Alma 36: What’s So Special About It?

Here’s a photo of one of my favorite sections of the Book of Mormon – Alma 36. Anyone know why Alma 36 may be my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon? And why I think it’s a chapter that needs to be discussed in any debate on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

38 thoughts on “Alma 36: What’s So Special About It?

  1. It’s only an airtight version of chiasmus–one that could hardly happen because of Joseph’s “repetitive style”

  2. Awe, they beat me to it. Those are the only pages coming out of my Scriptures… I’ve had to tape them back in. I love that Chapter.

  3. Alma was written between 91 BC – 53 BC, probably abridged sometime between 321 AD and 360 AD, and was likely translated April 1829

  4. That was an excellent question, made me examine Alma pretty carefully.


    You mentioned that it was abridged sometime between 321 AD and 360 AD. Sorry for my lack of knowledge in this next question but can you tell me where that date came from. (I’m a complete newcomer )

  5. Nathaniel,

    Can you go to external sources to verify the captivity and Exodus of Israel from Egypt? If so, I’d love to see them. How about sources for the reality of the resurrection? You and I both know that the most accurate and powerful knowlege we can have comes spiritually. Read Alma with honest intentoins, study his life and the power of his words to his children and see what efect it has on you before you judge it’s truthfulness. It has effected my life quite miraculously.

  6. Scherer:
    Whoa. Go easy. Nathaniel hasn’t made any accusations or attacks. He’s only asking questions at this point.

    There’s nothing wrong in pointing out that the dating done within the Book of Mormon is self-referential.


    The reference points are:

    The first year of the reign Zedekiah was when Lehi and his family left Jerusalem. The numbering of years in the Book of Mormon starts out with that reference point.

    Then it switches to counting years “of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi” and it correlates the switch over there. The “reign of the judges” started when Mosiah died in Mosiah 29:46-47, which was 509 years after Lehi left Jerusalem.

    Then it switches to counting years from the birth of Christ, and correlates that as having happened 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, 3rd Nephi 2:5-8.

    Note that 3rd Nephi 2:5-8 references the point nine years after the birth of Christ. So His birth was 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and in the 91st year of “the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi”.

    Mormon, who abridged the records handed down to him (to produce what we have as the Book of Mormon) mentions various times (in the sub-book named after him) how many years have passed since the birth of Christ. But he is not specific about which portions he abridged at any given time.

    Nathaniel: The Book of Mormon (as with the first five books of the Bible) have very few and only very tenuous external reference points.

    Jeff Lindsay has written about some interesting match-ups between the account in 1st Nephi, and various geographical and archealogical features of the Arabian peninsula. However, they are merely interesting match-ups, and no Mormon apologist is offering those as slam-dunk proof of the Book of Mormon, even though many critics seem to accuse Mormon apologists of doing that.

    The analog is that believers in the Bible would not want someone to put their faith in the Bible for the sole reason that there are archealogical and/or historical evidences that matche up with secular happenings in the Bible.

    Along with the things that Scherer is bringing up, no one knows whether Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament through pure revelation, or whether he had source documents handed down to him through the patriarchs.

    Moses was raised as an Egyptian and then fled Egypt, so if he had any source documents, they may have come from his father-in-law, Jethro (who was likely not a descendent of Jacob/Israel, but who likely was still a “Hebrew” and held the priesthood through some other line-of-authority that goes back to the same Melchizedek who gave the priesthood to Abraham), or else given to him (Moses) by the Hebrew record keepers after he assumed leadership of the captive Hebrews in Egypt.

    Although it is an interesting exercise to match-up, correlate, or even “verify” ancient religious documents, my faith in the Bible does not rest on whether or not non-Judeo-Christian experts in ancient history have verified the Bible.

    As Scherer implies, if we were to subject the Bible to the same academic scrutiny that non-Mormons want to apply to the Book of Mormon, then we’d have to rely soley on academic atheists for our opinions on how truthful or accurate the Bible is.

    My belief in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is faith-based and spiritual-based. As is my belief in the Book of Mormon.

    Your questions about internal dating in the Book of Mormon can be answered by reading it, referring to the above verses, and paying attention to the footnotes.

    You can pick up copies cheap at used bookstores. Or buy a hard-cover copy for $2.50 through the LDS Distribution Center,, or 1-801-240-3800, or toll free 1-800-537-5971.

    I suggest buying one, because if you call the phone number to get a free one (888-537-2200), that goes through the missionary department, and they will make up to three follow-up calls. If you purchase through the Distribution Center, you will NOT be called, or receive any follow up, and will NOT be put on any list.

    You can also get them on Ebay and

    Just curious here: Is _your_ faith in God and in the Bible based on historical, geological, or archealogical evidence? In order to believe in the God of the Bible, must one first study ancient history and archealogy and believe/accept those experts before believing in and accepting God and Jesus Christ?

  7. Yikes!! I did come off as quite combative. Bone head syndrome, I’ve had it for years. My apologies, Nathan.

  8. Anon.: Mormon wouldn’t have had the records any earlier than 321 and was probably too busy trying to survive after 360. In between there were a number of years of peace where he could have tackled the huge job of abridging the record.

  9. Nathaniel – Two points. When Alma refers to Jesus as ‘a Son of God’ he is speaking in terms of what he was trying to remember his father told him. Picture yourself in that situation and it would be easy to see him trying to reflect on what his father told him and using that phrase.

    Secondly, keep in mind that when one translates, they attempt to use words that are currently known. Such as in the King James version of the Bible, Acts 12:4 translates the Greek word “pascha” into Easter… This word is translated I think 28 times as “Passover” but only that once as “Easter”. BUT keep in mind that the term “Passover” wasn’t used until William Tyndale coined the word for his Version of 1526-31. Until then the word was simply left untranslated.

    Joseph translated to modern day words that we would readily understand, and that makes sense to me. Hope this helps.

  10. Although we know little about how the BoM was translated there are reasons to believe the KJV of the Bible served as a part of the process. There are passages in the BoM that are exactly the same in the KJV (Isaiah). That is all that is required to translate the BoM provided you know what parts are evivalent. In other words, the Rosetta stone of the BoM translation was Isaiah as written in KJV and equivalent passage in Reformed Egyptian. This would explain a lot about the BoM.

  11. nathaniel:

    You commented “As far as I know though, none of the Biblical books that preceded the coming of Jesus even had a prophecy for the specific name ‘Jesus’…”

    Jeff has addressed this question on his website it you would like an explanation:

    As far as your issue with Jesus being called “a Son”, rather than “the Son” in this chapter, I think of the fact that we are all sons and daughters of God, and there are references to that fact throughout the Bible. Jesus is a Son of God also. That may have been what Alma meant when he said that. But then I think, “a”, “the”. What’s the big deal? They are tiny words, and perhaps someone made a mistake. But I’m not going to dismiss the Book of Mormon over something like that, nor would I lose any sleep over it. Grammatical errors are not an uncommon thing.

    As far as who is speaking, Alma is a man speaking to his son Helaman.

    And for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I know of no transcripts backing up its authenticity, but I don’t need them to verify them to me any more than I need them to verify the Bible. The most powerful “verifier of authenticity” that one can ever hope to receive is that of the Holy Ghost who testifies of truth. That witness is available to all who seek it in humility and an open heart to God’s will.


  12. I am surprised at the trajectory of the discussion to this post on Alma 36, mired in the mundane issues of dating, geography, historical context, drama, choice of articles (“a” vs. “the”), etc. Even the near-perfect chiastic structure of the chapter is a relatively minor issue. These are all interesting, to be sure, but they pale so completely in comparison to the grand message of Alma 36 – the miracle of repentance and forgiveness.

    It’s hard for me to imagine a more potent and practical sermon than this. On the one hand, the harrowing realization that we have offended God and others by our choices, the utter futility of our usual pretenses and rationalizations, the hopelessness of our situation, the darkness and captivity of our lives as we make these choices. On the other hand, the sweet joy of forgiveness, the ability to look forward to the future, the light and freedom and exquisite taste of the atonement of Jesus Christ, the obligation to labor without ceasing.

    Alma 36 delivers this message at multiple levels, appeals to the symbolism of captivity and exodus throughout Biblical and Nephite history, and can be read advantageously over and over again. It appeals to multiple senses – sound, sight, taste, touch, poetry. More than any of this, it resonates personally with me. This chapter is exactly my experience with repentance – as dramatic as if the angel had appeared to me.

  13. Nat,
    Thanks for being polite. But I don’t think you’ve been entirely honest here. I don’t believe you’ve accurately represented yourself, or are as ignorant of the LDS church and the Book of Mormon as you claim.

    You don’t need to put on that act (“I’m just curious and very ignorant”) in order to have a rational and polite discussion here.

    You’re even welcome to express why you disbelieve the Book of Mormon if you want.

    You’re not the first to put on that act here. You might even be someone who has tried it in the past.

    There some web sites that actually encourage people to do what you’re doing, to come here and pretend to be a legitimate “investigator” and to ask sincere questions.

    I’m sure that Jeff Lindsay, owner of this blog, welcomes sincere questions.

    But the game-playing undermines credibility, and it causes hurt feelings when people realize that you were already a critic of the church, who came here just to yank chains and play games.

    And you haven’t responded to my question about your belief in the Bible.

    So what are your beliefs, Nat? Do you believe in the Bible? Do you consider yourself Christian, agnostic, atheist, other?

    I think I was too harsh on Scherer. He had you pegged before I did.

    Sorry Scherer.

  14. “Mormonism does not preach grace!”

    Simply incorrect. If you have not picked that up in your conversations thus far, it is probably because you choose not to.

    Interestingly, Alma 36 is an EXCELLENT example of grace–in fact, I know of no better and more detailed on-the-ground account of a born-again experience in the scriptures.

  15. I think Bookslinger is right. It appears the “sincere inquirer” image was just that–an image and a veneer.

    I’m not going to get into a debate with you on this one; it does not appear that you have a real desire to know. All I can give you is that as an orthodox, well-informed MOrmon who holds a temple recommend, the atonement plays a CENTRAL role in my life. Everything–repeat, EVERYTHING–is an appendage to or a symbol of that supernal gift of love.

    Should you ever truly wish to know (which it does not appear that you do, given the apparent vitriol in your second to last paragraph), ask an orthodox, scripture-reading Mormon “What think ye of Christ?” He’ll give you an answer that matches well any practicing Christian’s beliefs.

  16. I reserve the right to delete comments with links to sites I consider inappropriate or hostile. That’s why your last comment was deleted, Mr. Repeat Offender.

  17. Maybe Nat got embarrassed when his role-playing was found out. I followed the link to his profile, and from there to his other blogs.

    I think he is sincere and devout in his beliefs. In one of his blogs, he does promote acts of service and repentance. Though I think he might define repentance a little different than we do.

    It’s a little strange. He preaches against salvation by “works”, but on his blogs, I think he’s saying we have to repent anyway, and we have to provide service in order to keep from falling.

    So in the end, the evangelicals say we need to do the things that Mormons preach anyway, repentance, service, and do our best to keep the commandments.

    I’ve heard/read that Mormons are accused by the evangelicas for believing in “salvation through obedience (works)”, but when you press them on it, they believe in obedience too. It’s just that they say they obey _because_ they’re saved, and we get put down because (they say) we obey _in order to be_ saved.

  18. ” It’s just that they say they obey _because_ they’re saved, and we get put down because (they say) we obey _in order to be_ saved.”


    This is the one and only thing that I press! Our good works only happen AFTER we have come to know our true worth – which is NOTHING! Our good works come AFTER salvation – when we come to realise that whatever we have done before salvation is NOTHING comopared to the work that God HAS ALREADY DONE!

    Bookslinger, my intentions were never dishonourable. My wanting to explore the authenticity of Alma 36 was because of Jeff’s original intention. Yes, I agree Alma 36 has some wonderful things contained in it, but that is not what Jeff invited us to do and I quote, “And why I think it’s a chapter that needs to be discussed in any debate on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon?

    The faith of a person is only as good as what it is based on. And if that faith is based on shakey ground…then so be it. A person whose meaning in life is found in cross-stitching, then so be it but it is imperative we find out truth. Remember, there can only be one truth…the responsibility is on us (and the responsibility is HUGE)to know it for what it really is.

    So, it is with this last comment that I shall say my farewell. Book, your comment is enough for me to know that you understand what I have been pressing on about for the past few weeks.

    I’ll probably go and prey on some unsuspecting Ba’hai individual now because as well as grace, my other passion is ‘truth’! And I seem to remember that Ba’hai state that there are many truths(?!) Pffff. Ridiculous.

    So, in the words of Ellie (Robert’s wife), whom I have come to greatly admire, smile big.


  19. Book (sorry one final thing),

    I need to pull you up on one thing when you looked at my original blog. You said, “and we have to provide service in order to keep from falling”

    Notice: it is not the provision of service that keeps us from falling, instead it is the ACCEPTANCE of service that keeps us from falling. When we accept help from others, it is this physical reminder of when we accepted God’s help =)

    To accept help from others promotes the idea that we cannot do it…when we accept help from others, we are basically saying, “I can’t do this, please would you do this for me…” Accepting help makes us vulnerable and we show something of the fact that we are failures! – WHICH IS EXACTLY WHERE GOD WANTS US TO BE!!! =))))

    God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him! =)

    You also said, “Though I think he might define repentance a little different than we do.”

    EXCELLENT!! It’s good to know that you do see a difference! =)

    I am VERY VERY happy. Book, you are in my prayers =)

  20. Nathanielmacrae (at 3:02 AM): Guess you couldn’t make it past “it is with this last comment that I shall say my farewell…” 🙂

    IMHO, I don’t think you are being asked to leave. Just be kind and don’t misrepresent yourself. Bruce Lee said “If I tell you I’m good, you would probably think I’m boasting. If I tell you I’m no good, you know I’m lying.” Don’t start out by saying you “know little about” something when it’s obvious you have researched that same item.

    ” It’s just that they say they obey _because_ they’re saved, and we get put down because (they say) we obey _in order to be_ saved.”


    This is the one thing that I have been pressing too… But you are not listening. We do not believe that we can live our lives to perfection. But we will continually “work” through the repentance process. We will “work” to serve Christ. We do believe that God helps those who help themselves and we believe that if we serve Christ, He will, as promised, bless us.

    With the same flip of the coin (i.e. the above argument), one can make the case that there are many people who call themselves “saved” BUT they intentionally do not obey even the basics. Things like;

    -Keeping the Sabbath day Holy
    -Obeying the law of Chastity
    -Paying tithes
    -Loving thy neighbor as thyself
    -Forgiving all
    -Service to others

    The way LDS are ridiculed by “Christians” sometimes, I’d even add being nice to the list. (Being nice is somewhere in the scriptures, right?)

    Again, I am not saying LDS are any better than others. God loves all His children. I’ve stated before in other posts that there are no righteous people, only degrees of the un-righteousness. Grace takes care of the rest.

    In my little brain, I do think there are those that should try harder. Mind if I pick on one of the many TV “Christians”?

    In my area, Pat Robertson looms large. I am still trying hard to forgive him of his idiotic statement that Pres Chavez should be assassinated. Chavez is a loser leading his people to increased poverty and chaos. But a “Christian” calling for an assassination doesn’t seem very “Christian-like”. Seems like the ultimate form of hypocrisy. Makes it easy for non-Christian to label and write-off the many good things Christians are trying to accomplish, don’t you think?


    My point is that if you call yourself Christian but aren’t working to serve Christ, who does that profit? Why would Christ extend his Grace on one hand to someone who “calls himself/herself Christian” but does not do the “work” of Christ while on the other hand condemning others who don’t believe but still do many good works? Muslims pay the Zakat (2.5% to charity). But without Christ, all one billion of them are condemned.

    “Faith without works is dead.” We are hypocrites if we thing we can intentionally behave poorly, while being “saved”, when others suffer who are not believers and, according to scripture, cannot be saved.

    So if you are doing the “work” AND you believe in Christ (and are “saved”), the argument has no meaning or merit regardless of what side of the fence you want to stand on. (I propose there is no fence.)

    (If you’ve seen my previous posts, you know what my next LDS plug will be…)

    AND Thank God for the Plan of Salvation and the doctrine that ALL mankind will have the opportunity to accept Christ and be saved!

    Anyway, thank you Jeff for your blog and thoughtful posts. And thank you to all those who make the effort to post on this blog.


  21. Shawn, thank you for all your comments. Same to Bookslinger and Russell while we’re passing out thanks. And absolutely thanks to Jeff for hosting Mormanity.

    Nat, I’m glad you admire my wife, that makes one more on a long list. She’s a wonderful woman. I really am sorry you think she is condemned for her beliefs. We could all do well to love others like she does. I wonder every day what I did to deserve such a wonderful woman.

  22. I have a question…I know that the Mormon church is very proactive about “recruiting” (?? I am not meaning to offend, just don’t know the right way to say it). Why is this such an important thing in the Mormon religion? I realize that missionaries of other religions have been around forever, but I have never understood it. Meaning, why do people feel it is so necessary for others to believe the same as they do? Why would the Mormon church want me as a member? Does that make sense? I know that differences of religion matter so greatly to some, that war is a result. I was just wondering if anyone had insight into this phenomenon. Thanks!

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