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Relationship to Chapters 31-35. The relationship of Chapters 34-35 to the rest of Chapters 31-35 is discussed at Chapters 31-35.
Story. Chapters 34-35 consists of ___ major sections:
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 34-35 include:
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- Alma 34:5. What does the question mean "whether the word is in the Son of God, or whether there shall be no Christ"? At its simplest we can read the question as "whether there shall be a Christ, or whether there shall be no Christ." This reading fits in nicely with the surrounding verses. But how can we make sense of the phrase "word be in the Son of God" and, in verse 6, "word is in Christ unto salvation"? John's discussion of Christ as the word (John 1:1-14) seems relevant, but it isn't clear exactly what the relation is.
- Since Amulek is clearly talking about Alma's preaching to them in Alma 32, we should look first to see how the "word" is used there.
- We see from verse 6, verse 14, and especially from the phrases "word of God" (v 16) and "his word" (v 22) that "word" here refers to God's words--just as it does in the name of this site taken from 2 Ne 32:3. As Alma is clear, God's words can be scriptures or revelation (v 23). In that sense we can read the question in verse 5 as asking "whether God's words testify of the Son of God or whether there shall be no Christ."
- Another interpretation sees verse 14 as the summation of the answer to the question posed here. In that case "word" is (or at least includes) the law--specifically the law of Moses.
- Alma 34:8: Atone. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines atone as "to stand as an equivalent; to make reparation, amends or satisfaction for an offense or a crime, by which reconciliation is procured between the offended and offending parties" or "to make compensation or amends" (the other definition does would not seem to apply in this context). It seems this could, but does not necessarily, imply a type of penal-substitution view of atonement (note the word amend is defined as "a pecuniary punishment or fine"). An alternative reading would, presumably, emphasize the "reparation" and "satisfaction" aspect of the word atone. For example, if Christ's suffering somehow causes a sinner to repent, then it could be said that atonement was made without concluding that Christ's suffering is a direct substitute for the sinner's suffering.
- Alma 34:11-13. The scriptures often compare spiritual concepts by analogy to everyday life in order to make them more intelligible. We just saw this principle at work when Alma compares the word to a seed (Alma 32:28-43). Here though, Amulek takes the opposite approach. Instead of explaining through analogy, he explains through contrast. Specifically Amulek contrasts Christ's sacrifice to the idea of substituting one person's punishment for another. The fact that Amulek uses this example in contrast to Christ's atonement is all the more interesting because today the same sort of example is often used for the opposite reason. So let's take a close look at what Amulek says here.
- Amulek uses the example of murder to show that substituting one person's punishment for another is not justice. If the punishment for murder is death, it doesn't help to put to death someone other than the murderer. But if we aren't to see Christ's sacrifice as substituting one person's punishment for another, how should we understand it? Amulek uses the contrast to conclude that "nothing which is short of an infinite atonement . . . will suffice for the sins of the world." What do we learn from this? What is an "infinite atonement"? There are two hints in this passage as to what Amulek means by infinite. 1) We can see from verses 13-15 that the sacrifice is infinite in the sense that it is all-completing. We see that whatever type of sacrifice it is, there is no need for a second infinite sacrifice. 2) We can also learn about infinite by seeing how it is used elsewhere in the scriptures. The word is uncommon. When it is used we mostly see it in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants where it is always used as an attribute of something uniquely belonging to God (see the search on lds.org). The point of infinite here is the same. So infinite doesn't so much tell us what type of sacrifice Christ made as much as it tells us what it wasn't--it wasn't like the sacrifice we know. In this sense the word is repeating the same point Amulek makes starting in verse 11--this isn't your everyday sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice is god-like. It is beyond our own understanding. The substitution sacrifice inherent in the law of Moses does point to Christ's sacrifice, but Christ's sacrifice is entirely beyond that.
- Ultimately then, Amulek doesn't tell us how Christ's sacrifice works, he just tells us how it doesn't work (not through substitution of punishment). The what Amulek tells us is more important than the how. The what tells the effect of Christ's sacrifice. It "overpowereth justice" (v 15), it creates a place where we can be encircled in the arms of safety (v 16), and it saves us.
- And yet, these verses have important implications for the how of the atonement as well. We sometimes use civil law to develop an accounting theory of the atonement. Sinners are debtors. The atonement gives Christ a superabundance of wealth that permits him to pay any conceivable debt. A creditor in civil law has no claim on a debtor if he is paid, regardless of whether the debt was repaid by the original debtor or by some other party. As long as creditors get what is owed them, they must be and are satisfied. While ancient and modern apostles have used this metaphor to help explain the atonement, Amulek here exposes its ultimate inadequacy. In criminal cases--e.g., murder--no one would feel justice is done if one man commits murder and another is then executed. Only the life of the murderer can in some measure satisfy justice. In using this criminal law example, Amulek demonstrates that an eye-for-an-eye model of the atonement cannot be just if a third party, Christ, pays the price for the sin.
- How, then, are we to be saved. Amulek gives us hints in verses 15 and 17. The atonement “bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” Christ’s loving act of self-sacrifice evokes in some the broken heart and contrite spirit that is the essential pre-requisite for repentance and salvation (Mosiah 2:7). Those, who properly respond to his love, repent and are born again. They have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). They thus receive mercy (Alma 32:17). If they persevere in and deepen this saving relationship with their Savior, they continue to repent and over time become fully sanctified and entirely free from sin. We know from Isaiah 1:18 and other scriptures that God does not care what we have been, only what we are: though our sins have been as scarlet, we can be white as snow. What Elder Bednar has called “the enabling power of the atonement” makes it possible for us to live as we could not live if we were not eternally bound to Christ by our broken-hearted and contrite gratitude for his loving sacrifice. Justice dictates that our fate be a function of who we are (Alma 41:13). Mercy (embodied in Christ’s loving sacrifice) makes it possible for us to repent and become beings who will never again commit sin and who can, therefore, happily and justly live for eternity in the presence of God and Christ (Alma 42:13, 24). Throughout that eternity, our capacity to continue without sin will be rooted in our continuing broken-hearted and contrite relationship with Christ. His atonement is infinite because our gratitude for his sacrifice and our broken-hearted, repentant response to it will never end and will forever be the foundation of our salvation.
- Alma 34:13: Stop to shedding of blood. In verse 13 Amulek says that after the great and last sacrifice there should be a stop to the shedding of blood. As verse 14 explains, this great and last sacrifice is the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God. Why is it that with this last sacrifice there comes a stop to the shedding of blood? In this context, the shedding of blood seems to principally refer to blood sacrifices required in the law of Moses. As we see in the Book of Mormon, these sacrifices stop after Christ's death.
- In a broader sense a stop to the shedding of blood may be a reference to Christ as the Prince of Peace and an end to the "eye for an eye" bloodshed that is part of the Law of Moses.
- Alma 34:33-35: Procrastinating repentance. Verse 33 tells us not to put off repenting. Amulek says "if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed." This is a reminder that since we don't know when we will be called back home from this world we should repent early.
- Alma 34:39. In verse 39 Amulek tells us that if we pray continually, we will stay close to the Lord. Whether we are praying or not is a good indication of which direction we are going--whether we are moving closer to God or farther away.
- Alma 35:9. From what it mentions in verse 9 it sounds as though the Zoramites were especially cruel to those that left the city. This could be compared, perhaps, to the treatment the early saints received in Missouri and Illinois.
- It appears to be a common tactic of the Nephite dissenters to go to the Lamanites and incite them to war with the Nephites. It seems as though the Lamanites were easily tricked into fighting.
- Alma 35:13: Melek versus Mulek. It is possible that the scribe misheard Joseph when he wrote that the people of Ammon retreated to the land of Melek. According to John Sorenson in Mormon's Map, the land of Melek is a long way from Jerson, about 150 miles to the southwest across Sidon and past Zarahemla. The city of Mulek, on the other hand is about 20 miles to the north of Jershon. It is, thus, a logical place for the people of Ammon to retreat to. Retreat to Mulek leaves them positioned to support the war effort that will occur in the land of Jershon, their land of inheritance.
- On the other hand, the sons of the people of Ammon, under the leadership of Helaman, were dispatched to the western front. They fought around Antiparah, Cumeni, and Manti, cities south of Melek. So their people of Ammon parents would have been closer to their fighting sons in Melek than in Mulek.
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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- Alma 34:10: What does Amulek mean in verse 10 when he says "for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice"? What does this teach us of Christ?
- Alma 34:13: What does it mean in verse 13 when Alma says that there shall be a stop to the shedding of blood and when this happens the law of Moses shall be fulfilled? How is this the whole meaning of the law?
- Alma 34:36-41: Why is it that we as mortals need to "pray continually" as the Lord instructs us in verse 39?
- Alma 35:1: Why would Alma and Amulek leave the country after teaching these people? Why might they have gone to the land of Jershon?
- Alma 35:2: Why don't we have a record of the teachings of the Sons of Mosiah and the other missionaries to the Zoramites?
- Alma 35:2: Why does it mention that these missionaries also went to the land of Jershon after this mission?
- Alma 35:3: Why were the Zoramites so angry with the missionaries? How can the word destroy the crafts of the evil?
- Alma 35:5: Might there be a lesson here for modern readers about transparency in government?
- Alma 35:11-14: Why did the Lamanites prepare for war against the Nephites?
- Alma 35:11-14: What were the names of the two sons of Alma?
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- Alma 34:8: Penal-substitution theory. See this comment at the New Cool Thang blog for Jacob Morgan's reading of verses 8-16.
- Alma 34:11-15. Informed speculations on the meaning of "infinite atonement" can be found on page 22 in this Sunstone article.
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