How can a just God give two contradicting commandments?

We have ward conference in a few weeks. Our stake presidency is going to teach Sunday School, and they want to do a Q&A. They've asked us to submit gospel questions that they'll prepare answers to. I think it's a great idea.

Sunday night my husband and I were discussing some things we might ask. Superman (of course) had some good questions, one of which is "How can a just God issue contradicting commandments in the Garden of Eden? He doesn't ask us to do anything that we can't, yet it was impossible to keep both commandments. It's like God was setting them up for failure. How is that just?"

I got a book a few years ago, "Eve and the Choice Made in Eden," by Beverly Campbell. I got it just after I got endowed and married, and it shed a fantastic light on the Garden of Eden story. I think some of the answer to Superman's question can be found here.

(Sidenote: Because this book wasn't written by a general authority, Superman is very hesitant to take as doctrine anything in it. But 75% of the book is GA quotes, 20% research in the Hebrew language or history, and 5% conjecture, in my opinion.)

Here are some of the quotes that I think clarify the "contradicting" commandments.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or 'fall,' could not happen without a transgression -- an exercise of moral agency amounting to a willful breaking of a law. This would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose. ... Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin -- inherently wrong -- but a transgression -- wrong because it was formally prohibited."

Joseph Smith, "Adam did not commit sin in eating the fruits, for God had decreed that he should eat and fall."

When God gave Adam and Eve the commandments, he reminded this of their agency, "Nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself," something He has not done in connection with any other commandment. (Moses 3:17).

President Boyd K. Packer, "There was too much at issue to introduce man into mortality by force. That would contravene the very law essential to the plan."

Elder John A. Widtsoe, "The eternal power of choice was repected by the Lord himself. ... It really converts the command into a warning, as much as if to say, if you do this thing, you will bring upon yourself a certain punishment, but do it if you choose. ... The Lord had warned Adam and Eve of the hard battle with earth conditions if they chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He would not subject his son and daughter to hardship and the death of the their bodies unless it be of their own choice. They must choose for themselves. They chose wisely, in accord with the heavenly law of love for others."

President Brigham Young, "How did Adam and Eve sin? Did they come out in diret opposition to God and to His government? No. But they transgressed a command of the Lord, and through that transgression sin came into the world."

This next part I quote directly from the book.

"As I began to understand the role of agency and recognized that actions taken by Eve and Adam were in accordance with law, I began to wonder if the word command used in the Creation stories was from the same root word as commandment, as in the Ten Commandments. Because I had heard a Hebrew scholar, Dr. Nehama Aschkenasy, speak of the subject of Eve and read her book on feminine images in Hebrew literature, I asked her if she was aware of any difference in the origin of theose two words. She agreed to research the question for me and subsequently advised me that they in fact were not from the same origin. She found that command as used in the Creation story was from a different verb form, whose usage connotes a strong, severe warning, perhaps a statement of law, that was possibly temporary in nature, so that at some future, unspecified time it might not apply."

--Think of young children. We tell them, "Never touch the stove. Never cross the street alone." Do we really mean that they are to never do these things? Of course not! We mean that until they learn enough to make proper choices, don't do it.--

President Joseph Fielding Smith, "Mortality was createdthrough the eating of the forbidden ffuit, if you want to call it forbidden, but I think the Lord has made it clear that it was not forbidden. He merely said to Adam, if you want to stay here [in the garden] this is the situation. If so, don't eat it."

Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Adam and Eve simply complied with the law which enabled them to become mortal beings, and this course of conduct is termed eating the forbidden fruit."

I think all these combine to tell us that they were not contradicting commandments, but a rule of the garden and reminder of their divine roles. They needed to stay in the Garden to learn. To stay in the Garden, they couldn't eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Simple fact. When they were adequately prepared to enter the telestial world, they chose to eat of that tree. They knew they would leave God's presence, but they also knew they had other roles to fulfill. Eating of that tree was not contrary to God's will, but contrary to a rule of the Garden.

We know that at some point, God wanted them to eat of the tree. We all were spirits who needed bodies. Christ was already designanted as the Redeemer. Eating of the tree was not a sin, but the action that brought sin into the world. It wasn't a sin because they didn't know the difference between good and evil until AFTER they had eaten of the tree of "knowledge of good and evil."

These were not contradicting commands. Adam and Eve were reminded of their duty to provide bodies for God's spirit children. And told that to remain in the Garden, they must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.



McEwens said...

President Joseph Fielding Smith said: "Now this is the way I interpret [Moses 3:16–17]: The Lord said to Adam, here is the tree of the 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" ("Fall—Atonement—Resurrection—Sacrament," in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. [1982], 124).

Anonymous said...

Adam had to be thrust from God's presence because he chose a moral wrong. God forbad something and they did it anyway. Not a sin because they did not understand morality of good and evil, but it was still the 'bad' thing.

I know everyone wants to jump to eve's defense on this, and it was in the end the decision needed to push forward the plan and I am grateful it happenned.

My question is not why did they chose to eat of the tree but instead how could god have told them to not eat of the tree and accomplish things that only eating of the fruit would accomplish.

God could not have created a fallen world to put them into because that would require god to make less than perfection, which he would then cease to be god. Then how can this perfect just god say, "Stay up all night and get a full nights sleep"? Thats not possible and its not fair. God has to be fair.

I understand all the transgression, and having to chose to forward humanity etc. But I can't settle the perfect justice of god placing his children in a position that ensures they transgress.

1 nephi 3:7 god giveth no commandment until the children of men save he first prepare a way.

They had to have been a way to keep both commandment.

The best I can think is a matter of timing. Like the commandment we have to get married and to go on a mission. You can do both if you do them in the right order. You should not date and get married until released from your mission. The quotes mention the edict to stay away from the tree as a temepory law maybe it was like this:

you must replinish the earth (you must get sealed in the temple) but first study and stay away from the fruit (don't date while your on your mission) there will come a time for all things.

God could have done that knowing that Satan would interfere and they would not follow his time table and threfore introduce actions contrary to his will and necessitate the fall.


wonder woman said...

(The above comment is Superman's.)

I think you've got it right with the mission/marriage thing. I wouldn't say they went against God's will, but that they disobeyed His law. Because it was His will that they eventually eat of the tree and leave the Garden to multiply and replenish.

I think Elder Oaks answered it when he said, "For reasons that have not been revealed...this would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose."

McEwens said...

Superman, I thing there is something more here.. I wouldnt call it a moral wrong. The Lord refers to it as a transgression, not a sin. It wasnt a sin, it was indeed the very thing the Lord wanted him to do.Elder Oaks explains this in the Ensign Nov 93 page 98
allow me to quote:
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said that the "contrast between a sin and a transgression reminds us of the careful wording in the second article of faith: 'We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression' (italics added). It also echoes a familiar distinction in the law. Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression—wrong because it was formally prohibited. These words are not always used to denote something different, but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall" (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 98; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 73).
Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, p. 13
Another meaning of the word transgress is "to go beyond established limits or conditions." Adam and Eve went beyond the limits that would have kept them in the Garden of Eden forever, and in so doing helped provide the opportunity of mortality for all of us.

Superman, this is a passage that is so fun to get into the Hebrew meanings!

McEwens said...

First lets remember the commandments, according to Jewish rabbis there are 613 (Hence the knots on their garment) The first was to mutiply and replenish. Replenish in Hebrew is "malaph" which means to fill up.

I am just trying to figure out the direction I want to take this, to answer, yet to teach...I taught this in Inst....

McEwens said...

It might be helpful to read Alma 12 32.. take note of the word AFTER

McEwens said...

I am guessing that scripture may help your second question

McEwens said...

Oh and one last comment I promise, the last thing you asked... Is answered in the BD, look under FALL of Adam 2nd paragraph. "The Fall was no surprise to the Lord"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments.

The differnce between sin and transgression is very important here. They were not even capable of sin, which teaches us a lot about our own accountability and moral agency.

It being a transgression, as Elder Oaks and others clearly teach, only because it was forbiden, does clarify some and I think must be understood even to begin to answer the question. But its not the whole answer in and of itself. God still put them in a position where they could not follow all of his orders, (either morally universal or time specific mandates) making them chose to break one to keep the other. and that does not seem like a 'fair' thing to do. It becomes a lesser of two evils arguement which assumes you can not be perfect, or that god would tempt you more than you are able to bear see 1st corinthians 10:13

The full answer, I think, is that it was a time specific mandate that would have expired allowing them, in gods time, to fullfill all commandments. Like getting married and having children (can't do that in reverse order)

Then Satan tempts them and induces the transgression, or educated choice, leading to the fall and mortality, and potential exaltation, of us all.

THough they still could not have done one with out the other you could still bump into the same problem but If god could have planned on lifting the mandate causing it to be just. God just put the date on his plan after he knew Satan would induce it as a transgression which would allow sin to enter the world.


McEwens said...

K, lets go back to Moses 3 vs 17. there is a key there. NEVERTHELESS thou may choosest for thy self, for it is given unto thee, but remembe rthat I forbid it. (this portion was removed from the bible)it was restored in the pearl, and helps us see that perhaps the 2 conflicting commandments did not conflict.

Now, I will quote from JFS. Do you have the books Answers to Gospel Questions?
This is the answer from a prophet:

Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., 4:, p.81
Just why the Lord would say to Adam that he forbade him to partake of the fruit of that tree is not made clear in the Bible account, but in the original as it comes to us in the Book of Moses it is made definitely clear. It is that the Lord said to Adam that if he wished to remain as he was in the garden, then he was not to eat the fruit, but if he desired to eat it and partake of death he was at liberty to do so. So really it was not in the true sense a transgression of a divine commandment. Adam made the wise decision, in fact the only decision that he could make.