JMS Sunday School Lesson #4

[As usual, all the really good questions you’ve heard before because I lifted them right out of Jim’s lesson.]

–I have many unanswered questions about the Fall and its aftermath. . .
–. . . which makes me feel like an idiot until I remember something that Elder Boyd K. Packer wrote:

I can remember President McKay in his advanced years, on an occasion when he stood in the temple among the Brethren and quoted the temple ceremony at great length. Just quoted it, and explained it. Then finally he stopped, clasped his large hands together, and stood silent for a little while. Then he said, “Brethren, I think I am finally beginning to understand.â€? (Boyd K. Packer, Things of the Soul, page 217.)

Moses 4
–Read 4:5-11.
(a) v5: ‘subtle’ translates a Hebrew word that means prudent, crafty, or sly.
(b) V6: ‘beguile’ translates a Hebrew word that is usually translated ‘deceive’ but has the underlying meaning of ‘to lend on interest or to be a creditor.’
–Ask: What do you learn about Satan from this account?
(a) He doesn’t know the mind of God (v6). Point out that the Fall was not a mistake or a sin.11
(b) By asking a question (v7) he creates doubt.
(c) V10: parsing and semantics. They don’t physically die, but in a sense they die spiritually. Mixture of truths and lies is one of Satan’s hallmarks.
–Ask: What do you make of the addition “neither shall ye touch itâ€? which was not a part of the original commandment (cf. 3:17)?
–What do you make of the fact that, apparently, Eve was not present when the command was given (cf. 3:17 with 3:22)?
–Read v20-27.
–V21: Why enmity between the Woman and the serpent rather than between the couple and the serpent? What does it mean to say that there is enmity between the serpent’s children and the children of the Woman? Why does the Lord say “her seedâ€? rather than “their seedâ€?? How is this verse relevant to your life?
–Note: President Kimball said that he preferred the word “presideâ€? to “ruleâ€? in v22.
–Note that the serpent is cursed; Adam and Eve are not. If what the Lord says to Adam and the Woman isn’t a curse, what is it? Is it a blessing? If so, how so? (I consider v22 to be the divine version of What to Expect When You Are Expecting.)
–Hugh Nibley’s explanation of the new relationship between Adam and Eve:

There is no patriarchy or matriarchy in the Garden; the two supervise each other. Adam is given no arbitrary power; Eve is to heed him only insofar as he obeys their Father—and who decides that? She must keep check on him as much as he does on her. It is, if you will, a system of checks and balances in which each party is as distinct and independent in its sphere as are the departments of government under the Constitution—and just as dependent on each other. (Hugh Nibley, “Patriarchy and Matriarchy,” Old Testament and Related Studies, page 92f.)

–V27: The word translated “coatsâ€? means “coverings.â€? Why did the Lord need to replace the coverings Adam and Eve had made for themselves? Cf. v13. What might the aprons Adam and Eve made when they first discovered their nakedness indicate? What might the replacement of those aprons with coverings from the Lord indicate?

Moses 5
–Read Moses 5:1-15, looking at it as a template for family life.
–Ask: What do you learn about the ideal family life from this passage?

1. She labored beside her companion (see Moses 5:1).
2. She and Adam bore the responsibilities of parenthood (see Moses 5:2).
3. She and her partner worshiped the Lord in prayer (see Moses 5:4).
4. She and Adam heeded divine commandments of obedience and sacrifice (see Moses 5:5, 6).
5. She and her husband taught the gospel to their children (see Moses 5:12).
(this list is from Elder Nelson)

–Moses 5:6 is one of my favorites: cf. 1 Nephi 11:16-18 for another example of a humble acknowledgement of incomplete knowledge (accompanied by a willingness to obey) followed by new revelation.
–Adam and Eve were reflective: v10 and 11.

We talk about how it is necessary to understand the Fall so that we can understand the Atonement. How would you explain the Atonement in terms of the Fall?

Here’s a list of supplementary statements about the Fall that might be useful. I can provide the citations if anyone wants them.

“It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same. And thus Eve and “Adam fell that men might be� (2 Ne. 2:25). Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall. Joseph Smith taught that it was not a “sin,� because God had decreed it. Brigham Young declared, “We should never blame Mother Eve, not the least.� Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin. … This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin … for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!� This suggested contrast between a sin and a transgression reminds us of the careful wording in the second article of faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression� (emphasis added). It also echoes a familiar distinction in the law. Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression—wrong because it was formally prohibited. These words are not always used to denote something different, but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall. Modern revelation shows that our first parents understood the necessity of the Fall. Adam declared, “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). Note the different perspective and the special wisdom of Eve, who focused on the purpose and effect of the great plan of happiness: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, 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). In his vision of the redemption of the dead, President Joseph F. Smith saw “the great and mighty ones� assembled to meet the Son of God, and among them was “our glorious Mother Eve� (D&C 138:38-39).�
–Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“Adam and Eve did the very thing the Lord intended them to do. If we had the original record we would see the purpose of the Fall clearly stated and its necessity explained.�
—President Joseph Fielding Smith

“As He concludes this statement he says, “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.� (Gen. 3:16.) I have a question about the word rule. It gives the wrong impression. I would prefer to use the word preside because that’s what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family. . . . No woman has ever been asked by the Church authorities to follow her husband into an evil pit. She is to follow him as he follows and obeys the Savior of the world, but in deciding this, she should always be sure she is fair.
–President Spencer W. Kimball

“But I never counseled a women to follow her husband to the Devil.�
–President Brigham Young

“When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner.�
–President Spencer W. Kimball

“Eve was [Adam’s] equal—a full, powerfully contributing partner.�
–Elder Richard G. Scott

“Zebedee Coltrain remembered that he and Oliver Cowdery had shared a vision with the Prophet. Joseph Smith took Brothers Coltrin and Cowdery by the arm and said, ‘Let’s take a walk.’ After arriving at a place ‘where there was some beautiful grass, and grapevines and swamp birch interlaced, President Joseph Smith then said, ‘Let us pray.’ [They] all three prayed in turn–Joseph, Oliver, and [Zebedee]. Brother Joseph then said, ‘Now brethren, we will see some visions.’ . . . The heavens gradually opened, and [they] saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, and on the throne sat a man and a woman, having white hair and clothed in white garments. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind [he had] ever [seen]. Joseph said, ‘They are our first parents.’ Adam and Eve. Adam was a large broad-shouldered man, and Eve, as a woman, was as large in proportion.’�
–Beverly Campbell

86 comments for “JMS Sunday School Lesson #4

  1. Rob
    January 19, 2006 at 11:35 pm

    I’ve always liked that Zebedee Coltrain account, but not really known what to make of it. Sometimes it seems like Joseph could turn it on and off at will. Wish I could take a walk down to the creek and have the heavens opened like that. Wonder what it means that “the heavens gradually opened”?

  2. Mike Parker
    January 20, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    Does anyone else here find Elder Oaks’ attempt to differentiate between “sin” and “transgression” a little belabored? The original Hebrew makes no such distinction. And, sin or not, what Adam and Eve did was still contrary to God’s will and got them ejected from the garden (even if that was the plan all along).

  3. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    Rob, good thoughts.

    Mike– I am more sympathetic to it than I once was. If he doesn’t have Hebrew on his side (is there somewhere that describes what they have done as a _sin_?), he does have the Article of Faith and Abraham. I do think ‘transgression’ is probably a better word for something “contrary to God’s will but still part of the plan” than ‘sin’ would be in any case.

  4. January 20, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    I with Mike on this one. It seems as though this stems from the fact that we shouldn’t look upon Adam and Eve as sinners but as our first parents (which I agree with). I just think we’ve taken it a bit too far.

    See Moses 6:53

  5. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 3:32 pm


    What’s ironic about Moses 6:53 (besides the fact that I meant that verse when I wrote Abraham in comment #3!) is that it uses the word ‘transgression’ instead of ‘sin.’ Now, it _was_ something that required forgiveness, apparently, according to that verse, but in some way that I don’t claim to understand, wasn’t a sin.

  6. January 20, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I don’t think the scriptures differentiate sin and transgression as much as we tend to think. There was an entire thread at M* on this a few weeks back. Anyway, it seems as though when the scriptures mention transgression, it refers to a specific instance of sin. When sin is mentioned, it is a more general term. No, this isn’t always the case, but it seems to read that way.

    Also see 1 John 3:4

  7. January 20, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    As far as I understand ( and I haven’t spent lots of time on it), Hebrew does make a fine distinction between sin (chata) and transgression (pesha’). They appear in parallel, but sin (chata) has been given a status of less-intentional error than pesha. Chata as a verb, besides “to sin” also means “to miss (something)” ie. to shoot and a target and miss (Jdg 20:16). Pesha is thought to include more wilful disobediance, but this distinction can easily be overplayed.

  8. Mike Parker
    January 20, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Also see 1 John 3:4

    Oh, very nice, Tim. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I agree that the attempt to nuance the two words separately is popular because we don’t like to think of Adam as a “sinner” in the way that mainline Christians do. But the fact is, God gave a commandment and Adam broke it. The difference Latter-day Saints bring to the table is (a) we know it was supposed to happen and (b) Adam was forgiven and therefore we, his descendants, are not guilty of his sin.

  9. Mike Parker
    January 20, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Ben #7: Then, in this case, Elder Oaks has it backwards — transgression is more serious than sin?

  10. January 20, 2006 at 4:50 pm


    We understand that the words are different and even the meanings to a certain extent. But I don’t think the Lord sees them as being that different, at least not in this case, where He gave a specific commandment, and it was violated. They transgressed the law, which was a sin.

  11. Ben S.
    January 20, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    “Elder Oaks has it backwards — transgression is more serious than sin?”

    If we understand the Hebrew correctly, it appears so. However, the end result, whatever the non-good action, is violation of some law, commandment or ordinance.

  12. Visorstuff
    January 20, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    General comment – I think that Elder Oaks is trying to say that the transgression was not malum in se (“inherently bad”) but malum prohibitum (“bad because prohibited”). In the gospel as revealed in Moses (which was revealed in English, not Hebrew), it makes the distinction between transgression and sin.

  13. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Re Tim #6–

    In the original statement from Elder Oaks, he acknowledges that the scriptures don’t always or consistently make a distinction between the two, but appear to in this case.

    The problem with applying 1 John 3:4 is that, as if things weren’t confusing enough, you’ve now added another language to the mix, and there’s no reason to think that the same distinctions (or lack thereof) would apply to the Greek, esp. when one is a verb and not a noun.

    Re Mike #8–Aren’t you a teeny bit bothered by the idea that Adam’s “sin” had to happen? Are you saying that God _requires_ us to sin sometimes? That’s one pickle you get out of if you find a difference between sin and transgression.

    Another way of looking at it is that, because they had not yet partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they were lacking some capacity to decide and therefore it was a lesser violation (transgression instead of sin).


    It’s nice to see discussion of the SS lesson.

  14. January 20, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    “In the gospel as revealed in Moses (which was revealed in English, not Hebrew), it makes the distinction between transgression and sin. ”


  15. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    Oh, and as far as whether Elder Oaks had it backwards, the words ‘sin’ or ‘transgression’ don’t even appear in any of the accounts, do they? (Except when Eve and Adam reflect in Moses 5 and says ‘transgression,’ I suppose.) So it isn’t ultimately about what any Hebrew words meant; it is about how we are labelling Adam and Eve’s actions.

  16. January 20, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    “when one is a verb and not a noun.”

    Exactly. They__transgressed__the law, therefore they committed a__sin__.

    “…because they had not yet partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they were lacking some capacity to decide and therefore it was a lesser violation (transgression instead of sin).”

    I don’t buy this at all. I don’t think God could’ve made His commandment any clearer for them. They were given one rule (law) and one rule only, to not partake of the fruit. They blatantly disobeyed His one commandment.

    “Aren’t you a teeny bit bothered by the idea that Adam’s “sinâ€? had to happen? Are you saying that God _requires_ us to sin sometimes?”

    Nope. And He doesn’t require it from us–just Adam and Eve. And you could argue that He didn’t require it of them, either. He gave them COMPLETE freedom to CHOOSE their own path.

    He couldn’t introduce sin into the world by Himself–someone had to do it for Him. Likewise He could not save the world Himself–someone also had to do it for Him. De-emphasizing the Fall, de-emphasizes the Atonement.

    “the words ’sin’ or ‘transgression’ don’t even appear in any of the accounts, do they?”

    They do in retrospect.

    Also see: D&C 29:40,41

    *Sorry for answering Mike’s questions.

  17. January 20, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    “it is about how we are labelling Adam and Eve’s actions.”

    So, if it was a mere transgression, only then can we honor and admire them? However, if they sinned, we must be ashamed of their actions and think of them as failures?

    I think of Adam’s and Eve’s actions as sins as they explicitly and willfully violated God’s commandments. But boy am I sure glad they did!

  18. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    I think you missed my point: we’re talking about the (possible) difference between sin and transgression–two nouns. 1 John introduces a Greek VERB. Things are confusing enough! Elder Oaks pointed out that we wouldn’t get consistency throughout the scriptures on this issue, and that’s why I don’t think 1 John is particularly useful.

    “They blatantly disobeyed His one commandment.”

    Then what do you do with:

    “Adam and Eve did the very thing the Lord intended them to do. If we had the original record we would see the purpose of the Fall clearly stated and its necessity explained.�
    —President Joseph Fielding Smith

    I don’t know what to do with blatant disobey=the very thing the Lord intended them to do. But I can make better sense (but not perfect sense) of transgression=the very thing the Lord intended them to do.

    Doesn’t the D & C verse kinda support Elder Oak’s position by only referring to transgression?

  19. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Re #17, no, I wasn’t thinking of honor or emulate at all in this context. I was just making the point that the story itself uses neither term.

  20. January 20, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    “Doesn’t the D & C verse kinda support Elder Oak’s position by only referring to transgression?”

    Which in turn relates it to spiritual death–which is sin.

    “Adam and Eve did the very thing the Lord intended them to do. If we had the original record we would see the purpose of the Fall clearly stated and its necessity explained.�

    I have no problem whatsoever. But, bottom line, he gave them a commandment and they violated it. God did not give them a commandment and then give a little wink-wink. It was pretty clear to Adam and Eve that they were not to partake of the fruit under any circumstance.

    You play the JFS card, I give you Talmage:

    “Eve was fulfilling the__foreseen__purposes of God by the part she took in the great drama of the fall; yet she did not partake of the fruit with that object in view, but with__INTENT__to__act__contrary__to__the__divine__command.”

    Like I said, a violation of any “divine command” is a sin, regardless of whether God knew/wanted it to happen. Their sin was necessary for mankind to progress, and, when you think about it, our sins are also necessary for our progression.

  21. Mike Parker
    January 20, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    Quick précis: Adam and Eve were set up. Sin needed to enter the world for the mortal probation to have the conditions necessary for us to be tested. God is the not author of evil; it could only be introduced by mankind. So God gave them a commandment (don’t eat the fruit of the tree of KoGaE) knowing they would be tempted and would fall. The ball is set in motion, and the rest is … well, history.

  22. Jim F.
    January 20, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    Is there any reason to believe that the events we see described were the only possible way by which humanity could have entered a fallen world? What would have happened had Eve, when confronted by Satan, asked the Father, “Must I eat the apple if I am to have children?” What would have happened if, after Eve ate the apple, Adam had asked God, “What do we do now?” There seem to be a lot of other possible stories that could have happened, but we assume this was the only possibility. Why?

  23. January 20, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    “Must I eat the apple if I am to have children?�

    You assume that:

    (a) They were actually told to do this.


    (b) They actually understood what having children was, considering they knew not that they were naked.

  24. January 20, 2006 at 8:04 pm


    I think the fruit was arbitrary, it’s the commandment that mattered.

    God could have told them, “Don’t go past these bushes,” or, “Don’t bathe in this river,” or whatever. If Eve had asked God, He would have said the same thing He told her earlier, “Don’t eat it.” He would have to!

    And I presume He would then give them another commandment until they finally disobeyed, thus introducing sin into the world.

  25. Mephibosheth
    January 20, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    I don’t think 1st John 3:4 can be used to support the idea that Adam and Eve sinned. It says a sin is transgression of the law, not the other way around.

    If I sin, then by definition I must have broken the law. However, it is possible to break the law and not sin, as did Nephi when he killed Laban, as did Adam and Eve when they partook of the fruit.

  26. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    Tim, we’ve completely shifted ground from (a) whether it makes sense to make a distinction between sin and transgression to (b) whether Adam and Eve should have/could have not eaten the fruit. While I stand by my position in (a), I’m not convicted either way on (b). (Although I tend to think, because of the Moses comment about Satan not knowing the mind of God, that there was nothing wrong with what they did–it was just that they did it at the behest of Satan, and that THAT was the transgression.) With Jim, I wonder about alternatives but also realize that we get into speculation as soon as we start asking “what if?”

    For Mike and anyone else who likes the “they were framed” theory, I wonder: does God do this to us or was it a one-shot thing? And if God set them up, then God is ultimately responsible for sin entering the world, so what’s the point of the whole thing anyway?

    As I said at the beginning of my lesson, I can grasp a few threads in the story of the Fall, but I can’t really understand what the image of the entire tapestry is supposed to be.

  27. January 20, 2006 at 8:13 pm


    “It says a sin is transgression of the law, not the other way around.”

    Flipped around, it says the same thing. They transgressed the law, therefore they sinned.

    “as did Nephi when he killed Laban”

    This argument always arises. Here’s the deal. Nephi would have sinned had he NOT killed Laban because THAT was God’s command at THAT moment.

    For the parallel to work, God would have had to command Adam and Eve to not partake of the fruit, but then tell them afterwards to do so. God did no such thing. They explicitly disobeyed the last commandment given unto them.

    God’s commandments supercede all laws. His commandments are the law, and Adam and Eve violated His law in the Garden.

  28. January 20, 2006 at 8:33 pm


    So how do differentiate transgression from sin? Sorry you have to spell it out for me.

    “For Mike and anyone else who likes the “they were framedâ€? theory, I wonder: does God do this to us or was it a one-shot thing?”

    Do what to us?

    “And if God set them up, then God is ultimately responsible for sin entering the world”

    Mmmmmmmm…let’s see. Is God__ultimately__responsible for your sins? Is He__ultimately__responsible for all the death and suffering in the world? Is He__ultimately__responsible for our own salvation? Ultimately? I guess, for He is the Creator of all. But is He really?

    What did He do differently with Adam and Eve than with us?

    He gave them a commandment, let them choose for themselves if they would obey, allowed Satan to tempt them into disobeying, and knew they would fall, but that it would be for the good of mankind.

    He gives us commandments, lets us choose for ourselves if we will obey, allows Satan to tempt us to disobey, knows that often we will fall, but that it is for our own good.

  29. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    “So how do differentiate transgression from sin? Sorry you have to spell it out for me.”

    I’m not entirely sure; my sense is that Elder Oaks is right in this, but I can’t quite put my finger on it the divide except that it might have something to do with the fall’s (1) necessity and/or (2) their lack of knowledge of good and evil when they make the decision.

    “Do what to us?”

    Frame us. Put us in positions where we must sin.

    I have to think that the emphasis on them choosing for themselves is more than a simple restatement of their agency. I don’t see Pres. Hinckley devoting a talk to porn and then ending with, “but, hey, choose for yourself!” I think that phrase signifies a little more than garden-variety (hah!) agency. But I’m not quite sure where to go with that.

  30. January 20, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    “Put us in positions where we must sin.”

    They didn’t have to. They just did. They weren’t “framed” any more than we are today.

    Good point about the agency–something to ponder.

    “garden-variety” Nice. I’m always in the mood for a good pun.

  31. Mephibosheth
    January 20, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    “Flipped around, it says the same thing. They transgressed the law, therefore they sinned.”

    You can’t neccessarily flip it around, though. That would be like saying every eagle is a bird, therefore every bird is an eagle. Not all statements are reflexive.

    You may be correct in your views, but that scripture doesn’t say a transgression is a sin.

  32. January 20, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    How about trying on my new Garden as Allegory idea for size (with a brand new twist on the Satan role)…

    – Adam and Eve represent all of us in our pre-earth and pre-sentient pasts
    – Satan represents pride/greed/aspiration/ambitions/desire-for-power. God allows those emerging characteristics in us to push our pre-sentient intelligences into full sentience (represented by eating the fruit). But after we fully know good from evil and become “as the Gods” we must cast those characteristics away from ourselves if we are to progress to become like God from our current state. Pride is the great sin after all.

    Now nobody freak out over this, please. I’m not saying there is no devil. And it is just an idea… I’m just a saying that the narrative could be an allegory to mean something like this. (I’ll try to flesh it our more at my blog…)

    But I think this view fits the sin and transgression idea pretty well. God would warn us that there is great pain and cognizance of death in our sentient mortal state. He warns of the downside of knowing. But if our prideful ambitious side got us here God must also be happy with our progress. Therefore, even though we must suffer the downside of sentience, it doesn’t count against us in the way that sin does now…

  33. January 20, 2006 at 9:28 pm


    Sin is transgression of the law. The law they received was don’t eat the fruit. They ate the fruit. They transgressed the law. They sinned. I don’t see where lies the problem.

    How do you differentiate between a transgression and a sin? I’m confused because I absolutely see no difference. And nobody has yet to explain it to me. Is a transgression breaking a temporal law, and sin is breaking a spiritual law? I just want someone to spell this out.

  34. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    Tim, I can’t say anymore about sin and transgression than I did in #29. Does the lengthy quote from Elder Oaks answer any of your questions?

  35. January 20, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Wow, Geoff J., wow! It must be absolutely exhausting being you. :)

    Nevertheless, I dig it. I may not believe it, but I dig it. Like I said before, the ‘Nacle would be a whole lot boring without your input. I’ll look forward to the fully developed post, soon.

  36. January 20, 2006 at 9:42 pm


    I’m fairly familiar with the quote. The only definitive statement is JFS’s stating that it wasn’t a sin because it was “what Adam and Eve had to do.” It’s not all that convincing, though.

    Nor are Elder Oaks’ statements about something being inherently wrong vs. something which is only “formally prohibited.” I believe this to be in contrast with D&C 29:34,35 which are clearly referring to Adam and Eve.

    I believe that breaking temporal commandments (which seems to be what E. Oaks is asserting) = Transgression

    While breaking a spiritual commandment = Sin

    And D&C 29 tells us that God gives NO commandments which are temporal, only spiritual (something to think about for the next Word of Wisdom lesson).

  37. Julie M. Smith
    January 20, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Well, re #36, I think you’ve shown that making transgression=temporal and sin=spiritual doesn’t work.

    What about the idea that it isn’t the act itself but rather their state at the time of the act (ack, I’m starting to sound like a lawyer), and at the time they commit it, they have no knowledge of good and evil. (This is a sticking point for me: they don’t even know that following God is good and following Satan is bad, do they? Or that obeying is good and disobeying is bad? Or am I overreading?)

  38. January 20, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    I follow you. However, I think we might underestimate the level of their understanding–they could be taught. This is not to say that they were enlightened individuals–I cringe when someone brings up how “wise” Eve was to have figured out God’s plan and that is why she partook of the fruit.

    “This is a sticking point for me: they don’t even know that following God is good and following Satan is bad, do they? Or that obeying is good and disobeying is bad? Or am I overreading?”

    Interesting thoughts. But given Eve’s reaction to Satan in the garden, it seems as though she knew it was wrong to eat the fruit, and she knew that commandment came from God (possibly via Adam).

    I do understand your questions, and I honestly have no answers. You bring up some excellent points. I may not sleep tonight, thanks. :)

  39. Elisabeth
    January 20, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    This is a really great lesson, Julie. Thanks. I’m going to check in here more often so I don’t feel so far behind being in Primary.

    Per the more technical (tangential) discussion about sin and transgression and intent, it doesn’t translate very well into a legal context because under the law, we impute knowledge of the law to people who have no reason to know the law (simple example – you’re from California with no seat belt law and are pulled over in Nevada, which has a seat belt law. You’re still guilty of violating the law in Nevada). God, however, in His omniscience, knows exactly what we are thinking, and thus judges us in accordance to our level of knowledge (or intent).

    So, hmm – after writing that, now I’m not sure how this relates to Adam and Eve, but they certainly chose to break the law by eating the fruit. Whether they knew it was “wrong” at the time they broke the law, I don’t think is really that relevant. They knew they had to eat the fruit, so they ate it. I guess I’m missing something (maybe I need to graduate from Primary).

  40. January 20, 2006 at 10:44 pm

    “They knew they had to eat the fruit, so they ate it.”

    They knew this? Really? How?

  41. Elisabeth
    January 20, 2006 at 10:59 pm

    Tim – I was thinking of the dialogue in the temple ceremony and also in Moses 5:11, where Eve says she knew they had to partake of the fruit to gain knowledge of good and evil (and gain eternal life). No?

  42. Jack
    January 20, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Has anyone adressed the the idea that they may have been too innocent to commit sin? They were as children. And following the logic of the “allegory” (And I believe that the garden story is very allegorical–while believing in a literall Adam and Eve) then Adam and Eve would not have comprehended good and evil until they partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So, as a little child may go out into the street against the wishes of his parents without comprehending the sin of disobedience– so too, Adam and Eve may have transgressed without sinning.

  43. January 20, 2006 at 11:20 pm


    They didn’t know they had to eat the fruit__until__after__the fact, which is what Eve is saying in that scripture.


    Yes, it’s what we’re currently contemplating, though I think the child-like comparison is referring simply to their ignorance, and not necessarily to their understanding/comprehension. Whereas a child’s accountablility is tied to their understanding, I’m not sure this was the case with Adam and Eve.

    There’s also the aforementioned scripture with God forgiving them of their transgression. I don’t believe we need to be forgiven of transgressions unless they are also a sin.

  44. Elisabeth
    January 20, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    Tim – didn’t the snake tell Eve she had to eat the fruit before she ate it?

  45. January 20, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    Maybe I misread you. I thought you were insisting that Eve knew she had to eat the fruit to bring forth mankind and further the plan of salvation, etc., which is what Moses 5:11 is referring to–Eve looking at the decision in hindsight.

    If this is not what you were referring to, what was it?

  46. Elisabeth
    January 20, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    “insisting” – um, no. I’m just trying to understand this better. Before Eve eats the fruit, she acknowledges that she has to eat the fruit in order to gain understanding of good vs. evil. I guess it’s debatable whether she knew that she had to eat the fruit to further the plan of salvation. But before Adam partook of the fruit, he clearly understood that he needed Eve in order to have children, i.e., he knew that if Eve left the Garden and Adam stayed – no multiplying and replenishing could happen.

  47. Jack
    January 20, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    What is the purpose of the “Tree of Kowledge of Good and Evil” if Adam and Eve already possessed that knowledge?

  48. Jack
    January 20, 2006 at 11:45 pm


    I’m not sure it is clear that Eve actually knew what she needed to do. I do think it is clear that she believed the serpent when he said (in so many words): ” there is no other way.”

  49. January 20, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    Here’s why Eve partook of the fruit:

    Moses 4:12

    “…the woman saw that the tree was GOOD FOR FOOD, and that it became PLEASANT TO THE EYES, and a tree to be DESIRED TO MAKE HER WISE…”

    And the only real reason she believes this is because this is what Satan told her.

    “But before Adam partook of the fruit, he clearly understood that he needed Eve in order to have children, i.e., he knew that if Eve left the Garden and Adam stayed – no multiplying and replenishing could happen.”

    I would argue this commandment was never given to them directly, and the reason why Adam partook of the fruit was because he was told to “cleave unto his wife…” (Moses 3:24)

  50. Jack
    January 20, 2006 at 11:52 pm

    Well, there is that little “that man may be” bit, Tim.

  51. January 20, 2006 at 11:58 pm



    If you’re saying this is why Adam took the fruit, yes that’s what happened, but this wasn’t his intention.

  52. January 21, 2006 at 12:04 am

    “What is the purpose of the “Tree of Kowledge of Good and Evilâ€? if Adam and Eve already possessed that knowledge?”

    Good point. Again, we’re trying to make sense of many things, and what-not. There’s definitely a lot to think about.

  53. Elisabeth
    January 21, 2006 at 12:11 am

    #48: I don’t think Adam and Eve already possessed the knowledge of good and evil. The “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” was the name of the Tree (kind of like the “Tree of Apples”. Or “Jehovah’s Tree that You Are Not Supposed to Touch”).

    #49: fair enough, but that there is no other way to gain a knowledge of good and evil. Right? It’s clear that that is what caused her to partake of the fruit. It wasn’t that the fruit was tasty. It was that the fruit was the only way to gain a knowledge of good and evil.

  54. Julie M. Smith
    January 21, 2006 at 12:25 am

    Jack in #42 and #48 said what I’ve been trying to say. Before they eat, they DON’T have knowledge of good and evil (right?), so they can’t, in some sense, be fully accountable. Hence, transgression and not sin?

    By the way, I am enjoying the conversation. I love to see serious engagement with the scriptures, and thanks to all for keeping it civil.

  55. Julie M. Smith
    January 21, 2006 at 12:26 am

    (BTW, I deleted a comment that was posted twice, so numbering may be off.)

  56. January 21, 2006 at 12:27 am

    I would be wary of regarding the temple narrative as literal. It is not intended to be understood that way, so when we think Eve said, “Is there no other way?” I don’t think it necessarily happened as such.

    Now, I do believe in the literal Garden of Eden and that the Fall really took place, and I base almost all of my assertions in scripture alone.

    Eve was partaking of the fruit in order to gain knowledge, thus falling for Satan’s temptation. She did not know, however, that this would lead to the ability to bring forth mankind and also further God’s plan.

  57. January 21, 2006 at 12:28 am

    “BTW, I deleted a comment that was posted twice, so numbering may be off.”

    Sweet. Now I can tell everyone I got deleted at T&S. I have now “made it.” :)

  58. Julie M. Smith
    January 21, 2006 at 12:35 am

    Tim, stop bragging. It only counts as getting deleted if it is content-based. :)

  59. January 21, 2006 at 12:39 am

    Well I’ll be damned. #$%@#$!

  60. Jack
    January 21, 2006 at 12:47 am

    “She did not know, however, that this would lead to the ability to bring forth mankind and also further God’s plan.”

    Yes, you’re right if we appeal to scripture alone. However, I am not opposed to relying on other sources which are even more peculiar to the LDS in terms of leading us to understand who/what we really are. The use of the garden story is calculated to do just that, and therefore (imo) dependable so far as the principles of the events are concerned.

    I think Elisabeth is right to suggest that there was some kind of understanding–especially on the part of Adam–regarding the need to partake of the fruit that “man may be.”

  61. Elisabeth
    January 21, 2006 at 12:50 am

    This is interesting. I can’t decide if it makes more “sense” to me that Eve didn’t know the full consequences of her actions before she ate the fruit. Why would she just do what the snake told her to do, willy nilly?

    I guess I like to think Eve knew the full consequences of her actions and made a conscious choice. Unfortunately, what I like to think happened and what actually is reflected in the scriptures often diverge.

  62. January 21, 2006 at 1:45 am


    So now you are arguing that they had knowledge whereas before they had none?

    RE: Other LDS sources. Here’s the deal. I struggled with the Fall for many years and have studied it to no end. What I’ve found from other LDS sources is that they end up contradicting themselves, the scriptures, and each other. For instance, Elder Oaks makes the claim that Eve had “wisdom and courage” to make the choice of partaking of the fruit. ELder Talmage says she only partook “with intent to act contrary to the divine command.”

    Due to these inconsistencies, I’ve decided to base all arguments in the scriptures, which should suffice considering we have several takes from Joseph Smith to Paul to Lehi to Moses.

    Concerning Eve, the ONLY thing she knew about the fruit was what God told her (don’t eat it) and what Satan told her (it’s delicious, it will make you wise). That’s it. Anything else coming from God concering the fruit would have been contradictory to what had been previously given. It’s illogical that he would do so.

  63. Kaimi Wenger
    January 21, 2006 at 1:47 am

    Perhaps my legal training is misleading me, but I think that one way to conceive of sin versus transgression is the legal distinction between malum prohibitum and malum in se. An act like murder is malum in se — it is a bad act, regardless of whether the law porscribes it or not. Malum prohibitum is a term for acts that are unlawful only because the law bans them. Driving 35 in a 25 zone is a classic example. Fishing without a fishing license would be another. In a malum prohibitum case, the wrong is not something that is considered inherently bad. When one commits an act that is malum prohibitum, the fault is positive rather than ontological. Sometimes a malum prohibitum act can even be necessary and very much appropriate under the circumstances — e.g., speeding to the hopsital with a dying person. (Questions about Kantian categorial imperatives complicate the question of whether a malum in se act could ever be justified under the circumstances, but they shouldn’t interfere with w mere malum prohibitum act).

    So perhaps partaking of the fruit was the equivalent of a malum prohibitum act — a transgression, though not a sin — and also an act that was justifiable under the circumstances.

  64. January 21, 2006 at 1:53 am


    So what about the Word of Wisdom? We consider violating it to be a sin. However, is it inherently bad?

    It is a sin because God forbids that we partake of those things.

  65. Kaimi Wenger
    January 21, 2006 at 2:03 am


    Based on WoW history, I would say it’s (mostly) malum prohibitum. It wasn’t a sin for the first several years — in fact, the start of section 89 explicitly says this is _not_ a commandment — and then it was gradually phased in as a commandment over a lengthy period of time. (Brigham Young proposed its elevation to commandment in general conference, and the motion passed; enforcement was spotty and in fits and starts for while, and many church leaders sort of ignored it; finally Heber J. Grant in the 20’s linked it to prohibition and his sustained campaign brought the alcohol, tobacco, and coffee/tea prohibitions to _effective_ commandment status; the meat limitation has never been very strongly enforced). However certain types of WoW violations — drunkenness — are set out in the scripture as sins.

    So my answer would be that having a glass of chardonnay with dinner is malum prohibitum; getting raging drunk is probably malum in se.

  66. January 21, 2006 at 2:24 am


    So drinking a small glass of wine is not a sin? Smoking one little cigarrette is not a sin? These are merely transgressions?

    I’m fully aware of the history of the WofW. I’d like for you to try justifying drinking a glass of wine using this argument during your next temple recommend interview. The history of the WofW does not change what it is today–a commandment.

  67. January 21, 2006 at 2:28 am

    BTW, I should have had a :) after the temple recommend statement. I understand the need for such clarifications these days.

  68. APJ
    January 21, 2006 at 5:18 am


    why is a glass of chardonnay malum prohibitem, and getting ‘raging drunk’ (whatever that means) malem in se? If I’m drunk, but not ragingly so, am I okay?

    And, following that logic, if I spin around until I am dizzy malum in se? Does it matter if I am not prone to getting dizzy (or ragingly drunk)?

  69. Kaimi Wenger
    January 21, 2006 at 11:26 am


    I know that it’s a commandment today. Therefore, not obeying it is a transgression. I’m not saying that I’m planning on disobeying it because it’s a mere transgression and not a sin. I don’t realy plan on either transgressing or sinning. I’m not trying to create a regime of justification for transgression. At the Garden of Eden shows, the Lord takes both of them very seriously.


    I’m not aware of any scriptural injunctions against spinning around. I based my answer on the facts that (1) there are numerous scriptural injunctions against drunkenness, but (2) it is only in recent years that a total ban on alcohol has been in place. Given those two facts, the most logical conclusion is that there is something inherently wrong with being drunk — malum in se. However, there is nothin inherently wrong with mild alcohol or tobacco consumption; those are transgressions only because of the commandment.

    Also, the dividing line between the two categories is not always clear, but that does not really undercut the validity of the dichotomy. To use the speeding example, it would be appropriate to say that going 35 in a 25 zone is malum prohibitum — wrong only because the law says it is. But going 100 in a residential neighborhood is almost certainly malum in se — wrong, whether or not the law permits it.

  70. Robert C.
    January 21, 2006 at 11:54 am

    The transgression vs. sin topic has been discussed here and on M* recently. I’d love to see an encyclopedia-type entry that organizes and summarizes the main points of these discussions. If anyone wants to help with this, I’ve started a page for this at the Feast wiki here. Thanks in advance for any help.

  71. Jack
    January 21, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Tim: “So now you are arguing that they had knowledge whereas before they had none?”

    Children have knowledge. They may know, for instance, that if they put their hand over a fire they’re likely to get burned. However, because they have this knowledge it doesn’t necessarily follow that they understand the moral implications of putting somebody elses hand over the fire. (e.g., that they have a knowledge of “good and evil”)

    As far as other sources are concerned–

    I was trying to couch the Endowment in my comment when I spoke of sources that were even more peculiar to the saints than the scriptures. My point is that if we are to learn light and truth by following the examples of Adam and Eve, then it seems likely to me that they (Adam and Eve) are accurately represented so far as the principles of the allegory are concerned–which means that Adam and Eve knew something about the relationship between their eating the fruit and having seed. But as I said before, this knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean that they knew good from evil prior to their partaking of the fruit.

  72. CEF
    January 21, 2006 at 10:02 pm

    I believe the reason the Church makes a distinction between a sin and a transgression, is to try and avoid the problem of the two, otherwise, conflicting commandants given in the garden of Eden. I think it is just that simple.

    My first companion in the mission field ended up being sent home over this issue. He just could not make it work for himself.

    I am just a little curious, are we not predestined to sin in this life?

  73. Scott
    January 22, 2006 at 1:58 am

    This is my first exposure to this site. I find it very thought provoking. I would like to make one comment about Elder Oaks article. If Elder McConkie is correct that a knowledge of good and evil is a prerequisite of the full exercise of agency, then the act of acquiring “knowledge of good and evil” could not have been a “sin” as we know it. The first requirement is to have the law. Adam and Ever had the law given them directly from our Father in Heaven. Likewise, they were given the unfettered right to chose for themselves, the second element. When Satan joined them in the garden the third element, “opposition” was added. However, it was only after they acted contrary to God’s law that the last essential component of agency was in place. That is why I believe Elder Oaks was correct when he describes their conduct as a “transgression” rather than a “sin”. IHis explanation of the distinction seems correct.

  74. Kathy Jackson
    January 22, 2006 at 4:53 am

    I like the child angle, but let’s look at a 7 year old child. There is more to this accountability thing than mere knowledge. We baptize kids at 8 yrs old. Knowledge and understanding at this age varies GREATLY from child to child. My children understood most of the commandments perfectly well before they reached that magic day–in fact it is our job as parents to make sure they do. As they emerged from the water, nothing happened to radically change their understanding, they came out with the same understanding they had going in, but they were now accountable for their actions. Why? Well, there are three main reasons: first, because they had now made a covenant with their Father in Heaven that they had not hithertofore made, second, because you’ve gotta draw the line somewhere and God drew it at age 8, and thirdly (and I think this is relevant) because the covenant they had just made was the beginning of a lifelong process of actually LEARNING good from evil and to do that they NEED to be accountable for their own choices, and they need to go through the process of making errors and actually repenting of those errors. I think we can view Adam and Eve in much the same way. They apparently understood that what they were doing was contrary to the commandment of God, they did it, and so chose to initiate the process of learning good from evil (it was not magically bestowed upon them chemically by ingesting a fruit–that would be silly to believe wouldnt it?–if that were possible how about we all just eat the fruit and dispense with this whole mortality thing–much more economical) To learn good from evil, they then needed to be accountable and could formally sin. Semantics aside, there is a difference in errors committed without accountability and errors committed with it. Mormon explained that to Moroni pretty clearly.

    I must say though that I am disturbed by the idea that people think Adam and Eve were set up, and by association we might be too. That is attributing guile to our Father in Heaven and I believe that is an attribute He does not possess or he would cease to be who he is.

    We do not know what would have happened if Eve and/or Adam had chosen to honor the command God gave them. Remember, timing is sometimes the difference between sin and obedience. Certain actions are sin if done in the back of a Chevy under the influence of Satan, but perfectly acceptable if done when married under the commandment of God. We do not know what God would have said in their next conversation. Perhaps it would have something to do with partaking of the fruit and getting on with the other commandments they had been given. We do not know. But I do not believe in a God who would set his children up to sin–them or us.

    We know that the action of partaking of the fruit (or setting in motion the experience of mortality) was necessary. We do not know that it had to be done under the instruction of Satan, in fact, the fact that God cursed Satan for doing it (and think of the wording in the endowment when he does, and Satan’s response) implies that perhaps he was again trying to usurp God’s role here and get them to do what was necessary but under his (Satan’s) influence (much as he does in the back of the Chevy).

  75. Kathy Jackson
    January 22, 2006 at 4:58 am

    Sorry, that was long, but so is the thread.

  76. Jim F.
    January 22, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Kathy Jackson: No need to apologize for length here. I like your comparison to what can happen in the back of a Chevy. It brings your point home very well: Satan wanted it done his way, and that was the problem.

  77. Jack
    January 22, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Except, Jim, what goes on in the back of a chevy (if not sanctified by covenant–ha! I like it!) is *sin*.

  78. Jim F.
    January 22, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    Jack, that’s because what goes on in the back of a Chevy is done Satan’s way (unless, of course, it has been sanctified by covenant). The fact that is done Satan’s way is what makes it sin.

  79. Kathy Jackson
    January 22, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    It is interesting that the story of the fall is followed by the story of Cain and Abel–remember why Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable, because it was done Cain’s way, not God’s, and at Satan’s bidding, not Gods–back to the back of the Chevy thing (by the way, I have nothing against Chevy’s per se)

  80. Robert C.
    January 22, 2006 at 11:35 pm

    Related to Jim F’s question (#22) about if there really were some other way, I find it hard to understand why Adam and Eve’s actions are praised by apostles (see quotes below) when they were disobeying a commandment from God (sorry if this issue has already been raised, I’ve only skimmed the discussion and didn’t find this issue specificly addressed):

    “We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve’s great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done. Adam was wise enough to do likewise.” (Elder Nelson)

    “Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same.” (Elder Oaks)

    I read the Elder Oaks’ quote as expressing uncertainty regarding the nature of Eve’s culpability (and hence the praiseworthiness of her actions), but interestingly not regarding Adam’s action in doing likewise. (Links to these quotes can be found on this wiki page. Again, please feel free to help edit this attempt to organize some of the issues raised here and elsewhere regarding the fall.)

  81. Jack
    January 22, 2006 at 11:42 pm


    If Adam and Eve did not know good from evil, how could their partaking of the fruit be a sin–even if it was done Satan’s way?

  82. Jim F.
    January 23, 2006 at 10:11 am

    Jack: Good question. I don’t have an answer to it, but I think the story is ambiguous enough that we don’t really know what happened. We know the outlines, but not a lot of the details. Here’s the other side of the question: if it wasn’t a sin, then why did it need to be forgiven?

  83. Jack
    January 23, 2006 at 11:38 am


    I don’t have a good answer to your question either. Though, when I think of my experience as a parent who has punished and forgiven my children (my “punishments” are mild, by the way. I’m not so fierce as I’ve made myself out to be in other posts), I get a taste for what it’s like to “forgive” transgressions. I certainly cannot consider all the misdeeds of my children (those misdeeds that are worthy of punishment) brazen sins.

  84. Jim F.
    January 23, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    Can little children not sin by definition–in other words, because God has decided not to count what they do as sin–or because they are incapable of committing sin? I think it is more the former than the latter. I see my grandchildren doing things that they know to be wrong, things that would count as sin were they accountable. But it seems to me that the Father gives them a trial period, a time to experiment and learn (and for us to help them learn) before he holds them accountable. Might not the Garden of Eden be more like that? Perhaps not having a knowledge of good and evil wasn’t a complete either-or. Perhaps it was something that occurred progressively as Adam and Eve learned. For example, Adam learned for himself that it was not good for him to be alone after the Father asked him to name the animals and he saw that there was no helper appropriate to him among them. He learned that it was good to have a partner and bad not to. Andt hat occurred before he partook of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

  85. Jack
    January 23, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Jim, I agree that children grow into that kind of knowledge and that some of their misdeeds may be more “sinful” than others depending on their knowledge. In fact, Curtis Wright is a strong supporter of the idea that children actually have the capacity to commit sin even though they are covered by the atonement. However, I think the real issue here is the idea that accountability is based on a knowledge of good versus evil. Children may obey or disobey for any number of reasons other than choosing good over evil or evil over good.

    I agree that when considering what really happened in the garden, it’s possible that the whole scenario played in a more progressive sense–as you seem to suggest. But even so, the garden story, as it is presented to us today, seems to very allegorical in its delivery. If so, there must be good reasons for it. Maybe one of the reasons is that by seeing it portrayed in stark events we are better able to lock its abstract elements in our minds (or that which represents the abstract) and identify them as we see them unfolding in our own lives.

    What we have then is the general idea that without a knowledge of good and evil (or good versus evil) we really don’t have the capacity to sin (as per 2Ne chapter 2 or the verses following Moses 6:53) even though we learn this kind of knowledge over time.

    I think just dug my pit a little deeper…

  86. Clair
    February 4, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    Jack >>> “What is the purpose of the “Tree of Kowledge of Good and Evilâ€? if Adam and Eve already possessed that knowledge?”

    Good and evil could have non-ethical meanings here. The Hebrew words are towb and ra, which could as well mean pleasant and unpleasant, as in a favorable/good wind or an ill/evil wind. An example using ra is Joseph’s interpretation of the dream of 7 ra-favored (ugly) cows eating up the 7 beautiful cows. Adam and Eve had not experienced the kinds of unpleasantness that followed the fall. The tree might have been called the Tree of Opposites, which fits Nephi’s discussion of the fall and ensuing mortality.

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