In the time thou eatest thereof…

April 22, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 8:46 pm   Category: Scriptures,Theology

Many of the prevailing ideas surrounding the atonement have parallels in our ideas about the fall. For example, the idea that our sins are transferred to Christ in the atonement is very similar to the idea that Adam’s transgression was transferred to each of us in the fall, giving us a “fallen nature.” I often pontificate against these sorts of transferals, as I don’t believe sinfulness or righteousness can be transferred from one person to another in an economic sort of transaction.

Instead of Adam’s transgression making the rest of humanity inclined to sin, I favor the view that the fall effected a change in the spiritual environment. The Earth fell from the presence of God. According to this explanation of the fall, the natural tendency of humankind to sin is explained by our pre-existing weakness before coming to earth. When we leave the presence of God to face the experience of life on our own we find that we have not yet developed the strength of character necessary to remain righteous in the face of temptation.

Now, there are many scriptures that could be brought to bear on this topic, but I wanted to focus this post on a favorite of mine. I don’t remember ever seeing the following scriptural argument made, but then, I don’t read much. I am interested in your reaction/criticism. As is often the case, I could be way off base.

We are all familiar with God’s warning to Adam:

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. (Gen 2:17)

In my youth, I always supposed the “in the day that thou eatest thereof” part to mean simply that if Adam were ever to eat of the fruit, he would bring death into the world. Brigham Young had a different take, and in his usual literalistic way, said:

The life of man was not to exceed one thousand years, for saith the Lord, in the day you eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall die; and according to the reckoning of the Lord’s time, one day with Him is as a thousand years of our time. Men may live if they can until they are as old as Methuselah, but they must die within the thousand years, or in the Lord’s day. (The Teachings of President Brigham Young pg. 234-244)

I can’t say I buy into this view, but it is noteworthy because it takes the English wording of the verse more seriously than I ever had growing up. The verse says Adam would die “in the day thou eatest thereof” and yet, Adam seems to have lived long after he partook of the forbidden fruit.

This takes us to the interpretation I wanted to try out on you. The book of Abraham changes the statement “in the day thou eatest thereof” (Gen 2:17) to “in the time thou eatest thereof” (Abr. 5:13). The context makes this change significant. In Abraham 3, the glory of the planets and stars is connected to their “time,” or the length of their day. Thus, “the time” refers to a where, not a when. Or rather, it refers to a spiritual environment, not a duration. The “time” of a planet is associated with its degree of glory:

But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the time that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning. (Abr. 5:13, emphasis mine)

Notice that not only was “the day” changed to “the time,” but the ending of the verse specifically puts that phrase in the context of the previous discussion (Abr 3) by saying that Adam was still living after the time of Kolob while in the Garden as he had not yet had a reckoning appointed to him. His choice in the Garden is thereby portrayed as a choice which will determine the time, or reckoning, or order, or glory of the Earth.

This suggests that the commandment to Adam could be rephrased as: “Do not eat from this tree, because in the kingdom where you go to eat that fruit, you will surely die.” This is the alternate reading I would like your opinion on.

If this is the correct reading, then the essence of the fall was that the whole Earth changed from one spiritual level to another.

Another interesting implication of this interpretation is that eating of the forbidden fruit is symbolic of experiencing the type of existence we now enjoy. God was saying to Adam that in order to “know” (i.e. experience) good and evil, he had to decend to a telestial level; he had to be cut off from God’s presence much more dramatically than he already was. It also means that each of us partakes of the fruit of the ToKoGaE by coming to Earth in its current condition. This fully eliminates any transferal of sin or sinful nature from Adam to each of us.

So, what do you think of this change in wording in the Abraham account? Am I wresting the scriptures here, or does this change from “the day” to “the time” point to a uniquely Mormon spin on the warning to Adam?

19 Comments »

  1. That is an interesting interpretation. I always read the passage the same way Brigham Young did.

    I think reading “the time” as a temporal period is considerably more consistent with the text, however, as the Book of Abraham uses the same term to describe the seven temporally ordered phases of creation in Abr 4:8,13,19,23,31 and Abr 5:2-3.

    Of course the idea that a “time” is necessarily one thousand years isn’t strictly necessary, but the fact that the Bible describes several figures (notably Adam and Methusaleh) living a few decades short of a thousand years is incidental support for Brigham Young’s position.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 22, 2007 @ 9:24 pm

  2. I’m not sure I understand completely, and without understanding it is hard to believe, but isn’t the Earth an agent unto itself? Didn’t it have to be baptised with water (and eventually with fire)? Doesn’t it groan/moan? Isn’t it promised a Celestial glory?

    If the earth is some type of agent then didn’t Adam’s transgression “transfer” to the earth agent itself? How does this mesh with your thought “as I don’t believe sinfulness or righteousness can be transferred from one person [agent?] to another in an economic sort of transaction.”?

    Comment by Daylan — April 22, 2007 @ 9:40 pm

  3. I always wondered what would have happened if Adam and Eve had asked permission to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of eating it after being asked by Satan to do so.

    Satan said there was no other way. Eve recognized that they had to comply with God’s commandment to multiply and replenish the Earth and to gain knowledge from experience, but could they have asked again for permission to eat the fruit?

    Eating the fruit wasn’t their obly sin. They also covered their nakedness with figleaves at Satan’s request. Doing anything that Satan requests is by definition; Satan worship.

    Comment by BRoz — April 22, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

  4. BRoz,

    good point. I have always believed that the true transgression was not counseling with the Lord and asking him to partake after Satan urged them. I believe partaking of the fruit is part of the plan. However, not at Satan’s bequest.

    As to Jacob’s question, I like the idea of day as a spiritual state. I would ask whether this change of state is necessary to actually grow and experience or to have children. B. Young intimated that the change had to do with offspring and children as part of his Adam-God discourses. Regardless of your opinion on that, the idea that the fall allowed man to procreate would make it highly necessary just not necessary for Adam and Eve to follow Satan.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — April 22, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

  5. The life of man was not to exceed one thousand years, for saith the Lord, in the day you eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall die; and according to the reckoning of the Lord’s time, one day with Him is as a thousand years of our time. Men may live if they can until they are as old as Methuselah, but they must die within the thousand years, or in the Lord’s day. (The Teachings of President Brigham Young pg. 234-244

    Bear with me for a minute, but I have a belief that Adam & Eve were created on the seventh day of the creation–and that the Fall ended that day, or the final thousand-year time period.

    I always wondered what would have happened if Adam and Eve had asked permission to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of eating it after being asked by Satan to do so.

    God would have said no, like he told them in the first place.

    Comment by Tim J. — April 23, 2007 @ 6:06 am

  6. Tim J.,

    I think Brigham Young is referring to the nominally following “day”, which is rather more solidly established as 1000 years (per 2 Pet 3:8, D&C 77:6, D&C 88:108-110, and Abr 3:4) than the first seven creative periods, which took who knows how long.

    And if one takes the scriptures about the advent of mortality seriously, one is rather forced to conclude that the events corresponding to the Fall actually occured hundreds of millions of years before the advent of Adam on the temporal earth as it now stands.

    That apparent necessity is evidence against the idea of the term “day” in Gen 2:17 referring to 1000 years in any literal sense, but rather to an arbitrary temporal period, because the scripture states “in the day thou eatest thereof”. So perhaps (given contemporary paleontological evidence) Brigham Young’s position isn’t tenable after all, except incidentally.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 23, 2007 @ 7:57 am

  7. Jacob I enjoy reading your posts, they are very insightful, and give me things to think about. The idea of time before day is an interesting idea. Thanks for sharing. I personally have a different take on eating the tree of knowledge of god and evil and its relationship with death. I find it interesting that the next chapter tells us about the first death being a murder. Perhaps that this is what is met that in the day you partake of the fruit you shall surly die. In other words you will become carnal and such sensual actions result in violence and ultimately murder. I feel that the knowledge of good and evil was a lie in part by Satan, because we really do not have a good knowledge of good and evil now. Or at least not like God, which is what Satan, was tempting with. If mankind did would we as a society have problems with such ethical problems with such things as stem cell research? (Or the age old LDS dilemma to drink caffeine or not) I think that Satan was offering an alternative to becoming like God, one of a rival mindset instead of humility and discipleship. Thus he was offering a knowledge that seemed to rival God’s, which ultimately leads to murder and carnal behavior.
    Well I got a little off the subject I apologize.

    Comment by Adam — April 23, 2007 @ 9:05 am

  8. Jacob:
    Well, we just don’t know. I think BY was correct with his 1000 year explanation for the time frame alloted for Adam to die. But, the other creative “days” or “times” may not have been limited to 1000 years. But, I can see the argument that “yes, they were.”

    This is a little off your original question. And, I’d like a little clarification. : “Do not eat from this tree, because in the kingdom where you go to eat that fruit, you will surely die.” This is the alternate reading I would like your opinion on.
    By that do you mean, “Do not go to the kingdom where the tree and it’s fruit are because going there means you will die”? Are you asking if eating causes death or going to that kingdom causes death or eating causes going which causes death?

    I, however, do believe that “the whole Earth changed from one spiritual level to another.”

    Also, I think it necessary to distiguish corruption from sin. Because all sin is corrutption, it is easy to think that all corruption is sin. Adam’s corruption has been transferred to us (“As in Adam, all die…”), not his sin (We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.”)

    I also have wondered if Satan wasn’t trying to usurp God’s authority by giving the fruit to Eve and Adam? (Because THOU hast done this, thou shalt be cursed above the beasts of the field.) That would definitely fit his modus operandi from the pre-mortal existence.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — April 23, 2007 @ 9:24 am

  9. Okay, for all of you who are advocating the Brigham Young interpretation:

    Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that God would go out of his way to say Adam had to die within 1000 years? What is the point of that? Who cares?

    God gives Adam a warning not to eat of the fruit of the ToKoGaE (seems pretty important) and his only explanation for why not to do it is that “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Doesn’t it seem at least a little odd that he would include the number of years within which Adam would die in the warning?

    It makes far more sense to me that he was saying something more substantive than that. If my interpretation in the post is correct, we have something more substantive. He is saying something about the nature of the fruit and the principal consequence of the fall. “To eat of that fruit requires physical and spiritual death. You will be separated from God. Therefore, I forbid it.”

    Doesn’t that seem like a more substantive thing for God to be saying?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 23, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  10. (For those of you trying to figure out tokogae like I was, it is tree of knowledge of good and evil, and jocob did not just break into speaking adamic…)

    Comment by Matt W. — April 23, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  11. Daylan (#2),

    If the earth is some type of agent then didn’t Adam’s transgression “transfer” to the earth agent itself? How does this mesh with your thought “as I don’t believe sinfulness or righteousness can be transferred from one person [agent?] to another in an economic sort of transaction.”?

    The Earth is indeed portrayed in the scriptures as you describe it. I am not sure how literally to take that language, but as a hypothetical, let’s go all the way and assume the Earth is a full agent (i.e. person). As an agent, the Earth would not be sinful based on what Adam did. There is a difference between Adam’s sinfulness having an affect on the Earth’s spiritual environment and Adam’s sin actually making a autonomous “self” more inclined to sin. People have negative affects on other people all the time, but the “economic sort of transaction” I am talking about is something more fundamental than that. Something like Adam making a choice, and my character changing on account of Adam’s choice. This kind of view is central to many people’s view of the fall, but I reject it. Does that help to clarify?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 23, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  12. Adam (#7),

    I feel that the knowledge of good and evil was a lie in part by Satan, because we really do not have a good knowledge of good and evil now.

    Well, it was God who first called it the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Also, the BofM has phrases like “And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil (2 Ne 2:5)” and “For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night” (Moro 7:15), which seem to argue against what you have suggested above.

    BTW, thanks for the compliment.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 23, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  13. Mondo Cool (#8)

    By that do you mean, “Do not go to the kingdom where the tree and it’s fruit are because going there means you will die”? Are you asking if eating causes death or going to that kingdom causes death or eating causes going which causes death?

    Since I view much of this story as being allegorical, I am comfortable with the symbols overlaping what is being symbolized to some extent. So, yes, the story has the eating of the fruit as causing the fall, and I have suggested that eating the fruit is ultimately an effect of the fall. Depending on your view of symbolism and how literally you take the story, this idea may or may not cause you mental discomfort.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 23, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  14. Jacob (#9),

    Brigham Young’s position pretty much requires that the verse concerned be either a conditional prophecy which the Lord promises to bring to pass (per 1 Ne 9:6) in furtherance of his own purposes, or a prediction based on known facts, namely knowledge of antediluvian longetivity.

    My position is different – namely that “the day” in Gen 2:17 is a reference to an arbitrary temporal period, i.e. the passage is simply a prophecy of mortality at some future point.

    Comment by Mark D. — April 23, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  15. Jacob (#9):
    I think that specifying a time for a consequence to occur is not odd. When Mom told me “Wait ’til your Father gets home,” I worried less because I might be asleep by then.
    But, just because

    He is saying something about the nature of the fruit and the principal consequence of the fall,

    doesn’t mean there cannot be mentioned a time when the consequence would occur.
    I think it is very substantive for the Embodiment of Eternal Life to caution about both spiritual and physical death. So, I agree with you that He was detailing that separation would result and, therefore, Adam, as an individual possessing corruption, would be forbidden to be in His presence.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — April 23, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

  16. Mark,

    My position is different – namely that “the day” in Gen 2:17 is a reference to an arbitrary temporal period, i.e. the passage is simply a prophecy of mortality at some future point.

    Yes, if I understand you correctly, this is the position I describe in the post as the position “in my youth” (no negative implication). I still prefer it to BY’s interpretation.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 23, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  17. Hmmm, very interesting proposition. And I really like how you got it from the context of the surrounding verses, it compels me to think seriously about it. I’ve always been a bit baffled about how different time equals different heavenly rank but apparently it does as that seems to be the whole point of the Kolob vision in Abr. 3. I’d be much more comfortable with the concept if someone could explain how that little parallel works. Oh BTW, ToKoGaE is the coolest new abrev I’ve seen in the Church in years. It needs to be pronounced like some Japanese word.

    Comment by LXXluthor — April 24, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  18. LXXluthor,

    I’ve always been a bit baffled about how different time equals different heavenly rank

    I certainly don’t mean to be implying anything about how literally we should take this time/rank parallel. There are a lot of opinions about how to interpret Abr 3 (touched on by several bloggernacle posts in the last 6 months) and I’m not trying to take a stand on that debate here. In Abr 3, the vision of the cosmos is obviously a setup for the vision of the pre-mortal spirits (turning on the words “as, also” in vs. 18). But, it does seem clear from the wording in Abr 5:13 that it is drawing on the previous typology set up in chapter 3, so I would think that even if the time/rank think is symbolic rather than literal it would still be internally consistent with the text to interpret it as above.

    BTW, ToKoGaE is pronounced toe-koe’-gay

    Comment by Jacob J — April 24, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

  19. I am late to the party here, but this is a discussion that has always been interesting to me.

    Like several of you have mentioned, I am never sure how literally to take this story. I think there are elements of truth being represented here, and I find the temple version of the story especially illuminating in that allegorical sense.

    I tend to think that Adam and Eve were under a probationary commandment — don’t partake of the fruit… yet. (Like “don’t send the gospel to the gentiles… yet”). I think that eventually, had they obediently waited, that Jesus himself (as part of his forordained role as “God of this world”) would have introduced them into mortality “the right way” (i.e. without sin) — that of course he still would have redeemed them with the atonment — the nice parallel of him bringing them both in and out of mortality. Although this is mainly my own idea about our doctrines, I think there are hints that this is one possible interpretation for how it may have been done “on other worlds.”

    But in this case, the rebellious Lucifer who wanted to play the role of “God of this world” usurped the role of “mortality giver” from Jesus and through that Adam and Eve entered mortality through sin, and the rest is history — in that day, they died in the sense that they were fallen, made mortal, seperated from God. (and by the way, how were they to understand “In that day you shall surely die” if there wasn’t even such a thing as death yet?)

    It has never made sense to me that God mandated it to happen the way that it happened — that in order for Adam and Eve to enter mortality they had to commit a sin — that in order for them to sin, an angel of the morning would have to rebel and fall and become a tempter — that does not seem merciful or just to me. But if Lucifer (who fell because he chose to, not because it was required), was trying to throw a wrench in the plan and make himself the god of this world (as opposed to being the pin upon which God’s plan hinged), the story becomes more palatable to me.

    Comment by Glenn — May 4, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

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