By Rick Brunson
The Two Commandments Given to Adam
In the Garden of Eden, God commanded Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish the earth ” (Moses 2:28). However, this was something Adam and Eve simply could not do unless they first partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
|The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
The tricky part of this situation was that partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was forbidden by God (see Moses 3:17).
Why then, did God give Adam and Eve a commandment that they could not keep, unless they first broke another one of God’s very own commandments? To quote Joseph Fielding McConkie, “They could not keep either commandment without transgressing the other.” In this complicated situation, was there anything Adam and Eve could have done that would have allowed them to be obedient to all that God commanded them in the Garden of Eden? How then, can we reconcile this problem with the knowledge we have that God cannot contradict himself? In other words, according to LDS scholar Alonzo Gaskill,
It is not in God’s nature to give contradictory commands. Nor is it in accordance with His plan to give His children two or more commandments that require that at least one be broken in order that the others might be kept.
Why then, did God apparently do this very thing in the Garden of Eden? To further complicate things, is it God’s nature to then punish us for breaking one commandment, when we are only doing it to keep another? Was this fair to Adam?
To find answers to these difficult questions, we must take a closer look at the second of these two commandments, the commandment to not partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the book of Moses, we read,
And I, the Lord God, commanded the man, saying: 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).
At first glance, it appears that God is commanding Adam and Eve not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But is this really the case? A more in depth look at what God is forbidding here may help to answer our difficult question.
Thou Mayest Choose for Thyself
The first thing we should point out is that this commandment is very different from any other commandment the Lord has ever given in any dispensation, for this is the only time the Lord has given a commandment followed by the phrase, “nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.” In other words, “the Lord did not say, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ and then say, ‘Nevertheless thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.’”
Why then, in this situation, did the Lord give a commandment to Adam and Eve and then immediately suggest that disobedience was an option? It is clear that we have to treat this command from God a little differently.
Thou Mayest Freely Eat
Let us take another look at Moses 3:16-17, and see if we can find out what it is exactly that God is forbidding.
And I, the Lord God, commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat,
The key word in this verse is “freely.” The Lord is here telling Adam that he can eat of every tree in the garden “freely,” or in other words, without consequences. This is important to remember as we continue with the rest of the statement:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it [freely],
In effect, the Lord is saying to Adam that he can partake of any tree in the Garden of Eden “freely” (or without consequences), except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That is the only tree that cannot be partaken of “freely.” In other words, that tree is the only tree which will bring consequences to those who partake. The Lord continues,
nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it,
Remember the Lord does not give commandments and then suggest that disobedience is an option. What then, is the Lord forbidding? He is not forbidding Adam to partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Rather, He is forbidding Adam to partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil freely. There is a big difference. The Lord is simply forbidding that Adam partake of this tree consequence free. What would the consequence be if Adam were to partake? The Lord continues,
for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Moses 3:16-17).
It is interesting to point out that while in the Garden of Eden one day was equal to 1000 years. Adam lived to be 930 years old, nearly one day in Gods time, thus the phrase, “in the day thou eatest thereof, thou should surely die” can be taken literally.
With this new information, we can again ask ourselves, “Why did God give Adam and Eve a commandment that they could not keep, unless they first broke another one of God’s commandments?” The answer: He didn’t. A careful reading shows that God was not forbidding Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit; he was forbidding that they partake of the fruit consequence free.
On one occasion, President Joseph Fielding Smith stated in his own words what the Lord was telling Adam and Eve in Moses 3:16-17. He writes,
The Lord said to Adam, here is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you want to stay here then you cannot eat of that fruit. If you want to stay here then I forbid you to eat it. But you may act for yourself and you may eat of it if you want to. And if you eat it you will die.
This explanation tells us that Adam and Eve were not given contradictory commandments in the Garden of Eden. It tells us that Adam and Eve were able to keep all of Gods commandments, and they did not have to break one of Gods commandments in order to keep another.
For Thy Sake
It should also be noted that God did not punish Adam and Eve for partaking of the forbidden fruit. When the Lord hands down the consequences to Adam and Eve, He makes the following statement: “Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake” (Moses 4:23). Note that it was the earth, not Adam, who was cursed. Also note that the earth was cursed not to punish Adam, but for Adam’s “sake.” This teaches us that the Fall was a blessing for not only Adam and Eve, but for the rest of us, for without the fall, there would be no atonement, and without the atonement, we would not be able to become like our Father in Heaven.
 McConkie, Answers: Straight Forward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions, p. 185.
 Gaskill, The Truth About Eden, p. 140.
 Gaskill, The Savior and the Serpent, p. 14.
 Moses 3:17. This insight came from the following references: Gaskill, The Savior and the Serpent, p. 140; Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:114; Campbell, Eve and the Choice Made in Eden. p. 37.
 Parker, The Fall of Man: One of the Three Pillars of Eternity, in The Fullness of the Gospel: Foundational Teachings from the Book of Mormon, p. 87, as quoted in, Gaskill, The Savior and the Serpent, p. 140.
 Gaskill, The Savior and the Serpent, p. 140.
 Abraham 3:4. Although this scripture states that this day of reckoning is unto the Lords time according to the revolutions of Kolob, it will be remembered that the earth was created near Kolob, and when Adam fell, the Earth fell from its then present location in space, to its current location in our Solar System (see Journal of Discourses, 17:143).
 Smith, “Fall-Atonement-Resurrection-Sacrament,” Charge to Religious Educators, p. 124.