Does Alma 11:37 contradict Romans 5:8?

Critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will always bring up the argument that Alma 11:37 contradicts Romans 5:8. Most of the time, when this criticism is presented, it is presented in the following format:

An important difference between Biblical Christianity and Mormonism-

Bible: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

BoM: And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins, for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins. Alma 11:37

This particular quote comes from the Facebook page called Mormons2Grace, one of many small time hobby house ministries that have started up on social media networks, where the attempt is to reach out, through the love of Christ, to support Mormons in leaving their way of life, Mormons with questions, and Christians looking for information about the LDS Faith. However, they are not the only ones that seem to perpetuate this idea that there is a supposed contradiction between the Book of Alma passage and that written in the Epistle to the Roman Christians. In the article The Impossible Gospel of Mormonism we read the following summation of the criticism:

Romans 5:8

8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Contradicts Alma 11:37

ASK YOURSELF “What kind of a savior do you want? Do you want the savior that stands back and watches for you to stop or do you want the Savior who jumps in because you can’t stop? What really is a savior? Someone who does for you something that you can’t do for yourself?”

When Mormons think ‘Jesus is my personal savior’ what they really mean by that is “if I do what he does, then I get what he has.” He is an example—not a savior.

The problem with the critics interpretation of both Romans 5:8 and Alma 11:37 is that both passages are lifted out of the immediate context of their respective passages. Romans chapter 5 is about the process of how we are justified because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Alma chapter 11 is about an encounter Amulek and Alma had with an individual named Zeezrom. Zeezrom attempted to trap Amulek and Alma in their words and prove them to be in error.

In the larger context, Romans 5 is part of a development of the Apostle Paul’s doctrinal thoughts on the nature of the atonement and our relationship within the scope of the atonement. Alma 11 is part of a larger context of the nature of the resurrection and that through the atonement – the resurrection of the dead is possible and afforded.

The epistle to the Romans

First, we have to have a basic understanding of the Epistle to the Romans. Written by Paul, he was addressing the Christians in Rome regarding two particular ideologies. First, Paul developed a doctrinal treatise where the main premise centered on the Plan of Salvation and the correlation of the Atonement that is made possible through Jesus Christ. The second ideology that Paul develops is that practical Christian living and principles. The first part comprises Romans 1-11 and the second part comprises Romans 12-15, with Paul’s closing thoughts within the latter verses of Romans 15.

Contained within Romans chapter 1 through Chapter 11, we find fifteen specific doctrinal treatises on the Plan of Salvation:

(1)   The need of: grounded in the universal guilt of mankind:

  1. Of the Gentile world – Chapter 1:18-2:7
  2. Likewise of the Jews, under the condemnation of the law, Chapter 2:8 – 3:20.
  3. All alike sinners, Chapter 3:23

(2)   The method of: Justification, or righteousness, by faith, Chapter 3:21-28

  1. Universal, Chapter 3:29-30
  2. Honors the law, Chapter 3:31

(3)   Illustrated in the life of Abraham: Chapter 4

  1. Apart from works, vs. 1-6
  2. Apart from ordinances, vs. 9-12
  3. Apart from the law, vs. 13-25

(4)   The blessings of: made effective through the love of God as manifested in the sacrificial death of Christ, Chapters 5:1-11

(5)   The scope of the free gift: Of salvation expounded, chapter 5:12-21

(6)   Does not encourage the continuance of sin: This free gift demands the crucifixion of man’s corrupt nature, and a life of holy service to God, Chapter 6:1-23

(7)   Struggle with sinful tendencies and fleshly lusts are described in chapter 7 by the Apostle Paul. Whether he refers to his own experience previous or after his conversion is debated and holds differences of opinions by those who study this Epistle. All agree on the validity of Paul’s vivid description of the strife going on within the human heart, chapter 7:7-24

(8)   Culmination of the divine plan: The Plan of Salvation that the Apostle Paul develops here is pictured in chapter 8. It is a new spiritual life of liberty and righteousness, through faith in Christ. This is one of the great spiritual chapters of the Bible, in it the Holy Spirit is referred to nineteen times.

(9)   Parenthesis: Paul’s solicitude for his own people, chapter 9:1-5.

(10)  The mystery of Divine Election: And God’s dealing with Israel.

  1. Special privilege of Israel, chapter 9:4-5 and Chapter 3:12
  2. The distinction between the natural and spiritual seed of Abraham, chapter 9:6-13
  3. The mystery of the divine sovereignty, chapter 9:14-24.
  4. The prophets predicted the failure of the Jews to live up to their privileges: the calling of the Gentiles and their acceptance of the divine plan of righteousness by faith, chapter 9:25-33

(11)  The Misapprehension by the Jews of the divine plan, resulting in their self-righteousness, chapter 10:1-3

(12)  The Plan of “Salvation by Faith: expounded, and its universal application set forth, chapter 10:4-18

(13)  God’s dealings with Israel, chapter 10:19 – 11:19.

(14)  The Gentiles warned not to boast because of their privileges, but to take heed lest they fall under condemnation, Chapter 11:13-32.

(15)  The restoration of Israel is predicted and the mysteries of God’s ways declared to be unsearchable, chapter 11:23-26

(This outline is taken from the Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible, p. 1620-21, Analysis of Books. )

As previously mentioned, Romans 5:8 is a developed thought within the entire context of Paul’s developed doctrine on the Plan of Salvation, along with the immediate context of where Paul was going in regards to mentioning that while we were yet sinners provides a better backdrop to understand what Romans 5:8 is all about – justification of those who partake of the splendor of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is because of the atonement of Jesus Christ that we are reconciled unto God while we were naturally condemned because of the universal application of Adam’s transgression in where sin and death had come into the world. Take notice of both terms sin and death and not just merely sin. Here is where our critics trip up in their understanding of Romans, because as one moves through a study of Romans 6, we find the ordinance of Baptism by Immersion not only expounded upon, but the divine symbolism such an ordinance emulates. It speaks towards the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our own resurrection. In addition, notice that Christ himself was baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15) and that we are baptized unto our own resurrection because Christ himself is the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20)

Along with this, Paul follows his thoughts through Romans 6 by expounding on the fact that because those who participated in the ordinance of Baptism by Immersion for the Remission of Sins, they no longer are servants of sin, but to consider themselves dead to sin and alive through Christ unto God.

With this, we will then turn to Alma 11 and take a look at see the greater context of this passage and how Alma 11:37 actually compliments the developed doctrinal exposition of the Apostle Paul in regards to the nature of the Atonement and the resurrection of the Dead and the meaning behind while we were yet sinners and cannot be saved in their sins.

Analysis of Alma 11 and the contention between Zeezrom and Amulek

One of the best summations of Alma 11 and the confrontation between Zeezrom, Alma and Amulek is from the Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3 by; pp. 178-80 (Sjodahl and Reynolds, 1958).

And this Zeezrom began to question Amulek. One of those who most bitterly opposed Alma and Amulek was a lawyer named Zeezrom. We find recorded at great length, in the Book of Mormon, the details of the controversy that occurred between him and the two servants of the Lord. As a result there are handed down to us some of the plainest teachings regarding the Atonement of Christ, His resurrection, the powers of the Priesthood, etc., that are had among mankind of any dispensation. But no matter what Alma or his companion said, Zeezrom could twist and turn it from its proper meaning, find blasphemy and heresy in the sublime truths of the Gospel, and exact treason from the simplest of God’s laws. He questioned and cross-questioned, he promised and threatened, he twisted and turned, he abused and vilified, but all to no purpose, Zeezrom was caught in his own trap. His Heaven-inspired opponents made manifest his thoughts and intentions; they exposed his lying; they overthrew his sophisteries; and with a power more than human, they exhibited the blackness of his heart.

As the missionaries proceeded to answer Zeezrom’s challenge, the power of God seemed to increase within them; their words grew more forcible until Zeezrom, himself, felt their power and strength. As his corruptions were laid bare he began to tremble, first with rage, then with fear. But, bad as he was, he was not the worst among his people, and when he realized that the power with which he was coping came from God, his heart began to acknowledge its guilt.

In the Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, we read the following:

Even the Omnipotent One, the Lord Jehovah, cannot save his people in their sins. He came on a search-and-rescue mission to save people from their sins. But no one, not the least and lowliest of mankind or the mightiest Apostle and prophet, can be saved in sin. Such is the divine decree. Speaking of the Amulek-Zeezrom encounter, Nephi later said: “For he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins. And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance.” (Helaman 5:10-11.)

The reference of Helaman 5:10-11 provides another summation of thought in the Book of Helaman:

And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins. And he hat power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto salvation of their souls.

Helaman 5:12 continues with this:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

Thus, we see the nature of what Alma 11 contains, in relation to the atonement of Jesus Christ. The question, therefore, we ought to answer is contingent on how we understand the terms while we were yet sinners and cannot save them while in their sins.

Saved from our Sins not while we are engaged in sinful living

Critics challenge the idea that Alma 11:37 teaches that Christ did not come to save us while in our sin. They see this as a contradiction to what the Bible says in relation to Romans 5:8 where we were saved because we were considered sinners and sinful beings. How then do we reconcile Alma 11:37 and Romans 5:8? The answer simply understands the nature of the Book of Mormon and the nature of the Bible and the overall context of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Both passages speak to the same nature of truth – it is through the atonement of Jesus Christ by which we are saved.

Let us look at Zeezrom’s question and then his conclusion of what Amulek said.

First, the lawyer poses the following question – Shall He {Christ} save his people in their sins?

Second, Amulek answers the question – He shall not for it is impossible for him {Christ} to deny his word

Now, notice the conversation where Zeezrom twists what Amulek answered:

First, turning to the people, Zeezrom says – …he saith the Son of God shall come, but he {Christ} shall not save his people.

Second, Amulek responds with this statement:

Behold thou hast lied, for thou sayest that I spake as though I had authority to command God because I said he shall not save his people in their sins. And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

This is where the context disproves the critic’s notion that Alma 11:37 and Romans 5:8 are contradictory. Alma describes that Christ will not redeem people while in their sins because the purpose and power of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation is to save people from our sinful nature.

The Apostle Paul, in rhetorical fashion, expounds upon this: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

The process in which one is freed from the nature of sin and death is through the ordinance of baptism by immersion. This goes back to address what Peter provided in response to those who were pricked in their hearts:

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

Peter asked them to repent first and then to receive baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, in the name of Jesus Christ, and then they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Church of Jesus Christ proclaims that one of our articles of faith is this:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Thus, we see that Paul provided a summation of how the Christians at Rome participated in the Atonement through the ordinance of Baptism and the symbolism behind baptism. In Acts 2:37-38, the Greek phrase lends understanding that baptism by immersion for remissions of sins refers to the process in which individuals are pardoned, relieved from, and liberated from the effects of the nature of sin.

Understanding this principle ordinance of the Gospel provides the contextual backdrop of what Paul was inferring to his readers – we are reconciled to God because while WE {The Christian Believers} were once considered sinners, are not set free from the nature and effect of the fall. This, the Apostle explores through the nature and understanding of the fall and the purpose and premise of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Sin and death came upon all mankind through Adam. Salvation and Eternal Life comes through the Atonement of Jesus Christ unto all mankind.

Biblical truth on the Atonement and being saved “From our Sins” not “in our sins”

Given this brief summation of the criticism, the nature of Romans 5:8 and Alma 11:37 in proper light of the context, we must explore one more concept of this discussion. That is whether or not the Bible, and more specifically the New Testament, teaches that we are saved from our sins or saved while in our sins.

Matthew 1:21 says this:

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

As Paul adequately stated, through Adam, sin and death entered into the world. This necessitated the need for a redeemer. Turning to the Book of Mormon, we have another enlightened treatise on the nature of the fall and purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The nature of the fall provided the particular purpose for the atonement. Without the fall, we would have no need of Jesus Christ in our own lives, nor have any need to receive redemption from sin and death. However, because the atonement exists, the fall had to have occurred in order to facilitate the need for humanity to receive salvation through and by Jesus Christ.

A very careful reading of the Book of Mormon, one will begin to see the call to repent of our sins, to come unto Christ, to receive forgiveness of our sins, and to find happiness and liberation. Several lengthy passages also provide the nature of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and how we are saved from our sins.

All of these passages compliment and corroborate the teachings of the Bible and the many teachings of the Apostle Paul. With that, the conclusion is that our critics purposefully take out of context the nature and understanding of Romans 5:8 and Alma 11:37 and through their biased and prejudicial lense of how erroneous Mormonism is, there is inherently such a contradiction. This, they do to justify their misinterpretations and misunderstandings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, and are unable to decipher the difference between being saved because we are sinners and from our sinful natures, than being saved while in our sinful living and wickedness.