006: Book of Mormon Lesson 29: Alma 36-39

“Give Ear to My Words”

This lesson and the next provide a precious and intimate window in the family life of Alma, one of the great Book of Mormon prophets. These chapters fit into the genre of “Testament”, which records the wisdom and blessings imparted by the patriarch of a family (unfortunately, we don’t have any records of  a matriarch sharing her wisdom or blessings that I know of). Alma’s counsel to his sons Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton provide us some of his final words in the Book of Mormon (before he gives his final blessings and mysteriously disappears in Alma 45).

Highlights of this lesson include

  • Alma’s reflections on conversion and the Atonement in poetic form (the strongest example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon)
  • Gems on patience and trust, self-discipline, and humility
  • Tackling head on the idea that sexual sin is ranked “next to murder”.

Look forward to an engaging discussion with CareyJosephDanielle and Jessica.

After you listen to the lesson and class discussion, please post your comments and questions here on the blog and continue the conversation!


You can access my Lesson Notes here.

You can find Joseph Spencer’s study on Book of Mormon theology here.

Thanks to Dan Wotherspoon and Joseph Spencer for recommending the following articles
And Steven S for this BYU Studies article on Chiasmus
Thanks again to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for postproduction.

Latest Comments

  1. Nik Rasheta says:



  2. SteveS says:

    1) Alma seems to say the Jesus prayer in the center of the chiasm of Alma 36 at vs. 18. Should we pray to Jesus?

    2) Alma 38:9 “no other way”: thoughts about salvation through Christ as only way back to God’s good graces.

    3) Alma 39:5 what are “these things” that are most abominable? I’ve read a commentary (can’t remember where) claiming that the harlot Isabel was the cultic worship of a feminine fertility deity (like Asherah or something), and that the most abominable sin isn’t fornication or adultery, but idol worship. fwiw, I don’t think that that is a terribly compelling interpretation. How are we to approach scriptural statements that somehow seek to classify sin hierarchically?

    4) Is Alma 39:11 an ancient parental guilt-trip or what? Would the Zoramites have been any less wicked or rebellious against “God’s words” if Corianton wasn’t there going after Isabel? What is the role of social pressure in promoting moral behavior, and what good or bad can it do when one person’s morality is being enforced upon another who might not see things the same way?

    5) Alma 39:17-19 seems to confront head-on the accusation one might have leveled at Joseph Smith in regard to Christology in BCE Book of Mormon times. The theology of atonement in the BOM is so fully developed in multiple views (governmental, penal substitution, ransom, etc.) that it begs the question about how the Nephites could have developed rich theological philosophies about the nature of the atonement which took Western Christianity millennia to produce. In this passage, Alma tells his son to stop marveling that these things are made known so long before Christ is even born. Indeed souls should be just as precious before Jesus is born as after, and indeed God conceptually *could* send an angel to anyone God chooses, but why didn’t the Jews also seem to know all these essential, wonderful things? I see these verses speaking more to the modern reader than Alma to Corianton, but the logic fails to satisfy that nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that ancient peoples couldn’t have possibly developed a doctrine of Christ so nuanced and authoritative *even before Christ came* to teach and act in the ways that would allow such doctrine to develop.


    • Greg says:

      So, I am just now listening to all of these podcasts. I really want to know people’s thoughts on praying or crying out to Jesus. Why didn’t Alma cry to God or Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus? Why don’t we cry or pray to Jesus? Why is this so shunned in the LDS church?


  3. Kat says:

    – Jared per your suggestion I brought up the nature of Corianton’s sin in class, was it sexual or other? Some in class were open to the idea and could see a broader context, others were set on it being a sexual sin. They used the footnotes for vs. 5 to reinforce this. Maybe the footnote on this verse is the reason it has been accepted that his sins were sexual. Footnote 5a says, TG Adultery, Fornication, Sexual Immorality

    – 36:12 talks about being racked, as Jared stated, traditionally being racked refers to the medieval torture device.

    Isn’t this anachronistic, is there any evidence of racking in 70 BC mesoamerica? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rack_(torture) states that it was used as early as 300 AD and certainly in the middle ages but is there any history of it existing or being used pre BC? The language in 36:12 seems to come from Joseph’s time rather than Alma of 70 BC.


    • Greg says:

      Is this one of those mistakes of men that Mormon talks about? Why have so many church leaders stressed sexual sin when it isn’t talked about that much in the scriptures? I mean, the Book of Mormon and LDS teachings are all about repetition of key principles. If sexual sin is SO serious then why not stress it over and over again? We were reading Alma 39 the other day as a family and my teenage daughter piped in and said, “Why haven’t I heard this before? This is the first time I am hearing about sexual sin in the Book of Mormon.” I had to think about it and I couldn’t answer the question right then. I told her I would get other references for her in the Book of Mormon, but every other reference is in church literature.


      • Jared Anderson says:

        Greg, I would classify it as a mistake of interpretation. It is a common human tendency to interpret scripture or other traditions according to what we expect them to mean, rather than doing the careful work of determining what the author intended. I was quite persuaded by Jorgensen’s piece that argues Corianton’s sin was not of a serious sexual nature. But that is why Church leaders use this scripture to stress sexual sin, which is a different question than why they stress it, which has its own answer and history.


  4. Jane Guthrie says:

    The First Presidency and Presidents of the Church have spoken quite definitively that sexual sin IS next to murder. . . . . http://www.ldsanswers.org/is-sexual-sin-next-to-murder-book-of-mormon-central-fact-check/


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