Tuesday, January 25, 2005

OPPOSITION IN ALL THINGS: Exploring the story of Adam & Eve

For most faiths that embrace it, the story of Adam and Eve has traditionally been seen as the story of humanity’s “fall” from God’s grace. The story is taken as a parable, illustrating how humanity’s pride and vanity--expressed in their desire for knowledge, in their attempts to become gods--brought about sin and death. Many who accept this interpretation of the story, bemoan humanity’s loss of Eden; they look back longingly to the garden paradise, wishing that they could return there, escaping from the pain and suffering of human existence.

Mormonism rejects every major point in this interpretation of the story. Indeed, Mormonism’s interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve presents a positive, life-affirming, benevolent view of existence, human nature and God.

Our next several lessons will explore Mormonism’s new and unorthodox take on this timeless story.


What follows is a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, edited together from the Bible, as various Mormon scriptures and Mormon liturgy--in this case the dramatized section of the 1990 LDS Temple Endowment ceremony. (References for the sources can be found at the end of the lesson.)

The Gods planted a garden, eastward in Eden, and there they put the man Adam and the woman Eve. Out of the ground the Gods made grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; the tree of life, also, in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And the Gods took the man and woman and put them in the Garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it.

And the Gods commanded them, saying: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the time that you eat it, you shall surely die. Nevertheless, you may choose for yourself, for it is given to you.”

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

And the serpent said unto the woman, “You shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing• good and evil. That is the way Father gained his knowledge. You must eat of this fruit so as to comprehend that everything has its opposite: good and evil, virtue and vice, light and darkness, health and sickness, pleasure and pain; and thus your eyes will be opened and you will have knowledge.”

“Is there no other way?” asked the women.

“There is no other way,” the serpent replied.

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit, and did eat. She gave it also to her husband, saying, “It is better for us to pass through sorrow that we may know the good from the evil.”

And the man did eat. And their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

When they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, Adam and Eve hid themselves among the trees of the garden.

The Lord God called unto Adam, saying, “Where are you?”

Adam replied, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

And the Lord said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded you that you should not eat?”

The man said, “The woman, who you gave me and commanded to stay with me, gave me the fruit of the tree and I did eat.”

And the woman said: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”

To the woman, the Lord said, “In sorrow you shall bring forth children.”

And to Adam he said, “Instead of producing fruits and flowers spontaneously, the earth shall bring forth thorns, thistles, briars, and noxious weeds. By the sweat of your face shall you eat your bread all the days of your life.”

And the Lord God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. Therefore let cherubim and a flaming sword be placed to guard the way of the Tree of Life, lest Adam put forth his hand and partake of the fruit thereof, and live forever in his sins.”

Then the Lord God sent Adam and Eve forth from the garden of Eden, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, his wife, did labor with him.

And Adam knew his wife, and she bore sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth.

And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgressions my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh shall see God.’

And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had children, and never should have known good and evil.”

And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known to their sons and their daughters.

If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. All things which were created would have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; they would have remained forever, and had no end. And Adam and Eve would have had no children; they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

Behold, there must be opposition in all things. If not so, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad; and all things would be a compound in one, having neither life or death, corruption or incorruption, happiness or misery, sense or insensibility. There would have been no purpose in its creation.

The Lord God gave to man that he should act for himself. Man could not act for himself unless he was enticed by one thing or another. To bring about God’s eternal purpose for mankind, the forbidden fruit stood in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

Men and women are free according to the flesh. They are free to choose liberty and eternal life, or to choose captivity and death.

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.


In his 1996 best-selling book, How Good To We Have To Be? Rabbi Harold Kushner examines at length how the story of Adam and Eve has been traditionally interpreted. Rejecting these interpretations, he embraces a view that is similar to that of Mormonism: opposition in all things is what makes life worthwhile for human beings.

To illustrate his point, he writes his own version of how life might have been had the story of Adam and Eve ended as most traditionalists wish:

“So the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and a delight to the eye, and the serpent said to her, ‘Eat of it, for when you eat of it, you will be wise as God.’ But the woman said, ‘No, God has commanded us not to eat it, and I will not disobey God.’

And God called the man and the woman and said to them, ‘Because you have hearkened to My word and not disobeyed My command, I shall reward you greatly.’

To the man, He said, ‘You shall never have to work again. Spend all your days in idle contentment, with food growing all around you.’

To the woman, He said, ‘You will bear children without pain and you will raise them without pain. They will need nothing from you. Children will not cry when their parents die, and parents will not cry when their children die.’

To both of them, He said, ‘For the rest of your lives, you will have full bellies and contented smiles. You will never cry and you will never laugh. You will never long for something that you don’t have, and you will never receive something you always wanted.’

And the man and the woman grew old together in the garden, eating daily from the Tree of Life and having many children.

And the grass grew high around the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it.”


Regarding opposition in all things, consider the following verse from The Book of Mormon :

“And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.” (II Nephi 2:15)

Notice the order in which the forbidden fruit and the tree of life are listed in the above...and the order in which the adjectives that follow are listed. This verse seems to indicate that it is the forbidden fruit (representing knowledge of good and evil) that is sweet, while the tree of life (representing eternal life in a state of innocence) is bitter.


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All views are welcomed!


Gaia D writes:

There are many who beleive that the "curses" of Adam and Eve -- and the subsequence inequities, struggle, and hierarchies in this life --provide a pattern for the way things are supposed to be in this life. However, there is another view -- that the curses were a result of transgression, and therefore sin; that they are therefore NOT the way God wants things to be, and are to be FOUGHT against. The Divine way was UNITY and egalitarianism; it is sin that has given us hierarchy, struggle, pain and unfairness. Thus, to truly accept the Atonement and to make it work in our existence, would be to BANISH hierarchy, struggle, unfairness between the sexes, and RESTORE UNITY --so the Adam and Eve story actually calls us to repentence and UNITY. Comments? (January 25, 2005)

Rob Lauer writes:

From what I know of Christian orthodoxy, the second view expressed above (that the acts of Adam and Eve were sins that required punishment, and that therefore the current state of existence is not what God originally intended) is the prevailing view...thus, we have the doctrine of Original Sin which views the natural order, human nature and ALL human socities, sructures and efforts as inherently sinful, fallen and in need of redemption.

I long subscribed to this view of things. Indeed, it was my wrestling with this view that led me to leave LDS Mormonism in my early twenties and returning to Orthodox Christianity. Later, as my understanding of the nature of things changed, I rejected this view altogether. Tt was the unique Mormon view of the so-called "Fall of Adam and Eve" that led me to reconsider Mormonism and later to convert back to the faith.

The concept of the "Fall" as a fall from a previous Divinely sanctioned state of unity is interesting, and seems to echoe some strains of Eastern religion and perhaps some strands of Platonic philosophy.

However, Mormonism (at least as it later evolved under Joseph Smith in the late 1830's through the mid-1840's) seems to embrace what I would call (for lack of a better phrase) Classical Western ideals--and chief among these is the reality of the human individual and the individual's free will. Indeed, I think that Mormonism's greatest contribution to world religion is the new paradigm it establishes through it's reimagining of the "Creation" and Adam & Eve stories.

This reimagining includes Joseph Smith's "pre-lude" to the Bible's Creation account: the pre-existence of the individual mind, the Council of the Gods, etc.

According to Joseph Smith's later teachings (which, to my current understanding, resonate more harmoniously with certain strands of Classical Paganism, Gnosticism, Hemeticism and Kabalism than with Orthodox Christianity or Eastern mysticism) the individual mind is an eternally separate, single entity, that is uncreated and this co-equal with God; an individual entity whose intelligence may be greater or lesser than that of other individuals; and yet an individual entity that is bound by the same eternal, uncreated restraints, limitations and laws that govern all other individuals and all existence. The progression or regression of the individual is based upon the way in which she/he acts in relation to these unchanging laws and conditions.

Where Joseph Smith waxed (in my opinion) gloriously blasphemous (in light of both Western and Eastern religions) is that he rejected the idea of a god (or gods) who created these eternal laws and who set the limitations on existence. According to Joseph's new paradigm the being (or beings) that humans revere as Divine is bound by the same eternal restraints of existence that govern humans. Indeed, the Divine is merely the human realizing its full potential.

Regarding hierarchies: these occur within nature. Joseph, writing in Abraham Chapter 3, lays out the idea I mentioned above: that the differences among uncreated intelligent beings is eternal. In a free society, individuals would be allowed to pursue their values and rise to whatever level that their natural endowments and efforts take them. I see nothing inherently sinful in such naturally occuring hierarchies.

Human thought itself is hierarchal in natue--appraising things and ordering them as superior or inferior, first or second, etc. in relation to the overall sense of life that the individual holds. The existence of such mental hierachies, it seems to me, is essential for the exercise of free agency. (This is another idea that one finds laid out in The Book of Mormon, II Nephi, chapter 2.)

Since I view the eating of the Fruit of Knowledge as a myth symbolzing the evolution of the human mind from the level of a brute beast to one which can conceptualize and engage in abstract thought--thus, establishing mental heirarchies--I see this as a virtue and a good, indeed, godly thing. ("And the Lord said, 'Behold the man has become as one of us to know good from evil'"--that is, to perceive and establish mental heirarchies of "good" and "evil.") I don't view this as a transgression or sin from which we need to be saved or redeemed. Indeed, I see our current condition as the only foundation upon which intelligent beings can establish true virtue and righteous.

Egalitarianism, however, is something which to my knowledge has never been found to exist within nature. Indeed, just the opposite exists. From my reading of history (and very recent history at that) the pursuit of Egalitarian ideals has resulted in great human suffering--for it usually involves governments or religious institutions initiating force against individuals for the supposed crime or sin of living according to their inherent nature. The attempt is made to enforce a medium or an average to which all individuals must sacrifice or deny those aspects of their individual characters and natures that make them unqiue. These governments in recent times have, in the name of eqalitarianism and unity among their citizens, imprisoned or murdered millions of their own.

As long as the initiation of force is held to be immoral (and the Mormon concept of Free Agency as well as the Mormon account of Satan's fall seem, to my mind, to establish that the initiation of force IS immoral because it is contrary to human nature--meaning the exercise of Free Agency), my present understanding is that societal hierarchies based on rational attempts to understand and live in accordance with human nature are not only just okay, but represent the highest in humans as social beings. Likewise the pursuit of Egalitarian ideals--because they are contrary to human nature--are, to my mind, mere "forms of godliness" that deny that individuals have "the power thereof"--meaning, the inherent power to be godly.

Any thoughts? (January 25, 2005)

References for this lesson:

Abraham 5:16,19
Genesis 3:1-5
1990 Temple Endowment drama
Genesis 3:6
1990 Temple Endowment drama
Genesis 3:6-11
Moses 4:18-19
Genesis 3:16-17Abraham 5:7-9.11-13
Moses 3:17
1990 Temple Endowment dram
Genesis 3:
1990 Temple Endowment drama
Genesis 3:22-24
Moses 5:1-2
Moses 5:10-12
II Nephi 2:22-24
II Nephi 2: 11-12
]II Nephi 2: 15-16
II Nephi 2:27
II Nephi 2:25

How Good to We Have to Be? by Harold Kushner (1996, Little Brown & Company, New York, NY) pp.32-33