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. Over 500 of these can be read online. Many of these were published in the Journal of Discourses, the Deseret Evening News, and other Church publications. In 20 of these sermons he brought up the subject of God the Father's relationship to Adam.[1] He also brought up the subject in private meetings. Nine accounts record him bringing up issues related to Adam-God to different individuals.[2] 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.[3]

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

  • Adam lived on another planet, died, and was resurrected. Adam united with Eve at some point.
  • 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.[4]

Brigham claimed to have received these beliefs by revelation. Though it is not understood entirely what Brigham meant by "revelation." Matthew Brown in his 2009 FairMormon Conference presentation presented evidence that complicates our picture of what Brigham meant:

We now turn to a pertinent apologetic issue. Critics enjoy pointing out that on several occasions Brigham Young claimed that his teachings on Adam came to him through revelation. Since this section of this paper is dealing with ‘perspectives’ it is only proper that President Young be allowed to provide an idea of what he thought about, and how he experienced, the revelatory process. First of all, the question will be posed: ‘How did Brother Brigham compare himself, as a revelator, with his predecessor?’ There are two quotations that are of interest here. The second President of the LDS Church said, “I wish to ask every member of this whole community if they ever heard [me] profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator as Joseph Smith was. [I] professed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.”[5] In the second quote Brigham Young says that he “did not receive [revelations] through the Urim and Thummim as Joseph [Smith] did.”[6] Hence, it can be ascertained that, at least in one sense, Brigham Young did not receive communications from heaven in the same direct manner that Joseph Smith did. And it is relevant to mention here that Brigham Young did, in fact, own a seerstone that was once utilized by Joseph Smith.

Next, there is this lengthy quote from President Young which is well worth considering in its entirety. He rhetorically asked himself,

Well, Brother Brigham, . . . . have you had revelations?” Yes, I have them all the time. I live constantly by the principle of revelation. . . . I have never received one particle of intelligence [except] by revelation, no matter whether [my] father or mother revealed it, or my sister, or [my] neighbor. No person receives knowledge [except] upon the principle of revelation, that is, by having something revealed to them. “Do you [Brother Brigham] have the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ?” I will leave that for others to judge. If the Lord requires anything of this people, and speaks through me, I will tell them of it; but if He does not, still we all live by the principle of revelation. Who reveals? Everybody around us; we learn [from] each other. I have something which you have not, and you have something which I have not. I reveal what I have to you, and you reveal what you have to me. I believe that we are revelators to each other.[7]

Interestingly, there is some evidence that the ‘revelation’ claims for Adam–God ideology did not originate with Brigham Young, but rather with his close friend and associate Heber C. Kimball. There is one well-documented instance where Brother Kimball claimed that some of the concepts connected with the Adam–God Theory were revealed to him.[8] There are also two other statements that need to be taken into careful consideration. The first comes from Thomas Stenhouse’s book. It reads: “Brother Heber had considerable pride in relating to his intimate friends that he was the source of Brigham’s revelation on the ‘Adam deity.’”[9]

Since Mr. Stenhouse was an apostate from Mormonism at the time he wrote this, some people might tend to discount his assertion. But the second statement seems to lend credence to it. This one comes from Elder Orson Pratt. He said that the notion of “Adam being our Father and our God . . .[was] advanced by Bro[ther] Kimball in the stand [or at the pulpit], and afterwards approved by

Bro[ther] Brigham.”[10][11]

On at least three occasions, Brigham claimed that he learned it from Joseph Smith.[12] 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.[13])

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.[14]

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.[15]

Notes

  1. Jonathan A. Stapley, "Brigham Young's Garden Cosmology," Journal of Mormon History 47, no. 1 (January 2021): 85.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:50-51. (Emphasis in the original.)
  4. David John Buerger, "The Adam-God Doctrine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 no. 1 (Spring 1982), 45. off-site; Stapley, "Garden Cosmology," 77–82.
  5. 3. JD, 6:319, President Brigham Young, 7 April 1852, general conference address, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle.
  6. Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book, 9 June 1873, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  7. JD, 3:209, President Brigham Young, 17 February 1856, discourse delivered in the Salt Lake City, Utah, Tabernacle.
  8. “The Lord told me that Adam was my father and that he was the God and father of all the inhabitants of this earth” (Memorandum, 30 April 1862, cited in Stanley B. Kimball, ed., On the Potter’s Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Signature Books and Smith Research Associates, 1987], 176, n. 3). There is a reported instance of Heber C. Kimball supposedly writing something similar in another manuscript but since this information was relayed by J. Golden Kimball (Heber’s son) to another person it is a third-hand account.
  9. Thomas B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints (London: Ward, Lock, and Tyler, 1874), 561 n. 2. If Heber C. Kimball was indeed the person who introduced the Adam–God idea to President Brigham Young and (as evidenced in the previous endnote) claimed divine revelation for that knowledge then there was, at the very least, a violation of the order whereby revelation is ordained to be received for the Church. Institutional revelations are never vouchsafed to a counselor in the First Presidency when the President has the capacity to receive them. Only the President of the LDS Church receives revelation for the entire institution. As Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “There is but one [person] at a time who holds the keys and the right to receive revelation for the Church, and that man is the President of the Church. . . .[W]henever [the Lord] has a revelation or commandment to give to His people . . . it will come through the presiding officer of the Church” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999], 1:283–84).
  10. 5 April 1860, meeting of the Twelve at the Church Historian’s Office, Salt Lake City, Utah, cited in Gary J. Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 194. There does not appear to be any rebuttal of this statement from Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, or anyone else. On 23 September 1860 Orson Pratt stated with reference to ideas about godhood, “I do not believe as Brother Brigham and Brother Kimball do in some points of doctrine and they do not wish me to acknowledge to a thing that I do not believe” (Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 5:507, Salt Lake City, Utah, Historian’s Office).
  11. Matthew B. Brown, "Brigham Young's Teachings on Adam" (presentation, FairMormon, Sandy, UT, August 2009).
  12. 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."
  13. 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
  14. 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).
  15. Spencer W. Kimball, "Our Own Liahona," Ensign (November 1976), 77. off-site