RS/MP Lesson 6: “The Fall of Adam and Eve” (Gospel Principles Manual)
Posted by joespencer on March 8, 2010
What follows is, for the most part, something like a line-by-line commentary on the lesson.
Adam and Eve Were the First to Come to Earth
God prepared this earth as a home for His children. Adam and Eve were chosen to be the first people to live on the earth (see Moses 1:34; 4:26). Their part in our Father’s plan was to bring mortality into the world. They were to be the first parents. (See D&C 107:54-56.)
First, let me note that the only change made to this paragraph in the updating of the text was that the reference to Moses 4:26 was added to the reference to Moses 1:34. Though that might appear to be minor, it is the first of a series of connected changes made to this lesson in particular: if one looks at the two passages (1:34 and 4:26), it is clear that the second one was added in order to balance Adam with Eve. (That is, the older version made the claim that “Adam and Eve were chosen to be the first people to live on the earth” but only cited a scripture that describes Adam as the first man; by including Moses 4:26, there is also a scriptural citation that mentions Eve as being the mother of all living.) This balancing of what was before a primarily patriarchal manual will be at work throughout the lesson.
Interestingly, this paragraph served as an entire section in the earlier version of the manual, presumably because it alone deals with the idea of planning for earth. (The next two paragraphs, now a part of the same section, fell under a section titled “Adam and Eve Were Valiant Spirits.”) It seems that the whole first page of the lesson as it stands now has been grouped together because it all deals with the premortal, broadly speaking.
That said, I don’t know that I have a whole lot to say about this first paragraph. Its logic is relatively straightforward: (1) God’s plan with the earth was to people it; (2) He chose Adam and Eve to get that work started; (3) that work of getting things started had two major parts: (a) to bring mortality into the world; (b) to begin having children.
I suppose I ought to point out that the citation of D&C 107:54-56 at the end of this first paragraph seems out of place. Those verses deal with (the original, that is, ancient) council of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and find the Lord telling Adam then that he had been set at the head of things. But it isn’t entirely clear that that idea fleshing out what it was for Adam and Eve to “be the first people to live on the earth.” That scriptural text is more appropriate at the end of the next paragraph, where part of it is actually quoted in the lesson.
For now, though, let me move on to the next, much more complex paragraph.
Adam and Eve were among our Father’s noblest children. In the spirit world Adam was called Michael the archangel (see D&C 27:11; Jude 1:9). He was chosen by our Heavenly Father to lead the righteous in the battle against Satan (see Revelation 12:7-9). Adam and Eve were foreordained to become our first parents. The Lord promised Adam great blessings: “I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever” (D&C 107:55).
First, again, let me deal with changes to the manual, this one being telling in a rather different manner than the one in the previous paragraph. The only substantial change here (I suppose it could be noted also that “archangel” was capitalized in the previous version of the manual) is that the phrase “our first parents” at the end of the fourth sentence has replaced the earlier “the parents of the human race.” There are, I think, two ways of interpreting this change. On the one hand, and perhaps quite simply, the change can be seen as part of the larger attempt to “scripturalize” the manual: the phrase “our first parents” is quite common in the Book of Mormon, and it is certainly more scripturally rooted than the phrase “the parents of the human race.” On the other hand, though, might it be possible that the change reflects an attempt to open the language of the manual up to the possibility of reconciling Mormon theology (in terms of the story of Adam and Eve) with scientific findings regarding evolution? Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that the manual teaches evolution here, but I wonder whether there isn’t a deliberate attempt to make sure that the manual doesn’t rule out the possibility of evolution. And let me add: whether one thinks there is room for evolution or not, adjusting the language here so that it is both more scriptural and open to scientific progress is a really good move—particularly if it helps us to see that the scriptures are more open to possibilities than our “doctrine” usually is.
That said, let me deal with the actual content of the paragraph. The point, quite clearly, is to emphasize the nobility of Adam, even before he came into the world. (Note that the subsequent paragraph deals with Eve’s parallel nobility.) There are two pairs of “proofs” of the point: first, there are two explanations of the status of Adam in the premortal world (as Michael, the archangel; as leader of the righteous against Satan in the “war in heaven”); second, there are two explanations of the status of Adam (and, on one point, of Eve) with respect to the earth (the two were foreordained to be “our first parents”; Adam received the blessing to be “at the head” at Adam-ondi-Ahman). Taken together, all of this sets out a kind of premortal-mortal relationship of foreordination: good there means good here. This, I suppose, seems pretty straightforward.
All well and good, but why bother to include all of this in a lesson on the Fall? The simplest answer, it seems to me, is that this manual (as I hope has already begun to become clear this far into it) is not really—at least in these early parts of the manual—a compilation of various topics, but an unfolding “doctrinal” story. Hence, this lesson is really just about the Fall; it is about what happens next in the unfolding “plan.” But more complexly, I think one can see how this plays into the questions raised later in the chapter: if Adam (and Eve) was (were) crucially righteous in premortality, indeed playing an absolutely central role in the unfolding of the premortal drama, and if he (they) was (were) given particularly poignant blessings even once mortality dawned, then one must do away with all of the negativity towards Adam—and particularly Eve—supposedly expressed in non-Mormon Christian theology.
In other words, the lesson is setting up a crucial centralization of Adam and Eve in the larger story of the unfolding of the “plan” of salvation—both a theological centralization and a historical centralization. That is, by coupling the Garden story with a complex premortal era in which Adam was already an archangel, etc., the Mormon story greatly complicates the Fall from the beginning. It cannot be regarded as a kind of theological allegory, but as the continuation of a history—though it might, nonetheless, be figural to some extent. This valorization of Adam can be extended, in Mormon terms, quite far—as in the (obviously controversial) teachings of Brigham Young, but also as in Joseph Smith’s own revelations and sermons.
All of this sets up a quick analysis of D&C 107:55, with which I’ll conclude my comments on this paragraph: this reworking of the basic history of the world reworks the basic trajectory of the Book of Genesis. Genesis quite clearly tells the story of Adam’s fall (“Adam, where art thou? I hid myself”) and Abraham’s redemptive election (“Abraham. Here am I!”), taking the latter’s covenant as what begins to heal the fractures introduced into the creation through the missteps of the former. The Mormon story—and this is worked out in great detail in the JST rendering of Genesis, particularly if it is looked at in the full manuscript text rather than in so many footnotes in the Bible—reworks this story so that the covenant begins with Adam and is simply claimed again, through a kind of restoration, by Abraham. This is clear in D&C 107:55: “I have set thee [Adam] to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee [there's the main line of the Abrahamic covenant], and thou art a prince over them forever.”
But all of this needs to be doubled with the lesson’s highlighting of Eve.
Eve was “the mother of all living” (Moses 4:26). God brought Adam and Eve together in marriage because “it was not good that the man should be alone” (Moses 3:18; see also 1 Corinthians 11:11). She shared Adam’s responsibility and will also share his eternal blessings.
It is clear that this paragraph is meant to complement the one that precedes it: if Adam was righteous both premortally and in his position in earth’s mortal history, Eve—it is implied—was no less so. Thus the lesson points out that she was “the mother of all living,” that it would not have been “good” had Adam been “alone,” that she shared “Adam’s responsibility,” and that she “will also share his eternal blessings.” All of this, I think, is relatively straightforward. But I would like to deal with the changes made to this portion of the lesson for this new edition of the manual. I find them very instructive.
First, an entire sentence was dropped from the beginning of this paragraph. Obviously in order to set up the specifically premortal parallel between Adam-as-righteous and Eve-as-righteous, this paragraph used to begin: “Although the scriptures do not tell us anything about Eve before she came to earth, she must have been a choice daughter of God.” One must ask why this was dropped, especially in light of the fact that it must have been written in the first place in order to make this paragraph, with its valorization of Eve, perfectly parallel to the one before, with its valorization of Adam. I assume that, in part, the sentence was dropped because it can only, in the end, be regarded as speculative: why go where the scriptures don’t dare to go? Or, still better, it is probably better—for purposes of being careful about what wrongheaded implications might be drawn about the “unimportance of women” from a statement that points out that the scriptures don’t say anything about the premortal Eve—to have dropped the sentence anyway. But actually, things aren’t so simple. One wonders why either the earlier version of the lesson or this updated edition didn’t recognize that D&C 138 at least implictly says something about Eve in the premortal existence. Taking verses 39 and 56 together: “our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God . . . before they were born, . . . received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.” If the sentence was dropped from the manual because it is inadvisable to speculate beyond scripture, why not just pick up a scriptural source for the point in question? I assume, though, that this was merely an oversight.
The second sentence of the previous edition has also been edited for the current edition. It used to read: “She was called Eve because she was the mother of all living (Moses 4:26),” whereas it now says simply “Eve was ‘the mother of all living’ (Moses 4:26).” In part, this simplification was necessary after dropping the preceding sentence, but there is more: the “was called” business has been dropped as well, which I take as an indication that there was a specific effort to ensure that Eve could be regarded in and of herself. If she only enters the story by being “called” into it—and by Adam—then it is easy to regard her as too secondary a figure. The same kind of thing, I assume, is at work in the next change.
Third, then: what is now the second sentence of the paragraph before appeared as “She was given to Adam because God said ‘it was not good that the man should be alone.'” It now reads: “God brought Adam and Eve together in marriage because ‘it was not good that the man should be alone.'” Replacing “she was given to Adam because God said” with “God brought Adam and Eve together in marriage because” is an interesting move in several ways. (1) Eve ceases to be (what might be regarded as) a mere commodity or item of exchange: rather than a unilateral giving over of Eve to the apparently autonomous Adam, Eve is made Adam’s equal. (2) Eve is not, however, for all that fully autonomous in the new phrasing, but she is as autonomous as Adam: both Adam and Eve are here placed under the power of God, who brings them both into marriage. (3) Adam is displaced from a kind of equality with God: before he appeared as autonomous as God, but now he is something moved and placed by God, along with Eve. (4) The language of giving is replaced with the language of marriage, which may speak to political issues: this was a question of a marriage between one man and one woman, not a simple “giving” of a woman to a man. (5) God is no longer portrayed as a fully authoritative “sayer”: in the earlier edition, it seems that God’s word (about it not being good that the man should be alone) was the full reason for the giving of Eve to Adam, whereas in the current edition, it seems that God sets up the marriage for reasons that do not begin with Him. And so on.
A brief word about a fourth change: the older edition cited only Moses 3:18 as the source for “it was not good that the man should be alone”; the current edition cites also 1 Corinthians 11:11. The reasoning, again, is pretty clear: it again sets up equality. The verse is worth quoting: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” The one-directional “Adam shouldn’t be alone” business is thus supplemented with a reciprocal “man + woman” and “woman + man” approach.
All these changes reveal how carefully those working on the manual have paid attention to the dynamics of sexual politics at work in the text. Even if one believes there is more to be done, it must be recognized that much good has been done here. At any rate, I’m happy to see Eve being given (something more of) her due.
The Garden of Eden
When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were not yet mortal. In this state, “they would have had no chidlren” (2 Nephi 2:23). There was no death. They had physical life because their spirits were housed in physical bodies made from the dust of the earth (see Moses 6:59; Abraham 5:7). They had spiritual life because they were in the presence of God. They had not yet made a choice between good and evil.
First, the changes. The second sentence is new and replaces the sentence “They were not able to have children.” I like this change for two reasons. On the one hand, it is nice that it is now scriptural: “In this state, ‘they would have had no children’ (2 Nephi 2:23)” actually cites scripture rather than simply explains a scriptural idea. On the other hand, I like the change because it is less interpretive/speculative. I don’t know that it is perfectly obvious that 2 Nephi 2:23 actually implies that Adam and Eve “were not able to have children.” While I realize that that is the most popular interpretation of the verse, I don’t think that is the only way to read it. I take it that the retreat into the quotation of the actual verse represents a desire not to determine what the verse itself must actually say. I think that’s a good move.
The reference to Moses 6:59 was added to the reference to Abraham 5:7. I have no idea why this was done. Moses 6:59 is certainly much more “theological” than Abraham 5:7, but I don’t know that it adds much in the way of our being “made from the dust of the earth.”
Finally, a parenthetical reference was dropped after the second to last sentence in the paragraph (that is, after “They had spiritual life because they were in the presence of God”): “(see Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 268).” This is a much more complex affair, and my comments on this will inevitably take me into a discussion of the paragraph itself.
On the one hand, I’m very glad to see references to Mormon Doctrine disappear from the manual, and for a number of reasons. For one, I don’t think much in Mormon Doctrine is worth hanging onto: McConkie had a lot of his own pet interpretations of things that I don’t think are worth much. Moreover, I think everyone in the Church tempted to take that book for unquestionable doctrine should read Greg Prince’s David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism to inform him/herself about the circumstances surrounding the publication of Mormon Doctrine: the president of the Church was not pleased with the book, to put it lightly. Still more: I don’t think anything like Mormon Doctrine has a place in a Church manual, even if Elder McConkie became an apostle (decades after the publication of Mormon Doctrine), unless it is cited as the work of a fallible scholar—it is not authoritative, and it shouldn’t be cited as if it were. Etc.
On the other hand, though, I think simply excising the references to Mormon Doctrine is not enough. In this case, McConkie’s interpretation of the Garden-and-Fall business is retained, but the reference to his book is missed, and this makes it look like the “doctrine” expressed is simply true and authoritative, whereas I think it should be recognized that it is only McConkie’s rather unscriptural way of systematizing the Adam-and-Eve business. This calls for some explanation.
The paragraph describes Adam and Eve as having had physical life and spiritual life in the Garden. First, the scriptures never speak of “physical life” at all. But, one says, it is clear that the term simply has reference to “temporal life.” Well, that phrase never appears in scripture either. And, moreover, if the scriptures were to talk about “temporal life,” it is quite clear, I think, that they would only do so by having reference to mortal life—and that is not what is referred to here. Again, the scriptures never speak of “spiritual life.” That concept is entirely foreign to the scriptures.
Now, of course, I recognize how these concepts have come into existence: they are taken up because they are supposed to be the opposites of “physical (or temporal) death” and “spiritual death,” things that the scriptures do talk about. But there is a major problem here: the scriptures don’t talk about temporal or spiritual death at all in the terms this lesson will go on to employ. And the consequence is that these notions of “physical life” and “spiritual life” have no correspondence with scripture, not even implicitly or logically. These are totally foreign to scripture. They are, in fact, inventions of McConkie’s. For them to remain in the lesson but without attribution is, I think, a bit dangerous. They are foreign elements here.
But foreign elements are a dime a dozen, no? We do this kind of thing all the time, introducing non-scriptural terms into our discussions of scriptural themes. Yes, of course. But these terms are more than just that. First, they set up a system (physical and spiritual life; physical and spiritual death) that is meant to explain the nature of the Fall and Atonement. That system is all too neat, so neat that it comes across as quite convincing. One is inclined to agree with McConkie’s system in preference to what scripture itself has to say. This kind of system is the sort of thing that keeps us from figuring out what scripture itself has to say about crucial matters. Second, the system employs terms that do appear in scripture but with different meanings. This means that such a system is all the more damaging for our reading of scripture: given to the system, we not prefer it over scripture, but we find ourselves convinced that the system must actually be in scripture, since some of its terms appear there (although differently employed, differently defined). The result, in the end, is that we end up with half-read scriptures, scriptures we assume say something other than what they actually say, etc. And that the manual employs this system at all is unfortunate; that it employs it without attribution is still more unfortunate. We are left with a pretension of authoritative doctrine that dismisses what scripture actually has to say about things.
Now, let me be careful. I’m not saying all of this to be critical of the Brethren or any such thing. I think the dropping of the reference to Mormon Doctrine is a recognition of these kinds of problems. And I imagine that the request that such references be dropped came from the Brethren. But I assume that the committee at work on the manual has not done the scriptural work necessary to see where McConkie’s ideas are at odds with the text. In other words, I see this manual as being on the way towards expurgating non-scriptural theological systems, one of which is McConkie’s. And I think that is a good thing. But this particular step along the way leaves the reader/student with the impression that this theological system is an authoritative truth. And that, I think, is quite unfortunate.
All that said, what does the manual teach? Quite straightforwardly, it attempts to lay out the basics of the pre-mortal existence of Adam and Eve in the Garden. (1) No children. (2) No death. (3) Physical life. (4) Spiritual life. (5) Without having made a choice. That simple. If numbers 1, 2, and 5 are simple enough (and I don’t think they’re anything like simple), numbers 3 and 4 are problematic. Did they have physical life? What is physical life? They were certainly breathing, but is physical life only that? Does it even make sense to speak of physical life in a world without death? Etc. And should spiritual life be equated with being “in the presence of God”? Hardly. Not only do the scriptures never speak of things that way, they generally would not be able to make sense of “spiritual life” being spoken of in a world without death and the resurrection. These are terms that only have their meaning in the fallen world.
What was had in the Garden of Eden, then? I don’t know. Some kind of deathless existence. I don’t know that we can say much more than that.
God commanded them to have children. He said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over . . . ever living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Moses 2:28). God told them they could freely eat of every tree in the garden except one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of that tree God said, “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Moses 3:17).
After the last paragraph, this is a breath of fresh air. For one, it is primarily scriptural. Moreover, it sets up the simple opposition between two commandments given in the Garden: Adam and Eve could not, given the one interpretation of 2 Nephi 2:23, keep both. Of course, it isn’t clear that they could recognize that basic opposition between commandments. But it is an interesting (if rather tired) theological approach to the Garden.
Satan, not knowing the mind of God but seeking to destroy God’s plan, came to Eve in the Garden of Eden. He tempted her to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He assured her that she and Adam would not die, but that they would “be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Moses 4:11). Eve yielded to the temptation and ate the fruit. When Adam learned what had happened, he chose to partake also. The changes that came upon Adam and Eve because they ate the fruit are called the Fall.
The manual would do well to cite a source for the first claim (Moses 4:6): it is, for the most part, scriptural, but it sounds here like something of a drastic claim. (Of course, Moses 4:6 doesn’t claim that Satan was trying to destroy the plan, but rather the world!) The story as it is told here is clearly inflected by the temple endowment version of the story: Eve eats because of Satan’s enticement; Adam eats through a kind of cognitive decision.
But not a whole lot is being said here. Of course, there is a great deal going on in the scriptures at this point of the story, and I think those texts are worth taking up in all their richness. What we have in these paragraphs is a flattening of the account that just tries to take from the stories the basic ideas. For the purposes of the manual, I don’t know that this is terribly perverse. But it leaves me with little to say.
Adam and Eve’s Separation from God
Because Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Lord sent them out of the Garden of Eden into the world. Their physical condition changed as a result of their eating the forbidden fruit. As God had promised, they became mortal. They and their children would experience sickness, pain, and physical death.
Two changes here. The first comes at the end of the first sentence: it used to read “into the world as we know it.” I assume this phrase was dropped because it might be misunderstood in some ways. I don’t see this as a terribly significant change. The second change is more important. Just before the last sentence of the paragraph, there was another complete sentence: “They were able to have children.” This change, it seems, is another effort to root the talk of having or not having children in the scriptures: so as not to read the text in an overdetermined way, the reference in the paragraph earlier was “scripturalized,” and this sentence was dropped completely. It seems clear to me that someone was concerned that 2 Nephi 2:23 does not imply what it is usually taken to imply. Perhaps Adam and Eve could have had children in the Garden. Or at least, that possibility is left open by the manual as it is now.
Aside from the changes, this paragraph is pretty straightforward: the Fall resulted in the dawn of mortality. This is again a rather straightforward but remarkably flattening take on the scriptures.
Because of their transgression, Adam and Eve also suffered spiritual death. This meant they and their children could not walk and talk face to face with God. Adam and Eve and their children were separated from God both physically and spiritually.
One change here. The last sentence used to begin with “Because Satan had introduced evil into the world, . . .” The change here would seem to have aimed at downplaying Satan’s power: this was all a part of the plan, not a consequence of Satan’s tampering with things.
Coming to the content, here we come back to McConkie. The other half of McConkie’s systematization of the Fall and Atonement appears here: the Fall resulted in physical and spiritual death. Spiritual death is defined here as being cut off from the presence of God: “they and their children could not walk and talk face to face with God.” If this is indeed the definition of the term, then it would indeed seem to follow that the Fall resulted in both physical and spiritual death. But whence this definition? On the one hand, why would being out of God’s presence be described as a kind of death? On the other hand, where in scripture is this definition to be found?
Of course, the immediate answer usually given to the first of these two questions is: “death” is a separation. (I had a student in one of my philosophy classes at Utah Valley University explain that the root word behind “death” means separation. This simply isn’t true. The root word means something like “become senseless.”) But that is a highly worked over definition of the word “death.” The answer to the second question, though, is more important: there is no place in scripture where spiritual death is defined as separation from God. In fact, the scriptures are quite clear that “spiritual death” has nothing to do with this life, and so that it was not one of the consequences Adam and Eve suffered after the Fall. In scripture, “spiritual death” is always a question of one’s postmortal, eternal status: those who refuse the redemption, who refuse to believe in the resurrection, “die spiritually.” Indeed, spiritual death is a question of one’s dying a death beyond death, of remaining within (temporal) death’s thrall after and within the resurrection.
Again the problem here is that the lesson borrows from McConkie’s non-scriptural systematization: the two things granted in the Garden were lost in the Fall, and the Atonement and Resurrection were set up as a parallel but completely distinct divine efforts to overcome those two problems. The difficulty is that this systematization has nothing to do with what the scriptures actually have to say about all this. The story is much more complex.
Here’s an outline of what I see the scriptures saying (please correct me!): (1) the transgression in the Garden calls for death, since death had been attached to the command not to eat; (2) the execution of that “sentence” was, however, postponed so that a space of time—a “probationary” time—was opened up, a time we call mortality; (3) within that probationary time, on its own terms alone, human beings had only death to look forward to; (4) into that probationary space, however, there came messengers from God (angels) who announced that a resurrection would come along, a resurrection that would reverse the rule of death; (5) this word was announced along with the issuing of a second set of commandments, these concerning the need to repent by believing in the resurrection; (6) with this word from God, the possibility of faith was introduced, and it was opposed to living towards one’s death, a condition that we can call “sinfulness”; (7) the two possible orientations (to “choose life” or to “choose death”) are genuine alternatives between which one is free to choose, though it is much easier, perhaps, to choose death than to choose life; (8) justice is restorative rather than retributive, meaning that it is not a series of demands that one pay for one’s failings, but that one will get in the resurrection whatever one chooses in life; (9) the result is that one is resurrected either to life or to death; (10) of course, one cannot, in a straightforwardly physical sense, be “resurrected to death,” so it is necessary to introduce the term “spiritual death” to describe those who, even in the resurrection, remain stigmatized by death.
That is, I believe, the Book of Mormon’s theology of fall-and-atonement. It doesn’t appear in the manual’s summary at all, really. Again, I think this is because McConkie’s rather elegant if nonetheless non-scriptural systematization has been so influential.
Great Blessings Resulted from Transgression
Some people believe Adam and Eve committed a serious sin when they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, latter-day scriptures help us understand that their Fall was a necessary step in the plan of life and a great blessing to all of us. Because of the Fall, we are blessed with physical bodies, the right to choose between good and evil, and the opportunity to gain eternal life. None of these privileges would have been ours had Adam and Eve remained in the garden.
The point here is, I think, relatively straightforward and certainly common enough an idea among Latter-day Saints. But most importantly, it sets up the last part of the lesson, which is—without question—the most productive part. Why so productive? Because the manual is satisfied simply to quote a few poignant texts from scripture and, still more importantly, not to add any overdetermining or oversimplifying interpretations. So, without further ado, I’d like to spend the rest of these notes probing these passages as quoted in the manual. Were I to teach this lesson myself, I would spend the entirety of my time on these two passages and ignore everything that precedes.
After the Fall, Eve said, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed [children], and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).
The context in which this passage appears in the Book of Moses is, I think, significant. It follows immediately after the visit of the angel to Adam and Eve after their period of obedience in performing the law of sacrifice; it immediately precedes the rejection of that same message of redemption by Eve’s children; and it is coupled with Adam’s somewhat similar declaration about the benefits of having left the Garden of Eden. Note that Adam’s declaration is as follows: “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10). Eve’s words differ from Adam’s in significant ways. Adam’s focus is entirely on the benefits for him specifically (my eyes are opened; I shall have joy; I shall see God), while Eve’s focus is on the pair of them (we never should have had seed; [we] never should have known good and evil; the joy of our redemption; the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient). Moreover, Adam is concerned with what has happened because of the Fall (because of my transgression), while Eve is concerned with what would not have happened without the Fall (were it not for our transgression). Consequently, Adam is focused on what might be called “positive” results (my eyes are opened; I shall have joy; I shall see God), while Eve is focused on what might be called “negative” non-results (we never should have had seed; never should have known good and evil, etc.). There is a good deal here that can be used to think about the difference between the genders.
But let me come right to Eve’s statement, since that is where the lesson focuses. (Incidentally, it isn’t difficult to see why the lesson focuses on Eve’s statement and not on Adam’s. The lesson—and Latter-day Saints generally as well—tends to focus on what only the Fall could bring about, on what therefore would have been missed if the Fall had not happened. Would it be fair, then, to say that we tend, as Latter-day Saints, to have a distinctly feminine take on the Fall?) Again we are dealing with the claim that Adam and Eve would have had no children had they stayed in Eden; and again we are left without any (“scientific”) explanation as to why that would have been the case. But we miss the point if we swell on explanations anyway: it should be recognized that Eve says this only after they have already had children, and, still more poignantly, immediately before Eve’s children will collectively reject the message just received from divine messengers! Eve’s “negativity” is entirely rooted in her thorough enjoyment of what she has, and yet it is, for that very reason, colored by an unfortunate irony: their children will be—first through the wholesale rejection of the gospel, and then, still worse, through the death of Abel and the loss of Cain—the source of infinite sorrow.
Luckily, though, Eve couples this ironic first point with three redemptive points: they would not, without the Fall, have known (1) good and evil, (2) the joy of redemption, and (3) eternal life. The last of these is particularly interesting, I think, because Eve describes eternal life as the thing God gives to all the obedient, and this immediately after the angel has congratulated them on having been obedient without understanding the meaning of the sacrifices. Importantly, all three points Eve mentions here are connected to the verb “to know” (we would not have known x, y, and z): for Eve, it seems the Fall was primarily a way of setting them up to know what is really at work in things, to “get it,” and so to be able fully to experience. Note how this knowing is not a theoretical knowing, though: whereas Aristotle would say that we don’t regard someone as truly virtuous unless they know what they are doing when they do virtuous acts, Eve’s point seems to be simply that they can, by knowing what’s going on, actually enjoy certain things that otherwise would have been meaningless. Knowledge here seems to be a question of meaning.
And that seems to be the crucial point. A similar understanding of the Fall is worked out in 2 Nephi 2, and that is precisely what the lesson goes on to quote.
The prophet Lehi explained:
“And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen [been cut off from the presence of God], but he would have remained in the Garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created. . . .
“And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
“But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:22-25).
Note the obvious connections to Moses 5:11: (1) “if Adam had not transgressed”; (2) “all things … must have remained in the same state”; (3) “they would have had no children”; (4) “having no joy” (5) “no good, … no sin”; (6) “him who knoweth all things”; (7) “men are, that they might have joy.” Lehi and Eve are certainly on the same wavelength. In particular, note the emphasis on knowing again: Adam and Eve would have had “no joy” precisely because “they knew no misery”; they would have done “no good” precisely because “they knew no sin.” Again here it is a question of knowing as experience. And importantly, what happened happened precisely because it was done “in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.”
Of course, this passage is, in important ways, in excess over Eve’s declaration. Just taking these verses as here quoted, there is the complicated reference to all things remaining “in the same state in which they were after they were created,” and the ellipsis that follows obviously tries to cut out still more that is in excess of the snippet from Eve. This betrays the fact that while Lehi was obviously interested in the same kind of thing that Eve rejoiced in, he nonetheless had larger ontological projects in his discourse, projects that work through the most complex theology in the Book of Mormon. I don’t know that I can take the space here even to begin working through it, but I can refer to a recent post here on the Feast blog where some very nice discussion on 2 Nephi 2 has taken place: see here. (Note that, in the comments, I’ve offered a broad analysis of the whole of 2 Nephi 2, and that several others have pitched in with still closer analysis of particular points in the chapter. I reference this other discussion in part because the “Additional Scriptures” section of this lesson refers to almost the whole of 2 Nephi 2.)
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