The Adam-God theory is a controversial doctrine in Mormonism that was taught by some early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Brigham Young. According to this theory, Adam (the first man created by God) is literally our Heavenly Father and the god of this world.
The core teaching of the Adam-God theory is that Adam is the father of our spirits as well as being the physical father of the human race. Brigham Young taught that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.” According to Brigham Young, Adam embodied three key roles:
- He was Michael the Archangel and participated in the creation of the world under the direction of Elohim (God the Father).
- He became the first flesh and blood man on earth as Adam.
- He later attained godhood and became the god of this earth, known as Elohim.
So in essence, according to Brigham Young, Adam the Archangel became Adam the first man and he later attained exaltation and godhood to become Adam-God or Elohim. Adam in his role as Elohim is therefore the father of our spirits and the primary object of our worship.
Brigham Young discussed the Adam-God theory over the pulpit at the church’s General Conference in 1852 and in subsequent sermons. He taught that Adam came to earth as a resurrected and exalted being and brought one of his “celestial” wives, Eve. Together they became the first physical parents of mankind.
According to Young, Jehovah (Jesus Christ) was the son of Adam-God and Eve. Jehovah helped create the world under the direction of Elohim (God the Father). Jehovah would later be born physically as Jesus Christ through Mary.
So in summary, the Adam-God theory teaches that Adam was first a spirit child of God, then he became Michael the Archangel, then he became the physical and mortal man Adam, and finally he went on to attain godhood as the deity ruling over humanity known as Elohim.
Origin and Development of the Adam-God Theory
The Adam-God theory has its origins in 1839 when Joseph Smith was alleged to have taught it while he was living in Nauvoo, Illinois. However, there are no contemporary records of Smith explicitly teaching this doctrine. Some early Mormons may have incorrectly attributed the theory to Smith because they associated him with polygamy, which is tied to the concept of Eve being a celestial wife that Adam brought with him to earth.
The theory was clearly taught by Brigham Young starting around 1852. Young discussed it over the pulpit at the church’s General Conference that year. He also made reference to it in sacred temple ceremonies. It became widely accepted by Mormons during his presidency of the church. However, there was also some confusion over the doctrine and opposition to it by church leaders like Orson Pratt.
After Young’s death in 1877, the Adam-God theory started to fall out of favor. Subsequent church presidents like John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff began de-emphasizing the controversial doctrine. By the early 1900s, as the church tried to move to the mainstream and leave behind some unusual doctrines, the Adam-God theory was actively repudiated by church leaders.
In 1976, Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th president of the church, denounced the Adam-God theory in no uncertain terms. In a General Conference talk, he stated: “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.”
So while Brigham Young clearly taught the theory and it was accepted by many 19th-century Mormons, it was later rejected by the church. Today, the church actively repudiates the doctrine and makes it clear that it is not official church teaching.
Main Points of the Adam-God Theory
Let’s recap the main points of the Adam-God theory as taught by Brigham Young and early Mormon leaders who supported the doctrine:
- Adam was first known as Michael the Archangel, a spirit child of God the Father.
- Under the direction of God the Father (Elohim), Michael helped create the earth.
- Michael was born on earth as the first man, Adam, with Eve as his wife.
- Adam and Eve were resurrected, celestial beings and the first physical parents of humanity.
- Adam eventually attained godhood and became the deity known as Elohim who rules over this earth.
- Elohim, the God of this world, is also known as Adam or Adam-God.
- Jehovah or Jesus Christ is the firstborn spirit child of Adam-God and Eve.
- Jesus Christ helped create the world as Jehovah.
- Jesus was later born on earth as the son of Mary and is the Savior of the world.
In summary, the theory states that Adam was a god before coming to earth, became the first man, and then attained godhood again as the deity Elohim who we worship as God.
Contrast with Mainstream Mormon Theology
The Adam-God theory differs significantly from what is considered orthodox Mormon theology today. Here are some of the key differences:
- Mainstream LDS teaching states that Elohim or God the Father is the supreme God over all. The Adam-God theory teaches that Adam/Elohim is the supreme God of this world only.
- In orthodox Mormonism, Adam is a separate individual from Elohim and they are two distinct beings.
- According to mainstream LDS doctrine, Jehovah or Jesus Christ is understood to be the firstborn spirit child of God the Father, not Adam.
- Mormon theology states that Jesus is the Son of God the Father, not the son of Adam.
- The church rejects the doctrine that Adam is the heavenly Father of human spirits and that he brought Eve with him to earth as a celestial wife.
So in many important ways, the Adam-God theory contradicts current teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding the identity of Adam, his relationship to Jehovah/Jesus, and the role of Elohim or God the Father as supreme deity.
Possible Sources and Influences Behind the Theory
There are a few possible sources and influences that may have contributed to the development of the Adam-God theory in early Mormonism:
- The King Follett Discourse – Joseph Smith gave his famous King Follett Discourse shortly before his death in 1844. In it, he taught that God was once a man like us before attaining godhood. This may have influenced the idea that Adam had once been a mortal before becoming a deity.
- Freemasonry – Some aspects of the theory are reminiscent of Masonic rituals. This has led to speculation that Brigham Young’s views were influenced by his involvement in Freemasonry.
- Theosis – The doctrine that humans can achieve deity recalls the concept of theosis, or deification, found in some strains of Eastern Orthodoxy. Early Mormons were universalistic and open to a range of religious influences.
- Kabbalah – Some scholars point to common themes between Kabbalah and the Adam-God theory like a primordial man and separate divine feminine aspect (Eve). This is speculative, however.
- Misunderstanding Joseph Smith – Some early teachings by Smith may have been misconstrued to imply he supported the theory, even if he did not directly teach it himself.
While the origins of the theory are unclear, it appears Brigham Young expanded upon vague ideas and introduced the fully formed doctrine during his presidency of the LDS Church in the mid-1800s.
Objections and Controversies
The Adam-God theory was controversial even during the time it was being promoted by Brigham Young. Several prominent Mormon leaders voiced objections to the doctrine:
- Apostle Orson Pratt disagreed with Brigham Young but kept his opposition private for a time to avoid causing conflict in the Quorum of the Twelve.
- Joseph Smith III, son of the founder of Mormonism, rejected the Adam-God doctrine completely. This contributed to the split between the LDS Church and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now the Community of Christ).
- Some Mormon intellectuals like B. H. Roberts recognized inconsistencies between the theory and scripture. Roberts supported Adam being enthroned as God of this world, but could not reconcile Adam being the father of Jesus.
- Apostle Bruce R. McConkie argued the theory was a false doctrine that should be forgotten.
Objections to the theory focused on how it contradicted scriptures and core Mormon doctrines. Critics argued there was simply no solid basis for the theory in the Bible or Book of Mormon and that it undermined the status of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
There was also some difficulty reconciling details like the timeline of the Genesis account with Young’s teachings about Adam coming to earth as a resurrected being. Critics highlighted these inconsistencies.
The Adam-God theory has always been controversial within Mormonism. But it also generated a lot of criticism and anti-Mormon sentiment outside the church. Some Americans viewed it as the epitome of supposed Mormon heresy and false doctrine.
Rejection by the Modern LDS Church
As detailed earlier, the Adam-God theory fell out of favor and was gradually rejected over the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some key reasons why the modern LDS Church officially rejects the disputed doctrine include:
- Lack of consistent teaching – Adam-God was not a consistent teaching of church leaders and was only promoted heavily during Brigham Young’s presidency.
- Contradicts scripture – Neither the Bible or Book of Mormon support the core assertions of Adam-God when read plainly.
- Undermines Jesus Christ – Identifying Adam as God and heavenly Father diminishes Christ’s role and divinity.
- Moves away from controversial doctrines – The LDS Church has tried to move into the mainstream by shedding unusual early teachings.
- Disavowed by prophets – Modern prophets like Spencer W. Kimball have forcefully and unambiguously rejected it as false doctrine.
Church leaders ultimately concluded the theory was speculative theology, lacked scriptural support, and should not be considered official doctrine. As a result, it was denounced and became a repudiated teaching within the church.
Remnants and Influence on Mormon Theology
While the core assertions of the Adam-God theory have been firmly repudiated, it did still leave some remnants and influence on wider Mormon theology:
- It contributed to the evolution of Mormon teaching on the potential for humans to become gods. However, modern Mormon exaltation doctrine focuses on attaining godhood through Christ, not becoming the embodied God the Father on earth.
- Brigham Young’s statements provide some basis for the modern Mormon belief in Adam as the Ancient of Days and archangel Michael.
- The Divine Feminine aspect of Mormon theology owes some early inspiration partially to the teachings about Eve as a wife of God.
- It reinforced the uniqueness of Mormonism’s teaching that God was once a man who attained divine status, even if Adam alone being God is no longer accepted.
While Adam-God doctrine per se is no longer relevant or acknowledged, it did contribute to the developing Mormon cosmology of humans ascending to godhood and thePOTENTIAL for multiple divine beings beyond just the mainstream Christian Godhead.
Some fundamentalist offshoots of Mormonism accept versions of the Adam-God theory to this day. But within mainstream Mormonism, it is considered resolved as a theoretical doctrine that the church rejects.
Dealing with the Theory as a Church
The Adam-God theory presented a challenge for the LDS Church in how to deal with a controversial doctrine promoted by an important early leader like Brigham Young. In general, the church took the following approaches:
- Allowing some diversity of opinion – Leaders did not uniformly reject it even while discouraging its teaching over the pulpit. They tolerated some disagreement privately.
- Repudiation by top leaders like prophets – Eventually, clear denunciations from the highest levels of church leadership became very definitive.
- Emphasizing lack of scriptural support – The church pointed out the lack of any clear basis for the theory in Mormon scripture.
- Letting it gradually fade away – Rather than issuing condemnations early on, leaders let it recede from focus over time.
- Refusing to officially disavow Young – Even while rejecting his teachings, they continued to revere Young as an important prophet and did not attack his character.
This allowed the church to move on while acknowledging the theory’s problematic aspects. Leaders concluded it was a mistake perpetuated due to some degree of doctrinal confusion but that Young had good intentions despite teaching an incorrect doctrine.
Fundamentalist Offshoots That Retain the Theory
While the mainstream LDS Church rejects the Adam-God theory, some smaller fundamentalist groups broke off from the church primarily over the abandonment of plural marriage. A few of them also continue to accept versions of Adam-God theology.
These groups believe that the LDS Church fell into apostasy by rejecting the teachings of Brigham Young. They consider Young a prophet and believe Adam-God was an authentic revealed doctrine that should still be accepted.
Some prominent fundamentalist sects that retain the theory include:
- The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) – Large group that split from the church in the early 1900s over polygamy. They revere Young and accept the Adam-God teachings.
- The Apostolic United Brethren – Formed in the 1950s in opposition to the church banning polygamy. They continue to teach the Adam-God doctrine and other early teachings.
- The Church of the Firstborn and the General Assembly of Heaven – Both of these fundamentalist factions that broke off in the mid-1900s hold firmly to the Adam-God teachings.
However, it’s important to understand these groups have no affiliation or ties to the mainstream Mormon church headquartered in Salt Lake City. They emerged out of opposition to church leaders abandoning teachings like polygamy and the Adam-God theory.
In summary, the Adam-God theory was a controversial doctrine taught primarily during the presidency of Brigham Young in the mid-to-late 1800s. It asserted that Adam was once God the Father and the literal father of our spirits. However, the modern LDS Church unambiguously rejects the theory as the incorrect speculation of early leaders. While aspects of the doctrine influenced wider Mormon theology, the core beliefs of Adam-God were denounced and repudiated by 20th century church presidents. Remnants of the disputed teachings linger among some fundamentalist groups, but it is not accepted by the mainstream Utah-based church.