Oh That I Were Quoted in Context

Alma 29:1

O THAT I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

This scripture is quoted frequently by members of the LDS church to help instill a desire to do missionary work. It seems to capture the drive to bear testimony and share the gospel very well. For me though, it has begun to take on a second meaning -- a warning about taking scriptures out of context.

In Alma 29, Alma the Younger begins with this heartfelt exclamation, but over the next few verses repents and recants his wish (see vv 3, 6-7, and 8).

In fact, Alma 29 becomes a great example of how seeing hebreaisms can help clarify scriptures. Alma 29 is composed of two large chiasms (vv1-7 and 8-17) which encapsulate at least 6 smaller parallel patterns (vv 2, 4-5, 9, 9-10, 11-13, and 15-16) (See Donald Parry. TheBook of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns. 1992. pp 260-1.) Looked at through this view, you can still see the powerful message about missionary work as well as awarning against aspiring to roles outside your stewardship -- and the desire to pull a verse out of context is harder to justify.

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