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The following is taken from the book The Infinite Creation by Trent Dee Stephens. In this particular chapter, he discusses Adam as the First Man, a title that he is given rather than actually being the first man who walked the Earth, and showcasing his theories on why he believes there may have been men and women on Earth roaming BEFORE Adam and Eve entered the Garden.
Before the advent of modern anthropology, Bible-believing people were comfortable with the story of a single man, Adam, being molded from the dust of the earth to become the progenitor of all humans, a mere six thousand years ago. Today, as more and more anthropological data accumulate, the picture of a simple creation from the mists and clay of the earth become much more complicated, and a science-religion reconciliation must be resolved, at least for those of us who value both scientific and religious truth.
During the April 2003 general conference of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “Every man or woman who ever walked the earth, even the Lord Jesus, was once a boy or girl like you. They grew according to the pattern they followed. If that pattern was good, then they became good men and women.
“Never forget, my dear young friends, that you really are a child of God who has inherited something of His divine nature.”
Does such a statement that “every man or woman who ever walked the earth ...was once a boy or girl like you” also include Adam and Eve? I believe it does.
The phrase “Adam, who was the first man” (D&C 84:16; see also Moses 1:34, 3:7; Abraham 1:3) may have at least five meanings:
1. Adam may have been literally, chronologically the first man.
This first definition is certainly how the relevant scriptures seem to have been interpreted down through the years. It may come as a surprise to some people that the phrase “first man” is never used in Genesis. Indeed, only once is the phrase used in the Old Testament. In Job we read, “Art thou the first man that was born? or wast thou made before the hills?” (Job 15:7). Here, Adam is not referred to as the “first man.” Rather, Job is being asked if he was the first man born—born to whom, if he was the first man? The phrase “first man” appears twice in the New Testament, both in 1 Corinthians: “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45–47).
If the phrase “first man” is taken literally in 1 Corinthians, then “the last Adam” must also be taken literally, which meaning is not clear. Furthermore, if “the first man Adam” is taken literally, then the “second man” is the Lord, Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus Christ was not literally the second man ever born. Clearly, therefore, the term “first man Adam” must be taken metaphorically in this scripture as is obviously meant by the “last Adam” and the “second man . . . Lord.” A metaphorical interpretation of this scripture makes perfect sense in what Paul was saying to the Corinthians about the Resurrection. Therefore, one must conclude that nowhere in ancient scripture is the phrase “first man” in reference to Adam meant to be taken literally.
The phrase “first man” in reference to Adam appears five times in modern scripture—three times in the Pearl of Great Price and twice in the Doctrine and Covenants. Our first encounter with this phrase is in Moses 1:34: “And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.” Here, the phrase “which is many” seems a bit odd and will be discussed in more detail later. The second appearance is also in Moses:
“And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word” (Moses 3:7).
Adam is not mentioned in this verse as its object, but if the implied Adam is literally the “first man,” he is also the “first flesh.” The term “spiritually . . . created” in this verse suggests that this verse isn’t even talking about the earthly creation. The use of “first flesh” and “first man” here, therefore, may refer only to the spiritual creation. The only citation in Abraham is in reference to the priesthood, which will be discussed later: “It [the priesthood] was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me” (Abraham 1:3).
The two references in the Doctrine and Covenants are either in reference to the priesthood, “And from Enoch to Abel, who was slain by the conspiracy of his brother, who received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam, who was the first man” (D&C 84:16) or a quote of 1 Corinthians 15:45–47 (D&C 128:14).
2. The term “first man” may be a title.
The English language is full of metaphors to which we pay little or no attention; “first” is one of them. For example, the president of the United States and his family are called the First Family. The president’s wife is called the First Lady. It is obvious here that “first” has no chronological implication, and it would be ridiculous to believe that the First Family or the First Lady were the first people to ever live on Earth. There are many other examples of “firsts,” such as First Presidency, First Knight, First Lieutenant, or First Boy. Adam, for a number of reasons, holds a very important position in the human family, for which “first man” is a fitting title.
3. Adam may have been the first man to hold the priesthood.
Two of the verses cited above (Abraham 1:3 and Doctrine and Covenants 84:16) are references to the priesthood. It is entirely possible that, for whatever reason, Adam was the first person given the priesthood and that Homo sapiens living before him were not given that right. Doctrine and Covenants 84:16 certainly suggests that we need not trace the priesthood beyond Adam. We do not as yet understand the reasons for withholding the priesthood until the time of Adam. However, when the twelve tribes of Israel were organized and exited Egypt, only the Levites were given the priesthood—and that only the Aaronic. Furthermore, we do not understand why most black male members of the Church were not given the priesthood before 1978.
4. Adam may be the head of the human family, in the same sense as Abraham.
Abraham was foreordained to his calling: “And God . . . said unto me: Abraham . . . thou wast chosen before thou wast born” (Abraham 3:23). We are not specifically told in the scriptures that Adam was also foreordained. However, we are told that all who receive the priesthood are “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (Alma 13:3).
Abraham’s calling was to be the father of all who accept the gospel, whether his biological children or not, “as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father” (Abraham 2:10). We are further told in Galatians, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). We are told in the Doctrine and Covenants that this Abrahamic promise, this covenant, was an eternal covenant, “and as touching Abraham and his seed . . . both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars...and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself” (D&C 132:30–31). Abraham would not even be aware of all those who would fall under his covenant.
“Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting” (Isaiah 63:16).
By extension, the Abrahamic covenant also includes all of Abraham’s righteous ancestors, all the way back to Adam—the first man by whom this covenant exists in eternity. Paradoxically, the Abrahamic covenant even includes Adam as a son of Abraham because of his accepting Christ and being baptized after the Fall (see Moses 5:14–15 and 6:51–69). God appeared to Adam and his posterity in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman:
“And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever” (D&C 107:53, 55). Why would such a blessing be given to Adam if he were already the biological father of every living human being? This blessing sounds very similar to the Abrahamic covenant, and it could be called the Adamic covenant. This covenant, like the later Abrahamic covenant, is timeless, eternal. We all agreed to this covenant in the great premortal council. Therefore, it was of no importance whether or not Adam was literally the first man and all humans were descended from him.
The consequence of the Adamic covenant was that all people are his children and all people are partakers of his fall, whether his direct biological offspring or not. Abraham discusses the right of the “firstborn” in Abraham 1:3. He says, “It [the high priesthood] was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me” (Abraham 1:3). This right of the firstborn, the high priesthood, is not confined to only the literal firstborn.
Rather, it is conferred upon all worthy sons of Adam and sons of Abraham. It is clear that the term “firstborn” in this context is a metaphorical title. As in Doctrine and Covenants 93:22, “And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn.”
5. The term Adam means mankind.
The name Adam has two meanings. One refers to a specific man, Adam. The other is a metaphorical name referring to all humans, male and female alike. We are told in the scriptures, “Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created” (Genesis 5:2; see also Moses 6:9). Therefore, any Homo sapiens is an Adam, no matter how long ago he or she was born. We can therefore say, by this scriptural definition, that the very first Homo sapiens, born in Africa some 315 thousand years ago, was Adam.
Adam is a Hebrew word ( םדָאָ ) meaning “man,” “mankind,” or “human.” Not coincidentally, it is closely connected to the Hebrew word adamah meaning the “earth,” specifically red earth or clay, from which the Hebrews believed Adam was specifically taken. We find the Hebrew word םדָאָ used in Genesis in all of its meanings: collectively as “mankind,” (Genesis 1:27) gender nonspecific, (Genesis 5:1, 2) and male specific. (Genesis 2:23–24)12 The notion that Adam can be translated “mankind” seems to help Moses 1:34 make more sense: “And the first man of all men have I called Adam (i.e, mankind), which is many.” Thus, mankind was the first man, which is many.
As we evaluate the term “first man” in the scriptures in light of the five possible meanings just presented, and possibly more, we can ask the question, which of these interpretations are compatible with the first Homo sapiens appearing some 300,000 years ago? It turns out that only the first definition of Adam, as the “first man” taken literally and chronologically is in conflict with the scientific data. Definitions 2 through 5, taken collectively or individually, are all compatible with the scientific data. Therefore, what appears on the surface to be a simple choice between these two options of a literal, chronological “first man” or the term “first man” being a title, having reference to the first priesthood holder, head of the human family, and/or the symbol of mankind—a mere flip of the coin, if you will—has a huge impact on how we understand the relationship between science and religion.
If we choose the literal, chronological option, we create a huge gulf between the two, and we are forced to reject either science or religion by doggedly adhering to the other. In making such a choice, science is not the loser. It is impartial; it doesn’t care whether or not it has converts. The truths of science can continue without any believers because belief in science has no impact on the truths it reveals.
Religion, on the other hand, requires faith (see Hebrews 11), for without faith, there is no religion. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (see Hebrews 11:6). But faith is difficult enough without forcing oneself to abandon all common sense. We should not be prepared to demonstrate our “faith” by throwing away the truths revealed by science in favor of accepting as literal terms in the scriptures that were meant to be metaphorical.
Personally, I reserve my faith for more fundamentally important issues such as the plan of salvation, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and our potential glorious future in the presence of our Heavenly Father. As new frontiers of science are reached, some religious concepts may require re-evaluation in the new scientific context. At the same time, the limitations of science have to be realized so that we don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Science is a powerful source of truth concerning the human body but is very limited concerning what it can say about the human spirit and infinity. Religion, on the other hand, may provide metaphorical stories about human origins but is critical to our understanding of our infinite nature.
** The following was taken from The Infinite Creation. The opinions and views expressed herein belong solely to Trent Dee Stephens and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of Cedar Fort, Inc.