Wandering off and being lost vs. forbidden paths
In his dream, Lehi said that he saw
"numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost." (1 Ne. 8:21-23)Lehi goes on to describe another group of people who
"came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree. And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed. And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost." (v. 24-28)The first group never got to the tree. They "just" lost their way and wandered off. Nephi relates his father's words rather matter-of-factly. But when he talks about those who actually reached the tree and ate of the fruit, he states that they "fell away into forbidden paths". Both groups were lost, but I dare to say that those who fell away into forbidden paths after having had a bite of the fruit were worse off in the eternal scheme of things.
Partaking vs. tasting
Words matter, and they have different meanings. If it were not so, we wouldn't have so many different words. The words "partaking" and "tasting" denote two different ways to ingest fruit.
Lehi partook of the fruit, as did others. The common theme for those who did is that they didn't get lost. But hey, didn't we just read that...? Well, yes, we did. But note that Nephi says that "after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost." I believe this is significant.
Partaking denotes a thorough consuming, a feasting, whereas tasting is halfhearted and uncommitted. Think about the implication of the difference between fully consuming and feasting on the fruit of the tree of life and merely tasting it. One who has tasted the fruit knows what they are walking away from when they go lost (that is, they will walk in paths that God has forbidden), but those who didn't even taste the fruit, aren't held to the same standard (D&C 82:3).
What does partaking of the fruit symbolize?
Nephi later told his older brothers that, "the [fruit of tree of life] is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (1 Ne. 15:36) Later on, through Joseph Smith, we are taught that "eternal life […] is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7) Fully partaking of the fruit could be seen as a symbol of having received eternal life. This begs the question–how many of the members of the Church are actually partaking of the fruit? I know what I believe, but what about you?
Knowing vs. denying Jesus
Nephi taught the following:
"After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me." (2 Ne. 31:14)What could, from God's perspective, be more forbidden than to leave him after we've gotten to know him? I can't think of anything. That's why I believe that the forbidden path is leaving and denying Jesus after we've gotten to know him.
We partake of the fruit when we:
- repent of our sins,
- witness unto the Father that we are wiling to keep the commandments of Jesus by being baptized by water,
- have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and
- can speak with the tongue of angels.
When we experience this, we "shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise." (Moroni 7:41) In this position, we will get to know the Son, and it's definitely forbidden to leave him once there.