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The relationship of Verses 13:13-21 to the rest of Chapters 8-16 is discussed at Alma 8-16.
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- Verses 1-20: Why talk about the priesthood here?
A surface reading of Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah might suggest that the first twenty verses of Alma 13 are out of place in a longer call to repentance. What immediately precedes these verses discussing the priesthood presents an invitation to Alma's hearers to repent and so enter into the "rest of God" (see Alma 12:37). What immediately follows these verses presents what might be read as a still stronger invitation to repent (see Alma 13:21), and again with a sense of hope: "for the day of salvation draweth nigh." The similarity of the discussion on repentance before and after these twenty verses emphasizes the dissimilarity of the priesthood discussion in the middle.
So, why a discussion of the priesthood here? The following points are not mutually exclusive.
- Alma's discussion of the priesthood provides support for his authority as a high priest to call the people of Ammonihah to repentance. Additional support for this reading.
- Alma's discussion of the priesthood isn't an interruption of his call to repentance but integral to it because it is a discussion of the blessings that come to those who repent. As noted above, Alma invites hearers to repent and enter into the rest of God. These verses suggest that to be ordained to the high priesthood is to enter into the rest of God. Additional support for this reading.
- Verse 13:1
Webster's dictionary in 1828 gives as the first definition of cite "To call upon officially, or authoritatively; to summon; to give legal or official notice, as to a defendant to appear in court, to answer or defend." This is about the same as the first definition given today by Merriam Webster (mw). The 4th definition given today by mw "to bring forward or call to another's attention especially as an example, proof, or precedent" might seem the most natural reading of the phrase "I would cite your minds forward to the time ...", but interestingly no similar definition is given in the 1828 version.
In English the use of forward in relation to time indicates a temporal movement into the future. So, for example, when one looks forward to dinner one is awaiting the dinner that hasn't happened yet. "In Hebrew, the past is often described using words that mean "front" or "before." For example, qedem means both "in front" and "aforetime." This word also means "eastward"—since the sun comes from the east, the intertemporal connotation of facing east seems to be looking to the beginning or origin of time. See also paniym.
- And again.
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 12:30-32. 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."
By looking at chapter 13 as an extension of the argument in chapter 12, the "and again" may refer to a second way of answering Antionah's question. (Antionah wonders how it is possible to live forever, since Adam and Eve fell and were blocked from the tree of life. The first answer seems to be that angels will come to teach Adam, Eve, etc. about the plan of redemption (12:29). This makes it possible for men to repent, with the Lord promising that they can "enter into my rest" (12:34). This is one way in which God opens a way into immortality and eternal life, despite the fall and the guarded Tree of Life.) The "and again" in 13:1 may be seen as beginning a second answer to Antionah's question. After God used angels to teach men about the plan, he called holy men to teach the people instead of angels (13:1). They taught and were even ordained in such a manner that the people could know how to look for redemption. And, "there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God" (13:12).
- Cite your minds forward.
This phrase has often confused readers of the Book of Mormon because in it Alma appears to invite his listeners to move forward to the past. The problem is all the more difficult because Alma goes on in the second verse to use the same word, "forward," to point to something apparently still future. Hence, while it might be suggested that since in the Hebrew idiom the past is in front of one, one moves forward towards the past, such a reading would be inconsistent with the way Alma uses "forward" in verse 2. Some sort of contradiction between the "forward" of verse 1 and the "forward" of verse 2 seems inevitable.
One way around this difficulty is to consider the point of departure for the minds Alma cites to be earlier than the time spoken of in verse 2. If the point of departure is earlier than both events, it makes sense to interpret both forwards in the same way. In fact, such a reading is plausible if we look back to the question that Alma is answering. Remember, at this point Alma is answering a question posed by Antionah in Alma 12:20-21 about how there can be a resurrection if God placing an angel to guard the tree of life. Alma already began answering Antionah's question by telling us that "after God had appointed that these things should come unto man [that man must die and be judged]" (Alma 12:28) God had sent angels unto man and conversed with man and told him about the plan of redemption and gave man a second set of commandments. The act of guarding the tree of life with an angel is the same as appointing unto man that he must die. So we see Alma answering Antionah's question by citing our minds forward in verse 28 from the time Antionah asked about to the time God gives man a second set of commandments. Then, in the last two verses of chapter 12, Alma takes the opportunity to appeal to the people to not harden their hearts and die spiritually but rather to repent and enter into God's rest. But Alma wants to tell the people about some other important things that happened at the same time God gave these second commndments. So, in this interpretation, Alma again cites the listeners mind forward from the time God placed a flaming sword to guard the tree to the time of these second commandments.
- Lord God
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" refers to the Father. This is consistent with how "God" is used at the end of Alma 12. Especially in verse 33 it seems that God refers to the Father since he explicitly talks about his "Only Begotten Son."
- These commandments
As noted above "these commandments" refers to the second commandments after Adam and Eve's transgression. See Alma 12:32 and accompanying exegesis.
It isn't clear what office in the priesthood today would correspond with what Alma calls priests here. Though in this verse Alma calls them priests, other verses tell us that these priests are ordained to a higher priesthod. Verse 6 tells us that they were ordained to the "high priesthood of the holy order of God." Alma 13:9 says they become high priests. Verse 14 gives Melchizedek as an example of one of these High Priests. This may suggest that by priest in verse 1 Alma means what we would call Elders or High Priests today. Another interpretation is that the ordination spoken of here corresponds to receiving temple ordinances.
- Priests to teach these things
"These things" refers back to the commandments given (see 'These commandments' above). The fact that the priests are ordained to teach is an interesting departure from the picture that the Old Testament presents of the Levitical system of priests, where their primary function was to offer sacrifices. Even the mention of Melchizedek in verse 15 describes him as one who did "preach repentance." This may reflect a difference in the purpose from the Levitical priesthood and the higher priesthood spoken of here (see 'Priests' above). It may also reflect an earlier understanding of priesthood than that contained in our modern Bible, which was compiled into its present form long after Lehi left Jerusalem. In that case, this Book of Mormon account can be seen as the restoration of "plain and precious" teachings about the priesthood that didn't make it into later biblical scriptures.
- Verse 13:2
This verse tells us that the manner of priesthood ordination can be used to help people know how to look forward to Christ for redemption. Consider three ways the manner of ordination may have helped people know how to look forward to Christ for redemption:
It may be that the ordination process included signs that would help people understand how Jesus Christ would be nailed to the cross. This would then be a way for them to identify Christ and his wounds when he appeared after the resurrection (3 Ne 11:14-15).
It may be that Alma is trying to help the people understand how they can receive redemption from their sins despite the fact that Christ hadn't yet suffered for those sins. Under this view, Alma is saying that to understand how they could receive redemption before Christ suffered for their sins, they can look to the priesthood as a type or shadow. In like manner priests are called and prepared from the foundation of the world to their calling, so Christ was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem his people. In both cases the plans were made at the foundation of the world based on choices that God, through his foreknowledge, knew would take place (see verse 5).
The "manners" that are being compared here may be the actions one goes through in order to qualify for what is given. Perhaps Alma is saying that the process of qualifying for priesthood ordination is the same as the process of qualifying for redemption--as outlined in verse 3.
- Verse 13:3
This verse could be interpreted in different ways. Some possibilities are:
- These priests were called and prepared in the pre-existence because of their faith and good works in this life according to the foreknowledge of God.
- These priests were prepared in the pre-existince because of their faith and good works in this life (according to the foreknowledge of God) and then called in this life after having been left to choose good or evil and then having chosen good and exercised faith.
- Preparatory redemption
The very phrase, "preparatory redemption," seems to be paradoxical: a redemption implies some sort of completion, while preparatoriness implies a lack of completion. In other words, a "preparatory redemption" would be a completion that is marked with incompletion because it points towards another completion still to come. The word "preparatory" even hints that eventual completion will be of the same general character as the incomplete completion of the present: this redemption is to give way to a fuller, more real redemption eventually. But as soon as the issue is phrased this way, the difficulty disappears, or at least becomes part of a broader scriptural theme: redemption is always granted first in a preparatory manner and eventually in a complete manner. Perhaps the clearest parallel to Alma's phrase here is Paul's word to the Ephesians: "ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession" (see Eph 1:13-14). Paul speaks to the saints of having received a redemption of sorts, but one that is ultimately preparatory, separated from its eventual fulfillment ("redemption") by a promise, by hope.
This gap between two redemptions (the one promising or pointing towards the other) might well be read in terms of ritual as well: ordinances are dramatic enactments of a redemption still to come. Every ordinance might well be called a "preparatory redemption" in the same sense discussed immediately above. That some sort of ordinance--some sort of dramatic enactment of one's redemption--is what Alma might be talking about is further suggested (and greatly strengthened) by the fact that this "preparatory redemption" is there described as the that according to which and with which a "holy calling" was prepared. The implication seems to be that Alma is speaking of an ordinance that at once dramatically embodies one's redemption and issues a "holy calling" to the participant. What Latter-day Saints call the endowment might not be far from Alma's mind.
- Verse 13:5
- Same standing
Alma tells us that these priests were in the first place on the same standing with their brethren. We might wonder how they could be on the same standing as their brethren "in the first place" if they were called from the foundation of the world to a holy calling. If we interpret verse 3 as suggesting that the actual calling doesn't take place until this life, then the "same standing" could refer to the fact that none of them had yet been called. Another possibility is that this "same standing" refers to the time before they were called in the pre-existence. Finally, it could be that this same standing is not a specific time but a logical precedence. God through his foreknowledge knows who will do what and therefore who to call, but logically all are on the same standing as all could choose to do good. For all these interpretations, Alma's point seems to be that everyone was on equal footing to receive this calling.
- Verse 13:6
Verse 6 ends by saying that the high priests teach the children of men "that they also might enter into his rest." There are three apparent questions: 1) who does "they" refer to, 2) what does it mean to enter into the rest of the Lord, and 3) what is the significance of the also?
- It seems "they" refers to the children of men that the high priests teach.
- Heb 4:10 gives us one definition of entering into the rest of the Lord. Of course, it may be that this phrase is used differently in different parts of the scriptures. Verse 12 suggests that being made pure is necessary to entering into the Lord's rest.
- The also here can be read to suggest that the high priests entered into his rest at the time they were preaching. Verse 12 suggests that many, but possibly not all, of the high priests Alma is speaking of did enter into the rest of the Lord at some point. The scriptures don't tell us whether that happened in this life or the next. Both seem compatible with the text in verse 12.
While it might be impossible to know what the original word was that is translated in vs. 9 as "grace", the original Hebrew "chen" signifies favour or grace, and is translated in the Greek NT as "charis"--that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, and charm or goodwill, loving kindness, favour. It is a noun that comes from the Greek verb "chairo"--to rejoice, be glad. So grace is tied to rejoicing, granting favors, and affording pleasure and delight. We grow from grace to grace when we cause God to rejoice by our bestowing favor and loving kindness on others, with ever growing abilities to create greater and greater joy.
One who is full of this grace or charis is charismatic, and we respond to them by giving grace for grace.
- Verse 13:9
Verse 9 states "they become high priests forever." This point signifies the seriousness of the commitment. Being a high priest is not a temporary appointment. Anyone, then, who receives this ordination ought to realize the eternal nature of covenant.
Points to ponder
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- Concerning the priesthood here in general. The priesthood seems to have come a long way since Mosiah 18:18. How have these developments come about, and what is their significance? What, especially, is the significance of the dissolution of the monarchy and its associated royal priesthood? How does the royal priesthood play into the understanding Alma here offers of the priesthood?
- Verse 13:3. Alma tells us that those called have "chosen good." Is this a reference to good choices in pre-mortality or is this good choices in mortality known to God through his foreknowledge?
- Verse 13:3. Alma 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?
- Verse 13:3: Foundation of the world. Is this an event or an era?
- Verse 13:3: Called and prepared. Is this synonymous with our idea that "whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies"? Or is this verse saying people were foreordained to priesthood leadership callings because they had earned and deserved those positions, and not because they needed them for personal growth?
- Verse 13:3: After which. Why doesn't this verse use the more-common prepositional phrase "in which" instead? Is this particular wording a way to signal an activity that allows humans to become more like God?
- Verse 13:3: Being left. When did the Lord abandon us so that we could exercise our agency?
- Verse 13:3: Exceeding faith. Who else besides prophets is described with this phrase in the scriptures? Do Moro 10:11 and 1 Tim 1:14 suggest this quality is a gift of God's grace? Or is this quality something that is earned through diligent good works? Do 2 Cor 5:7 and Alma 32:34 teach that faith should not have been necessary for us when we lived in God's presence during the premortal existence?
- Verse 13:3: Holy calling which was prepared. Should we read this verse as applying to everyone person sent to this planet, because of what is said in verses such as 1 Ne 10:18 and 1 Ne 3:7?
- Verse 13:3: Preparatory. Do Alma 12:26 and Alma 42:10, 13 suggest that this word is used to describe the time of our mortal probation in the second estate?
- Verse 13:6. What are we to make of the end of verse 6 "that they also might enter into his rest"? (see exegesis)
- Verse 13:6. Verse 6 makes it clear that this is a discussion of the "high" or Melchizedek Priesthood as opposed to the lower or Aaronic priesthood. Since the temple in Jerusalem during Lehi's time was being run by Aaronic priest, how did the descendents of Lehi get the Melchizedek Priesthood?
- Verse 13:7. In verse 7 Alma says "according to his foreknowledge of all things." What do these verses tell us about the foreknowledge of God?
- Verse 13:7. How is the priesthood related to "the holy order of God"?
- Verse 13:9. In vs. 9 re read the familiar phrase about being "full of grace, equity, and truth". In this case it is referring to "the Only Begotten of the Father". Since we read elsewhere that Christ grew from grace to grace, what are we to make of the claim in vs. 9 that the Only Begotten of the Father is without beginning of days or end of years? Does this tell us anything useful about the nature of grace or how it might be obtained?
- Verse 13:10. What does vs. 10 tell us about the importance of the priesthood service as part of the gospel? In this section we read about faith and repentance leading to ordination and priesthood service--so that we can follow Christ. Can we follow Christ without the priesthood? For truly sanctifying service, do we need the priesthood in order to follow "after the order of the Son" (vs.9)?
- Verses 13:10-12. To what degree is priesthood service a precondition for sanctification? Is this how we yield our hearts unto God (see Hel 3:35)?
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- See James Duke's article The Literary Structure and Doctrinal Significance of Alma 13:1–9
- See a simplified reworking of the text by Steven Barton
- See an outline of Alma 13-16 here (from the Sunday School manual).
- For an explanation of Hebrew versus Greek thought, including the Hebrew thought on time noted in the lexical notes, see pages 146-147 in Appendix 2, Scripture Study: Tools and Suggestions Faulconer, J.E. (1999).
- See also this page which records some notes from James Faulconer posted on the LDS-Phil listserv regarding Hebrew versus Greek time. These ideas seem to be largely based on Thorlief Borman's book, Hebrew Thought Compared to Greek. Note in particular Faulconer's claim, "Interestingly, when Hebrew does correlate seeing to time, it speaks of the past as before and the future behind. [Footnote: This seems to explain the odd wording of Alma 13.1. . . ."
- See a short but incredible look at a possible transcription error (on Mormon's part--not Joseph's) in Alma 13 written by Grant Hardy (JBMS).
- John Welch writes on what we learn about Melchizedek through Alma 13 in The Melchizedek Material in Alma 13:13-19
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