Alma 32:22-43 LeGrand Baker, Alma 32 as a temple text
A careful reading of Alma 32 shows it to be a temple text. It is “the word” rather than “faith” that is represented by the ever maturing seed. Read that way, Alma is urging the people to keep their covenants (pistis) so that they may understand and be empowered by “the word,” which appears to be a reference to the entire ancient Nephite temple experience. That discussion is in the attachment.
The last couple times I have suggested that in Alma 32 “faith” means the same as “faith” in the New Testament. There “faith” is translated from the Greek word pistis. Pistis or “faith” is the single word that represents the full complex system of ideas that are involved in the making and keeping of covenants. (See Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, chapter: “The Meaning of Faith—Pistis,” p. 1007-25.)
I also suggested that if Alma is using “faith” the same way that Peter, Paul, and the gospel writers use it, then he is speaking to people who understand at least something of the covenants of the ancient Nephite temple service.
That idea is substantiated in Alma’s sermon, where he does not compare either belief or faith to a seed, but rather he compares the seed to their understanding of “the word.” In his sermon, it is “the word” that grows into the tree of life, and it is by increasing our faith (pistis ), that is by increasingly our understanding and keeping our covenants that “the word” (seed) grows within us.
He also makes an important distinction between God’s word, Alma’s words, and THE word. First, he talks about God’s word.
22 And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word.
In our colloquial language, belief and faith are essentially equivalent. However, in the scriptures they are very different. The difference between belief and pistis is that belief requires no substantiating covenant, while faith (like trust in the Old Testament) is based on prior covenants.
In review, there are five parts of Paul’s definition of pistis (Hebrews 11:1). Three are stated. Two are implied because they are obviously so necessary that they are simply presupposed.
1. (presupposed) There must be a covenant or contract that defines the agreement and the methodology by which it will be accomplished.
2. There must be a mutually understood “substance,” that is the object, objective, purpose, assurance, or intent of the covenant.
3. There must be binding “evidence” (a handshake, signature) that validates the agreement and guarantees the fulfillment of the covenant.
4. The next is a functional “hope.” That is, taking the covenant at full value and acting or living as though the terms of the covenant were already fulfilled.
5. (implied) Finally, the conclusion or fulfillment of the terms of the covenant.
In faith (pistis), a perfect knowledge comes when the covenant is fulfilled and the preceding four parts have proven true. Therefore, as long as the pistis is in process, one cannot have a perfect knowledge of its fulfillment. Alma draws on that fact when he compares his own testimony (i.e. his words) to faith. He says the people cannot know that his testimony is true until they have proven that it works. Therefore, he says:
26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith [essentially he is urging them to challenge the validity of the covenant], yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
Now his messages comes into focus. After this, he is no longer talking about his testimony (“my words” plural) but rather he is talking about “the word” (singular) which he describes as a living constant.
28a Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart [In the ancient world, one’s heart is the cosmic center of the being: it is the seat of both his emotions and his intellect. So this seed is as much an academic as a spiritual thing. That must be so. A firm testimony must be sustained by the twin pillars of spirituality and intellectual understanding.]
(28b) behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
29 Now behold, would not this [enlarge the soul and enlighten the understanding] increase your faith? [testify of the validity of the covenants] I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow. [That growth enlarges the soul and enlightens the understanding.]
31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness. [Here, he does not mention what “its own likeness” is, however, later we learn that the seed matures into a tree of life (v. 40-42). In the scriptures the tree of life is always associated with the ancient temple worship. Therefore, we may know that Alma is using the word as code to depict the ordinances and covenants of the ancient Israelite temple services.]
32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.
33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.
34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know [that part of the covenant which promises that you will know the seed is good is fulfilled], for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light [in the scriptures truth, light, love, and
In the Psalms, truth and light bring one to the tabernacle (temple):
3 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God (Psalms 43:3-4).
Alma personifies those words in the Saviour.
9 And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness (Alma 38:9)
The Saviour uses those words to define himself:
12 And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good; he that will not believe my words will not believe me—that I am; and he that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father, I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world (Ether 4:12 see D&C 93).
45 For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
46 And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
47 And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
48 And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world. (D&C 84:45-48).
(35b) and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.
37 And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.
38 But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.
39 Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.
40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith [i.e. anticipating the fulfillment of the covenant] to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.
41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence [keeping your part of the covenant], and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life [a promise that could only be fulfilled through the ancient temple services].
42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may ta ke root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith [ultimate fulfillment of the covenants], and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.