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Adam, Michael, and God: Who Was Adam?

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Adam, Michael, and God: Who Was Adam?

Robert M. Bowman Jr.

A. Adam—the Untold Story?

Adam and Eve are among the most familiar names in the Bible. The LDS Church accepts the Bible’s teaching that Adam and Eve were the first literal human beings on earth (Genesis 2). They also accept as historical fact the account in Genesis of Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit, with the result that all human beings are mortal (Genesis 3). In a day when skeptics outside Christianity and even liberals within many Christian churches widely question the creation account in Genesis, the Mormon acceptance of a literal Adam and Eve is commendable.

"...the Bible teaches that Adam’s existence as a living being began when God created him as a physical, human being. This means that Adam could not have been Michael the archangel living in heaven before God made the earth."

From this significant point of agreement, however, the LDS teaching about Adam and Eve vectors away from the traditional Christian understanding in some surprising ways. Gospel Principles describes Adam and Eve as “valiant spirits” who “were among our Father’s noblest children” (27). Adam was Michael the archangel (D&C 27:11; 107:54; 128:21), “chosen by our Heavenly Father to lead the righteous in the battle against Satan (see Revelation 12:7-9).” Of the billions of spirit children preexisting in heaven, the Father chose Adam and Eve to be our first earthly parents. God promised Adam that he would be the patriarchal “head” and “prince” over the multitude of nations that would come from him (D&C 107:55).

Although Mormons view these claims about Adam as new revelations that supplement what the Bible says, in reality they do not comport with the biblical teaching. As we have discussed in previous installments of this series, the Bible teaches that Adam’s existence as a living being began when God created him as a physical, human being (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7). This means that Adam could not have been Michael the archangel living in heaven before God made the earth.

Furthermore, what the Bible says about Michael does not really fit Mormon doctrine about Michael. According to the Book of Daniel, Michael was one of the heavenly “chief princes” and was assigned specifically to protect Israel (Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1). This position as national “guardian angel” is what the designation “archangel” (Jude 9) means in its biblical context. (In ancient Judaism, there were multiple archangels, not just one, as modern readers commonly and mistakenly suppose.) The war in heaven between forces led by Michael and Satan the Dragon in John’s apocalyptic vision is a battle between Israel’s guardian angel and the devil, who sought to destroy Israel, the “woman” from whom came the male child (Jesus) who would rule all nations (Revelation 12). The Mormon interpretation that the war took place before God even made the earth simply does not fit the passage.

The LDS Church’s leaders have made other surprising, even shocking, statements about Adam. According to Joseph Smith, Adam was “the Ancient of Days” of whom Daniel speaks (D&C 27:11; 116:1; 138:38). In Daniel’s vision, however, the Ancient of Days represents God, not Adam. We know this because the Ancient of Days is the divine figure sitting on the throne who gives to the figure of “one like a son of man” everlasting, universal authority over all peoples (Dan. 7:9-14). The New Testament reveals that Jesus is that Son of Man and God the Father is the one who gives him that divine authority (e.g., Matthew 16:28; 28:18; Mark 14:62; Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 1:13-18).

B. Adam—God?

Brigham Young added further confusion to the issue of the identity of Adam by repeatedly describing Adam as God. Here is perhaps the most famous example, from a notorious sermon he preached on April 9, 1852. Notice how Brigham’s doctrine built on Joseph Smith’s teachings about Adam as Michael and the Ancient of Days:

“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 Michaelthe Archangel, the Ancient of Days! about whom holy men have written and spoken—His our Father and our Godand the only God with whom we have to do” (Journal of Discourses 1:50; emphasis all in original).

It is not entirely clear that Brigham Young meant that Adam was the person that Christians traditionally call God the Father. Later in the same sermon, Brigham had this to say:

“It is true that the earth was organized by three distinct characters, namely, Eloheim, Yahovah, and Michael, these three forming a quorum, as in all heavenly bodies, and in organizing element, perfectly represented in the Deity, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” (1:51).

The above statement clearly treats Michael as just one of three divine “characters” and distinguishes him from “Eloheim,” who is presumably God the Father. Yet Brigham also appeared to teach in this sermon that Adam was the father of Jesus in the flesh:

“When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when he took a tabernacle, it was begotten by his Father in heaven…. Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven” (1:50, 51, emphasis in original).

If you find this confusing, you are not alone. Brigham’s teaching on this subject was confusing and controversial to Mormons at the time, and after his death in 1877 there was considerable debate about what to make of it. LDS theologian Stephen Robinson admits that “the Latter-day Saints have never been able to understand” Brigham’s statements on the subject (Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 19). The LDS Church for over a century has clearly rejected the “Adam-God” doctrine, but it has never explained how its second President and Prophet could have taught such a confused, false doctrine.

For Further Discussion

  • Does the Bible anywhere support the view that Adam and Eve were valiant, noble spirits?
  • Does the teaching that Adam is Michael the archangel and the Ancient of Days clarify or confuse what the Bible teaches?
  • How important is it that we have an accurate understanding of who is, and who is not, God?
  • Could a true prophet of God proclaim false or confusing teaching as to the identity of the Father of Jesus Christ?

For Further Study:

Where Does It Say That? Numerous pages from LDS sources organized by subject, including documentation of what LDS Church leaders have taught about God.