"For a Wise Purpose in Him"

Alma 37's Implications for Future Generations

Matthew Scott Stenson

M. Scott Stenson, "'For a Wise Purpose in Him': Alma 37's Implications for Future Generations," Religious Educator 23, no. 2 (2022): 140–155.

M. Scott Stenson (scottstenson14@gmail.com) is an instructor of English at Tennessee Tech University.

After briefly describing and differentiating between his two sets of plates, Nephi writes, “Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates [the small plates] for a wise purpose in him, which [complete] purpose I know not. But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen” (1 Nephi 9:5–6). From these words of Nephi we can extrapolate what has been called the “doctrine of providence.”[1] The doctrine of providence, as indicated, is grounded in the understanding that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. Thus, he watches over his children and even prepares a way for them long in advance of any later developments. “The doctrine of providence affirms an ongoing divine concern for and activity in the world.”[2] Using his father’s words, Moroni alludes to this merciful doctrine of continuous providence when he asks his readers, in context with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, “Have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven . . . ?” He goes on to answer, “Behold I say unto you, Nay” (Moroni 7:27, 29). “Though there is no single biblical term for providence, the doctrine is intimately connected to the way in which one conceives God’s relation to Scripture.”[3] The connection between divine providence and the holy records is implied throughout scripture. For instance, God’s merciful providence and watchfulness over all sacred records is suggested in 1 Nephi 9:3, which states that the small plates, according to God’s command, will yet serve a “special purpose” in Him, even if Nephi does not fully comprehend their predetermined, divine destiny himself.[4]

painting of mormon abridging the plates by tom lovellThe doctrine of providence... is grounded in the understanding that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. Thus, he watches over his children and even prepares a way for them long in advance of any later developments. Mormon Abridging the Plates, by Tom Lovell. Courtesy of Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

This same sense of special purpose and destiny that attends the keeping of sacred records can be discerned in Alma2’s confession to his son Helaman2: “these mysteries [the purpose of the sacred records] are not yet fully made known unto me; therefore I shall forbear” (Alma 37:11). And yet a close study of Alma’s words allows that he may have understood more than we have traditionally supposed about the destiny of the many records in his possession, including the small plates of Nephi, a record now in our possession through the gift and power of God. The coming forth of this record to us and its powerful impact on us according to divine design are described in Alma 37. Thus, Alma 37 will be our primary interest here. In Alma 36–42 (the topic of a recent Sperry Symposium),[5] Alma, who senses the spiritual decline of his people, gathers his young sons so “he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness” (35:16). What Alma counsels his son Helaman before entrusting him with the sacred records will be closely examined here. As Alma indicates in his instructions to his son, the gift of the written scriptures is not a divine afterthought or a haphazard remedy for a wounded world. The Lord has carefully watched over all sacred records for a long time in order to bring about his eternal purposes. In a sense, these sacred texts have been, are, and will be the foreordained means and instrument—the way prepared beforehand—whereby salvation is made available.

This is certainly true in the days before the Lord’s coming in glory (see 1 Corinthians 10:1–15). The Book of Mormon, part of which contains the small plates passed to Helaman, is that instrument long watched over by the Lord to come forth in our day to prepare the people of the earth for his coming in glory. Aware of his people’s eventual demise, Alma prophesies of the coming forth of sacred records that will “show forth [God’s] power unto future generations” (Alma 37:14). The scriptures, according to Alma, have been recorded, preserved, transmitted, and disseminated “for a wise purpose” in God, according to his eternal providence (see vv. 18–19).[6] It is significant that Alma includes the small plates in his predictions, for we are their inheritors by divine design. The Book of Mormon (specifically the portion containing the small plates) has been preserved to come forth in our day so that the Lord’s power might be made manifest to all before the Second Coming.

To proceed, I first describe Alma’s commission as a record keeper and seer. In order to make better sense of Alma 37, I then examine the use of the small plates and other scriptures by Alma’s friends Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni during their mission to the Lamanites (see Mosiah 28; Alma 17–26). With that background in mind, I demonstrate in detail that in Alma 37 the prophet and seer Alma points his son Helaman (and implicitly future generations) to the coming forth of sacred records other than the brass plates, especially the small plates that now compose a significant part of the Book of Mormon. Thus, I intend to demonstrate that Alma spoke of the Book of Mormon, or at least this important part of it called the small plates, in a way that can help us appreciate the Nephite record as a source of spiritual power. Accordingly, I argue that Alma 37 is a complex prophetic text about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon to not just our fathers but also to us in the twenty-first century. It was prepared by the Lord for us according to his divine providence. This proposed prophetic reading of Alma 37 assumes, contrary to some scholarly claims,[7] that there is some continuity in the transmission of the small plates through Alma 37. Finally, such a reading will help shed light on Doctrine and Covenants 5:9–10, a passage of scripture that has implications for us and our children.

The Continuity of Nephite Recording Keeping

The brass plates fall into Lehi’s hands after his sons return from the land of Jerusalem. These records appear to have included two general sections: (1) the “five books of Moses” and the “prophecies of the holy prophets,” with many prophecies from Jeremiah; and (2) the family history of the house of Israel, including Lehi’s fathers Jacob and Joseph (see 1 Nephi 5:10–22). Lehi searched the records “from the beginning” and prophesied of their preservation and of his seed yet inheriting them in a future generation. The brass plates would “retain their brightness,” never to be “dimmed any more by time” (Alma 37:5; 1 Nephi 5:19). Over the course of Lehi’s family’s travels in the wilderness, the family acquires such things as Laban’s sword, a compass or director, and much experience with their ancestral fathers’ prophecies and instruction. Nephi “delight[s] in the scriptures” and thus passes them, and the other artifacts, to his brother Jacob, who passes them to his son, and so on until the time of King Benjamin (see 2 Nephi 4:15). Nephi and his prophetic and kingly successors also produce writings that are handed down from one generation to the next as the small and large plates of Nephi.[8]

In King Benjamin’s day all the records—that is, the brass plates and the writings of Nephi and others—fall into his hands (see Mosiah 1:2–7).[9] In other words, the sacred records converge in King Benjamin. In fact, Mormon, the great prophet-editor-historian who abridges the large plates of Nephi to fashion most of the Book of Mormon, reports that all the records that have come down to him at the end of Nephite history were first delivered to King Benjamin (see Words of Mormon 1:10–11). We also learn from Mormon that he found among the records the small plates first created by Nephi. These plates pleased Mormon “because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ,” and he included them with his abridgment of the large plates of Nephi, apparently before he transferred the records to his son (v. 4). It is clear from the insert called the Words of Mormon that Mormon discovered the small plates of Nephi among the records bequeathed to him and that Moroni also had them when he was writing.[10] The question then becomes, How long did the small plates circulate among the Nephites and their prophet-leaders before their circulation ended? From the evidence, it appears that Alma and his missionary friends and sons were among the last to receive and use them before Mormon discovered them (see v. 3). Alma’s acquaintance with the small plates of Nephi becomes obvious the more one studies his words and their intratextual and intertextual relations with those who preceded him.

The Small Plates of Nephi Available to Alma and his Associates

There can be little doubt that Alma was intimately familiar with the writings on the small plates of Nephi that came to him by means of Mosiah2, King Benjamin’s son. Two pieces of evidence support this assertion: (1) the account of Alma receiving the records from Mosiah (see Mosiah 28:20), and (2) the sons of Mosiah taught from the small plates at the same time Alma did so in public and private (see Alma 5; 36; 37). After Alma was rebuked by the angel of the Lord, he and the sons of Mosiah traveled the Nephite nation “zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, . . . explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them” (Mosiah 27:35). Thereafter, the sons of Mosiah, none of whom desired to succeed their father as king, pleaded for the opportunity to preach the “word of God” among the Lamanites (see 28:1). Meanwhile, Mosiah, a seer and the translator of the “plates of gold,” transferred all the records and artifacts in his hands to Alma (see v. 11). Here is Mormon’s account:

Therefore he [Mosiah] took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God . . . and conferred them upon Alma . . . ; yea, all the records, and also the interpreters, and conferred them upon him, and commanded him that he should keep and preserve them, and also keep a record of the people, handing them down from one generation to another, even as they had been handed down from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem. (Mosiah 28:11, 20)

In the foregoing scripture, it is clear that Alma became the primary record keeper and seer after Mosiah. Alma received from his esteemed predecessor the “plates of brass,” “the plates of Nephi” both large and small, the “plates of gold,” and all “that he [Mosiah] had kept,” including “all the records, and also the interpreters” (Mosiah 28:11, 20).

If this evidence leaves any doubt that Alma had custody of the small plates, another passage suggests that he and his associates intimately knew the writings of Nephi on the small plates. In Alma 18 we find the narrative about Lamoni and his conversion at court through the preaching of Ammon. Ammon had served the king well and had won his audience. Mormon, our editorial guide, suggests that Ammon’s power extended beyond his faithful service and defense of the flocks. Ammon was intimately acquainted with the brass plates’ history and that of the small plates. It seems reasonable to suppose that Ammon presented early Nephite history to the king from the small plates to enlighten his awakening mind as to true history and the plan of redemption. Here is the account that focuses on Ammon’s ability to expound all available scripture:

Now when Ammon had said these words, he began at the creation of the world, and also the creation of Adam, and told him [Lamoni] all the things concerning the fall of man, and rehearsed and laid before him the [historical] records and the holy scriptures of the people, which had been spoken by the prophets, even down to the time that their father, Lehi, left Jerusalem [reference to the brass plates account].

And he also rehearsed unto them (for it was unto the king and to his servants) all the journeyings of their fathers in the wilderness, and all their sufferings with hunger and thirst, and their travail, and so forth.

And he also rehearsed unto them concerning the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, yea, all their rebellions did he relate unto them; and he expounded unto them all the records and scriptures from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem down to the present time [reference to the large and small plates accounts].

But this is not all; for he expounded unto them the plan of redemption, . . . and all the works of the Lord did he make known unto them.

And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words. (Alma 18:36–40)

The repetition of words and phrases such as “rehearsed and laid before him the records and the holy scriptures of the people” and “he expounded unto them the records and scriptures” makes it transparent that Ammon taught from the books or extracts of the sacred books, including from the small plates. He explained all things from the creation to his time using the accounts found in the records that he and his people by some means had access to. I share this part of Lamoni’s conversion story to suggest that the small plates were thoroughly understood and used by Alma and his contemporaries. Moreover, it could be broadly demonstrated that Alma in his teachings rather extensively drew on the small plates (see Alma 5:34, 62; 32:42; 36:22).[11] As Joseph M. Spencer has indicated, the longest direct quotation taken by Alma from the small plates appears in Alma 36:22, where he quotes Lehi’s words in 1 Nephi 1:8.[12] With all this before us, we now turn to the implications of Alma 37 for the modern reader.

Reading Alma 37 as a Complex Prophetic Text

After the mission to the Lamanites and the Zoramites, and before the Nephites’ great war with them (see Alma 35–61), Alma assembles his young sons to individually give them his charge (see 35:16). Shiblon and Corianton most recently have been with Alma and his associates among the Zoramites,[13] while Helaman has remained in Zarahemla. As Grant Hardy has observed, it appears that Alma wishes to confer the records and interpreters on his oldest son, Helaman, but exhibits some hesitancy in doing so.[14] Nevertheless, Alma prepares him to receive the records and relics so he might carry on the task of transmission and composition after his father departs. Alma 36, 37, and 45:2–14 constitute Alma’s instruction and charge to the heir of the sacred records. It appears that the stakes for preserving these records are very high,[15] given that Alma at this time is ostensibly aware of the eventual demise of his people, an event that has been much written about in the records since at least the time of Nephi (see 1 Nephi 12; 2 Nephi 26; Enos 1:13–14).[16] The context for the strong instruction delivered by Alma to Helaman to keep and preserve the Nephite records can be found in Alma 45:9–14, where Alma vouchsafes a dire prophecy to his son that is not to be revealed until it comes to pass: “what I prophesy unto thee [Helaman] ye shall not make known.” The ominous prophecy predicts the annihilation of the Nephite nation four hundred years after the coming of Christ to them. The Lord confirms these teachings in his sermon at the temple in Bountiful (see 3 Nephi 16:4–5 and chapters 23–24, 32).

Alma 37 represents Alma’s official charge[17] to Helaman to become custodian of the sacred records and interpreters in view of the ensuing end of the nation. In the chapter, Alma appears first to discuss the “plates of brass” (v. 3) and then the “twenty-four plates” of gold (v. 21) found by the people of Limhi before offering instruction about the early Nephite compass as a type of the “word of Christ (v. 44).”[18] Given the dire backdrop of Alma’s commission to his son, my objective in this section is to concentrate on the prophetic spirit infusing the first third of the chapter: Alma 37:1–20.[19] In Alma 37 the prophet and seer Alma apparently sees what is coming and therefore underscores the records’ destined role in future generations. Alma commands Helaman to take the records and “keep a record of this people, according as [Alma has] done, upon the [large] plates of Nephi.” He further charges, “Keep all these things sacred which I have kept, even as I have kept them,” and ends with this prophecy: “for it is for a wise purpose that they are kept” (see vv. 1–2). Two of the four instances of “for a wise purpose” in the first twenty verses of Alma 37 are followed by a reason for the careful preservation of the records: “that he [God] might show forth his power unto future generations[20] (vv. 14, 18; see also v. 19). It should be understood that the Lord providentially prepared the scriptures and interpreters long beforehand to bless future generations, much as he prepared the Liahona to guide Lehi and his family on their wilderness journey (see 1 Nephi 16:10).

It is no surprise that Alma begins his transfer of the many records and instruments to Helaman by referring to the brass plates and their destiny and alluding to the original prophecy of Lehi as recorded by Nephi (see Alma 37:3–4; 1 Nephi 5:10–19). But at about Alma 37:5 the prophet’s emphasis seems to shift from the brass plates to other records and other time periods, perhaps especially the small plates and the latter days.

And now behold, if they [the brass plates] are kept they must retain their brightness; yea, and they will retain their brightness; yea, and also shall all the plates which do contain that which is holy writ.

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. (Alma 37:5–7)

Reading this cluster of verses as in part referring to the small plates is confirmed not only by Alma’s choice of words but also by the content of the verses that follow in the teaching. In verses 8–12 it becomes clear that Ammon and his brethren relied on the early Nephite records such as the small plates to disabuse the darkened minds of the Lamanites.

So extensive were the Lamanites’ delusions that only the word of God in the hands of Ammon and his brethren could have “enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways” (v. 8). Alma explains the power of these records to Helaman by using their recent history as contained in the sacred records:

And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things [all the records] should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.

Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers; yea, these records and their words brought them unto repentance. . . .

And who knoweth but what they [these records] will be the means of bringing many thousands of them [Lamanites], yea, and also many thousands of our stiffnecked brethren, the Nephites, who are now hardening their hearts in sin and iniquities, to the knowledge of their Redeemer?

Now these mysteries are not yet fully made known unto me [the use of fully implies that Alma is seeking to understand the implications of his responsibility to preserve these records]; therefore I shall forbear.

And it may suffice if I only say they [these many records] are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round. (Alma 37:8–12)

Alma’s prophetic presentation touches on three general seasons in the Lord’s work that he is considering: (1) the recent work among the Lamanites that has occurred in the land of Nephi, (2) the future work among the Nephites that may yet need to occur to reclaim them from their current drift from spiritual things, and (3) the work among future generations that will inherit the records he transmits to his son. The global implications of what he passes along is signaled at the end of the above passage where Alma echoes Jacob’s words introducing the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees: “for he [the Lord] doth counsel in wisdom over all his works” (37:12; compare Jacob 4:10). Alma senses that what he transmits to Helaman may have important implications for future generations and among every nation, kindred, and people. Because the records have mattered in the land of Nephi and may yet matter in the effort to reclaim Alma’s Nephite brethren, they will ultimately matter on even later occasions if kept and preserved. This larger perspective on the stakes involved is what is meant by his statement that the Lord’s “course is one eternal round” (v. 12). The records will serve the Lord’s salvific and eternal purposes from generation to generation until the end of time.

That Alma comprehends the eternal stakes of record keeping is made clear by the serious tenor he takes with Helaman. His counsel to his son in this role of record keeper is personalized and powerful. Alma warns Helaman to appeal to God in “all things whatsoever [he] must do with them” lest he be “delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift [him] as chaff before the wind” (Alma 37:15–16). Near the end of this personalized counsel, the father encourages his son with some positive statements of promise that also teach modern readers about how Alma viewed the implications of keeping these records:

But if ye keep the commandments of God, and do with these things [these records] which are sacred according to that which the Lord doth command you, . . . no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words.

For he will fulfill all his promises . . . unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers.

For he promised unto them that he would preserve these things for a wise purpose in him, that he might show forth his power unto future generations.[21]

And now behold, one purpose hath he fulfilled . . . ; and he hath shown forth his power in them [these records], and he will also still show forth his power in them unto future generations; therefore they shall be preserved.[22]

Therefore I command you, my son Helaman, that ye be diligent in fulfilling all my words, and that ye be diligent in keeping the commandments of God as they are written. [This last phrase, “as they are written,” suggests that Alma exhorts his son to keep the records from being tampered with or corrupted by others.] (Alma 37:16–20)

By this point in Alma 37 it is apparent that Alma has in mind far more than the preservation of the brass plates “unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of [Lehi’s] seed” (1 Nephi 5:17–19; compare Alma 37:3–4). For several verses, Alma has been contemplating multiple records and their impact on multiple time periods. He particularly has in mind, it would seem, the large and small plates of Nephi, but all records that contain sacred matter are invoked implicitly in his instruction to Helaman. That being the case, Alma’s later scriptural teaching in the same chapter—namely, that the Lord would “prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” (v. 23),[23] and that God’s word “I will bring forth out of darkness unto light” would be fulfilled—had been, in the case of the Jaredites, fulfilled only “thus far” in Alma’s time (see vv. 23–26). Accordingly, Alma cites scripture, presumably from the writings of the Jaredites, to make his point.[24] He does not fully understand the future implications of the scriptures he alludes to but applies them in this setting to the “twenty-four plates.” However, in doing so he suggests that the prophecies—that of Gazelem and his interpretive stone and that of (presumably) a sacred record coming “out of darkness unto light”—may also apply to still-future generations. It is Moroni, a man in possession of Nephi’s words and those of Alma, who later gives shape to this discussion in the book of Alma about sacred records and power being made manifest to future generations, a concept Nephi also taught. Here are Moroni’s words concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in the day of the Gentiles:

And I am the same who hideth up this record [Mormon’s abridgment and the small plates of Nephi] unto the Lord; . . . but the record is of great worth; and whoso shall bring it to light, him will the Lord bless.[25]

For none can have power to bring it to light save it be given him of God. . . .

And blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; yea, it shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of darkness, and come unto the knowledge of the people; and it shall be done by the power of God. (Mormon 8:14–16)

In Alma’s layered prophetic logic, a logic that Moroni understands and apparently references directly or by means of his own abridgment of the twenty-four plates, the records and interpreters have been prepared so that the Lord can, in his merciful providence, bring to light a record and bring to pass his purposes in all generations of the earth, especially in this generation and generations future to us. These sacred items were prepared long beforehand according to the omniscience and omnipotence of God as the way to accomplish his divine works in the spirit of power. This truth is fundamental to understanding the logical transition between Alma’s words about the many plates in his custody and his final teaching to Helaman in Alma 37 about a certain literary type (see v. 45), which discussion emphasizes an instrument prepared by the Lord to lead Lehi and his family in the wilderness to their promised land. Alma appears to desire his modern readers to understand that, like the records and interpreters, the compass was prepared by the Lord. Just as the compass guided Lehi and his family, so too will the words of Christ, if heeded, lead us “beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise” (see vv. 43–45). Notice Alma’s emphasis on the providential wisdom of God in preparing the Liahona (similar to how he has prepared the sacred record and interpreters):

And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or . . . a compass; and the Lord prepared it.

And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness. . . .

O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.

And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things [these records and the interpreters]. (Alma 37:38–39, 46–47)

Finally, this interpretation of Alma 37 can be tested by comparing it to a modern revelation that borrows from Alma 37. Section 5 of the Doctrine and Covenants draws on the language characteristic of Alma 37 to teach this hitherto elusive truth:

Verily, I say unto you [Joseph Smith Jr.], that woe shall come unto the inhabitants of the earth if they will not hearken unto my words [the Book of Mormon]. . . .

Oh, this unbelieving and stiffnecked generation—mine anger is kindled against them.

Behold, verily I say unto you, I have reserved those things which I have entrusted unto you, my servant Joseph, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations;

But this generation shall have my word through you. . . .

And behold, whosoever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit; and they shall be born of me, even of water and of the Spirit. (Doctrine and Covenants 5:5, 8–10, 16)

It is easy to miss what is being taught in this revelation that echoes Alma 37. In Doctrine and Covenants 5:9 the Lord seems to be saying that he has “reserved” the Nephite record that will become the Book of Mormon, including the small plates of Nephi, for a “wise purpose in him” (see 1 Nephi 9:5–6). However, that record’s full purpose would not be made manifest until the generations after it was translated and brought forth by the hand of a Gazelem and a seer stone. The Nephite record would contain what inspired prophets had kept and preserved throughout centuries of time from Nephi to Moroni. Their words and those of their fathers would come forth in a “day of salvation” (1 Nephi 21:8; see 2 Nephi 26:15). The Nephite record would “show forth [God’s spiritual] power unto future generations” before the coming of the Lord in glory (Alma 37:14; see vv. 17–19). It would not have its greatest impact on that first generation, but it would increasingly become the instrument of instruction and the means of harvesting the most receptive souls of the house of Israel (and of the Gentiles) according to the promises made to the fathers. The Book of Mormon, “the new covenant,” though initially neglected and oddly underutilized at first, would in future generations take center stage as the instrument prepared by the Lord to fulfill the prophecies (Doctrine and Covenants 84:57; see 3 Nephi 29:2). And those who open their hearts and desire to “live by every word” of God (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:43–44), and not just by what they have known of the Bible, will be taught “of the covenant” by means of the words of the record, that the covenant may be “renewed and confirmed [in their inward parts] . . . for the sake of the whole world” before God’s judgments fall on the unbelieving and rebellious (v. 48; see Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 8:6–13; Doctrine and Covenants 5:19–20).


God in his merciful providence has prepared sacred records and provided for their interpretation to accomplish his eternal purposes for his children on earth. This is particularly true of the Book of Mormon, the development and transmission of which he has carefully watched over from the days of Nephi to the days of Moroni and onward until this dispensation. Alma 37 demonstrates the providence of God as it pertains to the gift of written scripture. It prophetically speaks of the power of the sacred records in Alma’s day and, when understood fully, powerfully predicts and promises that their great worth will yet be made manifest to future generations. The small plates of Nephi were among those records that Alma had much interest in, since they (along with other records he inherited and took part in generating) were going to be of tremendous worth to later generations. According to the Lord’s providential plan of salvation, the sacred records that came down to Alma were going to show forth God’s power unto generations beyond his day and his context.

Alma’s inspired words about those records hold special importance for us in the latter days. Destined to fuel a work of salvation commencing sometime after the destruction of Alma’s nation, they speak of reclaiming the houses of Lehi and Israel, according to covenants made to Alma’s fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Enos. Full of the spirit of revelation and prophecy, Alma could dimly sense that this day of salvation would dawn and, to some degree, involve the records that he and his son would keep and preserve so that the promises and purposes of God might be fulfilled. As Alma well understood and anticipated, the scriptures had been prepared long beforehand and would yet “by very small means” bring about “great things” (Alma 37:6–7). Although Alma did not know all God’s purposes, he, much like Nephi, clearly understood that with the pending demise of his civilization, these records in one form or another would yet play a powerful role in the salvation of many souls. And thus it is. The Book of Mormon has come forth, according to the Lord’s “wise purpose” (v. 14), as a messenger of salvation for all people who will feel of its spiritual power and strong witness and through it come to believe in Jesus Christ and his gospel and covenants.


[1] Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, eds., Compact Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 499.

[2] Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al., eds., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 641.

[3] Vanhoozer et al., Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 641.

[4] Nephi begins his account as a mature man some thirty years after the family’s departure from Jerusalem (see 2 Nephi 5:28–34). At this time he has already received a great vision detailing the record’s destiny and will prophesy of its role among the Jews and Gentiles in the last days.

[5] See Kerry M. Hull, Nicholas J. Frederick, and Hank R. Smith, eds., Give Ear to My Words: Text and Context of Alma 36–42 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2019).

[6] The phrase “wise purpose” appears only eight times in the standard works, four of them in Alma 37 alone (a plural instance occurs in 1 Nephi 19:3). The other four instances appear elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 9:5; Words of Mormon 1:7) and in the Doctrine and Covenants (5:9; 61:35). All instances of the phrase but one refer to the providential coming forth of sacred records (61:35).

[7] See, for example, Rebecca A. Roseler, “Plain and Precious Things Lost: The Small Plates of Nephi,” Dialogue 52, no. 2 (2019): 85–106. Joseph M. Spencer and Grant Hardy have both developed arguments that suggest some disruption or discontinuity in recorde/doctrinal transmission. See Joseph M. Spencer, An Other Testament: On Typology (Salem, OR: Salt Press, 2012); and Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 180–84.

[8] The small plates of Nephi are an account of the “ministry of [the] people,” kept and preserved by the prophets, while the “other plates,” the large plates of Nephi, are kept and preserved after Nephi’s death by the Nephite kings (see 1 Nephi 9:2–4).

[9] Mosiah 1:2–7 indicates that King Benjamin possessed more than the brass plates. He refers to three different modes of instruction: (1) “these sayings,” Benjamin’s oral teachings; (2) “these records,” the brass plates; and (3) “also the plates of Nephi,” presumably both the small and the large plates (v. 6).

[10] Most scholars allow that Mormon and Moroni were influenced in their writings by Nephi’s small plates. Grant Hardy, for example, demonstrates that Moroni borrowed extensively from Nephi’s writings in 2 Nephi 3. See his book Understanding the Book of Mormon, 248–52. Mormon 9:2–3 is a good example of the small plates’ influence on Moroni. The phrase “Lamb of God” appears thirty-four times in the Book of Mormon (and only three times elsewhere in scripture). The title “Lamb of God” is mostly one Nephi uses (a phrase the angel used in 1 Nephi 11:21). However, this name-title for Deity is also used once by Alma (Alma 7:14) and twice by Moroni (Mormon 9:2, 3). The similarity of the phrase suggests that Nephi may have influenced Moroni, who seems to be drawing from Nephi in Mormon 8:26–41 just before he uses the phrase to speak directly to the unbelieving Gentiles about the approaching day of the Lord.

[11] See Daniel L. Belnap, “‘Even as Our Father Lehi Saw’: Lehi’s Dream as Nephite Cultural Narrative,” in The Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision, ed. Daniel L. Belnap, Gaye Strathearn, and Stanley A. Johnson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 222–26.

[12] See Spencer, An Other Testament, 9.

[13] See M. Scott Stenson, “Alma’s Attempt to Loose Corianton’s Mind from Zoramite Chains,” Religious Educator 21, no. 2 (2020): 139–55.

[14] See Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, 142, 272.

[15] See Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, 272. Hardy also points out that “this transfer takes place at a time of national crisis”—the commencement of war between the Lamanites and Zoramites (see Alma 35:13).

[16] A Nephite tradition held that if a nation was to be destroyed, the Lord would cause a record of their demise to remain for the benefit of later generations (see Mosiah 12:8). Abinadi taught this concept to Alma1, and Mosiah2 (or Alma1) likely passed it on to Alma2 when the sacred records were delivered to him.

[17] Joseph M. Spencer repeatedly describes this transfer of records between father and son as a “ceremonial event” or “succession ritual.” An Other Testament, 3, 10.

[18] Perhaps most scholars assume that Alma largely has in mind the brass plates for the first half of Alma 37. For example, John W. Welch appears to make this assumption when writing about Alma 37. This is perfectly understandable because Alma names the “plates of brass” directly in Alma 37:3. However, all close readers, including Welch, understand that Alma has in his possession multiple records, but few such readers, if any, have understood Alma 37 as referring to the small plates portion of the Book of Mormon. See Welch, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008), 34.

[19] Hugh W. Nibley once wrote that “there are many prophecies in the Book of Mormon, far more than the casual reader would suspect. Some have been fulfilled; some have yet to be.” The Prophetic Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 435.

[20] What Alma is getting at here is perhaps best expressed in a passage attributed to Mormon: The Lord “prepare[s] the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing [by calling and commissioning messengers], the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof” (Moroni 7:31–32).

[21] We learn here that this promise was made unto the fathers and does not originate with Alma per se. This reference to the fathers certainly would include Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Enos and may, given the evidence of scripture, even include figures such as Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Zenos, Isaiah, and others before and contemporary with Lehi. For example, from the time of Enoch the Lord seems to have made a covenant with the faithful fathers that in a latter day a sacred record would flood the earth with the knowledge of Christ before his Second Coming (see Moses 7:49–51, 60–62).

[22] Alma clearly views this promise and prophecy as potentially having multiple fulfillments.

[23] Ray Lynn Huntington writes that Gazelem is the “name or title given to a servant of God who would use a stone, or the Urim and Thummim, in order to translate the twenty-four plates of the Jaredites.” He explains that the name variant Gazalam was used in the Doctrine and Covenants up until 1981 to refer to Joseph Smith, the translator of the Book of Mormon. See Dennis L. Largey, ed, The Book of Mormon Reference Companion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 284. I suggest that Alma applies the scripture referring to Gazelem and his stone as applying to more than the book of Ether. As used by Alma, it applies to that and to a servant or servants who would bring forth other records for future generations.

[24] Grant Hardy explains that the phrase “out of darkness unto light” is a rare phrase found only in three passages in scripture: 2 Nephi 3:5 (compare 1 Peter 2:9), Alma 37:23–26, and Mormon 8:13–16. All these passages use the phrase in context with the coming forth of a Nephite record. Understanding the Book of Mormon, 250–51.

[25] John W. Welch suggests that the phrase “to light” has a relationship to the word urim and to the Nephite “interpreters.” Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon, 171.