Mormon Theology, God and the Original Catch-22

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

adam, eve and the serpentOne might be surprised to find that Mormon theology presents God as creating Adam and Eve in a catch-22, one in which they could not but sin.

“How so?” you may wonder.

It is a story that takes us back to the beginning of the Bible and regards what Mormonism sees as the two original commands given to Adam and Eve:

(1) be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth
(2) do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or you will die

Here’s how the texts read:

Genesis 1:28 (TNIV)
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 2:16-17
And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.”

Just how would the command, “be fruitful and multiply,” and the prohibition, “do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” conflict? It must be admitted that the biblical texts themselves give no impression of conflict. Indeed, it is difficult to construe them as conflicting. But this is no bulwark against Mormon theological intrigue and innovation.

The Prohibition and Procreation

In their publication, Preparing for Exaltation – Teacher’s Manual, we find this explanation:

Explain that Adam and Eve could not keep both these commandments. If they chose to eat the fruit, they would be cast out of the Garden of Eden. But if they did not eat the fruit and remained in the garden, they would not be able to have children (to “multiply and replenish the earth”). Because the Garden of Eden was a place of innocence, while Adam and Eve lived there they could not change or progress in any way, including having children (see 2 Nephi 2:22–23).

Why anyone would equate “innocence” with the inability to have children escapes explanation. Perhaps there is an underlying subtext in Mormon theology that equates loving sexual relations within the bond of marriage with guilt. I do not know of any such explicit teaching. Their publication goes on to provide this quote from the Mormon Apostle Russel M. Nelson.

“To bring the plan of happiness to fruition [fulfillment], God issued to Adam and Eve the first commandment ever given to mankind. It was a commandment to beget children. A law was explained to them. Should they eat from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:17), their bodies would change; mortality and eventual death would come upon them. But partaking of that fruit was prerequisite to their parenthood” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 46; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 34).

Thus the disobedience of partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a prerequisite for their obedience in procreation. Prior to their fall, their bodies were immortal, so asserts Mormon theology (without biblical support). Innocence and immortal bodies = no procreation. But why not?

In his article, “The Great Plan of Happiness” (Ensign, Nov. 1993, n.p.; accessed online), Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Mormon twelve apostles, writes,

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 (see Moses 6:59). This would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose. The Prophet Lehi explained that “if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen” (2 Ne. 2:22), but would have remained in the same state in which he was created.

What is involved in “this transition”? Oaks explained in the previous paragraph:

When Adam and Eve received the first commandment, they were in a transitional state, no longer in the spirit world but with physical bodies not yet subject to death and not yet capable of procreation. They could not fulfill the Father’s first commandment without transgressing the barrier between the bliss of the Garden of Eden and the terrible trials and wonderful opportunities of mortal life.

Oaks is pointing to the Mormon teaching that while Adam and Even already had physical bodies at this time, those bodies were both immortal and incapable of procreation. So “the transition” or “fall” results in their bodies becoming subject to death and their bodies being able to procreate. Now, only after the fall, could Adam and Eve seek to fulfill the first commandment and “be fruitful and multiply.”

Implied is that unless Adam and Eve disobeyed God in partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would not have been able to fulfill the first command, to be fruitful and multiply. In other words, without violating the prohibition they were unable to fulfill the command. Conversely, if they had observed the prohibition, they would have been unable to obey the command.

A perfect catch-22. God set up Adam and Eve to sin, either one way or another.

Vulnerabilities of the Mormon Construal

Just how plausible is this Mormon construal of the fall? It appears that there are several very significant vulnerabilities.

First, one may wonder what kind of God it is that would specifically command something of Adam and Eve that they were inherently unable to perform (and here, even prior to the fall). Would this be a God of wisdom and love, of understanding and empathy, of provision and providence?

Second, God had created the animals as gendered pairs, able to procreate. Could Adam and Even not have learned from them, by example? To be candid, Mormon theology appears not to be denying that Adam and Eve could not copulate before the fall but that they could not procreate.

Third, is there any indication in the text of Genesis 2-3 that suggests Adam and Eve were unable to procreate? Perhaps one could suggest an implication from the fact that Eve’s first child, Cain, is conceived and delivered outside of the garden (4:1). But this is merely circumstantial. There are no words from Adam and Eve, or from God, that indicate an inability to procreate until after the fall. Was it that there eyes were opened and they realized they were naked (3:7)? Again, they had the command of God, a command that presumably would have made good sense to them. And they had the illustrations from the animals, creatures paired by sex that certainly would have suggested function to Adam and Eve. Besides, the fundamental contrast with them seeing their nakedness has to do with their lack of shame (see, 2:25), not with their nakedness, per se.

Fourth, Oaks asserted that the change required for procreation — from immortality to mortality — could occur only in the wake of their eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, why this is so is not something revealed to Mormons. This admission, given Mormon theological innovation, warrants a few observations:

(i) Mormons often suppose that modern revelation “fills in the blanks” that exist in biblical revelation. Even so, it is clear here that Mormon revelation leaves its own “blanks” that might be “filled in” by yet other claims to divine revelation (perhaps by the FLDS or some other group with a competing claim to divine sanction).

(2) It appears to me that Mormon theology often gains its impetus precisely from those “blanks” in biblical revelation, for without them there would be less opportunity for such innovations. But seldom does Mormon theologizing take fully into account the biblical resources bearing on such questions; rather, they impatiently opt for alternative revelations that they term “modern.”

(3) However, it is not merely “blanks” that Mormon revelation or theology addresses; rather, for their innovative proposals to work, they also require some criticism of existing biblical revelation. In other words, the Bible is unreliable not merely inadequate. Thus their innovations not only address areas otherwise unaddressed (at least in terms of explicit pronouncements), they also require outright rejection of what is explicitly said in biblical revelation.

Mormon theologizing attempts to “fill in the blanks,” yet it also ends up criticizing the Bible and then suggests an alternative. The alternative is found in bits and pieces in other Mormon scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (as well as non-canonical teachings of their prophets and select other leaders). We’ll not address those alternatives here. What we shall do is discuss the resources available in the divinely inspired account in the Bible.

Making Righteous Choices and Knowing Joy

The Mormon construal of the fall of Adam and Eve suggests that prior to the fall our first parents would have been unable to make righteous decisions or know joy. But this glosses over resources resident the biblical text. Did Adam ever experience joy?

After his creation, and after naming the animals, Adam realized that he remained without something that would complete him as a human being. He was “alone.” Of course, he had God. He also had the animals. But he lacked a corresponding mate, a partner suitably made and constructed for him. But soon after Eve’s creation and presentation to Adam, he exclaimed (2:23),

The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

Without any doubt, this was a moment of joy, for it relieved him of his solitude, of his aloneness, of his lack. (Recall, it was the absence of a suitable partner that warranted the divine assessment of “not good.”) One can only imagine other joys he experienced upon seeing a gloriously stocked garden and the plethora of animals to be named.

Could Adam make righteous choices?

Mormon theology also reasons that prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were unable to make righteous choices. Is not the ability and opportunity to obey God precisely what is a righteous choice? The commands (notice the plural) are set forth in 1:28 (see v. 26).

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Thus we see not only the command to procreate but also the command to subdue the earth by ruling over the fish and birds and other living creatures. The command to care of creation enjoys a localized expression in 2:15.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

We have multiple commands, and thus multiple opportunities for Adam and Eve to obey God, not merely through procreation but also through animal husbandry and guarding and keeping the garden. Though we have in these early chapters a very condensed record of these early days, we do find Adam naming the animals (2:19-20), thus obeying God by ruling over the animals. Is this not obedience? Certainly it was.

So, we have not only obedience on the part of Adam (and thus a righteous choice, for it was a choice in obedience to God’s command), but also an expression of joy in response to the creation and presentation of Eve to Adam, who otherwise was alone and incomplete.

We have seen some vulnerabilities of the Mormon construal of the fall. These are significant and must not be overlooked. We also have now seen some of the resources in the biblical account, materials that show the Mormon construal to be unnecessary and misleading: Adam did experience joy and did express some righteous obedience toward God. But there is a more fundamental problem with the Mormon construal, one that bears on the character of God himself.

God and Temptation

We have illustrated how the Mormon account of the fall is neither biblical nor necessary. Not only so, it is objectionable due to its implications regarding God’s character. Mormon theology construes God as placing Adam and Eve in a perfect catch-22 wherein our first parents are required to disobey in order to obey: either they obey the prohibition not to eat of the tree and thus are enabled to procreate, or they refuse the tree and thus fail to procreate.

Is such a catch-22 consonant with God’s character? Is it necessary to sin in order to obey God? Notice two voices we hear in the New Testament.

James 1:13-15

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

11 These things happened to them [Israel] as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

James and Paul both see God not as a tempter but as one who provides a way out of sin. The Mormon view, however, implicates God, holding that he placed Adam and Eve in a catch-22 in which they could not but sin.

Mormonism provides an escape route! Mormonism denies that Adam and Eve’s partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a sin. Sure, they grant that first couple’s action was “a transgression,” though they imply that not all transgressions are sins. As noted earlier, Dallin Oaks describes the transgression as a mere “formality.”

It is precisely this kind of maneuver that illustrates how Mormonism departs from biblical theology. Fill in an alleged blank in the Bible. Develop thoughts further. When something eventually conflicts (as seems inevitable), simply affirm something contrary to the Bible and, if need be, charge the Bible with being in error, perhaps having been tampered with.

What does Mormonism here reject that the Bible affirms? In Romans 5:12ff we read that “sin came in to the world through one man,” with that one man being none other than Adam. And his act is termed both “sin” and “trespass/transgression.” For Mormon theology to succeed, Mormons would have to reject Paul’s inspired testimony in Romans 5. But that would be to mimic the serpent, “Yea, hath God said…”, thus taking us right back to the start of the problem.

There is a choice: God’s word or Mormon theology? One simply cannot have both. Mormonism stands in a long line of voices critical of God’s word, attempting to produce and propagate an alternative voice. It is a cosmic ventriloquist maneuver in which the words of men are placed in God’s mouth. Simply put, Mormonism is an alternative voice, with alternative prophets, inauthentically laying claim to biblical tradition, all the while undermining biblical authority. Yes, God has spoken but Mormon theology neither appreciates nor embraces what God has said.

The word of God or the minds of men? That is our option. Choose you this day.

8 thoughts on “Mormon Theology, God and the Original Catch-22

  1. you make a lot of assumptions yourself and I question your interpatation of several scripture. you need to read more.

    • I must admit that your comment leaves me a bit baffled. If I’ve made some illegitimate assumptions, even “a lot” of them, please point the up and we can discuss them. If you question my interpretations, feel free to offer alternatives and we can discuss them. If you feel I need to read more, we’ll, rest assured that I am willing. What would you recommend I read? And would you be willing to join me in reading the recommended materials?

Comments are closed.