Adam-God Doctrine

Where Joseph Smith Jr. had been theologically innovative, Brigham Young, more skilled as an administrator, rarely added to Mormon doctrinal teachings. One exception that garnered mixed results was Young’s teaching that the pre-mortal Adam was the creator of mankind and father of Jesus Christ. The “Adam-God doctrine,” as it came to be called, was integrated into Mormon temple ceremonies and sung in Mormon hymns throughout the latter half of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries, despite public objections from apostles Orson Pratt and Franklin D. Richards. The Adam-God doctrine began fading from official Mormon teaching as early as 1902 and, in 1976, Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball denounced the teaching as false doctrine. Despite its denunciation, aspects related to the Adam-God doctrine, such as a hierarchy of deity and the pre-mortal significance of Adam, have remained an influence in Mormon teachings.

Historical Debate

Because of its controversial nature, many followers of Mormonism have attempted to either downplay or deny Young’s teachings on Adam-God by claiming that critics of Mormonism have misinterpreted Young’s intent. See works on the topic by LDS apostles Mark E. Petersen ( Adam: Who Is He?, Bookcraft, 1976) and Bruce R. McConkie (Mormon Doctrine 2nd edition, Deseret Book Company, 1986) as examples. However, most historians of Mormonism agree on the reality of Young’s speculative ideas regarding deity. For a historical overview, David John Buerger’s article, “The Adam-God Doctrine” remains the most comprehensive treatment. Gary Bergera discussed the tensions that this teaching caused among the Church’s apostles in his article,  “The Orson Pratt–Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict Within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868.” Historian D. Michael Quinn drew a connection between Adam-God and cabbalistic teachings in Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Historian John G. Turner candidly discussed Young’s Adam-God teachings in his recent biography, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet while former LDS Church Historian Leonard Arrington acknowledged Young’s Adam-God teachings in his biography, Brigham Young: American Moses, noting that the concept was never officially adopted by the Church. Finally, Terryl Givens offered a brief-but-substantive examination of the development and later rejection of Young’s Adam-God teachings in his volume, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity.

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