In my experience, lessons on the fall often bring comparisons between “what LDS believe” and “what Christians/Catholics/Protestants/Evangelicals believe.” I think these kinds of comparisons are usually less helpful, for two reasons. 1) They’re rarely well-founded and 2) they’re usually to establish some kind of simplistic “LDS Doctrine Good, Others’ Doctrine Bad.”
Just as LDS tend to bristle when other Christians misunderstand and misstate what LDS believe, so LDS also tend to misunderstand and misstate what other Christians believe on this topic. We should also distinguish on both sides between official teachings on the Fall i.e. the Catholic Catechism and Papal bulls or declarations vs. what that Catholic guy said that you met on your mission. It’s best to focus the discussion on what the scriptures actually say (being careful not to read tradition overtop of the text), what they mean, and how they have variously been interpreted by LDS authorities.
So, I want to focus on clarifying Adam and Eve a little. These comments on Adam are drawn from the Mormon Theology Seminar on Genesis 2-3, which I participated in. Since the conference papers are not yet published, check out the verse-by-verse commentary from the collaborative blog (starting at the bottom and working up, with comments on each post) and the audio of the conference.
What does ‘adam mean in Hebrew? In summary,
- ‘adam can refer to the general class of humankind or humanity.
- ‘adam can refer to any member of that class , whether male or female, e.g. a human or humans, people.
- ‘adam can be the proper name of the first man, but as it turns out, this is the rarest of the three usages. ‘adam probably shouldn’t be translated as Adam until after the Fall chapters.
These distinctions are blurred and mistranslated in the KJV. For example, when it says later on in 5:2 that “he called their name Adam” God is not naming them both Adam. (I once had a teacher explain that we had Adam Adam and Eve Adam, on that basis.) Rather, we should understand “and he named them humanity.”
This means that Genesis is more about mankind, Human and Life (Eve=Heb. chayya=“life”) instead of the documentary retelling of a particular couple. See the paraphrastic “fireside retelling” translation I did for the Theology Seminar and the comments.
As for Eve, I get to keep my Inigo Montoya theme this week. Let’s talk about “help meet” first…
I’ve talked about “help meet” before, but as I keep seeing the older and incorrect usage, this needs to be repeated until it really gets around. I’m not so rigidly prescriptivist that I can’t stand to see incorrect usages, but this is a spectacular misunderstanding with real-world implications for the role of women, which has been part and parcel of bad theology in the past.
In Genesis 2:18/Moses 3:18, Eve is described as “a help meet for” the man. First, the noun here is “help” not “help meet” “helpmeet” or worse “help mate.” Help can be of various kinds, and it’s often been implicitly understood that Adam is primary and Eve is his helper. Subordinate somehow. This is not the case.
‘ezer, pronounced ay-zair (like Canadian “eh” and “air” with a -z- in between, accent on the first syllable) does mean something like “help” or “aid”, and appears in several Biblical names, such as Ezra “God is a help” or Azriel/Eliezer “God is (my) help.” However, it’s not the standard kind of help. Though other humans get to “help” using the verbal form, ‘ezer as a noun is applied only to two characters in the Bible, namely, Eve and God himself. (Thanks to Boyd for making me check up on that.)
If you’re in a group of two, and the other member is God, that’s a fairly elite group. In other words, Eve is akin to some kind of divine aid to Adam, and the nature of that help is not subordinate, like that of a secretary, a gopher, an assistant, or when parents say of their three-year old “he’s such a good helper.” It’s God-like aid. God is a help and clearly not subordinate, and that’s apparently the kind of “help” Eve is.
“Meet” is actually an translation for second part of this, kenegdo, (kuh-neg-dough, accent on the middle syllable). The English “meet” is an adjective, and though not common anymore, it appears several times in the archaic English of our scriptures. Let’s get some general ideas of what the English term might mean from the contexts it’s used in. (This is, btw, the way dictionaries ancient and modern, English and Hebrew are put together.)
1 Nephi 7:1 …after my father, Lehi, had made an end of prophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise.
Alma 5:54 …will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God, wherewith they have been brought into this church, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and they do bring forth works which are meet for repentance— (This phrase also appears in Alma 9:30, 12:15,
Mark 7:27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
Those are both NT passages, a different time and language than Genesis. What about Old Testament passages?
Exodus 8:25-26 And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land. And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?
From all of these, it would appear English meet means something like “worthy (not in the moral sense), fitting for, appropriate for, equivalent to.” Would this make sense in Genesis 2:18?
” And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help [worthy/fitting/appropriate/equivalent] for him.”
That general realm of semantics seems to fit Genesis 2:18. Fortunately in this case, we can look at the Hebrew term instead of the English which also turns out to mean (probably) something like that. (If you want to see how to work with the Hebrew or Greek instead of English, see my Religious Educator article. Note it has some minor errors that will be corrected in the print edition.)
Consequently, Eve is not created as a subordinate to Adam, but as David Freedman translates it, “a power equal unto man” (see here.)
Further reading on this topic:
- Jolene Edmunds Rockwood, “Eve’s Role in the Creation and the Fall to Mortality” in Women and the Power Within (Salt Lake City:Deseret Book, 1991), p. 49-62. Link
- A longer version was published as “The Redemption of Eve” in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavinia Fielding Anderson (Urbana of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 1987): 3-29. Link
The second aspect regarding Eve is the passage post-fall which places these words in God’s mouth- “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” The manual quotes President Kimball to the extent that we should read “rule” there as “preside.” While there are certainly discussions to be had about the semantics and practical applications of that term, let’s specify that President Kimball believed that marriage should be “a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner.” (Link)
The Ensign in 2007 ran an article that addressed this passage and the “help meet” passage. Unfortunately, it made some claims about the Hebrew text that were not supportable. The passage here does indeed mean “rule over,” not “rule with” as the Ensign claimed. (I wrote a detailed and critical but charitable take here.) However, there’s another way to deal with this passage. President Kimball apparently viewed this passage as prescriptive, as the way God intends things to be, the ideal. I do not. I think it’s descriptive. In other words, I view Genesis as describing the natural circumstances of their now-fallen state, our earthly imperfect impulses and conditions, not the heavenly ideal. I can see why someone concerned with equality who also viewed the passage as prescriptive would want to soften it.
Terminology– Sin vs transgression. Note that the Genesis text doesn’t use any of these words, sin, transgression, Fall, etc. I think Elder Oaks and Joseph Fielding Smith, as quoted in the manual, are implicitly responding to certain ideas about the fall being sexual. (See below.) Oaks makes use of lawyerly distinctions of malum prohibitum (something that is wrong because only it has been prohibited) vs malum in se (something that is always wrong) to talk about sin vs. transgression.
Hebrew makes different distinctions. When they aren’t used synonymously, sin or “chatta” means “to take one’s best shot and miss” whereas transgression is “willful violation.” But Hebrew has a wide variety of terms for this kind of thing, and most often they can be substituted for each other. Consequently, we shouldn’t make a habit of reading in technical meaning wherever we see a particular word used.
As a secondary tidbit on this topic, one sometimes hears the term “immaculate conception.” This does not refer to the virgin birth, but to Mary’s birth. That is, a long-standing mainstream Christian tradition maintained the following. “Although the early church fathers refer to Adam’s fall, they generally retain a strong emphasis upon individual human responsibility. Not until Augustine do we find an extended attempt to define clearly a doctrine of the fall in terms of the connection between the sin and guilt of Adam and the sin and guilt of all humanity. Augustine… thought of original sin as inherited sin, the fallen nature of Adam transmitted biologically through sexual procreation from fathers to their children. Moreover, since all were germinally present in Adam, all actually participated in Adam’s sin….Augustine’s interpretation was largely confirmed at the Council of Orange (529). Despite modification by Anselm and moderation by Thomas Aquinas it remained generally that of the church throughout the Middle Ages.” New Dictionary of Theology, “Fall.”
Thus, since Jesus was born of a virgin, he was free of original sin. But what of his mother? The immaculate conception is “[t]he Roman Catholic teaching that Mary the mother of Jesus was supernaturally prevented from being tainted by original sin so that she could give birth to Jesus as God’s own Son.”
Genre– It’s not necessary to read Genesis 2-3 as some kind of documentary history in order to recognize the presence of sin and death in the world and the need for redemption from them. But this is beyond the scope of my already long post.
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