|Granted, the Millennial earth will be an almost Eden-like paradise. But is the purpose of the Atonement to return us to exactly the same state that Adam and Eve were in when they were created in the garden?|
|Recap: The plan of salvation can be summarized through the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.|
A Catholic Utterance
I attended early morning seminary along with the other LDS youth from the two wards in my home town of Ukiah in northern California. Occasionally we would do field trips, such as my senior year when we went to the big regional synagogue in San Francisco and interviewed a youth rabbi. A year later, my younger siblings’ classes went to a cathedral in the Bay Area and talked to a Catholic priest about his beliefs. Having recently studied the Old Testament, my brother and and sister were aware that we understood the Fall of Adam very differently from the rest of Christianity. Still, the Catholic priest’s answers took them by surprise.
At one point, a seminary student asked him, “What do Catholics believe about Adam and Eve?”
The priest replied, “Adam was an idiot. If it hadn’t been for him and Eve eating the fruit, you and I would be living in paradise in the garden of Eden right now.”
His response reveals a significant difference in the way traditional Christianity has misunderstood key doctrines related to the Fall of Adam and Eve.
The Former Bible Dictionary
Before the LDS Church published the 1979/1981 edition of the standard works, which is the edition currently used by most Latter-day Saints and sold in Church distribution centers, most members of the Church bought their Bibles from a variety of non-LDS Christian book publishers. Robert J. Matthews explains,
For nearly half a century the Church has used an edition of the Bible published by Cambridge University in England. This was called the Missionary Edition, and it contained a Bible dictionary prepared by Cambridge scholars. Although that dictionary presented much helpful information, it was deemed advisable to produce a new dictionary that was more useful to Latter-day Saints. Though based on the Cambridge work, the Bible Dictionary in the new LDS edition differs from it in several important ways. … In the older dictionary there were instances of misleading or erroneous statements due to the inadequacy of the Bible in clarifying some subjects.
Professor Matthews notes that one of the most significant entries that needed to be addressed was the one on the Fall. The old dictionary said,
The Bible [teaches regarding man] … that at a certain point in the history of the race the development took a wrong turn, which was not in accordance with God’s original purpose. Man consciously set himself to act in opposition to the will of his Creator.
This interpretation of the plan of salvation alludes to the “three pillars of eternity,” but it formulates the Creation, the Fall, and Atonement very differently from restored doctrines. To paraphrase it, God created mankind in a certain condition, and he intended for them to remain in that condition forever. However, their partaking of the fruit foiled his plan, and so he came up with a contingency plan, a Plan B, which involved sending his Son to earth to atone for mankind’s sins. In this scenario, the Fall of mankind is a colossal waste of time, a deviation from the way things ought to have stayed. Also implicit is that the Atonement is our means of escaping back to mankind’s original, ideal conditionâ€”the condition we were meant to be in, the state we were created to enjoy
To illustrate this graphically, there were two possible paths Adam and Eve could have taken. They could have refrained from eating the fruit, continuing in their created condition indefinitely (“God’s original purpose”).
Or they could have eaten the fruit, dropping to a lower, fallen, miserable condition (“a wrong turn”).
Since the Fall is perceived as a wrong turn, the purpose of the Atonement is to restore mankind to the state he was originally created in: an Edenic paradise just like Adam and Eve’s condition.
Lehi for Catholics
It would have been interesting at that point in their interview if one of the seminary students had read to the priest the following statement by father Lehi:
If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. (2 Ne. 2:22)
It seems to me that the priest could have nodded and been very comfortable agreeing with Lehi on that point. However, Lehi’s next statement illustrates a key difference between the way non-LDS Christians interpret the Fall and the way Latter-day Saints understand it in the light of restored doctrines. In fact, Lehi’s words would compel us to draw a different diagram of the relationship between the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. I will explain how we would draw that diagram and why in my next post.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Robert J. Matthews, “Using the New Bible Dictionary in the LDS Edition,” Ensign, Jun. 1982, p. 47.|
|2.||↑||I can’t remember now which of my BYU religion professors told me this (perhaps it was Larry Dahl or Craig Ostler), but apparently when the Brethren were considering the question of whether there was a great enough need for a new, uniquely LDS Bible Dictionary to justify spending the time and tithing money it would take to compose one, they assigned a committee to explore the issue. In the committee’s report, this entry on the Fall was one of the most compelling reasons that led to the decision to start on a new dictionary.|
|3.||↑||A Concise Bible Dictionary Based on the Cambridge Companion to the Bible (London: Cambridge University Press, 1950), s.v. “Fall,” p. 56 (this volume is commonly called the Cambridge Bible Dictionary); cited in Robert J. Matthews, “Beyond the Biblical Account: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and Moses in Latter-day Revelation,” chapter 9 in Richard D. Draper, ed., Witness of Jesus Christ: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1989).|