Mother Eve Series Part 4: Transgress

Part One: EvePart Two: Serpent | Part Three: Beguiled | Part Five: Help Meet | Part Six: Naked |


Seeing there are some seriously marred understandings of the happenings in Eden, it brings us to this topic…

Did Adam and Eve really sin? If not sin…Debauchery? …Depravity? …Iniquity? What exactly would we call it?

Of all these relatable terms, why is the word ‘transgress’ used to describe Eve and Adam’s action? And does it have a negative connotation? “Did they come out in direct opposition to God and to His government? No. But they transgressed a command of the Lord, and through that transgression sin came into the world. The Lord knew they would do this, and he had designed that they should” (Brigham Young,Discourses of Brigham Young, 103).

If this transgression brought sin, but is not specifically sin, what is the difference between a transgression and a sin? Elder Boyd K. Packer taught that “the Fall came by transgression of a law, but there was no sin connected with it. There is a difference between transgression and sin. Both always bring consequences. While it may not be a sin to step off a roof, in doing so, you become subject to the law of gravity and consequences will follow. . . . The fall of man was made from the presence of God to this mortal life.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained in a general conference address that the “contrast between a sin and a transgression reminds us of the careful wording in the second article of faith : ‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins , and not for Adam’s transgression ’ (italics added). It also echoes a familiar distinction in the law, he continues, “For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or ‘fall,’ could not happen without a transgression—an exercise of moral agency amounting to a willful breaking of a law (see Moses 6:59). This would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose.” He further explained how a transgression can be just that and not a sin: “Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression—wrong because it was formally prohibited.” In agreement, Joseph Fielding Smith adds, “This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin in the strict sense, for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!” (Doctrines of Salvation,1:115.)

I think a marvelous perspective of transgression is  m o v e m e n t , not Sin. Eve’s actions, which were followed by Adam’s, caused them to advance by descending. transgress sin lds mormon eve adam creation god religion movementWe can best appreciate transgression by breaking it into its parts. Trans is a Latin word meaning “to move from one state to another, on or to the other side of, beyond, over, across.” Gress is a form of a Latin word meaning “to go.” Alma taught that God gave commandments to men after they had transgressed (or, in other words, moved beyond, gone to the next state). Elder Boyd K. Packer helped us to understand the final complexities of this momentous journey. He reminded us that Elder Orson F. Whitney had described the Fall as having “a twofold direction—downward, yet forward. It brought man into the world and set his feet upon progression’s highway.” As Eve was the first to transgress the limits of the Garden of Eden to initiate the conditions of mortality, Elder Oaks taught us that “her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same. And thus Eve and ‘Adam fell that men might be’ (2 Nephi 2:25).”

Now that we are starting to get a handle on the difference between Eve’s transgression vs sin is the complexity in comprehending Eve’s underlying predicament that steered to her transgression. The Lord purposefully gave her and Adam two contradicting rules…

“Perdition, ultimate loss, lies on either side as Eve considers her options in the Garden. She stymies the infinite expansion of selfhood, thwarts her own soul’s insatiability, murders her own human potential. Or she violates the bonds of filial regard, alienates herself from her God and Creator, and defies the divine. The question is not if she will transgress, but how. Not if she will choose the Good, but which Good she will embrace, and which she will shun. … the human finds himself in a world not of equilibrium, but of cosmic conflict, where the alignments are not the simple alignments of Good and Evil, or ones where neatly sequestered alternatives attach to neatly opposed choices. In this universe, supreme virtues clash and collide; absolute values array themselves in dramatic contestation. This is the universe revealed in Genesis…Eve chooses to transgress the limits of law, rather than succumb to the safety of stasis.” (Terryl Givens, The Redemption of Eve: Joseph Smith and Goethe’s Faust)

So Eve, what shall it be? As Terryl Givens puts it, Soul-starvation, or God-alienation?

She chose to strive. To endeavor. To struggle. “He ever sins, who ever strives”, writes Goethe in a narrative overlaying Eve’s.

By transgressing the limits of law to follow the higher law, Richard Rohr further explains in his book Falling Upward, “People who know how to creatively break the rules also know why the rules were there in the first place. They are not mere iconoclasts or rebels.” There is often a confusing of the means with the actual goal. The Dalai Lama said much the same thing: “Learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.”

“As the philosopher Hegel argued forcefully, the most tragic predicaments in which we find ourselves are those that require a choice between competing Goods, not Good and Evil. Eve’s choice is framed in just such a dilemma. She has a choice between the safety and security of the Garden, and the goodness, beauty, and wisdom that come at the price—and only at the price—of painful lived experience. Her decision is more worthy of admiration for its courage and initiative, than reproach for its rebellion. This is apparent for a number of reasons.

“First, the tree was, according to the author, good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. And those motives, not rebelliousness or perverseness, are what the author of Genesis specifically attributes to Eve as she makes her choice. She is not tempted by a frivolous curiosity or hunger for power. She is not facilely manipulated or co-opted to a nefarious scheme. She is depicted as a woman in pursuit of the Good, the True, the Beautiful.

Second, Adam and Eve are obviously represented as already having some knowledge of good and evil, or they could hardly be accountable for their decision. If, before eating the fruit they are without any moral discernment whatever, it makes no sense to call that act a sin. The implication is that they were already possessed of some knowledge of good and evil, in theory. The knowledge of good and evil which they lacked is experiential knowledge. Eve’s rationale for eating the fruit emphasizes a kind of knowledge that is acquired bodily, empirically. Eve is drawn to a fruit that is good to the taste, a delight to the eyes. The wisdom to which she aspires is acquired through experiential immersion. In fact, “knowledge” as used biblically generally has this connotation of a knowledge that is personal, relational, intimate—rather than abstract, cerebral, or theoretical. (As when Adam “knew” his wife and she conceived.) As events prove, the Tree of Knowledge serves as a gateway to the whole gamut of lived experience, the sweaty toil of labor, the bodily agony of childbirth, as well as physical susceptibility to decay and death.

Third, in consequence of Eve’s choice, God does three significant things: He notes they have now become “as one of us,” indicating some kind of growth has been initiated. He curses the ground “for [their] sake or “on [their] account,” suggesting He is facilitating rather than punishing their decision to encounter a world of trial and opposites. And He does not forbid them immortality, but defers their immortality for a period. He prevents them from eating of the Tree of Life, since that would cause them to “live forever,” before the period of testing and growth had accomplished its perfecting work. After this mortal stage of growth is complete, as we see in the vision of the Revelator, the righteous reenter a celestial paradise with not one, but twelve Trees of Life.

These events suggest something more in the nature of an unfolding plan, than a God’s frantic damage control. They also suggest why it is reasonable to read the story of the Garden as representing a set of competing, difficult options. Adam and Eve may avoid the tree, and continue to dwell in God’s presence. Or, they may partake of the fruit and experience temporary exile, death, and pain—along with the transcendent possibility of a future hardly to be fathomed (“you shall be as the gods”). The decision is theirs. A nineteenth-century recasting of the scripture reads, “Thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.” There is a hint, in other words, that the prohibition was more in the nature of a warning, articulating the costly consequences of disregarding the restriction. And so they do choose for themselves. (Givens)

Although Eve had to choose one and not the other, I do not believe God gave Adam and Eve conflicting laws. The first latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, makes it clear when William P. McIntire recalled the Prophet’s words at a Nauvoo Lyceum lecture in 1841: “Joseph said in answer to Mr. Stout that Adam did not commit sin in eating the fruits, for God had decreed that he should eat and fall. But in compliance with the decree [see Gen. 2:17] he should die.”

Joseph Smith’s understanding seemed to be that the prohibition in the Garden was actually more in the manner of a warning. Smith gestured in this direction with his revision of the Genesis account; after telling Adam, “thou shalt not eat of” the tree, Smith has God add, “nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.”

President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke on the use of the word forbidden in the story of the Garden of Eden. “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.”

Eve leapt in faith, using her agency to transgress to a world she and her offspring could gain experiential knowledge in so that she and her children could become like God and return to him.

We need experiential knowledge. >Enter agency. >We Strive. >We transgress. “He ever sins, who ever strives”. >Hold Faith. >And fall upward.

Eve and her children transgress to gain experience and to gain faith. In Alonzo Gaskill’s book, The Savior and the Serpent, he relays that “the Fall would remove each of us from God’s immediate presence—placing a veil between us and our Creator—which would enable us to walk entirely by faith (see 2 Nephi 2:22-25), something we could not do in the premortal world nor in Eden, where mankind walked and talked with God. This is not to suggest that agency did not exist in the premortal world or in Eden. On the contrary, agency is an eternal principle—as is evidenced by the choice of the third part of the hosts of heaven to follow Lucifer instead of God. But the degree to which we can exercise our agency, and the ways in which we can utilize that same gift, are greatly influenced by both the environment in which we are placed and the nature of our knowledge.” We needed a veil which isolates us from God for us to implement our learned faith.

“Without the veil, our brief, mortal walk in a darkening world would lose its meaning, for one would scarcely carry the flashlight of faith at noonday and in the presence of the Light of the world! Without the veil, we could not experience the gospel of work and the sweat of our brow…fortunately, the veil keeps {us} cocooned, as it were, in order that we might truly choose.” –Neal A. Maxwell

We have learned that Adam and Eve, and all who were to follow after them, must be put in a probationary state that they might realize for themselves the full measure of their creation, that they might elect righteousness over sin, that they might not only choose good, but the greater good–God’s higher law. Elder B. H. Roberts reminded us that “the ‘Fall’ was as much a part of God’s earth-planned life for man as the ‘redemption’ provided for him; indeed there would have been no need of redemption but for the ‘Fall,’ and no redemption would have been provided but for anticipation of that ‘Fall.’ This was the will of God. This was the Plan. That which is named the Fall should surely be identified as ‘the beginning of the rise of man’.”

So let us realize our gifts of imperfection. Let us dare greatly. Let us rise strongly. (Sound familiar, Brene Brown fans?) Lets transgress through movement. As St. Gregory of Nyssa said in the fourth century, “Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.” Maybe that is the real difference between transgression and sin—growing and not growing…

It is important to understand, like Eve did, that the letter of the law is not as important as the Greater Law itself. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the “elder son” shows this very error. His loyalty to strict meritocracy, to his own entitlement, to obedience and loyalty to his father, keeps him from the very “celebration” that same father has prepared, even though he begs the son to come to the feast (Luke 15: 25–32). We have no indication he ever came! The same point is made in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9–14), in which one is loyal and observant and then deemed wrong by Jesus, and the other has not obeyed the law—yet is deemed “at rights with God.” This ‘divergent theology’ is meant to disrupt our often stagnant rational. Both the elder son and the Pharisee were good, loyal, religious children of God– exactly what most of us in the church were told to be, yet Christ says both of them missed the major point. Many feel so content in their belief systems and devotion with God they spend their whole life building a white picket fence around it.

Eve strived for the Greater Law by moving past warning to “risk delight” as Jack Gilbert would say. We must go out of our comfort zone and endeavor. When we dare to fall, when we fail, we are gifted the choice to rise up and come closer to God than we were before. Going with the original Latin, we trans-gress and move beyond our limits by choosing God’s Greater Law.

Move from one state to another.



Moving Beyond Her Limits.  Emily Shay Illustration

Moving Beyond Her Limits.
Emily Shay Illustration



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