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The Contradictory Commands, Part 1: Isn’t It About … Time?

One Sunday while I was on my mission, I was asked to teach the Gospel Principles class.  The class was very small (just the missionaries and one part member family we’d been teaching), and the subject was the Fall of Adam and Eve.  I remember this lesson, because I was explaining conditions in the Garden of Eden and the results of the Fall.  The manual summarizes the scriptures and doctrines by stating that: “When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were not yet mortal. In this state, ‘they would have had no children’ (2 Nephi 2:23).  There was no death.”[1]  Yet the very next paragraph taught that: “God commanded them to have children. He said, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish 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).”[2]  I did my best to explain these ideas, and one of the people in the class pointed out that these two things seem to contradict one another—In the garden, they couldn’t have children. God commanded them to have children but also commanded them to not do the thing that would allow them to have children—partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  I didn’t have a good answer, and told them as such.  We sat there for a minute with puzzled expressions on our faces, shrugged, and then moved on with the rest of the lesson.

Since that time, I have given the dilemma of the two contradictory commands God gave in Eden a lot of thought.  Through my study and thinking, I have come up with three possible answers to the dilemma.  I do not consider any of them completely satisfying, but they are worth consideration. The three are: (1) The issue was one of timing and obedience, (2) God wanted to give them a final chance to exercise their agency to decide if they would enter the harsh conditions of mortality, and (3) The issue is based in the records through which we receive the story.  I’ll consider each of these in an individual post, starting with the timing and obedience one, since that one is one that is discussed less often.

The essence of this view is that God gave them the two commands with the understanding that (at some point in the future) they could move beyond the command to not partake of the fruit to fulfill the command to multiply and fill the earth.  By choosing to partake of the fruit at Satan’s request at a time where God’s command was to not partake, Eve and Adam brought condemnation upon themselves.

In our scriptures, one of Satan’s greatest goals seems to be receiving the respect and worship that is due to God.  In the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, when Moses confronts Satan, the devil’s opening barrage is: “Moses, son of man, worship me” (Moses 1:12), a refrain which is repeated throughout the encounter.  Elsewhere, we read that Lucifer offered to be the Savior in a time prior to mortal life on earth, saying: “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1, emphasis added). Satan’s goal, according to this same section, was to “destroy the agency of man . . . and also, that [God] should give unto him [God’s] own power” (Moses 4:3).  After being cast out, Satan “became . . . the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto [God’s] voice” (Moses 4:4).  In all these situations, Satan is obsessed with receiving honor, worship, power, and control over humankind.

Applying this insight to the Fall of Adam and Eve, a Religious Studies scholar from BYU named M. Catherine Thomas wrote that: “We have to learn something about the adversary’s objectives. When the Lord gave Adam dominion over the earth, one of Lucifer’s first designs was to wrest this power from Adam and his posterity.”[3]  As recorded in a revelation to Joseph Smith, Adam “became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation” (D&C 29:40).  Building on this idea, Thomas wrote that:

I suggest one possibility concerning the way in which Eve was deceived.  Eve in the garden occupies a position similar to the Savior’s in the wilderness when Satan tried to tempt him to turn the stones into bread.  The Savior recognized Satan and refused to do his bidding with the words: “Man shall . . . live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Jesus refused Satan because to do what Satan bade him do would have put him in subjection to Satan, which consequence would have relieved him of his messiahship.  Eve apparently did not recognize Satan and may not have understood about subjection to him.  Their eating the fruit at his enticement nevertheless placed them in that subjection (see D&C 29:40).  Is it possible that the deception rested in the fact that Eve took it from the wrong hand, having listened to the wrong voice?[4]

Although discussed in a different context, M. Catherine Thomas’s insights apply to a discussion about contradictory commands.  Perhaps the problem with partaking of the forbidden fruit was that by doing so, Eve and Adam chose to follow Satan’s commands rather than God’s commands.

A connected idea that helps make sense of this approach is that the two commands were conditional on time and situation.  A comparison is that we are still told that “God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.”[5]  Yet, according to The Family: A Proclamation to the World, “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”[6]  For individuals who are not married, these two commands would be contradictory in a similar way to how the two commands given to Adam and Eve were contradictory—you are supposed to have children, but you can only do so by using the powers of procreation that are restricted to marriage.  When the timing is right, however, these individuals can be married and fulfill both commandments.  There would, by extension, be some way in which Adam and Eve could move beyond the state where they could not have children while still respecting the command to not partake of the fruit.

One possibility is that God would have eventually given the command to partake of the fruit or acted in some other way to allow Adam and Eve to experience mortal life and have children.  Elder James E. Talmage suggested that: “If it can be supposed that our first parents had not fallen surely some other means would have been employed to initiate the conditions of mortality on earth.”[7]  In this hypothetical scenario, the two commands were both intended to be fulfilled in the way and time God wanted.  For the time being, they were supposed to stay in the garden and not partake of the fruit, but when the time was ripe, God would have provided the way for them to move forward.

All of this, however, is extremely speculative.  There is no indication in the scriptures that God was planning on doing something to allow Adam and Eve to enter mortality later on.  Actually, Lehi indicates that “if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, 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 must have remained forever, and had no end” (2 Nephi 2:22). There are also no conditions listed in which Adam and Eve would have been allowed to partake of the forbidden fruit.  This makes the comparison to procreation being restricted to marriage somewhat of a stretch, because there is an obvious, known solution to resolve the contradiction—single individuals can get married and then have children (though this is easier said than done sometimes on both fronts).  With the records that we have, there is no comparable resolution to the contradiction of commands to not partake of the fruit and to also have children.  Hence, this solution is still not completely satisfying from an intellectual perspective.

While not completely sufficient, this idea does have some positive aspects to it.  It allows for Satan’s deception of an ignorant Adam and Eve and explains why God seems frustrated when He talks with them after they eat the fruit, even though it still fit into His plan.  It provides an important lesson to us (and to Eve and Adam) about Satan’s goals and what happens when we listen to his voice rather than God’s voice. There may be truth to it, but there are areas of this theory that we just don’t know enough to speak with any certainty.

Next time, we’ll discuss the approach that has been most favorably discussed in the Church.



[1] Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009), 28.

[2] Gospel Principles, 28.

[3] M. Catherine Thomas, Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000), 229.

[4] M Catherine Thomas, Spiritual Lightening (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 53.

[5] The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

[6] The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

[7] James E. Talmage, Sunday Night Talks by Radio, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1931), 69.

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