Mormonism’s Satan and the Tree of Life: Part 4 (The Garden)

We return to the central question of this series: Given the divine expedience of the Fall and the trials and temptations which beset God’s children in mortality, precisely what is the sin of Satan?

With regard to the Fall in the Garden, Mormon Satanology offers certain surprises. For example, the Mormon understanding is that Satan justified his actions in offering the fruit to Eve by virtue of the fact that he was merely doing what was “known and done in other worlds” [Nibley, Return, p. 63]—a claim that, astonishingly perhaps, goes unchallenged by God.

Indeed, according to the book of Moses, the serpent’s temptation began a chain of events which opened the way to eternal life: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” The implication here is not only that the Fall was a forward step in the progression of humankind, but also that the Mormon Devil is not God’s enemy simply because he tempts humans. Instead, his evil must be sought beyond his role as a tempter and in the exact nature of the temptation itself.

If our reading of the premortal Satan in Mormon thought is correct, then this temptation will have the goal of permanently arresting the possibility of further progression for Adam and Eve and their descendants. This goal becomes further apparent in the Garden narrative, and especially with regard to the Tree of Life.

Our discussion of Lucifer’s Garden temptation in Mormon thought will continue at the Turin conference of the European Mormon Studies Association, and thereafter, hopefully, in print. We believe that an understanding of Satan’s goals in the pre-existence, and his related strategy in the Garden — particularly with regard to the Tree of Life — represent interesting contributions of Mormonism to Christian theology.

To be continued…


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Ah, so this is like those billboards for Little America that start around Cheyenne and entice you, temptingly, mile after mile after mile before you actually get there, to exit I-80 and pick up one of those 35 cent ice cream cones. Now we all have to go to Turin to get the rest of the story. Very clever, ye fiends of the infernal pit!

    (Sounds like a great presentation. When I go to the temple, I always have a devil of a time trying to figure out whether Satan is a bad guy, a good guy, or a bad guy unwittingly doing a good thing, or maybe a bad guy wittingly doing a good thing.

  2. Matthew Andreasen says:

    Does Satan’s existence, including his opposition to God, thwart God’s plan?

    D&C 10:43 I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.

    Could Satan actually be unwittingly participating as a needful part of God’s plan?

    Moses 4:6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world.

    Is Satan to be commended for his assisting God in His plan?

    Luke 17:1 Then said he [Jesus] unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!

  3. I take the position that the whole garden account is an allegory of larger, pre-mortal events on the grounds that as a literal account, especially the way we interpret it, it has lots of problems.

    D&C 20 provides some support for this view:

    And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them; And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship. But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man. (D&C 20:18-20, emphasis added)

  4. Eveningsun says:

    Thank you, Mark D. Of course the garden story is figurative. My favorite text on this point is Matthew 16:5-11, in which Jesus rebukes the disciples for interpreting literally what Jesus had meant figuratively.

  5. Adam Greenwood says:

    Really lame ending.

  6. My own understanding of this is – how easy (and useful) it is to externalize the Satan within us rather than coming to grips with our own inherent propensity to evil.

    Like Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us.

    So that is why I sympathize with Lucifer in the garden. He is like us. Like us he is ready to annihilate his enemies. Like us he will enslave his fellow man to obtain a profit. Like us he wants to have the chief place at the banquet. Like us he will subvert universal good for his own benefit.

    He could be Ken Lay.

    Like us his motives are not pure. He may actually want to do some good in a back-handed way, as long as there is some profit, honor and glory in it.

  7. Eveningsun, Glad to hear you agree. “Figurativity” aside, there are important theological issues here. The scripture I quoted, for example, implies that that the Fall was actually a “fall”, for example, and was neither divinely endorsed, nor “fortunate” in any first order sense. It also suggests that the Fall was a social phenomena, and not something we can attribute to one or two individuals.

  8. I have no position on whether the garden narrative is figurative or literal (or perhaps some of each, which seems most likely to me), but my take on Satan is that, in the garden, he was just trying to move things along.

    He knew enough to know he would get no play if things stayed as they were, so he did what he could to get the world into a stage where he knew he could have the most influence over the greatest number of people. Was this evil? Yes, but only in the same sense that partaking of the fruit was evil for Adam and Eve. They had to enter into mortality and fall from immortality by their own choice. Satan was playing a role in offering them one side of that choice.

    I know the choice was necessary, and I suspect Satan’s role was and is also necessary, in that his enticing us to do evil allows us a real choice between two ultimately opposing things.

    The question that troubles me is, what would God have done if Lucifer had not rebelled in the beginning? Surely he had the choice not to do so, but how would the necessary role of the devil have been fulfilled then?

  9. Who says the role of the devil is necessary?

  10. Matthew Andreasen says:

    Mark D.: I gave my answer to this question in Part 3.2 of this discussion (see comment #26). I’ve copied it here as well:

    Opposition probably exists without Satan, but is that enough for agency to exist?

    D&C 29:39 And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet—

    The above scripture (which is fairly similar to what Lehi says in 2 Nephi 2:16-18) seems to explicitely say that the devil (as the tempter) must exist for men to be “agents unto themselves”.

    Lehi says a similar thing when he says that man must be enticed for him to “act for himself” (2 Ne. 2:16), then intoduces the devil in verse 17 and shows that he was the one who enticed Eve in verse 18.

    I think the devil plays a needful part in God’s plan, but that’s just my oppinion. The above is info thrown into the mix for your consideration.