• Trent Stephens

2 Nephi 2:22

Updated: May 14, 2021

by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD Last updated 14 May 2021

In my blog "Adam and the Tree of Life," I offered $1000 for anyone who could find a scripture stating that Adam and Eve were inherently immortal when they were placed into the Garden of Eden. You may have instantly deduced the very scripture that would secure for you that $1000 prize, which has eluded so many elite students of science and religion. I assure you, you are not, by any means, the first, ahead of my many students of anatomy and theology, who has drawn that conclusion.


I am a practitioner of science, biology and anatomy, but this essay will only tangentially adjoin those topics. Rather, it will focus primarily upon the English language.



Illustration by Frank Beard showing a Sunday School teacher giving a chalk talk.


Let’s begin by quoting the topic scripture: 2 Nephi 2:22, “And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” I think the first sentence has plenty of other scriptural support. If Adam and Eve had not transgressed by partaking of the forbidden fruit, they would have remained in the Garden of Eden. We read, for example, in verse 19 of the same chapter, “And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driven out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth.”


The focal sentence for the present discussion in 2 Nephi 2:22 is the second sentence: “And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” This sentence has been quoted extensively by numerous theologians as evidence that there was no death of anything before the Fall.


In order for us to more deeply understand what Nephi recorded in the shorthand of reformed Egyptian of his father Lehi’s blessing to his son, Jacob; or more specifically, what Joseph Smith, Jr., by revelation, translated this verse into in English, let’s consider the linguistic structure of that sentence. The key word to contemplating this sentence is its subject, the pleural noun “things.” To what, precisely, does that noun refer? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “things” as “an object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to.” Well, if the object to which “things” refers in this sentence cannot be specifically defined, are there any contextual clues as to what the term is referring? We may begin to find a clue in the three pronouns “they” in the same sentence. A pronoun is “used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified.” In this case, the pronoun “they” refers literally to the noun “things,” which appears as the subject of the same sentence.


By rule of English language logic, one might hypothetically replace the unspecified subject “things” of this sentence by another subject in an attempt to deduce to what the word “things” might refer. In this case, because many people have interpreted this sentence to mean that there was no death of anything – plants, animals, etc. before the Fall, lets replace the word “things” with the word “animals.” The second sentence in 2 Nephi 2:22 then reads: “And all animals which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” The sentence appears to make perfect sense.



Now, let’s take this one step further. Again, by rule of English language logic, we can also replace a pronoun by the noun to which it refers. So we can replace the word “they” in the sentence with “animals” and add “the” to help the sentence flow. Now the sentence reads, “And all animals which were created must have remained in the same state in which the animals were after the animals were created; and the animals must have remained forever, and had no end.” That sentence, although somewhat convoluted, sounds completely reasonable; the case apparently has been made that there was no death of any animals, and thus by extension, of any living thing before the Fall.


Hold on. Not so fast. Let’s examine this issue a bit further. Is 2 Nephi 2:22 a stand-alone verse, or is it taken out of context? As it turns out, 2Nephi 2:22 isn’t even the end of the sentence, which continues on into the next verse, 2 Nephi 2:23, “And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.” Now, what if we replace the four “they”s in this verse with “the animals?” The verse would now read, “And the animals would have had no children; wherefore the animals would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for the animals knew no misery; doing no good, for the animals knew no sin.” Even though animals reproduce, we don’t normally refer to their offspring as children. We also commonly consider animals to still be innocent and not capable of sin – at least I do as a biologist. With the hypothetical substitutions we have made, it appears that at least the “they”s in verse 23 are not referring to animals.



We can extend the experiment even further. Adam and Eve were told by God to eat the fruit of the Garden (c.f. Genesis 3:2). So let’s replace the “they”s in 2 Nephi 2:22-23 with “fruit” and add “the.” We then read, “And all the fruit which were created must have remained in the same state in which the fruit were after the fruit were created; and the fruit must have remained forever, and had no end. And the fruit would have had no children; wherefore the fruit would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for the fruit knew no misery; doing no good, for the fruit knew no sin.” Now the sentences appear to be ridiculous. Does fruit sin? When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Garden, how could it have possibly remained in the same state in which it was after it was created?




To me, pondering these scriptures renders the direct conclusion that “all things” in 2 Nephi 2:22 doesn’t literally mean everything – if it did, the fruit would not have shown any bite marks after being eaten by Adam and Eve. Are there any other clues concerning to what “they” refers in these scriptures? 2 Nephi 2:19 states specifically Adam and Eve and, indeed, all the ensuing verses refer back to that headline verse. So the “all things” referred to in verse 22 means Adam and Eve, or refers to them. “And Adam and Eve which were created must have remained in the same state in which Adam and Eve were after Adam and Eve were created; and Adam and Eve must have remained forever, and had no end. And Adam and Eve would have had no children; wherefore Adam and Eve would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for Adam and Eve knew no misery; doing no good, for Adam and Eve knew no sin.” Now, all the sentences make sense.




We use the same sort of language in our every-day conversation today: “If Adam and Eve hadn’t transgressed, things would not have changed for them…” Therefore, after pondering these scriptures. As we have been admonished to do repeatedly by our spiritual leaders, we see that 2 Nephi 2:22 does not say, as has been frequently proposed, that there was no death of anything before the Fall. With this scripture off the table for such discussion, there is no scripture left that states that there was no death of any living thing before the Fall.


But this discussion does not absolve me from paying out the $1000. This scripture still refers to the immortal condition of Adam and Eve. Doesn’t it? Once again, let’s consider 2 Nephi 2:22, “And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” We may conclude that all the characteristics in the second sentence, as well as those listed in verse 23, are dependent upon the conditions established in the first sentence: these conditions would have been maintained as long as Adam and Eve remained in the Garden of Eden.

Why were Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden of Eden? For punishment? No. They were removed from the Garden, “…lest he [Adam] put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever…” (Alma 42:3) This scripture indicates that Adam and Eve’s immortality, and all the characteristics subtended thereto in 2 Nephi 22 and 23, were dependent upon their having access to the Tree of Life. Why would they need access to the Tree of Life if they were already in an immortal condition? But doesn’t the phrase “…remain in the same state in which they were after they were created…” mean that they were created as immortal beings? Does it? Certainly they, and we, are immortal beings, but we are housed in mortal bodies. In Adam and Eve’s case, they were kept in a state of immortality by the fruit of the Tree of Life.


What of the function of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Didn’t eating its fruit cause the Fall? Didn’t it cause blood to enter Adam and Eve’s veins, thus corrupting them and making them immortal? These issues are addressed in a separate blog..


These and many other topics are discussed in my books, The Infinite Creation (2020) and The Infinite Fall (2021), Cedar Fort Publishing. I’m Dr. Trent Stephens, have a wonderful, exciting, faithful and intellectually stimulating life.

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