This post is part IX in the Understanding the Fall in Mormonism series. See all parts here.
What is the conflicting commandments theory? As we saw in the last post, John A. Widtsoe formulated a new narrative of the fall. His writings explicitly introduced the notion that God could give contradictory commandments. On the one hand, he seems to argue that the contradiction has a necessary purpose. On the other hand, he sought to eliminate the contradiction by downplaying the literal language of the scriptures, converting the “commandment” into a “warning”. The lynchpin of his argument is to insist that Adam and Eve were incapable of children before the fall, overturning Orson Pratt’s long-held teaching that Adam and Eve were able to have children before the fall, and were in fact commanded to do so. Without this important element, Widtsoe’s entire narrative would be impossible.
After Widtsoe, Mormon interpreters continued to insist that God provided contradictory commandments in the Garden. Orson Pratt rejected this approach on ethical grounds. Yet Widtose and others began to argue that not only did God in fact do this, but that this in no way compromises God’s ethical character. In this post we will explore how the conflicting commandments theory functions within Mormon thought. Read more…
This post is part VIII in the Understanding the Fall in Mormonism series. See all parts here.
The Conflicting Commandments Theory 1946 ~ Present
It has long been recognized that there was more than one commandment given in the Garden of Eden. Orson Pratt recognized that Adam and Eve were given a commandment to multiply and replenish the earth and a commandment not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yet, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, Franklin D. Richards, George Q. Cannon, James E. Talmage, and B.H. Roberts, to name a few, never made it a point to argue that these commandments were inherently in conflict.
The dilemma for Adam only occurred after Eve had eaten of the fruit. Only at that point did Adam have “two laws pressing upon him” and only at that point, did he choose to transgress the one law in order to “multiply and replenish the earth” with Eve. But we must underscore the fact that early Latter-day Saint narratives did not revolve around conflicting commandments.
A few developments occurred. First, Mormon interpreters began to focus not on Adam’s decision whether to transgress the law to be with Eve, but rather on Adam and Eve’s choice (“their choice”) to fall in order be multiply and replenish the earth. Second, and as a corollary, Mormon interpreters began to view the commandments in the Garden as inherently in conflict or to begin to argue the commandments are seemingly contradictory or divinely paradoxical. Many Mormon thinkers couched this language in terms of higher laws and lesser laws—that Adam and Eve chose to transgress a lower or lesser law that they might obey a higher or greater law. Lehi’s passage in the Book of Mormon began uniformly to be interpreted such that Adam and Eve were unable to have any children (whether mortal or immortal) before the fall. Third, the question of whether the Fall was “necessary” or “inevitable” was back on the table after a century of no one questioning this point. Read more…
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. Read more…
This post is part VI in the Understanding the Fall in Mormonism series. See all parts here.
The two most influential Garden of Eden narratives in early Mormonism come from Brigham Young and Orson Pratt. Young and Pratt held to rather distinct beliefs regarding Adam and Eve. In many ways, one cannot really understand the development of the fall in Mormonism without understanding the foundational logic behind Young and Pratt’s views.
Brigham Young’s complete understanding of the Eden story is unfamiliar to many Latter-day Saints today, but it is absolutely crucial to understanding how the fall developed.
In 1852, Brigham Young taught: “When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world.” Describing the Edenic narrative through the lens of the plurality of worlds, Young preached, “Yes, an Adam will have to go there and he cannot do without Eve; he must have Eve to commence the work of generation, and they will go into the garden, and continue to eat and drink of the fruits of the corporal world, until this grosser matter is diffused sufficiently through their celestial bodies to enable them, according to the established laws, to produce mortal tabernacles for their spirit children.”
As Buerger explains:
“Brigham’s cosmology thus seemingly held that each “god” was personally responsible for creating spiritual offspring, organizing an earth for their temporal existence, and decelestializing himself to a point where he with an “Eve” could procreate physical bodies for their spirit children.” Read more…
After viewing the vision of the Tree of Life, as Nephi calls it, the angel shows him a vision that seems to reach far beyond his initial petition. Nephi reports that he sees multitudes of people, but it is the angel who divides up the masses into two distinction categories: “thy seed” and “the seed of thy brethren.” (1 Ne. 12:1). After Nephi sees the fourth generation pass away, the angel once again invokes this distinction: “Behold thy seed and also the seed of thy brethren.” Nephi sees both groups engaged in warfare. (1Ne 12:14-15). Nephi sees that the seed of his brethren “overpowered” his seed. At this point, Nephi’s seed disappears from world history.
Nephi’s reaction to this one scene is absent from the record.
There I was, sitting in my usual seat in Sunday school, watching the instructor faithfully proceed through the lesson plan and observing, as I always do, the various comments made by fellow ward members. The topic was Nephi’s Vision and the Great Apostasy.
I was bothered by the apathy to know and appreciate Christian history by a few of my fellow congregants, and even though I flirted with the idea of expending my social capital in the ward by vocally lamenting the problems with what others had shared, I continued to sit in quiet meditation. My thoughts turned elsewhere.
Why was Nephi getting this vision? He asked to see the vision his father saw. The spiritual tour guide did in fact show him his father’s vision. Yet, his vision did not stop there. The Spirit, or the the angel, continued to show Nephi futures beyond his immediate concerns, and apparently beyond what Lehi saw. Nephi is shown not only interpretations of his father’s dream, but the Incarnation, the mortal ministry of the Savior, but more importantly the ultimate destruction of his people by those descended from his wicked brothers. Read more…
I’m sure many of you are too busy to be reading the blogs today. I’m writing on New Year’s Eve. It’s the day when people are busy involved in festivities with family and friends. But I would like to take some time to reflect on this year’s comings and goings.
The year 2011 has been very eventful. I was invited to post at Faith-Promoting Rumors—my sort of test run with group blogging. It’s been great. I feel good about the posts I’ve written this year.
- The Saint Pauls of Mormonism (technically 2010 but I still snuck it in)
- God, Self and Spiritual Birth: Two Perspectives
- Roberts and Descartes
- Spiritual Birth: Challenges for Historians
- Givens on Atonement, Agency, and the War in Heaven
- Spiritual Birth: Challenges for Philosophers
- After the Lesson: “God Is No Respecter of Persons”
- Reflecting on Two Years of Gospel Principles 2010-2011
Especially with my post on the ending of the Gospel Principles manual, I really appreciate all the comments and people reading my post. Read more…
As we embark on the next iteration of the 4-year curriculum rotation for Sunday school curriculum, I find myself grateful that I live in an age where Book of Mormon scholarship has produced many fine choices for the student of the Book.
The way I see it, every generation seems to have individuals who long nostalgically for a prior age where, it would seem, we were better off economically, spiritually, or culturally. While perhaps none of us can escape those thoughts from time to time, the present looks mighty good in terms works on the Book of Mormon.
In our age, who is shaping our discourse on the Book of Mormon? Every voice shapes our discourse, yet there are three scholars in particular whose work seems unavoidable today (not that you would want to avoid them!) and who seem to be instrumental in advancing our discourse in new and fruitful directions.
Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a World Religion (Oxford University Press, 2002).
Terryl Givens, The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2009)
I still remember first reading By the Hand of Mormon. During lunch with a friend of mine I remember sharing Givens’ argument that early Mormons understood the Book of Mormon’s importance for what it signifies, rather than important for the message it contains. Living in a Post-Benson Latter-day world, my friend was skeptical of such an argument and was not persuaded. I, on the other hand, was intrigued by the claim and didn’t need much argument to be convinced. Read more…
As early as July 2009, news of a revised and updated version of the classic 1978 Gospel Principles manual hit the Mormon blogs, causing no small commotion. There were questions about how much it was really revised (it wasn’t revised much). Some observed that Bruce R. McConkie citations were eliminated (in reality only about 4 citations were removed but the material remained, and frankly never needed a citation to back it up anyway as it was rather standard and uncontroversial). Some were excited about “getting back to basics” (as if we hadn’t been studying “the basics” since introducing the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church series in 1998).
But aside from all of that, the most interesting phenomena I observed was an extremely large amount of hope that this new and improved Gospel Principles manual was going to solve one of the most deeply problematic issues facing church membership today: the quality of Gospel instruction in Church meetings. News of the arrival of the new manual became an opportunity (or outlet) for Mormon bloggers to reflect on the fruits of Correlation and the failures of Church Sunday School classes to challenge, engage, and inspire.
After the dust had settled, it seemed to me that the general consensus was that the anonymous and faceless generic Church manual was the culprit. “The Manual”—that relic of correlation was the cause of all of our problems. Read more…
This post is part V in the Understanding the Fall in Mormonism series. See all parts here.
We have been exploring the development of the Mormon concept of a positive fall. While some observers point to Lehi in the Book of Mormon as the originator of the fortunate fall, the Book of Mormon, taken as a whole, views the Fall as a result of man’s disobedience and caused by the temptations of the devil. The Book of Mormon labels the fruit of the tree as “forbidden,” and the Book of Moses spoke of Adam’s actions as “sin.” The Plan of Salvation as expounded in the Book of Mormon is the response to the Fall.
What I’ve attempted to show is the driving forces or undercurrents developing in Mormonism, propelling it towards a positive view of the Fall. Such forces include the expanding role of Adam as prophet and patriarch with connections to priesthood, his post-mortal identity as Michael the archangel. Michael’s role would expand from the traditional archangel role to a joint-creator of the earth in premortal councils. Once the doctrine of pre-mortal existence developed, the fall of man was seen opening the floodgates; the act that allowed all the billions of spirits waiting in premortal existence the opportunity to experience mortality. How could that act—so crucial to the salvation drama—be wrong? Read more…