Alma 5:14-32

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 4-7 > Chapter 5 > Verses 5:14-32
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Discussion[edit]

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  • Alma 5:14, 19: Bearing the Image of God in Our Countenance. Verses 14 and 19 suggest that we should have the image of God engraven upon our countenances. What does that mean? Literally, that we come to look like him. People should see him when they see us because we do his works and exude his spirit. This injunction is linked to the suggestion in 14 that we must be “spiritually born of God.” Children tend to look like their parents. Thus, those who are born of God, who become his sons and daughters, in the words of King Benjamin (Mosiah 5:7), will, if they are faithful, come to have the countenance of their parent, God. For more, see Image as Indwelling?.
  • Alma 5:15: The Eye of Faith. To see with the eye of faith is to interpret events with an eye to the true divine purpose of the world and our experience in it. An example of seeing with the eye of faith is found in Alma 4:3 where people saw judgments of God in their suffering. As the wiki commentary on that passage indicates, those suffering Nephites had probably not done anything to bring misfortune upon themselves. They seem to have been exceptionally righteous. But like Christ's apostles who say, "Is it I" (Matthew 26:22), they look for divine actions and judgements in their lives Though they are probably not factually correct in that instance, they were right to look for the hand of God in the world, i.e., to see with the eye of faith. When we see with the eye of faith, we may sometimes be mistaken in particulars--i.e., believe God has caused something to happen that he didn't cause--but will nevertheless get the big questions right, for God is involved with the world and does watch over and bless us in manifold ways.
  • Alma 5:14-25: Refutation of Nehor. In this passage, and then in much of what follows in this semon, Alma takes on Nehor, his principal theological adversary in Zarahemla and throughout Nephite lands. Nehor has taught the same doctrine that Satan put before us in the pre-existence: that all will be saved regardless of what they choose to do. In the pre-existence, Satan sought to destroy the agency of man by causing choices to have no consequence. Where all choices lead to the same end, the agency of man is destroyed (see exegesis for Alma 1:4). We have no power to determine our own destiny. All who come to earth rejected this doctrine in the council of heaven, but Satan hasn't given up, and the doctine we rejected in heaven has proven to be popular here on earth. Alma here labors to persuade his people that the doctrine of universal salvation is false. His sermon strongly emphasizes the main doctrinal point at issue: behavior has consequences. Nehor and his followers, like all of us, will face the eternal consequences of their behavior at the judgment bar that inevitably awaits each of us.
Thus, in verse 15, Alma emphasizes that all will "stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body." This passage provides a valuable key for evaluating our behavior options: our choices should be guided by the value each alternative will have as we stand at judgment bar. Alternatively, we might ask how we will view what we are now doing at the moment of our death. Will it then appear to be time well spent or will we regret not having done something else with our precious time. In verses 17 and 18, Alma emphasizes that there will be no deception or self-deception at the judgment bar. We will be seen and will see ourselves as we actually are, clean or unclean. As the exegesis above on verses 14 and 19 suggests, if we are clean, we will have the countenance and image of God, will be like our parent. Alternatively, if on earth, in theory or practice, we have followed Satan's doctrine and have lived according to our fallen wills, we will be subject to Satan (verse 20) and receive a measure of his eternal punishment having chosen him rather than God as our father.
  • Alma 5:18: Set at defiance. This phrase only occurs three times in the scriptures: Alma 5:18, Alma 61:7, and 3 Ne 6:30. Its use in 3 Ne 6:30 is interesting, as it is talking about those who desire to overthrow the laws and resultant liberties of the people in order to be subject to kings--perhaps a shadow of what Alma is talking about here, with people disregarding the commandments and willing to be subject to the devil. Websters 1828 definition of defiance specifically ties it to notions of armed conflict: 1. A daring; a challenge to fight; invitation to combat; a call to an adversary to encounter, if he dare. Goliath bid defiance to the army of Israel. 2. A challenge to meet in any contest; a call upon one to make good any assertion or charge; an invitation to maintain any cause or point. 3. Contempt of opposition or danger; a daring or resistance that implies the contempt of an adversary, or of any opposing power. Men often transgress the law and act in defiance of authority.
  • Alma 5:21: The Works of Grace. Verse 15 says that we will be judged according to our works. How do we reconcile the importance of our works with the statement in verse 21 that it is only through the blood of Christ that we can be saved? The atonement is a work of Christ, not our work. If it is what saves us, how are we judged and saved according to our works? Alma’s answer—implicit in verses 20 and 21—is that our works are never really ours. We lesser spirits always take on the imprint of one of two greater spirits, either Satan (as mentioned in 20) or Christ (as mentioned in 14 and 19). So our good works are the works of grace. We derive our ability to be good and, ultimately, to be perfect from our relationship with the Savior. It is from our relationship with him that we acquire the capacity to keep all of God's commandments. To be sure, it is our choice whether we come to Christ or not. And it is our choice whether we remain engaged with him long enough to be sanctified, line upon line, precept upon precept, unto the perfect day. But the importance of our agency notwithstanding, our righteousness remains derivative. The fact that our ability to keep the commandments comes from our relationship with Christ is apparent, among other places, in the changing verbiage of the sacraments prayers.
The idea that our righteousness is derivative sits a little uncomfortably with the idea that we are uncreated and fundamentally autonomous beings with inherent capacity for choice (see D&C 93:29). But the scriptures make it quite clear that in practice, the domain of choice for us is defined by Christ and Lucifer. We fall in line with one or the other rather than charting our own independent path (see Alma 5:38-40).
  • Alma 5:23: Was Alma's Audience Full of Murderers? What are we to make of question in 23, “Will they not testify that ye are murderers?” Is Alma addressing a bunch of people who are murderers? Murder is the second greatest of all sins and proably the greatest sin an ordinary person can commit. So this is truly a rough crowd if many listening to Alma are murderers. But that is not likely. The word murder is used quite loosely in the Book of Mormon. Alma suggests that he himself has murdered many of his fellow Nephites (Alma 36:14), but it is quite clear that he is speaking metaphorically (Alma 26:14). In addition to its metaphorical application, the term is used to specify many different kinds of infractions that involve killing—e.g., everything from the culturally dictated acts of violence of the people of Ammon prior to their conversion (Alma 24:9) to the actions of cold blooded murderers who willfully of own their volition take another life. In this passage, murder probably functions as a kind of synechdoche. Alma uses the greatest possible sin an ordinary person can commit as a stand in for all unforgiven sins. Since we cannot bear to be in God's presence if guilty of even the smallest infraction of God's law, the smallest unrepented sin is equivalent to murder in its power to keep us from heaven (James 2:10). Murder is, thus, an apt synecdoche for communicating the seriousness of all sin when viewed from the divine perspective. We must not be complacent about even the smallest of our sins. The fact that others may be guilty of much worse than we cannot save us. Even the smallest infraction makes us guilty of all sin. So it is necessary for us to receive the atonement and endure to the end in our sanctifying relationship with Christ, the end being the achievment of godlike perfection through the enabling power of the atonement.
  • Alma 5:24: Another Appeal to Spiritual and Cultural Heritage. Alma opens this sermon with a reminder of the spiritual heritage these people have in the court of King Noah where Abinadi testified and at the Waters of Mormon. Here he extends that heritage back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and subsequent prophets of the Old Testament era. Like belief in Christ, the patriarchs and prophets are part of Nephi's legasy to his people because it was he who secured the Brass Plates that preserved the people's memory of their connection to these great figures. In mentioning these figures, Alma is probably making a cultural as well as a religious appeal. The Brass Plates have long been a potent symbol of the political as well as the spiritual legitimacy of the Nephite regime. (See, for instance, how Benjamin sets up the coronation of his son Mosiah as king by first emphasizing the importance of the Brass Plates (Mosiah 1:2-8).
  • Alma 5:25: Make our Creator a liar. In other words, this thing cannot happen. Alma is one of the few prophets to suggest that God must follow certain patterns or cease to be God (see Alma 12:23, 42:13). Here, he relies on the reader's understanding of God's attributes (truthful, all-knowing) to realize how unlikely this event is.
  • Alma 5:26: The Song of Redeeming Love. According to Nibley, "the song of redeeming love was a very important part in the cult of Moses. When the people all came together, they would sing the song of redeeming love. It was part of their ritual” (The Book of Mormon, Vol 2, p. 326). This song is preserved in Revelations 15:3-4 where it is called the song of Moses. Since the Nephites still practice the Law of Moses, this ritual song would be an important part of their worship. It is an important motif in the Book of Mormon that also occurs in Alma 5:9 and Alma 26:13.
  • Alma 5:27: A Paradoxical Question. What is the correct answer to the question in verse 27: "Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble?" This sounds like a trick question. Won't both a "yes" and a "no" keep us out of heaven because either answer indicates that we lack sufficient humility? The correct answer is probably the following: "yes, I am humble because I fully understand that in and of myself, I am nothing, am totally lost. My virtue flows from Christ. What have I to boast of but his merciful grace?"
  • Alma 5:28-29: Parallel Sins of Pride and Envy. The structure of these verses suggests an underlying equivalence in the seemingly opposite sins of pride and envy. The equivalence is apparent in a combination of structural and verbal parallels between verse 28 which focuses on pride and verse 29 which focuses on envy. Identical words in the respective verses are italicized. Conceptually similar parallel ideas are bolded.
1a Behold, are ye stripped of pride?
2a I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God.
3a Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand,
4a and such an one hath not eternal life.
1b Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy?
2b I say unto you that such an one is not prepared;
3b and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come;
4b for such an one is not found guiltless.
The proud person and the envious person both exhibit the same error: each over values personal attributes or possessions that appeal to the natural man but have no eternal value. The proud person has these things and foolishly feels validated by them; the envous person doesn't have them, wishes he did, and resents those who do. They are alike in sharing the same misplaced values. Alma highlights the similarity of the two sins.
A number of verses in the Book of Mormon link clothing with pride (e.g., Alma 5:53, 4 Nephi 1:24). Alma 1:6 says Nehor, Alma's principle theological nemesis, "began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel." In light of that connection between pride and clothing, the clothing metaphors in this section of Alma's sermon probably represent part of the ongoing refutation of Nehor. Followers of Christ are stripped of pride (verse 28) and envy (verse 29). In place of that false finery, they clothe themselves in simpler, unpretentious but beautiful garments that are "cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ" (verse 27).
  • Alma 5:30-31: Persecuting the Poor. A common theme in the Book of Mormon is how prosperous people persecute the poor, how even members of Church begin to persecute the poor as they become wealthy--in spite of a strict law that there be no persecution by members of the Church {Alma 1:21). What form does this persecution take? Alma 4:12 focuses on neglect of the poor which is wrong, but neglect is not persecution. Persecution requires an active focus on the victim. Alma 5:30 may provide the answer to this question about persecution. It links persecution with mockery. So the persecution alluded to is probably snobbery with associated ridicule or mockery of the poor because they lack fashionable possessions. Alma 1:21 says the Church had a strict law that there be no persecution by members of Church. Adults and youth (who may be especially prone to engage in this behavior) must understand that it is a grave sin to despise others and put them down because they lack fashionable possessions. Verse 31 tells us that if we indulge in this sin, we cannot be saved.

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Alma 5:14: What does “receive his image in your countenances” mean? Does it have anything to do with Gen 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them"? If we have already been created in the image of God, how can Alma ask whether those in Zarahemla have received that image? How is Alma’s teaching related to the teaching of 1 Jn 3:2: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
  • Alma 5:14: Just how close the connection is between Hebrew and the language of the Nephites is a matter of conjecture. Normally we would expect a good deal of language change in the 500 years since Lehi’s family arrived in the New World. However, if Hebrew is the priestly language of the plates rather than the everyday language of the Nephites, it may not have changed very much. If so, we can draw some tentative conclusions about Book of Mormon language from what we know about Hebrew. Perhaps the first thing to notice is that in Hebrew the word for “face” (pannim) is plural rather than singular. What implications might that have for how Hebrews and perhaps Nephites, too, understood the face? Another important thing about the Hebrew word for face is that it often stands for the person as a whole. (See, for example, Deut 28:50, Job 29:24, Prov 7:13, and Jer 5:3.) Does that suggest anything about what Alma is saying here?
  • Alma 5:14: Are the questions that Alma asks in these verses different questions or are they different ways of asking the same question?
  • Alma 5:14: What does it mean to be "spiritually born of God"? Is this the same as being "born again"?
  • Alma 5:14: How do we "receive" God's image in our countenance?
  • Alma 5:14: What is the connection between receiving God's image in our countenance and experiencing a mighty change in our heart?
  • Alma 5:14: Why does Alma refer to it as a change "in" our heart rather than a change "of" our heart?
  • Alma 5:15: What does it mean to "exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you"? In our modern terms, this faith in Christ or the Father?
  • Alma 5:15: What is "the redemption of him who created you"? Is this just another way of saying "The Atonement"? What is meant by this phrase?
  • Alma 5:15: What does it mean to "look forward with an eye of faith"? What is the "eye of faith"?
  • Alma 5:15: What does looking forward to the resurrection and judgment have to do with being saved?
  • Alma 5:15: What does it mean for "corruption" to be "raised in incorruption"?
  • Alma 5:15: How will we "be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body"?
  • Alma 5:16: What would it take for us to imagine that we hear God calling us blessed and calling us to him? What would it mean for God to call us "blessed"?
  • Alma 5:16: How is imagination tied to salvation? How is imagination tied to exercising faith?
  • Alma 5:16: What does it mean to "come unto" God in this way? How might that be different from how we normally talk about coming unto God?
  • Alma 5:16: If every person sins, what does it take for our works to be the works of righteousness? What are "the" works of righteousness? Does that mean all of our works are righteous, or that there is an expected subset of works that are righteous? What does righteous mean in this context?
  • Alma 5:16: What is meant by "upon the face of the earth"? Is that just another way of saying "in mortality" or is there something else implied here?
  • Alma 5:17: How does Alma contrast these two acts of imagination by use of the term "or"?
  • Alma 5:17: What does it mean to "imagine to yourselves"? Is this just another way of saying "imagine", or is there something else going on here?
  • Alma 5:17: How could anyone imagine lying to the Lord? Why does Alma bring this up?
  • Alma 5:17: If Alma imagines someone lying unto the Lord when they state that their works have been righteous works, does that imply that he imagines everyone will have to make their own statement about their own works, something that isn't mentioned in the earlier example of judgment?
  • Alma 5:17: What does this imaginative account of judgment and salvation imply about these two acts? How literally should we take this account?
  • Alma 5:17: Is salvation something that happens after resurrection and judgment, or is this just an imaginative metaphor for some other process?
  • Alma 5:18: What does it mean to be "brought before the tribunal of God"? Who is it that brings us? How are we brought?
  • Alma 5:18: What does it mean to be have your soul "filled with guilt and remorse"? Isn't this a good thing that leads to repentance?
  • Alma 5:18: What is it about the remembrance of guilt and wickedness that is damning in this situation?
  • Alma 5:18: How are we supposed to forget our guilt and memories of our wickedness?
  • Alma 5:18: What is meant by a "perfect" remembrance"? How is that different from a normal memory?
  • Alma 5:18: What does it mean to "set at defiance the commandments of God"? Is this just another way of saying "being disobedient" or is there something else going on here? What does it mean to "set at defiance"?
  • Alma 5:18: Which "commandments of God" are referred to here? Are these specific commandments, or just everything that God has said to do?
  • Alma 5:19: Why do you think Alma says that we will look up at that day? Could he possibly be suggesting that we will be on our knees, kneeling before the Lord and looking up at Him?
  • Alma 5:19: What are "a pure heart and clean hands"? Are these the same things, or two different things?
  • Alma 5:19: What does it mean for hands to be clean?
  • Alma 5:19: What does it mean for the "image of God" to be "engraven upon your countenances"? How is it "engraven"? What is our countenance?
  • Alma 5:20: What does Alma mean by "being saved"?
  • Alma 5:20: How does someone "yield themselves" to the devil? What does this imply about our use of agency?
  • Alma 5:20: What does it mean "to become subjects to the devil?"
  • Alma 5:20: Does this give us any insight into the ground of our being? Is there neutral ground, a way to avoid yielding ourselves to either God or the devil? Or are we forced to chose? Are there any neutral choices?
  • Alma 5:21: Compare what Alma says here about salvation with what he said about it in verses 10-13. Here he says that to be saved we must have our garments washed white in the blood of the Redeemer. There he says that we must have our hearts changed, humble ourselves, trust God, and remain faithful. How are those two descriptions of salvation related?
  • Alma 5:21: Cannot be saved. How does this statement compare with the idea that all mankind can be saved by grace (see Eph 2:5)?
  • Alma 5:23: Alma seems to use murder as the type of all sin. Why is it appropriate to do so?
  • Alma 5:26: Why does Alma call these people his "brethren"? Are these people of his Nephite lineage, or members of the Church, or both?
  • Alma 5:26: Why is experiencing the change of heart described as singing “the song of redeeming love"? What does the question of this verse suggest is Alma’s concern for the people of Zarahemla? How is it an appropriate question for us?
  • Alma 5:26: How is it possible to experience a change of heart, but to lose that feeling?
  • Alma 5:27: Does it make sense to understand these questions as tests we can use to answer the question, “Am I clean?”
  • Alma 5:27: Is Alma using humility and having one’s garments washed clean as parallel concepts in this verse? If not, why does he particularly mention humility?
  • Alma 5:28: What does it mean to be stripped of pride? Why are we unprepared to meet God if we are not stripped of pride?
  • Alma 5:29: What might Alma mean here by “envy"? How does envy prevent us from being in the presence of God?
  • Alma 5:30: What mockery or persecution within the Church might Alma have in mind? (Compare Alma 1:22-24—how did the contention with those outside the Church lead to excommunications?)
  • Alma 5:32: Who are the workers of iniquity? Is iniquity different from sin? Why does the verse end with “for the Lord hath spoken it"?

Resources[edit]

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  • Alma 5:26-31: Change of heart. In a 1989 Fireside address at BYU titled Come unto Christ, Elder Eyring talks about how these verses (specifically 26-31) can be use to help understand whether we have had a change of heart, i.e. whether we have repented.

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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