The Adversary, Reciprocity, and the Atonement: Part One, An attempt to recover Satan’s plan

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a bit of time lately thinking about one of the big imponderables in Mormon theology: the acts of the Adversary in the Garden. If we believe that the plan was laid out in the grand, heavenly council, then the Adversary had to have known that he was playing into God’s plan. Why would he do this, especially if the motivation that we always ascribe to him is to frustrate God’s plan? Let’s look at what we know.

Satan’s plan in his own words

The only canonized description of Satan’s plan isn’t actually all that descriptive. Let’s look it over:

1 AND I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. (Moses 4:1)

Initially we have an identification of “that Satan” as being from “the beginning.” The relative pronoun and the definite article in these two phrases is somewhat baffling and rather evocative (perhaps we should examine this more at a later time). Let us look at what Satan actually says:

Behold – An interjection in the scriptures. Often used to introduce a new topic. (I’d give examples, but there are over 700 instances and I don’t have time to go through them all)

Here am I – a traditional response to a superior or a loved one; it indicates a willingness to do whatever will be asked of the responder. Here it is combined with the request: send me. This combination is also found in Isaiah 6:8 (2nd Nephi 16:8) and Abraham 3:27. The latter reference is particular helpful as it indicates that this phrase, always used in response to some request was used in a like manner here. God asks, “Whom shall I send?” and the one like the Son of Man and another both respond, “Here am I, send me.”

I will be thy son – This is interesting, in particular in reference to the similar scene in Abraham (with its interesting phrasing regarding Christ’s identity). It indicates the perceived possibility of changing places with Christ.

I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost – Here is the crux of the Adversary’s plan. I don’t know about all of you, but when I heard My Turn on Earth as a child, I always got confused as to which of the voices was Satan and which was Christ. Satan’s plan just sounded better. Why? Because everyone got saved. There were no empty places at the table; no child was left behind. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

surely I will do it…give me thine honor – Have you noticed how often the first person independent pronoun is being used in this speech? You get I, I, I, I, and me. I may be being unfair in this (after all, the Adversary was presenting his own plan), but it is being deliberately contrasted with Christ response in the next verse. You will not, for instance, that Christ’s initial response (“Here am I, send me”), found in Abraham 3:27, is left out of this version. That hardly seems an accident.

So, Satan’s plan is that all the children of men will be redeemed and, in order to do it, he needs the “honor” of God (whatever that might mean). It doesn’t at this point sound terribly sinister. Certainly it is rebellious and presumptuous, but sufficient to cast someone out of heaven? It seems unlikely.

Satan’s plan in God’s words

2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; (Moses 4:2-3)

These two verses are interesting on a number of levels. First of all, as I mentioned previously, Satan is being deliberately contrasted with the Beloved Son here. The One chosen from the beginning is all deference here (and, really, always). His speech doesn’t even directly address himself, instead focusing on the Father. He requests that God’s will be done and that the “glory” remain God’s. Note that this puts glory in a synonymous position to “honor” in Satan’s request. We still don’t know what they mean, but they seem to refer to the same thing.

Christ’s emphasis on “thy” will seems to indicate more than just his personal humility. It may also show that the will of that Satan is not in accordance with the Father’s will. Actually, it seems a stretch to read it that way, but it is the way we generally read it. Christ’s passive remark regarding the decision-making is understood as an active endorsement of God’s plan. So, there is that.

In verse three, we get God’s version of Satan’s plan. In this verse, God describes Satan’s proposal of an alternate plan as a rebellion. Further he says that Satan sought to destroy the agency of man (notably, a gift from God) and that Satan sought God’s power for himself. I would suggest that “power” in this instance is a synonym to “honor” and “glory” in the previous two verses. That is certainly how we read it. It probably remains indefinable, but power seems to be a more tangible concept than the other two words (especially as it is more commonly used today than the other two). As I said, we remain ignorant of the nature and extent of the power, but it appears that some aspect of it is necessary to give or to revoke agency among men.

Satan’s plan, as far as we can understand it

So, it appears that Satan’s plan was to “destroy the agency of man” and, by so doing, redeem all men. How would this work? First of all, Satan appears to believe that human agency is secondary or unnecessary to redemption (I realize that this raises questions regarding redemption. I want to set that aside for now (as it is the topic of another post), so let’s take the Bible Dictionary definition as the starting point: “The word is of constant use in N.T. in speaking of the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ and our deliverance from sin. He redeemed us with his blood”. In other words, it is the means whereby the effects of sin are removed from us). Now, if Satan is concerned with the redemption of man then we have to ask what people would be redeemed from in his plan? Well, in his description of his plan, he states that “not one soul will be lost.” So it appears that humanity must be redeemed from being “lost”. There are probably many possible meanings for lost here. I would suggest that the most natural understanding of lost may be a state wherein one cannot (or will not) return to the Father (thereby becoming “lost” to Him forever). For example, according to Jacob, mortality itself prevents us from becoming like God. If Satan was presenting a plan wherein people got bodies, then it would seem that we needed to be redeemed from the physical separation from God that this would necessarily entail. This scenario seems to fit his own and God’s own description of events.

Satan presented a plan wherein God’s children got mortal bodies, creating a physical separation with God. However, he seems to have assumed that by taking upon himself the power of God, he would be able to prevent a spiritual separation with God as well. Here, it seems, is where the denial of agency becomes important. We generally understand Satan’s denial of agency as having the following effects: denied agency, we would have been perfectly obedient (the mind-control theory) or we would simply not be accountable for our actions (the “the devil made me do it” theory). In the first, the emphasis is on outward acts of obedience being compelled by some presumably “hard-wired” aspect of our mind. In the second, how we act is considered immaterial, because we are not ultimately in control of any of our actions. Where you think the plan went is dependent on your opinion regarding Satan’s penchant for debauchery prior to any of our mortal existences. I would tend to think that the plan was presented with more of an emphasis on the first than the second (assuming, of course, that I have the plan right). In this it is appealing: we would be allowed “limited” agency so we could take responsibility for the good acts that we self-generated; but we would be protected from falling by an internal regulatory device that prevented us from generating sinful acts. Thus, we all do good, think good, and act good from the beginning and nobody ever falls. We then die and are resurrected because we will all be sinless like Christ and, therefore, deserving. Our salvation is, in this case, an act of perfect justice: those who have done only good, will have good done for them. An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.

34 Replies to “The Adversary, Reciprocity, and the Atonement: Part One, An attempt to recover Satan’s plan”

  1. I made a similar comment over at 9Moons but no one picked up on it. I’m becoming more and more learry of the popular idea that Satan’s plan was to take away our agency and make us robots or Something. As you show, this is rooted in the Moses account.

    At Joseph Smith’s apex, just a couple of months before he died (in the KFD), he explained the two options as differing only slightly. Joseph states that Jesus “stated he could save all those who did not sin against the holy ghost.” Joseph explained that Satan “spake emediatey and boasted of himself saying send me I can save all even those who sined against the holy ghost.”

    Is this in line with the model you present?

  2. Regarding what you said about glory=honor=power, see D&C 29:36 –

    “…for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;”

    I personally think Lucifer’s plan all along was to get the power and then do whatever he wanted. Contrast his apparent selfishness and one-up-manship (thanks for the J.S. statement, J.!) with Jehovah’s submission to Father.

  3. I agree with J. that Satan did not intend to make us mind-controlled robots. (I’m not sure I am prepared to deal with the quotation from the KFD.)

    HP has set forth two possible ways for Satan to destroy agency. I favor a third. I think that Lucifer was “pro-choice” in all the modern meaning of that phrase. He believed that we should have choices but not be bound by the consequences. Not that we would claim the “the devil made me do it,” but instead that there would be no sin because there would be no law.

    I favor this view because it is the argument that Satan is still using at the present time. I don’t think he has changed his strategy.

  4. J, I saw your comment over at Don’s post and I hoped you would make it again here. I think that it can fit in with the model I am creating here. In part, this is because I think that Satan actually offered a modified “mind control” version of the plan. He may have just suggested that, since God was going to make it very hard to sin against the holy ghost anyway, he would simply insert a “circuit” that kept us from ever doing it. So, we could go through life, sinning and repenting and such, but never have to option of truly rejecting the Father (which is what I understand the big ‘un to be). God, ought of respect for agency, couldn’t take that possibility off the table. Of course, according to Geoff, this might lead to unjust eternal punishment, but I am going to deal more with that as we go along.

    mistaben, you may be right about the Adversary’s motives. I think that I disagree (we’ll go into why with the next post), but it is interesting to consider whether or not a pre-mortal being thought that he could pull one over on God. Also, thanks for the verse. I am happy to collect associated scripture.

  5. Bradley,
    I think that I may disagree with your definition of modern “pro-choice”, but that is a different topic. In reality, I think all attacks at agency are one and the same. Whether it is the insertion of internal regulators or the removal of external regulators both attack the heart of free will. I say this because while an internal regulator may remove our ability to make a certain choice, the loss of external regulators (like law and the associated reward/punishment) would deprive us of the ability to choose anything at all. If there is no assumed outcome for a given act, why choose it (positively or negatively)? The use of will becomes futile; it is no better to choose than to not choose.

    Therefore, I don’t see the difference between the “no-law” option and the “devil made me do it” option. In both cases, personal choice is unavailable (superfluous, even) and, so, we cannot be held accountable for whatever it is we do.

    That said, as I said to J above, I think that Satan was actually trying to improve the morality of the plan. More on that in the next post.

  6. Finally, I feel a need to point you to the posts from Don and Geoff that I mentioned.

    Here is Don’s.

    Here is Geoff’s.

  7. Perhaps I will draft a post on this in response. I flirt with the idea that the Sin against the Holy Ghost could be prevented without the so-called “circuit” that you mention simply by limiting knowledge. If know one actully gets to a point were they can sin against the Holy Ghost, or apostatize from the Fullness of the Priesthood, then his plan is still met. Besides the interesting idea of limiting knowledge limiting our agency (agency is limited all the time in this fallen world, and often not by choice), there is the idea that without the possibility of apostatitizing from such knowledge, God could never fully share his power with his children by exaltation. Where would the power then go? To the one that covetted it.

  8. honor… whatever that might mean…

    I’ve always thought it meant approval. I don’t like Cleon Skousen’s take that “honor = power” (from Gospel Diamond Dust)

  9. J, that’s interesting, although, as I told Bradley, I don’t see a fundamental difference between internal and external regulators (and I believe that limiting knowledge would constitute the second). That said, I have a hard time believing that 1/3 of the host went gung ho for a plan where only Satan would be exalted. However, it is possible that I am misunderstanding your meaning.

    In any case, most of my talk of internal regulators is derived from thoughts regarding the morality of animals. Since we judge them to operate solely on instinct, we do not say that there is such a thing as a “bad” shark or a “good” shark. They are not ethically responsible for operating on instinct and, by internal regulator, I am suggesting a kind of instinct to do good (more powerful in determining our actions than whatever we have now). Does that make my meaning clear?

    David J, I don’t know much about Cleon Skousen (although I have been led to believe that Geoff’s thought isn’t too far removed). That said, I’m going to try to justify “honor=power” for my own purposes. I will say that there is no guarantee that that interpretation is correct; it just reflects how I believe the scripture is meant to be read. There is a variety of terminology in this passage that is a bit overwhelming.

  10. A slight nitpick – if you take the actual quote from Moses 4:1, it says:

    “that one soul shall not be lost”

    Perhaps the one soul that would not be lost would be his own. (See, it’s not “not one soul shall be lost”.)

    My take on the reading is that the “give me thine honor” is more simple than you make it out to be. As in, “I had the honor of carving the turkey.” In other words, Let me do it.

    But that’s just my opinion; I could be wrong. ™

  11. FHL,
    Good point. We appreciate the nit-picking around here. In spite of that difference, I think that my reading holds up (again, I think that the fact that other people thought this was a good idea too).

    I agree that he was saying, “Let me do it.” Are you saying that Lucifer had the power to “do it” on his own? I would tend to think that something more than permission would have to be handed over.

  12. variety of terminology… overwhelming…

    Just think of the vocabulary of the early-to-mid 19th century midwestern US, and you’re probably in the ball park. At least that’s what usually works for me with JS’s “translations.”

  13. If you look at who Joseph Smith thought would be exalted, it is not to difficult to find those that would rebel against such an institution, even in today’s Church. As the Editor of the Millennial Star in 1847 stated it, “Many are called to enjoy a celestial glory, yet few are chosen to wear a celestial crown, or rather, to be rulers in the celestial kingdom.”

  14. I posted on this once upona time, I tend to favor the no accountability track as well. I don’t really see Satan pulling of total control of thoughts and actions of everybody. I also see the no accountability thing being fairly compelling to pre-existant spirits. Moreso than a forced obedience.

  15. Sorry to be late to the show HP.

    I guess I have to wonder why everyone here is taking these pre-earth Satan narratives so literally — as if these were literally minutes from some pre-earth meetings… All of these narratives read like mythic allegories to me. I don’t think they are records of the historical actions of individual people but rather metaphorical representations of broader truths. Even lots of Mormons (who tend to join evangelicals in being strict literalists most of the time) accept the idea that the exchanges between God and Satan in the Book of Job are figurative — why do we almost never read these premortal exchanges between Satan and God in the same light? I am leaning more and more in that direction. I have, for instance, posted on the idea that the entire Garden of Eden narrative is an allegory.

    (Alright, I admit to growing increasingly skeptical of the literalness of any of the pre-Abraham narratives…)

  16. Geez. I go away for a day or two to finish up a chapter and things get all exciting.

    variety of terminology

    I think a big 1828 English dictionary would be the place to start. Failing that, get an OED and pay attention to the archaic definitions.

    FWIW, glory and honor can be the same word (doxa) in the NT. If it’s God’s it gets translated as glory; if it’s man’s it gets translated with honor. Power is also linked in with glory in Pauline thought, or at least God’s glory becomes Christ’s power, but I’m too tired to look it up right now.

    I have to wonder why everyone here is taking these pre-earth Satan narratives so literally

    I think that JS took them literally and if that’s the case then to understand his viewpoint, we’ll probably have to do the same.

  17. Geoff, every symbol represents some form of transcendent and/or empirical reality. If it’s all just a symbol (metaphor or allegory, whichever you choose to use), then what is the reality the symbol represents?

    “Lots of Mormons” take it this way because of the way the PofGP is written. The book of Job, to continue your example, is clearly not written to be straightforward prose narrative; probably a wisdom text of some kind (if even Israelite!). The text of the PofGP doesn’t lend itself to be read in any other way than the literal one, especially because A) the way Joseph talks/teaches/utilizes what’s there for himself and how he teaches others about its content, and B) the genre of the writing doesn’t require us to take it metaphorically.

    I only say this because I’m actually with you on your take with this, but I feel that most folks who will read this post are not, and I’m playing their advocate.

    entire garden of Eden is an allegory

    So what would you say about its culmination — the eschaton and subsequent parousia? For you, are these, as the fulfillment of the creation/fall narratives, also allegorical?

  18. I posted on another aspect of this scripture at 9M recently.

    J Stapley,

    It seems your 9M comment was on my post. Sorry I didn’t respond to you there. I was limiting my take on the scripture to what was in the PoGP and neglected the KFD. I should probably read the KFD again in order to make a worthwhile response to you. My point from the Moses account was that Satan was casting doubt on the ability of Jesus to save anybody and that I had never heard anybody bring that up.

  19. I had forgotten that, arJ; I brought it up again on Don’s recent post. Funny what 9Moons does to me. 🙂

    If you go for the KFD, this portion was best accounted in the George Laub version, which wasn’t used in the TPJS aggregation.

  20. Well were should I find that? I think the only versions I have handy are whatever it was they put in the back of Mormon America and a Portuguese copy of TPJS.

  21. J,
    I don’t know enough about Joseph’s celestial thoughts (I only have time to stubbornly stick to canonized stuff). Is there a specific sermon in WoJS or something to turn to?

    I am uncertain that a system that allowed everyone freedom to do whatever they wanted without accountability would have sold as well. Which is why I favor a sort of limited mind control. The reason why I think this is because the “no-accountability” model seems to assume that people are going to sin and I really just don’t think that pre-existent beings who have spent a really, really long time with God (I assume) would think that they were in much danger of sinning. The limited mind-control option would allow partisans to think themselves impervious to worldly sin, while giving them a little extra protection *just in case*.

    Geoff, what David J said. If we are going to pick and choose passages for metaphor, what is our criteria? Also, I think that my analysis, although approaching the speech of the involved parties as actual speech, would work even if it were Joseph’s interpretation instead of dictation, as it were. After all, we can only work with what we have.

    Mogget, thanks for the doxa. I am actually working on your Book of Mormon atonement question. I hope to get it up late next week.

    David J, you may need to translate “the eschaton and subsequent parousia” for the uninitiated. It’s the “final judgment” and the “second coming”, right?

    aRj, I am actually kinda headed in that direction (I didn’t see your post originally). I am happy to give you credit for first publication of some of where I am going with this.

    Thanks guys for all the comments. You have sharpened and strengthened the theory (at least, I think so)!

  22. David J, you may need to translate “the eschaton and subsequent parousia” for the uninitiated. It’s the “final judgment” and the “second coming”, right?

    Right. I was addressing a self-professed theologian, so I was using theologians’ terms to talk to him. I would never use those words on exegetes, mind you.

  23. I don’t think I have much to add to this exellent discourse but it strikes me that this plan of Satan’s could be something that we would consider to be pretty obviously foolish or untenable. After all, we chose the other side so we are probably already more amenable to that way of thinking. It seems possible that the 1/3 that followed Satan could have been thinking along totally different lines that would seem foreign and/or foolish to us. I’m not sure that we should discard theories too quickly.

  24. We need a discussion on the “1/3 part” thing. What are the other two parts? Most folks tend to think of only two groups: a 33% group and a 66% group, but if memory serves me right from a Rev. class I had in grad. school a few years ago, I think the Gk. of the NT might also be taken as “one third part,” meaning “one of three parts.” Mogget, what do you know of this? Is there a localized Roman counterpart to support that? Start a new thread on this?

  25. Since I’m not doing anything too serious tonight, your wish is my command. Stand by.

  26. Hi guys. My name’s Jason. Nice to meet you. I’m in Iraq right now because I’m a soldier. I like the blog you’ve got here. Very interesting. I’m late to bat with this comment, but I wanted to give my 2-cents worth.

    What HP said about the “righteous instinct” sounds pretty good, and fits in well with the rest of the gospel as we know it (at least, the majority-view of the gospel).

    But I’ve been thinking (and it’s key to this discussion of Satan). What is agency? Why did God say that he was the one to give us it? Isn’t agency an innate part of us, that can’t be taken away? I think that maybe we’re misunderstanding agency as the scriptures teach it.

    We tend to assume that agency is the broad ability to choose. That might be right, because the word “agent” describes something that causes an effect. But scripturally, I don’t think that’s what it means exactly.

    I think, and the scriptures seem to agree, that agency is pretty much the narrow ability for us to choose to want good, or to want bad—to follow God, or to follow Satan. Lehi seems to understand it that way because he tells us that for God’s plan to have worked there must have been an opposition to righteousness, a “thing of naught.” Basically, God required a “Satan Figure”.

    Going back to Moses 4, God says that he gave us the ability to have agency, or, in other words, he had already supplied (or would supply) a Satan Figure in order for his plan to work.
    Lucifer, the speaker/president of his party (the Third-Part Party?), got up, because he didn’t like that part of the plan, and told God that a better plan would be for there to be no devil. And what’s more? He even volunteered to carry out the dirty work of being the Messiah! (Men would still need to resurrect somehow)

    God disagreed on all of Lucifer’s points, because a) Jehovah was already gonna be the future Messiah, and b), as God said, having no devil would be equivalent to the destruction of agency, which had already been laid out.

    So there we have it. Satan rebelled and got cast out. His 1/3, ever-faithful to their leader, followed on his heals.

    Lehi reasoned that this evil Satan Figure must be a fallen angel of God, which in reality, he was. But the question remains: who (or what) would the SF have been if Lucifer and his TTP hadn’t rebelled?

  27. Back on track with your first thought: the acts of the Adversary in the Garden.

    We see Satan’s continuing desire to usurp the true Messiah’s position in the events of the Garden with Adam and Eve. Satan came and explained to them (or rather, enticed them) to eat the fruit. But it appears that it was the true Messiah’s role to explain the choice! So, way back then, before Satan was cursed, he was still trying to assume Jehovah’s role (which leaves the possibility of Satan not being cast out until after the earth was created (which goes well with Rev. 12:4), after he showed his “ultimate rebellion” of more than just word, but deed, of actually trying to usurp Christ’s role.

  28. But it appears that it was the true Messiah’s role to explain the choice!

    Now that’s a very interesting thought. What leads you in that specific direction?

    (I’m not being sarcastic or trying to trap you…at first blush, it’s just got some major mojo.)

  29. Now that’s a very interesting thought. What leads you in that specific direction?

    Well, Satan usurping the Savior’s role in the garden isn’t really my idea, but Brant Gardner’s. But the reasoning? Here it is (in B.G.’s words mostly) (ha ha, this way you can’t bash me) (j/k):

    “It’s obvious that most scriptures impute a malice on the part of Satan that would thwart the plan of God. While this is clearly Satan’s current desire, to destroy mankind by creating too great a barrier of sin, I suggest that at the time of the “great deception”, there may have been a different motive.”

    “Lucifer, as we can tell in Moses 4, desired to be the Savior. He could not handle the rejection of that desire. I suggest that his motive in the garden was to forcibly usurp the role of savior as he knew it.”

    “If the point of the Garden was to bring Adam and Eve to the point of making the choice, then what was the role of Satan? Clearly he did no more than accomplish the desires of the father when he convinced Eve to partake of the fruit. There is text from the temple ceremony which corroborates Satan’s presumption that he was merely proceeding with the normal course of events. It seems logical from the peripheral evidence in the scriptures, buoyed by the temple ceremony text, that it would have been the role of the Savior to stand before Adam and Eve and explain to them the nature of the choice before them.”

  30. Jason,

    That’s very interesting and I’ll be giving it some serious thought. Thanks for stopping by–I had missed your earlier post about your assignment–and thanks for that thought.

    If I can ask without OPSEC implications, with what unit are you affliated?

    Also, as the designated Grand High Poohbah of this site, it probably falls to me to just mention that we’re pretty rigorous about not referring to the temple ceremony around here. We all know it’s there, so we get by w/o talking about it pretty much at all.

    God bless and keep your powder dry,


  31. I’m here with the Triple Deuce out of southern Utah. We’ve been here quite a while, I’ve got less than … mmm … 8 hands worth of days left. I’m excited!

    I got off my mission to Mexico and came right out here. I miss home…

  32. I miss home

    Geez, I guess. Well, it won’t be long now. Let us know when you can sit on a dime and dangle your feet…

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