Early Understandings of Adam and Eve: Woodruff to Whitney
This post is part VII in the Understanding the Fall in Mormonism series. See all parts here.
The last post ended with the claim that Orson Pratt’s narrative of Eden became the dominant understanding of Adam and Eve in Mormon thought until the 1950s. In this post we will test this claim by exploring the exegetical history of Lehi’s couplet.
Interpreting “Adam Fell that Men Might Be” from 1882 ~ 1921
The year was 1882. John Taylor was the president of the church. Orson Pratt had passed away about seven months earlier. Wilford Woodruff addressed the saints from the Salt Lake Tabernacle:
Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy; and some have found fault with that. It has been said that God commanded Adam to multiply and replenish the earth; and it has been said that Adam was not under the necessity of falling in order to multiply and replenish the earth, but you will understand that the woman was deceived and not the man; and according to the justice of God she would have been east out into the lowly and dreary world alone, and thus the first great command could not have been complied with unless Adam had partaken of the forbidden fruit.
Woodruff interestingly acknowledges an alternative view that Adam was not required to fall in order to have children (no doubt alluding to the views of Orson Pratt) but does not affirm or reject this viewpoint. However, he does stress that the separation of Adam and Eve would have preventing them from multiplying and replenishing the earth.
This same year, Franklin D. Richards and James E. Little published A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel. Richards and Little state:
The principle of obedience could only be developed in man through the fall, and only through that can they realize the joys of redemption and eternal life. The woman fell first, and led Adam out of Eden and the presence of the Lord. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in transgression;” 1 Tim. 2. 14.
When the Lord asked Adam if he had eaten of the fruit of the tree of which he had commanded him that he should not eat, he replied, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, She gave me of the tree, and I did eat;” Gen. iii, 12. Adam had been previously commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, and he could not do so unless he remained with Eve. She, being deceived, forced upon him the necessity of partaking of the forbidden fruit with her, or of remaining in a condition where it would have been impossible to fulfil the first great commandment of the Father.
This exegesis follows 2 Ne. 2:22-23 and Moses 5:11-12. Richards focuses on the fact that having children was predicated on Adam remaining in close proximity with Eve. There is no sense that Adam and Eve’s immortal and perfect bodies were inherently incapable of reproduction. In addition, it was Eve’s deception that “forced” Adam into his predicament.
In an 1884 Salt Lake Tabernacle address, George Q. Cannon provided an exegesis of 2 Ne. 2:25:
His wife, Eve, was deceived in eating of the fruit; she partook of it, being beguiled, yet in the perfect exercise of her agency, and after she had partaken of it, and become subject to the penalty that God had pronounced—the penalty of death and expulsion from the garden—then she came and told Adam what she had done. Adam was fully conscious of all the consequences that had attended this act. He knew perfectly well that the penalty would be executed—that that Eve had become mortal, that death had entered into her tabernacle, and the penalty that God had pronounced would be fully executed; that she would be thrown out of the garden and that they would be separated forever—that is, so far as this life was concerned. He knew this, and, fully conscious of all the consequences which should follow his partaking of the fruit, he partook of it. In doing so he was not deceived. He partook of it because of his desire to fulfill the commandments of God. God had given unto him this woman for a wife; they were bound together by immortal ties; but because of this act of hers there must necessarily have been a separation that would have endured as long as her mortal life endured. Adam understanding this, partook of the fruit, and as is said by the Prophet Lehi, “Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they may have joy.” If he had not fallen; if he had not partaken of that fruit, there would have been no human race on the earth. He understood this, therefore he partook of it and accompanied his wife.
Cannon would soon go into hiding to evade federal agents in search of Mormon polygamists. In September 1890, Woodruff would issue the Manifesto, officially renouncing plural marriage.
In 1891, Cannon reiterated his teaching:
Adam was not deceived. It was the woman that was deceived. But, as we are told by Lehi in the Book of Mormon, Adam fell that man might be; and men are that they may have joy. Adam saw that the partner that had been given him by the Father had broken the law, and that there would be an eternal separation between them unless he also broke the law and partook of the forbidden fruit. He did so with his eyes fully open, aware of all the consequences which would follow, in order to remain with his partner. If he had not fallen, man would not have been.
Cannon’s exegesis of Lehi’s phrase, consistent with that of those preceding him, focused on the fact that it was the separation of Adam and Eve that Adam sought to remedy by breaking the law himself.
One interesting move is that Cannon suggests that Adam made this choice “with his eyes fully open” and “fully conscious of all the consequences,” thus imputing to Adam knowledge of the significance of his action before partaking of the forbidden fruit and before falling.
In his 1899 seminal work, Articles of Faith, James E. Talmage describes clearly the Adamic dilemma:
Adam found himself in a position that made it impossible for him to obey both of the specific commandments given by the Lord. He and his wife had been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth. Adam had not yet fallen to the state of mortality, but Eve already had; and in such dissimilar conditions the two could not remain together, and therefore could not fulfill the divine requirement as to procreation. On the other hand, Adam would be disobeying another commandment by yielding to Eve’s request. He deliberately and wisely decided to stand by the first and greater commandment; and, therefore, with understanding of the nature of his act, he also partook of the fruit that grew on the tree of knowledge. The fact that Adam acted understandingly in this matter is affirmed by scripture. Paul, in writing to Timothy, explained that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” The prophet Lehi, in expounding the scriptures to his sons, declared: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy.”
Notice that Talmage does not say that Adam could not obey both commandments from the very beginning. Adam only found himself in this situation once Eve fell. Talmage says nothing of Adam and Eve being unable to conceive in the garden, but upholds the Prattian narrative that it was separation from Eve that Adam was seeking to prevent (“could not remain together, and therefore“). Like Cannon, Talmage also imputes understanding to Adam before the fall, appealing to 1st Timothy, which seems to be handy for all sorts of theological problems. Notice that Talmage imputes “widsom” to Adam before his partaking of the fruit that would make one wise.
Perhaps more importantly, Talmage focuses on the concept of the “greater commandment.” This would be an extremely important idea in Mormon thought. While Talmage affirms Adam’s disobedience and has no qualms characterizing Adam’s action as sin, he believes that Adam chose “the first and greater commandment” and there one finds Adam’s moral virtue.
The poet Nephi Anderson provided Latter-day Saints with a romantic telling of the Adam and Eve narrative. “Love’s First Conquest” (1904) was a story of Adam’s dilemma in the Garden and how ultimately, his love for Eve caused him to fall with her:
“And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived was in the transgression” (I. Tim, ii:14).
Confusion reigned within his troubled mind,
Nor knew he what to think, or say, or do—
For Eve had fallen! Satan had beguiled
The woman whom the Lord had brought to him
To be his helpmeet. She had been deceived—
Had eaten of the fruit which was forbidden,
And by that act had brought upon her head
The curse which God had said should follow sin.
Dear Eve had fallen from her innocence!
Mortality now coursed within her veins
And its attendant ills would soon be seen.
And outcast would she be, and driven forth
From Eden’s sweet abode, to wander through
A world of sin, to meet the tempter, and
To struggle with his wily arts alone!
Alone? Ah, yes alone! He could not go
With her; for he was yet immortal; and
Mortality and immortality
Could not be lined as husband and as wife!
Then Adam pondered on the words of God;
And how in this his hour of trial, he yet
Could do the will of God, and yet be true
To her whom God had said should with him be.
The first great law rang clearly in his ears:
“Be fruitful, multiply, the earth replenish.”
Yet this could not be done unless he too
Partook of that forbidden fruit which had
In it the seeds of sin and woe and death.
Then Love’s eternal fountain swift burst forth
And flooded Adam’s heart. To Eve he sped,
Partook of the forbidden fruit; and then
With her was driven out into a world
Fallen and cursed through conscious deed of his.”
Anderson’s beautiful telling illustrates that these ideas were not just on the minds of ranking Mormon apostles but pervasive even in the literary culture of the time. As consistent with the tradition, First Timothy is invoked, Eve is deceived, Adam faces a dilemma, which is resolved by deliberately falling in order to be with Eve.
Anderson’s garden lore is also instructive for what it does not say. Adam’s deliberation was personal. We get an glimpse into Adam’s mind only, his internal monologue, as he alone wrestles with his choice. He does not deliberate with his partner Eve on what to do. Yet, God’s commandment “Be fruitful, multiply, the earth replenish” comes into his mind as the solution to his problem, telling him that the answer is to remain with Eve, even if it the cost is the curse of sin and death.
B. H. Roberts entered into the fray with his exegesis of 2 Nephi 2:25 published in the Improvement Era in 1905. Roberts leads with 1 Timothy—the classic opening gambit—in order to further elaborate and extend Mormonism’s Adam and Eve narrative.
In an incidental way Paul gives us to understand that Adam in the matter of the first transgression was not deceived, but that the woman was. It therefore follows that Adam must have sinned knowingly, and perhaps deliberately; making choice of obedience between two laws pressing upon him. With his spouse, Eve, he had received a commandment from God to be fruitful, to perpetuate his race in the earth. He had also been told not to partake of a certain fruit of the Garden of Eden; but according to the story of Genesis, as also according to the assertion of Paul, Eve, who with Adam received the commandment to multiply in the earth, was deceived, and by the persuasion of Lucifer induced to partake of the forbidden fruit. She, therefore, was in transgression, and subject to the penalty of that law which from the scriptures we learn included banishment from Eden, banishment from the presence of God, and also the death of the body. This meant, if Eve were permitted to stand alone in her transgression, that she must be alone also in suffering the penalty. In that event she would have been separated from Adam, which necessarily would have prevented obedience to the commandment given to them conjointly to multiply in the earth. In the presence of this situation it is therefore to be believed that Adam not deceived either by the cunning of Lucifer or the blandishments of the woman, deliberately, and with full knowledge of his act and its consequences, and in order to carry out the purpose of God, in the creation of man, shared alike the woman’s transgression and its effects, and this in order that the first great commandment he had received from God, viz.-“Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it”-might not fail of fulfillment. Thus ‘Adam fell that man might be.”
Roberts is perhaps one of the most influential thinkers in Mormondom. Yet, notice the complete absence of any idea of conflicting commandments. It is true that Adam had “two laws pressing upon him” but only after Eve’s deception in the Garden. Like Cannon and Talmage, Roberts argues that “Adam must have sinned knowingly.” As I outlined in my post “From Sin to Transgression,” the movement to characterize Adam’s action as not a sin, had not yet taken hold in Mormonism. Talmage not only uses the language of sin, but argues that Adam committed sin knowingly, even before partaking of the fruit that would open his eyes. It is important to impute this rational decision to Adam in order to argue that his act was wise.
Orson F. Whitney, the poet-historian, writing as late as 1921, continued to tell the tale according to the tradition preceding him.
When our First Parents partook of the forbidden fruit, it was the woman who was beguiled by the Serpent (Satan) and induced to go contrary to the divine command. The man was not deceived. What Adam did was done knowingly and after full deliberation. When Eve had tasted of the fruit, Adam did likewise in order to carry out another command, the first that God had given to this pair–the command to “multiply and replenish the earth.” Eve, by her act, had separated herself from her husband, and was mortal, while he remained in an immortal state. It was impossible, therefore, unless he also became mortal, for them to obey the original behest. This was Adam’s motive. This was his predicament. He was facing a dilemma, and must make choice between two divine commands. He disobeyed in order to obey, retrieving, so far as he could, the situation resulting from his wife’s disobedience. Fully aware of what would follow, he partook of the fruit of the inhibited tree, realizing that in no other way could he become the progenitor of the human race.
Adam’s decision is the focus of Whitney’s telling. Adam’s deed was done with full deliberation. Eve, on the other hand, was the one beguiled and disobedient. Whitney gives no indication that Adam deliberated with Eve, for “He was facing a dilemma.” In addition, the root of the dilemma was the separation to prevent Adam from remaining with Eve. Whitney paradoxical language “He disobeyed in order to obey” should not be confused with the notion that Adam was making a choice between two mutually incompatible commandments. Whitney does not argue these commandments were inherently in conflict. Rather, Whitney’s message is that even as Adam fell, he was trying to be obedient to the extent that his situation allowed it. Finally, Whitney never suggests Adam and Eve were incapable by nature of having children.
The story of Adam and Eve being told by these various individuals forms a crescendo, inching its way towards the future, acquiring new elements with each telling.
These early interpretations that began with Orson Pratt’s narrative all share key elements. First, Adam has a decision to make once Eve is deceived and beguiled by the devil. Adam deliberately, with full knowledge, makes the wise choice to fall in order to remain with Eve and populate the earth. For Orson Pratt, there was nothing to prevent Adam and Eve from complying with all commandments while in the Garden, and thus God did not provide conflicting commandments to Adam and Eve. None of the exegetes covered in this survey sought to overturn this particular notion of Orson Pratt. The only reason given for the inability of Adam and Eve to reproduce is physical (and spiritual) separation from each other; an event forced upon Adam and Eve from the outside. This narrative held sway for over one hundred years, until one Norwegian immigrant-convert had an idea. Adam and Eve would never be the same.
 Wilford Woodruff (May 14, 1882). Journal of Discourses 23:126. It is unclear the nature of criticism of the phrase “Adam fell that man might be” to which Woodruff alludes. There is a possibility that the narrative functions as an apologetic for the validity of Lehi’s teachings. Brigham Young recalled: “I remember hearing a debate between brother Alfred Cordon, one of our Elders, and a sectarian priest, when I was in England; and I presume there were a score or two of priests ready to put questions and answers, into the mouth of their speaker. They expected to be able to use up the Book of Mormon upon the point of Adam’s partaking of the forbidden fruit from the hand of Eve; but the answer that the woman was found in the transgression, and not the man, came so, quickly that it hushed them up at once, so that they could not argue further. Brother Orson Pratt whispered to brother Cordon the answer.” Journal of Discourses 6:145.
 Franklin D. Richards and James A. Little, Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel (1882; reprint, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1925), pp.4-5.
 George Q. Cannon. September 28, 1884. Journal of Discourses 26:188-189.
 George Q. Cannon. “Remarks.” Deseret News, May 23, 1891, (Sermon given May 10, 1891) p. 706. See also Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. (Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Utah: BHS Publishers, 1987–92), vol. 2.
 Generally, scripture only claims Adam and Eve’s eyes were “opened” after partaking of the fruit. Lehi taught that Adam and Eve could do “no good” while in the Garden. It’s likely Cannon rejected a literal understanding of Lehi’s view that Adam and Eve were morally inert in the Garden. One cannot claim that Adam made a moral choice in the Garden, if Adam can do “no good” in the Garden.
In order to insulate Adam and Eve from charges of sin in the garden, McConkie formed an apologetic that stated “Sin cannot be committed unless laws are ordained (Alma 42:17) and unless people have knowledge of those laws so that they can violate them. Adam and Eve could not commit sin while in the Garden of Eden, although laws of conduct had already been established, because the knowledge of good and evil had not yet been given them. Unless they had partaken of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “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 Ne. 2:23.). Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Bookcraft, 1966) p.735.
McConkie argues that one cannot condemn Adam and Eve for actions taken in the Garden, but the rub is that the same apologetic prevents us from praising any actions either. McConkie’s logic would prevent those like Canon, Talmage, Roberts, etc., from arguing that Adam made a wise and deliberate choice for good while in the Garden.
 James E. Talmage. Articles of Faith. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1899), p.68.
 Nephi Anderson, “Love’s First Conquest.” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 66 no 20 (Thursday, May 19, 1904). pp. 319-320. Thanks to BHodges to making me aware of Anderson’s work.
 B.H. Roberts. “Originality of the Book of Mormon (Continued).” Improvement Era, Vol. 8, No. 11. September 1905. Also published in B. H. Roberts, The Seventy’s Course in Theology: Second Year, Outline History of the Dispensations of the Gospel (Deseret News, 1908):45
 Orson F. Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts: A Series of Dissertations on Spiritual, Historical and Philosophic Themes. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1921): 80-81.