Early Understandings of Adam and Eve: Brigham Young and Orson Pratt
This post is part VI in the Understanding the Fall in Mormonism series. See all parts here.
The two most influential Garden of Eden narratives in early Mormonism come from Brigham Young and Orson Pratt. Young and Pratt held to rather distinct beliefs regarding Adam and Eve. In many ways, one cannot really understand the development of the fall in Mormonism without understanding the foundational logic behind Young and Pratt’s views.
Brigham Young’s complete understanding of the Eden story is unfamiliar to many Latter-day Saints today, but it is absolutely crucial to understanding how the fall developed.
In 1852, Brigham Young taught: “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.” Describing the Edenic narrative through the lens of the plurality of worlds, Young preached, “Yes, an Adam will have to go there and he cannot do without Eve; he must have Eve to commence the work of generation, and they will go into the garden, and continue to eat and drink of the fruits of the corporal world, until this grosser matter is diffused sufficiently through their celestial bodies to enable them, according to the established laws, to produce mortal tabernacles for their spirit children.”
As Buerger explains:
“Brigham’s cosmology thus seemingly held that each “god” was personally responsible for creating spiritual offspring, organizing an earth for their temporal existence, and decelestializing himself to a point where he with an “Eve” could procreate physical bodies for their spirit children.”
In fact, this point was so pivotal to his Garden of Eden narrative that Young once exclaimed:
“You believe Adam was made of the dust of this earth. This I do not believe, though it is supposed that it is so written in the Bible; but it is not, to my understanding. You can write that information to the States, if you please—that I have publicly declared that I do not believe that portion of the Bible as the Christian world do. I never did, and I never want to. What is the reason I do not? Because I have come to understanding, and banished from my mind all the baby stories my mother taught me when I was a child.”
Young did not accept that Adam was made from the dust of the earth because in Young’s view, Adam and Eve were transplanted beings.
One salient feature of Young’s view is the influence of the premortal existence and spiritual birth. In 1873, speaking in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Young suggested that Adam, upon forming the earth, said:
“I want my children who are in the spirit world to come and live here. I once dwelt upon an earth something like this, in a mortal state. I was faithful, I received my crown and exaltation. I have the privilege of extending my work, and to its increase there will be no end. I want my children that were born to me in the spirit world to come here and take tabernacles of flesh, that their spirits may have a house, a tabernacle or a dwelling place as mine has.”
Young continued in the next paragraph:
“Now for mother Eve. The evil principle always has and always will exist. Well, a certain character came along, and said to Mother Eve, ‘The Lord has told you that you must not do so and so, for if you do you shall surely die. But I tell you that if you do not do this you will never know good from evil, your eyes will never be opened, and you may live on the earth forever and ever, and you will never know what the Gods know.’ The devil told the truth, what is the mystery about it? He is doing it today. He is telling one or two truths and mixing them with a thousand errors to get the people to swallow them. I do not blame Mother Eve, I would not have had her miss eating the forbidden fruit for anything in the world.”
Young had made reference to the role of the serpent six years prior in 1867:
“The devil had truth in his mouth as well as lies when he came to mother Eve. Said he, “If you will eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will see as the gods see.” That was just as true as anything that ever was spoken on the face of the earth. She did eat, her eyes were opened, and she saw good and evil. She gave of the fruit to her husband, and he ate too. What would have been the consequence if he had not done so? They would have been separated, and where would we have been? I am glad he did eat. I am glad the fruit was given to mother Eve, that she ate of it, and that her eyes were opened, and that my eyes are opened, that I have tasted the sweet as well as the bitter, and that I understand the difference between good and evil.”
In Young’s narrative, the Serpent becomes one who assists the Plan of Salvation. Young focuses on the fact that the serpent gave Eve the truth! Mother Eve had to eat the fruit. She had to partake in order to provide mortal tabernacles for spiritual children.
Except for Young’s understanding of Adam as God and Eve as one of his wives (projecting early Mormonism’s polygamous marriage ideal onto God), the rest of the story has lived on in the Mormon tradition. The notion that couples carry on the work of creating mortal tabernacles for God’s children is alive and well. The notion of the plan being reiterated worlds without end is also a contemporary belief.
Interpreting “Adam Fell that Men Might Be” from 1844 ~ 1946
Coexisting with Brigham Young’s narrative was the Garden of Eden narrative expounded by Mormonism’s philosopher Orson Pratt. Orson was much more inclined to base his narrative in scripture than Young. Orson made use of Paul and Lehi’s teachings, finding them completely complementary.
On December 30, 1844, the year of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, Orson Pratt quoted Lehi’s statement: “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” and offered one of earliest coherent accounts of the fall. Pratt’s view of the Garden of Eden drew both from the typical biblical passages and from those found in the Book of Mormon.
According to John Taylor’s account of Pratt’s sermon, Eve was beguiled by the devil and ate of the fruit. At this point Adam was faced with one decision: whether to deliberately transgress the commandment in order to remain with Eve, or be obedient to God’s commandment not to partake of the fruit but be forever separated from Eve. It should be noted that Orson’s interpretation occurred well before Brigham Young unveiled his Adam-God theory in the April 1852 general conference.
In 1853, Orson openly preached his understanding in the Salt Lake Tabernacle:
But there is a very curious saying in the Book of Mormon, to which I now wish to refer your minds; it reads thus: “Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy.” Says one, “If Adam had not fallen, then there could not have been any posterity.” That is just what we believe; but how do you get along with that saying which was given previous to the fall, where he was commanded to multiply and replenish the earth? How could he have multipled and fullfiled this commandment, if “Adam fell that man might be?” Let me appeal to another saying in the New Testament: “Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression,” says the Apostle Paul. Well, after the woman was deceived, she became subject to the penalty; yes, after she had partaken of the forbidden fruit, the penalty was upon her, and not upon Adam; he had not partaken of the fruit, but his wife had. Now, what is to be done? Here are two beings in the garden of Eden, the woman and the man; she has transgressed, has broken the law, and incurred the penalty. And now, suppose the man had said, “I will not partake of this forbidden fruit;” the next word would have been, “Cast her out of the garden; but let Adam stay there, for he has not sinned; he has not broken the commandment, but his wife has; she was deceived, let her be banished from the garden, and from my presence, and from Adam’s presence; let them be eternally separated.” I ask, on these conditions could they fulfil the first great commandment? They could not. Adam saw this, that the woman was overcome by the devil speaking through the serpent; and when he saw it, he was satisfied that the woman would have to be banished from his presence: he saw, also, that unless he partook of the forbidden fruit, he could never raise up posterity; therefore the truth of that saying in the Book of Mormon is apparent, that “Adam fell that man might be.” He saw that it was necessary that he should with her partake of sorrow and death, and the varied effects of the fall, that he and she might be redeemed from these effects, and be restored back again to the presence of God.
That same year in the Seer, Orson shared another aspect of his beliefs.
Is it possible for immortal beings to multiply? If it is not, then why did God give such a command to the immortal male and female? It may be said that they fulfilled the design embraced in the command after they through transgression became mortal; but did God command them to sin, and fall, and become mortal, in order to raise up mortal posterity that the first command might be obeyed and made honorable? Would He command them to disobey one law in order to keep another?
Orson clearly rejected the notion that God would give conflicting commandments. He found nothing in scripture that would prevent Adam and Eve from having children before the fall. The historical record indicates that he openly preached these ideas to the saints in 1873 and 1875.
For Orson the transgression was clear:
What was that transgression? It was violating a single commandment of God, and disregarding the counsel of those immortal beings who stood above them in authority. The Creator placed in the garden a certain tree and warned Adam that in the day he eat the fruit thereof he should surely die. He commanded him not to eat the fruit. His was a simple commandment; but the violation of it subjected Adam to a fall from his exalted station in the favor of God. Consequently a curse was passed upon all created things, and in the posterity of Adam were sown the seeds of dissolution.
How then did Orson interpret Lehi’s statement in the Book of Mormon that if Adam and Eve had not transgressed that “they would have had no children”? As can be seen from his 1853 address, Orson interpreted the scripture to mean that Adam and Eve would not have had mortal children.
As late as 1880, Orson openly preached on this point:
Two immortal beings, then, were placed in the garden of Eden, male and female. Was there any commandment given to those two immortal beings before the fall? There was one commandment, namely: “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” What! Did the Lord command two immortal beings to multiply their species! He did. In meditating upon this great command given to these two immortal beings; it opens to us a field of reflection, of knowledge, concerning the great designs of the Almighty. It imparts to us a knowledge that the Lord our God intended that immortal beings should multiply their species. Can you find any place in the book of Genesis where our first parents were commanded to multiply after the fall? I do not remember any such scripture. I have read the scriptures very diligently; I do not remember any such command. . . . “[W]ill the time ever come when Adam and Eve will become immortal and carry out the command that was given to them in the days of their first immortality? I answer, yes; without this, the command of God never could be, in all respects, fulfilled.”
Orson Pratt consistently believed and taught this understanding of Eden until his death the following year in 1881.
We can make a few of observations about Orson Pratt’s narrative. First, the fact that he believed Adam and Eve could have had children before the fall plays a crucial function in his theology. This means that the Lord provided coherent commandments that could have been fully obeyed. Commandments do not conflict in Orson’s narrative and Adam and Eve are not forced to choose among conflicting commandments. Thus, Orson’s God is a God of rationality and ethical coherence who would never command his children to “disobey one law in order to keep another.”
Second, because there is no inherent need for any of the commandments to be broken, Orson’s account would not make the Fall necessary or inevitable, in contrast to Brigham Young’s view. This point would consistently bother Mormon thinkers later on.
Third, Eve was genuinely deceived by the Devil. Orson does not teach that the Serpent gave Eve the truth as does Brigham Young. Thus, Orson maintains the language of Paul and the Book of Mormon regarding Eve’s deception.
Orson’s unique belief that Adam and Eve were able to have children before the fall, and that this would have resulted in immortal children in the Garden, was never really carried on in the Mormon exegetical tradition. Without this link in his logic, Pratt’s overall narrative loses some of its coherent force. There are perhaps reasons why this idea didn’t take. It isn’t clear how well it fits with the notions that God give birth to spirits, who then enter mortality to receive mortal bodies. Orson Pratt rejects the reading that God commanded Adam and Eve to provide “mortal tabernacles for their spiritual children” a proposition so crucial in Young’s theology.
Despite the fact that Orson’s idiosyncratic views regarding immortal children would not endure, the overall structure of his Garden of Eden narrative in terms of the dilemma and the decision would remain the dominant understanding of Adam and Eve in Mormon thought until the 1950s. But what happened at that point is a story for another time.
This post is part of an unpublished paper outlining the development of the fall in Mormon thought.
 Brigham Young. “Self-Government—Mysteries—Recreation and Amusements, Not in Themselves Sinful—Tithing—Adam, Our Father and Our God.” Journal of Discourses 1:50. April 9, 1852.
 Brigham Young. August 28, 1852. Journal of Discourses 6:275.
 Buerger, David John. “The Adam-God Doctrine,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15.1 (Spring 1982).
 Brigham Young. October 23, 1853. Journal of Discourses 2:6. This quotation has appeared many times but only in the context of whether Young held a literal understanding of the Genesis account. However, the real key to understanding Young’s exegesis of Genesis 2:7 (or complete dismissal of it) is his views on Adam-God.
 Brigham Young, “Discourse,” Deseret News, June 18, 1873, pp. 308-309. Here Young is teaching that Adam and his wife gave birth to spirit children before creating this world and that Adam had dwelt on another earth prior. Cited in Buerger, David John. “The Adam-God Doctrine,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15.1 (Spring 1982): fn67. See also Brigham Young, July 18, 1869. Journal of Discourses 13:145. While Buerger argues that Young publicly abandoned support for his Adam-God Doctrine in 1861, he argues Young privately maintained the doctrine evident in other statements and even as alluded to in his sermons until as late as 1876. Young died in 1877.
 Brigham Young, “Discourse,” Deseret News, June 18, 1873, pp. 308-309 (Sermon given June 8, 1873).
 Brigham Young. June 23, 1867. Journal of Discourses 12:70. Speaking of the devil’s role Young taught in 1870: “Sin is upon every earth that ever was created. . . . Consequently every earth has its redeemer and every earth has its tempter; and every earth and the people thereof . . . pass through all the ordeals that we are passing through.” Brigham Young, “Sin—the Atonement—Good and Evil—the Kingdom of God.” Journal of Discourses 14:72. (Ogden City, July 10, 1870). In this way, Young institutionalizes the role of the serpent in the plan of salvation.
 Jesse, Dean C. “The John Taylor Nauvoo Journal.” BYU Studies, 23:2 (1983): 238. Portions of Taylor’s Journal were published the following year. See Times and Seasons 6.2 (Feb 4, 1845).
 Brigham Young. Journal of Discourses 1:50-51.
 Pratt, Orson. “A General Funeral Sermon of All Saints and Sinners; Also of the Heavens and the Earth.” (July 25, 1852) Journal of Discourses 1:284. See also The Seer, 1:6 (1853): 84-85. Even Brigham Young agreed with Orson’s general view that the decision in the Garden came upon Adam after Eve’s transgression: “What would have been the consequence if [Adam] had not done so? They would have been separated, and where would we have been?” Brigham Young. June 23, 1867. Journal of Discourses 12:70
 Orson Pratt, “Celestial Marriage (continued).” The Seer Vol.1, No.3 (March 1853): 45-47.
 Orson Pratt. “Marriage.” Journal of Discourses 16:178-179 (August 31, 1873). “Have you never read the first great commandment given in the Bible? God said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Did he give this commandment to mortal beings? No, he gave it to two immortal beings. ‘What! do you mean to say that immortal beings can multiply, as well as be married for all eternity?” I do.” Orson Pratt, Immediate Revelation—Spiritual Gifts Necessary in the Christian Church—Apostacy—the Restoration of the Gospel—All Things to Be Gathered in One—Divine Authority—Marriage—Celestial Marriage—Baptism for the Dead.” Journal of Discourses 18:49 (July 11, 1875). “Would people of flesh and blood and bones come into the world from immortal parents? No. We must suppose, then, that when God said to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply” that he spoke to them as beings that were not fallen.”
 Orson Pratt, “Funeral of Mrs. Caroline Smith,” Times and Seasons, vol. 6 no 10 (June 1, 1845): 918.
 Orson Pratt, “The Pre-Existence of Man (continued).” The Seer Vol.1, No.6 (June 1853): 85. “That our first parents would have had no mortal children if they had not partaken of the forbidden fruit, is not only reasonable, but it is clearly revealed in the Book of Mormon.” (emphasis added).
 Orson Pratt. “Visions of Moses—Rebellion in Heaven—Satan Cast Down—Our First Parents Fell—Before the Fall They Were Immortal—After the Fall, Mortal—the Command to Multiply Was Given to Two Immortal Beings—This Command More Fully to Be Carried Into Effect, After the Resurrection, Etc.” Journal of Discourses 21:289-290. (July 18, 1880).
 I use the term “conflicting commandments” anachronistically here. The phrase and concept does not become part of Mormon discourse until the 1950s. It is beyond to scope of this post to trace that development here.