Were Adam and Eve Cursed?
The answer to this question is no. Unfortunately, many view the Fall as having brought a curse upon both Adam and Eve. Such a view casts a false negative light on the fairness of the work of god. Such people mistakenly tend to use the scriptures that describe the scene right after the partaking of the forbidden fruit to teach that the Fall was a very negative thing, with resulting curses on Eve and also on Adam. They even engage in debates as to who got the worst curse, Adam or Eve. In so doing, they sadly and badly misinterpret the scriptures. The fact is that neither Adam nor Eve was cursed. The Fall was good for them and good for us. It worked in harmony with the Atonement. Satan was cursed and the earth was cursed “for their sake.” We will read the relevant verses and add some commentary as we go. First, we see that Satan was cursed.
14 And the Lord god [the Father] said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above [limited more than] all cattle, and above every beast of the field [one aspect of this curse is that even “cattle” and “every beast of the field” get a physical body to go with their spirit; Satan will never get a physical body]; upon thy belly shalt thou go [Satan will be looked upon as the lowest of the low], and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life [perhaps meaning that he will always be behind the Savior, in effect, “eating the Savior’s dust”; this could also be a play on words, saying, in effect, that Satan will be “eating dust,” in other words, associating with mortals, trying to swallow them up in spiritual destruction, but never receive a mortal body himself, one made of the “dust of the ground”—see Moses 3:7]:
15 And I will put enmity [a natural dislike, intense distrust, hatred] between thee [Satan] and the woman, and between thy seed [Satan’s followers, including not only those evil spirits who followed him in premortality, but also the wicked who follow him here on earth] and her seed [Jesus Christ—see Institute of Religion reference below]; it [Christ] shall bruise thy head [will triumph over Satan and his kingdom; will have power over Satan], and thou shalt bruise his heel [will cause suffering, including causing evil men to crucify the Savior, and also causing pain and sorrow by leading people away from Christ and His gospel, and so forth]. (genesis 3:14–15)
Many of the notes supplied in verse 15, above, are taken from the Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel used by the Institutes of Religion.
Since Satan has no body and therefore can have no literal children, his seed are those who follow him, both the one-third he led away in the premortal existence and those who follow his enticements in mortality until they come under his power. The seed of the woman refers to Jesus Christ, who was the only mortal born of an earthly mother and a Heavenly Father.
President Joseph Fielding Smith referred to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Saints: “Near the close of his epistle to the Roman saints, he said: ‘And the god of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.’” [Romans 16:20]
The “god of peace,” who according to the scriptures is to bruise Satan, is Jesus Christ. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:3.)
The promise concerning the bruising of the heel and head means that while Satan (as the serpent) will bruise the heel of the Savior by leading men to crucify him and seemingly destroy him, in actuality that very act of atonement will give Christ the power to overcome the power that Satan has over men and undo the effects of the Fall. Thus, the seed of the woman (Christ) shall crush the head of the serpent (Satan and his kingdom) with the very heel that was bruised (the atoning sacrifice). (p. 41)
Why Does It Sound Like They Got Cursed?
Next, we will read the verses that deal with the consequences of the Fall for Eve, and then for Adam. We will use the account from Moses, in the Pearl of great Price. First, we will read the verse that deals with Eve. Since this verse is often misunderstood, we will first add incorrect commentary in brackets within the verse that reflects the false view that the Fall was bad and Eve was cursed, and then we will repeat the verse, adding correct commentary that reflects true doctrine, namely, that the Fall was good and Eve was blessed. First, the negative approach. We will overdo it a bit.
Remember, the commentary added to this verse is not true.
22 Unto the woman, I, the Lord god, said: [Shame, shame on you for disobeying Me. Because of your disobedience] I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception [I will make it hurt badly every time you have a child as a punishment for your disobedience]. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children [as part of your punishment, you will have much of sadness and heartache because of your children], and thy desire shall be to thy husband [you will have the status of a servant to your husband], and he shall rule over thee [because you started it all by your disobedience in the Garden of Eden, I will make you subject to Adam and he will be your superior]. (Moses 4:22)
President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the correct interpretation and understanding of what the Lord said to Eve.
The Lord said to the woman: “… in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” I wonder if those who translated the Bible might have used the term distress instead of sorrow. It would mean much the same, except I think there is great gladness in most Latter-day Saint homes when there is to be a child there. As He concludes this statement he says, “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Gen. 3:16.) I have a question about the word rule. It gives the wrong impression. I would prefer to use the word preside because that’s what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family. (“The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” p. 72)
Using President Kimball’s commentary, given above, and using our understanding of the purposes of god and His “plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8) for us, We will now reread Moses 4:22, adding notes which reflect this understanding. Again, we may overdo it a bit, for purposes of emphasizing the positives of the Fall as a great and vital step in the plan.
22 Unto the woman, I, the Lord god, said: [Thank you, thank you, thank you!] I will greatly multiply thy sorrow [mortality; because of your choice in the Garden of Eden, I can now give you many years in mortality] and thy conception [I can send many children into your home]. In sorrow [in mortality, with the joys and sorrows, pains and distresses which attend it] thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire [highest love and loyalty—see Moses 3:24, D&C 42:22] shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee [preside, protect, and serve you, as the Savior did His disciples and people]. (Moses 4:22)
Notice in verse 23, next, that “sorrow” is also used for Adam, as he begins the toil and labor which will be his responsibility and opportunity as he also begins providing for his family in mortal life. This is perhaps another indicator that we can consider “sorrow” to be a partial description of mortality, rather than a description of punishment. The same Hebrew word is used in the Bible (Genesis 3:17) referring to Adam, as was used for Eve (Genesis 3:16), translated as “sorrow” in English. One of the important lessons we can learn from verse 23 is that the ground was cursed for Adam’s “sake,” in other words, for his blessing and benefit. It will be good for his growth and development to have to work for a living.
23 And unto Adam, I, the Lord god, said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife [which was a very wise thing to do], and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying—Thou shalt not eat of it [unless you choose to become mortal and leave the Garden], cursed shall be the ground for thy sake [for your good]; in sorrow [in an environment of work, toil, pain, which will be for your benefit] shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. (Moses 4:23)
Again, the point is that the Fall was good. It was vital and good for Adam and Eve. It was vital and good for us. It was the next step in the Father’s “plan of salvation” (Alma 42:5) for us and a continuation of opportunities to ultimately become like our Father in Heaven, through the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Two “Conflicting” Commandments
Understanding the fact that the Fall was good and that it was part of the plan can give rise to some questions, including why Adam and Eve were given two seemingly conflicting commandments. The first commandment was:
28 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. (Genesis 1:28)
And the second commandment, which seems to be in conflict with the first is:
16 And the Lord god commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 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. (Genesis 2:16–17)
We know that Adam and Eve were not capable of having children under the conditions in which they lived in the garden of Eden (2 Nephi 2:23). And without partaking of the forbidden fruit, they could not fulfill the commandment to “multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). yet, they were forbidden to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), which would cause them to become mortal so that they could have children. Thus we see that they were in a situation in which making a priority choice was absolutely necessary. In a way, this whole scenario is symbolic of our mortal lives. One of the purposes of mortality is to gain practice in the wise use of agency. We find ourselves in constant situations in which we must choose. When we make mistakes, the Atonement allows us to repent and thus keeps the door open for continued practice and improvement based on past experience and current information and understanding. Even choosing not to choose is a choice. Thus, our use of agency is inherently put into motion by the simple fact that we are on earth. And since we don’t begin to become accountable until we turn age eight (D&C 29:46–47; 68:25–28), we have some years to be taught the gospel and to practice without penalty.
Now, back to the two “conflicting” commandments. In his teachings on this subject, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith indicated that there is more to this situation than first meets the eye.
Now this is the way I interpret that: The Lord said to Adam, here is the tree of the 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. I see a great difference between transgressing the law and committing a sin. (Joseph Fielding Smith, “Fall—Atonement—Resurrection—Sacrament,” in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 124; quoted in Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, p. 20)
Just why the Lord would say to Adam that he forbade him to partake of the fruit of that tree is not made clear in the Bible account, but in the original as it comes to us in the Book of Moses [Moses 3:17 adds “nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it”] it is made definitely clear. It is that the Lord said to Adam that if he wished to remain as he was in the garden, then he was not to eat the fruit, but if he desired to eat it and partake of death he was at liberty to do so. So really it was not in the true sense a transgression of a divine commandment. Adam made the wise decision, in fact the only decision that he could make. It was the divine plan from the very beginning that man should be placed on the earth and be subject to mortal conditions and pass through a probationary state. (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 4, p. 81)
As mentioned previously, Eve has been especially maligned and criticized for her role in the Fall. However, we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints honor and revere her for the unselfish choice she made. Perhaps you have noticed that she led out in par- taking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (genesis 3:6), and Adam followed. Elder John A. Widtsoe, of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained that this was an intentional, informed decision. He also explained how Adam and Eve, living in a state of innocence, could have understood enough to make an informed decision concerning the two commandments. Among other things, he reminds us that Adam and Eve walked and talked with god in the garden and that they learned much during that time.
Such was the problem before our first parents: to remain forever at selfish ease in the garden of Eden, or to face unselfishly tribulation and death, in bringing to pass the purposes of the Lord for a host of waiting spirit children. They chose the latter.
This they did with open eyes and minds as to consequences. The memory of their former estates may have been dimmed, but the gospel had been taught them during their sojourn in the garden of Eden. They could not have been left in complete ignorance of the purpose of their creation. Brigham Young frankly said: “Adam was as conversant with his Father who placed him upon this earth as we are conversant with our earthly parents.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 104) The Prophet Joseph taught that “Adam received commandments and instructions from god; this was the order from the beginning.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [TPJS], p. 168)
The choice that they made raises Adam and Eve to preeminence among all who have come on earth. The Lord’s plan was given life by them. They are indeed, as far as this earth is concerned, our loving father and mother. The “Fall” and the consequent redeeming act of Jesus became the most glorious events in the history of mankind. . . . The Lord had warned Adam and Eve of the hard battle with earth conditions if they chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He would not subject his son and daughter to hardship and the death of their bodies unless it be of their own choice. They must choose for themselves. They chose wisely, in accord with the heavenly law of love for others.
In life all must choose at times. Sometimes, two possibilities are good; neither is evil. Usually, however, one is of greater import than the other. When in doubt, each must choose that which concerns the good of others—the greater law—rather than that which chiefly benefits ourselves—the lesser law. The greater must be balanced against the lesser. The greater must be chosen whether it be law or thing. That was the choice made in Eden. . . . It is a thrilling thought that Adam and Eve were not coerced to begin god’s work on earth. They chose to do so, by the exercise of their free agency. . . . Considering our full knowledge of the purpose of the plan of salvation, and the reason for placing Adam and Eve on earth, the apparent contradiction in the story of the “Fall” vanishes. Instead the law of free agency, or individual choice, appears in distinct view. God’s command is qualified by his great purpose to bless his children. Adam and Eve rise to the position of helpers in initiating the divine purpose on earth. They become partners with the Lord in making eternal joy possible for the hosts of heaven. . . . We, the children of Adam and Eve, may well be proud of our parentage. (Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 193–195)
Learn more about the fall of Adam and Eve at the official site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called by friends of other faiths as the “Mormon Church”).
D. Ridges, The Fall, (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2010), 25-37.