Question: Can Latter-day Saints have a non-literal view of the creation story, or have a somewhat more mythic view of the first five books of Moses given the Church's teaching of a historical Adam?

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Question: Can Latter-day Saints have a non-literal view of the creation story, or have a somewhat more mythic view of the first five books of Moses given the Church's teaching of a historical Adam?

This is an issue that has been a challenge for the Church since the beginning

This is an issue that has been a challenge for the Church since the beginning. It is also an issue that isn't unique to Mormonism (so we can find lots of interesting insights elsewhere). The problems that we have are caused by several distinct issues. So let's outline the three main issues, since every attempt to answer these questions (every explanation of how to understand Genesis) works to deal with these issues in different ways.

1: The philosophy of history

This one is a really important. This idea means that when we approach the "historical Adam" we have to be aware that there are many different ways to understand the material as history. And that our notion of history is very different today from the sense that history had when the Old Testament was written. Even more to the point, what we try to achieve with history, and in fact our sense of "telling the truth" is very different from what the author of Genesis was trying to achieve and what that author believed constituted "telling the truth". This isn't bad except when we try to assert that we should understand the history of the Old Testament in exactly the same way that we understand history now. Or that the notion of truth as we understand it corresponds exactly to the meaning of truth as they understood it. When we do confuse our own understanding for the intentions of the authors of that history, we inevitably also make mistakes in understanding what should be seen as literal or non-literal in a text.

2: The issue of the first man

We all recognize that there has to be a beginning point. We call the first man and woman Adam and Eve. But, there is necessarily something that is entirely different in their beginning than in ours (by definition as the 'first'). In some ways, this creates for a flexible understanding. We want to understand how they are like us, and at the same time try to understand how they are different from us. This goes back to that issue of what the text is trying to tell us. We have a great many interpretations of the Genesis story of Adam and Eve which treat different parts of the story as metaphorical and other parts as literal - and in many cases, two interpretations can choose completely opposite understandings of any specific detail in this way and come up with two very different outcomes. When we come to this as individuals, often we have to make decisions as to how we understand certain elements (more on this a little later), but you can see that inevitably, very, very few people have a completely literal understanding of the Genesis account of Adam, just as very, very few have an entirely metaphorical understanding of the Genesis account of Adam. Most of us sit comfortably in between. Part of the LDS view of Adam comes from this historical figure as a historical figure. But part of the LDS view comes from the ways in which Adam is just like ourselves - and often this comparison, intended by the text, is presented as metaphor.

3: There is always a host of doctrinal concerns

These inevitably occur because of the previous two issues. As a text, Genesis has to be read and interpreted in some way - and there are lots of ways it can be. Some of those interpretations conflict with knowledge obtained from other sources - like scientific knowledge. One of the great debates of the past (and to some extent even the present) is how we place authority in these sources of information (a process we call epistemology). In one view, we try to understand the time period of Genesis literally, and the age of the earth then as being finite (a mere few thousand years) leading to a position known as Young Earth Creationism. This is a popular view among many Christians (and within the Church). On the other hand there are those who recognize that the earth seems to be very old, complete with a long fossil record of life. If this information is weighted accordingly, then the age of the earth is very great, and likewise, the Genesis account needs to be interpreted as being less literal in the sense that it does not intend to provide the age of the earth in a strictly literal sense. These doctrinal issues are often much larger debates that engage the text of Genesis to their own ends - issues like evolution, the age of the earth, the fall of man, the question of death before the fall, and so on.

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