Alma: is faith judged differently than knowledge?

Alma 32 is one of the great epistemic chapters of Scripture, elaborating with powerful metaphor and theoretical breadth the doctrines of Faith in connection with Knowledge. Yet, studying it recently I found myself somewhat puzzled by what Alma is trying to express in verse 20. With a little context:

Alma 32:19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?

Alma 32:20 Now of this thing ye must judge. Behold, I say unto you, that it is on the one hand even as it is on the other; and it shall be unto every man according to his work.

The idea of v. 19 is certainly that faith provides a buffer against the condemnation that knowledge would bring; but to my reading, v. 20 is at best hedging and at worst back-tracking from this idea.

I suspect that “on one hand as on the other” had a different meaning to the writers of the verse (this happens far more than we are aware, in both old and new scripture), but to me it seems to point to a parallel, meaning “it’s the same in both cases.”

Furthermore, “it shall be unto every man according to his work” recalls James 2:20 on faith and works, and in a discussion on knowledge vs. faith it seems to be saying that “either way, it’s the actions that end up being what matters.”

My trouble with verse 20 is that it seems inconsistent with the rest of Alma’s grand sermon on faith. What understanding have you reached on these passages?

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