Evidence #346 | June 7, 2022

Alma’s Prophetic Calling

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Alma’s conversion narrative, which is recorded in three separate accounts, adheres closely to the prophetic call pattern found in ancient literature.

The Prophetic Call Pattern

In the 20th century, scholars began to notice that ancient accounts of prophetic callings (wherein a prophet would receive a divine commission from the Lord) possess a particular form. That is to say, they manifest a number of shared characteristics and motifs.1 Blake Ostler has outlined the common elements of the call pattern as follows:2

1. Historical Introduction: There is a brief introductory remark providing circumstantial details such as time, place, and historical setting.

2. Divine Confrontation: Either deity or an angel appears in glory to the individual.

3. Reaction: The individual reacts to the presence of the deity or his angel by way of an action expressive of fear, unworthiness, or having been overpowered.

4. Throne-Theophany: In the commissions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the individual sees the council of God and God seated upon his throne. This element distinguishes the throne-theophany commission from the primarily auditory commissions.

5. Commission: The individual recipient is commanded to perform a given task and assume the role of prophet to the people.

6. Protest: The prophet responds to the commission by claiming that he is unable or unworthy to accomplish the task. This element is usually absent when the reaction element is present, as in the call of Ezekiel.

7. Reassurance: The deity reassures the prophet that he will be protected and able to carry out the commission. The deity may also reassure the prophet by giving him a sign indicative of divine power and protection.

8. Conclusion: The commission form usually concludes in a formal way, most often with a statement that the prophet has begun to carry out his commission.

In the Bible, the prophetic callings of Isaiah and Ezekiel both closely adhere to this pattern.3 Similar call narratives can be found in the Pseudepigrapha, a body of primarily Jewish and Christian writings which were composed approximately between 200 BC–AD 200 and attributed to prominent figures in Israelite history.4 In addition to featuring the standard elements of the call pattern, most call narratives have additional themes and motifs typical of the broader apocalyptic genre (to which the call pattern belongs).5

The most studied prophetic call narrative in the Book of Mormon thus far has been the call of Lehi, found in 1 Nephi 1:1.6 Yet, as identified by Alan Goff, the same pattern is also found in the conversion of Alma the Younger, after which he became a prominent Nephite prophet.7 This article focuses on Alma’s prophetic call.

Alma’s Prophetic Calling

Alma’s call narrative is interlaced with his conversion narrative, which is recorded in three separate accounts (Mosiah 27, Alma 36, Alma 38). While told in different settings for different purposes, each account provides valuable insight into Alma’s transformation from a sinner to a prophet.


The story of Alma’s conversion has a clear historical setting and introduction. The persecution of religious believers is followed by a time of peace (Mosiah 27:1–7), after which the narrator introduces Alma and the sons of Mosiah as follows:

Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And 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 he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God (Mosiah 27:8)

A meaningful foil to these statements can be found in the story’s conclusion, in which Alma goes about “zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church” (Mosiah 27:35). This striking reversal helps establish the outer literary boundaries of the account.

Divine Confrontation

Alma’s confrontation with a divine being is both clear and explicit:

as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood. (Mosiah 27:11)

The cloud surrounding the angel’s presence is typical,8 as is the angel’s voice of thunder.9


Alma and the sons of Mosiah reacted as one might expect: “so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth” (Mosiah 27:12). Alma eventually got to his feet to hear the angel’s message, but after it was delivered, he and the sons of Mosiah “fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment” (v. 18). Alma was also physically incapacitated (v. 19). Fear and physical exhaustion are typical of prophetic call narratives in both biblical and extra-biblical accounts.10

Conversion of Alma the Younger, by Gary L. Kapp

Throne Theophany

Although the account of Alma’s conversion in Mosiah 27 doesn’t contain a throne theophany (in which the prophet sees God on his throne), the rendition in Alma 36 directly invokes the motif: “Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God” (Alma 36:22). This is actually a near-verbatim quote from Lehi’s prophetic calling in 1 Nephi 1:8.11 According to Goff, Alma’s appropriation of Lehi’s throne theophany to describe his own experience is the “most obvious clue” that Alma was intentionally fashioning “a prophetic commission type scene.”12


The angel gives Alma clear instructions:

Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off. (Mosiah 27:16)

The prophetic commission isn’t just a revelation but rather a commandment to act in a certain way. The angel’s twice-repeated injunction to “go” out and do (or not do) something is therefore fitting. Throughout his prophetic career, Alma diligently fulfilled these directives. He continually remembered the captivity of his fathers,13 and instead of seeking to destroy the church he built it up.14 It seems likely that during his repentance process Alma received additional instructions in this regard that went unreported.15


Alma doesn’t directly protest in the presence of the angel, but this element is still implied in the account. The angel declares, “And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God” (Mosiah 27:15).

The word “dispute” (which can describe the typical prophetic protest against the Lord) in connection to the “power of God” is particularly noteworthy. The Lord asked a similar set of rhetorical questions to Moses after he protested that he wasn’t eloquent in speech: “And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11).

Notice that in both cases a series of questions from the divine being are intended to undermine the rationale of the protester by pointing to God’s unique power. Ironically, the reader’s attention is drawn to the concept of protest by the angel’s statements intended to preemptively subdue it.


Alma’s reassurance comes at the climactic center of the chiasm in Alma 36, when he calls out to Jesus and receives immediate comfort and peace: “I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:19–20). Not only did this reassurance lift Alma’s spirits, but it had an invigorating effect on his body: “behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God” (v. 23). Alma was able to then go out and fulfill his commission, which is the primary purpose of the reassurance.  

Alma kneeling in prayer. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The people didn’t always respond positively to Alma’s preaching, though. In the account in Alma 36, he alludes to several instances of rejection that he encountered while fulfilling his life-long commission to build the church and preach the gospel: “And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death” (Alma 36:27).  

The Sign

Although Ostler doesn’t include it, other scholars sometimes include the sign as part of the prophetic call pattern.16 This element shows up prominently in the callings of Moses17 and Gideon.18 In Alma’s case, he was struck dumb and incapacitated (Mosiah 27:19; Alma 36:10–11). Although not formally designated as such in the text, this sign was part of the angel’s commission to “convince [Alma] of the power and authority of God” (v. 14). Another clue comes from the response of Alma’s father when he was told what had happened: “and his father rejoiced, for he knew that it was the power of God” (v. 20). Such rejoicing only makes sense if Alma’s being struck down was seen as a clear sign or manifestation of divine power.

Alma struck dumb. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The way that other ancient accounts treat such manifestations points to the same conclusion. When Korihor asked for a “sign” to be “convinced that there is a God” (Alma 30:43), he was similarly “struck dumb” (v. 50).19 The same is true for the Heliodorus in the account recorded in 2 Maccabees. He was accosted by angels and became speechless and incapacitated (2 Maccabees 3:22–40). Saul, who later became Paul, was likewise struck blind on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9).20


Alma’s prophetic call narrative follows the ancient pattern exceptionally well, much like the account of Lehi’s call which Alma openly cites. For the sake of space, this evidence article only lightly touches upon comparisons between Alma’s conversion and call narratives found in biblical and extra-biblical texts. Those looking for a deeper exploration of such correlations may be interested in the series of articles pertaining to Lehi’s calling published by Evidence Central. Each article in the series focuses on an individual element of Lehi’s call which can be readily compared to the same element in Alma’s call.

In fact, the way that both Lehi’s and Alma’s prophetic callings closely adhere to the same literary pattern is mutually reinforcing. It suggests that both accounts are authentic and that each prophet knew which features of their lived experiences to emphasize in compliance with the ancient call pattern.21 As Goff demonstrates at length, such literary shaping—filled with typological pattens and echoes to previous narratives—is typical of ancient Hebrew and Christian literature.22

All in all, Alma comes across as a genuine prophet, just like his forefather Lehi and numerous other holy men in the ancient Hebrew tradition. The way Alma repeatedly draws upon and alludes to this life-changing event throughout his prophetic career is similarly realistic,23 not to mention textually complex.24 Alma’s prophetic commission—probably the most pivotal and defining moment of his life—provides yet another reason to accept the Book of Mormon as an ancient record translated by the gift and power of God.

Alan Goff, “Alma’s Prophetic Commissioning Type Scene,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 51 (2022): 115–164.

Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180.

John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo: FARMS, 2004), 421–448.

Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.

BibleExodus 4Isaiah 6Ezekiel 1–3Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1Mosiah 27Alma 36Alma 38


Exodus 4

Isaiah 6

Ezekiel 1–3

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1

Mosiah 27

Alma 36

Alma 38

Literary Features
Book of Mormon

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