The location of the Garden of Eden

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The location of the Garden of Eden

Question: Is it true that Mormons believe the original Garden of Eden was located in Missouri?

There is substantial circumstantial evidence that Joseph Smith taught this

Although we have no contemporaneous record of Joseph Smith teaching explicitly that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, that reading is consistent with LDS scripture, and there is substantial later testimony from Joseph's associates that he did teach such an idea.

Most Latter-day Saints are aware of this, though it is a relatively minor point that plays little role in LDS theology. (By contrast, the idea that the New Jerusalem—Zion—will be built in the Americas looms much larger in LDS consciousness.)

This idea perhaps strikes most non-members as odd, but not simply because the Saints have an opinion about the Garden's location—as we have seen, religions of all stripes have had a wide variety of views on the subject. What likely strikes outside American observers as strange is the idea that the Garden is local—the LDS view does not place the Garden in a never-never land, buried in distant time and far-away space. Rather, the LDS Garden is local and somewhat immediate.

Upon reflection, though, the thoughtful observer will realize that this is simply one more manifestation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' uniqueness: rather than believing only in dead prophets, from long ago, in distant lands, in old records, the Church also embraces modern revelation, living prophets, and an on-going divine involvement with God's people. The gospel restored by Joseph Smith does not merely sacralize the past, but the present and future as well—and, it sacralizes both lofty matters and more earthly concerns like farms, hills, and geography.

It is this intrusion of the sacred into the mundane that surprises most observers—the issue of the Garden is merely one more example of a broader phenomenon.

A common mistake is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center

As the official Church website points out, "The doctrinal tenets of any religion are best understood within a broad context and thoughtful analysis is required to understand them. ... Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. ... A common mistake is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice."[1]

LDS concepts and perspectives

It is important to first distinguish the "Garden of Eden" (the paradisiacal location where Adam and Eve dwelt before the Fall) from Adam-ondi-Ahman. Adam-ondi-Ahman was a location in which Adam and Eve settled after their expulsion from the Garden.

Question: What is Adam-ondi-Ahman?

According to revelation, Adam held a meeting of his faithful posterity in a valley designated "Adam-ondhi-Ahman"

Prior to his death, the repentant Adam held a meeting of his faithful posterity in a valley designated "Adam-ondhi-Ahman:"

53 Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing.

54 And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel.

55 And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.

56 And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation. (D&C 107꞉53)

LDS scripture further notes:

Spring Hill is named by the Lord Adam-ondi-Ahman, because, said he, it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet.(D&C 116꞉1)[2]

Since Spring Hill was named by the Lord as the place where Adam will come to visit his people, it has generally been presumed to be the Adam-ondi-Ahman of Adam's mortal meeting with his posterity

It is perhaps significant the Lord named this site because of a future event—the pre-millennial assembly of Adam and his faithful descendants prior to the second coming of Christ. It has generally been presumed that "Spring Hill," Missouri is thus the Adam-ondi-Ahman of Adam's mortal meeting with his posterity (D&C 107, above) and the pre-millennial visit (D&C 116), which is certainly possible.

An alternate interpretation would be the Lord has given the Adam-ondi-Ahman name to a second site (i.e., at Spring Hill, Missouri) in memorial of the first great meeting of the whole righteous human race. That first meeting, at which Adam presided, would then be a foreshadowing of the greater meeting of all the righteous prior to Christ's triumphant return in glory. This reading might better explain why D&C 116 bothers to explain why the Lord is giving the name to the site. If the site was already called Adam-ondi-Ahman, perhaps there would be little need for the Lord to renew its name. One could see this as analogous to the site "Jerusalem." There is, in LDS doctrine, to be a "New Jerusalem" built on the American continent in the last days.[3] Yet, this does not mean the "New Jerusalem" site is the same as the Jerusalem of David and Jesus in the Old World, or that the old Jerusalem has ceased to exist.

On the other hand, Doctrine and Covenants 117 also seems to associate the Missouri Adam-ondi-Ahman with Adam's dwelling place in mortality:

7 Therefore, will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom, and to bring forth in abundance? saith the Lord.

8 Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?

9 Therefore, come up hither unto the land of my people, even Zion. (D&C 117꞉7-9)

The association of Adam-ondi-Ahman with the "land where Adam dwelt," and Adam's presence at Adam-Ondi-Ahman prior to his death have led most Latter-day Saints to conclude they are one and the same. (However, this verse raises more questions than it answers—there are no mountains of note in Missouri. So, was the geography more expansive than Joseph or the early saints presumed?)

Because Adam left the Garden of Eden, and (by this reading) dwelt somewhere in or near Missouri, many members have concluded the Garden of Eden must likewise be near by

As President John Taylor wrote:

Itt was stated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, in our hearing while standing on an elevated piece of ground or plateau near Adam-ondi-Ahman (Davis Co., Missouri,), where there were a number of rocks piled together, that the valley before us was the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman; or in other words, the valley where God talked with Adam, and where he gathered his righteous posterity, as recorded in the above revelation, and that this pile of stones was an altar built by him when he offered up sacrifices, as we understand, on that occasion.[4]

Question: What statements have Latter-day Saints leaders made regarding the location of the Garden of Eden?

Most early statements about the location of the Garden of Eden in LDS thought come via Brigham Young

Most early statements about the location of the Garden of Eden in LDS thought come via Brigham Young, who often made reference to Joseph Smith's teachings on the matter. Brigham's history records he told Orson Hyde (who had been to Palestine):

You have been both to Jerusalem and Zion, and seen both. I have not seen either, for I have never been in Jackson County. Now it is a pleasant thing to think of and to know where the Garden of Eden was. Did you ever think of it? I do not think many do, for in Jackson County was the Garden of Eden. Joseph has declared this, and I am as much bound to believe that as to believe that Joseph was a prophet of God.[5]

As this idea was a common one among 19th century members, it seems likely Joseph was the source of the idea

At the very least, the members' perceived this to be what Joseph had told them.

Heber C. Kimball (1863):

...[T]he spot chosen for the garden of Eden was Jackson County, in the State of Missouri, where Independence now stands; it was occupied in the morn of creation by Adam and his associates who came with him for the express purpose of peopling this earth.[6]

George Q. Cannon (1867):

We appreciate the home that God has given us here, so fruitful in blessings [p.337] to the Saints; but we look forward to that land with indescribable feelings, because it is the place where God has said His City shall be built. It is the land where Adam, the Ancient of Days, will gather his posterity again, and where the blessings of God will descend upon them. It is the land for which the wise and learned have travelled [sic] and sought in vain. Asia has been ransacked in endeavouring [sic] to locate the Garden of Eden. Men have supposed that because the Ark rested on Ararat that the flood commenced there, or rather that it was from thence the Ark started to sail. But God in His revelations has informed us that it was on this choice land of Joseph where Adam was placed and the Garden of Eden was laid out. The spot has been designated, and we look forward with peculiar feelings to repossessing that land.[7]

Wilford Woodruff quoting Brigham Young (1879):

[spelling as original diary] Again Presdet [sic] Young said Joseph the Prophet told me that the garden of Eden was in Jackson Co Missouri, & when Adam was driven out of the garden of Eden He went about 40 miles to the Place which we Named Adam Ondi Ahman, & there built an Altar of Stone & offered Sacrifize [sic]. That Altar remains to this day. I saw it as Adam left it as did many others, & through all the revolutions of the world that Altar had not been disturbed.[8]

Question: Do any other religious traditions view the Garden of Eden as "local"?

The Garden of Eden or the primordial paradise of the race is often seen as the "center of the world"

The early Saints' view of a Garden of Eden "local" to them has its parallels in other religious traditions.

The Garden of Eden or the primordial paradise of the race is often seen as the "center of the world," or the cosmic point around which all creation turns (sometimes called an axis mundi or umbilicum mundi—the "navel" of the world).

Martin Luther warned that "we ask in vain today where and what that garden was" (155). Suarez said that knowledge of the earthly paradise was necessary to understand "all that the scriptures tell us of the condition of humanity before sin"

One student of the subject stated that during the 16th and 17th centuries the "location" of paradise was more important that any other question regarding it.[9]:155 And various religions have placed the Garden of Eden was in their part of the world.

Bishop Pierre-Daniel Huet (1691) a member of the French Academy, wrote of the wide variety of speculation and opinion on this subject

[The earthly paradise] has been located in the third heaven, in the fourth, in the heaven of the moon, on the moon itself, on a mountain close to the heaven of the moon, in the middle region of the air, outside the earth, on the earth, under the earth, and in a hidden place far removed from human knowledge. It has been placed under the Arctic pole.... Some have located it... either on the banks of the Ganges or on the island of Ceylon, and have even derived the name 'India' from the word 'Eden.'... Others have located it in the Americas, others in Africa below the equator, others in the equinoctial East, others on the mountain of the moon, from which they believed the Nile to flow. Most have located it in Asia: some in Greater Armenia, others in Mesopotamia or Assyria or Persia or Babylonia or Arabia or Syria or Palestine. There have even been those who wished to honor our Europe and, in a move that strays into complete irrelevance, have located it in Hedin, a town in Artois, their reason being the similarity between the words 'Hedin' and 'Eden'"[9]:162, citing Huet.

The Bible itself seems to place the Garden of Eden at the center of the world:

10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.

11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.

13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.

14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. (Genesis 2꞉10-14)

The named rivers represent four of the great rivers of the known world, yet this description does not match any modern known configuration. It may be better to view these verses as a symbolic expression of Eden at "the center" of all that was known.

There is also a Jewish tradition that the Garden of Eden was in Jerusalem. There is a spring of water there known as the Gihon, one of the unidentified rivers of Paradise. Ezekiel 28:13 says “You were in Eden, the garden of God,” and then parallels that in the next verse with “you were on the holy mountain of God,” generally understood as the temple mount. There is important symbolism here. If a Jewish tradition can assign the location of the Garden to its traditional headquarters—Jerusalem—it is not surprising to have a Mormon tradition assigning the location of the Garden to Jackson County, Missouri, which for a time was its church headquarters and which according to prophecy will be again some time in the future.

Question: If the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, how did Abraham, Moses and other prophets end up in the Old World?

A variety of approaches have been suggested for this issue

Members and others sometimes ask how Abraham, Moses and other near eastern Bible prophets ended up in the Old World if Adam and Eden were in the Americas. A variety of approaches have been suggested for this issue:[10]

  1. Some have conceptualized the earth as having only one land mass (e.g., Pangaea) even into historical time, which was only separated in the days of Peleg (Genesis 10꞉25). Though there are differing interpretations for this doctrine. Some have more exegetical/historical accuracy than others.
  2. Those who accept a universal Noachian flood simply see Noah floating from a New World site to Ararat in the Old.
  3. Those who accept a "limited flood" theory see a similar process occurring whereby Noah traveled down rivers or from sea coasts with the flood's arrival. (This would, in effect, be a reversal of the Book of Mormon's Old World to New World migrations).
  4. Since there is evidence for human migration over the Siberia-Alaska land bridge from Old to New World, some have postulated travel in the opposite direction.
  5. It has been suggested that the Lord gave a second site the name of Adam-ondi-Ahman in the Americas, while the original site was located elsewhere, in the Old World (see discussion above). In this model, early Church leaders assumed that there was only one Adam-ondi-Ahman, when there were (in fact) two.
  6. Some have seen the concept of Eden as a symbolic idea which acted to "sacralize" the Americas for a new gospel dispensation, without having reference to actual geographic realities. Early members then made this concept more literal than intended.
  7. Some see Eden as a place which was always "separate" from the fallen world around it, and so regard questions about the present "location" of Eden as non-sensical.
  8. Many, perhaps most, members consider the matter of relatively little importance, and have no strong feelings about the issue at all.

It must be noted that there is little, if any, scriptural or scientific evidence to support any of the above hypotheses over others.

The solution chosen by an individual member will probably depend mostly on their attitudes to other issues about which there is no official Church position and a variety of positions espoused by members. These issues include matters such as the issue of Death before the Fall, Evolution, Pre-Adamites, the nature of Noah's Flood, the extent to which scripture ought to be interpreted literally, and related topics.

Articles about the Holy Bible

What does the Church teach on the subject of death before the Fall of Adam?

Lehi said that "all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created"

The LDS Bible Dictionary states that, "Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth before the Fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the Fall (2 Ne. 2꞉22; Moses 6꞉48). 2 Nephi 2꞉22 describes how Adam and Eve became subject to physical death, when the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi taught that

if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. (2 Nephi 2꞉22)

Because this is the only scripture that indicates this, it is difficult to interpret the meaning of "all things." Does it mean "all things in the garden", or "all things on the entire earth", or something else?

The second scripture referenced, Moses 6꞉48, describes how "spiritual death" entered the world:

Behold Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God.

Current Church manuals take a cautionary approach to interpreting 2 Nephi 2꞉22

Current Church manuals take a cautionary approach to interpreting this verse by considering only how it affected Adam and Eve. For example, from Gospel Principles manual, page 28:

1979 Gospel Principles 2014 Gospel Principles Comment
Adam and Eve were foreordained to become the parents of the human race. Adam and Eve were foreordained to become our first parents. Instead of being the "parents of the human race," Adam and Eve are now "our first parents." We are only concerned with Adam.
She was called Eve because she was the mother of all living (see Moses 4꞉26) Eve was "the mother of all living" (Moses 4꞉26) The phrase "mother of all living" is now in quotes to indicate a direct quote from Moses 4꞉26.
She was given to Adam because God said "that is was not good that man should be alone." God brought Adam and Eve together in marriage because "it was not good that the man should be alone."
When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were not yet mortal. They were not able to have children. There was no death. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were not yet mortal. In this state, "they would have had no children" (2 Nephi 2꞉23). There was no death. Again, the text is changed to indicate that scripture is being quoted. The original statement that they "were not able to have children" is changed to the scriptural statement that they "would have had no children." The specific reason why they would not have had children is not indicated, whereas previously it was stated that they were incapable of having children in their "pre-Fall" state.
God commanded them to have children and learn to control the earth. God commanded them to have children. The assumption that Adam and Eve were in "control" of the entire earth has been completely removed.
Because Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Lord sent them out of the Garden of Eden into the world as we now know it. Because Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Lord sent them out of the Garden of Eden into the world. The assumption that the world outside the garden was "as we now know it" has been completely removed.

More recently, in 2016 the Church's official magazine for youth, the New Era:

There were no spirit children of Heavenly Father on the earth before Adam and Eve were created. In addition, "for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family. (emphasis added)" [11]

Was there no death on the entire earth before the Fall?

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

Statements about matters about which there is no official doctrine
J. Reuben Clark
This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:
Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.[12]
Harold B. Lee
Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:
All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.[13]
First Presidency
This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):
Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.[14]

In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.[15]
There is more material on official doctrine in the Church in this link.
  1. "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," from Newsroom: The Official Resource for News Media, Opinion Leaders, and the Public (4 May 2007) at off site
  2. See also Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:35. Volume 3 link
  3. See A+of+F 1꞉10.
  4. John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Co., 1882), 69.
  5. Brigham Young in Journal History of the Church (15 March 1857); cited in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 396. GL direct link
  6. Heber C. Kimball, "Advancement of the Saints, etc.," (27 June 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:235.
  7. George Q. Cannon, "Truth to Be Received for Its Own Sake, etc.," (3 March 1867) Journal of Discourses 11:336.
  8. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 7:129 (journal entry dated 30 March 1879). ISBN 0941214133.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Jean Delumeau, History of Paradise. The Garden of Eden in Myth and Tradition (New York: Continuum, 1995)
  10. Kevin Barney, Was the Garden of Eden Really in Missouri? (blog entry), By Common Consent (4 July 2007).
  11. "What does the Church believe about evolution?," New Era (October 2016).
  12. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
  13. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445.
  14. LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," (4 May 2007)
  15. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).

There is overwhelming geological evidence of death having occurred on the earth for many millions of years

There is overwhelming geological evidence of death having occurred on the earth for many millions of years. For example, oil deposits are formed from the decomposed remains of ancient plants and animals.

This is where some accounts of Church teachings appear to contradict science, since many Latter-day Saint leaders and Church manuals have taught that there was no physical death on the entire earth prior to the fall of Adam.

No death anywhere?

This interpretation has been shared by many Church authors, including President Joseph Fielding Smith and Elder Bruce R. McConkie.[1] Consequently, the concept of no death before the Fall on the entire earth has made its way into many Church instructional manuals. For example, the LDS Bible Dictionary, which was included as an addition to the LDS edition of the King James Bible in 1979, includes the following statement that "death entered the world" as a result of the Fall:

Latter-day revelation teaches that there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the fall (2 Nephi 2꞉22; Moses 6꞉48). [2]

The current edition of the Bible Dictionary, however, has a lightly edited entry "Fall of Adam":

1979 edition

The process by which mankind became mortal on this earth. The event is recorded in Gen. 2, 3, 4; and Moses 3,4. The fall of Adam is one of the most important occurances in the hstory of man. Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the "forbidden fruit," Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. Adam became the "first flesh" upon the earth (Moses 3꞉7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam's fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14꞉16-17).

Italics removed in present day edition.

Present day edition

The process by which mankind became mortal on this earth. The event is recorded in Gen. 2–4 and Moses 3-4. The Fall of Adam and Eve is one of the most important occurrences in the history of man. Before the Fall, there were no sin, no death, and no children. With the eating of the “forbidden fruit,” Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, and death became a part of life. Adam became the “first flesh” upon the earth (Moses 3꞉7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam’s Fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14꞉16-17).[3]

Note that some aspects focus the death upon Adam and Eve.

There are other aspects that could be read to imply a wider impact (esp., "the whole creation fell and became mortal".)

Death for other created things?

Other leaders 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.

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.

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." [4]

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." [5]

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.[6] 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. [7]

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. [8]

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. [9]

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. [10]

What was the state of things on the Earth prior to the placement of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?

The "period of our planet's creation and preparation as a dwelling place for man" is excluded from the period of the Earth's "temporal existence"

The following is from the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 167-171, "Section 77 Questions and Answers on the Book of Revelation." off-site

D&C 77꞉6-7. Why Was the Book Sealed That John Saw?

"‘The book which John saw’ represented the real history of the world—what the eye of God has seen, what the recording angel has written; and the seven thousand years, corresponding to the seven seals of the Apocalyptic volume, are as seven great days during which Mother Earth will fulfill her mortal mission, laboring six days and resting upon the seventh, her period of sanctification. These seven days do not include the period of our planet’s creation and preparation as a dwelling place for man. They are limited to Earth’s ‘temporal existence,’ that is, to Time, considered as distinct from Eternity." (Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts, p. 11.) (emphasis added)

The manual specifically excludes the "period of our planet's creation and preparation as a dwelling place for man" from the period defined as the Earth's "temporal existence." Nothing is implied or stated regarding "death before the Fall."


  1. For a representative sample of the non-official statements made by Elder McConkie and others from a variety of perspectives, see here.
  2. LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "Death," 655, 1979 and current edition. off-siteoff-site
  3. LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "Fall of Adam and Eve," 655, current edition. off-siteoff-site
  4. 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.
  5. LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "Introduction," 599. off-site
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. First Presidency, Memorandum to General Authorities, April 1931, 6–7.
  9. James Edward Talmage, Personal Journal (7 April 1931) 29:42, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (emphasis added).
  10. Jeffery R. Holland, "Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet," April 2015 General Conference.

LDS Newsroom, "Mormonism 101: FAQ"

LDS Newsroom
We do not know exactly where the original site of the Garden of Eden is. While not an important or foundational doctrine, Joseph Smith established a settlement in Daviess County, Missouri, and taught that the Garden of Eden was somewhere in that area. Like knowing the precise number of animals on Noah’s ark, knowing the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important to one’s salvation than believing in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

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To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, [[../CriticalSources|click here]]


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims