Some questions arose during my discussions on Christian message boards regarding the doctrine of the Fall of Adam and the Original Sin, which may be summarized as follows:
- Why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden?
- Why did He command them not to partake of it? What was wrong with having a knowledge of good and evil?
- Why did He allow Satan to tempt them to partake of the fruit?
- Why was the penalty of death assigned to partaking of the fruit?
My answers to these questions are given below:
Q1. Why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden?
The purpose of man coming to earth was so that he could be tested and tried to see if he would be obedient to the will of God, and choose good over evil; and ultimately be rewarded accordingly:
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads forever and ever.
This is also attested by many passages in the Bible, where man is enjoined to always do good and avoid evil:
12 And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,
8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God
1 Peter 3:
10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
And God has appointed a day of judgment in which mankind will be judged according to their works, and each will receive a reward according to how their works have been:
31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
None of these would have been possible without the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil; for without it man could have chosen neither good nor evil. The acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil was a necessary prerequisite so he could be placed in a situation so that the above testing could take place. God placed the tree in the garden so that man by partaking of it might acquire a knowledge of good and evil.
Q2. Why did God command them not to partake of the fruit? What was wrong with having a knowledge of good and evil?
There is nothing wrong with the knowledge of good and evil per se. Indeed, as shown above, it was even necessary so that man could be made accountable for his actions and tested. But there was also a problem with it. Partaking of the fruit did not just give them a theoretical knowledge of good and evil; it placed them in a condition in which they would have to choose between good and evil—and suffer the consequences. It put them in a position where they would have to learn by experience the difference between good and evil. But God knew that if He placed mankind in that situation, that most (if not all) men, through the weakness of human nature and the force of circumstance, as well as the temptations of the devil, would choose evil rather than good, and fall into sin, and could not be saved. Therefore a plan was devised from “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:18–20; Revelation 13:8) that would rescue man from his fallen state, should he partake of the fruit; and that plan was the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But in order for that plan to be put into effect, another condition had to be fulfilled; and that was death.
When Adam and Eve were first created, they were immortal and eternal beings. There was no death. If they sinned in that state, and remained in that state, their sin would have eternally remained with them, and there would have been no opportunity for repentance. That is why after the resurrection there is no possibility of repentance (Alma 34:33–35). Death was required so that this period of mortality would become a state of probation, a “preparatory state” (Alma 12:26; 42:10, 13) in which man could “repent and prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24). Then, through the Atonement, a resurrection would take place which would “restore” mankind to that immortal and eternal state that they were in before the Fall (Alma 11:42–44; 40:22–24); and a final judgment would decide everyone’s fait. (Death was also necessary to fulfill the Atonement; if the sentence of death had not been passed on Adam, Christ could not have died to atone for the sins of the world.) So there were two trees placed in the Garden: one the tree of life, which enabled them to live forever; and the other the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which (necessarily) led to death. Thus the tree of good and evil was put in the Garden of Eden, and the penalty of death was affixed to partaking of it; and man was given the opportunity to eat from it and suffer the consequences if he chose to. But a plan was put in place to rescue him from the consequences of his actions should he partake of the fruit. The punishment of death for eating of the fruit was not exactly a “punishment” as such; but a necessary requirement to bring about the eventual salvation of man. Without it mankind could not have repented after sinning, and without repentance the plan of salvation could not have been put into effect. And without it also Christ could not have died to atone for the sins of mankind.
Partaking of the fruit was a sin because God had commanded them not to do it; not because it was something inherently wrong or immoral. The explanation that God gave to Adam and Eve for not partaking of the fruit was that if they did so, they would “surely die”:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
It is like being warned not to eat a certain poisonous substance because if we did, we would certainly die! Eating the poisonous substance is not immoral. It is just not a good idea if you intend to stay alive! The only thing that made it a sin was the commandment of God to them not to do it; but the reason why God had commanded them not to do so was the penalty of death that was (necessarily) affixed to it, not because it was something inherently wrong or immoral. Thus the tree was planted in the Garden of Eden, and man was given the opportunity to partake of it if he chose to; and the commandment was issued not eat of the fruit, the penalty of death having been assigned to breaking commandment in order to fulfill the “merciful plan of the great creator” (2 Nephi 9:6). This doctrine is explained in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 9:6–7; Alma 12:23–35; 34:33–35; 42:3–24.
Q3. Why did God allow Satan to tempt them to partake of it?
This is explained in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 2:11–27.
Q4. Why was the penalty of death assigned to partaking of the tree?
This has already been explained earlier; but to summarize: the penalty of death was not so much a punishment for partaking of the forbidden fruit, as a necessary consequence of it in order to put into effect the plan of salvation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But it became a kind of punishment for it because of the commandment that God had given them not to partake of the fruit.