Sunday, March 26, 2006

“Contradictory” commandments in the Garden of Eden

My favorite thing to study in the scriptures is the creation. The “contradictory” commandments of not partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and having kids which wasn’t possible unless they did partake of the fruit was perplexing. I read a various exegeses on the subject, none which satisfied me. Then in Alonzo Gaskill’s book “The Savior and the Serpent” he offered an interesting explanation.

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that “The Lord said to Adam, here is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you want to stay here then you cannot eat of that fruit. If you want to stay here then I forbid you to eat it. But you may act for yourself and you may eat of it if you want to. And if you eat it you will die.”

Roger Keller (BYU professor) similarly wrote that God might have said something like the following. “If you want to stay in the Garden of Eden with no cares and no possibility of growth, you should not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, if you desire to grow and receive all that I have in store for you, you will have to leave the garden. If you eat of the tree, you will be cast out of the garden into the earth and into mortality, and you will die both temporally and spiritually, but you will open the door for yourselves and for all humanity to receive eternal life like I have. The choice is yours. In other words, God gave them information.”

I feel that this is the best explanation. Adam and Eve were told that it was forbidden of them to eat of the fruit and stay in the garden, but if they did leave the garden then they were commanded to have kids. Thus there was no contradiction in the commandments given.

This seems straight forward and easy to understand, yet I don’t remember ever hearing it coming up in a discussion about the creation in church. Is that because I space out (good possibility) or that it doesn’t come up?


Jared said...

You just wanted to say "exegeses."

Nick said...

That is an interesting analysis.

My take on it has been that God often gives us contradictory commandments, though usually not always as explicit like in this example. We are always faced with deciding which of two commandments is more important to follow. A very blatant and extreme example is "thou shalt not kill", and our modern day commandment to obey your government by serving in the military if required. Both are commandments, and under normal circumstances we obey "thou shalt not kill", but we are commanded to help defend our families and country.

Obviously, God wanted us to fall, otherwise we could not be exalted. However he could not force us to fall, in fact he even HAD to command Adam not to fall by telling him not to eat. Otherwise, I don't see how you can be fallen if it's not a conscious decision made to disobey and separate oneself from God. But they likewise knew they needed to have children (and I suspect they knew their choice involved exaltation for all their posterity that would choose it), so they weighed the two commandments, decided which one was more important, and chose accordingly. And notice how Adam (and his posterity) are not held accountable for the "sin" of falling: Jesus tells Adam that that particular sin is forgiven him, and his children are not accountable for it: "Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden. Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children." (Moses 6: 53-54) So just like in killing to defend your family where you are not held accountable for the taking of life if it's done to follow the more important commandment, neither are Adam nor we held to account for the sin of "falling", though we still have to live with the consequences of that sin. And even the direct consequence of that sin (death) is eventually taken care of for everyone automatically.

So I don't have a problem reading them as actual contradictory commandments since we are given contradictory commandments all the time anyway, and Adam could not be in a true "fallen" state unless he had willfully disobeyed the commandment not to fall.

Jared said...

I don't think the two explanations given here are mutually exclusive. I think that Warren's point has value, that that was the intent of God's giving Adam and Eve the two commandments, but Nick is right too. God sometimes gives us a choice between two things that may be contradictory. Often we talk about not choosing between Right and Wrong but between Good and Better. I think that this applies to the Garden. However, by choosing the Better they had to disobey the Good. Does that make sense?

I would also add a thought. I believe that another reason God gave them "contradictory" commandments was to teach Adam and Eve a point: you cannot do it alone. Eventually Adam and Eve would have had to learn that their own abilities were insufficient, that they would not be able to obey all of God's commandments or do everything that would be required of them. Eventually they would have to realize their need for a Savior. By giving them two commandments, both of which they could not possibly obey, God gave them that lesson right away.

Jenny said...

Interesting discussion Warren. Your post left me with a few questions: how do you (or do you) see Satan fitting into the picture? Following your line of thought, it seems that the decision was consciously made and that the devil would be superflous, or at least not as important as he makes himself out to be. Another thought/question is how do you deal with other similiarly problematic situations, like Abraham "killing" Isaac (as in he would have if the angel had not stopped him and therefore in terms of intent, he can be seen as a murderer) or Nephi and Laban? And finally, I wonder what was it that first was perplexing to you about the contradictory commandments in the creation--are they perplexing because they don't seem to align with a perfect God, or because we don't want to think that God would ask things of us that we cannot fulfill, or because ...?

erin said...

I mentioned before that I teach youth Sunday school and a few weeks ago I taught this lesson. The kids came up with some great questions that I couldn't answer, especially when you throw Nephi 3:7 in there, which is a promise that whatever God commands, there is a way for us to obey...although, now that I think about it, that was more of an expression of confidence made by Nephi than a promise made by God, right? I know there have been times when this whole question was resolved quite peacefully in my mind, but while I was teaching that lesson was not one of those times (and incidentally, almost every time I try to type the word "lesson" I end up with "lession." It cracks me up every time).
I really liked what you said, Warren, and I thought, yeah, that's what I could have told those kids. But then when I read what Nick wrote, I agree. Sometimes, I guess, there just aren't easy answers...which was an easy answer. It reminds me of Fiddler on the roof when Perchik is talking to the men of Anatevka (I'm killing the spelling, I know) about their duty with the outside world. One man says something to Perchik and Tevya says, "He's right, you know." Then Perchik counters the remark with one of his own and Tevya says to the other men, "He's right." Then one of the other men (the village heckler) says, "He's right and he's right? They can't both be right." To which Tevya says, "You know, you are also right."

Nick said...

She's right