Reference: Brown, Melinda Wheelwright (2020) Eve and Adam: Discovering the Beautiful Balance, Salt Lake City: Deseret Books, publisher webpage: https://deseretbook.com/p/eve-and-adam-discovering-beautiful-balance?variant_id=179985-hardcover

Melinda Wheelwright Brown has written a terrific book about our first parents, Eve and Adam. Of necessity, this is a wide-ranging book, because to understand Eve and Adam, one must understand the Plan of Happiness, and to understand the Plan, one must understand what it means to live like our Heavenly Parents. Brown is fully up to the task, and I was surprised to discover this is her first book, for it is so well organized and sourced. It is also noteworthy that this work was published by Deseret Book, suggesting that the interpretations made by Brown have been evaluated and determined not to be in contradiction with Church doctrine. That in itself is very meaningful and very gratifying.

Appropriately, Brown begins by echoing the sentiments of Joseph Fielding McConkie: “from Genesis to Revelation, no story in scripture has been the source of more theological mischief than the story of Eden” (9). Amen to that! As a student of women’s situation worldwide, I can attest that everywhere that the story of Eve and Adam is part of the religious culture, we find the story used as an excuse to subordinate and even to physically harm women. From the public sexual harassment of “eve teasing” in India and surrounding countries to Western popular justifications of why women should never be leaders, the effects have been devastating even up to the present day. Jimmy Carter expressed most eloquently how Biblical teachings about Eve and Adam have poisoned even communities of believers:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo. It also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair and equal access to education, health care, employment, and influence within their own communities.

Brown is convinced that we can never understand the story of what happened in the Garden of Eden without understanding the Plan of Happiness. She is right. I live in the Bible Belt, and can say with certainty that many Christians believe the story of the Fall is a sad and cautionary tale of humans stupidly losing Eden when they didn’t have to, with Christ’s Atonement being some type of celestial back-up plan in case Eve and Adam messed up. It recalls to mind Lancelot’s boast in the musical Camelot, “If I had been the partner of Eve, we’d be in Eden still!”, as if staying in Eden was what God had wanted for Eve and Adam. Indeed, I have tried to suggest to some of my local friends an alternative view of the Eden story along the same lines as Brown, only to be meant with either blank stares (“But it’s just a story about the fallible mortals we all are; that we are loved even though we are fallen, just like our parents Adam and Eve, and that should give us hope.”) or charges of heresy (“Of course Eve sinned in the Garden! That’s Bible 101! If you don’t believe that, then you aren’t a Christian.”).

The loss of the understanding that there is a Plan of Happiness was, therefore, not only a loss for all of us, but it was even more of a loss for women. If you don’t know the Plan, it is almost impossible not to conclude that Eve, our first mother, lost everyone’s chance for happiness. She was either an airhead—the most charitable view—or, as Tertullian, ‘the father of Latin Christianity,’ asserted to all women in the second century, the first murderess:

[A woman should] go about in humble garb, and rather to affect meanness of appearance, walking about as Eve mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve—the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium (attaching to her as the cause) of human perdition. “In pains and in anxieties does thou bear (children), woman; and toward thine husband (is) thy inclination, and he lords it over thee.” And do you not know that ye are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live, too. You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die. [1]

Thanks, Tertullian. And see what mischief that mindset produced in the Abrahamic religions over the millennia:

[W]oman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. (~1250, Thomas Aquinas (see Young, 69)).
All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman . . . since they are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft. . . . [S]he is more carnal than a man, as is clear by her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives . . . To conclude: All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable. (1486; Dominican inquisitors (see Young, 79))
“Woman covers her hair in token of Eve’s having brought sin in to the world; she tries to hide her shame; and women precede men in a funeral cortege because it was woman who brought death into the world. And the religious commands addressed to women alone are connected with the history of Eve. Adam was the heave offering of the world, and Eve defiled it. As expiation, all women are commanded to separate a heave offering from the dough. And because woman extinguished the light of man’s soul, she is bidden to kindle the Sabbath light.” (The Legends of the Jews, compiled 1909 (see Young, 6)
[After the Fall,] Eve said to Adam: “Live thou, my Lord, to thee life is granted, since thou hast committed neither the first nor the second error. But I have erred and been led astray for I have not kept the commandment of God; and now banish me from the light of thy life, and I will go to the sunsetting, and there will I be, until I die.” And she began to walk towards the western parts and to mourn and to weep bitterly and groan aloud. And she made there a booth, while she had in her womb offspring of three months old. And when the time of her bearing approached, she began to be distressed with pains, and she cried aloud to the Lord and said, “Pity me, O Lord, assist me.” And she was not heard and the mercy of God did not encircle her.” (~4th century, Pseudepigrapha, “The Book of Adam and Eve (see Young, 7).

The mischief produced especially for women by the loss of the understanding of the Plan of Happiness has been profound. Consider Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s summary of the Bible as understood in her time, which her own Woman’s Bible was meant to counteract:

The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned, and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of a dependent on man’s bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire on the vital questions of the hour, she was commanded to ask her husband at home. Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up. (Stanton, Introduction, 7).

This is so appalling, and yet so widely accepted as true among Christians! I conclude that any church asserting that it is the true church of Christ not only has the capacity, but also the absolute obligation to restore not only the understanding of the Plan of Happiness, but also to restore women to their rightful place as the full, equal partners of men in the Plan, to restore Mother Eve to a position of respect and admiration, and to restore the principle of companionate marriage as the celestial ideal in emulation of our Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father. The Restored Church of Jesus Christ must undertake this work as an integral part of the Restoration. As a member of that faith community, Brown successfully tackles two of these three tasks, and partially succeeds in the third.

A. What is the purpose of the Plan?

The purpose of the plan is for the children to become as the Parents.

This simple statement requires an immense amount of unpacking, and we can only touch the surface here. We believe that there exist beings of immense power, knowledge, and goodness far beyond the current capacity of mortal beings. We believe they are immortal, and that in some way we do not understand, they live outside of time. We also believe they experience a fullness of joy and happiness, and that a key requirement for such is that they have material bodies. We also believe these beings are sexed; they are either male or female. At the same time, we have been told they cannot be beings of immense power, knowledge, and goodness unless the male beings and the female beings are linked together in marriage. We also believe that these amazing beings do not have the power to override physical laws, but their power is based on such laws and that they work in concert with those laws. For example, while they cannot create matter or intelligence, they can organize existing matter or intelligence.

To say that much is still shrouded from us about these beings is an understatement. But we do know something critical to our own lives: these beings desire that other intelligences be brought, without compulsion, to the stage of development where they, too, might live in this way, with its fullness of joy and happiness.

Somehow, then, these advanced beings began their great and generous work to organize/guide the development of other intelligences. No doubt there were many stages of development of which we know nothing. But we do know that at some point, at least some of these organized intelligences were given the moniker of “children” of these more advanced beings. These children were like their “parents” in that they were male or female, and they had spirit bodies that looked like the material bodies of their parents. Their progress must have been sufficient for these children to understand enough about their parents to wish to be like them.

Being more specific to our own place in this work, we here on earth were, before our birth, spirit children of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. (If I have any quibble with Brown’s book, it is that there are only two mentions of Heavenly Parents in the book, and there is no mention of Heavenly Mother at all, though surely Eve looked to her as her guiding example.) As their spirit children, we saw our Parents’ material bodies, we saw the good use they made of their agency, we saw their marriage partnership and parenthood, we saw their joy—and we wanted to become as they are.

However, the transition between spirit child, on the one hand, and grown child, on the other, is momentous. Think of what, as spirit children, we lacked: we lacked a material body; we lacked full, material agency; we lacked a full understanding of agency and how to wield it; we lacked a full understanding of good and evil, light and darkness, pleasure and pain; we lacked a partner of the other sex with whom procreation might be possible; we lacked an understanding of how to build and maintain such a partnership; we lacked an understanding of how to be a parent. As Neal A. Maxwell put it, “The more we come to understand the plan of happiness, the more we come to understand how incomplete and unfinished we were in our first estate and how much we needed this difficult mortal experience” (151).

We needed a plan to get from where we were to where we wanted and were destined to be. It would have to be a Great Plan to effect such an enormous transition.

B. What is the Plan, and what does the Fall have to do with it?

Brown’s book engages directly with the Great Plan of Happiness and its requirements. Whatever the Plan was to be, it had to be capable of overcoming all that we lacked in the spirit world. Through the Plan, we had to obtain a material body at the very minimum. For some who die shortly after birth, this is apparently enough. This is a great mystery, and implies that this life and our post-mortal experience before and perhaps even after resurrection, but before the Final Judgment, might well be considered as all part of this great transition.

For most of us, however, our lives are extended so that we gain and exercise full, material agency, and come to understand the great opposites set before us. Many are also offered the opportunity to build and maintain a relationship with a person of the other sex, including the experience of becoming a parent. Again, in all of this, provision is made for those who do not have opportunity in this life to make these choices and gain that knowledge, to occur after this mortal life.

One critically important part of the Plan to give us full, embodied agency is that we would have to leave the presence of God. In order to master our agency, we would have to make mistakes in a world where evil was active, where lies could be told, where we could suffer. Since this does not and cannot describe the world where our Heavenly Parents now live, we had to leave Their Presence. Leaving Their Presence was part of God’s Plan for Their children. While no doubt They felt poignant and bittersweet feelings about this leave-taking, it was the Right Thing.

But, of course, because we were pure and innocent, our Heavenly Parents could not force us to leave Their Presence. We were entitled to live in Their Presence, for we had never sinned. The only way we could leave would be to choose, freely, to leave. We could only leave through an act of our own embodied agency.

Brown compiles several quotations that explicate this need. For example, Joseph Fielding Smith taught that agency is “the only principle upon which exaltation can come” because “it is the only principle upon which rewards can be given in righteousness” (40, n25). And Jeffrey R. Holland has stated, “Elohim certainly could not force innocent parties out of the garden and still be a just God” (78). Boyd K. Packer expressed it thusly, “There was too much at issue to introduce man into mortality by force. That would contravene the very law essential to the plan” (84).

There is no doubt, then: the departure from the presence of God had to be made freely, with as much understanding of the consequences as would be possible for a pure and innocent person to possess. God is a God of love and truth, and thus cannot keep the truth from Their children. Jeffery R. Holland has stated that Adam and Eve “had a full knowledge of the plan of salvation, which would provide a way back from their struggle with death and hell” (78).

Yet there is also no doubt that God knows the right thing for Their children’s progression is to leave Their presence. If that were not the case, Brown notes, God could simply have placed cherubim and a flaming sword around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to preclude such a possibility. No, as Brown puts it, “[A]ll Creation wait[ed] on the grand step into mortality that would finally allow for progress” (50).

To be inducted into the adult society of heaven, then, we would have to leave in order to begin our apprenticeship that would permit growth into the young adulthood that we so desired.

From what we understand, the Plan involved the giving of two commandments to the first embodied man and first embodied woman. [2] The first and great commandment was for Adam and Eve, who we believe were married by God in the Garden, to have children and form a family. The second commandment was to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, lest they die. Dallin H. Oaks has stated that the first commandment given was “first in sequence and first in importance” (86), because, Brown points out, it concerns the good of others. Brown quotes Bruce R. McConkie as asserting that the commandment not to partake of the fruit was “a lesser law—an infinitely lesser law” (86).

Indeed, you cannot fulfill the first commandment at all unless you break the second law. There is no way out of this conundrum. One of the commandments must be broken—and it was meant that it be the lesser command. Breaking this commandment could not be construed as a sin--in the words of Dallin H. Oaks, it was a transgression, for it involved no malice or desire for evil. Indeed, Joseph Smith taught that Adam and Eve “did not commit sin in eating the fruit for God had decreed that [they] should eat and fall” (85).

It is unclear how long it took Adam and Eve to reach the decision to partake of mortal life and agency. I sincerely doubt it was an instantaneous decision, for the stakes were so high. Not only would they lose the presence of their Heavenly Parents, but they would also die. Of course, we understand that death is a part of the mortal experience. Brown quotes George Q. Morris (apostle, 1954-62) as saying, “Though the Lord condemns us to death—mortal death—it is one of the greatest blessings that comes to us here because it is the doorway to immortality, and we can never attain immortality without dying” (110). Joseph Fielding Smith stated that death is “just as important in the plan of salvation as birth is” (111).

The Savior’s Atonement, then, is no back-up plan in case we made the wrong decision. No, the Atonement is Plan A. We were meant to fall, and that means we were meant to have a way back to our Heavenly Home. Bruce and Marie Hafen put it eloquently, “The Savior’s Atonement makes [mortality’s] learning process possible by protecting us while we discover through practice what love really is or why wickedness cannot produce happiness . . . Because of the Atonement, we can learn from our experience without being condemned by it” (111).

Why would we be willing pay the price a fallen world would demand of us? Francine Bennion has a special way of putting it:

We wanted life, however high the cost. We suffer because we were willing to pay the cost of being and of being here with others in their ignorance and inexperience as well as our own. We suffer because we are willing to pay the costs of living with laws of nature, which operate quite consistently whether or not we understand them or can manage them. We suffer because, like Christ in the desert, we apparently did not say we would come only if God would change all our stones to bread in time of hunger.
We were willing to know hunger. Like Christ in the desert, we did not ask God to let us try falling or being bruised only on condition that he catch us before we touch ground and save us from real hurt. We were willing to know hurt. Like Christ, we did not agree to come only if God would make everyone bow to us and respect us, or admire us and understand us. Like Christ, we came to be ourselves, addressing and creating reality. We are finding out who we are and who we can become regardless of immediate environment or circumstances . . .
We can become more abundantly alive, with ultimate fulness of truth, joy, and love—fulness impossible for souls unable to take real part in creating it, souls ignorant of good or evil, pleasure or pain, souls afraid of the unknown . . .
God does not want us to be simply obedient children playing forever under his hand, but wants us able to become more like himself. In order to do that we have to know reality. We have to be real ourselves and not dependent on externals. If we are to be like God, we cannot live forever in fear that we may meet something that will scare us or that will hurt us. We have to be able, as he is able, to meet what comes of others’ agency, and of living in a lawful universe that allows creation of a habitable planet only when it allows also the difficulties that come in natural operations of such a planet . . .
Christ’s atonement makes it possible for us to go through the meeting of reality, the falling, the hungering, the screaming, the crawling on the floor, the being disfigured and scarred for life psychologically or physically, and still survive and transcend it. If that were not true, then our whole universe would have no meaning, and we had just as well be what Lucifer suggested, simply obedient robots.

It took me a long, long time to understand what Brown concludes: God is more concerned about effective learning than having the world run efficiently or well or justly (122). Brown offers this thought from Spencer W. Kimball: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . more like our Father and Mother in heaven” (120). Though mortality will be painful, as Neal A. Maxwell says, “to deprive ourselves of those experiences, much as we momentarily would like to, would be to deprive ourselves of the outcomes over which we shouted with anticipated joy when this life’s experiences were explained to us so long ago, in the world before we came here” (125).

Brown offers a poignant insight when she speaks of how wonderous it is to feel emotions bodily: “a racing heartbeat, nervous stomach, broad smile, or tear-stained cheeks—making feelings, hopes, and fears tangible” (131). No wonder we yearned to experience these things! Indeed, invoking thoughts offered by Jeffrey R. Holland, she notes that Christ has chosen to keep the wounds in his hands and feet as signs that painful things happen, but happiness can be ours nonetheless (133).

Brown also reflects on the tight relationship between agency and how we feel towards a God that permits His children’s suffering in the flesh, again invoking Jeffrey R. Holland’s commentary: “Adam and Eve—and we—knowingly and lovingly absolved God of the responsibility for the ‘thorns and thistles’ of a fallen world [because it] was personally chosen by us, not capriciously imposed by him.”

This is a good Plan. As Brown puts it, “Eve and Adam had been equipped with three amazing gifts, as are we, to help acquire the attributes of godliness as they progressed toward their heavenly home: they had bodies, they had each other, and they had a Savior” (126). Amen to that.

C. What of Eve and her daughters?

So the tale of our first parents is not a tale of moral failure, but of great moral courage. As Jeffrey R. Holland has put it, “initiating mortality required a unique transgression of a commandment in order to fully respect agency . . . our First Parents’ individual reasons for choosing to transgress were noble ones . . . they did it ‘that men might be’ [and] we each made a similarly brave choice” (38). Our first parents were “pure and noble” (James E. Talmadge, 26n5), and in a sense, they were complying with, not breaking, the higher law: “What is meant by the partaking of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is that our first parents complied with whatever laws were involved so that their bodies would change from their state of paradisiacal immortality to a state of natural mortality” (Bruce R. McConkie, 27n20).

And, in a sense, before each one of us is placed the same choice as Adam and Eve. We cannot be born into mortality against our will. For God to force a soul to be born is unthinkable. That means, as with Francine Bennion, “We believe the decision to be born was our own . . . [w]e chose as Eve chose, and we defended that choice in whatever kind of war can take place among spirits. Our birth is evidence of courage and faith, not helplessness, shame, and disobedience” (38). We are as brave as our first parents.

So now we come to the crux of it. If we chose this Plan, if we yearned for the experiences and progress of mortality, if God approved of our desire to progress to become like Them, if the first commandment in the Garden of Eden was the most important commandment and it could not be obeyed unless transgressing the second, then what of Eve’s choice?

Let’s be plain—Eve chose wonderfully well! What a courageous and faithful choice Eve made! How grateful we should be to our first mother! And also to our first father, Adam, for hearkening unto Eve! As Brown says of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “This is no terrible tree, just as mortality is no terrible punishment” (25). As I have also argued elsewhere, Brown asserts of Eve, “Hers is the solemn responsibility to cross the threshold into mortality, with Adam at her side, to usher in life and progress to all Creation” (64). Indeed, we understand the name “Eve” is an honorific title (64), and God made sure that Adam understood her name and title correctly.

Brown explores all the many misconceptions and mistranslations in the Genesis account, and lays them to rest. Eve is a helper equal to Adam; she was never meant to be his subordinate, but rather his equal partner. God did not curse Eve, but rather promises her a “vast posterity, even while mentally preparing her for the unavoidable discomforts of the birthing experience” (106). And Adam was to “rule with” Eve, not rule over Eve. As Brown comments, “Eve’s verse of instruction is no punishment; rather, it is a description of what to expect in mortality, as well as a God-given endowment of purpose, posterity, and potential” (109).

Fortunately, the Book of Moses enables us to see the equal partnership between Adam and Eve much more clearly than we can within the brief Genesis account. This equal, committed partnership of our first parents, patterned after the relationship between Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, was to be our own template in creating our families. This is as important an element in our progress as having a body and a Savior—we also need marriage to progress.

Some have wondered at the role of Lucifer in these events. Brown adds to that discussion by suggesting Eve was deceived [3] only about the intent of Satan, not about the Plan. She adds, “I believe Eve needed to feel at least slightly unsure of what she was supposed to do because certainty would have diminished her agency” (88). Perhaps, though certainly the enormity of the transition to the fallen world would have provided ample pause and uncertainty as well.

If Eve is rightfully honored for opening the doorway to all mankind, so her daughters are to be honored for being willing to do the same. Instead of somehow being tainted by the sins of the first woman, rather Eve’s daughters are anointed to the same honorific status as she. We women are indeed each an Eve, as Tertullian said, but now we understand what a wonderful, wonderful thing that is and how wrong Tertullian was in his views.


Brown offers her readers a tremendously useful corrective to the commonly accepted interpretation of the Garden of Eden story. It is a well-written and insightful volume, and would make a terrific Mother’s Day gift.

More importantly, however, is the importance of the doctrinal teachings about Mother Eve and her daughters that the Restored Church of Jesus Christ offers to the world. Starting within its own homes and within its own chapels, this healing correction must be supplied and applied, and the leaders of our Church should lead out in this effort. Any abuse or subordination of women must be called out as wrong. Any interpretation of scripture that suggests women are inferiors or are to submit to their husbands rather than counsel with their husbands must be rejected. Any cultural practices that undermine women, such as eve-teasing, brideprice/dowry, polygyny, female genital cutting [4], and the like, must be explicitly condemned. As previously mentioned, I view this as an absolute obligation to be undertaken by the Church as an integral part of the Restoration.

But we need more than this. In addition to correcting what has become crooked, the Restored Church of Jesus Christ must offer a vision of what the equal partnership of men and women looks like—and then its membership from highest to lowest should move heaven and earth to live it. In a world where marriage, heterosexuality, and childbearing have become anachronistic at best, this is a matter of great urgency. That so many even within the Church question the desirability and necessity of these things should be a sign that the gift of Eve, and by extension that of Heavenly Mother, have been neglected within Church doctrine. We must boldly and repeatedly proclaim our gratitude to both Heavenly Mother and Mother Eve. They must no longer be invisible or hidden in footnotes. The day of those who have for too long been “last” to finally be understood, acknowledged, and celebrated has now arrived, and we must be equal to the task for the sake of all God’s children in these darkening times.

I hope Melinda Wheelwright Brown will write a second book suggesting how we may undertake that tremendously important component of the Restoration; I would look forward to reading it.


[1] Serinity Young (ed.), An Anthology of Sacred Texts by and about Women, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1995, p.46. [Back to manuscript].

[2] Interestingly, Brown notes on p. 71, n15 that in 1913 President Joseph F. Smith said Adam and Eve were “born of woman into this world, the same as Jesus and you and I.” [Back to manuscript].

[3] She notes, “In other places in the Bible, nasha’ is not translated as beguiled, but as deceived” (95n31). [Back to manuscript].

[4] Interestingly, for the very first time, the new Church Handbook of 2020 explicitly condemns female genital cutting. This is progress. [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2020) "Book Review: Eve and Adam: Discovering the Beautiful Balance, by Melinda Wheelwright Brown," SquareTwo, Vol. 13 No. 1 (Spring 2020), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerBeautifulBalanceReview.html, accessed <give access date>.

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