The Text: 2 Nephi 2:19-21
19And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit, they were driven out from[i] the garden of Eden to till the earth. 20And they have brought forth children—yea, even the family of all the earth. 21And the days of the children of men were prolonged according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh. Wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men—for he gave commandment[ii] that all men must repent, for he showed unto all men that they were lost because of the transgression of their parents.
There are only two variants in this week’s reading. See Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part 1 (2004), 504-506. A brief summary of his conclusions:
[i] The change from “out from” to “out of” appeared first in 1837. While “out from” may be awkward for modern readers, restore “out from” as it is consistent with the KJV’s usage of the preposition from (See Genesis 3:23) as well as the several usages of “out from” in the Book of Mormon (2 Ne. 9:9; 25; 4; 30:4; Jacob 7:26; Omni 1:15; 3 Ne. 7:22).
[ii] This plural “commandments” only appears in the 1888 LDS large-print edition. The construction “to give commandment” in the singular occurs in the KJV (for example, Exodus 36:6) and the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 6:6; 2 Ne. 3:7; 4:6).
Driven out/drove out (2 Ne. 2:19; Alma 42:2; Genesis 3:24).
Skousen points out, in the original manuscript, that Alma 42:2 reads “he drove out the man.” This was changed to “he drew out the man” in the printer’s manuscript and 1830 edition. See The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Yale, 2009), 424, 770. Skousen notes that drove out seems to be based in Genesis 3:24. The textual relationship between 2 Ne. 2:19 and Alma 42:2, becomes stronger when taking into account the language from the original manuscript.
The Hebrew behind “drove out” in Genesis 3:24 is garash (Strong’s 1644). Garash has been translated as drive out, drive away, cast up out, expel, divorce, dispossess, thrust out. Incidentally, the language of man being “cast out” from the Garden of Eden, does not appear in the KJV (you can find it in the heading to Chapter 3 in the LDS Edition of the KJV Bible). In addition, this language is found in D&C 29:10 (1830).
Till the Earth/Ground. Genesis 2:5; Moses 3:5 and Genesis 3:23; Moses 4:29.
Mankind as lost and fallen. 1 Ne. 10:6; 2 Ne. 25:17; Mosiah 16:14; Alma 9:30, 32; Alma 12:22; Alma 34:9; Alma 42:6.
Mankind as fallen (without lost). Mosiah 4:5; 27:25; 16:5; 3:16; 3:19; Moroni 7:24.
“Fallen state.” 1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 25:17; Mosiah 4:5; 16:4-5; 27:25; Alma 42:12.
State of Probation/Probationary State/Probationary Time/Days of Probation/Preparatory
This phrase does not appear in the Bible. The English description of mortal life being a probation appears in the 17th and 18th centuries.
“The Situation of Man in his Life, with Respect to Salvation, is a mere State of Probation.” (John Roche of Dublin, 1641).
“Q. When Shall this general Judgment be? A. At the End of the World. When the State of our Trial and Probation shall be finished, it will be a proper Season for the Distribution of public Justice, for the rewarding all those with eternal Life.” (Robert Nelson, Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England, with Collects and Prayers for each Solemnity, 1704).
“The Time, indeed, may be long before the final Reckoning may commence, but the Time allotted us to prepare for it is bounded by the short Space of a human Life. The Night of Death comes when no Man can work; and though many Ages may pass between that Event and the Resurrection to Judgment, yet when we leave this World, the Days of Probation expire, the Account is then sealed up, neither is it in our Power, by any Application, to alter one Article of it. To day, therefore, while it is called to day, let us address our selves to the Work of our Lord; to correct our Errors, and finish what is yet imperfect, that we may obtain his Approbation, and make our Calling and Election sure.” (John Rogers, 1736).
Days Prolonged and Time Lengthened
With the preliminaries out of the way, let’s move to some analysis.
And the days of the children of men were prolonged according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh. . . and their time was lengthened.
Several interesting ideas appear in this portion of the text. First, something is prolonged or lengthened from an relatively shorter status. It would make sense to understand that something to be the lifespan of Adam and Eve. The logic would go something like this: God had stated that “in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve ate the fruit and therefore they should have died that day in accordance with God’s decree. However, this did not occur. God decided to lengthen their days to allow them be obedient to his commandment to repent.
Another way to look at this narrative is to view Lehi as “reconciling” a discrepancy in the Genesis story. That is, despite God’s decree that Adam would die the same day he eats the fruit (Genesis 2:17), Adam continues to live 930 years (we have no record of the length of Eve’s days).
If this is a kind of solution, it may be useful to compare Lehi’s solution with the exegetical solutions as found within the Christian tradition.
James Kugel explains that ancient readers were troubled by God’s statement that Adam would die on the day he ate the fruit, and yet Adam did not die until he is 930 years old. At some point, Kugel argues, someone connected this notion with Psalms 90:4 and saw that this could be resolved by arguing that one day was a thousand years and therefore God’s statement is true, after all (930 days just shy of 1000). Kugel cites Jubilees 4:29-30 and Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 81:3 as examples of exegetes who use the day as a thousand years solution. Kugel also points out some problems with this exegetical solution. If God’s decree of death is intended as a punishment, it is hardly seems to function as punishment to say to Adam that if you eat this fruit, you will die within 1000 years.
Interestingly, Kugel surveys other solutions, such as interpreting “you shall surely die” to mean “you shall become mortal.” Therefore, the punishment is mortality. This, however, raised the question as to why not just Adam and Eve, but all men were now mortal.
How does this compare with Lehi? Lehi doesn’t use the day as a thousand years solution. Lehi argues that despite God’s initial decree is that man would die on the very day he ate the fruit, God prolonged the days of men according to his will in order that man might repent while in the flesh. (The idea of prolonging their days seems to suggest Lehi accepted that God decreed that Adam and Eve should have died earlier than they did). God commands men to repent and therefore in order to repent they must be alive, and in order to be alive, God must rescind his decree that Adam would die the day he ate of the fruit. Lehi’s solution has merit in that it solves the question of why God didn’t cause Adam to die on the day he ate the fruit as he decreed previously. The answer, according to Lehi, is that God prolonged his life in order to be able to do something that God also commanded.
Is this a consistent approach in the Book of Mormon? When Alma retells the Garden of Eden account, he does something interesting. He omits the “in the day” portion of Genesis 2:17.
And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die. (Alma 12:23).
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 2:17, emphasis added).
It would seem then that at least Alma interprets God’s punishment or decree (God’s word) to mean mortality, rather than immediate death. This seems to follow the second exegetical solution mentioned by Kugel, namely, that God’s punishment is mortality. However, this approach raises the question of why everyone else other than Adam has suffered this exact same fate. Why do the children of men suffer the punishment (i.e. mortality) of Adam and Eve? In fact, Lehi doesn’t say that Adam and Eve’s days were prolonged. He states the days of the children of men were prolonged.
Prolonging the days of Adam makes sense because Adam has sins for which he needs to repent. However, Lehi states that God would prolong the days of all the children of men. What is the rationale for prolonging the days of all the children of men? Lehi argues that “all men” must repent because all men are lost because of the transgression of their parents. Man must repent because of the transgression of their parents. This was the very argument that bothered Korihor:
Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents. (Korihor in Alma 30:25).
[F]or he showed unto all men that they were lost because of the transgression of their parents. (Lehi in 2 Ne. 2:21b).
Rather than dismiss Korihor’s statement to Giddonah as either an exaggeration or deliberate caricature of Nephite doctrine, I would like to take his allegation seriously. Perhaps it provides an accurate description of Nephite theology, or at least preserves the implications of Lehi’s teachings. An examination of the textual material shows that the Nephites do, in fact, argue that the people are a “fallen people” and in a “fallen state” because of the “transgression of Adam” or their first “parents.” However, the Nephites never use “guilty” or “guilt” in connection with the fall (although Moses 6:54 contains the phrase “original guilt”). Is it wrong for Korihor to associate “lost and fallen” with “guilty”? Is Korihor merely asserting that “a child is not fallen because of its parents“? Is Korihor foreshadowing Ezekiel 18?
At the risk of belaboring the point, not only must Adam repent but also all his children must repent. Is Lehi providing an original sin argument for repentance? We can agree that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and therefore this caused them to be driven from Eden and to become mortal or fallen. But if this was their punishment, but why does it extend to all the children of men? Why do all the children of men suffer this punishment? And if the answer is that this is not a punishment at all, but this is mercy that allows men to repent and be judged, then why do the children suffer “fallenness” because of the transgression of the parents? How does the Book of Mormon answer these questions? (Alma 12:21-37 and Alma 42).
Lehi as Adam
One last idea that isn’t limited to this passage. Is Lehi assuming the role of Adam? Adam was driven from the Garden of Eden and brings forth children. Lehi driven from Jerusalem, brought forth children. Is there a deliberate parallel that Lehi is crafting?