Mormonism 201 (The Fall): Response to Kevin Graham

Response to Kevin Graham
Rejoinder by John Divito

In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder

A proper understanding of the Fall is essential to having a correct understanding of all of redemptive history. There are sharp disagreements over the Fall between the LDS faith and Christianity. Therefore, Kevin W. Graham responded to chapter five of McKeever and Johnson’s work, “The Fall.” Graham’s stated goal in his reply is as follows: “This review will attempt to correct the common misunderstanding of the LDS doctrine on the Fall, and perhaps add further insight regarding its biblical and logical roots.” Therefore, this response will seek to evaluate whether or not Graham has succeeded in his attempt. The major arguments Graham gives will be identified and analyzed, and then further biblical evidence will be presented to come to an accurate conclusion.

A Fall Upwards

Graham begins by questioning McKeever and Johnson’s statement that Mormons believe that the Fall was a fall upwards. He says, “Are Mormons grateful for the fall of Adam? If I had to entertain this idea, I would say that perhaps I am grateful for Adam’s transgression in the same respect that I would be grateful for Judas who decided to betray the Lord, thus, fulfilling prophecy. Likewise, Adam and Eve did as God planned through their disobedience.”

It must be noticed that Graham moves from whether Mormons are grateful to if he is grateful. But the question must be asked: why does his opinion matter?  Many Mormon leaders throughout history would never agree with Graham’s statement.  And while much Mormon belief is varied, it does not take long to realize that numerous Mormon leaders have embraced a different view from Graham’s.

For example, McKeever and Johnson cite a quote from Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks: “Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints!  Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall.” Oaks is more than grateful for the Fall; in fact, he wants to celebrate it!  And notice why people should honor Eve – for her “wisdom and courage.”  Now, would Oaks (or Graham) dare say that Judas Iscariot should be honored for his wisdom and courage in his betrayal of Jesus?  Should Judas’ act of betrayal be celebrated just as we ought to “celebrate” Eve’s action?  While Graham may not go as far as Oaks, Oaks is one of many Mormons who historically have treated the Fall as positive. As a result, Graham should not attempt to speak for Mormons. And if he disagrees with many Mormons on this issue, he should admit so.

Yet Graham tries to minimize the gratefulness of many Mormons by saying,

…one might be shocked to learn that some Mormons have indeed expressed gratitude for the fall. Such expressions, for the most part, are given in tribute to God’s perfect plan that is still in progress. This plan, according to LDS teaching, included the fall of Adam. But according to LDS theology, since God is all knowing, everything occurring in this world that directly pertains to man’s eternal destination, is part of God’s plan. It is God who is glorified in these expressions, not Adam or Eve.

But can one honestly say after reading many Mormons’ positive view of the Fall that “it is God who is glorified in these expressions, not Adam or Eve”?  Maybe one could argue that God ultimately gets the glory, but this would not remove the fact that, for many in the LDS Church, one should still be grateful for the actions of Adam and Eve.

Graham continues by saying, “I have never heard the fall referred to as an ‘upward fall’, but without supporting references, our critics are quick to assert that ‘some Mormons’ believe that’s exactly what it was.” Therefore, he establishes doubt as to the accuracy of McKeever and Johnson’s use of the term “falling upwards.”  To help Graham, here are a couple of quotes taken from LDS publications that refer to the Fall as an upward event. First of all, LDS Apostle Orson F. Whitney wrote in Improvement Era:

There has been an enlightenment from on High. Our heavenly Father has sent knowledge into the world, explaining away the misfortune, the calamity, and has made plain to those who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that the fall of man was necessary: that by means of it the human race took a mighty stride forward—a downward step, yet a step upward, in the great march toward the goal of eternal life. Adam himself recognized this fact; Eve, his wife, recognized it, and it has crystalized [sp] into a doctrine which the Latter-day Saints accept as divine: “Adam fell that man might be, and man is that he might have joy.”

Secondly, George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl say, “The great purpose of the advent of the Messiah in the fulness of time was to redeem the children of men from certain consequences of the fall. For, although that experience was necessary in the development of man, and was, as has been said, a ‘fall upwards,’ it had certain consequences that called for redemption.”

As a result, we see that some Mormons have indeed used the term. But Graham says, “Yet, the only reference I could find for the phrase ‘fall upwards’ was from B.H. Roberts who expressed exactly the opposite of what our authors are trying to impose on LDS doctrine.” However, given the other quotes above, it seems as if Roberts was correcting some Mormons’ use of the term. Regardless, the point is that Mormons have referred to an upward fall. McKeever and Johnson never suggest that all Mormons use this term (Graham and Roberts obviously would not). At the same time, it cannot be denied that some Mormons have found it useful.

Nevertheless, whether one uses the term “falling upward” or not, the point is that Mormons see a tremendous benefit to the Fall. Christians see the Fall as an evil act where Adam and Eve were seeking to usurp the authority of God. This is the key to the whole debate. And this is what will be addressed below.

Stacking the Deck?

A surprising statement is given by Graham when he says,

…our critics do a good job at the beginning of this chapter when they present the LDS position on the fall. However, they unnecessarily stack the deck with selected quotations (one prophet, four apostles, one BYU professor and one LDS scripture), and they could have elaborated further on why the LDS believe this, instead of making a black and white comparison with their particular view of Christian thought.

So, Graham admits that McKeever and Johnson did a good job of presenting the Mormon view of the Fall. Yet he does not approve of how the comparisons are made with Christian doctrine. He states that McKeever and Johnson use “their particular view of Christian thought.” The problem with this is that they are not trying to argue their particular view but what the authors of the Bible actually meant. As a result, Graham has two options: show how McKeever and Johnson misunderstand what the author of the Bible passage meant to say, or argue that the meaning of the text is not to be found in what the author communicated. The second possibility is untenable, and Graham leaves a lot to be desired by using the first method. This will be demonstrated below.

Graham’s misunderstanding of the Christian view of the Fall also often impedes his reply. For example, he states, “It seems perfectly clear that our differences lie in the fact that we believe God expected and even wanted them to transgress because it was a necessity, whereas the traditional idea is that Adam botched God’s intended plan.” The traditional idea (i.e. the Christian belief) is not “that Adam botched God’s intended plan.” It is that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought themselves and the whole human race under condemnation for their actions.

God’s Perfect Plan?

Graham continues with a section on God’s “perfect plan.”  He says, Mormons believe God’s plan was perfect because we believe God is perfect and He knows everything. That is what it all boils down to in the end. I don’t think it is reasonable for us to assume that an all-knowing Being would put forth a plan that would fail on day one.”

Graham seems to think that Christians believe God created Adam and Eve the best He could, but Adam and Eve surprised God when they disobeyed Him and ate the forbidden fruit. He then condemned them for their action and had to set up a contingency plan where His Son would be crucified for this mistake. But true Christians have never subscribed to such beliefs. We realize that God is all-knowing (omniscient) and all-powerful (omnipotent). The problem with Graham’s reasoning is that he does not understand what Christians believe about God’s “plan,” better understood as His will. The Christian position is described well by Wayne Grudem:

Though in God his will is unified, and not divided or contradictory, we cannot begin to understand the depths of God’s will, and only in a small part is it revealed to us. For this reason,… two aspects of God’s will appear to us. On the one hand, there is God’s moral will (sometimes called his “revealed” will). This includes the moral standards of Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments and the moral commands of the New Testament.  God’s moral commands are given as descriptions of how we should conduct ourselves if we would act rightly before him. On the other hand, another aspect of God’s will is his providential government of all (sometimes called his “secret will”). This includes all the events of history that God has ordained to come about, for example, the fact that Christ would be crucified by “lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

God’s moral will was known to Adam and Eve through God’s command (Genesis 2:17). They were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But in God’s providential government, He knew they were going to disobey His command. As an example, let’s say that a husband decides to cheat on his wife. He is therefore disobeying the seventh commandment by not following God’s moral will. But God, being all-knowing, knew that this person was going to commit adultery. Therefore, it was part of God’s providential government. Now, could it be said that God desired for the husband to commit adultery?  Of course not. And did the act of adultery surprise God?  Obviously not. Let’s take this back to the Fall. Did God desire for Adam and Eve to disobey his command and break his moral will?  No. But does this mean that God could not have known that Adam and Eve were going to disobey Him?  No, again. Yet this is what Graham seems to think that Christians must believe.

Then Graham goes on to say, “Could this be why He made Adam and Eve ignorant of good and evil first, so they would have no choice but to fall into deception?” This statement is simply incredible!  According to Graham, Adam and Eve had no choice but to fall. But this is problematic given the Mormon concept of moral agency. According to this doctrine, decisions must be freely chosen and without compulsion in which the person could have done otherwise. Given this understanding, Adam and Eve could not have had any moral agency. So, the LDS view seems to say that for mankind to obtain moral agency, God had to deny the first two humans this ability. Considering the importance of moral agency in the LDS faith, what kind of a God would deny to Adam and Eve what is so important for humanity to have?  This also brings up serious problems when dealing with the problem of evil (also known as theodicy). If Adam and Eve had no choice but to fall, then how is God not the author of evil?  After all, according to Graham He is the One who forced it to come to pass.

Graham goes on to once again misrepresent the Christian view. When addressing what Christians would believe if Adam and Eve never fell, he states, “The only logical alternative our critics can offer is for Adam and Eve to have remained in ignorant bliss and live forever, alone in the garden. More importantly, they would not be in the presence of God, according to orthodoxy.” Graham is apparently ignorant of the condition Adam and Eve were in prior to the Fall!  Genesis 3:8 says that God was in the garden with them: “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.” They were in the presence of God Himself, not alone as Graham claims. Graham also seems to think that Adam and Eve were completely ignorant prior to the Fall. However, they did not lack knowledge but only the“knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). What the knowledge of good and evil means will be dealt with later. Nevertheless, it is sufficient to say that they did have knowledge. They were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), given dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28-30), and Adam named all the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). This does not describe those who have no knowledge. Graham seems to vastly underestimate how good things were before the Fall. But God Himself remarked how wonderful His creation originally was, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a).

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Graham’s argument is an almost complete absence of whatGod’s “perfect plan” actually is. Besides including the Fall and the atonement of Christ, Graham gives little information. But it is precisely at this point, namely what God’s purpose was in redemptive history, that Graham does not mention. This is exactly where the discussion should be, however, since Christianity and Mormonism have such vastly different views of God’s purpose in history. For Mormons, humans are of the same “race” as God who can progress to become gods themselves. Therefore, the fall of Adam and Eve was necessary to attain the intended outcome, which is exaltation to godhood. As LDS Apostle John A. Widtsoe states:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter. Those who are so sealed continue the family relationship eternally. Spiritual children are begotten by them. They carry on the work of salvation for the hosts of waiting spirits. They who are so exalted become even as the gods. They will be “from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue.”

The end for those males who are exhalted is to become married gods who, with their spouses, will conceive spirit children and bring the same law of progression to them. But for all of this progression to occur, Adam and Eve had to choose as they did to begin the process on earth. Nevertheless, this plan can be found nowhere in the Bible.

On the other hand, Christians believe that Adam and Eve began with everlasting fellowship with God. They were never to become gods but needed to depend on and glorify the one true God. Unfortunately, they lost this communion with God (and suffered in many other ways) due to the Fall. All of humanity became slaves to sin and are dead in their trespasses and sins. So, while God certainly knew about the Fall and took it into account when he ordered all things, it cannot be said that he ever desired such disobedience.

Procreation

Graham goes on to contrast the differences between Christianity and the Mormon faith. “Latter-day Saints also believe that if Adam and Eve had never partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, then they would have remained incapable of procreation, thus disobeying the commandment previously given.” Therefore, God commanded Adam and Eve to procreate but did not give them the ability to do so. Graham elsewhere says, “Adam and Eve received the command to multiply and replenish the earth without knowing the means.”

As a result, God gave two conflicting commands. If Adam and Eve obeyed God and did not partake of the forbidden fruit, they would have disobeyed His command to procreate. And if Adam and Eve obeyed God’s command to procreate, they would have to disobey God’s command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Unfortunately for Adam and Eve, this is a lose/lose situation. Either way, they must disobey God. What kind of a God would force his creation to disobey them?

The LDS position also contradicts the biblical teaching of the matter. When God told Adam and Eve to procreate, he never implied that they could not yet do so. Genesis 1:28 says, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” To say that they could not fulfill this is to bring a foreign idea into the text. Genesis 2:24 also rules this possibility out. When God puts Adam and Eve together, the passage states, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” When the text says “they shall be one flesh,” this includes sexual relations. As one commentator contends,

“They become one flesh.” This does not denote merely the sexual union that follows marriage, or the children conceived in marriage, or even the spiritual and emotional relationship that it involves, though all are involved in becoming one flesh. Rather it affirms that just as blood relations are one’s flesh and bone…, so marriage creates a similar kinship relation between man and wife.

So, part of being united as one flesh includes sexual relations. This would seem to imply that Adam and Eve could have had sexual relations before the Fall.

There is another reason to believe that Adam and Eve could procreate before the Fall. When God was punishing Eve after she partook of the fruit, the Bible says, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16)    Therefore, the punishment was that God would greatly multiply Eve’s pain in childbirth. Would this not imply that Eve already would have had some pain in childbirth prior to this?  And would this not mean that Adam and Eve were physically able to conceive and bring forth children prior to the Fall?  As a result of all of this, the Bible clearly indicates that Adam and Eve would have been able to procreate prior to the Fall, not that it was impossible until after they had disobeyed God.

Fulfilling Predestination of Christ’s Atonement

The atonement of Jesus Christ was foreordained by God before the foundation of the world. To this belief both sides agree. However, Graham misunderstands the Christian position by saying,“The sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God to rescue fallen mankind was not an unfortunate backup plan, but was a key part of God’s perfect plan from the beginning.”Once again, Christians do not see Christ’s death on the cross as a “backup plan.”  It was part of his governmental will. It was predestined before creation took place. It is essential to differentiate between God’s revealed will and His governmental will. Since He knew that Adam and Eve would fall, He established that Christ would be a payment for those who believe in Him. One should understand the logical order in which God decreed history. He decreed the Fall first and then decreed the solution to the Fall next. He obviously did not set up the atonement to take place before he established the need for it in the Fall.

Graham continues, “If Adam and Eve had remained obedient, they would have made God a liar, since without the fall, there would be no need for Jesus Christ to be slain before the fall ever took place.” This statement is confusing. Did God decree the atonement before He ordained why it was needed?  Does Graham not believe that God foreknew the Fall just as much as He foreknew the atonement? If so, there would be a need for Jesus Christ to be slain before the Fall actually took place because He knew the Fall was going to occur and wanted the problem to be overcome. The logic in Graham’s thought fails. If the Fall had never taken place, then this would be a part of God’s governmental will. And as a result, all of God’s revelation of His sovereign will would reflect this, including whether or not there would be an atonement.

The Fall as a “Lesson”

Graham then compares God and Adam and Eve with a father and his children. He maintains,“Adam and Eve were ‘babes,’ to say the least. God was acting as a Father who was teaching His children the consequences of disobedience. They suffered death because of their actions, but for us, it opened the opportunity to come to Earth and return to heaven.” As has been demonstrated above, the ability to procreate was not a result of the Fall. And while God’s punishment certainly involved Adam and Eve’s understanding the seriousness of their sin, this does not mean that God in any way desired their disobedience.

In other words, God used the opportunity for His purposes, but He did not force their decision in the situation. Adam and Eve were not ignorant rubes who had to be taught a lesson. God did not want them to partake of the fruit, which is why He commanded them not to eat from the tree (Genesis 2:17). The result of their not listening to God was a swift judgment and punishment. The happiness and advancement they were seeking never came. A clear understanding of the biblical texts is essential in this matter.

Genesis and the Fall

Next, Graham looks at the scene in the garden before and after the Fall. However, instead of doing a point-by-point analysis of Graham’s argument, it will be easier and more productive to deal directly with the passage in Genesis itself. Three areas are crucial to correctly comprehend the current discussion: what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil offered (Genesis 2:9, 17), how Satan tempted Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:4-5), and God’s response (Genesis 3:14-24, specifically v. 22).

First, Genesis 2:9, 17 describes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the warning of the consequences if Adam or Eve ate from it. The passage says that “out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil… 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.” Scholars have given various interpretations of what the “knowledge of good and evil” is here. The consensus is described by Old Testament scholar Gordon J. Wenham:

“Knowledge of good and evil” is wisdom… It is easy to see that God has wisdom and that children lack it, but more difficult to see why it was forbidden to man. The acquisition of wisdom is seen as one of the highest goals of the godly according to the Book of Proverbs. But the wisdom literature also makes it plain that there is a wisdom that is God’s sole preserve, which man should not aspire to attain (e.g., Job 15:7-9, 40; Prov 30:1-4), since a full understanding of God, the universe, and man’s place is ultimately beyond human comprehension. To pursue it without reference to revelation is to assert human autonomy, and to neglect the fear of the LORD which is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7). “For the Yahwist the only proper posture of man if he would be truly wise and lead a full life is faith in God and not a professed self-sufficiency of knowledge. It is in this latter acceptation, then, that man is forbidden ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and bad [evil in the KJV]'” (Vawter, 73).

So, the “knowledge of good and evil” was wisdom that was not to be pursued apart from God. Yet this is exactly how Satan tempted Eve. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

Old Testament scholar Gerhard Von Rad states,

So the serpent holds out less the prospect of an extension of the capacity of knowledge than the independence that enables a man to decide for himself what will help him or hinder him. This is something completely new in that as a result man leaves the protection of divine providence. God has provided what is good for man (2[:]18!), and had given him complete security.  But now man will go beyond this, to decide for himself… What the serpent’s insinuation means is the possibility of an extension of human existence beyond the limits set for it by God at creation, an increase of life not only in the sense of pure intellectual enrichment but also familiarity with, and power over, mysteries that lie beyond man.

Adam and Eve were to trust in God and depend upon Him for wisdom. Yet Satan tempted them to not follow God on His terms — with autonomy. Another Old Testament scholar, Kenneth A. Matthews, tells us more about this temptation:

When set in the larger context of the story, the serpent’s words are shown to be both true and false. This proved true in that the man and woman did not immediately die physically. Their eyes were opened (v. 7), and they obtained knowledge belonging to God as the serpent had promised (v. 22).  However, the serpent’s half-truths concealed falsehood and led the woman to expect a different result altogether. The serpent spoke only about what she would gain and avoided mentioning what she would lose in the process. Though the man and woman did not die immediately upon eating the fruit, the expectation and assignment to death were soon enough. Furthermore, they experienced expulsion from the garden, which was indicative of death… Although their eyes were opened, they were rewarded only with seeing their nakedness and were burdened with human guilt and embarrassment (v. 7). Although they became like God in this one way, it was at an unexpected cost. They achieved isolation and fear. The couple was cut off as well from the possibility of life, the one feature of divinity which otherwise they were destined. They obtained “wisdom” in exchange for death.

Therefore, while Satan used half-truths to persuade Eve, it did not bring about what Eve was led to believe. However, to completely understand the travesty of the results due to the Fall, one needs to look at God’s punishment. For this, a person needs to consult Genesis 3:14-24. First, God punished the serpent by sentencing it to live on the ground eating dust. This refers to a penalty of humiliation and subjugation in the world. He also said there would be enmity between the woman and the serpent, ultimately culminating in the destruction of the serpent. This “bruising” was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Next, God told Eve that her pains in childbearing would increase (see above) and that her desire would be for her husband who would rule over her. Finally, God punished Adam by telling him that the work and dominion over the earth would be much more difficult. God also said that they would physically die. This was truly awful!  And it has been true for all men and women since.

Before leaving the passage, verse 22 needs to be specifically dealt with. It is commonly used by Mormons such as Graham to defend their view of Satan’s temptation. However, one must begin with what McKeever and Johnson actually said:  “Genesis 3:3-5 has been used by Mormons to support the idea that Adam and Eve made the right decision. Since the possibility of godhood is considered a Mormon truism, some have said that Satan was telling the truth when he told Eve in verse 5 that she ‘shall be as gods.'” McKeever and Johnson were pointing out that some Mormons use Genesis 3:3-5 to defend their doctrinal view that we can progress to be gods. Remember, this is the “perfect plan” that Graham keeps referring to (but never actually states).

The authors go on to show that Satan is not to be trusted and that Adam and Eve were never entering a path to godhood through the Fall. Graham replies with verse 22, which the first portion states, “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.”Graham argues about this verse, “If our authors [McKeever and Johnson] had seen the looks on as many Christian faces as I have (a blank stare into the verse as their mouths drop open in silence) when they are shown verse 22, and witness their trap vanish into thin air, they probably wouldn’t have been so quick to ignore this common LDS response.” Therefore, he says verse 22 shows that the Mormon view on Genesis 3:3-5 is true.

However, Genesis 3:22 does not show that Adam and Eve will become gods as God is. The verse defines in what way Adam and Eve became “as one of us;” it was “to know good and evil.”  As shown above, the “knowledge of good and evil” was God’s wisdom that was obtained unlawfully. As a result, they were removed from the Garden of Eden (where God was present and where they would have lived forever). They were also punished in other ways. This is not something to celebrate but to mourn.

Even if Genesis 3:22 did mean that Adam and Eve were to be gods, there is still a problem with this text. In Genesis 3:22, God gives this statement as a completed fact. In other words, they had alreadybecome “as one of us.” As a result, according to what Mormons claim this verse teaches, Adam and Eve became gods at the Fall. However, this would mean that they never went through the deification process, they did not obey the eternal celestial law, and they did not need Christ’s atonement for this to occur. Mormons cannot, with consistently, admit that this text teaches what they say it does.  Their argument would prove too much. One must remember that the passage itself defines how humans are “as God” — to know good and evil. Mankind obtained wisdom that God had reserved for Himself. This is the only way it can be said that people are “as God.”

Transgression vs. Sin

Graham goes on to defend the Mormon claim that Adam and Eve disobeying God was a transgression but not a sin. In Mormonism 101, McKeever and Johnson used 1 John 3:4 to show that sins and transgressions are equated and used synonymously. This verse states, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Graham replies,“This is all well and good, but the referenced scripture doesn’t say all transgression is sin. It simply says that if someone sins, then it is a transgression of a law. Naturally, all sin is a transgression, but this doesn’t necessarily mean all transgression is sin.” To support this claim, he points to James 4:17, which says, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Therefore, Graham argues that sin includes the knowledge of good and evil. Since Adam and Eve did not have such knowledge, they could not have sinned – only transgressed.

Unfortunately, Graham takes James 4:17 out of context. To understand the meaning of the verse, New Testament scholar Douglas J. Moo comments,

…we are to posit a more general connection between v. 17 and what James has commanded us to do in v. 15. He has urged us to take the Lord into consideration in all our planning. We therefore have no excuse in this matter: we know what we are to do. To fail now to do it, James wants to make clear, is sin. We cannot take refuge in the plea that we have done nothing positively wrong. As Scripture makes abundantly clear, sins of omission are as real and serious as sins of commission.

James was writing his letter to people in the church, some of whom apparently felt as if not doing something they were supposed to do (a sin of omission) was not really a sin. Sins occur only when individuals do something that they are not supposed to (a sin of commission). For example, a sin of commission would be if a person stole a lawnmower from his neighbor. He was commanded not to steal (the eighth commandment), but he did so anyway. On the other hand, a sin of omission would be if a person was supposed to take care of the widows and orphans (Isaiah 1:17) but did not. Some of those whom James was writing argued that this second case is not a sin. Therefore, James wanted to correct this notion, showing that both kinds of actions are sins. As a result, James is not defining sin as requiring the knowledge of good and evil (as Graham asserts). In context, James is teaching that those who do not do what they know they are supposed to do are sinning.

The words “sin” and “transgression” are synonyms. Because of this, the two terms are used interchangeably throughout the Bible. Graham actually admits this is the case with the Apostle Paul when he says ” …it seems perfectly clear to me that Paul used the two terms interchangeably.” However, Graham asserts that they mean two separate things in other parts of the Bible:

Does the Hebrew (Old Testament) usage of transgression blend well with James’s definition and the LDS description? If there is absolutely no difference between the two, and they are actually their own definition for one another, then why are there so many scriptures in the Old Testament which refers to one’s sins and then their transgressions? You’d think they would kill two birds with one stone by just saying one or the other.

However, Graham does not seem to understand that ideas can be repeated to give additional emphasis. In addition, there are Old Testament texts that use the terms in parallel, thus equating them. Psalm 32:1 states, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” And Jeremiah 31:34 says, “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” These parallel statements clearly show that the term is used interchangeably.

Amazingly, Graham never really answers McKeever and Johnson’s argument from Romans 5:12-15. He states:

Yet, to their disapointment [sp], Latter-day Saints also agree that the fall caused sin to enter into the world so this part of their argument is moot. Everything after Adam’s transgression was considered sin because mankind had known the difference between good and evil. They should have stuck with the first part that mentions the transgression as sin. What the LDS do recognize, however, is that the fall is referred to as a “transgression” almost all of the time in the Bible. In fact, the verse they presented from Paul is the only biblical instance where Adam’s transgression is called a sin.

Even though Graham admits that Adam’s transgression is called a sin, he ignores it since it is mentioned only once. The simple question remains: If the Bible itself refers to Adam and Eve’s decision as a sin, then why have many Mormons denied this?  Graham also admitted that the Apostle Paul used the terms transgression and sin interchangeably. But Romans was written by the Apostle Paul!  In Romans 5, he used three terms to refer to the Fall: transgression, sin, and disobedience. Therefore, Paul (and the other biblical writers) saw Adam and Eve’s action as a sin.

Finally, Graham tries to limit the damage by maintaining: “In any case, this issue is really of no consequence since I don’t believe any LDS prophet has ever said Adam’s transgression wasn’t a sin ‘in any sense.’” He goes on to quote Joseph Fielding Smith who said that Adam’s transgression was “not a sin in the strict sense“. But this just seems to be splitting hairs. Even if Joseph Fielding Smith saw the Fall as a sin in some sense, many other Mormons have denied any connection. McKeever and Johnson quoted Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks who argued that the Fall was not a sin. If a Mormon will admit that Adam and Eve sinned through their disobedience, then this issue becomes moot.  However, many Mormons will not admit this truth. Because of this, McKeever and Johnson’s section is still relevant.

What did the Early Christians Believe?

Graham uses certain early Christians to bolster the historicity of certain Mormon ideas in two sections. Regarding procreation being possible only after the Fall, Tatian and Clement are mentioned. Graham also argues that Clement, along with Irenaeus, thought the Fall was “fortunate.”

However, before a person can look at the doctrinal beliefs of certain individuals, he or she must begin by understanding how Christians know what is true. This is established by the famous phrase Sola Scriptura, which means “by Scripture alone,” with Scripture here meaning the 66 books that make up the Holy Bible. A good summary of this view was given by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, who summarize Sola Scriptura this way:

We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.

We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.

Therefore, all doctrine, beliefs, and theories need to be measured by the Bible to see if they are true or false. The early Christian Fathers’ beliefs should only be accepted as correct if they are biblical.

Graham comments on Tatian, saying: “Furthermore, the connection between the transgression and sexual knowledge is attested by Tatian, an early Christian apologist.” However, Tatian took a very low view of sexual relations overall, seeing virginity and celibacy as more pleasing to God. The book Sex and the Church explains Tatian’s view concerning sex and marriage: “Tatian (A.D. 110―172) held that marriage is corruption and fornication and that Paul’s reluctant concession of marriage [1 Corinthians 7] was tantamount to condemnation. This period was marked by a tendency to regard every measure of self-denial as meritorious, including the withdrawal of married couples from marital relationship.” As a result, Tatian’s view of sex and the Fall is tainted by his negative view of sex and marriage.

Graham also mentions Clement when he writes: “In fact, Clement of Alexandria taught that it was God who led Adam and Eve, ‘like the irrational animals to procreate.’  Clement also blamed Adam’s sin on his desire to acquire the fruits of marriage (multiply his seed).”However, Clement held a similar view of sex to that of Tatian. Such a view was common in the patristic age of the church, as social anthropologist Robert Briffault demonstrates:

It would be hard to find many Christian writers in the first four centuries who have not composed a tractate in laudation of virginity… There was a division of opinion and much controversy on the question whether marriage was permissible or not, and several of the Fathers protested against the view that it is incompatible with the profession of the Christian religion; but they were one and all agreed in regarding it as an evil, albeit a necessary evil. Clement of Alexandria devotes a whole book, the third, of his ‘Stromata,’ to combating the view that marriage is incompatible with salvation, but he has little doubt as to celibacy being infinitely superior and as to woman being the tool of Satan.

In either Clement of Alexandria or Tatian’s case, it is not hard to understand why they thought sex was a result of the Fall. Much of the Christian view of this time held to a low view of sex. Briffault comments, “Bishop Gregory of Nyssa held that Adam and Eve had, at first, been created sexless, and that the phrase ‘Male and female created He them’ referred to a subsequent act necessitated by Adam’s disobedience; had this not taken place the human race would have been propagated by some harmless mode of vegetation. This view was endorsed by John of Damascus.”

Graham suggests that Clement held a view of the Fall similar to LDS doctrine. He quotes Barry Bickmore as arguing: “The writings of several early Christian writers agree with the Prophet that the Fall was ‘fortunate.’  Clement of Alexandria exclaimed: ‘O mystic wonder!  The Lord was laid low, and man rose up; and he that fell from Paradise receives as the reward of obedience something greater [than Paradise]―namely heaven itself.’” The problem is Bickmore (and Graham) seem to misunderstand what Clement was saying; he was not suggesting that the Fall was “fortunate.”  He was reflecting upon the tremendous grace of God who would give man something better than he originally had possessed, even though man disobeyed Him. In the same chapter Bickmore mentioned, Clement says,

The first man, when in Paradise, sported free, because he was the child of God; but when he succumbed to pleasure (for the serpent allegorically signifies pleasure crawling on its belly, earthly wickedness nourished for fuel to the flames), was as a child seduced by lusts, and grew old in disobedience; and by disobeying his Father, dishonoured God. Such was the influence of pleasure. Man, that had been free by reason of simplicity, was found fettered to sins.

Obviously, Clement understood the Fall to be negative. What he rejoiced in was the tremendous grace that more than overcame the Fall through Jesus Christ!

Graham also uses Irenaeus to support his view. However, Irenaeus’ point was that God used the evil of the Fall for his purposes. All Christians admit this ― the Fall was a part of God’s providential government (see above). None of this makes the Fall a good or positive event. And neither quote establishes such thought among the early church. It must be remembered that even if some Christians did see the Fall as a positive event, what matters is does their belief adhere the God’s biblical revelation?  If not, they were in error. The same can be said for certain Christians’ views regarding procreation and the Fall.

Further Biblical Evidence

However, before a conclusion can be reached, one cannot leave out what the Apostle Paul reveals about the Fall. He summarizes the biblical understanding of the Fall and the wonderful grace of Jesus Christ in Romans 5:12-21.

12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.

17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

A thorough treatment of this passage goes beyond the scope of this reply. However, a few insights need to be noted. First of all, the Fall was a sin (see above). Secondly, sin and death entered humanity through Adam. Third, Adam was a representative for all of mankind and the Fall resulted in every human inheriting a sinful nature. Also, judgment and condemnation have come to all men through the Fall. This is certainly not a positive picture.  Thankfully, Paul shows us that through Jesus Christ we can have hope. He is the Second Adam and has brought life instead of death and righteousness instead of sinfulness. This is strictly because of and through His grace.

Nevertheless, the doctrine dealing with the result of the Fall is often called “original sin.”  Christian theologian Millard J. Erickson explains:

We have argued that the Bible, particularly the writings of Paul, maintains that because of Adam’s sin all persons receive a corrupted nature and are guilty in God’s sight as well. We have, further, espoused the Augustinian view (natural headship) of the imputation of original sin. We were all present in undifferentiated form in the person of Adam, who along with Eve was the entire human race. Thus, it was not merely Adam but man who sinned. We were involved, although not personally, and are responsible for the sin.

Mormons explicitly deny that this belief is true. The LDS second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” But this is directly at odds with what Paul has said in Romans 5:19. It also is in opposition to what Paul proclaimed earlier in verses 10-18:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Elsewhere, Paul speaks of individuals being spiritually dead “in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Man is born this way (see Psalm 51:5). And this can only be understood through a proper understanding of the Fall.

Conclusion

As it has been demonstrated, Graham is unpersuasive in his defense of the Mormon view. The Bible does not support it, history does not support it, and logic does not support it. The views of Christians and Mormons are fundamentally different regarding the Fall. McKeever and Johnson have tried to show these differences in their book and Graham does not like it. He then reproduced his own chart of differences between what he assumed would have happened if Adam remained obedient and what were the results from the Fall of Adam.

However, all four of his points under “If Adam Remained Obedient” are in error. He says, “Man would remain ignorant.” But this is untrue – Adam and Eve were created with knowledge. At the same time, there was certain knowledge that God reserved for Himself. Graham then asserts, “Man would not return to God.” But there was no need to return to God; Adam and Eve were in the very presence of God in the garden!  They were not separated from God prior to the Fall. Next, Graham maintains that “Christ’s Predestined Atonement would be in vain.” However, as mentioned above, since God knows all things, including whether or not Adam and Eve would fall, His providential government would take that into account in determining all of history (including the atonement). And finally, he states, “Adam and Eve wouldn’t reproduce.” This was also demonstrated to be false.

Therefore, a correct view of the Fall is necessary. Below is a chart that compares before and after the Fall biblically. It contains entries that Mormons cannot adhere to and thus shows how their position is unbiblical and hence untrue.

Life Before the Fall Life After the Fall
In the presence of God Separation from God —Spiritual death
Immortality Physical death
Able to obey God’s commands Inherit a sinful nature and in rebellion against God
Live in paradise Live in corrupted creation

For other rejoinders to the rebuttals of Mormonism 201, click here.


John Divito is a former Mormon who currently volunteers as a research associate for Mormonism Research Ministry. He is a graduate of Southwest Missouri State University (B.S., 1999) and is currently attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. student). He is married to Jennifer; together they have two daughters.


 

Throughout this response, Christianity will refer to the historic, orthodox Christian faith, and Christians as those who hold to this faith. Many Mormons claim that they are Christians, but this ignores the fundamental differences between the two faiths. To better understand this, consult James R. White, Is the Mormon My Brother?: Discerning the Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1997).

Kevin W. Graham, “Mormonism 201: The Fall,” http://www.anti-mormonism-revealed.com/M2014.htm, accessed July 24, 2002. Hereafter referred to as Graham, “TF.”

Ibid. In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.

Ibid.

Ensign, November 1993: 73. Taken from McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 74.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

Orson F. Whitney, “Blessings from the Tragedies of Life,” Improvement Era, vol. 19, no. 3, January 1916. Taken from GospeLink 2001 CD-ROM.  Emphasis added.

George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, edited and arranged by Philip C. Reynolds, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955), 249.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 332. For biblical support and analysis of these wills, see pp. 213-216.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Improvement Era), 201. Taken from GospeLink 2001 CD-ROM.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, vol. 1 of Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 71.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

Ibid.

Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 63-64.

Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972), 89.

Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A of The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 237.

McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 74.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, vol. 55 of The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 208.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

Interestingly, in a footnote Graham includes Psalm 32:1 as one of the supporting verses for his claim. Yet it seems obvious that here the author of the Psalm is not referring to two different classes of things. He is putting the same idea in parallel.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 76.

A portion of this section was taken from my Response to Mormonism 201: Preexistence and the Second Estate.

“The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals,”http://alliancenet.org/intro/CamDec.html, accessed July 24, 2002.

Graham, “TF.”

Oscar E. Feucht, Sex and the Church: A Sociological, Historical, and Theological Investigation of Sex Attitudes, vol. 5 of Marriage and Family Research Series (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961), 45.

Graham, “TF.”

Robert Briffault, The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions, vol. 3 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1927), 374-375.

Ibid, 373-374.

Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church, 170. Taken from Graham, “TF.”

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, XI. Taken from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2.http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/anf02-50.htm, accessed August 7, 2002.

For a thorough, scholarly evaluation of this biblical text, consult Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 42 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmands Publishing Company, 1996), 314-350; Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, vol. 6 of Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 267-297.

Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 638.

McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 77-78.

Graham, “TF.”

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.