- Why does Alma say "cite your minds forward" when he is referring back to the time when the Lord God gave commandments to the children of men? Alma states that high priests are ordained "after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son." What does this teach us about how high priests ought to behave?
- In verse 2 Alma tells us that the Lord God ordained priests in a way that the people would know how to look forward to his Son for redemption. Verse 3 begins "this is the manner after which they were ordained" and then proceeds to tell us the manner. How would that manner have helped the people know how to look forward to Jesus Christ for redemption? Could this ordination include signs that would help people understand how Jesus Christ might be nailed to the cross? A way for them to identify Christ and his wounds when he appeared after the resurrection (3 Ne 11:14-15)?
- In verses 3 through 5 it states that men are called as high priests because of their "exceeding faith and good works." Are the criteria for calling high priests the same today? Is this calling and the manner after which a high priest is ordained still a mirror or symbol of the Savior and the redemption we can receive through Him?
- In verse 3 it indicates that the "exceeding faith and good works" that qualify one to the high priesthood refer to acts in the pre-mortal existence at the "foundation of the world." What kind of acts were we capable of and what kind of choices might we have made before this mortal life? (Abr 3:26) What does this seem to indicate about the nature of our life before coming to this earth?
- In verse 3, what is the meaning of "preparatory redemption"?
- How can following apparent tension in verse three be explained: men are called according to the *foreknowledge* of God, but they have *chosen* good? Is it as simple as saying that God knows that they will choose good during their mortal, earthly existence? So ordination to the high priesthood isn't based at all on actions prior to earthly existence, but rather on God's knowledge of how faithful (or not faithful) the person will be during his earthly existence? Or as the preceding question suggests, does this verse suggest that those ordained to the high priesthood actually did something (did good works, had great faith, etc.) in pre-mortality?
It does appear at first glance that the word "forward" should actually be "back." But on second thought, maybe there's something to the notion that remembering spiritual incidents is a way of moving forward instead of moving back. Another example could be D&C 6:22, when the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery to "cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart." The Lord could have said "think back upon the night..." but instead he says "cast your mind," a feeling of moving forward. I think this is one example of where current English usage, or the translation of the original language, should be opened to the other ways in which the Lord and the prophets use the language.
In verse 1 Alma says, "And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children." The "and again" suggests that he has already cited the people's minds to this time. Looking back, we see that he did this in Alma 12:31. In that case "the time the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children" refers to the time right after Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden when God commanded them "that they should not do evil." In this first verse we are told that the Lord God ordained priests "after the order of his Son." This suggests that the "Lord God" in these verses refers to the Father.
In recognizing that the priesthood is the holy order after the Son of God we ought to consider that holy means sacred, sanctified, consecrated, or dedicated. We note that derivations of holy order, holy calling, and order of the Son are repeated 17 times from vv. 1-18. Knowing this as priesthood holders we ought to strive to change our behavior. We might ask, "When is the last time I felt the seriousness of holding the priesthood?" Or "How might the high priesthood assist me in becoming more sanctified, consecrated, and dedicated?" Alma helps us answer these questions (Alma 13:12). Whenever we become "pure and spotless before God," and "cannot look upon sin save it were with abhorrence" then we know we are becoming more holy, sanctified, and dedicated to the Lord.
Another possible interpretation is that if you read previous chapter, the discussion is about the pre-existent teaching of God in regard to the plan of salvation. The citing of the minds "forward" is from the time "the plan of redemption which was laid" and when men were to the time when men were "ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people" to the time "the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children" prior to coming to earth. This alludes to a number of "councils" held and the things taught at each of them: Ordinations and pre-mortal missionary training; teaching of the plan (pre-mortal missionary work); instructions preparatory to earth-life. It is also interesting to note that the fore-ordination is referring directly to the "office" of the "high priesthood," allowing for various scholars to have differing thoughts on whether or not this is referring to the office of high priest or simply all melzchizedek priesthood holders.
In Alma 11:32-36 Zeezrom questions Alma about Christ's coming and the salvation that he brings. When Alma responds Zeezrom says Alma speaks "as though he had authority to command God." Zeezrom doesn't understand (or at a minimum pretends not to understand) how one person can say what another will do, unless one is in a position to dictate what the other person will do--unless one has authority over him or her. But in order to understand the plan of salvation, it was essential that the people in the land of Ammonihah had a way of talking about, a way of understanding, and faith in what Christ would do when he came. One way of reading the first verses of chapter 13 is as an explanation of how the people could understand how the plan of salvation applied to them even though Christ hadn't yet atoned for their sins. As Alma explains in verse 2, priests were called in a way that the people would understand how to look forward to Christ for redemption.
The exposition in these verses (and on through verse 20) of the source and purpose of the high priesthood feels out of place coming right in the middle of a longer sermon by Alma on repentance. It could be that Alma simply saw a need to pause and provide compelling doctrinal support for his own calling as a high priest. This would make sense from a rhetorical standpoint by demonstrating Alma's authority to preach to the people of Ammonihah and explaining his motivation for doing so.
However, it could also be the case that during the editing process Mormon selected only highlights of a what was originally a much longer discourse on multiple themes. We know from verse 31 that much of Alma's original discourse is not included in the Book of Mormon. This would help explain the sudden switches in topics.
Another possibility is that Alma is teaching that acceptance of the high priesthood comes as a natural and necessary step in the process of exercising faith and repentance, and that priesthood ordination provides the service opportunity that we need if we are to become sanctivied (v. 11-12) and obtain the final goal of entering into the "rest of the Lord" (v.12)--the ultimate invitation (v.13) in this extended call to repentence.
- See James Duke's article The Literary Structure and Doctrinal Significance of Alma 13:1–9