I was asked to substitute teach for Priesthood recently. I feel that the boundaries and goals of Priesthood/Relief Society/Gospel Doctrine, which I don’t teach very often, are narrower than those of Institute, which I’ve taught for a long time. As with all Church lessons, it is light-exegesis-pressed-into-inspirational-service. Preparation was different and more difficult than usual, but here’s how it went.
I began by handing everyone slips with these two quotes, which we read.
“We set up assumptions, based upon our best knowledge, but can go no further.”- Elder John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 126.
“We have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers–that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.” -President Hugh B. Brown (First Presidency), “An Eternal Quest” BYU Devotional of May 13, 1969, available from speeches.BYU.edu
There are a few things we know (or think we know) for certain, at least in broad strokes, about the Fall, but there are many more things we don’t know. Let’s assume you have a friend at work, someone who’s just generically Christian, and asks casually, so what do Mormons believe about the Fall? You’ve got 30 seconds. What do you say? [I figured this was a better way to frame the question, because we’re less likely to be speculative or fringey when presenting LDS beliefs to others. Ronan Head has called this the Larry King rule. This combined with the two quotes above preempted any doctrinal rabbit trails.]
We discussed this for about 10 minutes, and came up with a partial list of things we’re fairly certain of, summarized more concisely here than on our blackboard.
- The Fall was somehow intimately connected with bringing death and sin into the world.
- The Fall, in Mormon tradition, doesn’t entail Original Sin the way it does in other Christian traditions, i.e. the 2nd Article of Faith. “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.”
- The Fall necessitated an Atonement.
- The Fall was in some sense a good and necessary thing.
- Without the Fall, we collectively wouldn’t be here.
A few comments required some Socratic questioning to corral into less-speculative more concrete form. The last bullet point in particular took some brief discussion, as it was first stated in terms of conflicting commandments and Adam/Eve lacking reproductive capability in the Garden. That provided me with the perfect segue, as I’d come up with a few clear examples of (apparently) unwarranted assumptions.
“I’m not actually certain that either of those things are solidly true, though they’ve commonly been understood that way. And here, fortunately, lets look at the manual.
In prior years, the manual stated flatly that Adam and Ever were incapable of bearing children in the Garden. Apparently, the authors/editors/correlation, somebody in charge, decided that was over-reaching, that that statement was an assumption and interpretation of the text. In any case, they saw fit to remove those absolute statement, and replace them with a simple quotation of 2 Nephi 2:23, which is perfectly scriptural and avoids interpreting the ambiguity.” Moving on.
Does understanding the doctrine of the Fall have any implications for our actions? Many doctrines, such as gratitude, chastity, or tithing or the Word of Wisdom, have implied or overt implications about particular actions we should either embrace or refrain from doing. Does knowledge of the Fall require us to act in certain ways, or avoid certain things? Or is it more of a “worldview” kind of doctrine?
(Discussion ensues. Most think it’s a worldview thing, some made indirect arguments.)
When this question occurred to me, I didn’t think it entailed anything about actions, but later decided I was wrong. I think it does. It has to do with how we understand our relationship with our wives and how we treat them.
(Here I drew a line down the middle of the chalkboard, with “Pre-fall relationship” on the left and “Post-fall relationship” on the right. We then walked through a few scriptures)
- Adam &Eve’s relationship, Pre-fall
- Creation of Adam and Eve (animals first, then male/female together in 1:26-27 but separately in chapter 2, which has Man first, then animals, then Eve in 2:18-24) None of the animals prove to be a fitting partner for Adam, but with Eve, he expresses delight at this new being that is finally right, and an integral part of him “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” On board: Integrated and delighted.
- Gen 2:24 Adam and Eve will are to be one flesh. Not just a euphemism for sex, but indicating an intimate unity.
- Gen 2:21 Why was Eve taken from Adam’s side? (NB: “rib” in the KJV is in italics, indicating it’s not actually in the Hebrew.) She was not taken from his foot, that she should be below him, nor the head that she should be above him, but from his side and at his side as an equal.
- Gen 2:18, the “help meet” passage (and here I borrow from discussion at FPR and elsewhere)- This passage has often been misread and misunderstood. Instead of “make a help-meet, for-him,” we should understand, “make a-help, (one that is) meet-for-him.” Unfortunately, both in general Christianity and the Church, the word has often been slurred into “helpmeet” (47x at lds.org) or worse, “helpmate” (37x at LDs.org, once in an article called “What the Scriptures Say about Being a Wife.”) If we want to remind ourselves of this, write in a comma between “help” and “meet” (and remember that none of the Biblical languages had punctuation.)
- Let’s take these words separately. What does “meet” mean? (We read 1 Nephi 7:1, Matt. 15:26, 1Co 16:4, to establish that it means something like “appropriate, right for, fitting.”) The underlying Hebrew is unique, but means something similar- fitting for, equal to. Some have suggested it means something like mirror-image or a yin-yang kind of thing, an equal opposite. We’re not entirely sure, but I’ll go with it for now.
- What about “help” ? Often we think of helpers as subservient, people to whom we delegate less important or less difficult tasks (think of your 3-yr old in the kitchen), but this isn’t necessarily the case. If you’re in a class and need help, you go to the professor, who is certainly not subservient or inferior to you. In Hebrew “help” is an rare word. Only two people are called such, one being Eve and the other God. God is certainly not inferior or subservient. The word “help”, ezer is found in several places and names to make this case, e.g. Exo 18:4, psa 121:1-2, and Ezra/Azriel/Eliezer (“God is a/my help” or “God has helped”) Man is explicitly NOT an ezer. This has led some scholars to translate the term as “divine aid” or “godlike aid.” In some sense, then, Eve channels, represents, or provides divine aid to Adam. Put together with “meet” we see that far from indicating a subservient “helpmate”, Eve is (on board:) divine aid fitting for Adam
- Post-fall, what is their relationship like?
- In Gen 3:12ff, when God appears to ask them if they’ve partaken of the fruit, dain essence passes the buck by putting the blame squarely on Eve (and secondarily on God, “the woman YOU gave me”). Eve blames the serpent. On board: No more unity.
- In Genesis 3:16, we find God laying out the circumstances of the post-Fall world. “your desire shall be towards your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Again drawing on reading elsewhere,) consider some of the the other things listed there, such as thorns and thistles. These are not God’s ideals, but unfortunate effects of the fall. The statement “your desire shall be towards your husband, but he shall rule over you” is not expressing a heavenly ideal, but a fallen reality. What does it mean? “Rule over” clearly has to do with dominion and authority, and I connect it squarely with D&C 121:39, “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority… they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” Speaking in generalities, men have a tendency to want to dominate. As it turns out, the phrase “your desire shall be towards your husband“ means nearly the same thing. What we have here post-Fall is not a Celestial ideal, but a fallen war of the sexes, a prideful struggle to establish lone supremacy at the top of the heap. On board: war of the sexes, domination, pride
- In other words, what we learn from the difference in their relationship pre and post-Fall, and can apply directly in our lives is a realization of the fallen nature of our relationships, the ideal of intimate unity and equality, and the ideal of regaining those things from the Garden, while still living in the lone and dreary world. We are to seek to regain that unity and intimacy of husband and wife without the crutch of protection or naivete that the Garden provided, while passing through pain and sorrow. That’s what I take away from a study of the Fall that applies directly to my actions on a day-to-day basis.