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The Contradictory Commands, Part 3: A Tale of Two Records

In part 1 of this series discussing the contradictory commands given to Adam and Eve to not partake of the forbidden fruit but to also have children, I discussed the possibility that they would have been resolved in time, but they jumped the gun and listened to Satan rather than God, which is why they were in trouble.  In part 2, I discussed the more popular idea that Eve chose to obey a higher law when she ate the fruit and that it wasn’t a sin in the full sense.  Today, in the final post to round out this series, I will discuss a less popular, but scholastically important idea articulated through higher criticism of the Bible.

Modern Biblical studies have opened the doors into a deeper understanding of the context and conditions in which the Bible was written.  Some of these insights have bearing upon the question of the contradictory commands given to Adam and Eve.  Admittedly, some propositions of modern scholars are challenging for Latter-day Saints because they challenge assumptions about both the Bible and Joseph Smith’s translation.  David Bokovoy does a good job of addressing those concerns in his work Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy, but there is still a lot of room for differing interpretations and beliefs on the issue.

Many Biblical scholars have come to believe that the Torah or Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) do not represent a single, monolithic production by one individual (i.e., Moses). Instead, it is a compilation of different sources woven together.  In the most well-known proposition of this theory, there are four major sources brought together: two more ancient sources (the Elohist or E and the Yahwistic or J) and two later sources (the Priestly or P and the Deuteronomic or D).  Each of these sources holds a different perspectives on theology and history, based on the people involved in compiling the source, the era in which they lived, and the place that they lived (northern and southern kingdoms).  Material in the Torah are often sorted into these four sources based on presentation, word choice, theology, and focus.  This theory does much to explain repetitions, inconsistencies, and contradictions found within the Torah, including the contradictory commands given to Adam and Eve.

The creation accounts that the commands stem from are thought to come from two different sources.  Genesis 1:1-2:3 is thought to be from the Priestly source and presents a more ethereal and less-corporeal God who controls the universe through speech. After creating man and woman on the sixth day of creation, He gives them the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth as well as to assert dominion over the earth and to use plants and animals as food.  The Garden of Eden story is not found in this creation account, and thus the command to not partake of the fruit is not present in this account.

The other creation account (beginning in Genesis 2:4) is thought to be from the older Yahwistic tradition.  God as presented in this account is more human than how He is presented in Genesis 1, working with His hands to form man, avoiding the heat of the day, etc.  The order of creation is also different.  In the Priestly source (Genesis 1), the creation flows from water to land to plants to sea animals and birds to land animals and finally humans at the end.  In the Yahwistic source (Genesis 2), after God has created the earth, plants, and the Garden of Eden, he creates the man to tend to the garden.  After creating the man, God creates all the animals in an attempt to find the perfect helper and partner for Adam.  After each of these fail in turn to live up to being Adam’s partner, God takes the rib from Adam and forms the woman.  In this account they are commanded to not partake of the fruit of the tree, but there is no command given to multiply and fill the earth.

The resolution to the two contradictory commands given here is simply that they are commands that are presented by two separate records with different points of view and are not interrelated.  As Latter-day Saint and Biblical scholar David Bokovoy wrote:

Dividing the opening two chapters of Genesis into their respective sources solves many problems for a Latter-day Saint audience.  Often readers struggle to make sense of the fact that God gave the first humans a command in Genesis 1 to “be fruitful, and multiply” (v. 28), yet in Genesis 2, he commanded the humans not to eat the fruit that would have granted them this very ability.  Latter-day Saints often reconcile this contradiction by asserting that God needed to create a situation in which agency could exist by giving two conflicting commands.  This reading certainly contains merit as a theological concept.  However, combining this construct with an historical awareness of the two separate traditions that produced these distinct accounts resolves much of the dissonance readers often sense.[1]

Thus, historical insights from modern Biblical scholarship can help resolve the contradictory commands.

This approach is challenging from a Latter-day Saint perspective because we have traditionally assumed that all of Genesis was written by Moses.  This is affirmed by the Joseph Smith Translation, particularly Moses 1, which puts the prehistory section of Genesis in the context of Moses receiving a vision from God and recording it.  In both the JS-T and the Book of Abraham, the two different accounts of creation (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2) are smoothed together by making the first an account of the spiritual creation and the latter the physical creation.  Accepting that the Torah is composed of multiple sources centuries after the time of Moses challenges the traditional assumptions of the Torah being written by Moses.  This in turn challenges the nature of Joseph Smith’s work with Genesis and Abraham.  Latter-day Saint scholars have tried to reconcile the two by shifting how we speak about the book of Moses, but it is a difficult proposition for most of the Saints to swallow, since in some form or another, it indicates that the translations were more rooted in Joseph Smith’s worldview than historic events.

There have been a number of suggestions given to help make sense of that challenge while still accepting the conclusions drawn from higher criticism.  For example, David Bokovoy wrote that we should embrace the idea that the Book of Moses (and Book of Abraham by extension) are psedopigrapha (works attributed to a different author than the one who wrote it) and justifies that as a continuation of an ancient Hebrew tradition that has shaped the Bible as we know it.  Texts like Hebrews, Titus, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, are often viewed by scholars as pseudopigrapha, but Christians have drawn inspiration from them for millennia regardless of who the actual author is.  Thus, “The issue of the Book of Moses’ status as inspired scripture can be seen as independent from the question of its historicity as the literal words of Moses once attached to the Bible.”  He sees the work Joseph Smith did in translating Genesis as doing the work of brining “the Book of Genesis into harmony with Joseph Smith’s revelatory experiences.”[2]

Along those lines, Philip Barlow observed that Joseph Smith may have seen his ministry as an effort to heal a shattered reality and that the New Translation would fit into this as a way to resolve concerns about the Bible, noting that: “Across the decades, his scholarly followers have here and there demonstrated the plausible historicity of selected texts.  But as a whole the emendations and additions of his biblical translation exude a targumic quality—not necessarily the Bible as it once was, but the Bible as it was supposed to be.”[3]  It has also been noted that the text of Genesis itself is, as discussed above, thought to be a redaction of several different sources by later authors and the Joseph Smith Translation only continues the process of change, accretions, and reinterpretations over the centuries that have become part of the text.   By editing and expanding the text of Genesis, Joseph Smith “baptized” the text into Mormonism and aligned it with his broader religious vision, changing the Bible to how it was supposed to be.

This type of change could be viewed as part of how Joseph Smith translated texts–using the term in a way more in lines with the concept of translated beings–humans changed to something higher and different than your average mortal–than the traditional way of understanding the term as converting texts from one language to another.  As Kathleen Flake wrote, even though Joseph Smith’s work on the Bible “is not like translating insofar as Smith made large additions to his sources and claimed for them the historicity of the original,” he was able to transform the texts in a way so as to “divine the truth about God’s past acts within the narrative limits of ancient, prophetic history” and that he was “reconfiguring the past to suggest what could be, to even create the possible and the real.”[4]  These ideas about translation and tradition can help to reduce concerns about the nature of the Book of Moses, even though they aren’t perfect.


The commands given at the creation to the first man and woman are a paradox. In essence, they are the command to bear and raise children and the command to not partake of the fruit that would allow them to bear and raise children. Three possible resolutions were presented in this series.  First, God would have provided a way for humankind to move into mortality at the proper time and place, but Eve chose to listen to Satan’s command instead of God’s command, resulting in subjugation to the devil.  Second, the command to not partake of the fruit was a lesser command, the violation of which was necessary to propel humankind forward toward a divine destiny.  Third, Biblical scholarship indicates that the two commands come from two different traditions and are not part of the same story.  Each approach has its merit and flaws, but each also provide some reasonable ways to resolve the conflict of the two contradictory commands.



[1] David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 53-54.

[2] Bokovoy, 158-159.

[3] Philip Barlow, “To Mend a Shattered Reality,” Journal of Mormon History, 38 No. 3 (2012), 41.

[4] Kathleen Flake, “Translating Time: The Nature and Function of Joseph Smith’s Narrative Cannon,” The Journal of Religion 87, No. 4 (October 2007), 497-527.

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