Alma 13: 1, LeGrand Baker, “Forward” to “the first place.”

Alma 13: 1, LeGrand Baker, “Forward” to “the first place.”

Alma 13:1
1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.

To understand this verse, here is a very helpful phrase used twice in this chapter. It is “in the first place.” The phrase is found only five times in the Book of Mormon. Two, 2 Nephi 32:9, and Alma 32:22 simply mean as you get started. The other three mean the same thing, but the referent projects the reader back into the eternities— as we got started there. Mosiah 2:23 is a reference to the time of creation: “And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives,.”

The two in Alma 13 refer to the very beginnings of our beginning. They read: “In the first place being left to choose good or evil,” (v 3) and “in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren.” (V. 5) One can read them simply as colloquial expressions, or one can read them to mean “in the first place.” I personally believe they mean what they say. A similar phrase in the Secrets of Enoch that expresses the same idea is, “even before the very beginning.” (Charles, 24:3)

If one accepts that definition of “in the first place,” it causes and interesting (but only apparent) problem with the wording of the first two verses. The apparent problem is in the use of the word “forward.”

Verse one reads, “And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children.” That is followed by, “And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.”

There is no difficulty with the second verse. There “forward” means “forward.” Alma is simply projecting his listeners minds into the future when the people can take full advantage of the blessings of the atonement.

It is “forward” in the first verse that presents the apparent difficulty. “I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave…” “Gave” is past sense, so the implication is that Alma is using the word “forward” to call attention to something that happened in the past. If one reads that carefully “forward” seems to mean “backward.” In fact, that is precisely what it does mean—the use of that word is just one more incidental, but remarkable, evidence that the English translation of the Book of Mormon is very precise, and that the English words were chosen because they convey the same meaning as the words in the original language.

The first definition of “forward” in the Oxford English Dictionary is an absolute vindication of the use of that word in this chapter of Alma. It reads,

1. In OE [Old English] used in partitive concord: The front part of (any thing material); the first or earliest part of (a period of time, etc.).

So, in order to make “forward” fit with the past tense “gave,” all we have to do is read the world’s best English dictionary to discover that Joseph used precisely the right word if he intended that our minds should look toward the very beginning of time.

Discovering the time frame, “when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children” also helps us understand the rest of the verse, and even the entire chapter.

In the first verse, “the Lord God” is Heavenly Father, One can know that it is Heavenly Father from the wording of the last half of the verse. “the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son.” The other evidence that it is Heavenly Father is that the only time in the scriptures when the Father gives commandments, and ordains his children, is in the context of the Council in Heaven—either there in fact, as in Abraham 3: 22-23; or in a sode experience like Isaiah 6.

The last phrase in the verse also presents some interesting questions. “The Lord God ordained priests…to teach these things unto the people.” The first question is, “What were “these things”? The most immediate antecedent to that statement is in the last part of chapter 12, where Alma challenges Zeezrom to accept the Lord’s invitation to “enter into his rest.” However, it seems to me that the more likely antecedent is Alma’s review of the entire Feast of Tabernacles temple drama that builds up to, and concludes with that invitation. (Alma 12:28-37)

If that is correct, then the setting for Alma 13 is the same as the setting for Abraham 3. It is the temple in Kolob, at the Council in Heaven. It is the same time as the story in Abraham 3, except in Alma 13 the “children” are ordained to teach; while in Abraham 3-5 the “noble and great ones” organize the worlds. In other words, both versions are simply different chapters of the same story.

If that is correct, then I suspect the first verse of Alma 13 might be understood to mean something like this:

And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward [to the beginning of time] to the time when the Lord God [Heavenly Father] gave these commandments [those found in the ancient temple drama] unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God [Heavenly Father] ordained priests [these would be “noble and great ones” as in Abraham 3], after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things [necessary ordinances and covenants of the ancient drama] unto the people.

That leaves us with another question. Why is there a distinction made between the “children” and the “people,” and what is the difference? I would like to try to deal with that question later.

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