It is commonly believed that Adam was literally made from mud, or the dust of the ground. This interpretation is so common that the name Adam literally means "ground" or "made from the earth/dust/clay" in some languages. However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to take a different position on the issue. But let’s first walk through some of the dust references.
Created from the Dust
I can’t blame people for taking the Genesis account literally in this way and using Genesis 2 to promote the idea that Adam was created from dirt.
7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
I generally take the scriptures extremely literally unless otherwise interpreted by the brethren. I believe the universal flood was literal, I take God’s reckoning of time literally, I believe talking animals in the Bible is legit, and so on…
However, as Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib is figurative, according to Spencer W. Kimball as referenced below, I believe we might also consider the account of Adam’s creation from dust figurative.
And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (The story of the rib, of course, is figurative.)
(Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, p. 71)
I recognize that the Genesis account is not the only place it says Adam was created from the dust of the earth. There are plenty of references in the Book of Mormon too.
17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought?
However, notice how the scriptures say you and I are also created from the dust of the earth:
25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.
Jacob says the same:
Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever.
So this "made from the dust" concept is not only applicable to Adam, but to each of us.
However, you and I were created through the process of birth. Yes, when we die we will disintegrate back into the base material our bodies are made from, but let’s distinguish the difference between the material we are made from and the process through which our bodies have been made. To me, these scriptures have so far only referenced material, not the process.
Most scientists advocate that we have been created through the process of evolution. I’ll make a single reference to science at the end of this post, but a more comprehensive response to this claim deserves at least one entire post at a later time.
Made in the Image of God
President Spencer W. Kimball said man was created in the image of God the Father and women were created in the image of our Heavenly Mother.
God made man in his own image and certainly he made woman in the image of his wife-partner.
You [women] are daughters of God. You are precious. You are made in the image of our heavenly Mother.
(The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. by Edward L. Kimball , p.25)
A 1909 First Presidency Statement previously established the same:
All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.
Adam as the Literal Son of God
Now, any suggestion that Adam was born the same way we were and that he is an actual begotten son of God is met by the claim that Jesus Christ is the "Only Begotten Son of God". The problem is that this is a shortened title for the Savior, and that the full or more accurate title is "Only Begotten Son of God in the Flesh".
Why does this full title matter?
Since flesh often means “mortality,” Adam is spoken of as the “first flesh” upon the earth, meaning he was the first mortal on the earth, all things being created in a nonmortal condition and becoming mortal through the Fall of Adam. Jesus is the “Only Begotten of the Father” in the flesh, meaning He is the only one begotten of the Father into mortality (Moses 3:7). See also Fall of Adam and Eve.
Wait, what? The Bible Dictionary seems to be alluding to the idea that while Christ is the Only Begotten into a mortal condition, Adam was begotten by the same Heavenly father into a nonmortal condition.
However, it would be quite a leap if we were to only use the Bible Dictionary as our entire foundation for this principle. So the next question becomes, "What other evidence do we have that Adam and Eve were born in the same manner we have been?"
A fascinating passage of scripture on this issue is Luke 3. The second half of this chapter is a chronology of Christ’s literal patriarchal lineage:
23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
24 Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph,
37 Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan,
38 Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
If Adam was born from a primitive ape and he was simply the first "human spirit" on earth as so many members of the church suggest, then why is God the Father listed as his literal patriarchal father in this genealogy?
It gets better.
Let’s review some excerpts from a First Presidency Statement called "The Origin of Man"
[M]an, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality. It teaches that all men existed in the spirit before any man existed in the flesh and that all who have inhabited the earth since Adam have taken bodies and become souls in like manner.
It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declared that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our Heavenly Father.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. God Himself is an exalted man, perfected, enthroned, and supreme. By His almighty power He organized the earth and all that it contains, from spirit and element, which exist coeternally with Himself. He formed every plant that grows and every animal that breathes, each after its own kind, spiritually and temporally—“that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal, and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual.” He made the tadpole and the ape, the lion and the elephant, but He did not make them in His own image, nor endow them with godlike reason and intelligence. Nevertheless, the whole animal creation will be perfected and perpetuated in the Hereafter, each class in its “distinct order or sphere,” and will enjoy “eternal felicity.” That fact has been made plain in this dispensation (see D&C 77:3).
Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God.
Man is the "direct and lineal offspring of Deity." That’s exactly how it sounds to me when I read Luke 3. The only form of evolution supported in this statement is that of man evolving into a God, and that purely through a process of character refinement.
As our creation account in the Pearl of Great Price is supposed to be more accurate, it’s interesting to note that we have an additional statement that the Genesis account does not have. Adam was "the first man of all men". He was not developed or evolved from lower orders of creation, as so many both inside and outside of our church believe.
Apostle George Albert Smith said:
I am grateful that in the midst of the confusion of our Father’s children there has been given to the members of this great organization a sure knowledge of the origin of man, that we came from the spirit world where our spirits were begotten by our Father in heaven, that he formed our first parents from the dust of the earth, and that their spirits were placed in their bodies, and that man came, not as some have believed, not as some have preferred to believe, from some of the lower walks of life, but our ancestors were those beings who lived in the courts of heaven. We came not from some menial order of life, but our ancestor is God our heavenly Father.
(Conference Report, Oct. 1925, p. 33)
Apostle George Q. Cannon said:
[Brigham Young] unmistakably declare[d] man’s origin to be altogether of a celestial character – that not only is his spirit of heavenly descent, but his bodily organization too, – that the latter is not taken from the lower animals, but from the originally celestial body of the great Father of Humanity….
(Millennial Star, October 1861, p. 654)
Apostle James E. Talmage said:
… I’d not regard Adam as related to – certainly not as descended from – the Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, the Peking, or the Piltdown man. Adam came as divinely directed, created and empowered, and stands as the patriarchal head of his posterity…. He is born in the lineage of Deity, not in the posterity of the brute creation.
(Deseret News, November 21, 1931, pp. 7-8)
I asked one of my religion professors at BYU-Idaho about this very issue. I said that in all of my research, it appears that the position of the Church is that Adam and Eve were created through the standard human reproductive process of birth and wondered how doctrinally sound my interpretation was. I wanted to know how solid of a foundation I have on this issue. I figured he would be a good professor to ask because I was taking a Marriage and Family religion class from him and he was among the leadership for the religion department. He told me that I was correct and that there is substantial evidence that this is, or at least has been, the doctrinal position of the Church. "However," he said, "the Geology department has begged us to not teach this because they hate having to respond to it."
I was floored. But at the same time, I completely understand. Modern geology has failed to produce an alternative to the old earth, ancient evolution model that we use almost universally today. How can the BYU-Idaho Geology department remain accredited while teaching our doctrines that contradict modern scientific theories? So I don’t really have a bone to pick with them. I likely would be teaching the same thing if I had been educated the same way they have been.
Science & DNA Evidence
There isn’t room in this article for a comprehensive review and analysis of geology, radiometric dating, the fossil record and the fossilization process, or all the other subjects that are scientific stakeholders in this doctrinal discussion. However, it’s worth tipping our hat to at least one significant scientific discovery on the matter.
Several years ago, Ann Gibbons published an article in Science Magazine called "Calibrating the Mitochondrial Clock" where it was announced that new DNA research places humankind’s common mother in our very recent history, only several thousand years ago:
Regardless of the cause, evolutionists are most concerned about the effect of a faster mutation rate. For example, researchers have calculated that “mitochondrial Eve”—the woman whose mtDNA was ancestral to that in all living people—lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago in Africa. Using the new clock, she would be a mere 6,000 years old.
(Science, 1998: 279:29, emphasis added)
Read more on this subject here.
Thankfully, I’ve found a lot of other research that does establish an alternative model to the old-earth, evolution theory contemporary science relies on today. But for now, I wanted this to be a doctrinal discussion. More to come on the physical sciences later!
Why This Matters to Me
This is significant to me because if this interpretation is correct, we are all literally sons and daughters of God. God is not just the father of our spirits, but truly and literally the father of our race. If it is true that Adam and Eve were born and raised by God and were cast from their presence through the Fall, then it personally makes me feel an even greater relationship with and sense of connection with God. He is no longer my Heavenly Father in a spiritual sense—He’s my literal Father, in Heaven.
How does this analysis shape your perspective/feelings toward Him?