A Homily on Helaman: Choosing Faithfulness in a Changing Church Culture

In a 1990 address to Regional Representatives, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

In recent years I have felt, and I think I am not alone, that we were losing the ability to correct the course of the Church. You cannot appreciate how deeply I feel about the importance of this present opportunity unless you know the regard, the reverence, I have for the Book of Mormon and how seriously I have taken the warnings of the prophets, particularly Alma and Helaman.

Both Alma and Helaman told of the church in their day. They warned about fast growth, the desire to be accepted by the world, to be popular, and particularly they warned about prosperity. Each time those conditions existed in combination, the Church drifted off course. All of those conditions are present in the Church today.

Helaman repeatedly warned, I think four times he used these words, that the fatal drift of the church could occur “in the space of not many years.” In one instance it took only six years. (See Helaman 6:32, 7:6, 11:26)

It’s especially interesting that he mentions the book of Helaman as being a prophetic parallel for our day, in addition to Alma.  The superscription to Helaman–the introductory summary between the title and chapter one of the text–is part of the scriptural record, not an editorial study aid by modern church printers, like the individual chapter headings are.  One of the items in that ancient superscription is this:

An account of the righteousness of the Lamanites, and the wickedness and abominations of the Nephites.

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Chiasmus in Helaman 13:29-39

In studying the Book of Mormon, it seems that everybody and his brother is familiar with chiasmus, that Hebraic form of poetry where key words and phrases in the first half of a text are repeated backwards in the second half, done to aid memorization, to signify a whole unit of thought, and, especially, to emphasize the central turning point. 

With all the many excellent examples of the technique that the Book of Mormon offers, one of my favorites is usually overlooked: Helaman 13:29-39. 

The most notable work on such parallelisms in the Book of Mormon, Donald W. Parry’s The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns, does not mention chiasmus in this section.  However, in A New Witness For Christ, a similar work by the late H. Clay Gorton, an amateur Book of Mormon enthusiast, I found an arrangement of these verses that is very close to mine. 

In Helaman 13:29-39, Samuel the Lamanite has been lambasting the grossly apostate people of a city.  Throughout the first segment of the sermon, he chastises them for their materialism, and for their related rejection of the prophets.  After the patient, factual, even dry recounting of their rebellion in most of Helaman 13, in verses 29-39 Samuel lets loose with a passionate lament, wailing over their wasteful path towards self-destruction due to their own willful blindness.  Those verses form a discrete unit of the sermon, and a compelling chiasm. 

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