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Interpreting Interpreter
Stained Swords

This post is a summary of the article “Stained Swords: A Psalm of Redemption” by Loren Blake Spendlove in Volume 54 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Spendlove writes short, accessible abstracts that you can read for yourself.


The Summary

In this article, Loren Spendlove uses the rhetorical and poetic elements of Alma 24 to propose an alternative framing for the “stained swords” referenced in that chapter. Though he is sympathetic to the idea that the swords may have been wooden rather than metal, and thus more likely to be stained, Spendlove argues that “stains” also serve independently as a strong metaphor for sin, with those stains being a “metonymic replacement” (associating two things or objects and referring to one in place of the other) for the sin and guilt they seek to avoid. That their swords could be seen as being defiled by the blood of their enemies (independent of any physical stain) is possible in that context.

Spendlove identifies five rhetorical aspects of King Anti-Lehi Nephi’s speech that support that idea, noting that the Hebrew that potentially underlies the word “stain” (the root g-a-l, denoting to pollute or to defile, with the connotation of to stain) being equated with hands being “defiled/stained with iniquity”, as used by Isaiah. Interestingly, this Hebrew root is shared by the word “redeem”, allowing for strong connections to the redeeming power of the Savior to remove the stain of sin. The reference to making their swords “bright” could also reflect a wordplay on the idea of swords being sharpened rather than simply having physical stains removed, as both words share a Hebrew root (b-r-r).

Spendlove’s five identified aspects include:

A spiral progression in the prologue (v. 7-10), which repeats an expanding set of points that culminate in God taking away “the guilt from our hearts” following their conversion.

An expanded progression (v. 11-13) highlighting repentance and forgiveness, with repetition of variations of the phrase “our many sins and murders”, which quickly switches from referring to personal sin to referring to “stains”. This is similar to how Alma earlier refers to the stained garments of the people of Zarahemla.

A chiasm (v. 14-15) focusing on the love and mercy of God.

A second chiasm focusing on being “made bright” (v. 15), and which contrasts being stained with the word of God (a likely Messianic reference) that served to make them clean.

An epilogue that features an additional repetitive structure (v. 16), emphasizing that burying their brightened swords will allow them to be saved despite the potentially lethal consequences.


The Reflection

Spendlove provides an extra layer of depth to an already powerful metaphor, with that metaphor strengthened with a series of dense rhetorical and poetic structures. I’m particularly struck with what he labels a “spiral progression,” a structure that seems purpose-fit for providing verbal emphasis to a progressive series of ideas. That Spendlove frames his proposal as an addition to the idea of stained wooden swords, rather than competing with it, allows for the two ideas to strengthen and support each other, imbuing it with further meaning. That meaning applies to more than those who make consistent use of swords—to those of us defiled by sin and guilt, and who require the cleansing power of Christ’s atonement to renew and sharpen our own souls.

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