The Fall of Adam and Eve
Was there anything to be gained by the fall of Adam and Eve that could not have been gained otherwise?
Recap: Virtually all of traditional Christianity interprets the Fall as being an unintended deviation from a perfect state which God had planned mankind to stay in forever. In such a scheme, the purpose of the Atonement is to return us to that ideal condition.

If it were true that the purpose of the Atonement was to return us to the state that mankind was originally created in, then why would the Lord say, “They who keep their first estate shall be added upon; … and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever” (Abr. 3:26). In this passage, “first estate” refers to our premortal life,1 and “second estate” refers to our mortal probation on this earth (including the spirit world2). In both cases, moving beyond an estate is called being “added upon.” Mankind’s move from his created condition to a fallen world of pain and temptation was considered being “added upon,” and moving from this fallen world into the eternal glories is considered an even better improvement. Indeed, Brigham Young said, “The first great principle that ought to occupy the attention of mankind … is the principle of improvement. The principle of increase, of exaltation, of adding to that [which] we already possess, is the grand moving principle and cause of the actions of the children of men.”3 Of course, the Fall has undeniably unpleasant aspects, so Orson F. Whitney put it this way: “The fall had a twofold direction—downward, yet forward.”4

All of these statements would lead us to conclude that the Atonement’s purpose cannot be just to return us to the Edenic condition, because there would be no increase. If we come full circle with nothing to show for it, we have not been added upon. It seems that there must have been something lacking in Eden—something that is gained in the process of moving to “estates” beyond it.

Lehi’s Caveat

In 2 Ne. 2:22, Lehi teaches that Adam and Eve’s state in the garden of Eden (1) was free of pain, inconvenience, discomfort, and sorrow, as well as sin and misery, and (2) would have continued that way indefinitely had they not taken the fruit. Other traditional Christians, such as the Catholic priest whom my younger siblings interviewed, would agree with Lehi’s statement so far, and both parties could also agree on our graphical illustration up to this point:

The Fall leads down

However, the priest probably would have been surprised at the doctrines Lehi reveals in the next verse:

They would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. (2 Ne. 2:23)

Here, Lehi teaches that not only was the Eden state absent of negative, unpleasant aspects, but it was also (3) absent of many positive aspects. Not only did Adam and Eve have no sorrow; they also had no joy. Not only did they never sin; they also performed no good. Not only was there no pain in childbirth yet; there was no childbirth at all.5 Thus, the state they were created in lacked many of the characteristics that Christians have for centuries assumed were part of Eden. (My Book of Mormon teacher my freshman year at BYU, Todd B. Parker, emphasized this through a pair of questions on the midterm exam. [1] True or False: Adam and Eve were sad in the garden. [2] True or False: Adam and Eve were happy in the garden. The answer to both, of course, is false.)

This revelation led apostle James E. Talmage to remark, “It has become a common practice with mankind to heap reproaches on the progenitors of the family, and to picture the supposedly blessed state in which we would be living but for the fall.”6 In other words, Eden was pain-free, but it was not the blessed end-all-be-all of existence because it was also joy-free. In this scenario, the Creation cannot be considered a state Adam and Eve were meant to stay in forever. Would the Lord want mankind to be joyless, absent of good deeds, and a dead-ended population of two forever? Of course not. From that fact we must also conclude that the purpose of the Atonement cannot be to return us to the condition in which God created mankind in the garden. The Atonement must lead somewhere better than Eden.

The Fortunate Fall

Latter-day prophets have strenuously confirmed this implication. Many different prophets have repeatedly explained that the Fall of Adam was a necessary step to help us progress beyond the capacities we were created with:

  • Joseph Fielding Smith: “They were placed in the Garden of Eden … , but not under the most favorable circumstances. … They were deprived of certain knowledge and understanding. … Therefore, it became essential to their salvation and to ours that their nature should be changed. … Therefore, Adam partook of the forbidden fruit. … I do not look upon Adam’s fall as a sin.”7“We came into this world to die. That was understood before we came here. It is part of the plan, all discussed and arranged long before men were placed upon the earth. When Adam was sent into this world, it was … in order to bring to pass this mortal condition which we find ourselves in today.”8“When Adam was driven out of the Garden of Eden, the Lord passed a sentence upon him. Some people have looked upon that sentence as being a dreadful thing. It was not; it was a blessing. … In order for mankind to obtain salvation and exaltation it is necessary for them to obtain bodies in this world, and pass through the experiences and schooling that are found only in mortality. … The fall of man came as a blessing in disguise, and was the means of furthering the purposes of the Lord in the progress of man, rather than a means of hindering them.”9 
  • L. Tom Perry: “The Fall was as much a part of the foreordained plan of salvation as the Atonement. It was a necessary step forward in the progress of man.”10
  • Russell M. Nelson: “The Creation required the Fall. The Fall required the Atonement. The Atonement enabled the purpose of the Creation to be accomplished. Eternal life, made possible by the Atonement, is the supreme purpose of the Creation.11

Much more could be (and has been) said on why the Fall of Adam and Eve was so necessary, but I’ll try to keep the scope of this article narrowed on my main point. Knowing that that Fall (1) was necessary, because (2) it made possible a higher state of existence than was available in the Creation, we would finish our drawing thusly:

The Atonement leads to a higher state than the Creation

In other words, the two paths available to Adam and Eve were not “Stay in this perfect state forever” or “Take a needless, completely unbeneficial diversion at the risk of not being able to return.” Rather, the two options were “Stay in this sorrowless but joyless state forever” or “Take a necessary step that has a very unpleasant phase but which is followed by the capacity to become like God and experience real joy and meaningful existence.”

Conclusion

Thus, while passing through this fallen, mortal vale of tears is most definitely unpleasant at times (to put it mildly), one of the most important doctrines that has been restored in the latter days is the fact that it is absolutely necessary for us to become like God. He intended for Adam and Eve to Fall. He wanted them to. It was his will that they partake, and doing so was the only way for millions of God’s children to start on the path that has the potential to bring them into an estate that is better than the one they started with. That potential state, made possible by both the Fall and the Atonement, is not only filled with the eternal life inherent to dwelling in the Lord’s vibrant presence saturated with his living Spirit, but it is also filled with knowledge—of joy and its flip-side, sorrow, and of God himself, for only when we are like him shall we finally “see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). To borrow the imagery of Eden, we will be able to freely eat from both trees, for both were made by the Father and both embody his divine attributes.

This conclusion raises two questions. First, Why are pain and suffering necessary for us to progress? It’s a very important question that goes beyond the scope of this discussion, but Jeff approached it in “Finitude is Not the Answer” and “Sorrow versus Misery.”)

Second, if God intended Adam and Eve to bring mortality, pain, death, and sorrow into the world through eating the knowledge fruit, why did he forbid it (Gen. 3:3)? That is also too big a question to deal with in this post, but there are several helpful statements from modern prophets that address it.12 Perhaps the most import point they make is that “forbid” and “transgression” do not necessarily carry the meanings people often assume they do, especially in passages about the Fall. Saying “Adam and Eve were supposed to eat the fruit” should definitely not be construed to mean that people must disobey God’s will in order to progress (I’ve written a whole series on that called The Path of Sin, beginning with “The Benefits of Sin?“).

The main message I hope to convey through this article is that Adam and Eve were supposed to bring mortality, pain, death, and suffering into this world, because it benefits us by helping us become more like God. We should look upon the Fall as a terrific success in the plan, even though our limited mortal perspective often makes recognizing that difficult.



Notes

1. “First estate” might also conceivably refer to mankind’s condition in the garden of Eden before the Fall, in addition to the premortal life.

2. “From these scriptures, we also learn of three phases of our existence as children of God. Abraham calls these phases ‘estates’:

  1. We had the premortal state when we lived as spirit children of God;
  2. We have our “second estate,” which is the mortality we are now experiencing and our sojourn in the spirit worldfollowing death;
  3. And in the future we will have a reuniting of the soul into a state of immortality through the Resurrection. …

We know that we kept our first estate because we are here in mortality, and by receiving our bodies we have been added upon. We further know that the gospel teaches us how we must keep this, our second estate, in order that in the next life, the third estate, we may ‘have glory added upon [our] heads for ever and ever’ (Marion G. Romney, “We Are Children of God,” Ensign, Sep. 1984, p. 3.

3. Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 85.

4. Orson F. Whitney, Cowley and Whitney on Doctrine, comp. Forace Green (SLC: Bookcraft, 1963), p. 287.

5. The fact that Lehi says “would have had no children” raises the question of whether they “could have had no children.” While this particular passage is a little ambiguous, modern prophets have clarified this point. Elder Russell M. Nelson said of Adam and Eve, “In that state of innocence, they were not yet mortal. They could have had no children, were not subject to death, and could have lived in Eden’s garden forever” (“Constancy amid Change,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 33). In that same general conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “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” (“‘The Great Plan of Happiness’,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 72).

6. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1913), p. 70.

7. Joseph Fielding Smith, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” 25 Jan. 1955, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, p. 2; cited in Doctrines of the Gospel, p. 21.

8. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:66; cited in Doctrines of the Gospel, p. 21.

9. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:113–14; cited in Doctrines of the Gospel, p. 21.

10. L. Tom Perry, “Give Heed unto the Word of the Lord,” Ensign, Jun. 2000, p. 22.

11. Russell M. Nelson, “The Atonement,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 33.

12. Let the following two quotes from Joseph Fielding Smith suffice for the time being:

“Now this is the way I interpret that: The Lord said to Adam, here is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you want to stay here, then you cannot eat of that fruit. If you want to stay here, then I forbid you to eat it. But you may act for yourself, and you may eat of it if you want to. And if you eat it, you will die. I see a great difference between transgressing the law and committing a sin” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “Fall—Atonement—Resurrection—Sacrament,” in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 124; cited in Doctrines of the Gospel, p. 20).

“Adam partook of the forbidden fruit, forbidden in a rather peculiar manner for it is the only place in all the history where we read that the Lord forbade something and yet said, ‘Nevertheless thou mayest choose for thyself.’ He never said that of any sin. I do not look upon Adam’s fall as a sin, although it was a transgression of the law.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” 25 Jan. 1955, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, p. 2; cited in Doctrines of the Gospel, p. 20).