terms here opens the possibility for a major transition in the discourse, from the question of humility to the question of faith. After reinterpretively summarizing the thrust of the previous verses, Alma announces quite explicitly that he is changing the story: "or rather, in other words...." These two little phrases are of the utmost importance interpretively: Alma is ready to translate this question of humility into another language so to speak, that of "belief" (or "faith"?) and "knowledge." It is significance that any mention of humility drops out of the verse after the word "rather." The new terms will dominate the remainder of the discourse (Alma does again return to the question of humility in verse 25, but only for a moment, and only as a kind of aside that assures that he does not consider all of the Zoramite poor to have been compelled to be humble. Even so, that verse seems somewhat out of place, and it is possible that there is an editing error at work in the text). From the start, it appears that the "translation" being effected is quite simple: "belief" or "faith" replaces "humbling oneself," and "knowledge" replaces "being compelled to be humble." But if this "translation" seems so simple at the beginning, it is not long before it becomes as complex as the previous verses.
It is interesting that baptism appears here in the discourse not only for the first time, but also for the last time! In fact, it is perhaps of vital importance that it only appears here, of all places, at the heart of this major transition in Alma's language (shifting from humility to the question of faith/knowledge). It is perhaps, on this account, also important that the phrase "stubbornness of heart" appears only at this point of the chapter and directly in connection with the question of baptism. But if both "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" are introduced here, the role they play in the logic of the discourse is hardly clear at first. For example, one might expect them to mediate the "translation" of terms, that is, to come between the question of humility and the question of faith/knowledge. In a broad sense, perhaps they do, but in the strict sense—looking very closely at this verse, that is—they do not: strictly speaking, "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" are introduced between belief and knowledge. Literarily, one might say that the question of "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" is stretched out between faith and knowledge, that it is posed by the clash between faith and knowledge, that it forms the very tension between faith and knowledge. And reading the verse quite straightforwardly, this seems precisely to be the point: if one might be "baptized without stubbornness of heart," which would apparently be an active manifestation of one's belief, there seems to be the implication that one might also do so with stubbornness of heart, which would apparently be an active manifestation of one's knowledge.
In fact, this last way of putting things emphasizes what is certainly central to this singular mention of baptism: here—and only here in this discourse—are faith and knowledge, compelled humility and willful humility, translated into action, into something that the believer or knower, the compelled-to-be-humble or the willfully-humble, does. Here, then, at the very heart of the discourse, where Alma can exchange the language of humility (with its individualistic emphasis) for the language of faith/knowledge (with its inter-personal emphasis, that is, with its emphasis on self-transgression), all of these questions surface, as it were, rising up into the level of the active, of the "real." What is fascinating about this "surfacing" is that both faith and knowledge, just as both kinds of humility, (can) result in the same outward, active manifestation: baptism. That only here is there a question of this outward, active manifestation highlights an important facet of Alma's discourse: he is not so much trying to teach the Zoramite poor about what they should do as he is trying to get them to think about the motivations and—more importantly—the relations that underlie or even propel one's doings. At least to some degree, it is this de-emphasis on the active that grounds the Zoramites' question in the first verse of the next chapter. In fact, the way the Zoramites ask the question there perhaps betrays the fact that they hardly understood what Alma was trying to accomplish in this discourse, but that question will have to be explored further along in the text.
In the course of these last comments, a most important aspect of what is at work has emerged: this "translation" of terms amounts to an emphatic shift from the individualistic to the self-transgressive, and this shift remains to be explored. And it will become clear that the transitioning "stubbornness of heart" will lie at the core of this question. It should be pointed out that humility is, of course, always a question of engagement: one only humbles oneself at the call or under the gaze of another. However, whether it is the commanding gaze or the petitioning word that brings it about, humility is ultimately something individual, an act—to some degree at the very least—that one wills to do. Moreover, the word "humility" points more to a state of affairs, to a way of being in the world, than it does to an interpersonal relation. That is, humility remains a question of the individual, though it bears a mark or the trace of an-other. Over against this, however, is the relation of belief/faith, as well as the relation of knowledge. If the former is quite clearly an inter-personal relation in English, the latter certainly is in Hebrew (and in the Indo-European root from which the English comes): one knows someone or something, just as one believes (or has faith in) someone or something. Both faith and knowledge, that is, imply a transgression of the self, a kind of transcendence. The importance of Alma's "translation" here is therefore to be found in the connection between these two forms of self-transgression and the relative marks or traces they leave on the humble individual. Alma draws a connection between humbling oneself by the word and believing, as he draws a connection between being compelled to be humble and knowing. This is made especially clear by the phrases "being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know." The point, in the end, seems to be this: though both knowledge and faith result in humility, the humble knower bears the mark of the violence of knowledge, while the humble believer bears the trace of the revelation of faith. The difference between these two kinds of humility is bound up with one's stubbornness—or greatness—of heart: the hard heart must be broken in the violence of "being brought to know..., even compelled to know," while the soft heart has written in it the lawful word of the other (cf. Jer 31:33).
But if in the previous verses (that is, before the translation) Alma deals only with the distinction between the two kinds of humility, it is only here with the translation of humility into the faith/knowledge distinction that Alma can begin to relate the two to each other productively. That is, in dealing with humility alone, Alma only opposes the two kinds of humility, but here he begins to explore the relation between faith and knowledge. That these two intertwined or are connected is vital, since the interrelation between them becomes the subject matter of the remainder of the discourse. It is probably important to note, on this point, that Alma can only explore the relationship between the two kinds of humility once the common term of "humility" is translated out of the discussion. Though the two humilities are different from each other, Alma has intimated from the start that both are good situations, precisely because they are both humilities. In order to discuss how they relate to one another, or in order to set the one above the other and then explore how one might exchange the one for the other, Alma must translate the two versions of humility into a stronger opposition, an opposition that is not obviously mediated by a shared middle term. The translation of humility into the pair faith/knowledge allows Alma to do this, and it is already in this first verse that he begins to explore the curious relationship between faith and knowledge. The relationship, as Alma lays it out in this first verse on the subject: faith can but does not need to follow knowledge.
Obviously the terms of this first formulation are hardly clear yet (having only just been translated), but perhaps a couple of basic things can be said about this first explanation of the relation between faith and knowledge. To say that faith—or belief—can follow knowledge is to call into question common presuppositions about the relation between faith and knowledge. Alma's very first word on this subject clearly suggests that while faith does not need to follow knowledge, it certainly can. Over against this, one generally assumes that faith is a necessary step on the way towards knowledge, not vice versa. This common view might be confirmed on one level in the assertion that one can believe before knowing, but it seems to be quite clearly contradicted with the assertion that one might be "brought to know... or even compelled to know, before they will believe." There are several possible ways of explaining this difficulty from the start. For example, one might assume that belief or faith is a kind of practical relation while knowledge is a purely intellectual or rational relation. On such a reading, one might point to the example of the person who knows better than to do something, but does it anyway because she does not exercise belief/faith in the practical moment. While there is a certain appeal in this reading, however, it seems to do some violence to the meaning of the word "belief." Another way this might be read is to suggest that Alma is trying to talk about a very unlikely occurrence when he mentions knowing before believing. That is, perhaps he assumes with the rest of humankind that belief generally precedes knowledge as it clearly does in scientific method, but that there are occasions where someone will simply confront something so directly that anything like "method" has been canceled by the suddenness of the knowledge, as when someone experiences a phenomenon before being taught about it. There is perhaps also some appeal in this reading of the situation, but there is obviously some danger in reducing all knowledge and belief relations to a scientific or methodological point of view.
Perhaps the best and most fruitful way to read this curious relation between faith and knowledge is to relegate faith to one kind of experience, something one might call "religious" or even "ethical" (both of which might be summed up in the word "spiritual"), and knowledge to another kind of experience, something one might call "historical" or even "scientific" (both of which might be summed up in the word "temporal"). This reading perhaps has the potential to reduce or even to cancel the implied relation between faith and knowledge, but if it is treated carefully, it will not. But what does it mean to divide things up this way? Perhaps a few words can be said about it even at this early point in the discourse.
Even this early in the discourse, one can delineate the difference between knowing the word and believing the word. To believe something—to trust something, to have faith in something—is to give oneself to it without reserve. That is, it is not to count the cost, not to subject the thing in question to a kind of economic test. Rather, to believe is simply to give onself over, for better or for worse. On the other hand, to know the word is to appropriate it. If faith is a handing over of oneself, knowledge is a grasping, a taking, a kind of conquest. To know the word, one must be able to define it (that is, to finitize it), to label or name it, to explain it. To trust the word, one needs merely to fall before it, to give it full sway. It seems quite clear, then, what it means to say that faith can be called "religious," "ethical," or "spiritual": to believe is to sacrifice oneself in the name of the trusted, in the name of the other, of God. And it seems quite clear what it means to say that knowledge can be called "historical," "scientific," or "temporal": to know is to draw the other into one's own history, into one's own way of thinking about the world. But what is most important about the way this verse says things—and from the very beginning—is that faith and knowledge both center on the word. The word is, of course, the very mainstay of the scientific (from nomenclature to the published paper); but the word is just as much what the calling God and the petitioning sufferer speaks (from "be ye perfect" to "help!"). In short, the word can play two very different roles, and the remainder of this discourse is to work out these interrelations.
  • Alma 32:16: Without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know. It seems curious that Alma seems to be describing here a state which does not apply to those whom he is addressing. That is, if he is addressing the poor who have been compelled to be humble, why does he mention the possibility that they could've humbled themselves through the word of God without being compelled? It may be that Alma is describing a process which will apply to them again in the future sometime—that is, just because they're currently humble, does not mean that they will remain humble. This idea seems to be supported in verses 24-25 where Alma elaborates on what he may've been intending here. It may also be that that Alma knows that his words will be heard by those who have not humbled themselves and so he is mentioning this for their benefit.

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  • Alma 32:6: Did Alma actually listen to everything the chiefest member of the multitude of the poor said to him? "And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him." It almost seems like he wasn't really paying attention until perhaps some key phrase (that perhaps verse 8 and 9 hint at) was mentioned, and then he decided to engage the multitude seriously. How can this response to the multitude help us understand Alma's discourse?
  • Alma 32:6: Turned him about and face. In Hebrew, the word for face, paniym comes from a root meaning "to turn." Might there be a sort of underlying word play at work here? What is the significance of Alma facing the multitude before he rejoices in their humility? In 2 Ne 13:15 and 2 Ne 26:20, the phrase "faces of the poor" is used. Is there something significant about looking into someone's face (cf. the phrase "face to face" used in these scriptures), esp. the face of the poor, that is at work here?
  • Alma 32:7: Stretched forth his hand. Why is it that Alma "stretched forth his hand"? Why is this an important detail to note? Note that Christ does this when blessing the multitude in 3 Ne 12:1. See also the note at Ex 6:6 for more cross-references.
  • Alma 32:8: Behold. The use of the word "behold" in the beginning of this verse is followed in verses 8-10 with the use of the word "behold" (the word "beheld" is also used in verse 7). What is the significance of the repetition of this word? Is this related to the discussion of sign-seekers who want to see before they will believe? Is this related to the turning and facing that Alma is said to do in verse 7? Might this word mark the beginning of a genuine discourse, where Alma is attentively taking in the particular state of the multitude, and asking (in v. 9) for the multitude to carefully pay attention to, or give place to, his words?
  • Alma 32:12: Necessary and necessarily. Why does Alma say "it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom"? Is it necessary in order to obtain something, or something else? Does the statement "ye are necessarily brought to be humble" related to this? Is the "forced" sense in which they are brought to humble related to the reason it is necessary to learn wisdom? Is there a better, non-necessary way to learn wisdom, or is it necessary for everyone to learn wisdom, as Alma is using the phrase?
  • Alma 32:12: Wisdom vs. knowledge. What does Alma have in mind when he says "wisdom" here? How should this be understood in light of the later discussion of knowledge? How does wisdom differ from knowledge? How does wisdom relate to humility? Is a particular action required to be humble?
  • Alma 32:12: Exceeding poverty. Why does Alma refer to the "exceeding poverty" of his listeners here? Should "exceeding" be read as equivalent to "very," or is something more going on with the use of this adjective? Might this be suggesting an over-whelming role of their poverty, poverty that exceeds their pride or something?

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Alma 32:16-20

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:17-25
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapter 32. The relationship of Verses 32:17-25 to the rest of Chapter 32 is discussed at Chapter 32.

Story. Verses 32:17-25 consists of ___ major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 32:17-25 include:

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  • Alma 32:17: If thou wilt. This exact phrase shows up many times in LDS scripture. It seems that this phrase is used "appropriately" when by a subject to a superior authority. For example, Ammon uses this phrase in Alma 22:3 when he is addressing the king. However, in Alma 18:21 King Lamoni indicates his humility by effectively subjecting himself to Ammon by using this conditional phrase to Ammon who is one of his subjects (cf. Alma 20:23-24 where the king subjects himself to Ammon with this phrase and Ammon uses this phrase in his response to the king). Note also how Alma recounts an angel using this phrase on him in Mosiah 27:16 and Alma 36:9, 11. Perhaps the most interesting use of the phrase, for the purposes of interpreting this verse, is Korihor's use of this phrase in Alma 30:43. It seems there that Korihor is effectively reversing the appropriate subjection of a human creature before the Creator, or a representative of the Creator. Whereas it is appropriate for God to try or prove his creatures, when a creature attempts to try or prove God, such an action is described using phraseology of "tempting God." This kind of reversal of positioning between Creator and creature seems to interact richly with the theme of humility begun in this chapter with the Zoramite poor being put into subjection by the Zoramite priests (cf. Alma 32:5), who are described perhaps quite ironically using the rather egalitarian word "brethren" in verse 4.
  • Alma 32:17: Yea. The first word of the verse seems a bit strange since it seems that Alma is, rather than affirming what has been said in the previous verse, taking up a position contrary to the one he has been advocating. But perhaps this is not so strange since he has been describing his position in a negative way, underscored by the word "without." The word "yea" calls attention to this negative description affirmatively, deepening the sense of contrast with the ensuing description of sign-seekers. In fact, the play of negation and affirmation is quite rich in this verse. In the last verse, the believer (without positive knowledge) was described negatively, drawn out in contrast to the negative position of the knower. But at the heart of this negative affirmation was a double negative: the affirming, positive word was obviously at some distance from would-be-knower, who was thereby marked as a negative. That is, the negative description of the one who affirms her belief is grounded in the undeniable negativity of would-be-knower, she who seeks a sign and is for that very reason cut off (negatively) from positive knowledge. Because of the play of the word, only the believer can affirm anything. If this verse opens with a blatant affirmation ("yea"), it goes on quickly to present the would-be-knower again as pretentiously negative: the would-be-knower seeks "a surety" but can never have it, even by "a sign from heaven." That is, if it appears that the would-be-knower is positive in some sense (asking for a positive sign), the absence of the sign ironically dispossesses the would-be-knower, and hence negates the positivity of knowledge. Only the believer can affirm, and that positively. And yet—and this point cannot be missed—the affirmation of the believer is necessarily founded on a profound negation: the believer must negate herself (her stubbornness) and her knowledge (any compelling sign) in order to affirm her faith. In the end, the whole movement of positivity and negativity in these two verses is profoundly paradoxical, but based on a paradox familiar to any reader of the words of Christ: one must lose one's life (negativity) in order to find it (affirmation), but if one seek's one's life (positivity) one will inevitably lose it (negativity).
After the play of the positive and negative are introduced, Alma concretizes what has been, to this point, perhaps abstract. Rather than speaking simply in terms of differences, and hence of concepts, he now turns to the concrete situation by describing "many who do say." The hypothetical air that has prevailed to this point suddenly collapses, and Alma sets before his hearers the "actual" words of many "actual" people. That the first two words of the "quotation" are "If thou," and that the speaker of the quotation uses the plural first person ("we"), suggests that Alma is doing one of two things: either he is (1) drawing on an actual concrete example from his own past preaching experiences, one (or many) in which a whole crowd rejected him specifically, his message specifically (perhaps even his only just past preaching to the rich Zoramites); or he is (2) phrasing this concrete example in terms of the actual situation in which he now stands, the Zoramite poor being the "we" and Alma being the "thou." Either one of these ways of reading the text is rich: on the one hand, we find Alma hoping that the Zoramite poor will be other than what he has yet experienced in preaching, and his passion therefore enriches the encounter; or on the other hand, we find Alma trying to place the Zoramites into an uncomfortable role, one he is precisely condemning, in order to help them to see where they might be standing. Again, both of these possibilities are quite rich: if, on the one hand, Alma is drawing on the past, and that past is the preaching to the Zoramite rich, he is being quite brave, since the Zoramite rich are apparently still standing behind him while he delivers this sermon (and whether or not he meant this, they probably understood it this way); and if, on the other hand, Alma is casting the Zoramite poor in the role he is presenting, he offers a kind of pre-judgment before they have spoken the word clearly enough to be judged, giving them thereby the opportunity to change things before the evidence has to come in. However it is read, this concretizing of the abstract is fascinating and rich.
If Alma is describing, in his quoting those "who do say," those who are "brought to know the word, or even compelled to know," it is wonderfully ironic that they begin by saying "If thou wilt...." Those who are compelled, apparently against their wills, can only place themselves in that position by underscoring the will of the believer: "If the believer will," she can show a sign, while the would-be-knower can only depend upon the believer. If this again summons the interplay of the positive and negative, it enriches it as well, adding to it the question of will. Curiously, the would-be-knower specifically affirms the will of the believer (of her will-to-believe?), and thereby negates her own will. And this play of wills perhaps introduces into Alma's discourse a kind of play between determinism and freedom, which might, all over again, be called the contrast between the historical, scientific, or temporal and the religious, ethical, or spiritual. In the movement of faith, one freely gives oneself to the other (religiously, ethically, spiritually), while in the movement of knowledge, one's activity is determined from the start (historically, scientifically, temporally). All of this is confirmed all the more ironically in the last few words of Alma's "quotation": "then we shall believe." The faith or belief that the would-be-knower is to achieve beyond knowledge (a knowledge brought about by the sign) is in itself determined: "shall," not "will." That is, if belief is, for the believer, an act of will (a giving over or negating of one's will in the most profound affirmation of one's will), for the would-be-knower, belief is—and can only be—a determined, historical, scientific, temporal occurrence, something that "shall" happen.
Of course, all of these comments do not yet even begin to think about the meaning of the demand for a sign specifically, which is perhaps the richest part of this verse. It is significant that, from the very beginning, the question of signs is raised in terms of the concrete encounter, one Alma and the Zoramites are presently engaged in. In abstract terms, the "sign" is never mentioned, but only now that the concrete is the scene of further thinking. But the significance of this can perhaps only be worked out in retrospect, after the most important question has been asked: what is a sign? Of course a full answer to this question would require something of a tour through much of twentieth century philosophy, but perhaps a few words can here be said that will open up the meaning of the present passage. The word itself, "sign," comes from an Indo-European root meaning "to cut," suggesting that the sign introduces a kind of split or division into the thing it stands for (being cut off, to some degree, from the thing it stands for). The sign inevitably directs the beholder to some actual thing, though this direction is based at the same time on a profound misdirection: the sign, by drawing attention to itself (emphasized here by the word "show"), reorders the thing it signifies according to its own logic. That is, inasmuch as the thing appears in the sign, it appears according to the ramifications of the sign: because the thing becomes a signified, it has been organized according to the logic of the signifier. At the very least, a sign is a doubling of the thing in question, a doubling that amounts to a reordering of the thing, and this reordering is entirely dependent on the internal nature of the signifier.
What makes a sign so peculiar, however, is the "internal nature of the signifier." A signifier, as has been pointed out time and again in the twentieth century, derives its meaning only in relation to other signifiers. That is, the logic according to which the thing signified is to be reordered is the logic of the differences between so many signifiers, so many signs, all of which are already present to the beholder. In other words, to see a sign is to subject the thing the sign signifies to the broader sign system (presuppositions, etc.) of the beholder. In terms of the present verse, to demand "a sign from heaven" is to subject the word—or God Himself—to the sign system of the demander, that is, necessarily to reduce the word to the contemporary philosophy or theology, one that is apparently fixated on the visible ("show"). In fact it is precisely here that we might make a transition from these abstract comments to the particularities of the verse. The (hypothetical?) crowd Alma here quotes is obviously very visual by nature: knowledge comes by seeing, by being shown so many signs. Over against that, of course, Alma presents those who would hear, who would believe. But in demanding a sign, this quoted crowd essentially demands a reordering or reorganization of the audible in terms of the visible, of belief in terms of knowledge. What Alma begins to point out here—and what he makes absolutely clear with the next verse—is that to make such a demand is not to do things backwards, but to try to mix two things that are very different from one another by nature. The world of visible signs is being privileged beyond its capacity, and it is—in the demand for a sign—being given to overthrow completely the audible world of the spoken word.
All of this must be absolutely clear before the rhetoric Alma employs in the following verse can be engaged: the demand of the would-be-knowers is to allow the invisible to be subjected to the visible so that the invisible can be regarded visibly. But what all of this works out to in the end can only be thought through in verse 18.
  • Alma 32:17: Show unto us a sign. The word show presages the famous phrase in verse 21, "things which are not seen." In building to that positive example of faith, Alma is giving here a negative example of someone who positively asks for a sign. The seeing-before-believing demand seems to follow a pattern of pride described by Alma and numerous other prophets that entails being prideful and making demands of God before first humbling themselves (for example, in Alma 5:54 those who suppose that they are better than one another are first described and then contrasted with those they persecute that "humble themselves"). Diachronically, the sequential emphasis here may also be related to the ordering described in Moses 3:5 where the creation occurs spiritually before it occurs "naturally" and the Word of creation is spoken before anything is seen.
  • Alma 32:18. Alma begins this verse with explicit reference to himself: "Now I ask." This confirms a kind of identification between the "thou" of the quotation in the previous verse with Alma himself in some situation. That he goes in this same verse to say, "Behold, I say unto you," seems to confirm that the best reading of the quotation is that Alma is casting the Zoramite poor as the speakers in verse 17. That is, Alma prejudges them on purpose (notice that Alma seems himself to admit this in verse 24), in an attempt to bring them to the crisis of faith. Before looking, then, at the actual content of this verse, one must recognize that Alma has existentially placed the Zoramite poor in the situation of judgment, and they have been condemned: they are judged to be seeking after signs in some kind of attempt to derive faith (the audible) from knowledge (the visible). What is still more interesting about the situation is that Alma returns to the concrete here precisely by returning the use of rhetorical questions, something he had abandoned for the past half dozen verses. The meaning of this return is vital to understanding what Alma is trying to accomplish here.
In the first verses of the discourse, Alma uses rhetorical questions while making absolute references to the concrete situation of his preaching, apparently to introduce a kind of tension between the pretension of absolute knowledge on the one hand (the absolute appeal to reason implied in the rhetorical question) and sheer mystery of the concrete preaching situation (the mystery, that is, of the face-to-face encounter). Here he does this all over again, albeit in a rather short question: "Now I ask, is this faith?" But if with these six words Alma has returned to the tension between the concrete and the absolutely abstract, he does so in order finally to begin to answer the questions he is raising. When he uses rhetorical questions before, he allows them to remain unanswered, but now he answers this rhetorical question immediately: "Behold, I say unto you, Nay." Curiously, he answers the rhetorical question with the same double appeal, on the one hand to reason, and on the other hand to the concrete face-to-face encounter. This tension is maintained throughout the discourse, and it of course is closely tied with the tension already discussed at some length: between knowing and believing, between seeing and hearing.
Perhaps the strength of this is only quite visible when one takes Alma's rhetorical question and his rhetorical answer as a response to the petition of the would-be-knowers. But looking carefully at that will take some work. Alma has made of the Zoramite poor a group of would-be-knowers who are asking for a sign, and he responds with a rhetorical question, and then with a rhetorical answer. These two rhetorical moves accomplish something very specific in relation to the petition of the last verse: the concrete situation of the sign-asking is maintained in the "I" of "Now I ask" and in the "I" of "I say unto you," but the concrete is also transcended in the universal appeal to reason. This has the effect of rerouting the petition: Alma never responds directly to the petition by saying yes or no. They ask for a sign, and he does not really respond. Rather he distracts the petition by moving the discussion to another level. His question (and its answer, therefore) is, technically speaking, theoretical: "is this faith?" Here he seems to be picking up only on the last four words of the petition ("then we shall believe"). Essentially, then, Alma is questioning the very nature of their promise: the sign is, for the Zoramites, a pre-requisite to faith (belief), but Alma questions whether faith that comes after the witness of a sign is ultimately faith in any real sense. Not only does he question this, but his rhetorical answer confirms quite bluntly that it is not faith.
And then Alma moves into a rather abstract discussion. After his "Nay," any concretizing rhetorical elements disappear for the remainder of the verse and for the whole of the following verse. In order to ground his rhetorical question and its rhetorical answer, Alma moves into the realm of reason—of definition. It is this claim that ultimately deserves the most attention here. The claim: "if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it." Alma seems here to revert to a rather common way of thinking about the relation between belief and knowledge: the latter is a stronger version of the former. That is, it sounds here as if Alma is putting belief and knowledge on a continuum, suggesting that they are fundamentally related. This stands in opposition to the tenor of the discourse to this point, because faith has been fundamentally opposed to knowledge throughout. Two questions, then: first, why does Alma recast the nature of belief here? and second, what is it he is ultimately saying here about belief/faith?
In answer to this first question, one might suggest that he is conceding the Zoramite belief, something everyone would agree with, in a kind of Socratic move (Socrates always agreed with the presuppositions of those he spoke with, but he would help them to see how their presuppositions conflicted one with another according to the strict laws of logic). That is, though Alma himself understands faith to be something fundamentally different from knowledge, he recognizes that the Zoramites (or most people) do not so think, and so he meets up with their thinking here to argue from their point of view. Really, a better way to approach this problem is to seek to answer the second question first, because it is not clear really what Alma is saying about faith/belief here, and it will only be possible to think about the first question once that is clear. Hence, we turn to the second question.
  • Alma 32:18: Is this faith? In answering his own rhetorical question, Alma does not dispute the claim of the sign-seeker that he will "know of a surety." Instead, Alma simply disputes that this is faith, leaving open the possibility (but only a possiblity) that knowledge "of a surety" can indeed be gained this way. In fact, Alma goes on in verse 19 to discuss the damning effect knowledge obtained this way can have, a move on Alma's part which seems to further suggest that seeing a sign can indeed lead to knowledge. This strongly suggests that the goal of the subsequent discussion is not about obtaining knowledge per se, but the manner in which this knowledge is gained. It seems that knowledge, even perfect knowledge, is not beneficial unless obtained by faith.
  • Alma 32:19: More cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not. A similar idea seems to be taught in several other scriptural passages. For example, 2 Ne 9:27 says about him to whom the law is given, and in this sense "knows" the will of God, "awful is his state." D&C 82:3 teaches that where "much is given much is required" (this seems to be a quotation of, or at least related to, Luke 12:48). James 4:17 defines sin using a similar notion of knowledge: "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Finally, D&C 41:5 teaches that "He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you"—interestingly, the "cast out" phrasing used here is also a prominent phrase used in Alma 32.
  • Alma 32:19: Only hath cause to believe. The word "only" might seem a bit strange here since "only" as used here seems to mean a weaker condition, and yet having a "cause" to believe seems to be a strong condition. However, if "cause" is understood in a way that is weaker than sufficient causation, then this makes sense. That is, if having a "cause to believe" means having "motivation" to believe (see Webster's 1828 dictionary, definition 3), then we can understand this as emphasizing that having a "cause to believe" does not imply that one actually believes. In other words, this phrase seems to preserve room to choose between believing or not.
  • Alma 32:19: Knoweth the will of God and doeth it not. Later, Alma will talk about obtaining perfect knowledge by what seems to be a growing process of faith. But here, Alma seems to be suggesting (this ambiguity is highlighted in verse 20) that knowledge is potentially undesirable because it can have damning effects. The tension between these alternately negative and positive views of knowledge seems to be predicated on whether or not faith accompanies(/precedes) knowledge or not. It seems that for knowledge to be a desirable thing, the knower must not be at risk of failing to do God's word. This suggests, then, that the increase in faith described by Alma later should somehow be related to a decreasing risk of failing to do God's will. Alma later mentions a "desire to believe" (verse 27)—perhaps this kind of desire should be thought in relation to the damning effect of knowledge, or vice versa.
  • Alma 32:19: Or only hath cause to believe. This phrase seems to suggest the possibility of having cause to believe but not believing. This seems similar to the idea expressed by the word "sometimes" in verse 13: there, those who are compelled to be humble only sometimes repent; here, those that have cause to believe only sometimes believe. The word "cause" then seems analogous to the way the word "compelled" is used above, but seems to have softer connotations here. That is, having a cause to believe is not the same as being forced to believe, but it opens the possibility of belief—or even more, the call to belief.
  • Alma 32:21: Perfect knowledge. The word-pair "perfect knowledge" only occurs in a few other instances in LDS scripture. Two occurrences seem particularly relevant to Alma's sermon here: Jacob 4:12 where Jacob is describing the atonement of Christ, and Ether 3:20 where the Brother of Jared's theophany is described. The interplay between the terms faith and knowledge in Ether 3 seems rather complex and should be considered carefully in order to understand better what Alma is getting at here (it seems likely that Alma would have been familiar with Jacob's words and the Brother of Jared's theophany; whether or not the Zoramite poor would have been familiar with these records is more speculative).
  • Alma 32:21: Faith, hope, and perfect knowledge. The phrase "if ye have faith ye hope" could be read as implying that hope is a necessary ingredient of faith. That is, if I am predisposed not to believe in something (i.e. I have no hope that something is true), then I will not be able to develop faith. The contrapositive logic for this reading is as follows: If F implies H, then not H implies not F.
Another way to read the phrase "if ye have faith ye hope" suggests something quite different. It could be that Alma is suggesting that hope follows faith: If I have faith, then hope follows. On this view, faith effectively precedes hope (rather than hope preceding faith as suggested above). See also Alma 25:16 where hope is spoken of as being retained "through faith."
In context, however, the term hope seems to be used to elaborate on the previous phrase that faith is not to have a perfect knowledge. Thus, regardless of whether hope is viewed as a prerequirement or a consequence of faith, the important thing is that faith entails only hope, not a perfect knowledge. Although hope is being contrasted here with perfect knowledge, note that Ether 12:4 discusses the "sure and steadfast" effects of hope. In fact, the contrast between hope and perfect knowledge being used here seems to presuppose a relationship between hope and knowledge that makes a contrasting comparison possible and meaningful. That is, comparing hope (or, indirectly, faith) and perfect knowledge should not be viewed as comparing apples and oranges, but perhaps more like comparing small apples to big apples in the sense that hope is something that points toward or can grow into perfect knowledge.
  • Alma 32:21: Which are true. In verse 21 Alma tells us that when we have faith we "hope for things which are not seen, which are true." What should we make of this last phrase "which are true"?
There are different ways that we could make sense of this.
1) Alma may be referring to what we might otherwise call true faith. It may be that he is distinguishing this concept of faith from what we might call misplaced faith. Under this interpretation the fact that Alma doesn't feel it necessary to call this "true faith," the fact that he simply calls this "faith" suggests that in Alma's view "misplaced faith" isn't properly faith at all. If we follow that thought to it's logical conclusion then someone who professes faith in something they honestly believe is true only has faith if they are right. Note that this is different than we typically use the word in English today. In the way the word is used in English today, someone might say "I grew up with faith in the religion my parents had taught me. It wasn't until I went to college that I realized that many of the things I had had faith in were wrong."
2) Alma may be simply saying that when someone has faith they hope that something they don't see is true. The distinguishing feature between this interpretation and the first is that in the first interpretation "which are true" is taken as a universal claim about what is the case whereas in this second interpretation it is a statement simply about what the person who has hope believes. Under this second interpretation the point of the phrase "which are true" is simply to distinguish a hope in a belief--which is to say a hope that something is true--from other types of hope.
Those who would argue in favor of this second interpretation point out that interpreting "which are true" in the context of the person with hope is no different than the way we all interpret "which are not seen." If we all interpreted "which are not seen" as a universal claim about what is the case it would suggest Alma is telling us that someone cannot have faith in something that someone else has seen. But that leads us to the clearly false conclusion that I cannot have faith in Jesus Christ because Joseph Smith saw him. This interpretation suggests that both phrases "which are not seen" and "which are true" have to be understood relative to the person with hope.
  • Alma 32:22: His word. Up to this point in this chapter, the word word has occurred with the definite article the modifying it (vv. 1, 6, 14, 16). However, here, just before Alma begins a discussion of how the word of God is delivered unto man ("by angels" in v. 23), Alma adds the possessive modifier his to the word word describing God's word as "his word." This possessive modifier of God's word ("his word") seems to mark a change in Alma's discussion of the word of God, a change which seems to set up a contrast with the phrase "my words" in verses 26-27. This seems to be a step on Alma's part toward a discussion about what ultimately amounts to bridging the gap between man (the Zoramite poor in particular) and God's word. Despite Alma's explanation, Alma 33:1 indicates that the Zoramite poor did not fully understand how Alma's words apply to the bridging this distance between them and God's word (cf. "how they should plant the seed . . . or in what manner they should begin to exercise their faith").
  • Alma 32:23: His word by angels. Compare the discussion in 2 Ne 32:3 where angels "speak the words of Christ." If Alma was familiar with Nephi's writings, this might have bearing on how we read Alma's words here. Here it seems that Alma is functioning as a de facto angel by delivering God's word to the Zoramite poor. On the other hand, Alma's conversion seems to have been effected by a being that was a angelic in the sense of being different from ordinary mortals (at least this seems the common reading of Alma's conversion experience).

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  • Alma 32:17: Know of a surety. How would seeing a sign help us "know of a surety"? Know what? Didn't Laman and Lemuel see signs from heaven? If so, what did they know of a surety? Can anything be known "of a surety"? Can knowing "of a surety" be reconciled with being "lowly in heart" (v. 8) and being humble and learning wisdom (v. 12)? If something is known "of a surety" how can learning take place? Is the learning of wisdom described in verse 12 a one time event, a finite process, an eternally recurring process, or something else entirely?
  • Alma 32:18: Faith and belief. Alma seems to implicitly link faith and belief in this verse, and it seems he expects his listeners to already have some sort of understanding of this link. How would the Zoramite poor have understood this link before Alma launches into his metaphor of the word as a seed where belief and faith play such a vital role? Is the phrase "ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive" in mind (see 1 Ne 15:11; cf. Enos 1:15; Mosiah 4:21; Alma 22:16)? Are there other important teachings on belief and faith that they likely would have been familiar with? If they confused the relationship between faith, belief and knowledge, can we reverse engineer how this understanding might've become corrupted?
  • Alma 32:19: More cursed. What does "cursed" mean? What does Alma's use of the term "curse" elsewhere help us understand about this verse (see esp. Alma 3:6-7, 9, 14-15, 18-19)? How might this be related to the curses talked about in the creation narrative (cf. Gen 3:14, 17), or the curse pronounced up on Cain (Gen 4:11)?
  • Alma 32:20: One hand even as it is on the other. What does this phrase mean? Is it related to any know expression in Hebrew or Egyptian? (Cf. 1 Ne 14:7.)
  • Alma 32:20: Now of this thing ye must judge. What does this phrase mean? What is it referring to? faith requiring the absence of knowledge? the relative cursedness of not doing God's will in terms of knowing or merely believing something?
  • Alma 32:21: Perfect knowledge of things. Is it ever possible to have a perfect knowledge without qualification? Will there ever be a time that we will not need to have faith anymore? (In the Lectures on Faith, God is described as working by faith—does this have any bearing on how we should understand this verse?)
  • Alma 32:21: If ye have faith ye hope. Does this mean that if you do not hope, then by definition you do not have faith? In other words, is this an if-then statement, where we can apply formal logic to conclude that one without hope for things which are not seen but true does not have faith? If so, what does faith mean? How does it differ from hope?
  • Alma 32:25: That ye all of you have": What purpose does the "ye" serve in this verse?

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Verse 21[edit]

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Alma 32:21-25

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:17-25
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapter 32. The relationship of Verses 32:17-25 to the rest of Chapter 32 is discussed at Chapter 32.

Story. Verses 32:17-25 consists of ___ major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 32:17-25 include:

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  • Alma 32:17: If thou wilt. This exact phrase shows up many times in LDS scripture. It seems that this phrase is used "appropriately" when by a subject to a superior authority. For example, Ammon uses this phrase in Alma 22:3 when he is addressing the king. However, in Alma 18:21 King Lamoni indicates his humility by effectively subjecting himself to Ammon by using this conditional phrase to Ammon who is one of his subjects (cf. Alma 20:23-24 where the king subjects himself to Ammon with this phrase and Ammon uses this phrase in his response to the king). Note also how Alma recounts an angel using this phrase on him in Mosiah 27:16 and Alma 36:9, 11. Perhaps the most interesting use of the phrase, for the purposes of interpreting this verse, is Korihor's use of this phrase in Alma 30:43. It seems there that Korihor is effectively reversing the appropriate subjection of a human creature before the Creator, or a representative of the Creator. Whereas it is appropriate for God to try or prove his creatures, when a creature attempts to try or prove God, such an action is described using phraseology of "tempting God." This kind of reversal of positioning between Creator and creature seems to interact richly with the theme of humility begun in this chapter with the Zoramite poor being put into subjection by the Zoramite priests (cf. Alma 32:5), who are described perhaps quite ironically using the rather egalitarian word "brethren" in verse 4.
  • Alma 32:17: Yea. The first word of the verse seems a bit strange since it seems that Alma is, rather than affirming what has been said in the previous verse, taking up a position contrary to the one he has been advocating. But perhaps this is not so strange since he has been describing his position in a negative way, underscored by the word "without." The word "yea" calls attention to this negative description affirmatively, deepening the sense of contrast with the ensuing description of sign-seekers. In fact, the play of negation and affirmation is quite rich in this verse. In the last verse, the believer (without positive knowledge) was described negatively, drawn out in contrast to the negative position of the knower. But at the heart of this negative affirmation was a double negative: the affirming, positive word was obviously at some distance from would-be-knower, who was thereby marked as a negative. That is, the negative description of the one who affirms her belief is grounded in the undeniable negativity of would-be-knower, she who seeks a sign and is for that very reason cut off (negatively) from positive knowledge. Because of the play of the word, only the believer can affirm anything. If this verse opens with a blatant affirmation ("yea"), it goes on quickly to present the would-be-knower again as pretentiously negative: the would-be-knower seeks "a surety" but can never have it, even by "a sign from heaven." That is, if it appears that the would-be-knower is positive in some sense (asking for a positive sign), the absence of the sign ironically dispossesses the would-be-knower, and hence negates the positivity of knowledge. Only the believer can affirm, and that positively. And yet—and this point cannot be missed—the affirmation of the believer is necessarily founded on a profound negation: the believer must negate herself (her stubbornness) and her knowledge (any compelling sign) in order to affirm her faith. In the end, the whole movement of positivity and negativity in these two verses is profoundly paradoxical, but based on a paradox familiar to any reader of the words of Christ: one must lose one's life (negativity) in order to find it (affirmation), but if one seek's one's life (positivity) one will inevitably lose it (negativity).
After the play of the positive and negative are introduced, Alma concretizes what has been, to this point, perhaps abstract. Rather than speaking simply in terms of differences, and hence of concepts, he now turns to the concrete situation by describing "many who do say." The hypothetical air that has prevailed to this point suddenly collapses, and Alma sets before his hearers the "actual" words of many "actual" people. That the first two words of the "quotation" are "If thou," and that the speaker of the quotation uses the plural first person ("we"), suggests that Alma is doing one of two things: either he is (1) drawing on an actual concrete example from his own past preaching experiences, one (or many) in which a whole crowd rejected him specifically, his message specifically (perhaps even his only just past preaching to the rich Zoramites); or he is (2) phrasing this concrete example in terms of the actual situation in which he now stands, the Zoramite poor being the "we" and Alma being the "thou." Either one of these ways of reading the text is rich: on the one hand, we find Alma hoping that the Zoramite poor will be other than what he has yet experienced in preaching, and his passion therefore enriches the encounter; or on the other hand, we find Alma trying to place the Zoramites into an uncomfortable role, one he is precisely condemning, in order to help them to see where they might be standing. Again, both of these possibilities are quite rich: if, on the one hand, Alma is drawing on the past, and that past is the preaching to the Zoramite rich, he is being quite brave, since the Zoramite rich are apparently still standing behind him while he delivers this sermon (and whether or not he meant this, they probably understood it this way); and if, on the other hand, Alma is casting the Zoramite poor in the role he is presenting, he offers a kind of pre-judgment before they have spoken the word clearly enough to be judged, giving them thereby the opportunity to change things before the evidence has to come in. However it is read, this concretizing of the abstract is fascinating and rich.
If Alma is describing, in his quoting those "who do say," those who are "brought to know the word, or even compelled to know," it is wonderfully ironic that they begin by saying "If thou wilt...." Those who are compelled, apparently against their wills, can only place themselves in that position by underscoring the will of the believer: "If the believer will," she can show a sign, while the would-be-knower can only depend upon the believer. If this again summons the interplay of the positive and negative, it enriches it as well, adding to it the question of will. Curiously, the would-be-knower specifically affirms the will of the believer (of her will-to-believe?), and thereby negates her own will. And this play of wills perhaps introduces into Alma's discourse a kind of play between determinism and freedom, which might, all over again, be called the contrast between the historical, scientific, or temporal and the religious, ethical, or spiritual. In the movement of faith, one freely gives oneself to the other (religiously, ethically, spiritually), while in the movement of knowledge, one's activity is determined from the start (historically, scientifically, temporally). All of this is confirmed all the more ironically in the last few words of Alma's "quotation": "then we shall believe." The faith or belief that the would-be-knower is to achieve beyond knowledge (a knowledge brought about by the sign) is in itself determined: "shall," not "will." That is, if belief is, for the believer, an act of will (a giving over or negating of one's will in the most profound affirmation of one's will), for the would-be-knower, belief is—and can only be—a determined, historical, scientific, temporal occurrence, something that "shall" happen.
Of course, all of these comments do not yet even begin to think about the meaning of the demand for a sign specifically, which is perhaps the richest part of this verse. It is significant that, from the very beginning, the question of signs is raised in terms of the concrete encounter, one Alma and the Zoramites are presently engaged in. In abstract terms, the "sign" is never mentioned, but only now that the concrete is the scene of further thinking. But the significance of this can perhaps only be worked out in retrospect, after the most important question has been asked: what is a sign? Of course a full answer to this question would require something of a tour through much of twentieth century philosophy, but perhaps a few words can here be said that will open up the meaning of the present passage. The word itself, "sign," comes from an Indo-European root meaning "to cut," suggesting that the sign introduces a kind of split or division into the thing it stands for (being cut off, to some degree, from the thing it stands for). The sign inevitably directs the beholder to some actual thing, though this direction is based at the same time on a profound misdirection: the sign, by drawing attention to itself (emphasized here by the word "show"), reorders the thing it signifies according to its own logic. That is, inasmuch as the thing appears in the sign, it appears according to the ramifications of the sign: because the thing becomes a signified, it has been organized according to the logic of the signifier. At the very least, a sign is a doubling of the thing in question, a doubling that amounts to a reordering of the thing, and this reordering is entirely dependent on the internal nature of the signifier.
What makes a sign so peculiar, however, is the "internal nature of the signifier." A signifier, as has been pointed out time and again in the twentieth century, derives its meaning only in relation to other signifiers. That is, the logic according to which the thing signified is to be reordered is the logic of the differences between so many signifiers, so many signs, all of which are already present to the beholder. In other words, to see a sign is to subject the thing the sign signifies to the broader sign system (presuppositions, etc.) of the beholder. In terms of the present verse, to demand "a sign from heaven" is to subject the word—or God Himself—to the sign system of the demander, that is, necessarily to reduce the word to the contemporary philosophy or theology, one that is apparently fixated on the visible ("show"). In fact it is precisely here that we might make a transition from these abstract comments to the particularities of the verse. The (hypothetical?) crowd Alma here quotes is obviously very visual by nature: knowledge comes by seeing, by being shown so many signs. Over against that, of course, Alma presents those who would hear, who would believe. But in demanding a sign, this quoted crowd essentially demands a reordering or reorganization of the audible in terms of the visible, of belief in terms of knowledge. What Alma begins to point out here—and what he makes absolutely clear with the next verse—is that to make such a demand is not to do things backwards, but to try to mix two things that are very different from one another by nature. The world of visible signs is being privileged beyond its capacity, and it is—in the demand for a sign—being given to overthrow completely the audible world of the spoken word.
All of this must be absolutely clear before the rhetoric Alma employs in the following verse can be engaged: the demand of the would-be-knowers is to allow the invisible to be subjected to the visible so that the invisible can be regarded visibly. But what all of this works out to in the end can only be thought through in verse 18.
  • Alma 32:17: Show unto us a sign. The word show presages the famous phrase in verse 21, "things which are not seen." In building to that positive example of faith, Alma is giving here a negative example of someone who positively asks for a sign. The seeing-before-believing demand seems to follow a pattern of pride described by Alma and numerous other prophets that entails being prideful and making demands of God before first humbling themselves (for example, in Alma 5:54 those who suppose that they are better than one another are first described and then contrasted with those they persecute that "humble themselves"). Diachronically, the sequential emphasis here may also be related to the ordering described in Moses 3:5 where the creation occurs spiritually before it occurs "naturally" and the Word of creation is spoken before anything is seen.
  • Alma 32:18. Alma begins this verse with explicit reference to himself: "Now I ask." This confirms a kind of identification between the "thou" of the quotation in the previous verse with Alma himself in some situation. That he goes in this same verse to say, "Behold, I say unto you," seems to confirm that the best reading of the quotation is that Alma is casting the Zoramite poor as the speakers in verse 17. That is, Alma prejudges them on purpose (notice that Alma seems himself to admit this in verse 24), in an attempt to bring them to the crisis of faith. Before looking, then, at the actual content of this verse, one must recognize that Alma has existentially placed the Zoramite poor in the situation of judgment, and they have been condemned: they are judged to be seeking after signs in some kind of attempt to derive faith (the audible) from knowledge (the visible). What is still more interesting about the situation is that Alma returns to the concrete here precisely by returning the use of rhetorical questions, something he had abandoned for the past half dozen verses. The meaning of this return is vital to understanding what Alma is trying to accomplish here.
In the first verses of the discourse, Alma uses rhetorical questions while making absolute references to the concrete situation of his preaching, apparently to introduce a kind of tension between the pretension of absolute knowledge on the one hand (the absolute appeal to reason implied in the rhetorical question) and sheer mystery of the concrete preaching situation (the mystery, that is, of the face-to-face encounter). Here he does this all over again, albeit in a rather short question: "Now I ask, is this faith?" But if with these six words Alma has returned to the tension between the concrete and the absolutely abstract, he does so in order finally to begin to answer the questions he is raising. When he uses rhetorical questions before, he allows them to remain unanswered, but now he answers this rhetorical question immediately: "Behold, I say unto you, Nay." Curiously, he answers the rhetorical question with the same double appeal, on the one hand to reason, and on the other hand to the concrete face-to-face encounter. This tension is maintained throughout the discourse, and it of course is closely tied with the tension already discussed at some length: between knowing and believing, between seeing and hearing.
Perhaps the strength of this is only quite visible when one takes Alma's rhetorical question and his rhetorical answer as a response to the petition of the would-be-knowers. But looking carefully at that will take some work. Alma has made of the Zoramite poor a group of would-be-knowers who are asking for a sign, and he responds with a rhetorical question, and then with a rhetorical answer. These two rhetorical moves accomplish something very specific in relation to the petition of the last verse: the concrete situation of the sign-asking is maintained in the "I" of "Now I ask" and in the "I" of "I say unto you," but the concrete is also transcended in the universal appeal to reason. This has the effect of rerouting the petition: Alma never responds directly to the petition by saying yes or no. They ask for a sign, and he does not really respond. Rather he distracts the petition by moving the discussion to another level. His question (and its answer, therefore) is, technically speaking, theoretical: "is this faith?" Here he seems to be picking up only on the last four words of the petition ("then we shall believe"). Essentially, then, Alma is questioning the very nature of their promise: the sign is, for the Zoramites, a pre-requisite to faith (belief), but Alma questions whether faith that comes after the witness of a sign is ultimately faith in any real sense. Not only does he question this, but his rhetorical answer confirms quite bluntly that it is not faith.
And then Alma moves into a rather abstract discussion. After his "Nay," any concretizing rhetorical elements disappear for the remainder of the verse and for the whole of the following verse. In order to ground his rhetorical question and its rhetorical answer, Alma moves into the realm of reason—of definition. It is this claim that ultimately deserves the most attention here. The claim: "if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it." Alma seems here to revert to a rather common way of thinking about the relation between belief and knowledge: the latter is a stronger version of the former. That is, it sounds here as if Alma is putting belief and knowledge on a continuum, suggesting that they are fundamentally related. This stands in opposition to the tenor of the discourse to this point, because faith has been fundamentally opposed to knowledge throughout. Two questions, then: first, why does Alma recast the nature of belief here? and second, what is it he is ultimately saying here about belief/faith?
In answer to this first question, one might suggest that he is conceding the Zoramite belief, something everyone would agree with, in a kind of Socratic move (Socrates always agreed with the presuppositions of those he spoke with, but he would help them to see how their presuppositions conflicted one with another according to the strict laws of logic). That is, though Alma himself understands faith to be something fundamentally different from knowledge, he recognizes that the Zoramites (or most people) do not so think, and so he meets up with their thinking here to argue from their point of view. Really, a better way to approach this problem is to seek to answer the second question first, because it is not clear really what Alma is saying about faith/belief here, and it will only be possible to think about the first question once that is clear. Hence, we turn to the second question.
  • Alma 32:18: Is this faith? In answering his own rhetorical question, Alma does not dispute the claim of the sign-seeker that he will "know of a surety." Instead, Alma simply disputes that this is faith, leaving open the possibility (but only a possiblity) that knowledge "of a surety" can indeed be gained this way. In fact, Alma goes on in verse 19 to discuss the damning effect knowledge obtained this way can have, a move on Alma's part which seems to further suggest that seeing a sign can indeed lead to knowledge. This strongly suggests that the goal of the subsequent discussion is not about obtaining knowledge per se, but the manner in which this knowledge is gained. It seems that knowledge, even perfect knowledge, is not beneficial unless obtained by faith.
  • Alma 32:19: More cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not. A similar idea seems to be taught in several other scriptural passages. For example, 2 Ne 9:27 says about him to whom the law is given, and in this sense "knows" the will of God, "awful is his state." D&C 82:3 teaches that where "much is given much is required" (this seems to be a quotation of, or at least related to, Luke 12:48). James 4:17 defines sin using a similar notion of knowledge: "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Finally, D&C 41:5 teaches that "He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you"—interestingly, the "cast out" phrasing used here is also a prominent phrase used in Alma 32.
  • Alma 32:19: Only hath cause to believe. The word "only" might seem a bit strange here since "only" as used here seems to mean a weaker condition, and yet having a "cause" to believe seems to be a strong condition. However, if "cause" is understood in a way that is weaker than sufficient causation, then this makes sense. That is, if having a "cause to believe" means having "motivation" to believe (see Webster's 1828 dictionary, definition 3), then we can understand this as emphasizing that having a "cause to believe" does not imply that one actually believes. In other words, this phrase seems to preserve room to choose between believing or not.
  • Alma 32:19: Knoweth the will of God and doeth it not. Later, Alma will talk about obtaining perfect knowledge by what seems to be a growing process of faith. But here, Alma seems to be suggesting (this ambiguity is highlighted in verse 20) that knowledge is potentially undesirable because it can have damning effects. The tension between these alternately negative and positive views of knowledge seems to be predicated on whether or not faith accompanies(/precedes) knowledge or not. It seems that for knowledge to be a desirable thing, the knower must not be at risk of failing to do God's word. This suggests, then, that the increase in faith described by Alma later should somehow be related to a decreasing risk of failing to do God's will. Alma later mentions a "desire to believe" (verse 27)—perhaps this kind of desire should be thought in relation to the damning effect of knowledge, or vice versa.
  • Alma 32:19: Or only hath cause to believe. This phrase seems to suggest the possibility of having cause to believe but not believing. This seems similar to the idea expressed by the word "sometimes" in verse 13: there, those who are compelled to be humble only sometimes repent; here, those that have cause to believe only sometimes believe. The word "cause" then seems analogous to the way the word "compelled" is used above, but seems to have softer connotations here. That is, having a cause to believe is not the same as being forced to believe, but it opens the possibility of belief—or even more, the call to belief.
  • Alma 32:21: Perfect knowledge. The word-pair "perfect knowledge" only occurs in a few other instances in LDS scripture. Two occurrences seem particularly relevant to Alma's sermon here: Jacob 4:12 where Jacob is describing the atonement of Christ, and Ether 3:20 where the Brother of Jared's theophany is described. The interplay between the terms faith and knowledge in Ether 3 seems rather complex and should be considered carefully in order to understand better what Alma is getting at here (it seems likely that Alma would have been familiar with Jacob's words and the Brother of Jared's theophany; whether or not the Zoramite poor would have been familiar with these records is more speculative).
  • Alma 32:21: Faith, hope, and perfect knowledge. The phrase "if ye have faith ye hope" could be read as implying that hope is a necessary ingredient of faith. That is, if I am predisposed not to believe in something (i.e. I have no hope that something is true), then I will not be able to develop faith. The contrapositive logic for this reading is as follows: If F implies H, then not H implies not F.
Another way to read the phrase "if ye have faith ye hope" suggests something quite different. It could be that Alma is suggesting that hope follows faith: If I have faith, then hope follows. On this view, faith effectively precedes hope (rather than hope preceding faith as suggested above). See also Alma 25:16 where hope is spoken of as being retained "through faith."
In context, however, the term hope seems to be used to elaborate on the previous phrase that faith is not to have a perfect knowledge. Thus, regardless of whether hope is viewed as a prerequirement or a consequence of faith, the important thing is that faith entails only hope, not a perfect knowledge. Although hope is being contrasted here with perfect knowledge, note that Ether 12:4 discusses the "sure and steadfast" effects of hope. In fact, the contrast between hope and perfect knowledge being used here seems to presuppose a relationship between hope and knowledge that makes a contrasting comparison possible and meaningful. That is, comparing hope (or, indirectly, faith) and perfect knowledge should not be viewed as comparing apples and oranges, but perhaps more like comparing small apples to big apples in the sense that hope is something that points toward or can grow into perfect knowledge.
  • Alma 32:21: Which are true. In verse 21 Alma tells us that when we have faith we "hope for things which are not seen, which are true." What should we make of this last phrase "which are true"?
There are different ways that we could make sense of this.
1) Alma may be referring to what we might otherwise call true faith. It may be that he is distinguishing this concept of faith from what we might call misplaced faith. Under this interpretation the fact that Alma doesn't feel it necessary to call this "true faith," the fact that he simply calls this "faith" suggests that in Alma's view "misplaced faith" isn't properly faith at all. If we follow that thought to it's logical conclusion then someone who professes faith in something they honestly believe is true only has faith if they are right. Note that this is different than we typically use the word in English today. In the way the word is used in English today, someone might say "I grew up with faith in the religion my parents had taught me. It wasn't until I went to college that I realized that many of the things I had had faith in were wrong."
2) Alma may be simply saying that when someone has faith they hope that something they don't see is true. The distinguishing feature between this interpretation and the first is that in the first interpretation "which are true" is taken as a universal claim about what is the case whereas in this second interpretation it is a statement simply about what the person who has hope believes. Under this second interpretation the point of the phrase "which are true" is simply to distinguish a hope in a belief--which is to say a hope that something is true--from other types of hope.
Those who would argue in favor of this second interpretation point out that interpreting "which are true" in the context of the person with hope is no different than the way we all interpret "which are not seen." If we all interpreted "which are not seen" as a universal claim about what is the case it would suggest Alma is telling us that someone cannot have faith in something that someone else has seen. But that leads us to the clearly false conclusion that I cannot have faith in Jesus Christ because Joseph Smith saw him. This interpretation suggests that both phrases "which are not seen" and "which are true" have to be understood relative to the person with hope.
  • Alma 32:22: His word. Up to this point in this chapter, the word word has occurred with the definite article the modifying it (vv. 1, 6, 14, 16). However, here, just before Alma begins a discussion of how the word of God is delivered unto man ("by angels" in v. 23), Alma adds the possessive modifier his to the word word describing God's word as "his word." This possessive modifier of God's word ("his word") seems to mark a change in Alma's discussion of the word of God, a change which seems to set up a contrast with the phrase "my words" in verses 26-27. This seems to be a step on Alma's part toward a discussion about what ultimately amounts to bridging the gap between man (the Zoramite poor in particular) and God's word. Despite Alma's explanation, Alma 33:1 indicates that the Zoramite poor did not fully understand how Alma's words apply to the bridging this distance between them and God's word (cf. "how they should plant the seed . . . or in what manner they should begin to exercise their faith").
  • Alma 32:23: His word by angels. Compare the discussion in 2 Ne 32:3 where angels "speak the words of Christ." If Alma was familiar with Nephi's writings, this might have bearing on how we read Alma's words here. Here it seems that Alma is functioning as a de facto angel by delivering God's word to the Zoramite poor. On the other hand, Alma's conversion seems to have been effected by a being that was a angelic in the sense of being different from ordinary mortals (at least this seems the common reading of Alma's conversion experience).

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  • Alma 32:17: Know of a surety. How would seeing a sign help us "know of a surety"? Know what? Didn't Laman and Lemuel see signs from heaven? If so, what did they know of a surety? Can anything be known "of a surety"? Can knowing "of a surety" be reconciled with being "lowly in heart" (v. 8) and being humble and learning wisdom (v. 12)? If something is known "of a surety" how can learning take place? Is the learning of wisdom described in verse 12 a one time event, a finite process, an eternally recurring process, or something else entirely?
  • Alma 32:18: Faith and belief. Alma seems to implicitly link faith and belief in this verse, and it seems he expects his listeners to already have some sort of understanding of this link. How would the Zoramite poor have understood this link before Alma launches into his metaphor of the word as a seed where belief and faith play such a vital role? Is the phrase "ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive" in mind (see 1 Ne 15:11; cf. Enos 1:15; Mosiah 4:21; Alma 22:16)? Are there other important teachings on belief and faith that they likely would have been familiar with? If they confused the relationship between faith, belief and knowledge, can we reverse engineer how this understanding might've become corrupted?
  • Alma 32:19: More cursed. What does "cursed" mean? What does Alma's use of the term "curse" elsewhere help us understand about this verse (see esp. Alma 3:6-7, 9, 14-15, 18-19)? How might this be related to the curses talked about in the creation narrative (cf. Gen 3:14, 17), or the curse pronounced up on Cain (Gen 4:11)?
  • Alma 32:20: One hand even as it is on the other. What does this phrase mean? Is it related to any know expression in Hebrew or Egyptian? (Cf. 1 Ne 14:7.)
  • Alma 32:20: Now of this thing ye must judge. What does this phrase mean? What is it referring to? faith requiring the absence of knowledge? the relative cursedness of not doing God's will in terms of knowing or merely believing something?
  • Alma 32:21: Perfect knowledge of things. Is it ever possible to have a perfect knowledge without qualification? Will there ever be a time that we will not need to have faith anymore? (In the Lectures on Faith, God is described as working by faith—does this have any bearing on how we should understand this verse?)
  • Alma 32:21: If ye have faith ye hope. Does this mean that if you do not hope, then by definition you do not have faith? In other words, is this an if-then statement, where we can apply formal logic to conclude that one without hope for things which are not seen but true does not have faith? If so, what does faith mean? How does it differ from hope?
  • Alma 32:25: That ye all of you have": What purpose does the "ye" serve in this verse?

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Verse 21[edit]

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Alma 32:26-30

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:26-43
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Summary[edit]

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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:

Discussion[edit]

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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.
  • Innocence
  • 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)
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)
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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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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?
  • Alma 32:35: Whatsoever is light, is good. What is it about light "that is good"? (See also Gen 1:4)

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.

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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Alma 32:31-35

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:26-43
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Summary[edit]

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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:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.
  • Innocence
  • 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)
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)
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.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

This section is for prompts that suggest ways in which a passage can influence a person's life. Prompts may be appropriate either for private self reflection or for a class discussion. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Prompts for further study[edit]

This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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?
  • Alma 32:35: Whatsoever is light, is good. What is it about light "that is good"? (See also Gen 1:4)

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.

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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Alma 32:36-40

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:26-43
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This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.
  • Innocence
  • 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)
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)
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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Prompts for further study[edit]

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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?
  • Alma 32:35: Whatsoever is light, is good. What is it about light "that is good"? (See also Gen 1:4)

Resources[edit]

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  • 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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Alma 32:41-43

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Summary[edit]

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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:

Discussion[edit]

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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.
  • Innocence
  • 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)
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)
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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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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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?
  • Alma 32:35: Whatsoever is light, is good. What is it about light "that is good"? (See also Gen 1:4)

Resources[edit]

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  • 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.

Notes[edit]

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