Adam and Eve: Obscuring a Plain and Precious Truth?

The LDS doctrine of God differs from that of others in a number of ways. Probably the most prominent difference is our belief that God the Father has a body of flesh and bones, presumably similar to the resurrected Jesus. This gives added meaning to our belief in Jesus's divine Sonship. Church doctrine also teaches that we are all the spirit children of God. A more obscure doctrine concerns the relationship of Adam and Eve (and by extension, all of us) to God--that Adam and Eve are physical children of God. I say "obscure" because I was unaware of it until three-fourths of the way through my mission. It is beyond the scope of this post to give a thorough historical tracing of this doctrine. Rather, I want to provide an overview of the support for this doctrine and some of my own observations. (I have touched on this topic before, here.)


I do not know exactly when this doctrine originated. Some cite this statement of Joseph Smith in support of the doctrine:
"Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way." (TPJS, p. 373)

The idea that Adam was a physical son of God is a reasonable extension of this statement, but technically this statement was about the plurality of gods, not Adam's creation. Brigham Young was probably more responsible for bringing this doctrine out into the open. He denied that Adam was literally made of dust and insisted that Adam had a physical father, which was intimately tied into Brigham's Adam-God teachings.

It appears that in the decades following Brigham Young's death, the teaching that Adam was a physical child of God was retained by stripping it away from, and discarding, Adam-God. A 1910 Church manual stated:
Man has descended from God: In fact, he is of the same race as the Gods. His descent has not been from a lower form of life, but from the Highest Form of Life; in other words, man is, in the most literal sense, a child of God. This is not only true of the spirit of man, but of his body also. There never was a time, probably, in all the eternities of the past, when there was not men or children of God. This world is only one of many worlds which have been created by the Father through His Only Begotten. (Church Manual, Course of Study for Priests, 1910, under the subject "The Creation of Man")

Joseph F. Smith made this statement in 1913:
I know that my Redeemer liveth; . . . I know that God is a being with body, parts, and passions and that His Son is in His own likeness, and that man is created in the image of God. The Son, Jesus Christ, grew and developed into manhood the same as you or I, as likewise did God, His Father grow and develop to the Supreme Being that He now is. Man was born of woman; Christ the Savior, was born of woman and God, the Father, was born of woman. Adam, our early parent, was also born of woman into this world, the same as Jesus and you and I. (Deseret Evening News, Dec. 27, 1913, Sec. III, p. 7. Also quoted in Deseret News: Church Section, Sep. 19, 1936, pp. 2 & 8)

In a 1912 letter to a mission president that dealt with a controversial speech by Brigham Young, the First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith included this statement:
But President Young went on to show that our father Adam, -- that is, our earthly father, -- the progenitor of the race of man, stands at our head, being "Michael the Archangel, the Ancient of Days," and that he was not fashioned from earth like an adobe, but "begotten by his Father in Heaven." Adam is called in the Bible "the son of God" (Luke 3:38). (James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.4, 265-267)

Further support might be drawn from the 1909 First Presidency statement, "Origin of Man" (also under Joseph F. Smith). This document affirms our spiritual relationship with God, but also contains statements that could easily be interpreted as supporting a physical relationship as well. (This document is available on the sidebar as part of the BYU Evolution Packet.)

Perhaps the most influential proponent in modern times has been Elder Bruce R. McConkie who wrote:
Father Adam, the first man, is also a son of God (Luke 3:38; Moses 6:22), a fact that does not change the great truth that Christ is the Only Begotten in the flesh, for Adam's entrance into this world was in immortality. He came here before death had its beginning, with its consequent mortal or flesh-status of existence. ("Son of God" in Mormon Doctrine)

This does not represent an exhaustive list of statements by Church leaders or publications that support this doctrine, but these are probably the most prominent.

Scriptural Support

As should be clear from the above discussion, the chief scriptural support for this concept comes from the New Testament and the Pearl of Great Price. A listing of Jesus's genealogy in Luke states, "Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God." (Luke 3:38, italics in KJV and indicate wording inserted by the translators.) In his commentary on the New Testament, Elder McConkie affirmed that these words meant what they said. This scripture was also cited by the First Presidency in the letter quoted above. Also in the context of genealogy, the Book of Moses states, "And this is the genealogy of the sons of Adam, who was the son of God, with whom God, himself, conversed" (Moses 6:22). No doubt some see the statement in the Book of Moses as the restoration of a "plain and precious" truth, yet there are facts that would seem to obscure its plainess.

The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price is taken from Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Joseph translated Genesis 1-17 (maybe even through 24) and then switched to work exclusively on the New Testament. After finishing the New Testament, the Old Testament was then completed. The JST corresponding to Luke 3:38 alters the words "Adam, who was the son of God" to read "Adam, who was formed of God, and the first man upon the earth." Since Joseph's alteration of Luke occured after he wrote Moses 6:22, it seems reasonable to question whether he intended the literal interpretation that some have made of these verses.

Chapter 6 of the Book of Moses, itself, suggests a figurative interpretation because after Adam is baptized he is told "Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen." (Moses 6:68) Here, Adam's sonship is equated with the sonship (or daughterhood) that is offered to all of us. In a number of places, the scriptures refer to the status of a "son of God" as something one becomes through the Atonement (see John 1:12, 11:30, 34:3, and 45:8, for one example). A counter-argument to this might be that while Moses 6:22 has reference to Adam's physical relationship to God the Father, the other scriptures have reference to becoming a son of Christ, as explained by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon.

Another scripture cited in support of this doctrine is Moses 6:8 which says, "Now this prophecy Adam spake, as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and a genealogy was kept of the children of God." Again, the term "children of God" is usually used in scripture to refer to God's covenant people. Some also equate the word "firstborn" with Adam's physical birth in Abraham 1:3, but other readings seem equally legitimate.

Interestingly, there is at least one scripture that contradicts this doctrine. Speaking of Christ, D&C 93:10 says, "The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him." Since God the Father is the father of our spirits, in what sense did Jesus make men if Adam is a physical son of God? Elder McConkie's solution to this scripture is to invoke the principle of divine investiture of authority--the actions and words of the Father can be attributed to the Son, and vice versa. (The Promised Messiah, p.63. Elder McConkie also gives an extended treatment to how one becomes a son of God. One is first adopted into the family of Christ, and then into the family of Elohim. See chapter 20.)

Current Treatment

Although this doctrine has appeared in talks and Church publications from time to time, it seems to be almost absent from current Church teaching. "The Family: A Proclamation on the Family," and Church manuals such as True to the Faith and Gospel Principles emphasize our spiritual relationship with God but say nothing of any physical relationship.
You are a literal child of God, spiritually begotten in the premortal life. As His child, you can be assured that you have divine, eternal potential and that He will help you in your sincere efforts to reach that potential. ("God the Father" in True to the Faith, p.74)
In fact, none of the Church Educational System (CES) Institute student manuals dealing with the Old Testament, New Testament, Pearl of Great Price, nor the more general "Doctrines of the Gospel" manual, contain commentary on Luke 3:38 or Moses 6:22 affirming the doctrine. (In most cases there is not any commentary on these scriptures at all.)

A search of the Ensign reveals only a handful of references to Luke 3:38 or Moses 6:22, none of which are contained in an article or talk by a General Authority. As far as I can determine, there have not been any General Conference statements in at least the last 25 years supporting the doctrine either. In the October 1980 conference, Elder Mark E. Petersen gave a talk in which he specifically criticized Adam-God. In the course of the talk he said:
Yet God our Eternal Father had only one son in the flesh, who was Jesus Christ. Then was Adam our God, or did God become Adam? Ridiculous! Adam was neither God nor the Only Begotten Son of God. He was a child of God in the spirit as we all are. Jesus was the firstborn in the spirit, and the only one born to God in the flesh.

This is one example of an Apostle emphasizing Adam's (and by extension, our) spiritual relationship with God, but leaving any physical relationship untouched (or in this case apparently denied.)


The concept that Adam and Eve were physically born of Heavenly Parents is a natural extrapolation of our mortal experience and fits reasonably well within the overall structure of Mormon theology. It has been believed and taught by some of the best men of this dispensation. However, although I am not aware that the doctrine has ever been specifically repudiated, the dearth of support for it from LDS leaders for almost a generation leads me to conclude that it is considered an unsettled, and perhaps speculative, matter by current leadership.

[Update: In his 1976 book, Adam: Who Is He?, Elder Mark E. Petersen refers to Luke 3:38 in three places (pages 5, 13, 59), although without much elaboration. His 1980 talk notwithstanding, it is possible that he believed the doctrine.]



Intelligent Design: A Personal View

Readers of this blog will have noticed that I speak ill of "intelligent design," and may wonder why that is. Why, as a believing Latter-day Saint, do I not support such a concept? There are number of reasons, some of which I have expressed in previous posts. Nevertheless, I thought it might be helpful if I concentrate some of them in one post, which I will link to on the sidebar and update as I feel inclined. Extensive critiques of intelligent design are available in books and on the internet.

Continue Reading at LDS Science Review



Joseph Smith and Recycled Planets

As discussed in my last post, B.H. Roberts sought to account for the age of the earth and the fossils therein by invoking a statement by Joseph Smith that "our planet was made up of the fragments of a planet which previously existed; some mighty convulsions disrupted that creation and made it desolate. Both its animal and vegetable life forms were destroyed" (Gospel and Man's Relationship to Diety). In his later work, The Truth, The Way, The Life, Roberts apparently abandoned this line of reasoning, which was part of the reason the Church refused to publish it--he was asserting that life and death had occured on this earth before Adam and Eve.

Given his importance to Latter-day Saints, we are desirious to know everything Joseph Smith had to say on any topic and slow to discount his words. The first step in investigating this topic is to determine exactly what was said. The statement comes from notes taken by William Clayton of a speech by Joseph on January 5, 1841 and is published in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook. (I am unaware of any other sources; please provide others if you know of them.) Here is the relevant passage:
The world and earth are not synonymous terms. The world is the human family. This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodelled and made into the one on which we live. The elements are eternal. That which has a begining will surely have an end. Take a ring, it is without beginning or end; cut it for a beginning place, and at the same time you have an ending place.

A key, every principle proceeding from God is eternal, and any principle which is not eternal is of the Devil. The sun [the context suggests that this should be "Son."] has no beginning or end, the rays which proceed from himself have no bounds, consequently are eternal. So it is with God. If the soul of man had a beginning it will surely have an end. In the translation, "without form and void" it should read "empty and desolate." The word "created" should be formed or organized.

It is apparent from the surrounding sentences that Joseph's main point concerns the eternal nature of element. In fact a footnote says that "the William P. McIntire account of this discourse indicates that the subject of ex nihilo creation was one of the major topics of discussion during this inaugural lyceum meeting."

So we have a single, non-canonical statement taken from notes by William Clayton, that was not the main topic of Joseph's speech. This seems to me, poor material with which to build arguments against modern science. James E. Talmage apparently thought so too:
The statement by Joseph Smith, quoted at the beginning of this article, has been amplified and applied by some of our people in a way unwarranted by the prophet's utterance. This is no unusual incident in connection with the announcement of a great truth bearing the stamp of newness. Thus, the words of the prophet have been construed as meaning that great masses of material have come together in space to form this planet, and that the broken and disturbed state of the earth's crust is an immediate result of these masses falling together in a disorderly way...

Whatever may have been the character of the planetesimal bodies, the existing structure of the earth's crust is the result of causes less remote than the original accretion of these bodies,-causes of a kind yet operating,-disintegration, removal, and re-deposition in the case of these dimentaries, volcanism and metamorphism in the case of crystalline rocks. (Improvement Era, Vol. VII. MAY, 1904. No. 7.)
I have no training in geology, but I think it is a safe bet that the progress in geology over the 100 years that have passed since Talmage's writing have only compounded the difficulties in maintaining the interpretation that he argues against.

The scientist Henry Eyring (father of Elder Henry B. Eyring) is reported to have said that "it would take a very fancy shovel to put the earth together in such an organized fashion so that the fossils and ages of rocks are arranged in such an orderly manner with the oldest on the bottom and the youngest on top."

In his Sunstone article, Noah's Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions, Duane Jeffery gives some treatment to this topic:
Some Latter-day Saints have tried to explain the fossil record with an uncanonized statement reportedly made by Joseph Smith that this earth was created from fragments of other earths. This sentiment is then extended to propose that dinosaurs, mammoths, and Australopithecines all come from other planets that have been destroyed, broken up, and recycled.

What size were the fragments? I have encountered claims all the way from continent-sized portions, to tectonic plates, to specific geological formations complete with living bristlecone pines on them, to mere atoms. Suffice it to say that no scientific evidence whatever exists to support such a model, and massive amounts of data indicate that our planet has, from its beginning, been a single dynamic but integrated entity--with continued accretions of space dust and meteorites of course.
Jeffery goes on to discuss theological questions such a scenario also raises.

Notice that none of this has anything to do with whether Joseph Smith was right or wrong. Like the quote commonly attributed to him concerning the Constitution hanging by a thread, the statement of interest here is rather vague and any interpretation of it says more about what the interpreter thinks than what Joseph thought. It gives no information as to how we could verify the statement, where we should look to do so, or what we should find. Even an interpretation of his statement regarding the eternal nature of elements is questionable, given our knowledge of nuclear physics and relativity. (Physicists could probably make an even stronger point here.)

What if Joseph really intended his audience to think that fossils came from recycled planets? Could it not be it a personal opinion, assumption, or speculation? Similar questions are currently in play regarding Joseph's views on the geography of the Book of Mormon or the identity of the Lamanites. However, I do not think we need to argue over whether it was personal opinion or not because the statement is sufficiently vague that no specific meaning can be reliably attached to it. (I wonder if the word "fossil" was part of Joseph's working vocabulary. My quick search on Gospelink 2001 did not return any usage of the word by Joseph. If anybody finds otherwise, please provide a reference in the comments.)

Finally, I think it would be useful to have a list of specific evidences that the scenario Roberts put forth would have to overcome or explain in order to be plausible. I invite readers to leave such in the comments--with references if possible. (Don't worry about the age of the post, comment anyway.)

Perhaps Joseph was absolutely right in what he said. But until we know what he meant, or we uncover meanings consistent with available evidence, it seems best to put his statement aside for now. I think it unwise to use the statement as a weapon until we know which way it cuts.

[This is a cross-post at LDS Science Review.]