Adam-God theory gets attention again

This is version two of this essay. In the first version I severely denounced and criticized those who believed the Adam-God theory. I cited several modern prophets who were very clear in their denunciation of a belief in the theory. I stated that Brigham Young was either misquoted or misunderstood. I especially relished listening to Elder McConkie‘s talk on The Seven Deadly Heresies once again as part of my research. I miss Elder McConkie.

Today, I confess before you the error of my ways. I am now a believer in the Adam-God theory, but not the one that many people claim to be true. You’ll note that I still don’t call it a doctrine as some do, because that implies that it is something that pertains to our salvation. An understanding of this information is not necessary for our salvation. However, as I have studied, pondered and prayed about this over the past few days, I feel I have been richly blessed with personal insights about the material.

In this essay I hope to set forth the differences between the two theories and will rely heavily on the Elden Watson essay found on his website. I have now read it through twice, making notes and pondering the ideas that he set forth. I am completely in agreement with his views and find his explanations of the matter to be perfectly acceptable. There were many things I found there that I had heard or learned previously but did not have a source to which I could point. I do now. For the opposing viewpoint of the misunderstood theory, I cite David Buerger‘s essay.

The false version

From David’s essay, “Young clearly believed that Adam was the father of the spirits of mankind in addition to being the first procreator of mankind’s physical bodies; that Adam came to this earth as a resurrected and exalted being; that he “fell” to a mortal state of existence in order to procreate mortal bodies; and that Adam was the spiritual and physical father of Jesus Christ.” I counted at least seven false statements in that summary, but this is what many people think of when they are asked about the Adam-God theory. This is NOT what Brigham tried to teach.

Because of this false understanding, our critics have criticized and lambasted us. I can understand why. If someone tried to tell me that what David wrote was what we believed, I would have to tell them that such statements are the most contrived and foolish ideas that I have ever heard. For some reason, apostate polygamous groups have clung to this false version and continue to circulate it as their idea of truth. It is so contradictory to accepted doctrines that it does not lead to faith and in fact, hinders one in an ability to exercise faith in God and Christ.

That is why President Kimball said in 1976, “We hope that you who teach in the various organizations, whether on the campuses or in our Chapels, will always teach the orthodox truth. 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.”

The correct version

God, our Heavenly Father, who we now ordinarily refer to as Elohim, is the father of our spirits and was literally the father of the physical, but immortal body of Adam. It was God the Father that came to this earth as a resurrected and exalted being with our Mother in Heaven. They did not “fall” to a mortal state in order to give birth to Adam and Eve. A man cannot be resurrected and then become mortal again. Adam was not the spiritual and physical father of Jesus Christ. God our Heavenly Father fulfilled that mission. Except for Mother in Heaven, most of these concepts are taught by our missionaries and in our Primary classes. They are very clear.

What Brigham tried to teach was really very simple and it’s not a big deal, or at least it’s not to me. I still maintain that he was misunderstood by many, and therefore what was taught by some leaders of the early church was in error. Whether or not he was misquoted is a matter you will have to decide for yourself. In some places he may have been. In others he was perhaps not as clear as he could have been. Nevertheless, what he taught was fascinating and enlightening.

You can find a detailed description of these fundamental doctrines in Eldon Watson’s essay that help establish the truths that we believe and which Brigham taught:

  • Adam was not a resurrected being
  • Adam died
  • Adam is not God
  • Adam is subordinate to Jesus Christ
  • Adam and Eve were unmarried when they came into the Garden of Eden
  • Adam is a son of God

Cast of characters in the Garden of Eden

God the Father

  • Elohim
  • Man of Holiness
  • Father of the human race
  • First Man
  • Brigham calls him “Father Adam”

Heavenly Mother

  • One of God’s wives
  • Brigham calls her “Mother Eve”
  • Mother of all living
  • Came here to give birth
  • Not mentioned in scripture

Jesus Christ

  • Jehovah
  • Son of God
  • Son of Man
  • Only Begotten in the flesh


  • Lucifer
  • The devil
  • Son of the morning
  • Perdition (lost)


  • Michael
  • The Archangel
  • Ancient of Days
  • A Son of God


  • Daughter of heavenly parents
  • Named after her mother by Adam
  • Born immortal and perfect
  • No blood or disease before fall

Analysis of the most misunderstood quote

“Now hear it, 0 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.” (Brigham Young, JD1:50)

There was another record of this talk made by Wilford Woodruff that is different from the version found in the Journal of Discourses. In it, you can find a very critical and missing phrase just before, “He helped to make…” It is, “…and eat of the fruit of the garden until he could beget a tabernacle.” The tabernacle being referred to is the body of Adam. “Father Adam,” was Brigham’s way of indicating God our Heavenly Father. He believed Adam was one of his names. The last line of the quote is referring to “Father Adam” again. He is saying that God is our father.

If this is the first time that this has been pointed out to you then I refer you to Elden Watson’s essay in which he discusses Brigham’s belief that one of God’s names was Adam. He discusses them in his essay as Adam Sr. and Adam Jr. I know, that seems a little strange, but it works for me. It is unfortunate that Brigham wasn’t clearer about who he was referring to when he said “Father Adam.” Reread that quote and put Elohim in the place of father Adam as you read. Be sure to add the additional phrase from Wilford Woodruff in the right spot. That makes it clear.

Summary but no conclusion

In this essay I have tried to set forth my understanding of what Brigham Young really meant when he made some of the quotes that have caused so much trouble for so many over the years. Although I have concluded the matter in my own mind, I will leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions. I invite you to a careful reading of Elden Watson’s essay. He leads us carefully through the scriptures and quotes in such a way that makes it easy to understand and accept.

I reiterate here as I have in the beginning that understanding the Adam-God theory is not at all necessary to our eternal salvation. If you have gone all your life and have never heard about the interpretation that I have labeled the correct version above, it would not affect you one way or the other. However, if you have accepted and believe what I have labeled the false version, which was summarized by the quote from David Buerger, then that just might be a problem.

I’m trying to not be dogmatic about this but I do feel strongly that those who think that Brigham believed and taught the Adam-God theory as defined by Buerger, with the help of Mike Quinn, are mistaken. None of us will be able to ask Brigham what he really believed and taught until we meet him in the Spirit world. I intend to do so. But until then, I will accept the orthodox teachings on the subject that I have tried to outline in the “correct version” section above.

Additional information

1. LightPlanet – Adam-God theory

2. Jeff Lindsay – Do Mormons worship Adam? Have they ever?

3. Elden Watson – Adam-God

4. FAIR – Adam-God

5. Wikipedia entry on Adam-God theory – Did Brigham Young really teach it as doctrine?

6. The David Buerger essay in Dialogue, Spring 1982. I disagree with the conclusions.

23 Responses

  1. Sorry to say it Tim, but this approach of saying that Brigham was either misquoted or misunderstood is not tenable. It worked (sort of) in Joseph Fielding Smith’s day because most of the material on Adam-God from Brigham Young was not available at the time. It has since been published and is widely available. If you have read the wikipedia article you link to, I assume you are already aware that there is much more than one troublesome quote from JD. In my opinion, explanations of controversial things like this can do more harm than good if we explain it using arguments that can be easily refuted within 10-15 minutes of searching on the internet.I think it is clear that Brigham Young believed and taught something that is not accepted as doctrine in the modern church and was not universally accepted in his day either.


  2. Hi Jacob,Thanks for visiting my blog. So what you’re saying is that I need to find more recent modern sources denouncing the theory as a doctrine besides the three I included in my essay – JF Smith, President Kimball and my favorite from Bruce R. McConkie. I wanted to include what Bruce R. actually said, but anyone who listens to the recording can hear it for themselves.Oh yes, I read the Wikipedia article extensively. I did not like that it started out by reporting the theory as a doctrine. Of course, Wikipedia is not an official source of church doctrine, is it? So what have our modern theologians said on the matter – Elder Oaks, Elder Holland, or a member of the First Presidency?I agree with your last statement. I never stated that he did not teach it or that he did not believe it. Maybe it’s because I’m an old guy and the prophets I quoted in denouncing the theory were some of my favorites. Perhaps with a little more digging I can find something from a more current authority and will add it here.Thanks for your comments, Jacob. I wrote this primarily as a statement of what I have always taught when asked about it in the past. I can see that dead prophets don’t hold as much weight as they used to. I guess it’s time for me to catch up to the modern way of thinking.To be continued…


  3. Tim,You should also know that B. McConkie also became convinced later in his life, after being shown the material the Jacob J hinted at, that B. Young did believe and teach the doctrine. He still believed it as false, as do I, but I agree with Jacob in that you can’t just say that BY was just misquoted.We are priveleged in our day to live in a time where our doctrinal understanding has had a chance to develop develop and distill. Our current view of the Godhead didn’t become well accepted until Joseph F. Smith was president, when he assigned the likes of Talmage, Widtsoe, and Roberts to pull it together. Even with prophetic leadership, there is still always a period of studying it out in our minds before the Lord will let us know what is true.It may sound confusing, but BY did believe Adam to be both Michael and our Heavenly Father. The Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael understanding we have now was not present during their days. A good discussion on this subject can be found at me repeat: I do not believe in the doctrine and I do believe the teachings of the modern prophets. But, I don’t believe we can sweep BY’s statement under the rug like you do in this post.


  4. Tim,So what you’re saying is that I need to find more recent modern sources denouncing the theory as a doctrine besides the three I included in my essayHow in the world did you draw that conclusion from my comment? I didn’t say anything of the sort. What I said is that your approach in the post of saying that Brigham was either misquoted or misunderstood is wrong and unsupportable. Modern denunciations of the doctrine have nothing to do with my point. At the bottom of the wikipedia entry there is a link to Buerger’s article from Dialogue. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend it as a good starting place.


  5. Sorry Jacob,That was a little testy, wasn’t it? I was focusing on the denunciation of the misunderstood version of the Adam-God theory. From what I understand, too many people have used it to justify participation in polygamous relationships. Thus, the strong words from President Kimball and Elder McConkie. I had never studied it out in detail like I have since your first comment.As I wrote in my revised essay, I think I get your point now. I no longer think Brigham was misquoted. I still think he was misunderstood by many. I’m not sure President Young was able to explain his doctrine in a manner that satisfied everyone, in particular Orson Pratt. I think he is still misunderstood by many today. My original essay was an example of that misunderstanding.


  6. Tim,No problem. I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news. Best wishes.


  7. Thanks Jacob,I read David Buerger’s Dialogue essay from Spring of 1982. I disagreed with his conclusions. I don’t think he understood what Brigham was trying to teach. I compared his findings with those of Elden Watson and like what I read there. Brother Watson’s approach is much more faith promoting. You can read David’s biographical sketch here.Here is a summary of the bio: As of the writing of the sketch, David is not an active member of the church. He was a convert in 1973, served a mission in France, married and divorced a life-long member. David is described as being very liberal in his thinking, and questioned church authority. Perhaps it was related to his active participation in the anti-establishment movement of the late sixties before he was baptized. In any event, he was an active member of the church for less than ten years.He acknowledges assistance from D. Michael Quinn among others in preparing his essay. While I acknowledge Mike Quinn’s genius in research, I also do not agree with many of his conclusions over the years. In any event, the paper was detailed and enlightening but does not adequately address any “common sense issues.” It makes it look as if early leaders believed and taught the false version of the Adam-God theory. Perhaps some did, but I don’t.I’m more inclined to agree with Elden Watson’s approach that we look at Brigham’s statements with a more holistic approach in light of all the other orthodox statements that he made elsewhere. Anybody who has read Brigham’s original statements in this light can see clearly that he was indeed teaching something wonderful and uplifting. David’s essay makes Brigham look like he was confused and muddled and did not understand basic doctrine. I reject that thinking.I hope my upcoming revised essay will reflect what I discovered as I dug in depth to Elden Watson’s paper. I approached it with prayer and was not disappointed with my experience in the review. Thanks again for helping me add to my understanding of the Adam-God theory. I was previously missing a major component which I found in Elden Watson’s essay and not in David Buerger’s. Because it is so easy to misunderstand, I say that it is a good thing that this is not a doctrine that is currently taught in the church. It is not central to our salvation.


  8. Tim,For the record, Elden Watson’s “Two Adam” theory has been around for a long time, but it has some very big problems. In my opinion, it is unsustainable if you truly do the holistic analysis you suggest. There are lots and lots of things written on this topic (I suggested Buerger as a starting place, not an ending place) and after spending considerable time (years) reading and considering various views of this topic, I just don’t think the “Two Adam” theory holds up. Watson sort of acknowledges that there are some sources which don’t line up with his theory, but he uses the same old “Brigham was misquoted and misunderstood” line which got us into trouble in the first place. The problem is, we have some very reliable sources of speeches by Brigham Young (not in JD incidentally) in which he makes it clear that he was not thinking of the “Two Adam” model.Of course, everyone gets to make up their own minds on everything, so I am happy to agree to disagree on this, but my advice would be to hold back and refrain from jumping to a quick conclusion.


  9. Excellent advice Jacob. Thank you for offering it and for your continued interest in visiting my blog. I can see that you have indeed given this a lot of thought over the years. I am going to take your advice and not jump to a conclusion but will present a review and comparison of some of the points presented in both papers. I do this for my own understanding and hope it is not problematic for others.However, I want to finish this post and move on to more interesting stuff so I’m going to put forth a little table of the cast of characters we find in the Garden that came to me as I was sitting in Bishopric meeting yesterday morning and pondering this in between assignments. This has become a matter of prayer for me and has resulted in some personal insight.I visited you blog in an effort to find where you had written anything on the subject. I found wonderful commentary intended for Todd Wood there, but nothing on Adam-God. I assume you blog elsewhere like New Cool Thang. I will review the comments on the link you provided previously to By Common Consent.


  10. Sounds like a good plan Tim. You are correct that I mostly blog at New Cool Thang, but I have never posted anything about Adam God. I am sure I have written comments about it a few times over the last couple of years of blogging (e.g. the two comments at the BCC post), but I haven’t spent much time thinking or writing about it for the last several years. Glad to hear your study/pondering on this has been personally fruitful. Sometimes a bit of out-of-the-box thinking can help spur new thoughts about the Garden story, even if the particular out-of-the-box thought turns out to be a dud.


  11. LDS blogging is an interesting world. You can find all kinds of good blogs out there from people who are trying to do good and share the gospel. Others are fairly naive and don’t have a clue about what might be interesting to those not of our faith. I wonder if sometimes we are not just blogging back and forth to ourselves. Hopefully this revised essay (now posted) will be helpful and not do any harm to anybody reading it who is not a member of the LDS faith.I appreciate being warned about the “two Adams” model not being sustainable. For me, it works. When Brigham says “Father Adam” my mind switches gears and I think carefully, “did he mean God the Father or Adam, whom we normally think of as the father of the race”? I now think of Elohim as the father of the human race, that he was literally the father of Adam, and that Adam was born to a Mother who was also named Eve. That birthplace was here on earth.To Ben, who said that Bruce R. McConkie was convinced later in life that Brigham Young really did believe the false Adam-God theory as I outlined it in my essay, I say that a careful reading of Elden Watson’s essay shows the exact opposite was true. Bruce R did write to Eugene England that he thought Brigham may have taught it the way David Buerger summarized it, but later recanted.Elden Watson reports that in a meeting with Elder McConkie in which Elden’s views were expressed as part of the priesthood correlation committee, that, after much discussion, Elder McConkie said that he was wrong, that Brigham did NOT teach the false version that so many have accused him of teaching. This is a critical point, because it is being represented as the other way around. What Bruce R told Eugene England in a letter was wrong and he told Eldon that he could tell that to everyone – that Bruce was wrong. Brigham knew what he was trying to teach. We just weren’t getting it. Most still don’t.


  12. I appears to me that the problem with the AG theory, as espoused by fundamentalists, is that people focus more on what it says about God than what it says about themselves and the nature of godhood.”Whether Adam is the personage that we should consider Our Heavenly Father, or not, is considerable of a mystery to a good many. I do not care for one moment how that is; it is no matter whether we are to consider Him our God, or whether His Father, or his Grandfather, for in either case we are of one species of one family and Jesus Christ is also of our species.”Brigham Young;JD 4:217.


  13. This was yet another cop out.


  14. I’m not sure what you were looking for. I put several days worth of study into this so that I could explain it to my own satisfaction. What I learned from Elden Watson works for me. I have read enough other essays and papers on the Adam-God theory to have realized that most people just don’t get it.But then, I think we’ll just have to wait until we meet Brigham to be able to ask him what he was really trying to teach. No intentional cop-out Kalvin. Let me know what didn’t work for you and if you are interested in additional dialog.


  15. The Adam – God theory has no place in Mormon theology, as it was spoken by Mormon prophets but not made a part of any of the Four Standard Works. Therefore, any critics must realize that any Mormon will not accept this theory as part of their theology. General Authorities may say whatever they wish, but the only statements that must be defended are those accepted by the church as part of the Four Standard Works.


  16. I’m not sure what to make of your comment, Jim. I wrote this essay precisely because it comes up so often by critics who like to use it against us. I had a very enjoyable time studying it out and coming to a better understanding – both of what I believe Brigham was actually trying to teach and what some of the early brethren thought he was trying to teach.So, while you are technically correct that the Adam-God theory has no place in LDS theology, what does it matter that it was not canonized? It comes up again and again and therefore, it is a good idea of any serious student of LDS history and theology to know for themselves what all the controversy was about. No, of course we don’t believe that Adam was our God.


  17. is an article in which Brigham Young stated that “Adam is our father and God”Is this article is true, and if so, what other way is there to interpret when he says “our father and GOD”


  18. Joseph Fielding Smith, in Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 1, puts forth his interpretation of the Brigham quote in this way:Adam had a celestialized, but spirit, body. Remember that when he came into physical being in the Garden of Eden he still had not fallen and therefore was in the presence of God the Father.He clearly was not reffering to Adam as God the Father, according to J.F.Smith, because of the fact that ‘father adam’ “helped” to organize the world.Adam is in a sense, a god, due to the fact that he is now an exalted being. He holds the “keys of [our] salvation under the direction of the Holy One(Jesus Christ).” It is through his authority that angels, and even the Lord appear to the earth(see teachings of Joseph Smith, compiled by Joe Fielding Smith). In this sense, it is him with whom we have to do. Those who would like to read more of what Joseph Fielding Smith said on this subject should look it up.It is the explanation that has best suited me.Anyone who wants to see more on what he write


  19. […] Did Brigham Young


  20. Hm. This is an odd way of looking at things. I’m not sure where all this uncertainty about Adam came from. We know for sure that (1) He’s the archangel Michael, (2) He’s the Ancient of Days, (3) He fights at the Lord’s side for righteousness’ sake.

    I don’t think we have a clear understanding of everything each member of the Godhead does, but it’s clear that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God of Israel, our only Redeemer. He’s the one who matters. We’re not supposed to get distracted by a lot of speculation on how others support the Lord in his role as Savior.

    References to the LORD in the Bible refer to Jesus Christ. “The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exod. 15:2) Jesus is our God and our fathers’ God, and he alone is our salvation.

    I don’t think there is the least bit of justification in saying another member of the Godhead is superior to the Lord. The Lord is head of all. He’s our strength. He’s the Mighty One of Jacob, the God of our salvation. “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” (Psalm 18:2)

    Therefore, I really can’t agree with the chart showing the cast of characters in the Garden of Eden. It seems unscriptural to me. Rather than embellish the scripture that we have with bits and piece of hearsay, albeit supposedly from Brigham Young, I prefer to stick with scripture itself.

    The scriptures say that the Lord God (Jehovah) created all things, including Adam’s body. How that process is done is not specifically spelled out in detail, but I really don’t think we should say the Lord isn’t responsible for Adam’s creation. Jesus Christ specifically said: “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.” (D&C 29:34)

    It may be irrelevant to try to dissect how much Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit participated in creation, but one thing’s for certain: Jesus Christ, the Creator of all, redeemed the workmanship of his own hands. There is no other Savior beside him.

    It is important to recognize that Jesus Christ is our God, the God of our Salvation. Whether you want to go into detail on how Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit are part of the Godhead, and how Adam, “one of the chief princes” (Daniel. 10:13), is at the Lord’s right hand helping him out, is just icing the cake. But the cake is that Jesus Christ is Almighty God. Period. Nobody else gets that title … not Heavenly Father, not the Holy Spirit, and not Adam.

    I hate to be a wet blanket here on rampant theories, but scripture spells it out: Jesus is the Father of Israel. He’s the God of the Bible. Just how much Heavenly Father has been involved in daily operations here on earth is not given specifically, but we do know that the LORD’s hand was in everything. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace who shall rule and reign forever. He is the Lord of Hosts.

    Jesus told the brother of Jared: “Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.” (Ether 3:14)

    Jesus told Adam: “I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.” (Moses 6:51)

    Jesus told Joseph Smith: “I am the Lord thy God.” (D&C 132:12)

    The Lord of Hosts himself is our Redeemer. He is the Stone of Israel — a sanctuary to those who know him and a stumbling stone to those who don’t.

    At the risk of sounding like a repeating record, I must say that we should be wary of jumping to conclusions based on what someone wrote down who thought he had heard a prophet say something at one time or another. It’s Jesus who is our God. And that’s the only thing that really matters.


  21. I am seeing this post for the first time, more than 2 years after it was first published.

    Tim, I don’t want to be rude, but your post is a classic example of many of the traditional mistakes LDS apologists used to make in trying to explain away the historicity of the Adam-God Theory (AGT).


    Mormons confuse these two questions all the time, and you sir, are guilty of just this error here. The question of whether the AGT is currently doctrinal (and I agree with you that it isn’t) has NOTHING to do with the question of whether Brigham Young historically taught the AGT as if it was doctrinal. You cannot use the answer to the doctrinal question as evidence in arguing the historical question.

    It’s been years since I’ve read Buerger carefully, but I have never seen anything that persuasively combats his basic conclusions. And I don’t expect to.



  22. […] makes perfect sense to me. Yes, I know it’s out there and considered by some to be a part of the Adam God theory, but I like to think about these […]


  23. […] Doctrine of Eternal Lives.” For some reason, this subject seems to be related to discussions of the Adam-God theory, which I have also written about previously. My position hasn’t changed even though I’ve had […]


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