There are some insights that can come from the scriptures only if we assume that they are true, written by actual historical figures who bear reliable witness of the events they participated in. Instead of reading the scriptures as if they have something to prove to me (which is all too often my attitude), I need to try reading the scriptures as if I have something to prove to them. As N.T. Wright says, if you read scripture this way,

You will discover that the Bible will not let you down. You will be paying attention to it; you won’t be sitting in judgement over it. But you won’t come with a preconceived notion of what this or that passage has to mean if it is to be true. You will discover that God is speaking new truth through it. I take it as a method in my biblical studies that if I turn a corner and find myself saying, ‘Well, in that case, that verse is wrong’ that I must have turned a wrong corner somewhere. But that does not mean that I impose what I think is right on to that bit of the Bible. It means, instead, that I am forced to live with that text uncomfortably… until suddenly I come round a different corner and that verse makes a lot of sense; sense that I wouldn’t have got if I had insisted on imposing my initial view on it from day one.

So it is, I believe, with the Book of Mormon. And in doing so, we will find all sorts of tiny ways where the text reinforces the truths it is bearing witness of. But this sort of insight seems impossible to discern if we approach the text skeptically, always trying to find out whether it’s true or not. I’m not saying that method is invalid or wrong (and some of that is inevitable), but I do want to suggest that at some point we need to move past it, and that in fact the scriptures themselves are inviting us to wholly embrace them, and it’s only when we do this that they can really start to teach us, provoke greater insights, and really change our lives.

I thought of one example of this that happened with me recently in my scripture study. I hesitate to mention it, because the insight isn’t particularly clever, or perhaps even original. But it meant a lot to me. I post it here not to show off my keen reading skills, because others are much keener than I. I only do it to illustrate this idea about how we can read scriptures differently, even if this example appears meager to others.

The Book of Mormon tells us that Alma the Younger was a uniquely gifted communicator, both before and after his conversion. Mormon tells us that “he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities and … stealing away the hearts of the people.”

Yet Alma’s persuasive abilities, his gift with language, continued after his conversion, but this time he used his gift to lead hearts toward Christ, rather than away. After some iniquity creeps into the Church, Alma surrenders the political and administrative power of the Chief Judgeship in order to “preach the word of God unto [the Nephites], to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.” (Alma 4:19)

Later, Mormon tells us that Alma believed the preaching of the word had a more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword (Alma 31:5). Of course, Alma wanted the ability to reach even more people than he was able to, as we see in his “O that I were an angel!” soliloquy (chapter 29). The interesting thing here is that unlike other prophets like Moses and Enoch, he doesn’t worry about what he would say or how he says it, his (sinful) wish is merely to be able to extend the volume and reach of his words. if I read these verses right, he would have been happy with a radio station and perhaps a really, really good sub-woofer. No need for speechwriters and teleprompters, he.

How Alma’s biography illustrates my point about reading the scriptures as if they are true is, if we do this, we realize that not only does the Book of Mormon tell us Alma was gifted with words, it also shows us. Alma’s (now) well-known use of chiasmus in Alma 36 is probably the finest example in all of scripture and perhaps even (according to John Welch) in all of world literature. Not only in form, but also in the central truth it artfully testifies of. Yet that is only one of several examples of chiasmus employed by Alma (see also Alma 13, Alma 29:8-17, Alma 37:34, Alma 41:13-15). Yet other literary devices, like metaphor, synethesia, and non-chiastic parallelisms are also densely employed in the Alma the Younger narratives and sermons. While other Book of Mormon Prophets were also talented writers (Nephi, Jacob, and King Benjamin all had formidable literary chops, as Mormon must have as well), these features seem particularly dense with Alma.

While Alma the Younger is long gone from this earth, and none of us have heard him preach firsthand, yet his power over words still manages to reverberate across this vast distance of both time and tongue.

[First sentence corrected per @Bookslinger#5]