Question: Did Joseph Smith use Paul as a template for the character Alma in the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith use Paul as a template for the character Alma in the Book of Mormon?

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Introduction to Criticism

The Book of Mormon records the conversion to and ministry of a young man named Alma in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Alma, along with four companions known as the four sons of Mosiah, are recorded as going about trying to lead people away from the Church. During the apex of their efforts, an angel appears to them, causing them to fall and tremble because of fear.

In 2002, critic Grant H. Palmer asserted that this narrative and much of the rest of Alma’s story “seems to draw” on Paul’s story of conversion and ministry in The New Testament as a narrative structure.[1]

In particular, Palmer asserts that the following parallels exist between the stories of Alma and Paul:

  1. Both men were wicked before their dramatic conversion (Mosiah 27:8; 1 Tim. 1:12-13).
  2. Both traveled about persecuting and seeking to destroy the church of God (Alma 36:6, 14; 1 Cor. 15:9; Acts 22:4)
  3. Both were persecuting the church when they saw a heavenly vision (Mosiah 27: 10-11; Acts 26: 11-13).
  4. Their companions fell to the earth and were unable to understand the voice that spoke (Mosiah 27:12; Acts 22:9; 26:14).
  5. Both were asked in vision why they persecuted the Lord (Mosiah 27:13; Acts 9:4; 22:7).
  6. Both were struck dumb/blind, became helpless, and were assisted by their companions. They went without food before converting (Mosiah 27:19, 23-24; Acts 9:8).
  7. Both preached the gospel and both performed the same miracle (Mosiah 27:32; Alma 15:11; Acts 9:20; 14:10).
  8. While preaching, they supported themselves by their own labors (Alma 30:32; 1 Cor 4:12)
  9. They were put in prison. After they prayed, an earthquake resulted in their bands being loosed (Alma 14:22, 26-28; Acts 16:23, 25-26).
  10. Both used the same phrases in their preaching.

For point ten, Palmer cites 16 examples in which Alma and Paul used similar phrases in their teaching.[2]

This article will seek to examine this criticism and refute it.

Response to Criticism

Comparisons and Contrasts of Each Parallel

The most fruitful approach for inquiry would be to examine each supposed parallel listed by Palmer and highlight areas where Palmer stretches evidence or simply misreads it. The parallels are examined in Table 1. The reader should remember as an important propadeutic consideration that there are three accounts for the conversion of both characters between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Paul's conversion is reported in Acts 9, 22, and 26. Alma's conversion is reported in Mosiah 27, Alma 36, and 38. Each narrative has important similarities and dissimilarities that need to be considered in isolation in order to understand how combining them too hastily can lead to misunderstandings and faulty premises for criticism.


More Parallels than Palmer cited

There are actually more parallels than Palmer cited. For instance, consider this chart prepared by Latter-day Saint scholars John W. Welch and John F. Hall comparing the conversions of both Alma and Paul.


As Welch and Hall explain:

The conversions of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and of Alma the Younger in the land of Zarahemla are similar in certain fundamental respects, as one would expect since the source of their spiritual reversals was one and the same. Interestingly, in each case we have three accounts of their conversions: Paul's conversion is reported in Acts 9, 22, and 26. Alma's conversion is given in Mosiah 27, Alma 36, and 38. No two of these accounts are exactly the same. The columns on the far right and left sides of chart 15-17 show the verses of these six accounts in which each element either appears or is absent. Down the middle are found the elements shared by both Paul and Alma, and off center are words or experiences unique to either Paul or Alma. In sum, the personalized differences significantly offset and highlight the individual experiences in the two conversions.[3]

H.316 Holland, Jeffrey R. “Alma, Son of Alma.” Ensign 7 (March 1977): 79-84. Similar to the New Testament Paul, Alma, the son of Alma, was converted from an opponent of Christ to a disciple of Christ. Much of the Book of Mormon is devoted to his life story, which includes messages of the anguish of a parent over a wayward child, the reality of repentance and its accompanying suffering, and the power of Christ. [R.H.B.]


Notes

  1. Grant H. Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 50.
  2. Ibid., 50n30 cites 14 examples. Two additional examples are on the very next page from Hebrews.
  3. John W. Welch and John F. Hall, Charting the New Testament (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002).