Kristine pointed out the other day that if we want to understand the Protestant concept of grace, we have to understand their concept of original sin. That got me to thinking. Sometimes when Latter-day Saints speak of the Fall, we deny original sin, However, we also say that, because of Adam?s transgression, we inherit a fallen nature. It is not clear what the difference is between inheriting a fallen nature or disposition and original sin. Without intending to, we may sometimes be teaching something that is difficult to distinguish from the doctrine of original sin.
As far as I can tell, the scriptures never speak of us inheriting a fallen nature from Adam. Certainly nothing in the Bible teaches us of the Fall of Adam as Christianity has come to understand the events of the Garden and our first parent?s entry into this world. We can read the story of the Garden of Eden and of Adam and Eve?s transgression and expulsion, but no biblical writer speaks of that event as a fall. Given the traditional Christian belief in original sin and our rejection of that doctrine, it is ironic that the only scriptural references to the Fall of Adam and Eve are in Restoration scriptures. (See 1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 2:4, 22-26, and 9:6; Mosiah 3:11-26, 4:5-7, 16:3-5, and 27:25; Alma 12:22, 18:36, 22:12-19, 30:25, and 42:6-14; Hellman 14:16; Mormon 9:12; Ether 3:2 and13; D&C 20:20, 29:44, and 138:19; and Moses 5:9 and 6:48 and 59.)
Paul teaches that all die because of Adam?s sin (1 Corinthians 15:22, for example), but he gives no explanation for how that happens. The explanation comes later when, in the fifth century C.E., Augustine creates an explanation: Adam?s sin was transmitted to humanity by heredity?original sin. Augustine gives an explanation of that for which Paul gives us no explanation, and that explanation has been part of much Christian teaching since then. But it is not a scriptural doctrine.
Unlike the Bible, the scriptures of the Restoration do speak specifically of the Fall, but they do not use the word “fall” in the same way that traditional Christians do. I think that comparison of the various ways that “fall” is used in the Book of Mormon show that it means ?to be lost,? ?to be in sin? or ?to die.? All of these meanings are appropriate descriptions of Adam and Eve?s experience on leaving the Garden of Eden, but the uses of the word “fall” in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price do not suggest that prior to the Fall Adam and Eve lived in a state of supernatural grace, as the traditional Christian doctrine of the Fall teaches. In addition, though the Book of Mormon teaches that we live in a fallen world, it gives us no explanation for how that occurs, though I think that it suggests one.
The explanation suggested by the Book of Mormon is quite different from that given by Augustine. King Benjamin says that we fall ?in Adam, or by nature? (Mosiah 3:16). At first glance that sounds like it may be the same as the Augustinian doctrine that we are fallen because we inherit a sinful human essence. However, what King Benjamin teaches here is quite different. I believe that King Benjamin identifies being ?natural? with not having the Holy Ghost rather than with having a particular essence or nature:
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)
If the enticing of the Holy Ghost changes us from a fallen, natural state to the state in which we can be the friend and child of God, then perhaps we become fallen when we enter into a world in which we do not have immediate access to divine enticings. Thus, as I read these verses, King Benjamin says that we become fallen when we enter into a state in which we do not have the Holy Ghost (in other words, when, like Adam and Eve, we leave the presence of the Divine).
King Benjamin?s explanation helps us see that Paul says something similar, and what Paul says shows us how we might explain the Fall without taking recourse to anything resembling original sin. In a verse similar to Mosiah 3:19, Paul says, ?The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God? (1 Corinthians 2:14). In that verse, the word translated “natural” is psychikos. We might expect to see the word physikos, meaning ?in accordance with nature,? but that is not the word that Paul uses. Instead, he uses psychikos, meaning ?pertaining to life or the soul as it exists in this world. (See 1 Corinthians 15:44 and 46, James 3:15, and Jude 19 for other uses of the word psychikos.)
In other words, when Paul says that the natural man does not receive spiritual things, he is not speaking of the body or of a bodily inheritance. He is speaking of the way we live in this world: to be living with an orientation to this world is not to receive the things of the Spirit. (We see a similar way of speaking in Enos 1:20, Mosiah 16:5, and Alma 26:21, 41:11, and 42:10. I think we also see this usage in D&C 29:35, where we are told that none of the Lord?s commandments are natural. See also D&C 67:12 and 88:28 and, perhaps, 121:39 and Moses 1:10-14.)
If we use the teachings of Paul and Mosiah to understand the Fall, then it seems to me that the Fall occurred when Adam and Eve were driven from the presence of God, not when they ate of the fruit?though eating the fruit did involve a spiritual separation from the presence of God and, so, a fall. To be fallen is to be without the presence of God.
We live in a fallen world, a world made possible by the transgression of Adam and Eve, as long as we do not have the Holy Ghost, the being who, as a member of the Godhead, restores us to the divine presence. To the degree that we understand ourselves and our lives as if there were no God, as if the world is all there is to guide our lives, we are fallen. Of course a person without the Holy Ghost has little else by which to orient himself or herself in the world (though, of course, everyone has the light of Christ). Thus, we should not be surprised that those who orient themselves in the world in a fallen way do so. In other words, we should expect the ?natural man,? people without the promptings of the Holy Ghost as well as we when we ignore those promptings, to live in a fallen way.
However, we are not fallen because we have inherited a psychological or spiritual disability. We are fallen because, without the Holy Ghost, we know nothing else but the world without God’s presence.