A good rule of thumb is that there’s no point debating what could have been. Today I’m going to break that rule by describing what could have been if not for the transgression of Adam and Eve because I continue to encounter a widespread misunderstanding about the fall of man and the character of God.
Lucifer instructed Eve to partake of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil in order to ‘be as gods’. A few wonder, “Was there no other way?” Satan taught that there was indeed not, and this teaching of his is widely believed. However, the truth is that there was another way.
In order to pre-empt a lot of disputation that could arise, I invite you to refer to my statement on doctrinal authority.
The Eden imperatives
Heavenly Father delivered two commandments to Adam and Eve, which I will hereafter call the Eden imperatives: (1) touch not the tree of knowledge and (2) multiply and replenish the earth.
Prevailing opinion on the Eden imperatives indicates two erroneous beliefs, one of them harmful: (1) breaking the law of God was a necessary step to bring about the fall of man and (2) God gives men commandments that cannot be obeyed.
Before discussing the alternative to Adam and Eve’s transgression, let’s debunk these two errors.
No mutually exclusive commandments
It is out of character for Heavenly Father to deliver unkeepable commandments to men. The prophet Nephi testified that God “giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)
Many seek to justify their belief in unkeepable commandments by saying that the choice between these commandments was a choice between good and better, rather than two choices between good and evil. This rationalization will not answer, however. In the first place, it still requires that God give unkeepable commandments. In the second, if the intent of was to force our first parents into breaking the law (which is erroneously supposed), then choosing the good over the better would not accomplish it. God attached no time frame to his injunction to replenish the earth, so one could obey the first imperative indefinitely without violating the second.
Hasn’t God given other conflicting commandments, though? Yes, but even these conflicting commandments are not mutually exclusive. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
First: we read ‘thou shalt not kill’ as well as multiple instances of heavenly mandates to kill. For instance, Saul was commanded to kill every living thing among the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:3); Nephi was commanded to kill Laban (1 Ne 4:10); and even in the chapter right after the 10 commandments, the Hebrews are given instructions to kill under multiple conditions (Ex 21:12,15,16,17,29).
Second: God instructed that a temple was to be erected in Jackson county (D&C 57:3) in the very generation in which said instruction was given (D&C 84:2–5). Then he rescinded the instruction (D&C 124:49–51).
What these examples demonstrate is that commandments change. Commandments change in order to further elucidate the principle behind them or because the people receiving the commandments are too obtuse to benefit from them in their current form. In these cases, a new commandment modifies or replaces an existing one.
No one in Christendom can honestly believe that either of the Eden imperatives was an offshoot or a replacement of the other, so let’s dispose of the conceit that only one of them was to be kept. We do not have examples of God giving mutually exclusive commandments.
Must we taste the bitter to know the sweet?
Could Adam and Eve have obtained knowledge of good and evil without actually performing an evil act? Absolutely.
We know that their act was not a sin, yet it taught them good from evil.
We know that knowledge of good and evil per se is not a bad thing. God knows good and evil, doesn’t he? In fact, the very enticement in knowing good and evil was to ‘be as gods’.
We know that one can know evil without partaking of it. Jesus Christ knew good from evil, and that’s not merely because he experienced the weight of our sins; he must have known good from evil before that for the sake of his mortal experience: he could not have lived by faith without the opportunity to sin, and he could not have had that opportunity unless he knew good from evil. If he hadn’t known good from evil, he could have obeyed Satan prior to Gethsemane without committing sin, yet the New Testament makes a point of demonstrating that Jesus was tempted and refused to submit to temptation.
In response to the opposing position
As provided in my statement on doctrinal authority, there are numerous more-or-less authoritative sources stating that there was no alternative to Adam and Eve’s transgression in Heavenly Father’s plan. I cannot address them all, but I will speak to two well-known scriptures that have perhaps convinced many that if not for the transgression, Heavenly Father’s plan would have been frustrated.
* * *
If Adam had not transgressed, he would not have fallen, but would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. (2 Nephi 2:22)
Take a moment to recognize that this verse refers only to Adam’s transgression. Moreover, it comes only after explaining that Eve was the one who yielded to Lucifer’s persuasions.
Yes, if Adam had not broken the law—subsequent to Eve’s transgression—then the plan would have been frustrated. This is only because Eve had already broken the law. Her nature had already become different from Adam’s, and she must soon be furthermore separated by physical distance in being expulsed from the garden of Eden. Such a separation (followed by Eve’s inevitable death) would probably have indeed frustrated the plan.
Therefore Paul tells us, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1 Tim 2:14)
* * *
And Eve … was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil… (Moses 5:11)
It appears as though we have two conflicting ideas: on the one hand, Eve hearkened unto Satan and was deceived by him; on the other hand, she thought through her conundrum and made a choice that blessed humanity. What many fail to recognize is that these teachings are not incompatible.
Eve did understand that knowledge of good and evil was essential to progression; modern authorities have made that unequivocal. But this does not mean that the only way to obtain the knowledge was in taking the fruit without permission. Had she asked Heavenly Father about what Satan had told her, she might have received a very different answer.
Instead, she was deceived (1 Tim 2:14), and it appears that she didn’t learn otherwise before the foregoing declaration (which fell on the day that Adam learned why he was performing sacrifice).
The fall & Heavenly Father’s plan
Heavenly Father propounded a plan before his children, which was subsequently ratified by ~2/3 of them. That plan included a fall for mankind. There is no dispute (among LDS, at least) that the fall was necessary.
The creation of the earth, the necessary fall that enabled man to be, and the atonement of the Lord are three fundamental components of God’s eternal plan. (Russel M. Nelson)[i] (italics mine)
Lucifer and his adherents, just like you and I, were present then. They knew that the fall was integral to the plan, but the transgression need not have been outlined in the plan. (We will see later why not.)
Indeed, if the transgression had been described to Lucifer et al. beforehand, it is strange that he would abide by it in offering the fruit to Eve; seemingly, there was nothing to gain because having Eve touch the fruit would not count against her as sin. What’s more, if he believed that a transgression were requisite to having seed, he could have effectively damned all of his pre-mortal brothers and sisters by preventing the transgression and fall: none of the pre-mortal spirits would ever receive a material body or exercise their faith outside of the presence of God.
The transgression & Heavenly Father’s plan
Surely God, who sees the end from the beginning, knew that the fall would be brought about by an infraction of the law. And some might contend that because God held foreknowledge of the transgression of Adam and Eve, it was vital to the plan of redemption. Clear heads, however, distinguish between being part of the plan and being vital to the plan.
Being part of the plan means that it is expected and provided for. Being vital to the plan implies that there is no alternative. Therefore, even if we hold that transgression was part of God’s plan, it is possible that there was another way.
This likewise allows that God’s spirit children could have had the plan unfolded to them without having the transgression in Eden disclosed.
All things in their season
The belief that the Eden imperatives are mutually exclusive depends upon an unexamined axiom: man knows God’s timetable. That’s a wrong axiom. Oftentimes we do not receive what we desire from God, but this does not mean that God will never at any time grant our desire. All blessings, all light and knowledge, come in accordance with our readiness to receive and God’s willingness to impart.
Put another way, proponents of the belief in mutually exclusive Eden imperatives must suppose that God’s work in Eden was finished, that he had no further truth or blessing to impart, and that it was entirely up to Adam and Eve to bring about the fall, without God’s participation.
This very arrogant supposition is accepted by many latter-day saints, even though another LDS belief shows that it is absurd: Heavenly Father talked with Adam and Eve and taught them during their time in Eden.
Should we suppose that after giving them two commandments that he had finished with them? If he were finished with them, then they were already outside of God’s presence, and half of the fall was already in effect. Should we likewise suppose that Lucifer’s successful temptation took place only after their tutelage had reached its fullness?
Satan is a usurper
What is [Satan] doing here when he tells Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit? The same thing that had been done in other worlds. … The thing is that he wants them to be taking orders from him—that’s the whole thing. He wants us to be saved, but he wants to be the author of salvation. (Nibley)[ii]
Satan disobeyed orders when he revealed certain secrets to Adam and Eve, not because they were not known on other worlds, but because he was not authorized in that time and place to convey them. (Nibley)[iii]
The fact that Satan delivered the fruit to Adam and Eve does not signify that Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ would never have done so. Rather, his excuse (i.e. that he was doing that which had been done in other worlds) suggests that the fruit would have been forthcoming in time. Indeed, Nibley furthermore says of Satan’s action in Eden:
It was not his prerogative to do so—regardless of what had been done in other worlds. (When the time comes for such fruit, it will be given us legitimately.)[iv] (italics mine)
A final response to the opposition
No doubt you’ll encounter numerous statements declaring that breaking God’s law was necessary. Even if they are touted to come from a reputable source (like the Joseph Smith quotation below), I urge you to scrutinize them before relying on them. Let’s treat this last example as an exercise.
Adam did not sin in eating the fruits; for God had decreed that he should eat and fall. (Joseph Smith)
This is one I’ve seen come up in a number of places. Can you spot the problems with it?
First, consider the source. This quote is repeatedly cited from The Words of Joseph Smith, a compilation of Smith’s teachings, most of which are only a paragraph long, delivered with little or no context, and not even recorded as a quotation. The foregoing selection, in its entirety, comes from the minutes of a meeting as follows:
Joseph said in answer to Mr stout that Adam Did Not Comit sin in [e]ating the fruits for God had Decred that he should Eat & fall—But in complyance with the Decree he should Die—only he should Die was the saying of the Lord therefore the Lord apointed us to fall & also Redeemed us—for where sin a bounded Grace did Much more a bound—for Paul says Rom—5.10 for if—when were enemys we were Reconciled to God by the Death of his Son, much more, being Reconciled, we shall be saved by his Life— [sic] (Ehat & Cook)[v]
Returning to the cleaned-up version of the ‘quotation’, observe that the two clauses in it, taken individually can be true without requiring a God who gives lose-lose commandments: (1) Adam did not sin in eating the fruits (without knowledge of good and evil, he could not sin) and (2) God had decreed that he should eat and fall (we suppose that God would have imparted the fruit in his own due time). It is only the reported relationship between these two clauses that would make God the giver of mutually exclusive commandments, and that relationship depends on very exact semantics, which cannot be drawn reliably from such a source as the foregoing.
[i] Nelson, Russel M. “Call to the Holy Apostleship” General Conference. April 1984.
[ii] Nibley, Hugh. Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Semester 1. p 246. see also (http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=116&chapid=1337)
[iii] Nibley, Hugh. Temple and Cosmos. 1992. p 63.
[iv] Nibley, Hugh. Approaching Zion. Don E. Norton, ed. p 92.
[v] Ehat, Andrew F. and Lyndon W. Cook. The Words of Joseph Smith. 1980. p 63