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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.)

34 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 6: “The Fall of Adam and Eve” (Gospel Principles Manual)”

  1. RuthS said

    My reaction to the change from the phrase “our first parents” at the end of the fourth sentence replacing “the parents of the human race” was exactly the opposite. But, I don’t see that it is a very big difference. Any connotations that might be gleaned from it can only be interpreted though the present attitudes about what human race means. Clearly our first parents is a shade more specific but neither phrase rules out or includes the possibility of other races who we did not descend from. It might be more palatable in the present because of the changed attitudes of those who made the revisions. In as much as first parents seems more personal and familial than the other.

    Given that this is a kind of Mormon doctrine for dummies to expect any fine nuances seems a bit naive.

  2. Jim F. said

    A question and a comment: Like others in the bloggernacle, you use the changes from the older manual to the newer one as your hook for discussing the lesson. That’s odd. What’s with this obsession with those changes? I don’t get it. Why not just discuss and teach the lesson based on the newer manual? Everything you say that is important (most of which I agree with) could be said without referring to the older manual. There are circumstances in which a discussion of the changes would be appropriate and interesting, though most would be academic circumstances, but preparing a lesson for Priesthood or Relief Society doesn’t seem one of them.

    Comment: You say, “There is no place in scripture where spiritual death is defined as separation from God.” I don’t think that is true, except perhaps in the most literal sense. “Spiritual death” seems to be a good description of what Paul talks about in Romans 5-7 (especially 6). If death no longer rules over us after our baptism, then we must have been dead prior to baptism. “Spiritually dead” is a reasonable way to describe that state.

    • joespencer said

      Good point, Jim. I suppose I find myself simply fascinated by the changes. And I find that the changes help me to see what the current version of the manual means by this or that phrasing. You’re right, though, that I could learn such things on my own and then simply talk about the phrasing without needed to refer to the old manual or to the changes as such. But of course, all my lesson notes here usually take the shape of “commentaries” on the lessons as constructed, rather than the shape of notes meant to help put together an actual lesson. (In part, that is a consequence of my own approach to teaching. The preparation I do in advance for a lesson is precisely this kind of work, though nothing of it necessarily shows up in the lesson itself. In the classroom, I usually draw attention to a sentence or a passage—if possible, of scripture—and then ask a question, letting the answers decide where everything goes.)

      As for “spiritual death”: yes, there are places in scripture where it would be reasonable to speak of “spiritual death,” but I think we run the risk when doing so of missing what passages that do use the phrase “spiritual death” have to say. The Book of Mormon has a relatively consistent notion of “spiritual death,” one that is at odds with the way the term is employed in the lesson.

      • Jim F. said

        As you know, I’ve no quarrel with your either your approach to teaching nor your general approach to lesson notes. It seemed odd to me, however, that in this case you were not focused on the text at hand, but on the history of that text. Since the point of these notes is to provide material that people preparing lessons can use, that seemed particularly odd.

        Since Paul’s notion of spiritual death seems to me to be “alienation from God” (for which “separation from God” is a reasonable substitute) I’m interested to hear more about how you understand the Book of Mormon notion.

      • Molly Bennion said

        Joe, I appreciate your thorough approach. You respect and reward the intellectually curious who are not simply looking for a shortcut to their own preparation. Your notes are no more my lesson plan than yours; they are, however, one of many resources useful toward understanding the lesson and the doctrine. To that end, I share your fascination with manual changes and believe consideration of them enhances that understanding. Please keep it up.

  3. R. Gary said

    joespencer, according to Church spokeswoman Kim Farah, some of the references in Gospel Principles (2009) “were updated to reference materials that are more accessible to members of the LDS Church worldwide…. For example, the series, Teachings of Presidents of the Church, is referenced because it is available in 28 languages, while Mormon Doctrine is only available in a few.” (The Salt Lake Tribune, 12/31/2009.)

    You should also know that Prince and Wright, authors of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, omitted several key elements in their very misleading section about “The Controversy over Mormon Doctrine.”

  4. kirkcaudle said

    Joe, I always love reading your stuff. I will admit I am only half-way done, but I will finish the rest later. However, a bit of constructive criticism if I may.

    Along the lines of what Jim was saying, I think these lesson notes get to bogged down with the manuel changes, which then brings you into places that most of us will not (and maybe should not) really get into during PH/RS lesson. Putting so much in the post for the lesson also makes the post very long for the average person just trying to prepare something a bit more simple. And I am not using “simple” as derogatory in any way.

    But with that said, I am enjoying it so far and agree with most of what is said! :)

    Thoughts so far:

    2 Ne. 2:23, Adam and Eve possibly being able to have kids is something I have not considered previous to this point. However, I cannot think of anywhere in the scriptures that would say it was impossible. And at the risk to sounding crude, were Adam and Eve sexual? After all, they were married, so no sin there of course. But on the other hand, they were “innocent.” I only bring that up because if they were then I would say they must not have been able to have children. If they were not then I would say maybe they could have.

    I also 100% on all the Mormon Doctrine stuff. Getting that out of the manuals is one of the best choices the church as made.

    Hmmm, I think my comments on your notes are somewhat ironic given my earlier suggestions. I do not know that I would bring either of these issues up when I teach this lesson! haha.

  5. kirkcaudle said

    #3 Gary, thanks for the link. I will have to read that.

  6. joespencer said


    I’m eating crow. Doing a search for the phrase “spiritual death,” I find that there are two places where the phrase is used to mean “being cut off from the presence of God.” Alma 42:9 and Helaman 14:16 both speak of it in this sense. I had not visited these passages in long enough that I had forgotten they used this phrase this way at all; my focus in my work on these concepts has been focused on 2 Nephi 9 and Alma 12, where the term is used in a quite distinct manner—that is, always as referring to a final state of the wicked after the resurrection (a way it is also used in Helaman 14:18, a passage that deserves closer attention).

    So allow me to take back my too-sharp criticism of the use of “spiritual death” in the lesson. I need to do a bit of careful work looking at how the two obviously distinct uses of the phrase in the Book of Mormon are related. I do think it is interesting that the use reflected in the lesson (where “spritual death” has reference to being cut off from the presence of God) is, in terms of Nephite history, a relatively late concept. But I’m not sure what to make of this yet.

    So, to all: yikes, I spoke way too soon. I’ll add a note to the beginning of the lesson notes in a moment here.

    • joespencer said

      This morning, I’ve had some time to do some serious interpretive work on Alma 42, all of which I haven’t the time at present to spell out, but I want to report that I don’t think, actually, that I spoke too soon. It seems to me that Alma 42, carefully read, does not equate spiritual death with being cut off from the presence of the Lord. I think a too quick reading of that chapter can only read it that way, unfortunately, and I think that is what Elder McConkie (and, derivatively, the manual) has done, but I think there are a number of indications that “spiritual death” is, in Alma 42 as everywhere else in the Book of Mormon, only an eventual state, something we come to experience only if we reject the plan of salvation.

      The key points in the text that ground this reading:

      42:8 and 42:9 are parallel in their usage of the phrase “reclaim from X death” (where X equals either temporal or spiritual). Alma states that we are not to be reclaimed from temporal death, and this clearly means that we must actually suffer the temporal death, because if Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of life, they would have lived forever and the plan would have imploded. But then that means that when Alma goes on in verse 9 to say that we are to be reclaimed from spiritual death, this clearly means that we do not actually need to suffer the spiritual death. In other words, rather than saying that everyone inevitably suffers the spiritual death simply because we’re out of the presence of God, verse 9 claims that were it not for the resurrection, we would inevitably but only eventually suffer spiritual death. 42:9 is thus an echo of 2 Nephi 9, where Jacob teaches that without the resurrection we would all become devils to an angel, etc.

      This is all confirmed in verse 11, where Alma goes on to say that, were the plan not to be there (“setting it aside”), then, so soon as we were (physically) dead, we would die spiritually. Again, it seems quite clear that spiritual death is only a resurrected state in the Book of Mormon.

      So I spoke too soon about my having spoken too soon. I’ll state again, as I did in the notes, that the Book of Mormon does not understand spiritual death to be simply “being cut off from the presence of God.” And I’ll state again that our too-easy systematization of the plan as represented in the manual makes it too difficult for us to read the Book of Mormon for what it actually says.

      So, back to my original position.

    • RobF said

      I’m very interested in this, but a bit uneasy as it seems to go against so much of our recent thinking about this (eg. the manual) and what we are teaching investigators in the missionary discussions.

      • joespencer said

        Agree, Rob. But the Book of Mormon seems to be pretty straightforward on this point, perfectly straightforward outside of Alma 42, and then straightforward-with-a-bit-of-work in Alma 42.

        Or so it seems to me. I should probably put together a post on the whole spiritual death business in the Book of Mormon, from the start to finish. Maybe once I finish the last two (or three?) posts on the remnant?

  7. Robert C. said

    Joe, your comments regarding Moses 5:11 and the deeply feminine view of the Fall in Mormonism are tremendous. Much to think about here….

    And of course I love how you draw out of this text the difference between theoretically knowing and actually enjoying (I see Alma making the same argument in Alma 32, as I argued at the conference for our Alma 32 Seminar). Interestingly, I think the similar point in 2 Nephi 2 is actually made more poignantly in verses 11-15 rather than in verses 22-25.

    Take, for example, just the first line of verse 12: “Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught” (if there were no opposition—that is, no fall, on my reading…). If we follow the OED and understand the word “naught” etymologically as coming from “no” and “wight,” where wight means a living creature (esp. a human creature) and is (I think) related to weight (cf. “glory” in Greek) and even waw (and I wonder if this is related to the Hebrew waw, which has deeply generative connotations, along the lines I was thinking about in my notes on Lesson 5…). So, no life, significance, meaning or value without the kind of opposition brought about and typologized by the Fall.

    • joespencer said

      Thanks, Robert. I’ve been increasingly convinced that any productive feminist reading of the Book of Mormon will be one that ignores strict biology (trying to unearth details about oppression/liberation with regard to biologically female characters) and takes up instead this kind of thing (cf. Kim’s upcoming paper at MSH).

      And nice comments on the etymology of “naught.” I will definitely be thinking about that when I happen on the word in scripture from now on.

  8. kirkcaudle said

    Moses 5:11, “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.”

    Joe, I really like the things you point out in this section. I think #3 is directly connected with the start of chapter when Adam is sacrificing for an unknown purpose.

    Knowledge does not save us, rather, knowledge is knowing you ARE saved (have eternal life). However, this knowledge comes only after doing things you do not yet understand.
    Doing what you do not understand by faith is obedience.
    faithful obedience leads to knowledge
    knowledge=knowing by the spirit that you are saved.

    Therefore, knowledge does not save you, but rather knowledge is that point where you understand what you are doing and why.

  9. Julie said

    This is great! I’ve been thinking a lot on how to spotlight Eve. I think the changes, specifically the scriptural references about Eve, are wonderful! I can’t wait to share some of these with my sister who really struggles with the notion that women are just here to procreate and serve their husbands. I LOVE that Eve’s nobility is now portrayed in line with Adam. It means the world to me.

  10. Robert C. said

    Joe #6, I would be very happy if you found time sometime to write up a post on all of this. In fact, let me play devil’s advocate and ask some questions I’d like to hear you reply to:

    What is so different about your reading compared to McConkie’s? If a sinful orientation keeps us separated from God, aren’t you both saying basically the same thing? Are there any particular dangers or problems with McConkie’s view? Or, alternatively, are there any particular virtues to the Book of Mormon view that you are proposing that are not captured from McConkie’s view?

    • joespencer said

      I think I will be doing a post on all this, Robert, so I’ll postpone answering your questions until then. The short answer, in other words, is: I don’t know until I get to work on it. :)

  11. Julie said

    I always thought spiritual death was when you cut yourself off from the Lord — like when you no longer have the Holy Ghost’s companionship. Whatever the case of terms, I think of Adam and Eve’s fallen state as one of spiritual mortality.

    • joespencer said

      Again, I think that’s a totally appropriate metaphor, so long as it doesn’t crowd out what the Book of Mormon has to say about spiritual death, something it tends to do.

  12. JerryYoung said

    A bit more about changes in the Gospel Principles manual and Mormon Doctrine / McConkie.
    Decades ago not too long after my conversion I had a Stake Mission call. My feelings of inadequacy were helped when my wife gave me a copy of Mormon Doctrine as a reference.
    That was then, this is now.
    It has been superseded by “Brethren endorsed” True To The Faith and Gospel Principles.
    Recognizing changes in the manual is helpful to understanding what clarifying takes place.
    Thanks, as always, for your efforts to aid those of us pondering the subjects.

  13. kirkcaudle said

    Well put Jerry.

  14. Bill Mathews said

    I enjoy the references to the changes in the manuals. As you become older and acquire more grey hair, the ability to reflect on the changes that are occurring is very interesting. As the training manuals becomes more standardized, translation for many nations are occurring. It gives me personally a chance to look at the depth the brethren are taking in certain areas of the gospel.

  15. kirkcaudle said

    I also really find the changes interesting and think they are worth looking at in a forum such as this. I just am unsure how to use them in a lesson setting (if at all). I find the lesson manual as it currently stands sufficient to fit a 30-40 minute PH lesson without having to reach back and talk about changes.

  16. BrianJ said

    Joe: Some interesting verses to consider when looking at “spiritual death”:

    D&C 29:41, “Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed.”

    “became” suggests that spiritual death was a process as opposed to an immediate consequence of the Fall.

    Alma 12:16, “And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.”

    “then cometh” suggests that “if we have hardened our hearts against the word” (verse 13) throughout this life, then spiritual death is what we have to look forward to later; i.e., even one living today with a hardened heart is not currently spiritually dead, but will be later.

    Hel 14:16 (which you already brought up), “Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.”

    If we ignore the part about “things temporal,” then this verse suggests that “spiritual death” = “being cut off from God’s presence; i.e., it means exactly what we typically (and according to McConkie) say it does. But the crazy thing about this verse is that it actually says that we are currently spiritually dead only in the same sense that we are currently temporally dead—and we’re not really temporally dead (at least I’m not, anyway; I don’t know if any of the rest of y’all are zombies). So perhaps the best way to read this is that we’re not currently dead in any sense, we’re just “considered as dead.”

  17. BrianJ said

    And here’s another fun little bunch of scriptures to add to something really neat that you pointed out. You contrast Adam with Abraham, the former hiding from the Lord and the later saying “Here am I.” Here are some more verses to emphasize that aspect of the covenant:

    Adam: Gen 3:9
    Abraham: Gen 22:11
    Jacob: Gen 31:11 and especially 46:2
    Joseph: Gen 37:13
    Moses: Ex 3:4

    Intriguingly, I couldn’t find such language from Isaac except during the deception episode with Jacob posing as Esau.

  18. Nitsav said

    Your discussion of “foreign elements” ending with “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.” is something I’ve been trying to vocalize in the past, and I like this way of framing it. Good stuff.

  19. David S. said

    Interesting lesson. I was surprised but then at this point I shouldn’t be surprised. In any case the difference in the perspectives of Adam and Eve about the fall is striking. I get Adam’s perspective I think. I’ve always preferred to think of things from the perspective of the positive effects that come from knowing something. 2 Nephi 2:25-29 have been my favorite for a long time now. The take I get from your comments is that once we know something we find joy. I haven’t focused on verse 24 but I think I need to study 21-24 some more:)

    • David S. said

      I looked up know and got: be cognizant or aware of a fact or a specific piece of information

      So could I take it that in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things we set up the plain to bring Adam and Eve to a cognization or awareness of something. In 26 it points to the Messiah cometh to redeem from the fall. So the awareness the cognization spoken of I think is pointing to redemption from the Fall (or our state). So was the whole fall a carefully designed event then to bring this knowledge to Adam and Eve?

  20. Joespencer said


    I plan to grapple with exactly the questions you’re raising about precisely the two texts you mention so soon as I’m done with my series of remnant posts. I want to write a post working through what seems to me to be the development of the idea of “spiritual death.” I think there’s something very interesting going on with Samuel, and then I think that D&C 29 draws on that language. But it definitely deserves the kind of close reading you’re working out here.

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