Fall of Man: Defense of the Doctrine

Related Posts: The Fall of Man: The Doctrine; Creation Ex Nihilo; Omniscience; Election; Doctrine of Agency

Defense of the Doctrine

As I mentioned at the end of my previous post (The Fall of Man: The Doctrine), our doctrine of the fall of man presents a dilemma for the believing Mormon. We believe that the following state of affairs existed in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were given the two commandments (1) don’t eat the forbidden fruit and (2) multiply and replenish the earth, and that (2) couldn’t have been done without breaking (1). To most people this would seem contradictory; in fact many Mormons refer to the “conflicting commandments” given in Eden. But then, how could God give a commandment to Adam and Eve and want them to break it? Did God want them to sin? It appears that the LDS belief about the state of affairs in Eden lacks coherence. What is needed is an explication of the coherence of that state of affairs.

At the end of this post I also include some short quotes about how other faiths view the fall of man; but only for the purpose of illustrating where the LDS doctrine fits into the various schema of fall of man doctrines.

I shall accept on the authority of scripture the following things: Adam and Eve could not have had children before the fall (2 Nephi 2:23) and they could not know the difference between good and evil without eating the forbidden fruit (Moses 5:11). I do not discuss much the physical effects of the fall—physical death, separation from God—because I don’t need them for my argument.

Thou Shalt / Thou Shalt Not Combinations

The Defense

Because Adam and Eve’s situation in the garden was uncomplicated (see footnote 5) the following generalization is reasonable and sufficient for my argument. Firstly, in LDS beliefs some commandments are more important than others and some sins are more egregious than others.[1] This can be seen in the two types of commandments: ones that say thou shalt and ones that say thou shalt not. Generally the thou shalts are higher laws, by which I mean they point us toward a greater good. They also require effort. For example, if I want to obey the precept “cloth the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the sick,” I have to be up and doing. On the other hand, obeying thou shalt nots often does not require effort. It’s easy to obey the commandment “thou shalt not kill” if I spend my life playing video games.

But the opposite is true when breaking commandments. Neglecting charitable acts is easy if I waste my life with video games but to break the command “thou shalt not kill” I have to be up and doing. The consequences are interesting. To repent of neglecting charity I must make an effort to live a more virtuous life. But to repent of breaking a thou shalt not commandment is not always simple—I can’t unto murder. So the following generalizations can be made. (i) Thou shalt commandments are generally a higher form of good—visiting the sick, clothing the naked, etc. (ii) Obeying the thou shalt nots generally amount to less good than (i) because obedience can be realized by doing nothing. (iii) Breaking the thou shalt nots typically amounts to a very great evil—stealing, killing, adultery, and so forth. (iv) Breaking thou shalt commandments generally amounts to less evil than (iii) because repentance means living a more virtuous life. These combinations of obedience and disobedience can be ranked from worst to best. (See figure above.)

I make this point because there are higher laws; some commandments are more important than others. And obedience to a given commandments it not always meaningful.

A lot more could be said about this. See footnote [2]. See also The Mormon concept of Heaven[s] for a little more on thou shalt and thou shalt not commandments.

Most Mormons understand Adam and Eve’s dilemma as strictly a choice between (1) don’t eat the forbidden fruit and (2) multiply and replenish the earth. They tend to see (1) and (2) in terms of mutual exclusion. But I believe there is more to it than that. Because one commandment couldn’t be obeyed without breaking the other these two commandments intersected, creating a new choice, a choice for which no specific commandment was given. The new choice becomes (3) not to eat the forbidden fruit and not to multiply and replenish the earth, and (4) to eat the forbidden fruit and to multiply and replenish the earth. God did not tell them how to choose, but (3) can be realized by spending eternity playing Mario Brothers. [3] Only (4) involves meaningful obedience. As the Book of Mormon teaches, “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.” In other words, if two commandments A and B intersect, and if one cannot be obeyed without breaking the other, it is no longer a choice between A and B. It is now a choice between (A and not-B) or (B and not-A). As for Adam and Eve, this new state of affairs includes the conjunctive alternatives of (3) and (4).

Generally, when it comes to simple exclusionary choices—such as choosing which job offer to accept—this idea is not especially profound. In other cases it is. For example, an overburdened doctor who must choose which of two terminally ill patients he will save; though it’s a terrible thought, such a situation is conceivable. And in the case of the overburdened doctor, I doubt he could discover which patient to save by studying the commandments. In other words, God did not instruct him how to choose. But this idea is also found in less dramatic situations, such as having to balance time demands between church and family responsibilities. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught,

As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all (“Good, Better, Best,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 104–8).

In the case of Adam and Eve’s situation, I believe the intersection of (1) and (2) resulting in (3) and (4) was according to God’s purpose to bring about the fall of man. I have already argued that obedience to some commandments can be more meaningful than obedience to others. But God’s purposes can be found not only in his commandments but also in the ways they can intersect. Hence God’s purpose wasn’t found in (1) and (2), or even (3). His purpose is found in (4).

Justifying the LDS doctrine on the fall then comes down to the purpose of God’s Edenic commandments. Was God’s purpose found in (1) or (2)? or in their intersection? Jesus said, “Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?…the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (NIV, Matt. 23:17-19). According to Jesus, the source of sacredness was found not in the gold or the gift, but in a higher power. So which is greater: the commandments? or the purpose for which they were given? The purpose behind a commandment makes it sacred, as stated by Paul, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (NIV, 2 Cor. 3:6). If God’s purpose isn’t found in the letter of the law it follows there is a deeper purpose behind it. So when Jesus said of loving both God and neighbor, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” he was teaching that the law and all its complexities have a deeper purpose then their technical requirements. This easily harmonizes with Book of Mormon teachings. God arranged that precarious situation in Eden “to bring about his eternal purposes” (2 Nephi 2:15). Nephi taught that a world without opposition would “destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes” (2 Nephi 2:12). And Alma teaches, “And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world” (Alma 42:26).

To better understand the purpose of God’s Edenic commandments we must consider the following. Any commandment intended to promote the avoidance of evil is meaningful. But the forbidden fruit wasn’t evil. God doesn’t create evil things. And besides, fruit isn’t evil. Furthermore, there’s nothing ontologically evil about physical death (by which I mean the separation of the spirit from the body). And since God possesses knowledge of good and evil, knowledge of good and evil is a good thing. So why was the forbidden fruit forbidden, with punishments attached, unless to bring about God’s purpose in man? I believe that every commandment has a purpose. God doesn’t give commandments simply because he can. But because the forbidden fruit wasn’t evil obedience to its corresponding commandment would be meaningless. And without purpose behind the commandment it too would be meaningless. I must conclude that the prohibition to avoid the forbidden fruit acquired purpose by intersecting with God’s other commandment and God’s purpose for giving the prohibition was in its intersection. Because God wants us to know (and hence learn) the difference between good and evil, bitter and sweet, and “good, better, and best,” then it seems reasonable to believe that intersections are part of his eternal plan.

The following points suggest God planned the fall. (1) God told Adam to stay with his wife. Why? If Eve ate the forbidden fruit he would then have to choose between commandments and God would want him to stay with his wife. (2) Physical death and knowledge of good and evil are the effects of eating the forbidden fruit. The first is not evil and the second is a good thing. (3) God permitted Satan to tempt Adam and Eve. Because of their innocence their deception was a fore-drawn conclusion. And besides, Satan’s chances of success increase with each attempt. (4) God drove them out of the garden not because they sinned but because he didn’t want them to eat from the tree of life and live forever which contradicts the idea that God wanted Adam and Eve to live in blissful Eden. If so, he could have simply removed the tree of life to an inaccessible location. Finally, as Tad Callister (author of The Infinite Atonement) points out, Eve is not given her name, or the title “mother of all living,” until after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:20). (The Infinite Atonement, p. 43; see footnote 20). The mechanism for bringing about the fall and getting both Adam and Eve out of the garden is explicit.

But why would God go through this rigmarole? I must conclude that a fallen world can only be brought about as a consequence of a broken commandment. A fallen world immediately implies at least one broken law to begin with. God actualized the fallen world by first creating a perfect world and through intersecting commandments created a new choice, only one of which was meaningful. The meaningful choice—to eat the forbidden fruit—is justified because the purpose for the prohibition is in its intersection, not in its technical meaning.

But we can relate to the fall in another way. We can each think of ourselves as being like Adam or Eve (or Adam and Eve as being like us). We are born into the world innocent and free from all sin (Moses 6:54-55). And unavoidably, our appreciation of right and wrong begins as children when we commit our first disobedient act, to which our parents give us correction. We can see this in the story of Adam and Eve. They were raised to obey their Father in heaven, and it was only after their disobedience that they felt shame. They experienced fear, hid from God’s voice, and were quick to pass the buck: “‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’…The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (ESV). God did administer punishment but also helped them along by providing clothing (Gen. 3:21). Eventually Adam and Eve grew up and realized, “because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy” (Moses 5:10).

The commandments and effort

Here is a simple paradox. Sin cannot be committed without knowledge of good and evil. But knowledge of good and evil came into the world through the “sin” of eating the forbidden fruit. So, whence the evil? It also follows that those who are born free from sin and without knowledge of good and evil—such as little children (Moroni 8:8)—will never be able to sin, as their acquiring that ability is paradoxical. How can knowledge of good and evil exist without sin? How can sin exist without knowledge of good and evil? It seems that the paradox can be avoided if it’s possible to acquire knowledge of good and evil through transgression, that is, “sinning” in innocence. It seems that this state of affairs must be. One cannot learn the difference between right and wrong by committing only good acts, because without knowledge of good and evil their goodness cannot be known. And it would be nonsense to speak of Adam and Eve committing a charitable act in innocence for the same reason. The only way to begin the process of acquiring knowledge of both good and evil is through transgression. In other words, the world was created “good” and it was transgression that introduced knowledge of good and evil. So it seems that this must be so for all of us; during childhood we commit our own original transgression, that is, some childish act of disobedience, and from there our appreciation of right and wrong begins. (See also [4].)

The final thing that needs to be considered is why Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit. After all, it would kill them and also, not doing something can be easy. According to LDS beliefs, before the fall Adam and Eve were innocent, almost like children, so they couldn’t know which was the morally significant choice. And because the correct choice required effort they had to be enticed: “man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16). The enticement came by way of the Serpent’s half truth, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5-6). The part about not dying was a lie; the part about being “as gods, knowing good and evil” was true.

Was the fall ordained by God?

Calvinists believe in predestination, so they believe the fall was ordained according to God’s sovereign will—sin, though, is contrary to his will. Theodore Beza (successor of John Calvin) wrote, “We receive far more in Christ than we lost in Adam. Therefore, it was best and most useful for us that Adam fell.” John Calvin said,

When I say, however, that Adam did not fall without the ordination and will of God, I do not so take it as if sin had ever been pleasing to Him,…[or] that the precept which he had given should be violated…yet none of these things render it impossible that, for a certain cause, although to us unknown, he might will the fall of man. It offends the ears of some, when it is said God willed this fall. (John Calvin on God’s Willing Permission of Sin)

The Mormon interpretation of the fall differs from the Calvinist view on many points. God did indeed ordain the fall of man. But he wanted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. God desires free beings to freely love and worship him, but they could not do so without knowledge of good and evil. How else could they understand the difference between God’s commandments and Satan’s enticements? or understand the goodness of God? After all, John 17:3 says eternal life is to know God; and his goodness is one of his essential attributes. The tree is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of the knowledge of evil alone.

I bring up the Calvinist view because few Mormons understand that other faiths also teach the fall of man was ordained by God. They tend to think that we are the only ones who believe that way.

Some objections

I once heard a televangelist bemoan the fall as one of the most dreadful things to ever have happened. My response to his sense of loss is this. “If it was God’s purpose for Adam and Eve to remain forever in Eden then they screwed up God’s plan in a really big way. But LDS teachings say, ‘the works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated’ (D&C 3:1).” The televangelist might concede that God’s purpose was frustrated, but point out it was man who screwed up. But consider it from another perspective. Suppose Adam and Eve didn’t eat the forbidden fruit; suppose they stayed in the garden and multiplied as commanded.[5] Then their children probably would have also been instructed to abstain from the deadly forbidden fruit, and if any one of them did eat it, they would fall. With the Serpent in the garden it’s very likely that eventually many of them would fall—Adam and Eve did. If so, it implies a world very different from the one God intended: those living in Edenic bliss and those expelled from the garden who are able to distinguish good from evil. This means that some kind of fall was unavoidable and, if it was God’s plan that none should fall, that his plan was impossible. “But,” the televangelist might retort, “perhaps God had something very different in mind and Adam and Eve screwed it up before it was finished?” I would reply, “If that is the case it becomes difficult to argue God’s plan was frustrated if the actual plan is unknown. The LDS interpretation is much easier. The scriptures describe exactly what God wanted to happen.”

One might object again and ask, “If God wanted to create a fallen world to begin with, why didn’t he do so from the off?” I would respond, “If the fall is part of the creation then in a way he did. In LDS temple instruction the premortal Adam assisted the premortal Jesus (whom we know as Jehovah) in the creation of the earth. It was Adam and Eve’s purpose to bring about the final phase of God’s creation of a fallen world.”[6] (See also footnote 4.) Another complaint might be, “If it was God’s purpose that Adam and Eve fall then Satan must be helping God. Are Satan and God in cahoots?” The answer to that question is NO. But there are points in history where God uses the wicked to further the divine plan. The most obvious example of this is the crucifixion of Jesus: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). Another example is God bringing Joseph to Egypt. Joseph said to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (HCSB, Gen. 50:20). As to the fall, God understood that moral good can’t be brought about without the possibility of moral evil. Satan knew that moral evil can’t be brought about without knowledge of good and evil. So God permitted Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, and Satan obliged. That much seems clear from the Genesis account.

So there it is. Spending eternity in Eden without knowledge of good and evil, pleasure and pain, happiness and misery would be a meaningless existence and contrary to God’s purposes for man. The prohibition against eating the forbidden fruit would be meaningless unless it intersected with another commandment. From the intersection a new choice was created, only one of which was meaningful. Because God’s purpose is found in the intersection, eating the forbidden fruit was not a sin for two reasons. (1) It was God’s purpose for Adam and Eve to fall. And (2), because of their innocence they could not be held morally responsible; hence their eating the forbidden fruit was a transgression. Because of their innocence they could not recognize which was the morally significant choice, so God permitted the Serpent to beguile them. They ate the forbidden fruit, the fall occurred, and God’s plan for progressing his children moves forward.

Conflicting commandments–the higher law

It is not uncommon to hear Mormons speak of God giving conflicting commandments to Adam and Eve, thus allowing them to exercise their agency by choosing between commandments.[7], [8] I don’t like the term “conflicting commandments” because it puts one commandment against another; it denies harmony in God’s overall plan. It also seems a narrow way of thinking about Adam and Eve’s choice and it reflects badly on God.[9] Still others say that God did not technically forbid Adam and Eve from eating the forbidden fruit (Moses 3:17). God forbade it because of its consequences: “when you eat of it you will surely die” (NIV). However, God says to Adam and Eve, “I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden” (Moses 6:53); thus, it required forgiveness, so the prohibition was not a mere explanation of consequences.

It is also not uncommon to hear Mormons speak of Adam and Eve as obeying the higher law.[10] Though this seems more reasonable than the other approach, it too has its difficulties. It implies Adam and Eve knowingly obeyed the higher law, which implies they were not deceived, which contradicts the Biblical story. Also, how could they obey the higher law without knowledge of good and evil? Tadd Callister has taken a middle ground. He writes,

It is difficult to fully understand why God gave seemingly conflicting commands in the Garden. Some people feel that the “command” not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was more a warning than a commandment, and thus, Adam and Eve purposefully “disobeyed” a lower law in order to fulfill a higher one.

The scriptures suggest, however, that Eve was at least partially deceived. This “conflict” of commandments seemed to be a necessary part of the grand plan, so that man would not later claim that God forced him to accept the awesome responsibility of mortality. (The Infinite Atonement, p. 36.)[11]

Final thoughts

If my arguments about the fall of man hold up then it’s a new twist on the older Mormon interpretation of “line upon line.” God’s purpose is to uplift man, and one way he does this is by giving us commandments. If a new commandment doesn’t replace an older one it’s possible that God’s purpose is found not only in the old and the new, but also in the way they intersect. A new synthesis is created, but one that is never static. Mormon beliefs include the idea of value universals, and that these universals exist independent of all other things, even God. One of God’s purposes is to help humanity achieve the greatest possible good; to help us realize in our lives and communities things that are “virtuous, lovely, and of good report” and to avoid things that are truly bad. The things that God wants us to do and to avoid can be called good values: charity, honesty, forgiveness; refraining from adultery, theft, and murder. But good values need not be in one-to-one correspondence to the commandments. The number of good values could easily exceed the number of commandments. After all, it’s not possible for a person to deal with a seemingly endless list of commandments for every particular situation in which he might find himself; and besides, God wants us to think and to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit (D&C 58:26; 9:8). God’s way of helping man live and promote good values includes the commandments, as well as the way they intersect. Whence, it is important to discover the moral (or morally superior) choice (D&C 9:7-9).

As far as I can tell the LDS view of the fall of man is highly unique. In traditional theistic religion God is a necessary being, a being that cannot not exist, and man’s existence is contingent, depending entirely upon God. Most of the Abrahamic religions hold to the belief that the fall brought about man’s estrangement from God, resulting in human misery and sorrow, and putting us in an unnatural, undesirable condition. The Westminster Confession reads, “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation” (“Free Will,” Westminster Confession). As seen by traditional Christianity, the fall is what makes the abundant grace of Christ possible. Mormon theology is very different. The fall gave us genuine freedom. And despite its effects, people can do good by their own choosing. Though man is dependent upon God for a great many things, the entirely of man’s being is not contingent. There is an aspect of man, usually called intelligence, which cannot be created or made. (See D&C 93:29-30; Abr. 3:18.) Because man’s being is not entirely contingent, God’s plan to promote “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39) is very different from a would-be plan in a would-be world filled with beings created from nothing whose purpose is to worship God. Mormons believe, in a very real way, that man is counterpart with God. God’s plan to educate and advance the knowledge of mankind generally and individually includes his commandments and the way they intersect; mortality with all its difficulties; the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ; the reality of repentance and genuine salvation from the effects of sin.

What Others Believe

Calvin’s view ~ because of the fall man inherits total depravity: [Because of the fall] a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath… First, we are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God… For our nature is not only destitute and empty of good, but so fertile and fruitful of every evil that it cannot be idle…whatever is in man, from the understanding to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, has been defiled and crammed with his concupiscence [i.e. longing for things forbidden, all kinds of lust] Or, to put is more briefly, the whole man is of himself nothing but concupiscence. (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; cited from Sterling M. McMurrin’s The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, p. 61)

A Jewish view ~ man is frail, God is merciful: Man is responsible for sin because he is endowed with free will; yet he is by nature frail, and the tendency of the mind is to evil…Therefore God in His mercy allowed man to repent and be forgiven. Jewish theologians are divided in regard to the cause of this so-called “original sin”; some teach that it was due to Adam’s yielding to temptation in eating of the forbidden fruit and has been inherited by his descendants; the majority, however, do not hold Adam responsible for the sins of mankind.…R. Jose said that every soul, before departing, visits Adam, and is convinced that it must blame its own wickedness, for there is no death without sin. …On the other hand, it is maintained that at least four persons—Benjamin, Amram, Jesse, and Chileab—died without having committed any sin and merely as the result of Adam’s weakness in yielding to the temptation of the serpent… Some of the Rabbis, while disclaiming the influence of Adam’s sin, made the sin of the golden calf…a hereditary one, affecting twenty-four generations, till the final destruction of the Jewish state in the time of King Hezekiah. (“Sin,” Jewish Encyclopedia).

A Catholic view ~ the fall brought about an inherited privation of grace: Original sin is the privation of sanctifying grace in consequence of the sin of Adam…by the declaration of the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529): one man has transmitted to the whole human race not only the death of the body, which is the punishment of sin, but even sin itself, which is the death of the soul. As death is the privation of the principle of life, the death of the soul is the privation of sanctifying grace which according to all theologians is the principle of supernatural life. Therefore, if original sin is “the death of the soul”, it is the privation of sanctifying grace…The absence of sanctifying grace in the new-born child is also an effect of the first sin, for Adam, having received holiness and justice from God, lost it not only for himself but also for us. If he has lost it for us we were to have received it from him at our birth with the other prerogatives of our race. Therefore the absence of sanctifying grace in a child is a real privation, it is the want of something that should have been in him according to the Divine plan. (“Original Sin,” Catholic Encyclopedia)

A Russian Orthodox View ~ the fall brought about bodily passions that make sinning easy: “Sin was not ingrained in human nature. Yet the possibility to sin was rooted in the free will given to humans… The consequences of the Fall for the first humans were catastrophic. They were not only deprived of the bliss and sweetness of Paradise, but their whole nature was changed and disfigured. In sinning they fell away from their natural condition and entered an unnatural state of being. All elements of their spiritual and corporeal make-up were damaged: their spirit, instead of striving for God, became engrossed in the passions; their soul entered the sphere of bodily instincts…After the Fall the human person ‘became deaf, blind, naked, insensitive to the good things from which he had fallen away, and above all became mortal, corruptible and without sense of purpose’ (St Symeon the New Theologian). Disease, suffering and pain entered human life. Humans became mortal for they had lost the opportunity of tasting from the tree of life. (Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev; here)[12]

The Moslem view ~ Adam and his wife were deceived and removed from the garden, ending their felicity: Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden, and enjoy (its good things) as ye wish: but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression. Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them (before): he said: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest ye should become angels or such beings as live for ever.” And he swore to them both, that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. (Koran, Sura 7:19-22; Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali)

[God] said to the angels, “Prostrate yourselves to Adam”, They prostrated themselves, but not Iblis [Satan]: he refused. Then We said: “O Adam! Verily, this is an enemy to thee and thy wife: So let him not get you both out of the Garden, so that you art landed in misery. There is therein (enough provision) for thee not to go hungry nor to go naked, nor to suffer from thirst, nor from the sun’s heat.” But Satan whispered evil to him: he said, “O Adam! Shall I lead thee to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom that never decays?” In the result, they both ate of the tree, and so their nakedness appeared to them…Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, and allow himself to be seduced. (Koran, Sura 10:116-121; Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali)

[1] To repeat what Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best” (“Good, Better, Best,” Ensign, Nov 2007). Also, the Book of Mormon mentions a sin “most abominable above all sins” (Alma 39:5-7). Hence there is an unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:32; Jacob 7:19). Oaks’ and Alma’s statements illustrate that there are grades of good and grades of evil.

[2] Resisting temptation is not always easy, and some spiritual sins—lack of charity for example—are extremely sinful: For without charity we are nothing (1 Cor. 13:2-3; Moroni 7:44). Dividing commandments into two camps has the effect of making sins of action more sinful than those of omission. Janice Allred writes in “Toward a Mormon Concept of Original Sin,”

Although there is something to be gained in seeing man as a dualistic being, seeing the spirit as the good part and the body as the evil leads to difficulties. It tends to make us believe that the worst sins (or even the only sins) are physical—lust, gluttony, self-indulgence, sloth—and to forget the spiritual sins—pride, the will to dominate others, unbelief, mistrust, envy, hate. (Janice M. Allred, “Toward a Mormon Concept of Original Sin,” Sunstone, 6/1/1983)

While the makeup of man is by no means well defined in Mormon thought, it appears that not only the natural man (our baser instincts) needs to be overcome, but our spirit also needs to be born again. Jesus makes this point to Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’” (NIV, John 3:3-7). This added dimension to the idea of progression implies that in the premortal life we progressed to the limit which that sphere would allow, but even then our spirits were imperfect. The purpose of mortality includes the struggle for the spirit to control bodily passions, as well as time for spirit itself to become more perfect.

[3] God does give Adam and Eve a hint about how they should choose: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Moses 3:17)

[4] What this means is that God created the world “good,” just as the scriptures say he did (Gen. 1). And that God introduced knowledge of good and evil through transgression which began the process of learning the difference between good and evil. But consider this counterfactual. If God were evil then he would have created a world flawed and imperfect, full of wickedness, and then permitted Adam and Eve to gain knowledge of good and evil by allowing them to commit a “good” act accidentally. But God is good. So the fall did not happen in that way.

[5] Why were so few commandments given in Eden? Perhaps the reason is quite simple. God can’t tell Adam and Eve to love their neighbor because they have none. He can’t tell them not to commit adultery because they are husband and wife, and there’s no one else around; I’m also inclined to believe they were not sexually active in Eden. They couldn’t tell a lie because they had nothing to lie about until they broke a commandment. They can’t steal because there is no concept of properly rights. In their situation meaningful commandments are hard to come by.

[6] Another retort might be, “But before the fall God pronounced his work finished, and that it was good!” My response would be, “God simply pronounced that a given level of the creation was finished, it was as he intended it to be.”

[7] Apostle Bruce R. McConkie (d. 1985) wrote,

Thus we see why the Lord gave two conflicting commandments–one to become mortal and have children, the other to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil out of which mortality and children and death would result. The issue is one of choosing between opposites. Adam must choose to become mortal so he could have children, on the one hand; on the other hand, he must choose to remain forever in the garden in a state of innocence. (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 91)

[8] Some Mormons believe that Adam and Eve knowingly chose to obey the higher law. That is, Eve was not deceived when she ate the forbidden fruit; nor was Adam coerced by Eve. But this creates a problem. If they knowingly obeyed a higher law they must have known which was the higher law, which means they learned which was higher. But the Bible clearly says Eve was beguiled. I remember when I was an LDS missionary in South Africa, trying to figure out how Adam and Eve could have knowingly obeyed the higher law (without God telling them what to do), and how they could have figured out the two commandments were conflicting. I came up with a rather unusual explanation, which, except for sharing it with one missionary, I kept to myself. Firstly, how did Adam and Eve figure out they could not have children? My conclusion was they must have been sexually active in the garden of Eden—After all they were husband and wife. Because the woman experiences pregnancy she was the first to realize she could not conceive children. But one might object, “If God gives a commandment to multiply and replenish the earth then it must be possible for them to do so.” “But,” I would have retorted, “that commandment applies to all, and some couples can’t have children. It’s up to God if conception occurs. As long as they are trying they are being obedient. Also, the phrase ‘they shall be one flesh’ does have a sexual connotation.” After Eve realized there is something missing from her condition she was open to other options. I can’t recall the entirety of how my argument went, but eventually she realized that eating the forbidden fruit was the right thing to do. I have since learned that this interpretation is not so unusual. (See David P. Wright, “Sex and Death in the Garden of Eden,” Sunstone, June 1998).

The notion that they must have known what they were doing occasionally comes up in Mormonism. “It gives us pause to wonder how long Adam and Eve spent in the Garden weighing the two apparently conflicting commandments. Brother Hugh Nibley has suggested that by the time they were tempted by the being who symbolically is called a serpent, Adam and Eve had concluded that they must partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for the Hebrew text indicates that all that transpired did so in a systematic fashion. It seems apparent that they went from precept to precept, from truth to truth” (Beverly Campbell, Eve and the Choice Made in Eden, “Learning in the Garden”).

[9] In my posting Opposition In All Things I leaned toward the conflicting commandments explanation, and that Adam and Eve knowingly obeyed a higher law. In this post I have backed away from that. The inconsistency is due to development in my own thinking.

[10] For example Apostle John A. Widtsoe (d. 1952),

In life all must choose at times. Sometimes, two possibilities are good; neither is evil. Usually, however, one is of greater import than the other. When in doubt, each must choose that which concerns the good of others—the greater law—rather than that which chiefly benefits ourselves—the lesser law. The greater must be chosen whether it be law or thing. That was the choice made in Eden. (Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 194)

[11] Callister further writes,

If Adam and Eve had partaken with “full” knowledge of obeying a higher law, as some would suggest, one wonders why the scriptures would have used words and phrases such as “beguiled,” “deceived,” “yielded” and even “spiritually dead” (D&C 29:41), to describe their Edenic conduct and subsequent state of affairs. One also wonders how they could have “full” knowledge when they lived in a state of innocence, knowing neither good nor evil. In that state of innocence, it would not have been possible for them to completely comprehend which choice was good and which was evil. One further wonders why Adam, upon responding to the Lord’s question, “Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat…?” (Moses 4:17), would shift the “blame” or responsibility to Eve, and likewise, she would further shift the “blame” to the Serpent (Moses 4:18-19). If they had proceeded with a full or even partial knowledge of the consequences, this would have been an appropriate moment to respond: “We knowingly broke the lesser law in order to keep a higher one.” (The Infinite Atonement, p. 37)

[12] Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev also mentions two ways of understanding original sin,

The consequences of the Fall spread to the whole of the human race. This is elucidated by St Paul: ‘Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned’ (Rom. 5:12). This text, which formed the Church’s basis of her teaching on ‘original sin’, may be understood in a number of ways… Different readings of the text may produce different understandings of what ‘original sin’ means. [The first is] that each person is responsible for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. Here, Adam is merely the prototype of all future sinners, each of whom, in repeating Adam’s sin, bears responsibility only for his own sins. Adam’s sin is not the cause of our sinfulness; we do not participate in his sin and his guilt cannot be passed onto us.

[The second] can be understood as the passing on of Adam’s sin to all future generations of people, since human nature has been infected by sin in general. The disposition toward sin became hereditary and responsibility for turning away from God sin universal. (here)

The first interpretation is very similar to the LDS view of original sin. Our articles of faith read, “We believe that man will be punished for his own sin and not of Adam’s transgression” (Articles of Faith 1:2).

2 thoughts on “Fall of Man: Defense of the Doctrine

  1. A good example of God giving a commandment that really had nothing to do with the actual commandment is his command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God told Abraham to kill Isaac but had no intention for Isaac to be killed. The commandment was a test. (Gen. 22:1-12)

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