Heads up: I get snarky over the hypocrisy and sophistry of BYU professors.
Without BYU professors, how else would we sift through the contradicting teachings of Mormon prophets and apostles? How else would we escape the “common misunderstandings” fostered by the top priesthood authorities in the Mormon Church?
We thank thee, O God, for BYU professors
To guide us in these latter days
When troublesome teachings by prophets and apostles hang o’er us
And threaten our mental peace to destroy
There is hope smiling brightly before us
And we know that deliverence is nigh
In the writings of BYU professors
In the Gospel of Gaskill, a.k.a. Savior & the Serpent: Unlocking the Doctrine of the Fall (2005), Alonzo writes,
Some would suggest that God’s command to Abraham or Nephi (to slay a human being) was a “contradictory command.” Those who take this position often cite these words by the Prophet Joseph: “God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”
Although these words relate well to the circumstance in which Abraham and Nephi found themselves, they do not apply to the situation in which we find Adam and Eve. Note that, unlike Adam and Eve, both Nephi and Abraham had the ability to do what God commanded them. They were simply given a new commandment that overrode a previous command. Neither father Abraham nor the prophet Nephi were being commanded to keep two mutually exclusive commandments, where the keeping of one required the breaking of the other.
Adam and Eve, on the other hand, were not being given a new command as a replacement of a previous command. Instead, they were given two simultaneous commands that could not both be kept. For God to command Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, and also command them to multiply and replenish the earth (which they could do only if they partook of the “forbidden” fruit), is to place them in a logical paradox in which they cannot possibly be obedient. That is contrary to the nature of God (1 Nephi 3:7).
Additionally, for God to then administer repercussions (akin to penalties) for their disobedience to one law—when He Himself had required that they break that law so as to fulfill another law—runs entirely counter to God’s nature, to the eternal principle of agency, and to the entire plan of salvation. God simply would not do this—to Adam and Eve or to you and me. To do so would be to act unmercifully, unjustly, and unrighteously.
Lest you miss the audacity of this, Gaskill has just essentially (albeit implicitly) accused Mormon leaders (specifically those who have promoted the traditional explanation of the alleged dilemma in the Garden) of teaching something that “runs entirely counter to God’s nature, to the eternal principle of agency, and to the entire plan of salvation”, which has God acting “unmercifully, unjustly, and unrighteously”. Gaskill goes on:
Of course it must be remembered that nowhere in scripture do we have a full account of exactly what took place in the Garden surrounding the giving of the command not to partake of the “forbidden” fruit. Something is clearly missing in each of the authorized accounts of the Fall. Something additional must have happened that is unclear in the story of the Fall but revealed through modern prophets.
On several occasions, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “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.”
At this point I have to clap my hands for Mr. Gaskill, because he actually tries to appeal to a Mormon prophet to argue his point. In other cases Gaskill has simply appealed to writings of other BYU professors (cf. some points made in Odds Are, You’re Going to Be Exalted). Moreover, I can clap with both hands, because Gaskill implicitly admits in passing that a survey of various teachings on this by LDS authorities doesn’t exactly yield a faith-promoting consistency. Notice, however, how in his footnote he brushes all the unwanted teachings under the rug of mere “opinion”:
Smith (1982), 124. See also Smith (1993), 4:81; Smith (1990), 185–86, in which President Smith stated: “Mortality was created through the eating of the forbidden fruit, if you want to call it forbidden, but I think the Lord has made it clear that it was not forbidden. He merely said to Adam, if you want to stay here [in the garden] this is the situation. If so, don’t eat it.”
It seems fair to note that, while President Smith’s position that Adam and Eve did not receive “contradictory commandments” finds support in the teachings of a number of the Brethren, various General Authorities have held different opinions on how best to address this issue of the seeming contradiction. In the end, in the opinion of this author, President Smith’s interpretation seems to best coincide with the overarching doctrine of the Church.
But apparently he can’t find enough material from LDS prophets and apostles that is sufficiently authoritative and articulate, so he completes his case by quoting from another BYU professor (Roger Keller):
One LDS scholar similarly taught:
What, therefore, did God really say to them in the garden? I suggest that He might have said something like the following: “If you want to stay in the Garden of Eden with no cares and no possibility of growth, you should not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, if you desire to grow and receive all that I have in store for you, you will have to leave the garden. If you eat of the tree, you will be cast out of the garden into the earth and into mortality, and you will die both temporally and spiritually, but you will open the door for yourselves and for all humanity to receive eternal life like I have. The choice is yours.” In other words, God gave them information.
Thus, according to President Smith (and many others), God was quite clear with Adam and Eve that they had a choice—and that choice was not which of the two contradictory commandments they would keep. On the contrary, the two options given them were as follows: If they wanted to stay in Eden, then the fruit of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden. However, if they wanted to leave, they would have to partake of that fruit. The first couple would have been quite clear on what their options were and what the repercussions of either choice would be. Unlike the common theory of “higher” and “lesser” commandments or “contradictory commandments,” President Smith’s view is in harmony with the plan and the nature of God.
Rejoice in the Lord’s University
And bask in its life-giving light
Thus on to eternal perfection
The faithful and honest will go
While they who embrace the traditional teachings of LDS prophets and apostles
Shall never such happiness know