2 Nephi 2 tweet: By law men R cut off. Needs 2B opposition in all things–man enticed but told dont partake. Adam fell, Messiah redeems, so men R free 2 act.
2 Nephi 2 is one of the most theologically important chapters in the Book of Mormon. In it, Lehi outlines the central role of agency in the plan of salvation and connects it to the doctrine of the Fall and the Atonement. It’s impossible to begin to do justice to this chapter in a single blog post. Essays and book chapters have been written about single verses from this chapter (e.g. verse 11).1 A four month seminar was held to study just this one chapter.2 Therefore, in this post I’m not going to try and cover the whole, or even part of this chapter. Instead, I’ll outline my thoughts regarding the Creation and the Fall. I’ll leave the subject of the Atonement until a later post – possibly when I get to 2 Nephi 9, another theologically rich post in which Jacob responds to Lehi’s teachings in 2 Nephi 2.
So, cards on the table, I don’t believe in a literal Garden of Eden, at least not a paradisiacal-type Eden. I believe that the Earth is billions of years old. And while I believe the spirits of the children of men are the offspring of God, I believe that the physical bodies of all living things, including mankind, are the product of billions of years of evolution. Those beliefs are very difficult/impossible to reconcile with a literal, no-death-before-the-Fall, Garden of Eden. As a simple example, as soon as we accept that dinosaurs roamed the earth ~100 million years ago, the ideas of a paradisiacal Garden of Eden and of Adam and Eve introducing death into this world are compromised. On this point, the New Era recently published the following statement:
Did dinosaurs live and die on this earth long before man came along? There have been no revelations on this question, and the scientific evidence says yes. (You can learn more about it by studying paleontology if you like, even at Church-owned schools.) The details of what happened on this planet before Adam and Eve aren’t a huge doctrinal concern of ours. The accounts of the Creation in the scriptures are not meant to provide a literal, scientific explanation of the specific processes, time periods, or events involved.3
So if not literal history, what are the accounts of Eden and of the Fall as depicted in the scriptures and in the temple drama teaching us? What follows is a theory that I think best reconciles our doctrine with current scientific evidence (as to why we should try and make this reconciliation, see this post).4
What we believe about life before the fall might be summarised as follows:
- Adam and Eve were in God’s presence. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve
- Adam and Eve lived in a paradise, wherever this was, it was not “here”
- Adam and Eve had immortal spiritual bodies of sorts. It is difficult to tell what this actually means
- Adam and Eve were childless. This seems to be related to the nature of their spiritual bodies
- Adam and Eve were ignorant in that they had not gained some form of knowledge, which seems to be an experience of good and evil. They could only progress spiritually by subjecting themselves to spiritual and physical death and they could not experience joy
- Satan was also here in God’s presence. Only after he goes against the Father is he banished
After the fall the conditions were as follows:
- Adam and Eve were cast out of God’s presence. They no longer had relatively easy access to God, but instead had to pray for “many days” for an angel to come
- Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise into what is termed a lone and dreary world (a telestial world). In other words they were sent “here”
- Adam and Eve became mortal. They received mortal bodies just like we have now
- Adam and Eve could now have children. Again, just like we can with our bodies now
- Adam and Eve began to gain knowledge and progress spiritually. They could experience joy
- Satan was also was cast out of the paradise. He then came to the lone and dreary world with Adam and Eve to tempt them
If these events do not describe a literal paradisiacal Garden scene, what could they describe? Firstly, remember that when watching the temple drama, initiates are explicitly told to put themselves in the place of Adam or Eve. That is, initiates are meant to view the unfolding drama as telling them a story about themselves not necessarily about a historical Adam and Eve. Secondly, when we consider that the name Adam means man or mankind, if we replace Adam and Eve with mankind in all of the points above we recognise they describe something else, namely the pre-existence! That is, I think the story of our coming to earth and the story of the Fall seem to be telling the same story. Why not just consider them to be one and the same story, namely mankind’s fall from heaven? Could this be a valid way of reconciling the doctrine of the Fall with evolution?
What then of the ‘real’ Adam and Eve? Did they really exist or are they just symbolic of all men and women? I believe in a literal Adam and Eve, I just don’t believe they walked the earth as the only two human beings at some point in the past. Rather I believe that Adam and Eve were the first couple to whom the gospel was revealed. By covenant, Adam and Eve became the first children of God and by covenant all of God’s children will have the opportunity to be sealed into one human family presided over by Adam and Eve. As discussed previously, the point of the power of the priesthood is that it binds us together in ways and to degrees for which biology is simply not adequate.
If I’m right, what do these ideas teach us about the nature of God? Firstly, I believe that evolution ennobles the creation and the Creator. If the earth is billions of years old and if life and its gradual evolution on earth is imbedded in deep time it suggests that God is far more patient than perhaps we have supposed. I think such patience should give us reason for hope. I actually love the idea that our physical bodies have an ancient, primordial story written in the DNA of every one of our cells that we continue to unfold as science progresses.
Secondly, it suggests that our lives are more entwined with the rest of God’s creation than perhaps we have appreciated. With such a view maybe we will take more seriously our stewardship of the Earth.5 Furthermore, our own scriptures state that all of God’s creations “are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.” (D&C 88:47) If we are prepared to look, I think we can find God in even the least of His creations.
Finally, do these ideas have anything to say about the nature of resurrected bodies? For those who believe man was created in the image of God, one of the arguments against evolution concerns the apparent randomness of the process. That is, did man just happen by chance to evolve into the image of God over millions of years? However, this question underestimates the power of chance. If I flip a coin I have a 50/50 chance of it being heads or tails. However, if I flip the coin a million times, I can predict with a high degree of probability that the proportion of heads to tails will be approximately 50/50. That is not random. I believe that if the conditions are right God can control the course of evolution. This point can be illustrated by the principal of convergent evolution. This is where organisms that are not closely related independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches. There are hundreds of examples, such as insects, birds and bats all developing wings just to name one. In other words, if two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, ten fingers, ten toes, etc are vital parts of God’s resurrected physical body, I believe it was possible for God to create and shape the environments in which those body parts would evolve.
This post is pretty speculative in nature so I’d be interested in your thoughts. Additionally, as 2 Nephi 2 is essentially doctrinal, let me know what you think some of the answers are to the ‘so what’ question, i.e. how should an understanding of the doctrine contained in 2 Nephi 2 change the way we think or act?
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 3–4
- This isn’t my own theory; I’ve read it in a couple of different places over the last few years but unfortunately I can’t remember where so I can’t reference it