Question: What is the history of Brigham Young's Adam-God Theory and why was it rejected by the Church?

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Question: What is the history of Brigham Young's Adam-God Theory and why was it rejected by the Church?

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]

{{endnotes sources}]

  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