The Fall of Man Part I

The Fall of Man Part I
The Doctrine

According to Mormon beliefs the fall of man was a necessary part of God’s plan for the happiness of his children (Alma 42:8; Moses 6:48; 2 Nephi 2:23; 2:25; 1 Nephi 17:36). Understanding why the fall was necessary begins by understanding the premortal life. From there the necessity of the fall becomes apparent.

We believe that each person had a premortal existence; we lived before the creation of the earth (Ether 3:15; Abr. 3:22; Jer. 1:5; Eph. 1:4). During premortality we learned and progressed. But eventually we reached the limits of premortal development, so it became necessary for us to move to the next stage of existence, mortality. President Joseph F. Smith (d. 1918) explained it in this way:
Our spirits existed before they came to this world. They were in the councils of the heavens before the foundations of the earth were laid…We sang together with the heavenly hosts for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid, and when the plan of our existence upon this earth and redemption were mapped out…[It was there that] Satan rebelled against God, and sought to destroy the agency of man… (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 331)
The plan laid out during premortality was this: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abr. 3:24-25). (See Are Satan and Jesus Brothers? ; Who is Jesus?-to a Mormon.) The necessity of the fall in God’s plan is illustrated in a much-loved passage from the Book of Mormon: “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:24-26). In accordance with that plan God created the heavens and the earth, “formed man of the dust of the ground,” and “planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Gen. 2:7-8).

In the garden of Eden God gave man his agency (Moses 7:32). The existence of genuine agency necessitates several things: a cognitive ability to make choices, meaningful choices to make, consequences (Alma 42:17) to those choices, as well as motivation to choose (2 Nephi 2:16). These things are part of God’s design. He created Adam and Eve in his own image (Gen. 1:27). He commanded them to multiply and replenish the earth. He commanded them not to eat the forbidden fruit; if so they would die (Gen. 2:17). He created the tree of life in direct opposition to the forbidden fruit, “the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Nephi 2:15), which according to the prophet Lehi was necessary, for without opposition “righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).[1] Notice that he doesn’t say righteousness cannot exist without wickedness, only that it cannot be brought about. And finally, “man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed” (2 Nephi 2:16). And so Satan, because “[he] had become miserable forever,” “sought also the misery of all mankind.” So he said to Eve, “Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (2 Nephi 2:16-18). Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gave it to Adam, and he ate. They were expelled from the garden, whence humanity suffers from mortality with its accompanying pains and toils, physical death, and separation from God’s presence. According to Mormon beliefs had Adam and Eve not transgressed “they would have had no children; wherefore 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” (2 Nephi 2:23). It was only after the fall that “Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters” (Moses 5:2).

The fall was a beatific blessing; so much so that Adam exulted, saying, “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.” And Eve proclaimed, “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 5:10-11).

God used the fall to bring about a world where morally significant choices obtain. Consequently, we “are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27). Though we believe it’s possible for individuals “to do many [good] things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them” (D&C 58:27-28), we also believe that the “natural man” in each of us “is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Thus, he who “yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” can overcome the natural man and become “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).

All About Eve
Historically, Judaism and “normative” Christianity have tended to place the blame for the fall on Eve. Thomas Aquinas believed that Satan tempted Eve because she was the weaker sex.[2] The apocryphal Book of Sirach (canonical for the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches) says, “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die” (Sir. 25:24). According to Philo, “Adam typifies the rational, Eve the sensuous, element of human nature; while the serpent is the symbol of carnal lust and pleasure” (“Fall of Man,” Jewish Encyclopedia). According to Calvinist theologian A.W. Pink, “No excuse can be made for Eve now. If she had acted foolishly in approaching so near to the fatal tree, if her suspicions were not at once aroused by the serpent’s opening remark, she certainly ought to have been deeply horrified, turning immediately away, when she heard him imply that the Lord her God had lied. Joseph fled from his temptress” (Man’s Total Depravity, Chapter 2). According to some rabbis, “Through the illicit intercourse of Eve with the serpent…the nature of her descendants was corrupted, Israel alone overcoming this fatal defect by accepting the Torah at Sinai, which had been offered to and rejected by all other nations” (Ibid.). The LDS view is very different. Brigham Young said, “We should never blame Mother Eve, not the least. I am thankful to God that I know good from evil, the bitter from the sweet, the things of God from the things not of God” (JD, v. 13, p. 145-146). The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of “our glorious Mother Eve” (D&C 138:39). According to our temple instruction Satan first tempted Adam, but he manfully refused. Satan then found Eve and reasoned with her in a way very similar to how it’s presented in scripture,
And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve…And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.) And the woman said unto the serpent: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; But of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when 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, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat. (Moses 4:6-12)
Eve was deceived, and Satan did lie. But in a way Eve is the heroine of the story. She desired wisdom and so ate the forbidden fruit. When she brought the fruit to Adam he was suddenly faced with a moral dilemma. Either obey God’s commandment to say with his wife—“a man…shall cleave unto his wife” (Gen. 2:24) — by eating the fruit,[3] or obey the command not to eat the fruit and part with his wife. Adam elected to eat the forbidden fruit. Which is what God wanted him to do in the first place.

A dilemma
But there is a dilemma here for the believing Mormon. No matter how one looks at it, God’s plan could not have moved forward without Adam and Eve breaking a commandment. If breaking a commandment is a sin then God wanted them to sin, which doesn’t sound right. This is bothersome to people who believe in obedience to all God’s commandments. They might ask, “How could God want Adam and Eve to sin, when God clearly wants us to avoid sin?” Though I find our doctrine of the fall very appealing, I have never found a satisfactory response to that question. There are two common explanations, which I believe are wanting: the conflicting commandments approach and the higher law approach. I talk more about them in my next post. So, as there are no satisfactory explanations, I have crafted my own which I present in the post The Fall of Man part II: Defense of the Doctrine. I have no formal training in philosophy or theology, so I suppose “proper” philosophers will find fault with it.


[1] Lehi said, “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” (2 Nephi 2:15). This is an unusual statement because Adam and Eve could only be aware of sweetness and bitterness by eating the forbidden fruit, which they were forbidden even to touch. (There was no prohibition against eating from the tree of life.) But they could not have experienced the opposition of sweet and bitter unless they know what bitterness is. Before they partook of the forbidden fruit they could not be aware of any opposition. The tree of life is a symbol the love of God (i.e. sweetness, see 1 Nephi 11:25; 1 Nephi 8:11; Alma 32:42). The bitterness of the forbidden fruit represents the bitterness of mortal life, which is in opposition to the sweetness of the love of God. It is then through experiencing the bitter that we can know the sweet (D&C 29:39). If they knew the forbidden fruit was bitter they probably would not have eaten it.

[2] Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the woman was employed as an instrument of temptation in bringing about the downfall of the man, both because the woman was weaker than the man, and consequently more liable to be deceived, and because, on account of her union with man, the devil was able to deceive the man especially through her” (Summa Theologica, 2.2).

[3] The phrase “they shall be one flesh” does have a sexual connotation. “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’” (NIV, 1 Cor. 6:16).

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