The Adam-God Doctrine is probably my most requested topic here at Gospel Tangents. I admit I am not an expert on this topic, so I sat down with 2 members of Christ’s Church to learn more about this early Mormon doctrine. David Patrick is an apostle and Benjamin Shaffer is a Seventy. Think of this as your Adam-God 101 episode.
GT: I believe that it was Bruce R. McConkie that called Adam-God doctrine, “a heresy.” And I also believe that even back to Orson Pratt [it was disputed.] Orson and Brigham had a big dispute over [Adam-God doctrine], and Brigham supported it and Orson did not. I do want to preface that before because I want to I want to make sure people understand that.
David: Joseph Smith introduces this idea, wow! We can become gods. And so that means there’s a plurality of gods. But we only have one God that we have to deal with on this earth.
GT: So the question from a Christian point of view is now your polytheistic. Right?
Benjamin: More or less. I’m not gonna shy away too much from that idea. I mean, okay, maybe we’re a little bit polytheistic. But we view our monotheism, I guess, as looking at the oneness of God, the unity of God.
GT: And so the Adam-God doctrine is basically this. Adam was once a man just like us. He made his calling and election sure. He gained his exaltation. And then he became a god. And now it was time to people on earth. So he had spiritual children in his spirit world. And now it was time to people the earth but none of his spirit children had bodies. So he and his wife or wives came down to the earth to people it. Now he had to answer to his God. And his God was his connection in the priesthood. And he told him, “Of the garden, thou may eat of all these fruits but not of this tree.” And so there were still rules of the universe to follow. And once those rules were transgressed, then change would occur. And this is what Brigham Young had placed in the temple ordinance so people could understand the mysteries of godliness; how Adam came to be; how the children came to be. Because he said basically, once they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then their bodies were changed. It became more temporal. And they were now able to have children. And then those children are now the human race. It’s kind of that simple. But there’s much more to it than that.
GT: So let me make sure I’m understanding that. This is my rudimentary understanding of the Adam-God doctrine. What we’re saying is the Adam is God. Is that a correct statement?
Benjamin: Yes. But I think that doctrinally, why this is important is a fairly foundational idea. Are we the children of God? And this lecture at the veil for example, was this explanatory portion of the endowment. So that people would understand the meaning of the ceremony itself.
Now I admit there is a lot of doctrine people would find agreement in what was said, but there is also a disagreement as to whether Adam is God. For instance, the Adam-God doctrine identifies Elohim and Jehovah as separate beings (and separate from Jesus.) However, biblical historians say that these two names were used interchangeably for the same god in the Old Testament. I asked 2 members of Christ’s Church how they dealt with that issue with regards to the Documentary Hypothesis. Apostle David Patrick and Seventy Benjamin Shaffer share how they deal with this issue.
GT: As I understand the Documentary Hypothesis, the idea is the first five books of Moses were written by four different authors.
GT: The J author refers to God as Yahweh; E [author refers to] Elohim because this is the point that I want to make here. I might be getting this backwards. In the Northern Kingdom, they referred to God as Elohim and then in the Southern Kingdom they referred to God as Jehovah. And then the editors according to the Documentary Hypothesis combined them all. Really Jehovah and Elohim are really two names for the same for the one and only God. And if you go to the Hebrew, they basically alternate behind between Jehovah and Elohim as the same person. And so Mormons are heretical, because we say that Jehovah and Elohim are two different people but historically, especially in the in the five books of Moses (I hope I’m getting this right) the Southern Kingdom referred to Jehovah, the Northern Kingdom referred to Elohim but they’re really the same person. So how would you respond to that issue?
Benjamin: Textual criticism is a big rabbit hole to go down, a big gospel tangent.
Benjamin: And it is complicated, but I do have a couple things that I could say to that. First of all, we do believe in this unity of godliness. Jehovah is in Elohim as in El, right? These are different titles as David [Patrick] is explaining. Right? You can use those titles. Sometimes you can use those titles somewhat interchangeably. This is actually another evidence for the Adam-God Doctrine. If Michael is a title of God with God right in the name right there then you could call any of them by any of those titles without being incorrect.
 I got it backwards. Southern Kingdom called God “Elohim” while Northern Kingdom called God “Jehovah” according to Documentary Hypothesis.
 It should be noted that El means “god” in Hebrew. Therefore the name Michael could be written as Micha-El, which includes El (God) as part of Michael’s name.
Benjamin talks further about how the Documentary Hypothesis might support the idea that Laban was helping put together the Torah under King Josiah. What do you think of his explanation? We’ll also talk about how Christ’s Church deals with evangelicals who like to ambush Mormons at places like the Manti Pageant over the Adam-God doctrine. What are your thoughts about the Adam-God doctrine? Was the video helpful in understanding it?
Random thoughts on the subject:
1. BRM rejected the Adam-God teaching at least as early as his 1958 “Mormon Doctrine”. The rejection included his typical name-calling, but was also partly equivocal: “[Cultists] quote such statements as that of President Brigham Young to the effect that Adam is our father and our god and the only god with whom we have to do. This statement, and others of a similar nature, is perfectly consistent and rational, when viewed in lull gospel perspective and understood in the light of the revelations relative to the patriarchal chain binding exalted beings together. Full and detailed explanations of all important teachings on these points are readily available.” ( [ Joseph Fielding Smith’s] Doctrines of Salvation, vol. I, pp. 96-106.) He was less equivocal about it in other and later contexts, but he himself made it clear in 1978, at least on another subject, that his adamant declaratory and self-confident writing and speaking style was no indication that his statements were made with “light and knowledge.”
2. SWK as president of the Church publicly rejected the Adam-God teachings in general conference: “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.” —Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Own Liahona,” Ensign (November 1976), 77.
3. “Michael” masc. proper name, … from Late Latin Michael (source of French Michel, Spanish Miguel), from Greek Mikhael, from Hebrew Mikha-el, literally “Who is like God?” —- It’s beyond me how one can get sensibly from the inclusion of “el” in the name Michael to thinking it had anything to do with Adam being God rather than being merely “like God” (made in the “image and likeness” of God) if the Hebrew were a statement or “unlike God” in some important way, if the Hebrew were a question as it is widely believed to be.
4. The whole subject seems to derive its importance from a notion of infallibility of prophets of the Church and a disregard of their contradictory speculations. Some of us gave up that notion long ago.
No, you had it right, J is Southern Kingdom and E is Northern Kingdom. That’s according to Dr. Richard Elliot Friedman, Bible with Sources Reveled. He’s one of the top scholars for the documentary hypothesis.
I think it’s funny that SWK had to warn us against a doctrine that was promoted by Brigham Young. It’s not like members of the Church came up with these ideas on their own. Same with blacks and the priesthood. It’s funny how the Church uses the passive voice in “Race and the Priesthood” and states that we disavow theories that were “advanced in the past” without saying who advanced them. It was a prophet named Brigham Young, among others. Again, early Church members might have been prejudiced all by themselves but they did not come up with these theories on their own.
Andy, is my diagram wrong then? Because it looks to me just the opposite. (I get those confused all the time.)
J is considered to be written in the south. The portions ascribed to J are friendly to the Patriarch Judah whereas E is north and for instance in the Joseph story, E focuses on Ruben as the good guy and not Judah.
Also: J has a particular fascination for traditions concerning Judah, including its relationship with its rival and neighbor, Edom; its focus on Judahite cities such as Jerusalem; and its support of the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy. J is also critical of the other tribes of Israel, for example, by suggesting that the Northern Kingdom’s capital of Shechem was captured via a massacre of the original inhabitants (Genesis 34).
E has a particular fascination for traditions concerning the Kingdom of Israel and its heroes such as Joshua and Joseph. E favors Israel over the Kingdom of Judah (e.g., claiming that Shechem was purchased rather than massacred) and speaks negatively of Aaron (e.g., the story of the golden calf). In particular it records the importance of Ephraim, the tribe from which Jeroboam, the King of Israel, happened to derive.
J: Jehovah Judah
E: Elohim Ephraim
I highly recommend this book as it’s all of Gen-Deut but he uses different fonts and colors to represent what he feels belongs to which author. As you do so, the seams in the book look completely obvious and you can see where redaction has occured.
Rick, great job on a complex topic!
Consider that Adam-god theory isn’t offensive to Kabbalists, who interpret the First Man as archetype of Creation, Adam Kadmon. I wonder if Joseph Smith was trying to describe Kabbalist archetypes to an uninitiated audience of new converts. It would be difficult before the era of Carl Jung to translate imagery from an apocalyptic experience. There wouldn’t be vocabulary for it. From the unique viewpoint of a Kabbalist, or a Jewish mystic (Harold Bloom), Joseph’s experience and doctrine has historical parallels with the apocalyptic visions recorded by early Jewish mystics.
As a result, I wonder if Christians in general have a blindspot when it comes to understanding what it means to be God, a god, and gods.
A Jewish scholar weighed in on my Facebook post on this topic to someone who was claiming to understand Kabbalah and said the person was misinterpreting Kabbalah badly.
I’d be interested to hear another Jewish scholar’s take (your source). Harold Bloom & Gershon Scholem are considered top Jewish scholars, so I wonder where and how they’d differ….