“In the Beginning”: A Latter-day Perspective


Modern revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith clarifies the events described in Genesis 1–3, putting them into perspective.

“In the Beginning”:

True to its name, the book of Genesis records the origin of this earth and the beginning of our sojourn here. Moses wrote the book (see 1 Ne. 5:11) and included such sweeping events as the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the lives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Because what is recorded in Genesis is very brief in nature—only 78 pages in the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible—detail is lacking. But through the blessings of additional scriptures, including the Joseph Smith Translation, and through what we learn in the temple and in the teachings of living prophets, we have answers to many fundamental questions that come to mind as one studies the Bible.

Latter-day Saints who apply themselves in learning from these additional sources bring great treasures of insight and understanding to their reading of Genesis. They are able to glean from it messages others have not had the opportunity to appreciate.

As an example:

“I know a man who studied for the ministry,” President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has said. “Then just before his ordination he dropped out because there were so many unanswered questions. He still regarded himself as a devout, if somewhat disillusioned, Christian. He found another profession, married, and was raising a family when our missionaries found him.

“He made a very superficial study of the doctrines of the Church and found them tolerable enough. The fundamentals of Christianity were visible. But he was most interested in programs and activities that would benefit his family.

“It was after he was baptized that he made the discovery of his life. … He found answers which explained to his full satisfaction the deep questions that had left him unable to accept ordination as a clergyman.

“One doctrine [pre-earth existence] was completely new to him. Although he was a student of the Bible, he had not found it there until he read the other revelations. Then the Bible was clear to him and he understood.” 1

Genesis 1–3

The first three chapters of Genesis contain an account of the Creation, life in the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the beginning of life outside of the Garden. We of all people should be able to read this forepart of Genesis with knowledge that allows us to accept what is written in good faith. We know the account of the Creation is not a myth as is supposed by many. We know Adam and Eve are real, historical people. We also know there was a purpose in the Fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Even so, some events related in Genesis 1–3 may be figurative in nature. For example, President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “‘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.]” 2 We have another example in the term used to describe the six creative periods. In the book of Abraham, the phases of creation are not called the “day” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13) but “the second time,” “the third time” (Abr. 4:8, 13; emphasis added), and so forth. We therefore learn that periods of time for the Creation may have lasted 24 hours each, 1,000 years, or even millions of years. 3 The periods of time are indeterminate in length; as one phase of the creation was finished, the next began. Therefore the age of the earth before Adam and Eve could have been great indeed. 4

These figurative components invite us to think through those events and bring to our reading what we know from other sources. We may not be able to comprehend everything now, but the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that he will make all things related to these events known when he comes again (see D&C 101:32–34). Thus faith is introduced into our study; if we have faith in God and trust his word, all of the unanswered questions about the forepart of Genesis are of no great concern.

“All things not only are not known but must not be so convincingly clear as to eliminate the need for faith. That would nullify agency and defeat the purpose of the plan of salvation,” President Boyd K. Packer has said. 5

Pre-earth Existence

The story of creation did not begin with the formation of this earth. It extends back into what we call the pre-earth, or premortal, existence. Our understanding of the events in Genesis 1–3 is not complete if we ignore what went on before.

“This doctrine of premortal life was known to ancient Christians. For nearly five hundred years the doctrine was taught, but it was then rejected as a heresy by a clergy that had slipped into the Dark Ages of apostasy,” President Packer has taught.

“Once they rejected this doctrine, the doctrine of premortal life, and the doctrine of redemption for the dead, they could never unravel the mystery of life. They became like a man trying to assemble a strand of pearls on a string that was too short. There is no way they can put them all together. …

“There is no way to make sense out of life without a knowledge of the doctrine of premortal life.

“The idea that mortal birth is the beginning is preposterous. There is no way to explain life if you believe that.

“The notion that life ends with mortal death is ridiculous. There is no way to face life if you believe that.

“When we understand the doctrine of premortal life, then things fit together and make sense.” 6

We know from latter-day revelation that our existence did not begin with our birth on this earth and that we are eternal beings (see D&C 93:29). 7 We are the sons and daughters of God the Father—his spirit children (see Heb. 12:9; D&C 76:24). We also know that there were opportunities in the pre-earth existence for us to learn and grow and that we had our moral agency to choose (see Alma 13:3).

Additionally, we know that gender did not begin at birth; it existed in the pre-earth life. 8 In the document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” we read: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” 9

We know that there was a council of the Gods in which the plan of our Eternal Father was sustained. 10 This plan included the Creation of the earth on which we now dwell (see Abr. 3:24). The plan provided that while here we would be tested according to the commandments God would give us, and we would have moral agency to choose (Moses 6:33; Moses 7:33). This plan presupposed that Adam and Eve would fall from the Garden of Eden, so it provided for the Savior (see Alma 34:9–10, 14–15), a mediator who would provide the means whereby we could succeed in this earth-life experience and return to our Father in Heaven prepared for the next phase of our development (see Alma 12:24).

A “grand council” was held. There God the Father’s spirit children were taught the plan. The firstborn of our Father’s children was chosen as the Savior and Redeemer (see Abr. 3:27). 11 Those who did not sustain that choice rebelled (see Abr. 3:28). They did not keep their first estate, were cast out of heaven, and became Satan and his angels (see Rev. 12:7–9; Moses 4:3–4; D&C 29:36; D&C 76:28).

The plan called for those who kept their first estate to come to this earth (the second estate), receive a mortal body, and be tested to see if they would obey the Father in everything (see Abr. 3:25–26). The time and “the bounds of [our] habitation” were predetermined (Acts 17:26), and some were even foreordained to callings on this earth (see Abr. 3:23; Alma 13:3–9).

The Creation

The six basic questions often asked about the Creation are when, how, where, what, why, and who. The first three of these—when, how, and where—are left obscure by the Lord in all the accounts we have of the Creation. He gave us only this point of reference concerning when the Creation took place: “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1). We look with genuine interest at the work of persons who attempt to determine the age of the earth, but the answer may escape us all until the Savior reveals all things concerning this earth after the Second Coming (see D&C 101:32–34). In describing how the Creation was accomplished, he told us that he spoke and it was done (see, for example, Moses 2:3, 5–6, 9). As to where the Creation took place, we only have statements by early leaders that it was in the presence of God. 12

The overall answer to the last three questions—who, what, why—is that our Father in Heaven created all things for his own eternal purposes (see 2 Ne. 2:14–15). We know from both latter-day revelation and the Bible that God did not act alone. Speaking to Moses, he said: “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:33).

President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “It is true that Adam helped to form this earth. He labored with our Savior Jesus Christ. I have a strong view or conviction that there were also others who assisted them. Perhaps Noah and Enoch; and why not Joseph Smith, and those who were appointed to be rulers before the earth was formed? We know that Jesus our Savior was a Spirit when this great work was done. He did all of these mighty works before he tabernacled in the flesh” 13 (see also Abr. 3:23–24).

Further, latter-day prophets inform us that God did not create the earth out of nothing, as is supposed by much of traditional Christianity today. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter” (D&C 131:7; see also D&C 93:33). Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commented: “The materials out of which this earth was formed, are just as eternal as the materials of the glorious personage of the Lord himself. … This being, when he formed the earth, did not form it out of something that had no existence, but he formed it out of materials that had an existence from all eternity: they never had a beginning, neither will one particle of substance now in existence ever have an end. There are just as many particles now as there were at any previous period of duration, and will be while eternity lasts. Substance had no beginning; … the earth was formed out of eternal materials, and it was made to be inhabited and God peopled it with creatures of his own formation.” 14

This truth has also been discovered by scientists today who say that matter cannot be created or destroyed—only its form may be changed.

The story of the Creation is told twice in Genesis 1 and 2 but with a difference in the order of events. The reason for these two accounts is clearer in light of Moses 3:5: “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air.”

Genesis 1 evidently teaches us about the preparation of the earth for humankind to inhabit and about the creation in heaven of the original plants, animals, and humans—Adam and Eve. Their bodies were physical but not yet subject to death. Genesis 2 evidently teaches us about the placing of these original plants, animals, and humans on the earth in their immortal state.

From the existing scriptural accounts we have, it is true that we cannot glean definitive answers to every question about the Creation. As a result, it is evident that the Lord did not intend the opening chapters of Genesis or other scriptures about the Creation to be textbook sections on geology, archeology, or science. 15 Rather, they outline the basic facts of the Creation, life in the Garden of Eden, and the Fall as these facts fit into the plan of life and salvation.

In the Garden of Eden

When Adam and Eve were placed on the earth, they lived in the Garden of Eden. We do not know its dimensions, but the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that it was located in or near Independence, Jackson County, Missouri. 16 We learn in the Doctrine and Covenants that Adam and Eve later lived, at least for a period, not far distant from the garden, at Adam-ondi-Ahman (see D&C 117:8).

Without the benefit of latter-day revelation, many who have read only the Genesis account of events in the Garden of Eden have supposed that Adam and Eve were intended to stay in the garden forever. They assume that we were to be born in the garden and that we would also have lived there forever in a type of paradise. Consequently they blame Adam and Eve for disobeying God and look on them with disfavor because of the conditions we have on earth—pain, suffering, sin, evil, and death. Some even erroneously think that Adam and Eve’s transgression was sexual in nature. They assume that none of the general conditions we find on earth now would ever have come if our first parents had not been sinful.

Others have concluded that the whole story is a myth and that Adam and Eve are fictional characters. Still others speculate Adam and Eve were cave people whose descendants evolved into more advanced specimens.

In contrast, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ makes it abundantly clear that Adam and Eve were children of God just as we are. They were placed on earth as immortal beings. We are told they could read and write (see Moses 6:5, 46), and they knew and understood the plan of salvation, having been taught it in the Garden of Eden.

Adam was the first man to hold the keys of the everlasting priesthood on earth. With regard to the presidency of that priesthood under Jesus Christ, “Father Adam stands at the head, so far as this world is concerned,” said President Wilford Woodruff. 17 Adam and Eve were married, and since they were married by God when they were immortal beings, their marriage was eternal in nature. President Spencer W. Kimball wrote:

“‘And I, God, blessed them [Man here is always in the plural. It was plural from the beginning.] and said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over [it].’ (Moses 2:27–28.)

“And the scripture says,

“‘And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man [not a separate man, but a complete man, which is husband and wife] in our image, after our likeness; and it was so’ (Moses 2:26). What a beautiful partnership! Adam and Eve were married for eternity by the Lord. Such a marriage extends beyond the grave. All peoples should call for this kind of marriage.” 18

In contrast to most readers of the Bible, we believe that Adam and Eve both should be commended for what they did to bring about the Fall. We understand that without the Fall none of us could have come to the earth and the whole plan of salvation would have been frustrated (see 2 Ne. 2:25). Adam said: “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10). Eve likewise rejoiced: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).

The Lord gave Adam and Eve four commandments in the Garden of Eden. They were to multiply and replenish the earth (see Gen. 1:28; Moses 2:28; Abr. 4:28). They were to govern the earth wisely (have dominion over it) (see Moses 2:28; Abr. 4:26). They were not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and if they did they would experience serious consequences (see Gen. 2:17; Moses 3:17; Abr. 5:13). And they were to remain with each other (see Gen. 2:24; Moses 3:24; Abr. 5:18). In the case of two of these commandments—to multiply and replenish the earth and to refrain from partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil—Adam and Eve had to choose which they were to obey. Procreation was not possible for them in their immortal state (see 2 Ne. 2:22–25), yet Heavenly Father would not rob them of their agency by making the choice for them. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Lord said to Adam that if he wished to remain as he was in the garden, then he was not to eat the fruit, but if he desired to eat it and partake of death he was at liberty to do so.” 19 In essence the Lord told Adam that there were two directions to go, each with its unique consequences—and that Adam was to choose which one.

From President Brigham Young we learn: “Some may regret that our first parents sinned. This is nonsense. If we had been there, and they had not sinned, we should have sinned. I will not blame Adam or Eve. Why? Because it was necessary that sin should enter into the world; no man could ever understand the principle of exaltation without its opposite; no one could ever receive an exaltation without being acquainted with its opposite. How did Adam and Eve sin? Did they come out in direct opposition to God and to his government? No. But they transgressed a command of the Lord, and through that transgression sin came into the world. The Lord knew they would do this, and he had designed that they should. Then came the curse upon the fruit, upon the vegetables, and upon our mother earth; and it came upon the creeping things, upon the grain in the field, the fish in the sea, and upon all things pertaining to this earth, through man’s transgression.” 20

The Prophet Joseph Smith referred to their choice to eat of the fruit as a “transgression,” not a sin (A of F 1:2). Similarly, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “It is proper and according to the scriptural pattern to speak of the transgression of Adam, but not the sin of Adam. (D. & C. 20:20; 29:40 [D&C 20:20; D&C 29:40]; Job 31:33; Rom. 5:14; 1 Tim. 2:14; Alma 12:31; Second Article of Faith.) Lehi says, for instance, ‘If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen.’ Then he explains that while in their state of innocence in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ‘knew no sin.’ (2 Ne. 2:22–23.) Knowledge of good and evil is an essential element in the commission of sin, and our first parents did not have this knowledge until after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” 21

Thus, by being required to leave the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve caused the great plan of happiness to go forward. Mortality came to all living things; procreation began the process of bringing us, the sons and daughters of God, to earth as Adam and Eve’s posterity. We who have come here or will yet come agreed to the conditions of mortality in order to participate in the plan, and we counted as a great blessing the opportunity to live in this imperfect world (see Job 38:4–7). While those who do not understand the plan may feel that all of us are stained with sin when we are born, we know that this is erroneous thinking. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “Adam’s transgression was banishment from the presence of God and bringing the physical death into the world. The majority in the religious world maintain that every child born into this world is tainted with ‘original sin,’ or partakes of Adam’s transgression in his birth. The second Article of Faith contradicts this foolish and erroneous doctrine.” 22

The Fall and the Atonement

After the Fall, Adam and Eve learned that a Savior had been provided and that they could be reconciled to God through faith, repentance, baptism, sacrifice, and obedience (see Moses 5:5–9; Moses 6:51–52). “Adam and Eve were definitely instructed in the way of salvation and were given strict commandments to serve the Lord and bring their children up in the light and truth of the gospel, the principles of which are essential to man’s salvation. Evidently angels from heaven were their instructors, and while the record does not reveal the event, Eve was baptized as well as Adam,” 23 taught President Joseph Fielding Smith. Fallen humanity could be redeemed and cleansed from sin through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Lehi summarized the great plan of happiness as he blessed his son Jacob:

“But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:24–27).

As Latter-day Saints, we have been blessed with additional resources that help us understand the close relationship tying together our premortal state, the Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Knowing the fuller reality and the significance of the Genesis account concerning Adam and Eve, we have greater understanding of the scope and purpose of the Atonement. Because we have so many sources that testify of the truth of these things, we, of all people, should have great faith in the whole plan of happiness.

The Lord Jesus Christ told the Prophet Joseph Smith: “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10). Enoch received the Lord’s promise that he would flood the earth with righteousness and truth in the last days (see Moses 7:62). To a significant degree already, the Lord has poured out knowledge. There is restored gospel light on that which once was obscure. While we don’t know everything about the early history of the sons and daughters of God on earth, we can plainly see our Heavenly Father’s purposes at work in the experiences and blessings he gave to our first parents.

[illustration] Engraving detail from The Creation of Eve, by Gustave Doré

[illustration] We know that a grand council was held before the world was created. Jesus Christ was chosen as the Mediator who would make it possible for us to succeed in earth life and return to our Father in Heaven prepared for further development. (Painting by Robert T. Barrett.)

[illustrations] Rather than being a textbook on history or science, Genesis outlines the basic facts of the Creation, life in the Garden of Eden, and the Fall as these fit into the Father’s plan. (Engraving from Adam and Eve Driven Out of the Garden, by Gustave Doré; Division of the Firmament, by Stanley Galli.)

[illustration] We know Adam and Eve understood the choice they made that caused them to be driven from the Garden of Eden. Adam said, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened.” (Leaving the Garden of Eden, by Joseph Brickey.)

[illustrations] Latter-day Saints have been blessed with much additional information that helps us understand the close relationship between our premortal state, the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. (Left: The Crucifixion, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, Det Nationalhistoriske Museum På Frederiksborg, Hillerød. Far left: Engraving detail from Jesus Praying in the Garden, by Gustave Doré.)

Robert J. Woodford is a Gospel Doctrine teacher in the Valley View 11th Ward, Holladay North Stake, and an instructor and administrative assistant to the director at the Salt Lake City Utah University Institute.

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    “The Mystery of Life,” Ensign, Nov. 1983, 16; emphasis in original.

  2.   2.

    “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 71.

  3.   3.

    Three plausible explanations regarding the duration of the Creation are found in the Church Educational System manual Old Testament: Genesis–2 Samuel, 28–29.

  4.   4.

    See John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, comp. G. Homer Durham (1960), 146–49; Bruce R. McConkie, “Christ and the Creation,” Ensign, June 1982, 11; Henry Eyring, “The Gospel and the Age of the Earth,” Improvement Era, July 1965, 608–9, 626, 628.

  5.   5.

    “The Law and the Light” (address delivered at a Brigham Young University Book of Mormon symposium), 30 Oct. 1988, 6; emphasis in original.

  6.   6.

    Ensign, Nov. 1983, 16–18.

  7.   7.

    See also Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 158, 352–54.

  8.   8.

    See James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 4:201.

  9.   9.

    Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

  10.   10.

    See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 348–49.

  11.   11.

    See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 357, 181.

  12.   12.

    See Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1941), 101–2.

  13.   13.

    Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (1954–56), 1:74–75; emphasis in original.

  14.   14.

    In Journal of Discourses, 19:286.

  15.   15.

    See James E. Talmage, The Earth and Man (1931), reprinted from the Deseret News, 21 Nov. 1931.

  16.   16.

    See Journal of Discourses, 10:235; Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 15 Mar. 1857, 1; Matthias Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors (1964), 481.

  17.   17.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 66. See also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 157–58.

  18.   18.

    Ensign, Mar. 1976, 71.

  19.   19.

    Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. (1957–66), 4:81.

  20.   20.

    Discourses of Brigham Young, 103.

  21.   21.

    Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (1966), 804; emphasis added; see also 734.

  22.   22.

    Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:82.

  23.   23.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 59.