Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. -C. S. Lewis
Question #19333 posted on 11/05/2005 3:01 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I was reading Mosiah last week, and I came across something that really confused me. No one has been able to explain it to me yet in a way that satisfies me, so I will ask it here.

Mosiah 18:12
12 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
13 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
14 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.

Where did Alma get the authority to baptize? Its not like he had one on one time with Abinidi before he died to have the priesthood passed on to him. I know he was a priest under king Noah, but that wasn't exactly a position that was righteous. Also How is it that he is allowed to baptize himself as stated in Mosiah 18:14?
I would love any insight there, because that whole thing confuses me.
Later, when the people of limhi are taught the gospel by Ammon. Ammon tells them that he doesn't have the authority to baptize. So we know that they required the correct authority to preform the ordinance.
21:33 And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant.
34 Therefore they did not at that time form themselves into a church, waiting upon the Spirit of the Lord. Now they were desirous to become even as Alma and his brethren, who had fled into the wilderness.
35 They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts; nevertheless they did prolong the time; and an account of their baptism shall be given hereafter.

Sorry if I'm being obtuse and the answer is obvious.

- Athena

A: Dear Athena,

This question has been very perplexing t' people from the time the Book of Mormon was first translated. Hope ye dunna mind it takin' a bit o time. Ye did ask of me several questions, many of which I had the logical reasoning behind. Thought ye might want more than just logic though; now ye get quotes from Church leaders too. t' run through the questions, starting with the earliest plain statement:

Where did Alma get the authority t' baptise?
Obviously from somewhere. "No man taketh this honor upon himself" rather "he tha' is called of God as was Aaron." Do we know where? Nope. Moroni tells us tha' he couldn't write the hundreth part of what the original records contained; it seemeth me likely this could be part of the ninety and nine. Here's what President Joseph Fielding Smith had t' say:
"We may conclude tha' Alma held the priesthood before he, with others, became disturbed with King Noah. Whether this is so or not makes no difference because in the Book of Mosiah it is stated definitely tha' he had authority..."

Tha' last line is one of my favorites. Is the Book of Mormon the Word of God? Indeed as is the Bible. Are there things about it I dunna understand? Yes. ('Tis agreed tha' he probably dinna have time with Abinadi, though some have postulated such)

Ye did also agree tha' he was a priest of Noah, even in unrighteousness. There's another question here on th' Board dealing with tha' Board Question #18670. Ye may have t' stretch it a bit, but bluntly put, if a man receives his authority in the correct line, even if the one who gives it t' him is not righteous, the authority is his. He just willna have any power (as "no man can do a miracle in the name of Christ" save he shall be cleansed every whit from his iniquity").

In the end, all I can tell ye is what Alma himself said, "Having authority from Almighty God." He had it.

Also How is it tha' he is allowed t' baptise himself as stated in Mosiah 18:14?

Another intrigue. A story t' illustrate. Several years ago, while staying with my Utahn grandmum, we were reviewing old family records. I noticed tha' my great grandmother (on the Devey side, 'tis recalled) wasn't dated as being baptised until she was almost eighty. tha' dunna make no little sense, does it? My mum and I were quite confused and took the question on t' Grandmother, for surely great-grandmum Devey hadn't been exed! Grandmother dinna see our conflict. As turned out, GG Devey was baptised three times over the course of her life, something, they tell me, of a common practice back then of covenanting.

For example, the pioneers tha' came across the plains were baptised when the reached these valleys, as a new covenant. This covenant wasn't for the remission of sins, but rather was on of unity and dedication t' carving a life out of the dusty rock. In some areas, I dunna know how churchwide, ye would be rebaptised when ye changed wards, as a covenant t' be a part of tha' new unit. Alma wasn't breakin' any rules.

I would love any insight there, because that whole thing confuses me.
Blooming Hades wouldn't tha' be nice.

Later, when the people of limhi are taught the gospel by Ammon. Ammon tells them that he doesn't have the authority t' baptise. So we know that they required the correct authority to perform the ordinance.

Let's review what the text says (ye showed it once, but we'll do it again)
21:33 And it came t' pass tha' king Limhi and many of his people were desirous t' be baptised; but there was none in the land tha' had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant.

Compare this with your statement: "Ammon tells them tha' he doesn't have the authority t' baptise." No he doesn't tell them tha'. The text says tha' none of the people of Limhi had authority. Ammon declines, not from lack of authority. He feels unworthy t' exercise his authority.

But 'tis a beautiful story. Ye have this whole nation of people tha' want t' do what is right and cannot. It remind me of Brother Billy Johnson and the African Saints in name if not yet in baptism. There are few stories of faith so enduring and so well blessed. Feel free t' read about it here (http://www.byui.edu/Presentati..., http://www.ldsmag.com/churchup...) or watch the Church video on the subject. God bless.


PS: For the light of Jack the Giant-Killer! In the Rick's Devotional, ye may love the story -- and question -- of Julius Kasue. Dunna ye wish Elder LeBaron included the answer?
A: Dear Goddess of Wisdom

Please, don't blame BritBoy, it's my fault this is so late. I had a couple extra insights to share that took a while. They probably aren't worth it, but it gives me more time to talk about myself. And I'll be including an essay a friend of mine came up with on these lines, hopefully with a bibliography. I also hope his Book of Mormon professor won't mind.

The British Lad did a great job of answering the question, so I'll just wrap some stuff up. On the authority thing, what led to the apostacy of the early Christian church: Unrighteous priests being consecrated or people making up authority? At the end of your MTC experience, many missionaries get to take a little quiz about basic doctrines. One of my questions was about what happened to the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods, how/when/if they fell away. At first I got it wrong.

Second, on Alma's rebaptism, we had a wonderful older brother in my branch with a gambling addiction. When he was finally able to overcome it, and despite no official Church punishment, he petitioned for and was granted rebaptism, to witness again to his God, his Church, his family, and (maybe most importantly) himself that he was born again. Technically, all this good brother needed was the Sacrament of the Lord's Last Supper, but can't you imagine how much more staying power the Sacrament of Baptism and Rebirth has had on his determination?

Third, Ammon and unworthiness. I'll take a dissimilar stand from BritBoy right here and state that maybe he did not have authority. It is indeed possible that was the cause of his unworthiness. On this point and with Alma's authority, would it not have been great if Mormon would have given us all the answers?

Why did he leave out the ordination of Alma by whatever being, mortal or immortal, that performed it? Certainly, if he can include Teancum's javelin skills, why can he not add an extra line about Ammon and his authority, or even what he did to make himself feel unworthy? Perhaps it wasn't his job.

Or maybe it was something too personal. I have laid my hands on the head of a person and felt no guidance due to personal misdeeds. I was told by a priesthood leader that I could not baptize or confirm my friends the Ellington's because I had no power. The reason given the world: "I don't feel right about it; we'll wait for somebody else." The reasons behind this are known to me, my President, and that companion who came home early. No way do I want all generations after to know what happened.

Now, with no more ado, the essay written by my friend we will call "Li'l Brudder"

A friend asked something very interesting lately. He'd been doing some reading in the Book of Mormon and came across one of those strange "controversies" that seem to plague the text. In Mosiah, eighteenth chapter we read of Alma the Younger and the society of believers that appeared following the martyrdom of the prophet Abinadi. Alma had been teaching people for a while now; as far as the record suggests it was since he finished transcribing the words which Abinadi spoke unto King Noah and the wicked priests. "Here in chapter eighteen", my friend asks, "why is Alma baptizing? I understand that baptism is essential, but where does he get the authority that is necessary to carry out the ordinance?"
At first glance, the reply seemed obvious, one of those many points we take at face value: He received the authority from someone who held it. It must be true, as there is no other way that the authority of the Lord can be passed. It is not something for one to take upon themselves; it must be given to those who are "called of God, as was Aaron." In brief inspection, we read in the Book of Exodus how this calling was made: In chapter 28 and 29 the prophet Moses receives divine guidance. Moses listens to the voice of the Lord and takes Aaron and his sons to set them apart as priests unto the Most High God. They make a covenant with the Lord to do his will, keep his commandments, and serve the Lord. Later when the two sons reject this and go contrary to the nature of the covenant, the Lord destroys them both.
Some have postulated that Alma received his authority from the Abinadi prior to the latter's death. Others are of the opinion that he had been given priesthood authority via the corrupt king Noah. Still more hold the belief that his authority existed either prior to his becoming a priest of Noah, or that it was instituted through divine means post-exile from the Land of Nephi. Really, there isn't much supporting evidence for much of these beliefs in the language of the scriptures, the one thing that we know for certain is that Alma held adequate authority.
The first of these points is mentioned by Brother Daniel H. Ludlow in his study companion to the Book of Mormon. It doesn't make very much sense. Certainly it wasn't impossible, but it seems very improbable that Alma and Abinadi were able to have any "alone time" to discuss the doctrines of the gospel while Alma is busy working his way out of his apostate state. The very fact of Alma's personal apostasy, as well as the somewhat institutional falling away in the mini-kingdom, is what leads to all these various conjectures.
The second possibility, that of Alma receiving the proper authority from King Noah, at first seems out of place with our beliefs of the priesthood. We read the following in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 121:
. . . The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and . . . the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (Verses 36 & 37, emphasis added)
If Alma were to receive the priesthood from King Noah, then first we know that Noah must have held it. How could a man who violated every principle contained in the previous passage (and then some) be able to hold the sacred authority of Jesus Christ, much less pass it on to others? This takes some understanding of the principle of individual accountability as well as of what an ordination is. We know and learn from the second Article of Faith that we are not accountable for the individual sins of other people. It seems possible to me that this applies to priesthood blessings and ordinations as well. I will not be condemned if the person who blesses the sacrament on Sunday is not living his life in accordance with the teachings of the gospel. In a somewhat similar vein, if I partake of that bread and water unworthily, I eat and drink damnation to my own soul, not to the souls of any who are around me. It appears as a bit of a separation between the Authority of the Priesthood, and the power thereof - while in both cases the priesthood authority is being exercise, for the young man in the first example and myself in the latter, we do not have the power of God with us.
King Noah could have been put in a very similar, although magnified situation. We read in the end of Mosiah chapter 10 and beginning of chapter 11 that the kingdom had been "conferred" upon Noah by his father Zeniff. Zeniff was not perfect, but he did hold the proper authority to administer in the physical and spiritual lives of his subject as king. We as well that Zeniff ordained priests to help him rule as well as serve the people as teachers, just as Moses had done as the guide to the Israelites in their exile. When he conferred the rights and stature of king to his son Noah, it stands to reason that the spiritual keys of presidency were also passed on. Unfortunately, the son did not treat the precious gifts he had been given with the respect which they were due. In a display of childish impetuosity and pride very similar to that of Rehoboam of Judea, Noah "put down all the priests that had been consecrated [made holy] by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts." Despite the iniquity of both Noah and his choices as priests, the authority to officiate in the gospel was passed on, even as the power of God was not with them.
The third option mentioned above does not have any scriptural basis in the Book of Mosiah that I can find. On the other hand, it is the one mentioned by Joseph Fielding Smith in both Answers to Gospel Questions and Doctrines of Salvation. In the first book he states "We may conclude that Alma held the priesthood before he, with others, became disturbed with King Noah" (volume 3, pg 203). In the second he claims, "Alma was baptized and held the priesthood before the coming of Abinadi, but he became involved with other priests under the reign of the wicked King Noah" (volume 2, pg 336). With his gospel scholarship, as well as his role as a leader in the Church of Christ, no doubt his belief on these events carries more weight than mine or than the other scholars who's viewpoints have been shared here.
It appears to me in the end that it doesn't really matter by whose hands Alma's authority comes from. We know, as did my friend, that he held it. We also know from Doctrine and Covenants, section 36 that the hands laid upon us are truly those of the Lord: "Thus saith the Lord God, the Mighty One of Israel: . . . And I will lay my hand upon you by the hand of my servant Sidney Rigdon, and you shall receive. . . ."
The physical hands laid upon the head of Alma may have been those of Abinadi, Noah, perhaps his own father, or even an angelic ministrant. The Book of Mormon as President Smith also points out in Answers to Gospel Questions "is an abridgment of former records, and like the Bible, does not furnish many details." What we can find important from this story is that anyone, anyone at all can change. They can receive authority through the laying of hands, but they can receive power through keeping their covenants with the Lord.


Ludlow, Daniel H. [u] A Companion to Your Study Of The Book Of Mormon [/u]. Deseret Book 1976
Peterson, Daniel C. "Priesthood in Mosiah." [u]The Book of Mormon: Mosiah, Salvation Only Through Christ [/u]. Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1991
Gardner, Brant. "Mosiah 18." [u] Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon [/u] 17 October 2005 http://frontpage2k.nmia.com/~nahualli/commentary.htm.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. [u] Answers to Gospel Questions [/u]. Deseret Book. 1960
Smith, Joseph Fielding, [u] Doctrines of Salvation [/u]. Bookcraft. 1954