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RS/MP Lesson 2: “Our Heavenly Family” (Part 2)

Posted by Robert C. on January 10, 2010

(This is the 2nd of 3 parts for Lesson #2 from the Gospel Principles manual on “Our Heavenly Family.” These notes are primarily aimed at supplementing the MP/RS lessons. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 3 here.)

PART 2. We Developed Personalities and Talents While We Lived in Heaven

Key scripture: Alma 13:1-9. The first scriptural passage cited in this section of the lesson is Alma 13:1-3. Let’s look at verse 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. (Alma 13:1)

Question: Why does Alma mean by “cite your minds forward”? It seems that Alma is referring to something in the past, and yet he uses the term “forward” here. That doesn’t make sense does it? (Anti-Mormons have used this phrase to criticize the Book of Mormon.)

I have come across 2 good answers to this question (surely there are more):

Answer #1: Inverted Hebrew time? Our own Jim F. has proposed that this is an example of the inverted way that Hebrew thought relates to time. Jim writes:

As part of their thinking about time, Indo-European (“Greek”) languages have three tenses, describing the three relations possible to points on the time line, to what we, standing in the present, can see: this moment, before this moment, and after this moment. But Hebrew has essentially two tenses, corresponding to the completion or incompleteness of the events which make up time, not to what we can see. Hebrew tenses refer instead to events: that which has been concluded, and that which has not been concluded, roughly the perfect and the imperfect tenses (145-6). Interestingly, when Hebrew does correlate seeing to time, it speaks of the past as before and the future behind. [Footnote 13: This seems to explain the odd wording of Alma 13.1: ” I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children.”]

Scripture Studies: Tools and Suggestions, pp. 146-147, emphasis added. See an extended quote from the book here.

Answer #2: Dramatic time? In the previous chapter, Alma mentions the “first commandments” (Alma 12:31) in reference to Adam and Eve not partaking of the fruit in the Garden of Eden. In Alma 13, we thus read Alma moving forward in time, or forward in the described (temple) drama, from the time when the first commandments were given. In this sense, it seems Alma 13 should (or could) be read as further elaboration on the “second commandments” being described at the end of Alma 12 (vv. 33-37 in particular).

It is worth noting that the chapter division between Alma 12 and 13 is not in the original text of the Book of Mormon. Rather, the original chapter IX goes from Alma 12:1 to Alma 13:9 (the original chapter breaks can be found at the wiki here). Also worth noting, the original paragraph break in the 1830 edition puts Alma 12:36 through Alma 13:9 as one big paragraph. This is significant because it helps us pay closer attention to what “these commandments” in Alma 13:1 is referring to—namely, “these commandments” in 13:1 refers back to the “these his second commandments” mentioned in 12:37.

“In the first place.” Having noted the (potential) significance of Alma’s progression in moving from a discussion of the first commandments in the middle of chapter 12 to a discussion of the second commandments at the very end of chapter 12 and continuing into chapter 13, it is now quite striking that Alma uses the phrase “in the first place” twice in close proximity, in verse 3 and verse 5. I will paste verses 2-6 here for convenience, and highlight the 2 occurrences of this phrase “in the first place.” Also, as you read this passage, notice how similar the theology here is compared to what Nephi taught in 1 Nephi 17:33ff that we discussed in the previous part of this lesson where we found a description of an initial equality followed by a later inequality—I will also highlight phrases below that draw this similarity out:

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. 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. And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren. Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; 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—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. (Alma 13:2-6)

Question: What does Alma mean with the phrase “in the first place”?

The phrase “first place” occurs in 5 distinct chapters in the Mormon canon: Num 10:14; 2 Ne 32:9; Mosiah 2:23; Alma 13:3,5; Alma 32:22. Here I will only consider the 2 other occurrences in the large plates.

“First place” and “secondly” in Mosiah 2. In King Benjamin’s discourse we find a similar pattern where “in the first place” there is a kind of equality—according to the dust from which we were created, and which levels the king-subject hierarchical distinction—followed by a kind of inequality that is conditionally established, according to obedience and faith:

And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth. (Mosiah 2:23-26)

This is a very rich passage, but I will simply refer you to the wiki page for more on this (Joe in partciular has done a lot of work analyzing these verses). My point here is to establish another example of the pattern we have see in both 1 Ne 17 and in Alma 12-13, a pattern which might help us make more sense of the conditional sonship that we came across in Hebrews 12.

“First place” in Alma 32. In Alma 32:22, Alma uses the phrase “in the first place” in the context of contrasting faith with perfect knowledge:

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. (Alma 32:22)

Alma goes on to describe a process of “impart[ing] his word by angels unto men,” which is very similar to the idea expressed in Alma 13:6, which we just read, where those called and ordained are to “teach his commandments unto the children of men.” Also, in Alma 32, Alma goes on to reiterate this “first place” language in a curious way. In verse 26, Alma uses the phrase “at first” (“ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowlege”). And then, Alma goes on to give a long exposition about the place that the word of God needs in order to grow like a seed.

Question: How does (or doesn’t) the “first place” language here in Alma 32 match up with the usage in Alma 13?

I don’t have a great answer for this question—so, again, I’m anxious to hear others’ comments. My thinking is that there is at least a similar pattern that progresses to a conditional blessing (perfect knowledge), but is rooted in a prior unconditional stage, or place, where the invitation is extended (an invitation that is, rather strikingly, extended not just to men, but to women and children in Alma 32:23—for a truly fascinating discussion of this verse in particular, ask Joe for a copy of the paper, or a recording of his presentation, that he gave at the Alma 32 conference in fall 2008). In this sense, the first commandments described in Alma 12 represent a similar “first place” of equality, where everyone is entitled to listen to the word, whereas the later second commandments described at the end of Alma 12 and beginning of Alma 13 represent a conditional stage/place that is similar to the conditionally-attainable perfect knowledge described in Alma 32. In fact, this conditional perspective might help make sense of why Alma focuses in chapter 13 so much on the conditional call that precipitates the dissemination of the second commandments by those who have kept their—to hint at a whole other can of worms to be explored—second estate, rather than on, say, the unconditional hearing of these first commandments that everyone is offered….

Chiastic tangent. As another tangent, and/or for extra credit, you can study Jame Duke’s article that analyzes the structure of Alma 13:1-9 in his JBMS article “The Literary Structure and Doctrinal Significance of Alma 13:1-9”. Among other patterns, he finds a chiastic structure running through vv. 1-9 that centers around the last word of verse 6, “rest.” The point, then, of this conditional love that we are discussing can be understood in terms of the “rest”/exaltation that we are invited into, through temple ordinances performed by the foreordained priests that Alma is describing—or something.

Teaser for part 3. Since I’m not sure when I’ll get the 3rd part of this lesson posted—hopefully Monday—let me just offer a quick string of teaser questions as a preview for now.

Question: In D&C 29, a first-second theme also seems prominent (see esp. vv. 30, 32, 41). Moreover, this first-second theme seems tied together with a spiritual-temporal theme/distinction. How does our foregoing study of first-second themes help us understand D&C 29, and vice versa? Can we productively connect the unconditional-conditional themes we’ve studied to the spiritual-temporal(/natural) theme in D&C 29 (and elsewhere)? How does all of this relate to the double creation accounts we read about in the Pearl of Great Price? And how can all of this be related back to our understanding of God as our Heavenly Father, and his plan for us, as the topic of this lesson? Bonus: How do the brother themes in Genesis and the Book of Mormon, where the younger brother often take preeminence over the older brother(s), bear on our understanding of these conditional-unconditional themes and patterns?

7 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 2: “Our Heavenly Family” (Part 2)”

  1. […] RS/MP Lesson 2: “Our Heavenly Family” (Part 2) […]

  2. joespencer said

    I swear I’m planning to get to this post, Robert. I think you’ve done fantastic work here, but finding the time to work through both it and the associated scriptural texts, as well as to craft a response, is taxing me this week!

  3. JerryYoung said

    Thanks for your efforts and thoughts.

    The “talents” subject reminded me of Elder Oaks’ “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall” wherein he listed ways in which we can narrowly concentrate on a talent to the detriment of our development.Thosestrengths he listed were:
    Gospel Hobbies, Misapplication of Spiritual Gifts, A Desire to Know All, A Desire to Be Led in All Things, Honors Can Sometimes Turn to Our Detriment, A Desire to Sacrifice More Than Is Needful, Social Consciousness Not Tempered by Other Values, An Intense Focus on Goals, Popular Teachers and the Potential of Priestcraft, Neglect or Distortion of Family Duties, Excesses in Giving, Accomplishment and Pride, Distorted Faith, Inordinate Church Service (Pres. Lee, Provo Temple), All-Consuming Patriotism, Materialistic Self-Reliance, Not Really Following the Prophet, Misapplication of Love and Tolerance.

    Since Sunday is the third Sunday and the date for Chapter 2 discussion, we are anxiously awaiting your part 3 analysis.

  4. […] Posted by Robert C. on January 13, 2010 (This is the 3rd of 3 parts for Lesson #2 from the Gospel Principles manual on “Our Heavenly Family.” These notes are primarily aimed at supplementing the MP/RS lessons. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.) […]

  5. Robert C. said

    Jerry, I’ve got part 3 posted now—sorry for the delay.

    Also, thanks for the Elder Oaks quote, this is great! Here is the link to the Ensign’s publication of his speech.

  6. […] significance of the first and second commandments mentioned in Alma 13 in a previous lesson post, here and here. Joe has also done a fair bit of work on this topic at the wiki on the Mosiah 2:23-24 […]

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    […]RS/MP Lesson 2: “Our Heavenly Family” (Part 2) « Feast upon the Word Blog[…]…

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