The Contradictory Commandments of Adam and Eve

In Institute we wondered why God would give contradictory commandments: Adam and Eve were told to multiply and replenish the earth, and they were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. These commandments, the scriptures plainly state, contradict each other. See 2 Nephi 2:22-23.

We discussed some good possibilities:
1) As the temple ceremony implies, perhaps God had prepared an alternative way to comply with both of the commandment. In that case, the real transgression of our first parents was that they hearkened to Satan and took matters into their own hands.

2) Since God can’t be the author of evil, Adam and Eve had to have violated a law so that God could permit the fall of the world as a just punishment. God created conflicting commandments to ensure that they would violate a law he could punish them for. This makes God seems uncomfortably legalistic to the modern sensibility, but I suspect that He really is legalistic so that doesn’t bother me at all. We hate legalism now, I think, because it leads to results that aren’t fair. God is talented enough to be both legalistic and fair, which is a fuller, better fairness.

3) Finally, the view that I favor, which is the symbolic one. I hold that Adam and Eve faced a genuine and inescapable dilemma, one that God himself couldn’t avoid and one, as the temple ceremony implies, that represents symbolically the dilemma of every one of us in life. The dilemma that faced Adam and Eve, then, was this. They could choose to progress (represented by the capacity for having children), or they could do nothing. Doing nothing is a sin. It is the essence of damnation. But, for all of us but Christ, choosing to progress (to make new covenants, to take new responsibilities, to learn new things) involves a surety of new sin. When we choose to progress, we therefore know that we are choosing a path that leads to sin. Choosing a path that leads to sin is itself a sin. Hence, the reality of Adam and Eve’s dilemma: neither choice was perfectly right. Each choice was an embrace of sin and therefore against the commandments.
(Here we can also see why only Christ could redeem from the Fall: only he could choose progress without thereby choosing sin)

For my friend Mike DeG’s sake, I should mention that all these conclusions are seen through a glass darkly. They likely will vanish away in the light of the perfect day.

8 comments for “The Contradictory Commandments of Adam and Eve

  1. Gordon
    December 2, 2003 at 7:57 pm

    Adam, my view is very close, perhaps identical, to yours as articulated in #3 above. God realized that the path to Him — that is, the path to become like Him — would require us to go through experiences that only the fallen world could offer. Each of us is required to choose this path, and I believe that Adam and Eve chose it, albeit not with the understanding that they were being encouraged by Lucifer rather than by their other brother, Jesus.

    If God allowed Adam and Eve to choose, I wonder … could they have stayed in the Garden forever? The story is, of course, metaphorical, and we should think about the application to our lives. Is it possible that some of our spiritual siblings, though on the side of God in the War in Heaven, have chosen not to pursue the plan in toto? Is it possible that some of those spirits will remain spirits forever, living with God, but never obtaining His full glory? (This is not one of those questions that implies that I know the answer. I just wonder about such things.)

  2. Adam Greenwood
    December 2, 2003 at 9:58 pm

    I’m curious, Gordon.
    We originally thought of the afterlife in the terms of only Heaven and Hell, till Joseph revealed the lower Kingdoms that served as sort of a halfway house for those who were willing to serve God but only in a few things.

    Similarly, we now have an idea of the War of Heaven that involves only two sides–the Devil’s and the Deity’s. Were some on the Lord’s side there only halfheartedly, willing to not serve the Devil but not willing to wholeheartedly serve God? I don’t know.

    I’m not sure that the knowledge would make any difference, except in one circumstance. Such an idea might explain the existence of animals. Animals clearly are ontologically different from people. Why? Either the difference must be inherent, meaning that different classes of intelligence have existed from all eternity, or else these intelligences have made choices that somehow permanently lock themselves into a lesser existence. Realizing the possibility of complex choices before the earthly existence may make the second possibility more likely.

  3. December 2, 2003 at 10:35 pm

    Way back about seven years ago I wrote a bit on existentialism and Adam and Eve for the AML mailing list. This is pretty early on in what perhaps could be said to be my postmodern path. But perhaps some might find it relevant:

    It’s actually pretty rough. I’ll probably rewrite it a bit over the next while. Jim Faulconer’s paper is quite good on this as well:

  4. Renee
    December 3, 2003 at 11:02 am

    Interesting post. It’s a question I’ve pondered frequently. I lean towards theory #1 but #3 is plausible as well.

    I used to be on the religion message board at I posed a question once, asking what people thought of Adam and Eve. Since this board had people from every school of religious thought you could imagine (save the non Internet using Amish), I was prepared for a variety of answers. What amazed me was how many people said they hated (yes, that’s the word they used) Adam and Eve for ruining perfection for all of us.

  5. Logan
    December 3, 2003 at 4:00 pm

    Tell me what you think of this:

    What if the commandment not to eat of the tree isn’t really a “commandment” as we normally think of them. What if God was just explaining a principle of actions and consequences? Maybe the concept was roughly analogous to the law of gravity, such as, “if you jump in the air, you will come back down.”

    This is what I think of when the Lord points out that they can choose for themselves. Obviously, it is up to us to choose whether or not to obey any commandment, but here God specifically spelled it out, as though it really was a valid option. It’s just that if they ate from the tree, they would surely die, and He wanted them to understand that.

  6. Kaimi
    December 3, 2003 at 4:25 pm

    I had always thought that the LDS position is similar to what is often termed the idea of the “fortunate fall” (i.e., in Paradise Lost). In fact, “Adam fell that men might be” is a stongly fortunate-fall-sounding theme. (Of course, the trck with the fortunate fall is not to fall too far :) ).

  7. Adam Greenwood
    December 3, 2003 at 5:26 pm

    Peccata felix is the original of the “forunate fall,” and it preserves the idea that some sin or wrongfulness was involved. As best I can tell, God actually commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit.

  8. Logan
    December 4, 2003 at 10:37 am

    You’re right, Adam, when you say that God commanded them not not eat the fruit, but let me elaborate on what I mean by saying that it may not have been a “commandment.”

    I don’t think it’s too radical to say that there seem to be different kinds of commandments in terms of how best to be “obedient” to them. For example, some seem to have exceptions (although extremely rarely) from time to time. If that weren’t the case, then the prophet Nephi would have to be considered a rather “disobedient” person, as in 1 Nephi he killed Laban, lied to Zoram, and stole the brass plates, all in one night. The way I reconcile this is that there were higher principles that Nephi was abiding by, which required him to “break” what we normally consider as comandments. The important part is that he was in close communication with the Spirit, which helped him find his way through the seeming contradiction. On the other hand, it’s hard to think of even theoretical exceptions to commandments such as “Love the Lord thy God.”

    Also, in a sense, all commandments simply spell out consequences to actions. We are “commanded” to pay tithing. Or else what? Will it put God in a bad mood? Maybe we’ll be struck down by lighting or spontaneously grow a big “S” (for Sin) on our foreheads. No. What will happen is that we’ll miss out on the promised blessings (that is, the consequences) that go along with paying tithing, which include spiritual development, temple worthiness, and an “opening of the windows of heaven.”

    Looking at it from that perspective, I don’t have a big problem thinking that the commandment not to eat the friut was along those lines.

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