John 1:1-4 & Alma 13:1-20 — “in the beginning” — “Orders” of Premortal Priesthood — LeGrand Baker

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-4).

Wilfred Griggs once told me that he asked Hugh Nibley if he had ever considered writing a commentary on the gospel of John. Nibley’s response was something like this: “No, I haven’t. It would take 300 or 400 pages, then I would be to verse 5.”

That seems reasonable to me, but I don’t intend to write anywhere near that much. I think the best place to start would be to discuss eternal priesthood in light of the Savior’s Atonement and the place to begin to do that is to review Alma 13:1-21.

Like everything else I write, this is only my opinion, but like my other opinions, I like this one a lot.

Alma’s words to Zeezrom are organized as follows:

Verse 1 — ORDINATION OF MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL IN HEAVEN. This maps to Abraham 3:23.

Verses 2-5 — FLASHBACK: PRIESTHOOD OF INTELLIGENCES. This maps to Abraham 3:22.

Verses 6-9 — RELATIONSHIP OF THE TWO PREMORTAL PRIESTHOODS

Verses 10-20 — THE MORTAL PRIESTHOOD

In the following quotes, I have put the word “order” in all caps to facilitate reading the texts as a discussion of priesthood orders.

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Verse 1 — ORDINATION OF MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL IN HEAVEN. This maps to Abraham 3:23.

23 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.

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1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children

In these passages, the word “forward” has two different and opposite meanings. The meanings are made apparent by their contexts. The first “forward” projects our thinking to the distant past, “forward to the time when the Lord God gave [past tense] these commandments unto his children .” The second meaning projects our minds to the future, “in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.”

In order to make the first “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 to project our thinking toward the very beginning of time. The first definition of “forward” in the Oxford English Dictionary is an absolute vindication of the use of that word with a past tense verb. 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.).

Discovering the time frame of the story as “the first or earliest part of time, when the Lord God [Heavenly Father] gave these commandments unto his children” is the key to our understand the rest of the verse, as well as to our understanding the entire chapter.

to the time when the Lord God [Heavenly Father] gave these commandments unto his children [his spirit children];

Before their birth in the spirit world they had been the noble and great intelligences who were organized, probably in priesthood quorums as is suggested further on in chapter 13. They are now his spirit children who were members of the Council in Heaven

“After” is another word that has different meanings and both meanings are used in this chapter. As with forward, the meaning of “after” has to be determined by its context. The usual meaning of after is following — “subsequent to in time, or behind in place.” The other meaning is “in the characteristic manner of.” There is nothing unusual about using the same word with different meanings. After I wrote the sentence about this being my opinion, I was amused to notice that I had used the word “like” three times and with two entirely different meanings.

and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after [in the manner of] his holy ORDER, which was after [following] the ORDER of his Son,

The context insists on those two meanings of “after” The first one clearly says that they were ordained to the priesthood ORDER of the Father. The second “after” has to be a statement of sequence because it would make no sense at all for the Father’s priesthood to be a subset of the ORDER of the Son. So that “after” has to mean “following.”

to teach these things unto the people

Immediately before this, Alma had walked Zeezrom through the steps of the Nephite temple service (Alma 12:28-34). Here, as elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, “these things” is code for that temple drama. However, in this context it is a premortal temple drama (probably the same one Paul describes in Ephesians 1). The Father ordains his “children” to teach to the “people.” “People” and “children” are not the same I thing. At the Council in Heaven, “Children” would be his spirit children and “people” would be those intelligences who had not yet been born into a spirit body. As far as I can tell, this is the same event as is described in Abraham 3:23. The stories are different because in Abraham 3:22 – 4:1 the noble and great ones create the spirit world, while in Alma 13 they are ordained to teach the intelligences how to prepare to inherit that spirit world. (For a discussion of why I think the world described there is the spirit world, go to the scriptures section of this website, then Pearl of Great Price, then Abraham 3:22.)

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Verses 2-5 — FLASHBACK: PRIESTHOOD OF INTELLIGENCES. This maps to Abraham 3:22.

22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized [into priesthood quorums] before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

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2 And those priests [the children] were ordained after [in the manner of] the ORDER of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people [intelligences] might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.

Their object is to teach the people how to come into the presence of God. That’s what “redemption” means in Ether 3:10-13; 2 Nephi 1:15, 2:3-4; Alma 58:41; Helaman 14:16-18.

3 And this is the manner after which they [the children] 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 [I do not believe that “first place” here is a colloquialism. I read it as meaning FIRST PLACE — that is, when they were intelligences] being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith [pistis — “great faith” would be keeping those covenants with diligence], are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

We learned in verse 2 that “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.” Here we are told the purpose of the priesthood to which they were ordained when they were intelligences. This priesthood, after the ORDER of the Son, “was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.” As intelligences they have not yet been born as spirit children of our heavenly parents. This priesthood after the ORDER of the Son is to enable them to do that. Their being born into God’s presence as his children was a “preparatory redemption” rather than the final one. The final redemption will come after their resurrection, when they will enter the presence of God and be able to remain there.

4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith [if faith is pistis, as it is elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, then what Alma says is that their calling came because they had kept their covenants], while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds [Alma had just defined a hardness of heart as choosing not to know the “mysteries of God” (Alma 12:9-11)], while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

This statement, and the explanation that follows express one of the most fundamental and most important principles of the gospel. It reaches back into eternity to the origin of our free agency at the very beginning of our cognizance.

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren;

If, in the first place they were on the same standing of those who eventually became the noble and great ones, and if they might have had as great privilege as their brethren had they not hardened their hearts, then we must conclude that any differences that developed between them and the noble and great ones were the products of their own choices. That would be equally true for the noble and great as well as for those who were not.

At this juncture Alma calls our minds back to the Council in Heaven in verse 1, where those noble and great ones, who were now spirits, were ordained after the ORDER of the Father.

In the story told by Abraham, that same juncture is tucked away between verses 22 and 23. (Abraham 3:22-23)

22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized [into priesthood quorums] before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

There is a spirit birth between these two verses. The noble and great intelligences are next described as “for he stood among those that were spirits.” Spirits are intelligences who now inhabit spirit bodies, just as mortals are intelligences who inhabit both spirit and mortal bodies (see the explanations by B. H. Roberts in this website under “favorite quotes”).

23 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. [Which “born”? I suspect “both” would be the correct answer.]

Alma continues by merging the qualifications of the earlier priesthood with the qualifications of the order of the Father. The qualifications are “for such as would not harden their hearts.”

The definition of “this holy calling” is “being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son.”

thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—

This new definition brings the meaning of priesthood into sharp focus. It says that the eternal priesthood given to us in various stages is virtually a subset of the Savior’s Atonement. That is easy to understand. The purposes of the Savior’s Atonement and the purposes of priesthood are the same. The object of each is to invite people to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and …. if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot (Moroni 10:32-33).”

Having returned us to the Council in Heaven where he began in verse 1, Alma teaches the responsibility of the holy ORDER of God.

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Verses 6-9 — RELATIONSHIP OF THE TWO PREMORTAL PRIESTHOODS
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6 And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy ORDER of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—

In verses 1-3 we learned that the ORDER of the Son was to teach intelligences how to receive a preparatory redemption. Here we learn that the ORDER of the Father is to “to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest.” So the priesthood they received at the Council extended their responsibility to teach “the children of men” in this world, and with the same purpose: that they also might be redeemed.

We can understand that continuum between premortal and mortal priesthood more easily if we read it in light of Abraham 3: where we learn that Abraham was one who was chosen at the Council to be one of God’s rulers. Later in this chapter Alma tells us that Melchizedek was another.

While Alma draws a distinction between the ORDER of the Son and the ORDER of the Father, he also wants to make sure Zeezrom understands that they are both one eternal priesthood. It is useful for us to understand this relationship by remembering that the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood are the same, yet different. Or a better example is that the offices of elder and high priest in the Melchizedek priesthood are the same, yet different. So in the next three verses Alma calls attention to that intertwined relationship.

7 This high priesthood [ORDER of the Father] being after [following] the ORDER of his Son, which ORDER [of the Father] was from the foundation of the world [when the spirit children, who were members of the Council, created the world]; or in other words, [these two priesthoods] being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things—

8 Now they [the ‘children’ whom the Father ordained at the Council] were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy ORDER, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—

9 Thus they become high priests forever, after [following] the ORDER of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.

The “Amen” is significant because it is the transition between our premortal priesthood and its continuation into this world where those high priests are to teach “the children of men.” as he mentioned in verse 6.

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Verses 10-20 — THE MORTAL PRIESTHOOD
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10 Now, as I said concerning the holy ORDER, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;

11 Therefore they were called after this holy ORDER, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

12 Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

13 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.

14 Yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after [in the manner of] this same ORDER which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.

15 And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.

In the next verses, Alma points out that the priesthood we have in this world is the same priesthood we had before, even though we can no longer function in the fullness of that priesthood. A way to understand this is that we have moved out of the time and place where it was appropriate for us to exercise the fullness of our priesthood. Like a bishop who is released from serving in his ward. He is still a bishop but he cannot function in that office. Or like a patriarch who moves from his stake. He is still a patriarch but is not called to give blessings in his new stake. We come into this world as innocent children who have to be nurtured and taught, step by step, how to function here with that priesthood that is appropriate to this time and place.

16 Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it [the earthly Melchizedek priesthood] being a type of his ORDER, or it being his ORDER, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.

17 Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;

18 But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy ORDER of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.

19 Now, there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention.

20 Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said may suffice. Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.

From this analysis of the scriptures we have learned the following: The Covenant is between the Father, his Son, and ourselves. The Savior’s is the validation and the fulfillment of that covenant. His Atonement defines the terms. The object is our redemption — to bring as many as will come back into the presence of God. The hope is a product of our own righteousness. It is the assurance we receive that the covenant is real and its object is attainable. The fulfillment of the covenant comes after we have endured to the end.

The priesthood is a gift from God that is, for us, the enabling power by which we can bless others and be blessed by them, with the intent that they and we will enjoy the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel from the beginning of our cognizance, to our resurrection, and beyond.

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