Question: Is the concept of no death before the fall on the ''entire earth'' Church doctrine?

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Question: Is the concept of no death before the fall on the entire earth Church doctrine?

Elder Jeffery R. Holland notes that there was no human death on the earth prior to the Fall of Adam

Elder Jeffery R. Holland, at the April 2015 General Conference, stated,

[T]here was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it.

I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before that, but I do know these two were created under the divine hand of God, that for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family, and that through a sequence of choices they transgressed a commandment of God which required that they leave their garden setting but which allowed them to have children before facing physical death. [1]

The Church teaches that there was no death prior to the fall of Adam, and that after the Fall that Adam and Eve became mortal and subject to death

Some LDS leaders have interpreted LDS scripture to teach that there was no death prior to the Fall of Adam for all plants and animals. Others have seen pre-Fall death of plants and/or animals as compatible with LDS doctrine, with the doctrine of "no death" applying only to Adam and Eve within the garden, and not the wider physical creation.

There is no official doctrine on the matter, and members in good standing have held both positions.

The important point to remember is that the question of the scope of "death before the Fall" does not affect our salvation, and is simply an academic exercise. That being said, some LDS authors have not seen the scriptures cited by the Bible Dictionary as referring to all periods of time and all situations prior to the Fall, but merely describe the effect of the Fall upon humanity when Adam and Eve were put out of the Garden. Note that the current Gospel Doctrine manual does not explicitly mention the "entire earth," but simply states that there was "no death" prior to the Fall. The Bible Dictionary stance is not the only one which leaders of the Church have advanced.

Bible Dictionary editor Elder McConkie pointed out—the Bible Dictionary is neither infallible, nor an arbiter of Church doctrine:

[As for the] "Joseph Smith Translation items, the chapter headings, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, footnotes, the Gazeteer, and the maps. None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them. Cross-references, for instance, do not establish and never were intended to prove that parallel passages so much as pertain to the same subject. They are aids and helps only." [2]

The Bible Dictionary itself also cautions against assuming that its contents reflect "an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth." [3]

One must also not overlook an earlier debate on the issue of "pre-Adamites" between Elder Brigham H. Roberts of the Seventy and then-Elder Joseph Fielding Smith was brought to an end at the instruction of the First Presidency. Part of the debate centered around whether there was death prior to the Fall. At the request of the First Presidency, Elder James E. Talmage gave a talk in the tabernacle, entitled "The Earth and Man." In it, he spoke of fossilized animals and plants and said:

These lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation.

With the approval of the First Presidency, this address was published in the Deseret News, as a Church pamphlet, and later in The Instructor. [4] Clearly, then, a universal lack of death prior to the fall is not a necessary belief within the Church, since leaders and members have held both positions.

Elder Talmage's position was made quite clear in a letter he wrote in response to a question about these matters:

I cannot agree with your conception that there was no death of plants and animals anywhere upon this earth prior to the transgression of Adam, unless we assume that the history of Adam and Eve dates back many hundreds of thousands of years. The trouble with some theologians—even including many of our own good people—is that they undertake to fix the date of Adam's transgression as being approximately 4000 years before Christ and therefore about 5932 years ago. If Adam was placed upon the earth only that comparatively short time ago the rocks clearly demonstrated that life and death have been in existence and operative in this earth for ages prior to that time. [5]

The First Presidency eventually instructed the general authorities:

Both parties [i.e., Elders Smith and Roberts] make the scripture and the statements of men who have been prominent in the affairs of the Church the basis of their contention; neither has produced definite proof in support of his views…

Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored Gospel to the people of the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.

We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary are certain that it would lead to confusion, division and misunderstanding if carried further. Upon one thing we should all be able to agree namely, that presidents Joseph F. Smith, John Winder and Anthon Lund were right when they said: "Adam is the primal parent of our race. [6]

Reflecting on this episode, Elder Talmage wrote in his diary:

...Involved in this question is that of the beginning of life upon the earth, and as to whether there was death either of animal or plant before the fall of Adam, on which proposition Elder Smith was very pronounced in denial and Elder Roberts equally forceful in the affirmative. As to whether Preadamite races existed upon the earth there has been much discussion among some of our people of late. The decision reached by the First Presidency, and announced to this morning's assembly, was in answer to a specific question that obviously the doctrine of the existence of races of human beings upon the earth prior to the fall of Adam was not a doctrine of the Church; and, further, that the conception embodied in the belief of many to the effect that there were no such Preadamite races, and that there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam's fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church. I think the decision of the First Presidency is a wise one in the premises. This is one of the many things upon which we cannot preach with assurance and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good. [7]

Notes

  1. Jeffery R. Holland, "Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet," April 2015 General Conference.
  2. Bruce R. McConkie, cited in Mark McConkie (editor), Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1989), 289–290 (emphasis added). ISBN 0884946444. ISBN 978-0884946441.
  3. LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "Introduction,", 599. off-site
  4. James E. Talmage, "The Earth and Man," Address in the Tabernacle, (9 August 1931); originally published in the Deseret News, 21 Nov 1931; subsequently published as a pamphlet by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1931; later published in The Instructor, 100:12 (December 1965) :474–477; continued in The Instructor 101:1 (January 1966): 9–15. FAIRWiki link
  5. Talmage to Heber Timothy, 28 Jan. 1932, Talmage Papers; cited in Richard Sherlock, "A Turbulent Spectrum: Mormon Responses to the Darwinist Legacy," Journal of Mormon History 4:? (1975): 45–69.
  6. First Presidency, Memorandum to General Authorities, April 1931, 6–7.
  7. James Edward Talmage, Personal Journal (7 April 1931) 29:42, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (emphasis added).