Question: What attempts have been made to reconcile the Adam-God Theory with the doctrines of the Church?

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Question: What attempts have been made to reconcile the Adam-God Theory with the doctrines of the Church?

There have been a number of attempts to explain Brigham Young's comments and/or harmonize them with mainstream LDS thought

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].[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

Notes

  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56),98–99.
  2. Elden Watson, "Different Thoughts #7: Adam-God" off-site
  3. Van Hale, "What About the Adam-God Theory?," Mormon Miscellaneous response series #3 (n.p., 1982). off-site
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, letter to Eugene England, (19 February 1981): 6.
  5. Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1993),18–21. off-site FairMormon link off-siteGL direct link