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.