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In the Beginning (Part 2): Sin or No Sin?

June 8, 2009

In the last post, I explained the foundational role that the LDS pre-existence has on many LDS doctrines.  I felt this was important to address before discussing the LDS teaching on the original sin.  The Bible clearly portrays the original sin as a sin.  Let’s take a look at one clear passage of scripture that directly addresses this subject.  As you read, take note of how the words sin, offence, transgression, and disobedience are used interchangeably:

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:  (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)  Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:16-19).” (Romans 5:12-19).

Strong’s concordance has this Greek definition for the word sin:

amartia hamartia ham-ar-tee’-ah

a sin (properly abstract):–offence, sin(-ful).

Here’s the definition for transgression:

parabasiV parabasis par-ab’-as-is

violation:–breaking, transgression.

In LDS scriptures, there is a teaching that the original sin was actually necessary so that Adam and Eve could bear children.  We will look at these scriptures a little bit deeper in the next post, but for this post I would like to simply show the difference between how the original sin has been defined in Mormonism as compared with the Bible’s teaching on the subject.  An article from the Ensign has the following quotes:

President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) said: “I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin. … This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin … for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!”

Partaking of the fruit brought mortality, with its many opportunities to choose between good and evil, and enabled Adam and Eve to have children. Thus the Fall opened the door for Heavenly Father’s children to come into the world, obtain physical bodies, and participate in “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). “Therefore this life became a probationary state,” a time to learn and grow, to repent and overcome weakness, “a time to prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24) [1]

Quote from the LDS Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual:

Partaking of the forbidden fruit was not a sin

To help explain that Adam and Eve did not sin when they partook of the forbidden fruit, read the following statement from Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

“It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. 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. …

“… We celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall. … Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: ‘I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin. … This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin.’ …

“This suggested 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. 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. These words are not always used to denote something different, but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 98; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 73).

In contrast, Romans 5 shows us that Adam’s actions were not only “Adam’s transgression” but also

“one man’s offence

“one man’s disobedience

sin” (“by one that sinned,” “by one man sin entered into the world”)

1. “The Fulness of the Gospel: The Fall of Adam and Eve,” Ensign, Jun 2006, 48–49

2. Lesson 4: “Because of My Transgression My Eyes Are Opened”, Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 12

20 Comments leave one →
  1. psychochemiker permalink
    June 8, 2009 3:09 am

    Dear Jessica,
    I think you bring up some really good points that I’m going to have to think about for a while before I can add any understanding to the conversation.

  2. June 8, 2009 5:52 am

    I’m sorry if this sounds really dumb, but I’ve read that passage from Romans three times in a row now, and I don’t get what it’s saying. Can someone please help me here? It’s kind of frustrating me.

    I get the part at the end where it says that by one man’s disobedience (Adam’s) all were made sinners, and by one man’s obedience (Christ’s) many will be made righteous…but I’m getting stumped by the first part talking about law and sin.

    “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

    This sounds like it’s saying that BECAUSE sin entered the world by Adam, ALL are sinners automatically.

    (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

    But then this seems to contradict it, saying that there is no sin without law.

    Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,

    Then this seems to say that even though there was no law from Adam to Moses, there was still sin (even though it just barely said there IS no sin without law).

    Then the rest of it I think I get. It’s talking about how Christ’s gift is so huge because just ONE sin brought death into the world, but Christ’s grace justifies and redeems in the face of MANY sins.

    I think.

    Anyway. Could someone help me out here?

  3. Stephanie permalink
    June 8, 2009 2:04 pm

    Hi Katie,

    I think that you have done a good job interpreting this passage. I wanted to comment on verses 13 and 14. You wrote

    (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

    But then this seems to contradict it, saying that there is no sin without law.

    Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,

    Then this seems to say that even though there was no law from Adam to Moses, there was still sin (even though it just barely said there IS no sin without law).

    The apostle Paul is trying to point out that sin is never imputed without the law. And yet, even though that is true “death reigned” prior to the giving of the law to Moses. We know that the penalty of sin is death (Rom 6:23), so surely there was sin from Adam to Moses–even though people didn’t commit the same sin as Adam did, they did sin! Why would God have imputed sin without a written law? It would follow that there WAS a law written into the conscience of men. This fact is presented by the apostle Paul in chapter 2, “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;).”

  4. June 8, 2009 3:56 pm

    Thanks, Stephanie. Most of what you say makes sense. 😉

    I think maybe I’m getting stuck on the word “imputed.” I looked it up and it means “to attribute or credit to.” I guess I don’t understand what seems to me to be an inherent conflict in the passage, where it says that without law, no sin gets attributed to you (which I interpret to mean “stuck on your permanent record”), but from Adam to Moses, sin still equaled death.

    I guess the essence of my question is, how–or why–is it possible for you to be condemned by sin when sin is not “imputed” (or “assigned”) to you as a result of absence of law?

    You’re saying it has something to do with the fact that you’re judged by the law written in men’s hearts?

    (NOTE: I’m not trying to be sassy or make any kind of point here, just genuinely trying to make sure I understand the passage.)

  5. faithoffathers permalink
    June 8, 2009 9:39 pm

    Jessica- I agree that our take is different than the typical traditional interpretation. What Adam and Eve did was against the law of God. He told them that in the day they ate of the fruit, they would die. But we believe that what Adam and Eve did was necessary- even though it was a transgression, it was needed to move the plan of God along.

    Does that seem contradictory of God? Well, I think it offers an insight into who He is and how He sees us.

    One necessary first question is what would have happened if they had not partaken of the fruit? Did God’s original plan fail? What was that plan? Would we have lived in different conditions had they not partaken?

    We believe we are living in the very conditions God intended- an imperfect world with temptations, illnesses, sadness, and choice. This life is difficult, period.

    My take on your question is that God did not want to force us into this life- this difficult and challenging condition. IT HAD TO BE OUR CHOICE. So He gave commandments and boundaries and warned Adam and Eve what would happen if they crossed those boundaries. Ultimately, they crossed the line and became mortals with all the associated challenges and blessings. This did not destroy the plan of God. Rather, it advanced the plan by introducing the means by which His children would enter mortality by their OWN CHOICE. They could not turn around and blame God for their condition and circumstances. “God will force no man to heaven.”

    Hence, we believe this partaking of the fruit was not your typical sin. God foresaw everything and prepared the atoning sacrifice of His son to overcome the affects of the fall.

    Question- what is your response to our 2nd article of faith: “We believe men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”


    p.s. I recommend reading Alma chapter 42- in my opinion the best description of the fall and the condition of man. At least it is the best description of our doctrine of the fall.

  6. June 9, 2009 2:26 am

    It is important to know when looking at this passage (Rom 5:14) Paul is referencing Hosea 6:7 where the prophet is comparing Adam’s breaking a covenant with God to that of national Israel breaking the covenant.

    But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
    Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
    As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
    they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.

    (Hosea 6:7-9)

  7. germit permalink
    June 9, 2009 11:50 am

    Hence, we believe this partaking of the fruit was not your typical sin.

    FoF: the way this comes across to the avg. ev. is that it looks like no sin at all. It looks like it really helped GOD along. Maybe that’s unintentional, but that’s how it appears. I appreciate your description, it’s much clearer than most of what I’ve read elsewhere.

    Blessings on you and yours

  8. faithoffathers permalink
    June 9, 2009 6:16 pm


    I get what you are saying. But can you think of a circumstance when somebody breaks a rule or law in order to help somebody else or to contribute to a greater cause? Think Jack Bauer. OK- bad to equate Adam and Eve to JB.

    This is sort of how we see Adam and Eve. We don’t believe they were acting out of selfishness, greed, lust, etc. They knowingly broke law, but for an unselfish and higher purpose. In this way, their actions were more understandable than a typical sin- i.e. adultery, stealing, deceiving, etc. Make sense?

    Disobeying a law of God is sin. Law is law. So technically, yes- Adam and Eve sinned. And it was that sin, or act, that brought mortality to all of mankind. But God, knowing the heart, views their actions a little differently.



  9. June 12, 2009 6:21 pm

    Wanted to share another quote from Gaskill here as I found it applicable to this thread. Gaskill seeks to explain the difference between “transgression” and “sin” as related to the Fall.

    “Admittedly, 1 John 3:4 informs us that ‘sin is the transgression of the law.’ Thus, seeking to draw irrefutable, firm definitions of sin and transgression may be a futile act of hair-splitting. Nevertheless, since so much emphasis is placed on the fact that Adam and Eve transgressed rather than sinned, we will make an effort at explaining that distinction here.

    In technical terms, to transgress is to unknowingly or accidentally break one of God’s laws. It is akin to what children under the age of eight do. And for such transgressions, as we noted above, they are not held accountable. To sin, on the other hand, is traditionally defined as knowingly going against the will of God. In such cases, the individual breaking the law of God is held accountable for that act or sin until he or she sincerely repents of it. As will be explained below, Adam and Eve were viewed as transgressors rather than sinners, not because they were ignorant of right and wrong, but rather because their intent was perfectly pure (i.e., non-sinful). They chose to partake of that which God had formally or technically forbidden, not because they had a rebellious nature or sinful desire, but rather because they sought to introduce mortality in accordance with the plan and God’s will.” (from Alonzo L. Gaskill, The Savior & The Serpent, p. 17)

    Okay, did anybody else get that????

    I’m lost.

  10. tomchik permalink
    June 14, 2009 10:05 pm

    Gundexk – what was Adam’s covenant with God? Interesting insight. Thanks.

  11. tomchik permalink
    June 15, 2009 8:41 pm

    Gundeck – what was Adam’s covenant with God? I’ve never heard an EV talk like this. I’m curious.

  12. June 17, 2009 4:06 am


    I’m not sure if Gundek saw your question. If you would like a typical view on the Adamic covenant from the EV perspective this link gives a good summary:

  13. June 20, 2009 7:14 pm


    I am sorry, I did not see your question. From the Reformed perspective God’s first covenant with man (Adam) was the covenant of works. This covenant requires perfect obedience and is still in affect, more on that in a second. Adam was commanded “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Not satisfied with all that God had given him, Adam ate the fruit breaking the covenant of works.

    Christ acting as the surety for those in Him fulfilled the covenant of works by placing himself, through an act of condescension, under the law and fulfilling all that was required by the law. Basically for those in Christ, partakers of the “covenant of grace”, the covenant of works has been fulfilled. For those outside of Christ the covenant of works applies and perfect obedience is the requirement for salvation.

    Below is a cut and past from my blog where I did a post on the two covenants. Chapter 7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains this as it is believed in Reformed theology.

    1. Man is the creature of God, obedience to the creator is a “reasonable” expectation. God has graciously expressed his requirements in the form of covenants.

    2. The first covenant, with Adam and his descendants, was the covenant of law. The covenant of law requires PERFECT obedience.

    3. Since Adam’s fall, neither he nor his descendants were/are able to keep the law PERFECTLY. God was “pleased” to make a second covenant, the covenant of grace. By this covenant he “Freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ” requiring faith for salvation. This faith he gives to those “ordained” to eternal life by his Holy Spirit.

    4. The covenant of grace is seen in scripture by the name Testament.

    5. The covenant of grace was administered differently in the time of the law and the Gospel. “Under the law there were promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances all point to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ who gave salvation.”

    6. Under the Gospel the “means of grace are the Word and Sacraments.” By these means grace is administered. This covenant is made with both Jew and Gentile.

  14. July 2, 2009 9:42 pm

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  15. Polka permalink
    February 10, 2013 3:16 pm

    I think the assumption that “sin” is acting contrary to the will of God is a bit narrow. Acting against the will of God is part of sin, but there has to be a knowledge of good and evil in performing that act. Can someone sin if they have no knowledge of good and evil?

    Transgression is going against God’ law, but in the case of the Garden of Eden, there was no knowledge of good and evil until after the fruit was partaken. Adam’s transgression was going against God’s will, but he did that out of disobedience to God’s expressed command, not out of a choice between good and evil.

    Eve was beguiled because she had no knowledge of good and evil, but she did have agency and the ability to reason, and Satan tricked or manipulated her. (Or, perhaps she saw the wisdom of being tricked in a kind of proto-feminist way? 🙂 ) When Adam went against the will of God by choosing to partake of the fruit he was forbidden to take, then he transgressed. When he then knew good and evil after partaking of the fruit, he still had agency, but now he had good and evil to choose between and thus the chance to sin.

  16. November 14, 2013 1:10 am

    Just found this thread –know it’s old but I had to comment. As a committed member of the LDS church who is well familiar with scripture on this issue, I am sorry the church seems to be getting further and further committed to the proto-doctrine that there is a significant difference between a transgression and a sin. For example one LDS blog ( ) used Psalms 25:7 as a “proof text” that they are considered as two different things. “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.” Apparently not realizing the ubiquitous Hebrew literary device of parallelism, he missed the fact that this verse in fact, equates sins and transgressions, (as well ‘thy mercy’ and ‘thy goodness.’) This reiteration of ideas in similar but not exactly the same words, is the most common form of Hebrew poetry. So moving on we must find authority for making a big deal out of the difference between a sin and a transgression elsewhere. Won’t find it in the dictionary. A transgression is to break a law.On that all the dictionaries agree. A sin is a breaking of God’s law. Transgression is a broader word that can be applied to breaking or going beyond a bound of any kind, say a social convention. Sin, on the other hand, always refers to breaking or going beyond the boundary of a law given by a Deity, whether the Christian God or any other.
    What you have happening here is what sometimes happens in all faith traditions: doctrinal creep. There is no scripturally made distinction between the two. Neither does God’s world ever try to white wash Adam’s actions. But apparently Joseph Fielding Smith did. He is the first one I see making this distinction. Dallin Oaks lends considerable weight to the idea. I read much of Gaskill’s book standing in a Deseret Book store, enough to see that his case for a fully aware Adam and Eve was based wholly on quotes from General Authorities. Tsk. Tsk. That may get him points in the Seminaries and Institutes program, but not scriptural means it is conjecture, nothing more.
    The Romans scriptures are rather more convincing. “By one man sin entered the world, ” etc. Pretty straightforward. I’m putting my money on scripture and not on headings in Gospel Doctrine Manuals that say “Partaking of the Forbidden Fruit was not a Sin.”
    But here’s my secret. I don’t HAVE to believe anything that isn’t true. I still have my temple recommend. The Gospel is still true, not matter what funny things people imagine up for themselves. And this particular funny thing, if you carry it out to its logical extension, would have Adam and Eve knowing exactly what they were doing, and sinning, er, I mean, transgressing, with a kind of wink, wink, because they knew they were taking the first step in God’s great plan. I have met plenty of people in the church who think like this, and who think that because Adam and Eve were noble figures, it’s degrading to them to call them sinners. Personally, I think we need a lot more use of the word “sinner” in the church. As the Lord said he came not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance, I am lined up at the clinic door marked “Sinners” to take my medicine.
    But…..I will say this in defense of all my well-meaning Brother and Sister Saints who are trying to build little pedestals for Adam and Eve to stand on. They are doing it in reaction to all the mud that has been slung at these two over the centuries. My husband’s barber, a good Catholic, regularly bemoans Adam and Eve’s choices in the Garden for causing all his own problems. “Oh, if only they hadn’t eaten the apple!”
    This is much worse theology than anything you are taking the Mormons to task for. Do you really think that God set up one plan for man’s existence and that he was surprised by their choices in the Garden, having then to come up with an alternate plan. I believe Revelation 13:8’s meaning is the opposite of that. “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” means to me that the redeeming work of Christ–his atonement for sin–was always part of the plan. I believe that Adam and Eve were like children, without a knowledge of good and evil, and thus were vulnerable to a liar, because they had no concept of a lie. They were naked, remember. (To my Mormon family I would say, “Do you really think they remembered their pre-mortal existence? If they did, they would have remembered clothiers too!”) Latter-day scripture is clear. They were ‘beguiled” or tricked by Satan. (Genesis 3 “Satan beguiled me, and I did eat.” ) They were fooled and fell into his trap. God knew they would because in their condition they had no defenses against Satan’s pitch. Adam even tried to resist but once Satan got Eve to fall for his lie, Adam touchingly, gallantly in my view, chose to remain with his wife.
    So it was a sin or a transgression or whatever you want to call it. It broke a law of God. And it happened because God knew it would happen and wanted it to happen. But no one can convince me that it was just a knowingly done breaking of some rule on the books to initiate the plan, like Adam breaking a bottle of champagne on the Good Ship Earth’s hull to launch her. God having first said, “Now whatever you do, don’t break that bottle of champagne!” I repeat, if the whole thing had been ‘staged’ Adam and Eve wouldn’t have been playing their parts naked. The naked reminds us that they started out like little children or animals, with only the most limited moral framework. But with lots of curiosity and intelligence. The Mormons are glad that it happened the way it did. We are glad that we live in a world of opposites, that we get to find out what it means to be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb by getting dirty down here on earth.
    We don’t think that it would have been a good thing to have been kept in a happy garden like cosmic pets, with every need met and with no sickness or lack. We do believe we are God’s literal spirit children, and that we want to be like Him, fully aware. We do not believe, as I read in one Christian commentary, that Eve’s “rebellion” mimicked Satan’s. Here’s the quote: “Eve was trying to become a god herself by her rebellion against God.”
    If you want to know how the Mormon error creeps in, it is right here. We find ourselves having to defend Adam and Eve from all those, starting with the Jewish rabbis of ancient date, who smeared Adam and Eve as full of malice and pride, just as Satan had been before he fell from Heaven.
    Ok, this is way too long. I need to write a book. But Adam and Eve were good people, who did us a favor. God chose two spirits who would be good parents for the human race. Not corrupted, rebellious, grasping individuals who wanted to usurp God’s place. There was ignorance at the heart of what they did, not malice. When Satan says, “Then you will be like God,” one should not suppose that what that meant to Satan himself, was what it meant to Eve. If you say to one of my darling grandchildren, “Eat this candy and you will become like your mother,” and she eats it, that does not presuppose that she is trying to overthrow her mother, only that she thinks it would be a good thing to be like her mother.
    Adam and Eve, walking and talking in the garden with God, thought that he was the best thing around. How natural that they would want to be more like him. But wanting to be like Him and wanting to mutiny against Him are two very different things. If we ere in elevating what Adam and Eve did beyond its scriptural basis, to a noble and knowing choice, so do the evangelicals ere in pushing beyond scriptural words to find Satanic motives in their childlike fall. We both bear blame for going beyond.

  17. Kelly Mark permalink
    September 15, 2020 3:04 am

    Hi, I was wondering in your studies, and this is the very first thing I’ve read from you or anyone that has posted about this topic; I was wondering what your thoughts were on the early verses of Moses chapter 5. In the 3rd verse I gather that two generations are described. That Adam and Eve had children, and that those children began to have children. The next ten verses describe Adam and Eve gaining powerful insight by the Holy Ghost, and as their testimony is passed on to their posterity, two generations at least, verse 13 says, then Satan came saying, worship me, and from that time forth, men became carnal, sensual and devilish. Two generations after they left the garden, after a spiritual witness only the Holy Ghost can bring. In other words, they still lived in a paradisical state after the garden. Satan was bound until a spiritual witness was solidified. That is my impression of those verses anyway, which further solidifies that children aren’t really born into sin, in that they don’t instantly have a knowledge of carnality by birth, if that makes sense. That’s all. Thanks for sharing about that topic, I appreciated reading it.


  1. In the Beginning (Part 3): Free Will or God’s Setup? « I Love Mormons
  2. In the Beginning (Part 4): Imputed Sin & Amazing Grace « I Love Mormons
  3. Book of Mormon Analysis – Part 2 « I Love Mormons

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