Return to About Mormons home

The Garden Story:  Literal vs. Figurative

by W. John Walsh

While the events in the Garden of Eden, as related in the scriptures, did occur, Church leaders have taught that most parts of the Garden story are allegorical and should not be taken literally. Elder J. M. Sjodahl taught:

"The story of the fall is not a myth. It is a record, in poetic, highly figurative, language, of an actual occurrence." (An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, p.516)

President Joseph Fielding Smith noted:

"The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price all declare that Adam's body was created from the dust of the ground, that is, from the dust of this ground, this earth." (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.90 - p.91)

Yet, the Book of Mormon also teaches that all men were created from the dust of the earth:

"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." (Mosiah 2:25)

This teaches us that Adam's creation was only figurative.  Elder John A. Widstoe taught:

"The earth at last was finished. Adam, the first man, and his wife, Eve, then appeared on earth. The statement that man was made from the dust of the earth is merely figurative. It may mean that he was made of universal materials, as is the earth. Likewise the statement that God breathed into man the breath of life is figurative and refers to the existence of the spirit within the body. The exact process whereby man was placed upon earth is not known with certainty, nor is it vital to a satisfactory understanding of the plan of salvation. We may rest assured that the first man and woman were eternal beings, who subjected themselves to life on earth, so that the process of clothing eternal spirits with mortal bodies might begin." (A Rational Theology, p.50)

Adam was created in the same way that all of us are created.  Likewise, concerning Eve, Elder Bruce R. McConkie noted:

"She was placed on earth in the same manner as was Adam, the Mosaic account of the Lord creating her from Adam's rib being merely figurative. (Moses 3:20-25.)" (Mormon Doctrine, p.242)

The First Presidency has given the following statement regarding further official elaboration on the Garden story:

" is deemed wisest to let that subject remain without further explanation, for it is written that we are to receive 'line upon line,' according to our faith and capacities, and the circumstances attending our progress." (Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.2, p.233 - p.234)

(See Evolution; Symbolism; Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page; The Fall of Adam home page)

All About Mormons