Alma 13:1-3, LeGrand Baker, The Council in Heaven in Alma 13.
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.
2 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.
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
As I observed last week, I believe that the last few verses of Abraham 3, and the first few verses of Alma 13 are simply two views of the same events. In Abraham 3, we are told about the selection of those “noble and great ones” whose assignment it was to create the earth “on which these may dwell.” In Alma 13 we are told about the selection of Heavenly Father’s “children” who are to teach the “people” how to prepare to inhabit that earth.
One of the first problems we encounter in Alma 13 is that the word “forward” is used with past tense verbs. There are two ways to try to resolve that apparent oversight. One is to simply decide it is an oversight and choose to focus on either “forward” and read the chapter as a prediction of things to come; or else to ignore “forward” and choose to focus on the verb tenses and read the chapter as a description of things that have been in the past. In either case, when we have chosen our focus, we will read the rest of the chapter to accommodate our choice of directions.
The other way is to go to the Oxford English Dictionary and see if somehow the meaning of the word “forward” might correctly be read with the past tense verbs.
I chose to do the latter — not because I was especially clever, but because I had served my mission in England where I frequently heard bus drivers say, “Please step forward to the back of the bus.” The first time I heard that I thought it was an oxymoron, because everyone who was standing in the bus was facing toward the front, and people just don’t go “forward” and end up backward. So when I found that same word used in that same seemingly contradictory way in the Book of Mormon, I decided to try to find out why it might make sense. (I mentioned this a while back, but for the sake of my friends who have recently joined our email list, and because I believe that the definition of that single word is the key to understanding the rest of the chapter, I’ll mention it again.)
The first definition of “forward” in the Oxford English Dictionary is an absolute vindication of the use of that word in our verse in Alma 13. 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 there you are! In order to make “forward” fit with the past tense of the phrase, “when the Lord God gave…” all we have to do is read the world’s best English dictionary to discover that “forward” can correctly be used to direct our minds to the past. If that was Alma’s intent, then Joseph used precisely the right English word to cause us to look “forward” toward the very beginning of time.
Even though Joseph Smith’s translation does not use the phrase “in the beginning,” it uses another correct word to take us there. Thus, I for one, am convinced that the setting of the first verses of Alma 13 is the Council in Heaven when Heavenly Father himself ordained his children.
1. 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 [past tense] these commandments [the ones he is about to describe] unto his children [“Children” were children. That is, they were spirit children of our Heavenly Parents. I read that to be equivalent to this statement in Abraham,
And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born. (Abraham 3:23 italics added)
and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God [Heavenly Father] ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son [The Holy Priesthood After the Order of the Son of God (D&C 107:1-3)], to teach these things [I take it that “these things” are the things Alma had just discussed in chapter 12— i.e. the drama’s instructions about how to come into the presence of God] unto the people [“The people” are different from “his children” in two respects. First, they are not called “children” which probably means they were then intelligences who had not yet been born into the presents of our Heavenly Parents as their spirit children. The second is that they had not yet been instructed sufficiently in “these things.”]
2. 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. [In the past three weeks several of our friends have suggested what that “manner” might have been. I would like to add one more suggestion to that list. That is the one that is suggested in Isaiah 40:12. The suggestion is in the form of a question. The context is a series of questions, ending with this one:
Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 40:21)
3. And this is the manner after which they were ordained — being called and prepared from the foundation of the world [that is, “in the beginning”] according to the foreknowledge of God [God knew their heart, not because he made them first or something like that, but by the way they had already proven themselves : ], on account of their [the “children’s”] exceeding faith [in Christ] and good works [In Alma 12, he had used “holy works” to refer to ordinances and covenants]; in the first place [I understand “first place” to mean “first place.”] They [the children] being left to choose good or evil; therefore they [the “children”] having chosen good [in the first place], and exercising exceedingly great faith [in the first place], are called with a holy calling [the order of the priesthood just mentioned], yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with [a preparatory redemption for the children], and according to, a preparatory redemption for such. [To be redeemed in the Book of Mormon frequently means to come into the presence of God. (Ether 3:13; Helaman 14:16-18; 2 Nephi 1:15, 2:1-3 are examples.]A “preparatory redemption,” then, would be a temporary redemption in preparation for a final redemption. The first “preparatory redemption” was when we were born as spirit children to our Heavenly Parents. The final redemption will be after we have proven ourselves here, so we can be with them forever. If that is correct, what Alma is saying is this:
They [the children] being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good , and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling [the order of the priesthood just mentioned], yea, with that holy [priesthood] calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption [their coming the first time into the presence of their Heavenly Parents] for such [the children]
Next week we will continue with verse 4.