Book Of Mormon Lesson 27: ALMA 30-31
“ALL THINGS DENOTE THERE IS A GOD”
For more insight into this lesson please click here and visit the Mormon Stories Engaging Gospel Doctrine page. At the bottom you can find a podcast, hosted by bible scholar, Jared Anderson, that also examines lesson 27. His podcasts can also be downloaded on itunes.
Sixteenth and Seventeenth years: Alma 30:1-5
30:1 As pointed out in the last post, Mormon frequently assists his readers in demarcating major segments of the text by using resumptive repetition as a framing device. For instance, Alma 28 begins: “And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon…” which is nearly identical to the opening of chapter 30: “Behold, now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon…” The material in between consists largely of Alma2‘s comments on contemporary events, suggesting that these chapters be read as a literary unit. (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 106)
30:3 “…they were strict in observing the ordinances of God…” There are several definitions of “ordinance”. Which is being used in this verse?
or·di·nance [awr-dn-uhns] Show IPA
- an authoritative rule or law; a decree or command.
- a public injunction or regulation: a city ordinance against excessive horn blowing.
- something believed to have been ordained, as by a deity or destiny.
- an established rite or ceremony.
- a sacrament.
- the communion.
30:3 “…until it should be fulfilled…” This idea is also found in 2 Nephi 25:24(Nephi); Mosiah 13:27-28 (Abinadi); Alma 25:15-16 (Mormon); Alma 34:13-14 (Amulek)
Korihor, an Anti-Christ: Alma 30:6-21a
From the perspective of aesthetics, direct discourse enhances the drama of the narrative – even villains such as Korihor get to present their ideas in their own words. Why doesn’t Mormon simply paraphrase Korihor and then describe the reactions of the original recipients?
As pointed out in other posts, the sheer abundance of specific narrative repetition in Mormon’s abridgment suggests not only deliberate selection and shaping but also that, in the working out of God’s will, certain events are likely to recur. Hence there are two confrontations between prophets and Antichrists (Alma 1, Alma 30 with a precedent in Jacob 7 [Jacob of course not being edited by Mormon as it came from the Small Plates])
30:10 Through parallel allusions, Mormon tells us indirectly that the converted Lamanites were taught the following:
- The moral principles enunciated by King Benjamin. These principles are found in the Lamanite king’s proclamation (in Mormon’s paraphrase) that his people “ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness” (Alma 23:3). This matches both the elements and order of Benjamin’s assertion that he had not permitted his subjects to “murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery, nor even have I suffered that ye would commit any manner of wickedness” (Mosiah 2:13) This is again repeated in the review of Nephite law as found in Alma 30:10.
30:17 Korihor, through the editing of Mormon, sets up the atonement as being in contradiction to the following:
- we prosper according to our own management and genius
- we conquer according to our own strength
- whatever we do is not a crime
Does the atonement run contrary to the above statements?
Korihor and Giddonah2: Alma 30: 21b-29
30:22 “…to interrupt their rejoicings?” Why is this what Giddonah chooses as his defense of the atonement?
30:22, 23 Question: “why do ye speak against all the prophecies…?” Korihor’s answer has several parts:
- they are foolish
- they allow the ecclesiastes to usurp power over others
- they make one ignorant
- they are suppressing
- they put people in bondage
- they are not true (I am unsure if this means faithful or true in the sense of a propositional statement being true)
- they make one guilty of transgressions they did not commit
- they prophecy of things that will not happen (Christ’s coming)
Korihor and Alma2: Alma 30:30-55
30:32 Notice that Mormon never provides any of the words that Gideon speaks to Korihor. Mormon obviously has a great love for the way in which Alma2 speaks. It is immediately evident that Mormon himself is quite impressed with Alma2. Of the seven sermons that Mormon quoted directly from sources, six are attributed to Alma2(“Alma the Younger” by Latter-day Saints, though that appellation never appears in the Book of Mormon).
30:41, 44 “… all things as a testimony that these things are true… all things denote there is a God..” Alma is making an argument for the existence of God based upon General Revelation. General revelation is a term used by theologians which refers to a universal aspect of God, of God’s knowledge and of spiritual matters, discovered through natural means, such as observation of nature (the physical universe), philosophy and reasoning, human conscience or providence or providential history. Evangelical theologians use the term to describe knowledge of God, which they believe, is plainly available to all mankind. These aspects of general revelation are believed to pertain to outward temporal events that are experienced within the world or this physical universe. This is in contrast to Special Revelation.
Special revelation is a theological term used mainly by evangelical scientists and Christian theologians which refers to the belief that knowledge of God and of spiritual matters can be discovered through supernatural means, such as miracles or the scriptures, a disclosure of God’s truth through means other than through man’s reason. The distinction between Special and General revelation was first elucidated in-depth by the Catholic systematic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas in his discussion of Revelation. This distinction was only then more widely disseminated by evangelical writers who emphasized its scriptural support.
Evangelical theologians use the term “special revelation” for the belief in God’s intervention to make God’s will and knowledge available that would not otherwise be available through general revelation. They believe that disclosure of this “special revelation” is at specific times to specific persons, and believed by Christian Theologians, to have been generally given through scripture, miracles, and through the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Argument for the existence of God based upon God’s general revelation is called Natural Theology. Several months ago I did a three-part post dealing with one of the Natural Theology arguments called the Moral Argument. Click here to read part I of the Moral Argument.
Paul seems to be making a similar reference to the idea of General Revelation in Romans 1:20 “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
There are many instances where the correspondence between phrases is unique, or nearly so. To take an example, the idiom, ”no place in you“ occurs in just three verses: Mosiah 5 (King Benjamin’s speech), Alma 5 (Alma’s speech at Zarahemla), and Alma 30:42. In such cases, it seems reasonable to conclude that the speakers of these distinctive terms do indeed have King Benjamin’s earlier words in mind. It would be interesting to track various phrases throughout the Book of Mormon to determine which Nephite prophets were particularly influenced by which of their predecessors (for instance, Alma2 shows an affinity for the words of Abinadi). (Hardy, pg. 134)
30:48 “I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God;” Korihor is really splitting hairs here, but is making an important philosophical distinction between atheism and agnosticism. In my post on Book of Mormon Lesson 23, the difference between atheism and agnosticism was explored. The first part of Korihor’s statement is a statement of belief; the second part is a statement of non-belief.
Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. This is different from lacking a belief in God, or saying one doesn’t believe in God. The latter is sometimes called “presumption of atheism”. It is the idea that if you cannot prove theism, then atheism is true by default. There is an important logical difference between believing that there is no God and not believing that there is a God. Compare this saying, “I believe that there is no gold on Mars” with saying “I do not believe that there is gold on Mars.” If I have no opinion on the matter, then I do not believe that there is gold on Mars. There’s a difference between saying, “I do not believe (p)” and “I believe (not-p).” Logically where you place the negation makes a world of difference.
There’s a history behind this. Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists.
So understood, such an alleged presumption is clearly mistaken. For the assertion that “There is no God” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “There is a God.” Therefore, the former assertion requires justification just as the latter does. It is the agnostic who makes no knowledge claim at all with respect to God’s existence. He confesses that he doesn’t know whether there is a God or whether there is no God.
But when you look more closely at how protagonists of the presumption of atheism used the term “atheist,” you discover that they are defining the word in a non-standard way, synonymous with “non-theist.” So understood, the term would encompass agnostics and traditional atheists, along with those who think the question meaningless (verificationists). As Antony Flew confesses:
The word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way. Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist. (A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro [Oxford: Blackwell, 1997], s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew)
Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view. It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all. On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists! In fact, our dog counts as an atheist on this definition, since he has (to my knowledge) no belief in God. One would still require justification in order to know either that God exists or that He does not exist, which is the question we’re really interested in.
So why, you might wonder, would atheists be anxious to so trivialize their position? Here I believe that a deceptive game is being played by many atheists. If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view. But many atheists admit freely that they cannot sustain such a burden of proof. So they try to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions. They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities. And, that is what Korihor is doing.
30:53 “…There is no God…” That is atheism.
30:42 “…no place in you…” occurs only in three verses: Alma 30:42; Mosiah 5 (King Benjamin’s speech); Alma 5 (Alma’s speech at Zarahemla)
The End of Korihor: Alma: 30:56-60
30:59 Have we heard of the Zoramites before? Are these descendants/followers of the chief captain that we read about in Alma 16:5?
30:60 “…and thus we see that the devil…” This is an editorial interruption made by Mormon that Grant Hardy calls a “moral generalization”.
In a previous post, Grant Hardy was quoted as pointing out the following:
Mormon tells stories with unmistakable spiritual meanings, he presents characters as moral exemplars, and he identifies patterns such as “thus we see that…” It is crucial to Mormon’s understanding of the world and his own role as moral guide that the lessons he conveys to readers actually come from the details of history. Properly interpreted, history itself reveals religious truths, and in fact the totality of human experience offers sufficient evidence to demonstrate God’s divine plan and influence in earthly affairs. Or at least this is what Mormon believes. What makes his book interesting is watching how he selects, adapts and arranges his material, particularly when his sources do not seem to adequately illustrate spiritual verities on their own. Mormon is not free to simply create stories; he is constrained by what he perceives as the facts of history. But through his editing he often highlights certain features or encourages readers to see events in a particular light.” (Hardy, pg. 154)
Alma2‘s Mission to the Zoramites: Alma 31:1-35:14
Mormon appears to be constructing a parallel narrative again with the preaching of Alma and Amulek first to the Ammonihahites ( Alma 8-15)and now to the Zoramites. What similarities can be found in these two stories?
31:1 “…bow down to dumb idols…” Alma 30:50“…Korihor was struck dumb…” In this instance it almost seems as if Mormon is drawing similarities between Korihor and the idols. Unlike God, these idols cannot speak.
31:1 As pointed out earlier, Zoram was the name of a Nephite captain that sought counsel from Alma in Alma 16:5. If this is the same Zoram, the separatist movement might be much like a military coup. This would then explain the Nephite concern of the Zoramites entering into “correspondence with the Lamanites…” (Alma 31:5). This fear does materialize in Alma 35:10, 11.
31:6 “…and Zeezrom…” This is the same Zeezrom that accuses Amulek and Alma in the city of Ammonihah (Alma 10:31, 11:26, etc.); who later lay sick with guilt (Alma 15:5); and was later converted and baptized (Alma 15:12).
The Zoramite Manner of Worship: Alma 31: 12-23
31: 15-18 Their idea of election sounds very Calvinistic.
Alma2‘s Prayer Concerning the Zoramites: Alma 31:24-38
31:24, 25, 26-35 When I see a list of transgressions, I assume that the list will go in descending order, with the most severe transgression listed first and the lease severe transgression listed last. What is odd, is that Mormon spends vs. 12-23 describing the Zoramite form of worship (and its problems). His prayer to God opens with his concern regarding the pride of the Zoramites. Yet, it is the Zoramite pride (as exemplified in their prayer) that is at the bottom of the list of Zoramite transgressions.
31:26-35 Alma’s prayer is the antithesis of Zoramite theology. His prayer exemplifies humility and a belief in the Messiah.