Editor's note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in January 2018.
The Fall occurred as Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Moses 3:17; 4:12, 17–31; Gen. 2:9; 3:3–6; Abr. 5:9, 12–13) and were removed from the Garden of Eden (Moses 4:31; 5:4). See Eden, the Garden of.
The writings of Moses and Enoch in the Pearl of Great Price are joined with the teachings of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi (2 Ne. 2:22–25) in restoring the distinctive doctrine that the fall of Adam and Eve was a vital part of God’s plan “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). While included in the teachings of the early Christian church (Ambrose, 287–88), the doctrine of the “Fortunate Fall” (Jeffrey, 274–75) was one of the “plain and precious things taken away” from the Bible (1 Ne. 13:28) and restored through latter-day scripture (vv. 39–40).
The Lord’s instructions to Adam in the Garden of Eden included, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Moses 3:16–17; emphasis added). While the command “thou shalt not eat” is included in this passage, the phrase that follows, “nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself,” is unique to the Pearl of Great Price and is a significant and meaningful difference from the biblical narrative. Commenting on this passage, President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “The Lord said to Adam that if he wished to remain as he was in the garden, then he was not to eat the fruit, but if he desired to eat it and partake of death he was at liberty to do so” (231).
The word nevertheless is important in understanding Moses 3:16–17 as nevertheless is often used in scripture as a “word bridge connecting two ideas, the first of which has no power . . . to lessen that greater truth of the second” (Rutland, ix; cf. Luke 22:42; 2 Ne. 2:1–2). Adam and Eve’s choice to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil brought the greater truth that brought about the greater good. Elder John A. Widtsoe taught, “Sometimes, two possibilities are good; neither is evil. Usually, however, one is of greater import than the other. . . . The greater must be balanced against the lesser. The greater must be chosen whether it be law or thing. That was the choice made in Eden” (194). In this instance, the greater good was for Adam to learn to exercise “the agency of man, which . . . God, had given him” and which Satan had “sought to destroy” (Moses 4:3), thereby blessing all humankind with mortal bodies and a necessary probationary experience on earth (Alma 12:22–26; Abr. 3:24–26).
It is also significant that the Lord, Adam and Eve, and latter-day prophets use the word transgression, not sin, to describe Adam and Eve’s partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (A of F 1:2; cf. Moses 6:54). See Article of Faith 2.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “The act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression” (73). See Sin, transgression.
Statements from Adam, Eve, and the prophet Enoch each articulate that Adam and Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden was a part of the Lord’s divine plan for humankind. Adam observed, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my and in this flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10). Eve concluded, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). Enoch recorded, “Because that Adam fell, we are” (Moses 6:48; cf. 2 Ne. 2:25).
Although additional clarification has not been given by the Lord or his authorized servants, the scriptural record suggests that there was some deception involved in Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In response to God’s question about why she had partaken of the fruit, Eve responded, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Moses 4:19; cf. Gen. 3:13; 2 Cor. 11:3). See Serpent.
Paul wrote, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Tim. 2:14). While noting this ambiguity, latter-day prophets have emphasized Eve’s courage and humankind’s indebtedness to her. President Russell M. Nelson taught, “We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve’s great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done. Adam was wise enough to do likewise” (34).
The Lord’s words to Adam and Eve, “thy children are conceived in sin” (Moses 6:55), are sometimes misinterpreted to support the false doctrine of so-called “original sin,” understood by some that children are evil at birth. The Lord’s words in this same verse offer an explanation, however: “Even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55). See Conceived in sin.
In other words, when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they (and their posterity to follow) entered into a fallen world where sin was inevitable (Rom. 3:23). Adam and Eve’s posterity would be “fallen” but not “evil” at birth. The Lord further clarified, “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38). Enoch’s account states that after the Fall, “Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God” (Moses 6:49). See Carnal, sensual, and devilish.
Humankind’s evil nature came about because of their own sinful actions and not from Adam and Eve’s transgression (cf. A of F 1:2).
The redemption wrought by Jesus Christ “atoned for original guilt” (Moses 6:54), and all the consequences of the Fall are covered and resolved by that Atonement for those who are willing to obey “the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (A of F 1:3). See Article of Faith 3; Original guilt.
The fall of Adam and Eve allowed Adam and Eve to have the blessings of posterity and a knowledge of good and evil; it also brought spiritual and physical death to them and to their posterity. The prophet Enoch taught, “Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe” (Moses 6:48). Adam and Eve were assured, however, “that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will” (Moses 5:9). Enoch’s account also includes the Lord’s words describing the process by which redemption comes, “If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you” (Moses 6:52). See Article of Faith 4.
Understanding the doctrine of the Fall is essential to understanding the Atonement of Jesus Christ. President Ezra Taft Benson stated, “No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind” (85). An understanding of the relationship between the fall of Adam and Eve and the Atonement of Jesus Christ deepens God’s children’s “joy [in their] redemption” (Moses 5:11) from sin and death, enabling them to return to the presence of God and eventually to become like him.