Mormonism and doctrine/Repudiated concepts/Adam-God theory

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Repudiated concepts: Adam-God theory

We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the Scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.

—Spencer W. Kimball, "Our Own Liahona," Ensign (November 1976), 77. off-site
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Questions


Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man, was God the Father. Since this teaching runs counter to the story told in Genesis and commonly accepted by Christians, critics accuse Brigham of being a false prophet. Also, because modern Latter-day Saints do not believe Brigham's "Adam-God" teachings, critics accuse Mormons of either changing their teachings or rejecting teachings of prophets they find uncomfortable or unsupportable.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Answer


Brigham Young appears to have believed and taught Adam-God, but he never developed the teaching into something that could be reconciled with LDS scripture and presented as official doctrine. Therefore, we simply don't know what Brigham Young meant, and modern leaders have warned us about accepting traditional explanations of Adam-God. Since the Church has rejected it, we won't be able to answer the question until the Lord sees fit to reveal more about it.

Regardless of which approach the reader prefers to accept, the Church's official position on Adam-God is clear: as popularly understood, Adam-God (i.e., "Adam, the first man, was identical with Elohim/God the Father") is not the doctrine of the Church. If there are any particles of truth to anything surrounding the Adam-God doctrine, one would expect those things to harmonize with what has already been revealed. Only further revelation from the Lord's anointed would be able to clear up many points surrounding that doctrine.

BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson wrote:

Yet another way in which anti-Mormon critics often misrepresent LDS doctrine is in the presentation of anomalies as though they were the doctrine of the Church. Anomalies occur in every field of human endeavor, even in science. An anomaly is something unexpected that cannot be explained by the existing laws or theories, but which does not constitute evidence for changing the laws and theories. An anomaly is a glitch.... A classic example of an anomaly in the LDS tradition is the so-called "Adam-God theory." During the latter half of the nineteenth century Brigham Young made some remarks about the relationship between Adam and God that the Latter-day Saints have never been able to understand. The reported statements conflict with LDS teachings before and after Brigham Young, as well as with statements of President Young himself during the same period of time. So how do Latter-day Saints deal with the phenomenon? We don't; we simply set it aside. It is an anomaly. On occasion my colleagues and I at Brigham Young University have tried to figure out what Brigham Young might have actually said and what it might have meant, but the attempts have always failed. The reported statements simply do not compute—we cannot make sense out of them. This is not a matter of believing it or disbelieving it; we simply don't know what "it" is. If Brigham Young were here we could ask him what he actually said and what he meant by it, but he is not here.... For the Latter-day Saints, however, the point is moot, since whatever Brigham Young said, true or false, was never presented to the Church for a sustaining vote. It was not then and is not now a doctrine of the Church, and...the Church has merely set the phenomenon aside as an anomaly.

Topics


Adam-God theory

Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man, was God the Father. Since this teaching runs counter to the story told in Genesis and commonly accepted by Christians, critics accuse Brigham of being a false prophet. Also, because modern Latter-day Saints do not believe Brigham's "Adam-God" teachings, critics accuse Mormons of either changing their teachings or rejecting teachings of prophets they find uncomfortable or unsupportable. (Click here for full article)

  • Ancient of Days
    Brief Summary: If the Adam-God doctrine isn't true, how come DC 27:11 calls Adam the Ancient of Days which is clearly a title for God in Dan. 7: (Click here for full article)
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FairMormon Perspectives offers answers to these questions

Matthew B. Brown"Brigham Young’s Teachings on Adam," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009)


On the 9th of April 1852 President Brigham Young stepped up to the pulpit in the old tabernacle on Temple Square and informed a group of Elders, who had gathered there for General Conference, that he was going to straighten them out on an issue which they had been debating about. The topic of disagreement centered upon who was the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh—Elohim or the Holy Ghost. President Young surprised the people who were in attendance by announcing that it was neither one of them.
(Click here for full article)


Detailed Analysis

Origins

Brigham Young gave over 1,500 sermons that were recorded by transcribers. Many of these were published in the Journal of Discourses, the Deseret Evening News, and other Church publications. In about 20 of these he brought up the subject of God the Father's relationship to Adam. Many of his comments fit easily into current LDS doctrine, while some have engendered controversy.

He made the best known, and probably earliest, controversial statement in a sermon given on 9 April 1852:

Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later. They came here, organized the raw material, and arranged in their order the herbs of the field, the trees, the apple, the peach, the plum, the pear, and every other fruit that is desirable and good for man; the seed was brought from another sphere, and planted in this earth. The thistle, the thorn, the brier, and the obnoxious weed did not appear until after the earth was cursed. When Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, their bodies became mortal from its effects, and therefore their offspring were mortal.[1]

Based on these remarks, and others he made in public and in private, it is apparent that Brigham Young believed that:

  • Adam was the father of the spirits of mankind, as well as being the first parent of our physical bodies.
  • Adam and Eve came to this earth as resurrected, exalted personages.
  • Adam and Eve fell and became mortal in order to create physical bodies for their spirit children.
  • Adam was the spiritual and physical father of Jesus Christ.[2]

Brigham claimed to have received these beliefs by revelation, and, on at least three occasions, claimed that he learned it from Joseph Smith.[3] While this doctrine was never canonized, Brigham expected other contemporary Church leaders to accept it, or at least not preach against it. (Orson Pratt did not believe it, and he and Brigham had a number of heated conversations on the subject.[4])

The historical record indicates that some contemporary Latter-day Saints took Brigham's teachings at face value and attempted to incorporate the doctrine into mainstream LDS teachings. This response was far from universal, however, and lost steam after the turn of the 20th century.

Adam-God was eventually incorporated into the teaching of some 20th century polygamous break-off sects, who consider it a doctrine whose absence in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is proof that the Church is in apostasy.

Rejection of Adam-God by the LDS Church

As far as can be determined, none of Brigham Young's successors in the presidency of the Church continued this teaching in public, and by the presidency of Joseph F. Smith (1901–18) there were active moves to censure small groups that taught Adam-God.

One of the earliest statements from the Church rejecting Adam-God teachings was made by Charles W. Penrose in 1902:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never formulated or adopted any theory concerning the subject treated upon by President Young as to Adam.[5]

In October 1976 general conference, Spencer W. Kimball declared the Church's official position on Adam-God:

We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the Scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.[6]

Apologetic approaches

There have been a number of attempts to explain Brigham Young's comments and/or harmonize them with mainstream LDS thought. Following are some of the better-known approaches.

Approach #1: Adam as the patriarch of the human family

The most well-known is the approach taken by Charles W. Penrose (and followed by John A. Widtsoe and Joseph Fielding Smith) that Brigham was speaking of Adam in the context of him being the presiding priesthood holder over all the human family, and therefore "our Father and our God", similar to how Moses was called a god to Aaron and Pharaoh (Exodus 4:16; 7:1). Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

President Brigham Young was thoroughly acquainted with the doctrine of the Church. He studied the Doctrine and Covenants and many times quoted from it the particular passages concerning the relationship of Adam to Jesus Christ. He knew perfectly that Adam was subordinate and obedient to Jesus Christ. He knew perfectly that Adam had been placed at the head of the human family by commandment of the Father, and this doctrine he taught during the many years of his ministry. When he said Adam was the only god with whom we have to do, he evidently had in mind this passage given by revelation through Joseph Smith: [quotes D&C 78:15–16].[7]

It is difficult to reconcile President Smith's explanation with the multitude of Brigham's Adam-God sermons and private comments, and how the Saints in Brigham's day understood them. This explanation is perhaps the most widely-known, but it suffers because it ignores many of Brigham's statements on Adam-God where he was quite clear in his intent.

Approach #2: Scribal error

A related approach is that scribal limitations and transmission errors resulted in unclear transcripts that do not convey Brigham Young's original meaning. Most feel, however, that this possibility cannot fully account for all the statements he made on this subject.

Approach #3: "Adam Sr." and "Adam Jr."

LDS researcher Elden Watson, editor of the multi-volume Brigham Young Addresses, believes that Brigham used the term "Adam" as a name-title for both God the Father ("Adam Sr.") and the man Adam ("Adam Jr."), comparable to the way "Elias" is used as a title meaning "forerunner" and applied to various people. According to Watson, the reason modern readers miss this is our failure to take into account all of Brigham's sermons in context.[8] Watson has the advantage of being more familiar with Brigham Young's sermons than perhaps any other living researcher, and he does clearly grasp that Brigham did not equate Elohim/Jehovah/Michael with God the Father/Jesus Christ/Adam as modern Latter-day Saints do. However, Watson's theory has not been widely accepted for several reasons: (a) it is not widely known, (b) it assumes that those in Brigham Young's audience understood that he was talking about two Adams, and (c) Brigham never directly explained his Adam-God teachings in the way Watson interprets them.

Another approach similar to Watson's would be to suggest that perhaps Brigham Young was speaking of at least two Adams, but that he was intentionally veiling what he was talking about, and left it up to individuals to get revelation on the true interpretation. This would be similar to the Lord's use of parables. Some basis for this assertion may rest in the fact that Brigham Young stated that Moses was using "dark sayings" with regard to his story of the rib in Eve's creation, and the fact that President Young dismissed those stories of Adam's and Eve's creations as childish fairy tales. He himself may have practiced the same types of "dark sayings" following a tradition that he believed was started by Moses, by veiling what he was talking about in confusing language. Since he himself was an American Moses, so to speak, he may have felt that he could engage in the same type of practice, and was cluing people in on it by bringing up Moses' use of such things.

Another author suggests a similar theory, that Adam is the generic name that can be used to refer to each male of the species. And that the name Adam symbolically refers to a continuum of progress in degrees along man's journey from pre-existence all the way to Godhood. But this rejects the multiple mortality theories in some interpretations of Adam-God, where Adam falls from an exaltation into another mortality. Each male person that is eventually exalted is both an "Adam Jr." and an "Adam Sr." along different parts of his path of progression. Once he is exalted, he takes on the status of an "Adam Sr." Therefore, Michael becomes a symbol of all men along the path to exaltation, and Elohim becomes a symbol of all men who have reached exaltation. So, in this view, while Adam-God to some degree is about Michael the Archangel and his Father, it is also about each man's journey and eternal progression.

Approach #4: Brigham was wrong

Another approach, championed by LDS researcher Van Hale, is that Brigham Young believed and taught Adam-God, but that he was mistaken.[9] Prophets are human beings and like anyone may misunderstand complex doctrinal subjects, especially ones on which there has been little or no revelation. Elder Bruce R. McConkie also took this position in a letter he wrote in 1981:

Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the [polygamous] cultists ascribe to him. This, however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel. But, be it known, Brigham Young also taught accurately and correctly, the status and position of Adam in the eternal scheme of things. What I am saying is that Brigham Young, contradicted Brigham Young, and the issue becomes one of which Brigham Young we will believe. The answer is we will believe the expressions that accord with the teachings in the Standard Works.[10]

Approach #5: We don't know the reason

A final explanation is that Brigham Young believed and taught Adam-God, and what he taught was possibly true, but he didn't see fit to explain all he knew or didn't live long enough to develop the teaching into something that could be reconciled with LDS scripture and presented as official doctrine. In this view, we simply don't know what Brigham Young meant, and modern leaders have warned us about accepting traditional explanations of Adam-God, so we should just leave that belief "on the shelf" until the Lord sees fit to reveal more about it. BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson wrote:

Yet another way in which anti-Mormon critics often misrepresent LDS doctrine is in the presentation of anomalies as though they were the doctrine of the Church. Anomalies occur in every field of human endeavor, even in science. An anomaly is something unexpected that cannot be explained by the existing laws or theories, but which does not constitute evidence for changing the laws and theories. An anomaly is a glitch.... A classic example of an anomaly in the LDS tradition is the so-called "Adam-God theory." During the latter half of the nineteenth century Brigham Young made some remarks about the relationship between Adam and God that the Latter-day Saints have never been able to understand. The reported statements conflict with LDS teachings before and after Brigham Young, as well as with statements of President Young himself during the same period of time. So how do Latter-day Saints deal with the phenomenon? We don't; we simply set it aside. It is an anomaly. On occasion my colleagues and I at Brigham Young University have tried to figure out what Brigham Young might have actually said and what it might have meant, but the attempts have always failed. The reported statements simply do not compute—we cannot make sense out of them. This is not a matter of believing it or disbelieving it; we simply don't know what "it" is. If Brigham Young were here we could ask him what he actually said and what he meant by it, but he is not here.... For the Latter-day Saints, however, the point is moot, since whatever Brigham Young said, true or false, was never presented to the Church for a sustaining vote. It was not then and is not now a doctrine of the Church, and...the Church has merely set the phenomenon aside as an anomaly.[11]

Notes


  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:50-51. (Emphasis in the original.)
  2. David John Buerger, "The Adam-God Doctrine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 1 (Spring 1982), 45. off-site
  3. See, for example, Deseret News, 18 June 1873, p. 308 off-site: "How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me—namely that Adam is our Father and God—I do not know, I do not inquire, I care nothing about it. Our Father Adam helped to make this earth, it was created expressly for him, and after it was made he and his companions came here. He brought one of his wives with him, and she was called Eve, because she was the first woman upon the earth. Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or who ever will come upon the earth. I have been found fault with by the ministers of religion because I have said that they were ignorant. But I could not find any man on the earth who could tell me this, although it is one of the simplest things in the world, until I met and talked with Joseph Smith."
  4. Gary James Bergera, "The Orson Pratt-Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 no. 2 (Summer 1980), 7–49. off-site
  5. Charles W. Penrose, "Our Father Adam," Improvement Era (September 1902), 873. reprinted in Charles W. Penrose, "Our Father Adam," Millennial Star 64 no. 50 (11 December 1902), 785–790. (this paragraph from p. 789).
  6. Spencer W. Kimball, "Our Own Liahona," Ensign (November 1976), 77. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56),98–99.
  8. Elden Watson, "Different Thoughts #7: Adam-God" off-site
  9. Van Hale, "What About the Adam-God Theory?," Mormon Miscellaneous response series #3 (n.p., 1982). off-site
  10. Bruce R. McConkie, letter to Eugene England, (19 February 1981): 6.
  11. Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1993),18–21. off-site FairMormon link off-siteGL direct link



Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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