Eve and Abraham

We have two opposing notions of the relationship between ethics and God’s command.

Eve disobeys God, transgresses his commands, for the purpose of a greater command. When the prohibition from God conflicts with the other command to create life, she chooses the latter.

Abraham offers another model. He obeys God’s command to transgress the law, to kill. Ultimately, at least in the recieved text, God relents, but Abraham is praised for his obedience.

In these two models, we have God’s commands against life, with Eve choosing life over God, and Abraham choosing God over life. Both narratives complicate “obedience” by suggesting that there are times when God’s commandments conflict. But Eve’s choice, at least the way it is praised by LDS tradition, is particularly striking because it is a woman rejecting God in favor of life.

24 Replies to “Eve and Abraham”

  1. I think Eve’s choice is a bit more complicated. I’m not at all convinced by the arguments that she was making the greater choice. Especially from her position of ignorance. We may view it that way and there’s definitely been a tendency through much of the 20th century to valorize Eve as the hero in Eden. Which is odd because there are some slightly misogynist elements even in the Mormon account of Eve such that she gets a big blame despite doing the right thing from a Mormon perspective in the big picture.

    I think you could argue Adam makes the choice you outline. He has a choice to be obedient or be with Eve. He choses Eve, although the typical LDS reading of this is that he’s obeying the greater command over the lesser command. Sadly there are elements in our tradition that more or less entail Eve getting the blame while Adam gets a reduced sentence in a way.

    The more interesting reading of the Eden story in an LDS context is the problem of competing commands that aren’t coherent. Of course this requires adding to the story of Genesis 2 since there’s not any competing commands there. (Depending upon what one interprets Gen 2:23-24 but it doesn’t appear as a commandment the way I think Lehi takes it)

    The other interesting reading is that God isn’t giving an absolute command in Gen 2:17 but merely giving a warning. Strangely I don’t hear that reading much in the LDS community.

  2. TT: A while ago I mused about Abraham perhaps “failing” his test, but I never made this comparison. It greatly enhances how I think about this. Thanks!

    Clark: “Sadly there are elements in our tradition that more or less entail Eve getting the blame while Adam gets a reduced sentence in a way.” We have Paul to thank for that (1 Timothy 2), though he only deserves partial credit.

  3. I completely agree with Clark on this one. There is nothing in our scripture or our teachings to suggest that Eve made her choice in order to choose life (children). On the contrary, it was Adam who made that choice. I believe that the ignorance that Clark refers to is Adam and Eve’s ignorance about their inability to procreate. They were told to procreate but they did not know that they would not be able to procreate until they had eaten the fruit. Since Eve was ignorant of this, her choice to eat the fruit could not have been made based on a desire to have children. Adam did know that he could not have children without Eve, so his choice to eat the fruit was based on this desire to stay with her and have a family.

    In other Christian traditions, yes, Eve is blamed for their fall and Adam to a lesser degree. But in our tradition? We don’t assign blame to either. They were both following God’s plan exactly as intended even though they didn’t realize it at the time. They were both ignorant of just about everything.

  4. DB, 7: I find it interesting that 2 Ne 2:23 says that before the Fall Adam and Even “would” not have children, not that “could” not. If that word choice is precise, then it changes your analysis somewhat.

  5. TT (5) I think we have to say both Adam and Eve are ignorant (and dealing with that ignorance makes for a huge difference from Abraham). But Eve’s choice is presented as more stupid whereas Adam’s decision is between being with Eve as commanded or not eating the fruit as commanded. Eve, even in Lehi, just isn’t presented as making a wise choice. It ends up being what God wants but Adam is presented as being put into a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation where he is aware of the choices. Eve’s just deceived by Satan in all the accounts.

    Brian (6), I don’t think it fair to blame all the negativity towards Eve as Paul’s fault. The way Genesis 2 – 3 goes simply doesn’t put Eve in a good light. Even Lehi, as I mentioned, isn’t exactly engaging with Eve well. (Eve is deceived by
    Satan but it’s Adam who transgresses and falls and who is taken to be the actor rather than Eve).

    It is interesting reading how Eve is taken – sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. I find it interesting that a pretty major (perhaps the dominate) Mormon reading of the fall first off has Eve not Adam as the primary actor and has her doing the right thing in opposition to Adam who has to be drug by Eve into it.

    Yet in the 19th century you have a lot of sexism pretty hard for us to stomach. For instance there’s a great emphasis on Adam as the head of Eve. But as I said we’ve moved to Eve being the head of the situation.

  6. I’m of the opinion that both Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, both thinking they knew enough of why they should eat the fruit to justify their disobedience. I don’t believe the two commandments were in conflict, only that there was a great deal more teaching to be done before they were ready to both eat the fruit and multiply. There is a great deal more to creating and raising children than “put tab b in slot a”
    Satan was trying to take the place of God (as he had already attempted and continues to attempt) by giving the fruit which was to be given to Adam and Eve by God when they were ready for it.
    We tend to think of Adam & Eve as fully grown adults with adult reasonings and intellects, rather than as intellectual infants in adult bodies. I think its unfair to attribute either good or evil intentions in Adam & Eve eating the fruit. They simply believed the misleading and misrepresenting half-truth told them by someone they had no reason not to trust.

  7. “I think we have to say both Adam and Eve are ignorant”

    Elder Jeffrey R. Holland informs us, “They (Adam and Eve) had full knowledge of the plan of salvation” during their stay in Eden.

  8. BrianJ – Yes, that word choice is precise and it supports my analysis completely. The usage of “would” in 2 Nephi 2:22-23 does not express consent or choice but rather consequence of past action. Here are those two verses in pertinent part:

    22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. . . .
    23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence . . . .

    In a similar usage of the word, I could say that if I had not completed my degree, I would have found no job in my profession. Finding no job would have been a consequence, not a choice. In the case of Adam and Eve, the consequences of not eating the fruit would have been not falling, remaining in the garden of Eden, and having no children. Those were not active choices they would have made.

    Moses 5:11 also supports my understanding of the scriptures:

    11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed . . . .

    If we consider “would have had no children” to have been a choice rather than a consequence, as I believe you are suggesting, that would have been a conscious decision to disobey God’s command to multiply and replenish the earth. There is nothing in the scriptures that would suggest that Adam and Eve decided they would obey only one of the two commandments they were given (either obstain from the fruit and not procreate or eat the fruit and procreate), so the only appropriate definition of “would” in those verses is as a consequence. Therefore, Adam and Eve were incapable of procreation, or following the first commandment, until they had eaten the fruit, or disobeyed the second commandment.

    larryco_ – That’s an interesting quote from Elder Holland that I disagree with. Can you provide a citation for it? There is nothing in the scriptures or even our temple ceremonies to suggest that Adam and Eve understood anything about the plan of salvation. On the contrary, they had no knowledge of good or evil until they had eaten the fruit and knew nothing about the plan of salvation until after they were cast out and were taught the gospel by angels as explained in Moses 5. Therefore, they were ignorant of pretty much everything except they knew they weren’t supposed to eat the fruit and they were supposed to procreate.

  9. “Both narratives complicate “obedience” by suggesting that there are times when God’s commandments conflict.”

    And thus, disobedience is unavoidable. A very deep and rarely understood component of the plan of salvation. Consider 2 Nephi 2:5.

  10. But, if I remember the story correctly, Abraham did not really kill his son. Only willing to do so. God had a plan to test Abraham, and he passed. His willingness was accounted unto him for righteousness.

    On the other hand, Adam and Eve did not pass the test, we can only wonder if God would have done something else to further His plan had A&E passed their test.

    Oh, I know, one could rightly say that God did have a plan before the foundation of the world, to counter the effects of A&E’s disobedience. I am only wondering, had A&E been obedient, perhaps God would have found a way to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, some other way, like he did with Abraham.

  11. DB, I agree there’s a way to read the garden story as disobedience is unavoidable. Especially in light of Lehi’s treatment. However while I’ve favored the reading in the past I admit to being somewhat uncomfortable with it. How do we explain Christ’s perfection if the commandments lead inexorably to disobedience? There are some theological implications to that reading that seem very problematic.

    CEF, I think the whole Abraham story as a test of faith gets pretty disturbing to modern ears. The fact there are those layers of the human sacrifice cults that Abraham’s religion abandoned makes it that much worse. Even if you follow Nibley’s reading where the test is less of Abraham than of Jacob it’s disturbing. I think the easiest answer for a modern is to ask whether the way the story is presented is 100% accurate. (I hope not) However that said I do agree, following Joseph, that there will be that moment where you have to be willing to give up what you desire most.

    There is this element of “don’t try to understand God” flowing through especially the Old Testament. I think Job in its final form is a great example of that.

  12. I’ve often found these discussions fascinating. I have wondered about the evolution of our doctrine that has led several to believe that Eve “figured it out” and partook of the fruit not to disobey but rather to obey God’s command.

    James Talmage in Articles of Faith:

    “Eve was fulfilling the foreseen purposes of God by the part she took in the great drama of the fall; yet she did not partake of the forbidden fruit with that object in view, but with intent to act contrary to the divine command, being deceived by the sophistries of Satan…”

    I don’t want this to turn into a round of Prophetic poker with everyone playing their prophetic quote trump-card, I’m just curious as to how we got from Talmage to where we are today.

  13. I agree Clark. There is much, too much, in the OT that I find troubling and very difficult to understand.

    There is a phenomenon called “cultural relativity” that speaks to this. We tend to judge others by our own culture and it just does not work well. In a culture that still believes in honor killing and stoning to death, I think it is much easier to believe the story is, at least somewhat, true.

    And of course there is always this question. At what point do we through out so much, that we are left with very little to believe in any more. I do not have that answer, just thinking out loud here. 🙂

  14. Clark, that’s a great theological question and I certainly have no good answer for it. Let’s assume that unavoidable disobedience is part of the plan of salvation. If so, then it applies to everyone except Christ. Does that mean that the threshold was set to a level that only he could achieve it or does it mean that he achieved it because he designed the plan? Let’s assume that disobedience is avoidable. Does that mean that salvation without reliance upon Christ is a possibility? Whether obedience is avoidable or not, exactly how did Christ achieve his own salvation? Our understanding of the plan of salvation is far too limited to answer these questions. However, I’ve always viewed the narrative of Adam and Eve as an explanation of the plan of salvation as it applies to all of humanity. The better we understand that narrative, the better we understand how the plan applies to us.

    Tim J, there may be individuals today who don’t share Talmage’s view, but as far as I know, that’s still how the church teaches it and that’s exactly how the scriptures explain it. I also wonder why some members have such differing views when there’s really nothing to support those views.

  15. CEF, that issue of culture is the tricky one when trying to draw out meaningful implications from the scriptures. (i.e. read them less as time based narratives and more as theology) I think it unsurprising that most Christians more or less ignore so much of the Old Testament.

    As you say a lot of this makes sense given the times. And of course we always have a trump card with the Old Testament in that so much was compiled, edited and redacted by what Mormons would call uninspired scribes after the exile. What form did the Abraham story take in previous narratives? Even according to the Book of Mormon it appears the scriptures included a lot that wasn’t compiled into the post-exilic scriptures. Yet at the same time the Abraham and Adam tales seem to be known in at least some semblance of a similar form.

    DB, I think it raises a question of what we mean about obedience, disobedience and even sin. Of course the Christian trajectory went pretty similar with the idea no one could be saved by the law and the idea of the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law which became very influential. But what does that more Pauline approach do with how we read Gen 2-3?

    I think one answer is just to say that perhaps we shouldn’t read so much into the account of the fall. (bg) I’m slowly coming around to the view that we try to make the fall and atonement into something very metaphysical (following a long tradition in the theology of traditional Christianity) Instead the typical Mormon view is just that we come down to a flawed, highly limited mortal body with no memory and then God ensures that we get a better more functional body if we decide to do well in the test here. (With the nature of the test being somewhat mysterious due to having to chose within the limits of these fallen bodies)

    As for Abraham, perhaps the simpler explanation is that God is trying to take Abraham out of his cultural practices. i.e. that the main message shouldn’t be Abraham being willing to kill Isaac but rather that God doesn’t demand human sacrifice. Not that there’s a problem with obedience but it seems the emphasis is that we should trust God not to make us do something horrific. That’s not the typical reading – especially in a post-Kierkegaard society. But I think it a pretty defensible one that God was trying to teach Abraham against his culture.

  16. DB: the Elder Holland quote is from:
    (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon, p.205-207)
    Here’s a few similar thoughts:
    President Joseph Fielding Smith once remarked that Adam and Eve’s intelligence while they were in Eden was greater than that had by any human today. They were intellectually as adults, having great reasoning powers. Likewise, anciently it was believed that, prior to his fall, Adam had prophetic gifts and understanding. The early Church did not perceive father Adam as the equivalent of a child in either his pre-fall intellectual or spiritual capacities. Rather, he was perceived as having wisdom and knowledge beyond that of the serpent (or Satan). Elder Dallin H. Oaks also noted that “our first parents understood the necessity of the Fall.” Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote: “The gospel had been taught them during their sojourn in the Garden of Eden. They could not have been left in complete ignorance of the purpose of their creation.” One early Christian source states: “Be not deceived. Our father [Adam] was ignorant of nothing.”

  17. The question might be upon what basis were they making that claim? To add, there definitely was a tradition arising with Brigham Young that they did it all knowingly.

  18. larryco_, the problem I have with those quotes that that Adam and Eve are not protrayed that way in either the scriptures or in the temple ceremony. In fact, they are portrayed in just the opposite manner – being very ignorant and not learning about the gospel or the plan of salvation until after they had been cast out. I second Clark’s question, upon what basis were they making that claim? It’s certainly not the scriptures or any other revealed knowledge we have about Adam and Eve.

  19. Did Adam and Eve understand the necessity of the Fall before or after they partook of the fruit? Big difference.

    Furthermore, any knowledge that Adam and Eve had pertaining to what their real purpose was, would eliminate the need to have Satan come and tempt them. With said knowledge, his appearance is completely meaningless.

  20. Eve was deceived, and transgressed unknowingly, not knowing she was sinning but being deceived by Satan. In my mind, Eve did not act as she did in order to further God’s plan for the rest of us. Adam was not deceived, but did what he did knowing it was sin. This discussion is not new — in came up in New Testament times — Paul tries to address this in 2 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim. 2:14. See also Eve’s own accounting in Gen. 3:13.

    Here’s a perspective from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible–
    He [Adam] took and ate out of love to his wife, from a fond affection to her, to bear her company, and that she might not die alone; he knew what he did, and he knew what would be the consequence of it, the death of them both; and inasmuch as he sinned wilfully, and against light and knowledge, without any deception, his sin was the greater: and hereby death came in, and passed on all men, who sinned in him: but the woman being deceived was in the transgression: and the serpent really beguiled her. . . . She really thought the serpent spoke truth, that she and her husband should not die, if they ate of the fruit; but that it was good to make them wise; and that, upon eating it, they should be as gods, knowing good and evil; and under this deception she fell into the transgression, and was the cause and means, by her persuasions and example, of bringing her husband into the same sin; which involved him and all his posterity in ruin and destruction.

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