Valerie Hudson Cassler, torchbearer for a new, “faithful” LDS feminism recently stated, “We the LDS do not believe that Eve sinned in partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ” Other apostles have also made a special point of calling Eve’s transgression something less than a “sin,” most notably Elder Dalin H. Oaks. While this is currently a popular viewpoint in LDS culture and teaching, I do not believe it can be called doctrine, but rather a particular interpretation of the Fall of Adam. This intepretation may help explain the mechanics of the Plan of Salvation, but I personally find that it diminishes the power of the story as an allegory for our individual lifes.
I also don’t know if there is consensus among the brethren on this interpretation, as there have been General Authorities and even a recent church manual which have described Eve’s transgression as a sin. Brigham Young said “How did Adam and Eve sin? They transgressed a command of the Lord.” Abinadi states in the Book of Mormon: “that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.” This scripture suggests that Eve was acting “with intent to act contrary to divine command,” as James E. Talmage described Eve’s act.
Below, I have analyzed two theories: “Eve as sinner,” and “Eve as noble transgressor” and highlighted the theological implications of each interpretation. I believe both are compatible with LDS doctrine, and I hope to hear your comments as to which you personally prefer.
The Sinner Eve Theory
In this interpretation, Eve is symbolic of each of us. We are each born into a “Garden of Eden” of innocence, incapable of sin. At a certain point, we reach an age of accountability, where we begin to become conscious of the nature of good and evil. For me, it happened around the age of 7, when my friend and I hopped the fence of the widow next door and stole some apples. With mother Eve, I vicariously partook of the forbidden fruit. This experience is forever burned in my memory. I knew my choice to deliberately steal from the old lady was wrong, yet I did it anyway. In that moment, I left the garden of childhood, and was cast into the lone and dreary world of guilt, knowledge, and sin. Then at age 8, I made covenants not to do those things again, and in return, I was cleansed from my sins through baptism and taking on the name of the Savior. I continue to eat “forbidden fruit” throughout my life, and I continue to call upon a Savior to redeem me. Through the experience, like Eve said in the Pearl of Great Price, “were it not for our transgression we never would have known the joy of redemption!” Like Eve, I am glad that I had a chance to experience sin, punishment, and redemption, because through it, I’ve grown and become closer to my Father in Heaven.
1. The Fall of Adam and Eve is an allegory for the life of every individual. What is most important about the story is what it says about us. Every sin is a forbidden fruit. Every repentance is a redemption from the Fall. Adam and Eve are with us in all things.
2. Sin is necessary for our redemption and growth. Sin has a silver lining if you will. God can transform mistakes into blessings. The Fall of Adam and Eve was a bad thing which God transformed into a good thing, just as our own fall from innocence is a bad thing which God turns into a good thing.
3. Our fallen state is OUR choice based on OUR decision to sin. We also fall and experience spiritual death, not when we enter the world as infants, but when we sin, vicariously partaking of the fruit with Adam and Eve, and are cast out from God and must repent. We are not punished for their sins, but for ours.
The Noble Transgressor Theory
In this interpretation, God sets up two conflicting commandments: 1. Don’t eat the fruit. 2. Bear children (but you can only do it by eating the fruit.) Eve, being more “forward thinking” than Adam, decides to eat the fruit. God “punishes” Adam and Eve, which is not really a punishment, but a “reward” as Valerie Cassler calls it. It was the the plan all along for them to eat it. Eve did the “right thing” and is not a sinner. This was all nescessary for us to be able to get bodies and come down to earth to be tested and tried.
1. Eve is a hero. This helps balance out the inequalities of the subsequent male hierarchy of the Fall, by giving Mormons a chance to rise to the defense of poor Mother Eve who has been so maligned through the centuries by traditional Christianity. She is a righteous example for all women in the church. The Noble Eve makes it possible for femminists like Valerie Cassler to stay in the church. “I stay in the church BECAUSE I am a femminst.”
2. The Fall was a good thing. Life on Earth is worth celebrating! The Fall was not really a punishment, but an opportunity for Eve to choose to progress, and for all of us to choose to come down to earth and be part of her righteous family.
3. Eve’s transgression explains the theological mechanics of the Plan of Salvation. It explains why there is death in the world. It explains that Jesus will redeem us from that death. It explains how we came to earth and what the purpose of life is.
4. Nothing good comes from sin, and Eve did not sin. Eve says “were it not for my transgression, I never would have known the joy of redemption.” But this is not redemption from sin, because her transgression was not a sin, indeed could not have been a sin, because progress cannot come from sin.
Problems with “Noble Eve” Interpretation
1. It diminishes Christ’s role in the Fall.
Christ’s atonement is said to cover two things in LDS theology: 1. sin, 2. death. In the Noble Eve theory, Christ’s atonement is completely unnecessary as far as sin, because Adam and Eve don’t sin. Christ is merely there to redeem them from the Fall through resurrection, which they righteously fell into. Thus the most important aspect of Christ’s atonement is completely cut out of the Fall of Adam through this interpretation. Sin is understood to come later in mortal life, as a consequence of the Fall, but by removing it from the Fall itself, it diminishes the theological richness of the story, and the role of Christ within it.
2. It needlessly complicated
To me, the “Noble Eve” interpretation seems a bit convoluted. Why did God give two contradictory commandments? Why do we strain so much to say it wasn’t a sin? Why do we have to resort to ambiguous justifications like: it was a “formality,” the “minimum transgression nescessary”? Why do we insist that Eve knew that she had to take the fruit in order to “multiply and replenish the earth?” How can we rationalize the fact that it’s OK to disobey God and follow Satan? The Sinner-Eve interpretation is so much more straightforward and universal: Eve sinned – she was punished – she was redeemed, and rejoiced. Like her, we all have the same journey.
3. It makes it difficult to consider ourselves as if we were Adam and Eve.
We try to view ourselves as if we were Adam and Eve, yet few of us have been faced with having to obey two contradictory commandments, and deal with Satanic figures whom we are actually “supposed” to obey. We admire Eve, maybe we aspire to be noble and good like her, but we can’t relate to her. We are all “less” than Eve, because we commit real sins, whereas she only “transgressed.” She is yet another great person to admire, to follow as an example, to work, work, work till we get it right.
4. It is an extreme view.
The Noble Eve Theory arises from the LDS desire to to distance ourselves from traditional Christian interpretations, which bemoan the Fall as a disaster. Mormons are naturally optimistic, and we prefer celebratory interpretations of our mortal existence. So we jump to the opposite extreme of viewing the Fall as an incredibly good thing.
But there is a middle road: The Fall was bad, but God transformed it into something good. This happens all the time in real life. A teenager has sex with her boyfriend, has a baby which she gives up for adoption, and through that sin, God brings about incredible joy and happiness. An atheist alcoholic hits rock bottom, goes to AA and discovers God, which completely transforms his world. In this life, God is constantly turning water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, turning our tears of sin and woe into tears of joy, greater than we ever had before. That is the nature of God and the nature of mortal life. Shouldn’t the story of the Fall reflect that reality?
The Paradox of Sin Being Necessary
But even if we can get over the paradox of God turning bad into good, there is another hurdle which some Mormons may find difficult in the Sinner/Eve theory. Eve said, “were it not for my transgression, I never would have known the joy of redemtion!” If Eve’s transgression was a sin, that means that sin was necessary. President Kimball contradicted this idea in the Miracle of Forgiveness, where he said something to the effect that one should never say, “‘I’m glad for my sin, because I got to know God through it.’ Remember, it is always better NOT to have sinned in the first place!” While it is certainly true that there are many sins which it would be better never to have committed, it can’t be said that experiencing a sinful state is entirely without benefit, nor that it is unnescessary. The best way to learn any skill is to jump in and try it, not to insist on perfection from the beginning. As creatures learning to use the gift of agency, we must learn through our experiences, good and bad, sinful, and redemptive. All this can be for our good, and indeed is nescessary.
My father moderates an Addiction Recovery Program, where he often hears this testimony: “I am so grateful for my addictions. I was arrogant and confident beforehand, and I never would have come to Jesus, or have gotten to know Him intimately if I had not been forced to through my addictions.” This is the refrain of nearly ALL the addicts who are redeemed from their hell. They are glad they sinned. They are glad they fell so hard. Without having fallen because of their sins, they would never have come to God on their own.
Tears of Eve
The new temple movie is absolutely beautiful and inspired. I only have one disagreement with the interpretation. In the new movie, Eve bursts into tears BEFORE she decides to take the fruit. She is the “Noble Eve” distressed at the two conflicting commandments she is faced with. We all feel sorry for her, and we admire her for making “the right choice” even though it was kind of tough.
But imagine if the director had told Eve to burst into tears AFTER taking the fruit, because she knew she’d just sinned? Imagine if she burst into tears after God told her that He was going to send Jesus to save her from the terrible mistake she made? Imagine if it was real grace for real sin, real redemption from something very scary, very wrong, very evil? Now I can certainly relate to sinner Eve. But I can’t relate to the Noble Eve. I’ve never had an experience where I was given two conflicting commandments like that. That doesn’t sound like anything in real life to me. To me, Noble Eve seems distant, aspirational, and a bit too perfect.
- Was Eve’s Transgression a sin or no? Why?
- Can good come from sin?
- Can the “new LDS feminism” which celebrates Eve as a hero still celebrate her if she is a sinner as well?
- Is the story of Adam and Eve allegorical or literal, and what are the implications? Can it be literal AND allegorical?