Monday, December 12, 2005

No Death Before the Fall taught in
2006 Gospel Doctrine and Primary manuals

Millions of Mormons carry the LDS Bible to Sunday meetings and few, if any, will even notice when No Death Before the Fall is taught in Sunday School and Primary out of the LDS Bible Dictionary next month.

The doctrine of No Death Before the Fall is now found repeatedly in Church magazine and curriculum publications, a fact that is thoroughly documented on this blog. The present article will provide additional evidence that No Death Before the Fall is no longer considered by the Church to be controversial or questionable.

Bible Dictionary “Fall of Adam” article

The LDS Bible Dictionary teaches No Death Before the Fall in several articles, including the one on the “Fall of Adam” (page 670):

“Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the ‘forbidden fruit,’ Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. Adam became the ‘first flesh’ upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal.”

Origin of Dictionary and article

The 1979 and 1981 editions of LDS scripture were “prepared under the supervision of the Scriptures Publication Committee, under direction of the First Presidency.” (George Horton, Ensign, Dec. 1983, 27.)

“The initial ‘Bible Aids Committee,’ as it was first known, included Elder Thomas S. Monson as chairman, Elder Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Marvin J. Ashton. Later, Elder Ashton was reassigned and Elder Bruce R. McConkie joined the committee.” (Wm. James Mortimer, “The Coming Forth of the LDS Editions of Scripture,” Ensign, Aug. 1983, 36.)

“For nearly half a century the Church ... used an edition of the Bible published by Cambridge University in England. This was called the Missionary Edition, and it contained a Bible dictionary prepared by Cambridge scholars. Although that dictionary presented much helpful information, it was deemed advisable to produce a new dictionary that was more useful to Latter-day Saints. Though based on the Cambridge work, the Bible Dictionary in the new LDS edition differs from it in several important ways [including] Additional Topics,... Improved Topics,... Corrected Topics,... Deleted Topics,... [and] Corrected Terminology.” (Robert J. Matthews, “Using the New Bible Dictionary in the LDS Edition,” Ensign, June 1982, 48-50.)

The “Fall of Adam” entry was added to the LDS Bible Dictionary by the Scriptures Publication Committee, under the direction of the First Presidency. And while it is true that the LDS Bible Dictionary “is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth,” this should not imply that a committee of Apostles would have added erroneous doctrine. On the contrary, the disclaimer seems to be directed primarily at items “drawn from the best available scholarship of the world [which] are subject to reevaluation based on new research and discoveries or on new revelation.” (LDS Bible Dictionary, Preface; italics added.)

Bible Dictionary used regularly

In the years since 1979, many authors have found the LDS Bible Dictionary to be a reliable source of information and have quoted from it in general conference talks and other Church magazine articles. These authors include Church leaders such as President Boyd K. Packer and Elders L. Tom Perry, Neal A. Maxwell, Russell M. Nelson, M. Russell Ballard, Joseph B. Wirthlin, and David A. Bednar. In addition, references to the LDS Bible Dictionary are now found throughout Church curriculum materials.

Three 2006 curriculum manuals and two recent Ensign articles have recommended the Bible Dictionary “Fall of Adam” article and Primary teachers are asked to “prayerfully study” it.

“Fall of Adam” article in 2006 curriculum

The Sunday School 2006 Old Testament Class Member Study Guide contains this paragraph:

“Additional reading: Genesis 2–3; 1 Corinthians 15:20–22; 2 Nephi 2:5–30; 2 Nephi 9:3–10; Helaman 14:15–18; Doctrine and Covenants D&C 19:15–19; D&C 29:34–44; Articles of Faith 1:2; ‘Fall of Adam,’ Bible Dictionary, page 670.” (Chapter 4, 4.)

The Sunday School 2006 Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual contains this paragraph:

“Additional reading: Genesis 2–3; 1 Corinthians 15:20–22; 2 Nephi 2:5–30; 2 Nephi 9:3–10; Helaman 14:15–18; Doctrine and Covenants D&C 19:15–19; D&C 29:34–44; Articles of Faith 1:2; ‘Fall of Adam,’ Bible Dictionary, page 670.” (Chapter 4, 12.)

The Primary manual number 6, for teaching the Old Testament to children ages eight through eleven, contains the following:

“Prayerfully study:

“Moses 2:27–28—Adam and Eve are commanded to be fruitful and multiply.

“Moses 3:8–9, Moses 3:15–17—The tree of knowledge and the tree of life.

“Moses 4—The fall of Adam and Eve.

“Moses 5:9–12—Adam and Eve praise God and are glad for the Fall.

“LDS Bible Dictionary ‘Fall of Adam’ (p. 670).” (Chapter 4, 13.)

Elder Nelson recommends “Fall of Adam” article

In a 2002 feature article titled “Prepare for Blessings of the Temple,” Elder Russell M. Nelson wrote:

“I recommend that members going to the temple for the first time read selected paragraphs under the following listings in the Bible Dictionary.

“Anoint (page 609, paragraphs 1, 4)
“Atonement (page 617, paragraphs 1–2)
“Christ (page 633, paragraphs 1–3)
“Covenant (page 651, paragraphs 1–2)
Fall of Adam (page 670, paragraphs 1–2)
“Sacrifices (pages 765–66, paragraph 1)
“Temple (pages 780–81, paragraphs 1–3)” (Ensign, Mar. 2002, 17.)

In the April 2001 General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson said:

“I like to recommend that members going to the temple for the first time read short explanatory paragraphs in the Bible Dictionary, listed under seven topics: ‘Anoint’ (page 609, paragraphs 1, 4), ‘Atonement’ (page 617, paragraphs 1–2), ‘Christ’ (page 633, paragraphs 1–3), ‘Covenant’ (page 651, paragraphs 1–2), ‘Fall of Adam’ (page 670, paragraphs 1–2), ‘Sacrifices’ (pages 765–66, paragraph 1), and ‘Temple’ (pages 780–81, paragraphs 1–3). Doing so will provide a firm foundation.” (Ensign, May 2001, 32.)

Only official doctrine is binding

The four standard works are binding upon the Latter-day Saints:

“From the days of the first dispensation it has been the practice of the Lord’s people to make selections from the scriptural utterances of those who are appointed to lead the Church and to publish these selections as formal and official scripture. All inspired sayings and writings are true and are and should be accepted and believed by all who call themselves Saints. But the revelations, visions, prophecies, and narrations selected and published for official use are thereby made binding upon the people in a particular and special sense. They become part of the standard works of the Church. They become the standards, the measuring rods, by which doctrine and procedure are determined.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, Aug. 1976, 7.)

Only official doctrine is binding and I've acknowledged three times (here, here, and here) that No Death Before the Fall is not official doctrine. However, I also believe that the doctrine is no longer considered controversial or questionable. It is accepted and believed by most Latter-day Saints. Want proof? Here it is. Millions of Mormons carry the LDS Bible to Sunday meetings and few, if any, will even notice when No Death Before the Fall is taught in Sunday School and Primary out of the LDS Bible Dictionary next month.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another post about No Death Before the Fall in 2006 curriculum is “No death before the fall taught by Wilford Woodruff,” found here.

12/12/2005 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger RoastedTomatoes said...

Gary, your post is, in a way, kind of self-negating, isn't it? I mean, if the "no death before the fall" doctrine were actually uncontroversial, then why would you need to document how uncontroversial it is? It seems to me that the fact that people feel it is controversial makes such by definition.

However, if your point is instead that the "no death before the fall" doctrine is one with a wide range of uncanonized statements in support of it, and thus one of the acceptable theological positions for Latter-day Saints, then I agree with you.

12/12/2005 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comment. Let me clarify.

The vast majority of Latter-day Saints, among whom No Death Before the Fall is accepted without question, don't read my posts and they are not my target audience.

My target audience is a relatively small number of Church members who seem to feel No Death Before the Fall is false doctrine, espoused by misinformed Prophets. One LDS evolutionist said it this way, “While Joseph Fielding Smith was a brilliant scholar — in many fields — he was not a scientist and so his statements are those of a very informed lay writer.”

“Actually,” he continues, “it appears that some of his writings come from ... creationist writings of the early twentieth century [and] appear not to come so much from individual revelation.”

These individuals are fond of saying “the Church is neutral on evolution” and they feel my sources are all in violation of that Church policy. Yet, (a) they can't produce a Church published statement of neutrality, and (b) they must constantly criticize Church leaders who violate that imagined neutrality.

To me, it makes more sense to believe that our Church leaders do understand Church policy and that is why they feel free to teach things like No Death Before the Fall and warn members about the false theories of men.

12/12/2005 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger RoastedTomatoes said...

Gary, how do you know what the majority of Latter-day Saints believe with respect to death before the fall? In the absense of sample-survey data, I find it hard to know what everyone else thinks. But my guess is that the average Latter-day Saint is unsophisticated enough about all of this that she wouldn't necessarily even be familiar with the phrase "no death before the fall." She might be opposed to the theory of evolution, but probably not in articulate terms.

By the way, even more convincing collections of church statements can be found endorsing the continental theory of the Book of Mormon. So an argument similar to the one you offer here would defeat the limited-geography theory of that book. What are your thoughts about that? This point isn't an argument intended to make you change your position, but rather to clarify how you see similar debates in other fields of Mormon thought.

12/13/2005 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

I'm I the only one who didn't really see anything in the post about NDBF being in specifically taught in the 2006 manuals other than some very indirect "further reading" references to the fall? Hasn't Gary already used the "Fall of Adam" entry in a post before?

12/13/2005 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roasted asks: “How do you know what the majority of Latter-day Saints believe with respect to death before the fall?”

Gary answers: For the past thirty years, Duane Jeffery has been a de facto spokesman for Mormon evolutionists. His well respected and often referred to article, “Seers, Savants, and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface,” was published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 [Autumn-Winter 1973], 41-75. The article was announced to the whole Church in the Ensign (Dec. 1975, 71) and to the Mormon academic community in BYU Studies (Vol. 15, No. 4, Summer 1975, 532). The article's respectability is enhanced by the fact that it appears in many Bibliographies, including those of four Encyclopedia of Mormonism articles.

I think Duane Jeffery, of all people, would be least likely to overstate any anti-evolution sentiment in the Church. In fact, if anything, I think he might play it down. Yet, last March he estimated that “probably 90 percent of people who are LDS think the church is against evolution.” (See “Utah's non-war over evolution: It's taught — but probably not believed,” Deseret Morning News, Mar. 19, 2005, pp. E1 & E3.)

Ninety percent would be the vast majority, don't you think?

Roasted asks: “What are your thoughts about ... the limited-geography theory ... of the Book of Mormon.”

Gary answers: A web page at FARMS presents an overview of this discussion and it contains this sentence: “Indeed, the diversity of nineteenth-century opinion is striking, attesting that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had no authoritative stance on what was—and continues to be—an open issue.”

I am completely uninterested in bringing the Book of Mormon DNA issue into this forum.

However, I am very interested in whether or not you feel statements similar to the one quoted above might be made regarding No Death Before the Fall—and if so, whether you know of any “inside” LDS Church sources that would currently support such a point of view?

I'm not talking about Sunstone and Dialogue authors, nor am I talking about web sites like this blog (I speak on these subjects without calling or authority, as do many others). That's not what I'm asking about.

I am asking whether you are aware of any movement within the Church that is addressing the doctrine of No Death Before the Fall in a manner similar to the way “hemispheric” versus “limited” Book of Mormon geography is being addressed.

12/13/2005 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, If the “Fall of Adam” article in the LDS Bible Dictionary contains false doctrine, why are Primary teachers asked by the Church to "prayerfully study" it?

12/13/2005 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

I didn't say anything about false doctrine. I only pointed out that labeling those very indirect references as a full blown 2006 endorsement of NDBF seems less than honest to me.

12/13/2005 10:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Asking teachers to "prayerfully study" the No Death Before the Fall article isn't full blown endorsement thereof?

12/13/2005 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, it seems very likely to me that most members accept NDBF. It's also obvious to me that most members are unfamiliar with the counterevidence, both authoritative and scientific. If all members of the church studied all of the relevant facts, do you think that the issue would still be uncontroversial?

Also, if NDBF is uncontroversially true, then why hasn't it been christened official doctrine? I'd be interested to hear your speculation on this.

12/13/2005 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, I would say that asking teachers to prayerfully consider something that "is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church" constitutes a less than full-blown endorsement.

12/13/2005 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that the Church has the right to overrule its blanket disclaimer with individual endorsements and the five examples outlined in my post qualify as such.

12/13/2005 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

I think that to consider an article, which only mentions NDBF is brief passing, which is not quoted in the actual lesson material but is instead referenced in "additional reading" under the heading "fall of adam" on a lesson about the fall of adam to be a "full blown endorsement" a desperate stretch if I have ever seen one.

The reference is a side note. The relevant part of the reference is a side note in itself.

What is even more desperate in my opinion is calling the BD reference which is indirectly quoted under "additional readings" in the 2006 manual an explicit 2006 endorsement of NDBF. The BD was written a generation ago and it is referenced every year. This doesn't mean that the church is officially endorsing everything said within it every year.

I don't question that the "most" official position for the church is NDBF and that is why the BD says what it does. What I question is whether the title of this post is honest. I don't think it is because the doctrine is not taught in the manuals at all as far as I can tell. Instead there is a reference to a source OUTSIDE the manual. I simply don't think that this post furthered your mission at all.

Sorry if this was overkill. I simply wanted it to be clear where I agree with you and where I don't.

12/13/2005 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, I think the the “Fall of Adam” article carries the same weight in these lessons as various scripture verses which are also not quoted in the manual. And, clearly, No Death Before the Fall is not “a side note” in the “Fall of Adam” article.

12/13/2005 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

will asks: Why hasn't No Death Before the Fall been christened official doctrine?

Gary answers: Only when there is a general misunderstanding of a doctrine on the part of many people does the First Presidency typically step in to make clarifications. Therefore, my speculation is that as long as “90 percent of people who are LDS think the church is against evolution” that won't happen.

12/13/2005 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, Let me quickly add that I'm not elevating the “Fall of Adam” article to the status of scripture. I'm just saying that these lessons treat them equally.

12/13/2005 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, according to your reasoning, we should be able to find previous internal controversies associated with most of our official doctrines, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I won't press this issue since I only asked for speculation. Thank you for being so responsive. You definitely rank among the more congenial bloggers.

I'm still interested in this question: If the leadership and general membership of the church studied all of the relevant facts, do you think that the issue would still be uncontroversial?

12/13/2005 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

I stand corrected on the "side note" only as it pertains to the intent of the "fall" entry.

I also think your attempts at exculpating yourself from all responsibility of having equated BD with scripture are charming. Isn't that really the entire intent behind your post?

It's a little late to be throwing up your arms in a wide-eyed "Don't blame me, the manual said it not I!"

We all know how you feel about the issue. Why not just come clean?

12/13/2005 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, My post speaks for itself. I have no hidden agenda. Thanks for sharing your point of view on this.

12/13/2005 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

will, I agree that we might not find previous internal controversies associated with some of our official doctrines, but neither does a general misunderstanding necessarily result in an internal controversy.

According to evolution, life and death have been on this earth for millions or even billions of years. From that point of view, the relevant facts support evolution. But conclusions drawn from those relevant facts are meaningless unless you can say positively beforehand that all of the natural processes of life and death were exactly the same prior to six thousand years ago as they are right now. And that, in my view, makes your logic circular because that is one of the very things you are trying to prove. Which explains why people who believe there was No Death Before the Fall aren't likely to study “all of the relevant facts”—if No Death Before the Fall is true, the foundation assumption of evolution is flawed.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not arguing for a young earth. I'm saying we don't know any more about the pre-Fall earth than we do about the post-Second Coming earth.

12/13/2005 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, I would say that most of our official doctrines were never controversial nor misunderstood by the membership of the church. It seems to me that it's the controversial doctrines that tend to remain unofficial.

But regardless, I'm not concerned with what most Mormons think of NDBF since their opinions are generally based on incomplete information. Neither do I care about the mainstream Mormon opinion on the following:

- whether any blacks received the priesthood before 1978
- whether Brigham Young taught that Adam is the father of Jesus
- whether Hebrews is an authentic Pauline epistle
- whether the final Nephite battle took place in New York state
- whether the flood was global
- whether particles can be in more than one place at once

What's more, I don't care what the Primary or Sunday School manuals say about the above questions. Curriculum writers can't be experts on everything. Nor can general authorities.

12/13/2005 04:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I don't see how I can take seriously your contention that we know no more about the pre-4000BC earth than the post-millenial earth.

12/13/2005 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must we assume, however, that curriculum writers and general authorities have no expertise at all, or that they cannot recognize their individual limitations? The fact is that curriculum writers are faithful and knowledgeable members who have been called to that work. All Church teaching materials are prepared according to a basic procedure that was described by Elder M. Russell Ballard in general conference.

------------------- quote -----------------------
“For the past several years, I have served as Executive Director of the Church Curriculum Department. When I became fully aware of the immense effort required to prepare a single course of study, I was overwhelmed. I now have much greater appreciation for the approved teaching materials of the Church.

“Let me give you an example. The present Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Supplement, which was prepared to help teachers teach the New Testament, was written by a committee of faithful and knowledgeable Church-service writers, who were called and set apart for that service by one of the General Authorities. Their work commenced in the spring of 1980, following General Authority approval of the outline. Writing committee members spent thousands of hours researching, writing, and attending biweekly committee meetings, where the entire committee critiqued each lesson carefully and suggested improvements. The work of the writing committee then was reviewed by General Authority Managing Directors of the Priesthood and Curriculum departments, the General Presidency and the General Board of the Sunday School, Church Editing, and Church Correlation Review. This manual received careful scrutiny at many levels before it was approved for use in Sunday School this year. All teaching materials for the Church follow this same basic procedure in their preparation.

“Teachers would be well advised to study carefully the scriptures and their manuals before reaching out for supplemental materials. Far too many teachers seem to stray from the approved curriculum materials without fully reviewing them. If teachers feel a need to use some good supplemental resources beyond the scriptures and manuals in presenting a lesson, they should first consider the use of the Church magazines.

“Teachers can stay on safe ground when they use the standard works, the approved manuals, and the writings of the General Authorities.” (Ensign, May 1983, 68; emphasis added.)
------------------ end quote ---------------------


Curriculum writers are cleared by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve before they are called. Correlation Review Committee members are called precisely because of their expertise in Church doctrine and Church history. Elder Dean L. Larsen of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Managing Director of Curriculum Resources explains:

------------------- quote -----------------------
“Church publications fall into four general categories: (1) materials related to the curriculum, such as lesson manuals, teachers’ supplements, and student materials; (2) magazines; (3) administrative documents, such as handbooks, leadership training materials, organizational guidelines and bulletins, etc.; and (4) missionary discussions, tracts, and support materials. All of the materials within these four categories are prepared under the direction of some officially recognized Church agency, and they are reviewed and cleared by the Church Correlation Review committees before they are published and issued to the Church....

“While the content of the approved Church publications identified above does not claim the same endorsement that the standard works receive, nonetheless they are prepared with great care and are carefully screened before they are published. Writers of curriculum materials must be cleared by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve. Their product is reviewed closely by the heads of the organizations that are responsible for their implementation. Correlation Review committees check carefully for doctrinal accuracy and for harmony with established Church policies and procedures....

“Correlation Review ... Committee members are called as a result of their expertise in such areas as Church doctrine, Church history, and Church administration, and serve three different age groups: adult, youth, and children.

“Much care is exercised to make certain that the official publications of the Church carry messages that are sound in doctrine and fully in harmony with currently approved policies and procedures.” (Ensign, Aug. 1977, 38; italics in the original.)
------------------ end quote ---------------------

Just a polite reminder, will, we as members of the Church should be able to think about, explore, and consider various sides of many questions “without looking for flaws in the Church or its leaders.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, "True to the Faith," Ensign, June 1996, 6; as quoted in my comment policies.)

12/13/2005 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

"I'm saying we don't know any more about the pre-Fall earth than we do about the post-Second Coming earth."

That's simply too much. If somebody actually believes anything even approaching this then I'm quite sure that any comment I can make will fall upon deaf ears. I have no more comments to offer this site.

12/14/2005 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the polite reminder, Gary. I agree with it wholeheartedly, which is why I would never claim nor imply that curriculum writers and general authorities have no expertise at all.

I'm sure that the curriculum writers are smart and inspired folks. I'm also sure that they're not experts on everything that they write about, which is fine since they're not writing scriptures or scholarly articles.

12/14/2005 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

will said: “I'm sure that the curriculum writers are smart and inspired folks. I'm also sure that they're not experts on everything that they write about.”

In my previous comment, here, I demonstrated that the Church claims to search out and use writers/reviewers who are experts. Obviously, no one person would be an expert on everything, but a properly selected group would contain at least one person with expertise in every area that was needed.

Are you now suggesting that Church leaders are either unable or unwilling to find qualified people on certain subjects?

12/14/2005 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...


First off, I conceed everything in the final paragraph of your post.

You seem mighty defensive of the curriculum folks--are/have you been involved in writing Church manuals?

Are you now suggesting that Church leaders are either unable or unwilling to find qualified people on certain subjects?

It sounds like this is heading for a circular argument. Since the process is not an open one, we have no way of knowing how qualified any of the writers are, or what the standards are of the screening process, why they are the standards, and what those standards and the committee process does to what the experts write. All we can do is examine the product. If, for whatever reason, we find the product wanting, we are assured that experts were involved in its production.

I'm not beating up on the curriculum or those involved, I'm just pointing out that this is self-certification.

12/14/2005 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Let me add that I fully realize that some things are not open to independent certification.

12/14/2005 07:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jared: You are correct about self-certification.

Jared and will: We have the published “testimony” of an Apostle who served for several years as Executive Director of the Church Curriculum Department and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy who served as Managing Director of Curriculum Resources that the process exists and that it works to the satisfaction of those who hold the keys—the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve—those who are authorized to supervise the teaching of doctrine in the Church.

A hundred years ago, priesthood manuals were often written by the general authorities themselves. Elder B. H. Roberts wrote several in those days, as did Elder Joseph Fielding Smith a few years later. I've never seen an complete list of priesthood manuals, but for the first five years after I returned from my mission, the priesthood manuals were all compilations of previously published material written by members of the First Presidency.

The 1968-69 and 1969-70 priesthood manuals were taken from the writings of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. The following two years, 1970-71 and 1971-72, Gospel Doctrine by President Joseph F. Smith was used, it having been originally published as a priesthood manual in 1919. Then in 1972-73, the priesthood manual was Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions by President Joseph Fielding Smith. The current series, Teachings of Presidents of the Church series follows that pattern.

Two things are apparent to me. First, during the past 100 years, the Church has grown from fewer than 300,000 members to more than 12.5 million members and geographic expansion has paralleled that growth.

Second, the number of those who hold the keys—the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve—has not grown. That obviously leaves a lot less time available for them to do things like write Church manuals. Therefore, it seems entirely appropriate that some responsibilities be delegated. If they choose to delegate the preparation of curriculum materials to committees chosen by themselves, I sustain them in that. I trust that their system works, as I said above, to their satisfaction. They hold the keys. They are the ones who must be satisfied and I doubt any of them is ever surprised by what is found in the published result.

This is not to say that Church members are bound by what is in the lesson manuals. In fact, today there is an email address on the copyright page of most manuals with a note that comments and suggestions would be appreciated. Maybe you should undertake an email discussion with the curriculum planning committee regarding some of the areas where you feel their expertise is lacking. Who knows, you might even end up serving on one of those committees!

And by the way, I have not been involved in writing Church manuals, although I have had first hand experience with the Correlation Review Committee. You can read the results of that encounter here.

12/14/2005 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Well look at that. You've got one more Ensign article published than have I. I was thinking of a reference you made somewhere about having done research for the Church. I thought maybe it was curriculum-related.

As to your last response, I am in full agreement--except maybe the part about me being on a committee. But who knows--a friend of my in-laws was on the Pres. McKay writing commmittee. I've only heard second-hand sketches of his experience.

12/15/2005 08:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jared: You have a good memory. I did mention here, last June, my previous employment as a part-time research assistant. It was back in the mid-1970s. It was not, however, in the curriculum department. It was in the translation department and it was only for a few months. But I enjoyed it immensely. My supervisor was a neighbor (that's how I got the job). He became a close friend with whom I've maintained contact for some 35 years now. He was working on an exegesis of the Pearl of Great Price and temple ceremony to be used as a translator's guide. Due to the nature of our work, our office was on the fifth floor of the Salt Lake Temple, in a room known as the Talmage Room (tradition has it that's where Talmage wrote Jesus the Christ).

12/15/2005 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Sounds like a neat experience.

12/15/2005 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Howard MacKinnon said...

I think we LDS can have our cake and eat it too on this issue. First, the statement that there was no death before the fall taken literally cannot be true or it is inconsistent with our understanding of the origin of God which required His passage from mortality to immortality. Obviously on our time-line this must have occured prior to our Creation.

So (again, literally) there was death prior to Adam's fall. Just as there logically a creation before our Creation and possibly a fall before Adam's fall.

We know the earth was formed from already-existing "unorganized matter". Why cannot this have included the remains of some previous creation? Why cannot this previous creation have incorporated all the facts that cause us consternation when we assume they releate to our Creation.

I would distinguish this from the proposal Elder Roberts made, which was rejected. He appears to be talking about events which pre-dated Adam but post-dated our (this) Creation and our Earth. I am talking about events on an earth or earths from which, at least in part, our Earth was made, occuring before our Creation began.

Could these events have included an evolutionary process? Why not? Surely designing such a process is not a stone so heavy God cannot lift it. Could the earth or earths in question have been those from which the animals and plants came to populate the Adamic paradise? Again, why not?

Surely we know too little about these matters for this to be anything more than speculation. But just as surely our limited knowledge should disuade us from ruling out any logically consistent mechanism by which revealed, discovered and deduced facts can be reconciled if our goal is that all truth be cicumscribed into one great whole.


1/05/2006 07:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just to clarify, when I say no death before the fall, I mean no death on this earth before the fall.

1/06/2006 03:47:00 AM  
Blogger Joel Honea said...

Gary, as much as I appreciate lesson manuals, the Church has made it clear that the manual is the scriptures. The lesson manuals are not canonized, and in fact, state in the frontmatter that members can send comments and suggestions about the manuals to the curriculum department. Note that the brethren do not provide the same caveat for the Doctrine and Covenants or the Book of Mormon.

Also, it should noted what is said in the intro to the Bible Dictionary: "It is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth. Many of the items have been drawn from the best available scholarship of the world and are subject to reevaluation based on new research and discoveries or on new revelation."

Thr brethren have hardly been unified over the years on the subject of death in the world before Adam, especially the more scientifically-bent such as Talmage, Roberts, Eyring, or Widstoe. Where the Church has chosen to remain neutral, I think we are free to speculate and accept the best science of our day, realizing that, like the intro to the BD says, new discoveries or new revelation may change our current understanding. We should be willing to accept truth from whatever source it may come.

1/09/2006 04:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Actually, in the 36 years since Joseph Fielding Smith became Church President, the Brethren (members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) have been very unified on the subject of death before the fall. If you can prove me wrong on this, I'd appreciate you doing it.

You say "the Church has chosen to remain neutral," but you didn't mention a Church published statement of neutrality. Please tell me where one is found.

As I've carefully pointed out above, it simply doesn't make sense to suggest that doctrine added to the Bible Dictionary by a committee of Apostles would be erroneous. On the other hand, if you're content to reject all that's been said by the Church for the past 36 years, be my guest. But you should at least get your history straight—Talmage, Roberts, and Widstoe didn't even believe in Darwinian evolution.

And I didn't know the senior Henry Eyring (the scientist) was a General Authority—he isn't even listed in the Church Almanac.

It's true that the manuals don't carry the same weight as the standard works, but they're prepared and screened with great care before they're published. Manual writers don't work in a vacuum, their work is reviewed and approved. Please reread this above comment if you are interested in more information about the manual preparation process.

1/09/2006 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Joel Honea said...

When I said that the Church has remained "neutral," I simply mean that none of the official statements by the First Presidency and the Twelve definitively state that there was no death in the world before the Fall. You are, no doubt, familiar with Elder Talmage's 1931 talk, The Earth and Man, which was subsequently approved for publication as a pamphlet by the First Presidency and the Twelve, also published in two parts in The Instructor in 1965 and 1966. Here are a few interesting highlights:

"This we know, for both revealed and discovered truth, that is to say both scripture and science, so affirm -- that plant life antedated animal existence and that animals preceded man as tenants of earth... According to the conception of geologists the earth passed through ages of preparation, to us unmeasured and immeasurable, during which countless generations of plants and animals existed in great variety and profusion and gave in part the very substance of their bodies to help form certain strata which are still existent as such. The oldest, that is to say the earliest, rocks thus far identified in land masses reveal the fossilized remains of once living organisms, plant and animal. The coal strata, upon which the world of industry so largely depends, are essentially but highly compressed and chemically changed vegetable substance. The whole series of chalk deposits and many of our deep-sea limestones contain the skeletal remains of animals. These lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation" (emphasis mine).

He goes on to describe the fossil record as moving from the simplest of creatures to more complex as the strata get younger. Clearly Talmage believed in some form of evolution.

President David O. McKay responded to an inquiry from William Lee Stokes in 1957:

"On the subject of organic evolution the Church has officially taken no position. The book 'Man, His Origin and Destiny' was not published by the Church, and is not approved by the Church

The book contains expressions of the author's views for which he alone is responsible."

Other relevant articles can be found here:

I stand by my initial assertion that the Church remains neutral, i.e., has taken no official position, and we (members and General Authorities alike) are therefore free to have differing opinions on the subject.

With regard to the Bible Dictionary, I don't believe anyone, Apostles included, would ever intentionally introduce erroneous information into the BD. Nevertheless, as they state in the introduction, entries in the BD are not doctrinally, historically, or otherwise set in stone. So again, there is room for differing views, as there is with our lesson manuals.

I happen to think that the Abraham account of the creation supports evolution, in the sense that the Gods prepared the waters to bring forth the life in them, and prepared the earth to bring for life, all the time waiting until they were obeyed. Likewise, in the pre-1990 endowment, we were instructed that the events portrayed in the creation and in the Garden were figurative. There is a lot that we simply don't know, whether it hasn't been revealed or whether it hasn't been discovered.

So there are differing views, even among our leaders. I have personally known bishops, stake presidents, high counselors, and others who have held differing views on this, and they are free to do so and all remain faithful, committed members of the Church.

1/10/2006 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


There are a few points in your most recent comment to which I'd like to respond. Some of what follows has been said previously on this blog, but a little repetition isn't going to hurt, so here goes.


Your claim that the Church has remained "neutral" is not supported by the evidence. As previously stated, in the 36 years since Joseph Fielding Smith became Church President in 1970, members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have not expressed differing opinions about no death before the fall.

Joseph Fielding Smith held the apostolic keys for more than 60 years and was the Church's tenth Prophet. During his entire ministry, Joseph Fielding Smith taught that there was no death before the fall. Click here to read 42 such statements made in seven different decades (1910s through 1970s). Notice that four are quoted from his three volume set Doctrines of Salvation which was approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve as a meetinghouse library resource for priesthood leaders, teachers, and the general membership. Notice also that ten were published after he became President of the Church and the last one was published by his First Presidency.

Five Prophets have followed Joseph Fielding Smith in succession as President of the Church and not one of them has said that Joseph Fielding Smith, as President, was wrong about no death before the fall.

You are entitled to believe the manuals and Bible Dictionary are wrong about death before the fall. But you are making an absurd assertion if you claim the Church publishes the manuals and Bible Dictionary in violation of a neutrality policy that doesn't exist.


When James E. Talmage gave his 1931 speech, The Earth and Man, he was not defending Darwin's theories. James E. Talmage was simply trying to balance the public record regarding a three year private discussion among Church leaders about the B. H. Roberts double creation theory (see here and here). Although Roberts was proposing a theory that he himself had invented—it did not originate with the science of his day—Roberts felt strongly that it was the best way to explain scientific evidence of life before Adam in light of creation accounts in scripture. In the only other published comment about the Roberts theory, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith had explained why it was doctrinally unacceptable.

Historian James B. Allen explains: "In his lengthy hournal entry for November 21, 1931, Elder Talmage briefly reviewed all the recent discussions, then noted that many LDS students had inferred from Elder Smith's 1930 address that the Church refused to recognize the findings of science if there was even a seeming conflict with scripture and that therefore the policy of the Church was opposed to scientific research. In other words, because Elder Smith's statement had been published and Elder Roberts's had not, Elder Smith's view was catching on among the youth of the Church." (The Truth, The Way, The Life, 2nd edition, Provo: BYU Studies, 1996, 711.)

Clearly, Talmage was not prepared to defend either Darwin or Roberts but he did wish to make clear that he was sympathetic to science even when it's conclusions clashed with his religion. Ultimately, as Richard Sherlock points out here, those "religious convictions prevented him from becoming an unqualified supporter of evolution."


There are a few more things that you should consider when talking about the 1931 Talmage talk.

In 1935, the First Presidency (Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, and David O. McKay) told Elder Talmage's son that his father's sermon The Earth and Man "cannot be regarded as an official expression of the Church." They said it had been twice "the unanimous view of the Twelve minus one, that the sermon not be published." (As quoted by Richard Sherlock and Jeffrey Keller in The Search for Harmony, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993, 108-109.)

In 1972, the First Presidency (Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and N. Eldon Tanner) published and distributed no death before the fall teachings to all Melchizedek Priesthood holders in the Church (see here). This action clarified the Church's position on what Talmage had said 41 years earlier.

In 1979, the disclaimer aside, it was the Scripture Publication Committee (Thomas S. Monson, Boyd K. Packer, and Bruce R. McConkie) who, under the direction of the First Presidency (Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney), placed no death before the fall teachings in the LDS Bible Dictionary (quoted here). However, if you're comfortable charging that group with not knowing what they were talking about, I say, "Go for it."

In 2002 and 2006, the current First Presidency (Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust) approved distribution of no death before the fall teachings to all adults in the Church (see here and here). Please notice that these books do not carry a disclaimer. On the contrary, "The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have established the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series to help you deepen your understanding of the restored gospel and draw closer to the Lord through the teachings of latter-day prophets. As the Church adds volumes to this series, you will build a collection of gospel reference books for your home." (Introduction, 2006 Wilford Woodruff manual, italics added.) And by the way, the definition of a reference book is "a book, such as a dictionary or encyclopedia, to which one can refer for authoritative information." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000.) The no death before the fall teachings in these books also have an effect on the current status of the 1931 Talmage talk.

Numerous other examples of what the Church has published in the past 36 years could be cited (see for example here, here, here, and here). But the bottom line is this: Today, the apostles and prophets teach no death before the fall quite matter-of-factly , as if it were official doctrine, in spite of the fact that there has been no official pronouncement declaring it to be such.


The Church has never published a statement by President McKay such as the one you quote. Therefore, such a statement cannot represent the position of the Church. The actions and statements of subsequent Church presidents have indicated otherwise anyway. In addition, you should be aware (if you aren't already) of what President Boyd K. Packer has said about quoting that letter.

----------------- quote -----------------
"I should take note of one letter signed by a president of the Church addressed to a private individual. It includes a sentence which, taken out of context, reads, 'On the subject of organic evolution the church has officially taken no position.' For some reasons the addressee passed this letter about. For years it has appeared each time this subject is debated.

"Letters to individuals are not the channel for announcing the policy of the Church. For several important reasons, this letter itself is not a declaration of the position of the Church, as some have interpreted it to be. Do not anchor your position on this major issue to that one sentence! It is in conflict with the two official declarations, each signed by all members of the First Presidency." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Law and the Light," The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1990. 23; emphasis in original.)
-------------- end quote --------------


Yes, you and the bishops, stake presidents, high counselors, and anyone else you've known are all free to have differing opinions on the subject. Personally, I prefer to stay close to our living apostles and prophets.

1/10/2006 07:56:00 PM  

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