Talk:Alma 32:21-25

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Verse 21 on faith[edit]

I think Ben's question and discussion of Alma's comment on faith in verse 21 is interesting. I like the questions he starts out with and I agree with the conclusion. But, I'm not so comfortable with how we get from the questions to the conclusion. Consider the following sentences.

If our belief causes "swelling motions" within us, or if it produces good feelings, results, etc., then we can know that it is good. And it seems that it isn't until we've gone through this process that we can truly say we have faith in something. Because according to Alma's definition of faith, faith must be a hope in something that is true, and we can't know whether something is true or not until we've gone through this testing process.

Together these sentences suggest that we do not have faith until we have knowledge. But isn't that what Alma is arguing against when he says in the beginning of this same verse "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things"? Also look at verses 17 & 18 to see that Alma wants to draw a distinction between faith and knowledge--he does not want to argue that they are pretty much the same thing.

So what then do we make of Alma's statement in verse 21 that if we have faith we have hope for things which are not seen, which are true? I see two possible interpretations.

1) Alma believes that faith can only be faith in something that is true. So if someone has a belief, they may call their belief faith, but if the thing they believe is false, they are wrong. In that case they think they have faith but they are wrong. Under this interpretation Ben is right that we can't know we have true faith until we have knowledge. But that doesn't mean we don't have faith. It just means that we don't know yet that what we think is faith really is faith--as opposed to false belief. 2) Another interpretation is that Alma is simply saying that when you have faith you hope that something you don't see is true. The point of "which are true" then is to distinguish a hope in a belief--which is to say a hope that something is true--from other types of hope.

I believe that 1 is the most common interpretation of verse 21.

Here's my argument for why 2 is right instead. A) 1 doesn't square with the actual way we use the word today nor the way it is used elsewhere in the scriptures. Suppose someone gives their tithing money to their home teacher and their home teacher pockets it rather than giving it to the bishop. The person later says: "I had faith that the tithing money I gave to my home teacher would make it to the church. I had no idea he would pocket it." It isn't the way we use the word to say that that person didn't really have faith because since the home teacher didn't actually give the money to the bishop they couldn't have had faith that he would. Also this use of faith is inconsistent with 1 Cor 15:14 where it says that if Christ hadn't risen from the dead, our faith would be in vain. To be consistent with interpretation 1, the scripture would have to say that if Christ hadn't risen from the dead, then what we thought was faith would not really have been.

B) Interpreting "which are true" to mean that you can only have faith in something that is true, attributes a type of precision to Alma's speech here that doesn't belong here. We can see pretty easily that this type of precision doesn't belong here as we look at the previous phrase "which are not seen." If we argue that in order to have faith in something it has to be true we should also argue that in order to have faith in something it cannot be seen. But that interpretation is clearly wrong because it would lead us to the false conclusion that we cannot have faith that Jesus Christ lives because it has been seen that he lives, for example, in the first vision. Both statements "which are seen" and "which are true" have to be interpreted in the context of the hope of the person with the belief.

Sorry for the long discourse. I wanted to see if we could get some consensus about what this verse means before we write up the exegsis on it.

Thoughts? comments?

--Matthew Faulconer 06:56, 14 Sep 2005 (CEST)



OK I ended up revising the text. I tried to be fair to both of these possible interpretations. As you can tell from above, my own opinion is that the second and not the first is correct. I wouldn't be surprised if this bias crept into my explanation. Others feel free to revise my explanation to make a stronger case for the first interpretation (or to suggest another alternative). --Matthew Faulconer 17:08, 22 Sep 2005 (CEST)

Very interesting, Matthew. I think interpretation (1) is difficult, though for perhaps different reasons. I'm not so convinced by your claim (A) above that we use the term faith to always mean something different than belief in a universal truth. Using the term 'belief' in place of 'faith' in your contextual examples works. But in many contexts, faith has a stronger meaning than mere belief. --RobertC 06:16, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
I agree that faith and belief are not the same, but I don't think that the the extra meaning that faith has over belief is an implication that the object is true. --Matthew Faulconer 06:36, 23 Sep 2005 (UTC)
If I meet someone who believes the world is flat, but the world is generally regarded as round, I think it's a little unnatural to use the term faith to describe this person's belief (which I and many others think is misguided). But the more I think about it, the more I agree that useage of the term faith cannot be separated from what is believed. However, I think would be overstating the case to say that faith only reflects the beliefs of the person having or trying to have faith. Instead I think general use of the term faith is restricted to beliefs that at least several people genuinely believe are universally true. --RobertC 14:44, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
Not sure I can back up this claim though, the one dictionary I looked in doesn't help my case. Maybe I've just been acculturated to use the term faith in the wrong way.... My problem with interpretation (1) is the circularity of having to know something is true before you can really have faith in it, and you can't know it's true until you nurture faith in it (which you suggest when you say someone "only has faith if they are right"). --RobertC 06:16, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
Agreed. Given that the point of this section is for Alma to distinguish faith from knowledge, I don't think Alma is trying to claim that they are the same. --Matthew Faulconer 06:36, 23 Sep 2005 (UTC)
Not that they're the same, but that one presupposes the other. An implication of (1) is that if I try to have faith in something that's not universally true, I may think I have faith in something, but I don't in reality. Maybe this is the concern Alma addresses when he discusses having a desire to believe, and maybe this is why he uses the term experiment (which I think is very interesting). If (1) is the correct interpretation, then you can try to have faith in something, but with experimentation you will find it is not really faith. This would be fine, but Alma seems to use the term faith differently in v. 29 where he says, after having positive results from experimentation, "would not this increase your faith?" He seems here to be referring to the belief before the experimentation as faith. Is that only because the belief was proved to be true? If the belief were proved to be untrue could you properly use the term faith (acc. to Alma's definition) to refer to it? Notice Alma does not use the term faith in v. 32 when talking about a bad seed, like he does in v. 29 when talking about a good seed.... --RobertC 14:44, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
I think the last point you make about interpretation (2) is a little problematic. The phrase "which are not seen" implies a subject for the passive form of the action verb "to see." A subject is not implied in the same way with the phrase "which are true." --RobertC 06:16, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
I see your point, but not sure I agree. Both phrases in my mind have to be altered from their prima facia meaning in order to make sense of them. "which are not seen" by itself doesn't imply the subject of the person hoping but rather a universal subject. E.g. I like to go the tropics in the winter to see the bingo birds, which are not seen there in the summer. We can rightly say that seen implies a subject but the meaning here is much broader than just that I don't see bingo birds in the summer in the tropics. --Matthew Faulconer 06:36, 23 Sep 2005 (UTC)
So, according to interpretation (2), would "which are believed to be true" be an equivalent and more clear rendering of the "which are true" phrase? That seems to be what you are implying. If so, one could argue that perhaps Alma didn't say it this way (or it wasn't translated this way) for a purpose--specifically, for the purpose of allowing interpretation (1).--RobertC 14:44, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
Of course this raises the philosophical question of whether truth is independent of any subject beholding truth, which I don't think this scripture really addresses (though D&C 93:30 possibly does). At any rate, I think the parellel you make is a bit forced b/c of this difference in the phrases "which are not seen" and "which are true." --RobertC 06:16, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
Unfortunately, I don't have any other interpretations to offer, or really constructive insights. Just my current thinking. I can definitely live with how the commentary page looks right now.... --RobertC 06:16, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)
Well good points. Feel free to rewrite/edit to improve it, even if you can live with it as it is. --Matthew Faulconer 06:36, 23 Sep 2005 (UTC)
Thanks for helping me think about these issues. For years I've been trying to understand faith and doubt better. The scriptures seem to cast belief in such a positive light and doubt in such a negative light compared to current societal (secular) views (esp. in academia). It seems modern society really discourages believing in something until you can be quite sure it is true--otherwise, you might pejoratively be called gullible or naive. But many scriptures besides just this chapter seem to encourage belief and really warn about premature doubting in a way that starkly contrasts with today's societal views. I think this is why I'm hesitant to accept your looser (in the sense of not necessarily referring to universal truths) definition of how faith is used today--I'm trying to get at the root of this more skeptical predisposition of modern society. But perhaps thinking about how the term faith is used is not really the way to make progress on this issue, esp. b/c in U.S. political discourse, the term faith has come to be used much more frequently, and arguably more often in condescending (and thereby looser) ways....--RobertC 14:44, 23 Sep 2005 (CEST)

Interesting discussion. I'd also agree with the second interpretation. Eric 15:23, 23 Sep 2005 (UTC)

Perfect knowledge (v. 21)[edit]

Part of my thinking here is based on this comment of Joe's on the blog about the need to continually renew our relationship as a community before God by questioning and redefining this relationship. This got me wondering more about "perfect knowledge" which seems to connote something that is beyond the need to question. The metaphor of a tree that grows suggests, at least to me, at least at first blush, seems fundamentally at odds with the idea of perfect knowledge which ceases to grow--for if a seed ceases to grow it is dead, right? So, although perfect knowledge seems possible about certain things, I'm wondering if Alma's words don't call into question any type of absolute perfect knowledge, that is, the very possibility of ever completely laying aside faith and have perfect knowledge of all things.

On a related note, this has me rethinking the Fall as a typological pattern at work here: calling into question is, symbolically, partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge; although this separation transgresses the boundaries of any relationship/community, it is also necessary in some sense to keep the relationship/community itself "alive." I think if I can better understand 'why(/if) the Fall was really necessary', I will better understand why and to what extent faith is necessary in the process of acquiring knowledge.... --RobertC 12:41, 8 February 2007 (CET)


These are vital questions to interpreting this whole chapter, and I'm not sure how to approach them yet. Obviously, verse 34 is going to be absolutely key, because Alma there appears to affirm some kind of "perfect knowledge." But that verse is also rather complex in a number of ways. I like the connection to my recent ponderings on the nature of the community in the "teach-ing" situation. I need to think about all of these things more carefully, and I think "wisdom" is going to be key. And, as you suggest in your other comments today, the Book of Hebrews (which, I think, you are reading somewhat differently from myself). --Joe Spencer 19:20, 8 February 2007 (CET)


I thought I'd throw in my two cents here (though I may write a few dollars' worth) as this is something I've been thinking about a lately. I'm rereading "Articles of Faith" currently and Talmage there (ch. 5: Faith: Belief, Faith, and Knowledge, pp.87-90) makes a comparison that I think is interesting. The basic idea he laid out was that faith, as discussed in Lectures on Faith, is a motivating force. It compels to action, whereas belief does not. Likewise, a person can have a perfect knowledge and yet that knowledge in and of itself is not motivating. Among other things, Talmage cites the perfect knowledge Satan and his devils have/had regarding Christ's divinity. Such knowledge did not and does not come with hope or lead to salvation and similar knowledge of their father did not lead them to act in accordance with that knowledge. Talmage refers to "wisdom" as being a kind of analog to faith. (I personally think he used the word "wisdom" for lack of a better term, simply to distinguish a specific kind of knowledge. Solomon was supposed to be one of the wisest, but in the end, it would seem he ignored knowledge aplenty.)

Anyhow, it leads me to think that what alma is here saying, is that faith is not equivalent to a perfect knowledge, which to me leaves open the possibility that it can grow into a "perfect knowledge", or perhaps, better yet, that it can lead to a perfect knowledge.

I just went and reviewed what alma had to say concerning experimenting on the word and it would seem to me that Alma is talking as a missionary and when he tells the people to try an experiment upon the word I liken it unto the missionaries today asking people to try Moroni's promise. They need faith to try the promise and gain a knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon and the words of the missionaries. Once they gain that knowledge, this seems to be something that Alma refers to as a perfect knowledge, though I don't know that we might think of it as such, but Alma seems to suggest that after experimenting upon the word, that this growth of the tree gives a perfect knowledge. (So, perhaps this gives an idea what he means by "perfect knowledge".)

However, Alma cautions that simply because they gain a knowledge of "this thing", that their faith is still necessary. They need to continue to nourish the tree in order to get the fruit and more knowledge. So many times on my mission, I had investigators who had prayed and learned that the Book of Mormon was true, but then, they did not continue as they began. They didn't show up at church and they didn't move forward actively to make the necessary changes in their lives. They failed to continue exercising their faith. (There are plenty of non-members out there who will vouch for the truth of the Book of Mormon.)

A lot of that had to do with the discussion above this one, but as my thoughts were developing around this concept of knowledge and what it is, I hoped it might be of interest here.

--Seanmcox 19:53, 8 February 2007 (CET)


Thanks for the thoughts and feedback guys, and the patience as I flounder around trying new ideas. Regarding perfect knowledge, my thought here is that in verse 34 Alma qualifies the "perfect knowledge" that can be gained with the phrase "in that thing," and then goes on to elaborate in verse 36 the sense in which such knowledge is not perfect in the more general sense. Well, I've always read this assuming that eventually unqualified perfect knowledge will be attained, but now I'm questioning that presupposition. Alma talks about the fruit of the tree and about the tree "springing up unto everlasting life" in verse 41, and being "filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst" in verse 42, and I've typically associated with "perfect knowledge," but I'm not so sure this should be associated with perfect knowledge. I would expect Alma to explicitly say something that links the fruit with perfect knowledge given his early focus on this topic, so the fact that he doesn't is, to me, striking--striking to the point that it makes me question what's going on here. It seems that he is very purposely contrasting faith and knowledge, and advocating faith rather than an attainment of knowledge--so is knowledge really a good thing? (Remember, the tree of knowledge was forbidden to Adam and Eve....) True, he talks about how faith leads to knowledge in verse 34, but Alma doesn't seem that interested in focussing on that kind of knowledge. Perhaps we should read v. 34 as more of a concession on the way to describing something far greater--and what is far greater is not so much the attainment of more knowledge, but partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, or maybe it's the process of learning and continuing in faith that is being emphasized: "everlasting life" is the very process of walking by faith, learning wisdom, perhaps even attaining knowledge along the way, but the focus is on how to live by faith, not how to attain perfect knowledge.
Joe, regarding Hebrews, I simply have in mind the passages that discuss the continual need for the high priests' sacrifices, in contrast to the one-time sacrifice of the Great High Priest. Here's a link with some of the key passages I have in mind, all on one page: Heb 7:27; 8:5, 9; 9:7, 11-12, 25-26; 10:3, 11; 13:15. I'm not sure what to make of this, but it seems an obvious and important theme in the book that I'd like to study and think about more carefully. --RobertC 23:10, 8 February 2007 (CET)

Robert, what startled me in your comments on Hebrews was this: "But, in Hebrews esp., isn't this described as a recurring process for everyone (every high priest) except Christ?" I take it that you are suggesting that we are all like the high priests in Hebrews, and so we have to do this continually as well. I had never quite seen it that way, but I think I like it (this is something we'll have to explore as we go along). Of the verses you linked to, I imagine it is Heb 13:15 that you have in mind: "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." I'll have to do some more thinking about this. --Joe Spencer 15:11, 9 February 2007 (CET)