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.