This last Sunday, our Gospel Doctrine class discussed again the dilemma that Eve supposedly faced in the Garden of Eden. This dilemma is discussed ad nauseum in LDS church meetings throughout the year, even if the course of study for the year isn’t Old Testament. Mormons teach that Adam and Eve had been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth (see Genesis 1:27-28 in the Bible and Moses 2:27-28 from the LDS canonized scripture The Pearl of Great Price), and that this commandment conflicted with the commandment simultaneously given to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (see Genesis 2:16-17, and Moses 3:16-17). After the serpent tempted her to eat the forbidden fruit, explaining that it would allow her to know good and evil, Eve is said to have made the difficult, but providential, decision to partake of the forbidden fruit so she could comply with the greater commandment, which was to multiply and replenish the earth. Eve is thus characterized in Mormonism as having possessed some overarching understanding of how to prioritize commandments, and of the need to sacrifice for the greater good of all mankind, so that man might be. Paradoxically, despite her seemingly noble act, she tells the Lord that she was beguiled by the serpent, and is punished; Adam is also punished for hearkening to her (see Genesis 3:13, 16-19 and Moses 4:19, 22-25). Mormons don’t try to explain why, if Eve’s decision was noble and made for the greater good, either she or Adam should be punished.
This supposed dilemma faced by Eve is, within Christianity, peculiar only to Mormons. This might be surprising to Mormons, since their Bible contains the same verses in Genesis that the rest of Christianity possesses, and the corresponding verses in Mormonism’s Book of Moses aren’t any different. The fact is, and this will shock Mormons to read it, the idea that Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth has no scriptural basis, whether you’re reading the Bible or the Pearl of Great Price. That is why the rest of Christianity doesn’t philosophize over why God would give two commandments in direct conflict with each other. According to scripture, He didn’t. And it makes sense. God creates many people with physical disabilities which don’t allow them to produce children, and others suffer injuries which take away this ability. It would be inconsistent with God’s justice to command that which, in many people, is physically impossible.
According to both Genesis and the Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Moses, God didn’t command anyone, including Adam and Eve, to multiply and replenish the earth. Instead, during the spiritual creation of mankind, before any living thing existed on the earth, God blessed mankind generally with the ability to multiply and replenish the earth, just as He had blessed all animal life generally. (See Genesis 1: 20-22, 26-28; Moses 2: 20-22, 26-28.) Neither scriptural account indicates that afterwards, when God had completed the physical creation of all living things, He said anything to the animals or to Adam and Eve in the garden about multiplying and replenishing the earth. But our first parents were commanded to avoid the tree of knowledge of good and evil, without any conflicting commandment complicating their situation.
The scriptural accounts indicate the temptations that persuaded Eve to partake of the fruit were the chance to be as the gods, knowing good and evil; the fruit’s appealing appearance as food; and the serpent’s lying assurances that contrary to what God had told her, eating it wouldn’t bring about her death. (See Genesis 3: 4, 6; Moses 4: 10, 12.) Her temptation was of the same nature that sucks much of humanity in, and persuades them to ignore what they’ve been counseled to do or not do–the desire to experience something new, exciting and pleasurable.
According to II Nephi chapter 2 of the Book of Mormon, this story is about God’s introduction of the concept of man having the right to choose whether or not to follow God’s commandments, while simultaneously having to face the consequences of whatever choice is made. The Book of Mormon doesn’t corroborate that Eve faced the dilemma of contradictory commandments. But it does say that all choices involve opposition, and in Eve’s case, the lure of the fruit’s perceived benefits opposed the fact that God had forbidden it. God knew, of course, that Eve, and then Adam, would make the choice to partake of it. And He planned for that result, foreseeing, but not causing, that through this means, man would still come to populate the earth. He works this way, since “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” II Nephi 2: 24. But the experience would teach our first parents and their posterity an extremely valuable lesson. Men and women would now understand that they live in a world of self-determination, facing all the burdens and joys that co-exist with the freedom to choose their own paths. Mistakes were anticipated, and God would provide solutions to those mistakes, but even then, whether to use those solutions would also be a choice man would have to make.
Once they’ve re-read their scriptures and verified the idea that Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth is absent, Mormons are likely to respond that what they’ve been taught comes from the endowment ceremony conducted in Mormon temples. This is indeed true. Endowment ceremonies do include a dramatic recounting of events that supposedly took place in the Garden of Eden, and among those is the dramatization of Adam and Eve being commanded to multiply and replenish the earth. But this answer creates far more confusion than it dispels. What is the basis for the temple dramatization, if it is not based on any actual scripture? (Mormons assume it is based on scripture.) If it is claimed that the endowment ceremony was revealed by God, what is the basis of that claim? And how can revelations from God supplant divinely revealed scripture which isn’t defective in the first place? Did Joseph Smith or Brigham Young claim the temple endowment ceremony was revealed by God? (Mormons assume so, though they don’t know to whom it was revealed, and they have no record of anyone making that actual claim.) If so, where can we read what the Lord supposedly said, and to whom, and when, and who recorded it? (The answer is, truly, nowhere.) Records from private collections do exist showing the ceremony has changed dramatically over the years from its earliest form, but the LDS Church itself hasn’t claimed to possess documents demonstrating its initial divine provenance.
So, Mormons go on believing Eve faced a dilemma of figuring out which of two contradictory commandments to obey. The discussions on this subject consume much class time every Sunday they come up. But amazingly, the notion is unfounded in LDS scripture and history. How can the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints go on in this manner?
If we accepted the accounts in the Bible and Book of Mormon, not only would LDS doctrine be less convoluted, we also wouldn’t have to struggle to explain our way around why God would give contradictory and mutually exclusive commandments. And that, in turn, would give us a more accurate and favorable understanding of the nature of God.