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Part 5: The Modern Church

Chapter 23 Tithing

The definition and requirements of tithing have varied at different periods. This chapter discusses tithing in the Old Testament, tithing in the early Church, its initial requirement and intended purpose, and the modern interpretation.

Tithing in the Old Testament

Today sacrament meetings and General Conferences continually preach that promised blessings come from faithfully paying our tithing, but is this Old Testament law really applicable today? The scriptural basis for this teaching comes from the book of Malachi in the Old Testament.


Malachi 3:8,10

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. …prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.


The previous chapters reveal that Malachi wasn’t talking to the general membership of the Church when he asked, “Will a man rob God?“ but was rebuking the priests who had been collecting money and food to give to the poor, but were keeping it for themselves.


Malachi 2-3

And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you

But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts.

… ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.

And [the Lord] shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver

Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.

Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.


The tithes were already paid; the priests were simply stealing them. Malachi promises them that if they would stop hoarding the offerings and bring all those tithes into the storehouse to be properly distributed among the needy, God would open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing so abundant they might never have to fear shortages in the storehouses again.

One thing to consider when the Church applies Old Testament laws to modern standards is that Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses and instituted the higher law. No longer were Christians required to follow Old Testament laws, but were now only to show love and charity to everyone.

Examples of other Old Testament laws that no longer apply

Acceptable to murder a non-virgin

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her. Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate… But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel… Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die.

Acceptable to beat your slave to death

Exodus 21:20-21 When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

Animal sacrifices

Samuel 7:9 And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord.

No eating pork

Leviticus 11:7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.

No eating shellfish

Leviticus 11:10-11 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you.

No eating pawed-animals

Leviticus 11:27 And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you.

No mixed-plant gardens

Leviticus 19:19 Ye shall keep my statutes… thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed.

No mixed-fabric clothing

Leviticus 19:19 Ye shall keep my statutes… neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

Mandatory circumcision

Leviticus 12:2-3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

Netting installed around your home

Deuteronomy 22:8 When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.


Are members today required to follow the Law of Moses, like the Pharisees, to be approved for a temple recommend? No, because Latter-Day Saints, like all modern Christians, were taught by Christ to not be bound by these archaic rules, but instead to love unconditionally.

If paying tithes to the sons of Levi at the temple was also an Old Testament law, then why is tithing a modern practice? It turns out that the Catholic Church reinstituted the law of tithing over 500 years after Jesus put an end to all Old Testament laws.

“As the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would ensure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law… The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the [canons] of the Council of Macon in 585.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia


Since Catholic clergy were forbidden to marry, they did not have families to support and could devote all of their time to religious studies and managing the affairs of the church. It then “became necessary to make laws which would ensure the proper and permanent support of the clergy.” However, Jesus never taught to pay tithing to any religious institution; in fact, he taught to give directly to those in need.


Matthew 25:35,36,40

I was hungry and you gave me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison and you came unto me. Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.


Tithing in the Early Church

On December 7, 1836, Bishop Edward Partridge officially instituted tithing and defined it as 2% of the net worth of each member after deducting debts. This money was to help cover the operating expenses of the Church. It appears to have been adequate for a time. Two years later, when the Church was eight years old, some 15,000 converts had already emigrated from their homes and gathered in Missouri. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were spending all their time dealing with this large flow of immigrants, to the point of not being able to provide for their own families. On May 12th they took the matter before the high council of the Church. Joseph Smith states,


“Saturday, 12.—President Rigdon and myself attended the High Council for the purpose of presenting for their consideration some business relating to our pecuniary concerns. We stated to the Council our situation, as to maintaining our families, and the relation we now stand in to the Church, spending as we have for eight years, our time, talents, and property, in the service of the Church: and being reduced as it were to beggary, and being still detained in the business and service of the Church, it appears necessary that something should be done for the support of our families by the Church, or else we must do it by our own labors; and if the Church say to us, “Help yourselves,” we will thank them and immediately do so; but if the Church say, “Serve us,” some provision must be made for our sustenance.”

History of the Church, vol.3 p.32


What emerged was a guideline of how much members were to contribute money to help maintain the operations of the Church. In July of 1838, Joseph recorded what would later become section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants – The Law of Tithing.


Doctrine and Covenants Section 119

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

5 Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.

6 And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.

7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.


The Law of Tithing, as presented to the membership of the Church in Section 119, addresses two major points:

1. How much was required to donate? 2. Where the money was to be spent?

Required donation:

“I require all their surplus property”

“one-tenth of all their interest”

“Zion shall be tithed of their surplus”

Surplus – “that which remains when use is satisfied”. Interest – “any surplus advantage.” ( The words interest and surplus are used as synonyms. According to Joseph Smith's Translation of Genesis 14:39, “Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need.” Abraham gave only a tenth of his surplus; or a tenth from the amount that was more than the amount he needed. It seems apparent that Section 119 intended a full-tithe to be paid from the money left over after expenses are covered.

Where the money was to be spent:

“For the building of the Lord’s house”

“For the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood”

“For the debts of the Presidency of the Church”

Notice there is nothing stating that tithing is for the helping of the poor or for humanitarian aid. That’s because members are also commanded to contribute fast offerings, which are charitable donations in addition to tithing.

If fast offerings are for humanitarian aid, then the purpose of tithing is to pay for the costs of managing the Church’s affairs. Members are expected to contribute their share of the operational costs of the Church. As with any extra chickens and eggs a pioneer family would not be hard-shipped to give, the original law of tithing made it easy to give. Paying it was never intended to place a large burden on anyone. In the scriptures, God never required his people to pay him first or to give to the Church before meeting the temporal needs of their families. Then where did this modern idea come from?


Post-Joseph Smith

For three years following Joseph Smith’s death many men struggled for control of the Church. Before becoming president of the Church, Brigham Young and the other Twelve Apostles decided to overhaul Joseph’s original tithing requirements dramatically. No longer was tithing 10% of the money one had left over after paying expenses, now any new members were required to donate 10% of all of their possessions at the time of baptism, and all members had to pay 10% of their entire income. The Twelve also voted to exempt themselves and the two general bishops of the Church from any future obligation to pay tithing. Tithing donations plummeted after this new requirement. Struggling pioneer families could not afford to give more tithing than they already were.

During this time the United States government passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act. Although polygamy was already illegal, the act stated that any religious institution involved in the practice of polygamy was subject to the seizure of all property above $50,000. To save their property, the Church voted to discontinue the practice of polygamy.

In addition to these financial hardships, the Church faced massive losses in real estate, banking, mining, sugar, and investment firms. On top of that, educational and civic responsibilities were also draining the budget. During 1893 the Church started borrowing from outside financial institutions to pay its debts.

The Church was on the brink of bankruptcy and President Lorenzo Snow yielded to another tithing reformation to meet its liabilities. He canceled the requirement to give 10% of one’s property at baptism and another 10% upon arrival into Salt Lake. From that point on tithing would be limited to 10% of one’s annual income according to their ability to pay. (Journal of Mormon History, vol. 20, Utah State University)


Modern Interpretation

After the reformation tithing donations again began to rise. The Church also hired outside financial experts to guide them into more successful investments. Soon the threat of bankruptcy passed as the Church began seeing large returns on their new financial strategies. Today Church-owned businesses help contribute to an annual income that reaches into the tens of billions. Since the Church is no longer struggling to meet its financial obligations, should the requirement of tithing be revisited once again?,

While the requirements have not changed since President Snow’s revision, the tone of the leadership has. Let’s look at how the brethren viewed tithing in the past and how it’s taught today.

Original Teachings

“If a man has not the means to pay tithing and would if he could, I can fellowship him just as well as if he did.”

Brigham Young, March 13 1860. Mar.13 1860, Office Journal: Book D, p. 54.

“I may be pardoned, perhaps, if I say here, for the benefit of any who do not know the facts, that the law of tithing is a voluntary law; that is, it imposes only a voluntary duty upon the people. No person’s standing as a member of the Church is jeopardized because he doesn’t pay his tithing…. I want to tell you that, we will be honest with you; we feel that it is the first duty of Latter-day Saints to take care of themselves, and of their poor; and then, if we can extend it to others…. but first look after the members of our own household.”

President Joseph F. Smith, General Conference, April 1915. report851chur#page/9/mode/1up

Current teachings

Is there a level of poverty so low that sacrifice should not be expected or a family so destitute that paying tithing should cease to be required? Like the widow, if a destitute family is faced with the decision of paying their tithing or eating, they should pay their tithing.

Elder Lynn G. Robbins. Tithing—a Commandment Evenfor the Destitute, April 2005 General Conference


If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing.

Elder Aaron L. West, Sacred Transformations, December 2012, Ensign


The difference between statements from early leaders and their sympathy for those in need, compared to modern leadership that requires payment at all costs while your children go hungry, brings tears to my eyes.

At the October 1899 General Conference, President Lorenzo Snow delivered a talk on tithing.

“I plead with you in the name of the Lord, and I pray that every man, woman and child who has means shall pay one tenth of their income as a tithing…”

Conference Report, October 1899, p.28. 28/mode/2up)


Again, the early brethren knew some were so burdened they had no means to pay. However, an edited version of this statement was reprinted in the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, ch.12: Tithing, a Law For Our Protection and Advancement.

“I plead with you in the name of the Lord, and I pray that every man, woman and child … shall pay one tenth of their income as a tithing”

The removal of the phrase “who has means” demonstrates that the modern Church is not above misrepresenting the truth to ensure being paid above the individual needs of members. Jesus taught that we should directly help those in need, Joseph taught that tithing was only payable on the surplus income after all other living expenses were covered. Other early leaders taught that if a person could not pay they did not have to, yet the modern leaders expect to be paid even if it means that the members go hungry.

Chapter 24 Church Spending

Today we are reminded in nearly every meeting and conference to pay tithing, but while we know that a portion is used for the operational expenses of the Church, much of the donations make their way into business investments. According to a 2012 investigative report by the Reuters news agency, the Church receives about $7 billion in tithing revenue each year and several billion from its for-profit business ventures. The lack of financial transparency by the LDS Church has put revenue estimates between $10-20 billion annually.

This chapter covers a small portion of its non-religious business investments.


Non-Religious Business Investments

What are the Church’s for-profit business ventures? For a start, they own the largest cattle ranch in the United States, with other large industrial ranches and farms in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and Great Britain. The Church also owns a small media empire, an investment fund, the City Creek Center, investment properties, and more.

City Creek Center

“City Creek Center, a three-block development by City Creek Reserve Inc., a development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. City Creek Reserve is spending more than $1 million a day on construction, and the project ultimately will cost around $3 billion” (Deseret News – Salt Lake City High Rise is Ready for Occupancy on Main,11/4/2009)


While chapels and temples represent the religious, tax-exempt division of the Church, the City Creek Center is a for-profit business. Even though City Creek generates substantial income, the Church has re-classified it as a 501(C)3:Charitable Organization. Is it fair to classify the City Creek as a charity organization to avoid paying taxes on property income it collects from residential, office space, and retail store leases (such as Nordstrom, Apple, Macy’s & Tiffany’s&Co)? ( )

Downtown Philadelphia

“LDS Church to Develop 32-story Building in Downtown Philadelphia

”PHILADELPHIA — The LDS Church announced the construction of a 32-story City Creek-style mixed-use building in downtown Philadelphia for residential and commercial tenants. The 490,000-square-foot tower at 1601 Vine Street will include 271 market-rate apartments in the Center City district, a few blocks from the iconic Philadelphia City Hall. (KSL NBC 5 Utah News,2/16/2014)

“Center City Philadelphia 2014- 2018 Developments” Developer: Property Reserve, Inc. [LDS Church subsidiary] Location: 1601 Vine Street Residential Units: 277 Investment: $120 Million Description: The mixed-use development includes a residential apartment tower located at 1601 Vine Street and a separate Meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 17th and Vine Streets. The residential tower is a  32-story, new construction building of approximately 489,997 sqft and will consist of 264 rental apartments, 13 rental townhomes, two levels of below-grade parking providing 238 spaces, and 12,000 sqft of ground-floor retail. Residential amenities include a swimming pool, fitness center, clubroom, and business center. Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York is the project designer, with BLT Architects of Philadelphia serving as associate architect.

Downtown Salt Lake City

“111 Main Street Tower Has New Developer”

SALT LAKE CITY — There has been a major change in the development of downtown Salt Lake City’s newest proposed office tower. City Creek Reserve, a real estate arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has taken over as developer of the 111 Main Street project. Hamilton, the commercial real estate firm based in Itasca, Ill., had developed 222 Main — the 22-story, $125 million office building located just a block away on the west side of the street. The ground floor of the project will feature retail space, while the upper floors will offer 440,000 rentable square feet of office area with the average floor size consisting of 21,000- square-foot customizable sections, column-free design, floor-to-ceiling glass, with 9-foot ceilings and 16-inch raised floors throughout. DeseretNews, 2/27/2014

Florida Land

“Mormon Church Completes Huge Buy of Land, Now Owns 2 Percent of Florida”

The Mormon church through its subsidiaries now owns nearly 2 percent of Florida with the completion Thursday of a $562 million purchase of more than 382,000 acres in North Florida’s Panhandle region. The mega purchase of most of the timberland holdings of real estate developer St. Joe Co. was announced in November. That property combined with Deseret Ranches in Central Florida leaves the Utah-based Church with 678,000 acres in Florida. AgReserves Inc., a taxpaying company of the church, said when the deal was first made public that it would continue to use the  North  Florida land for timber and agriculture.

construction building of approximately 489,997 sqft and will consist of 264 rental apartments, 13 rental townhomes, two levels of below-grade parking providing 238 spaces, and 12,000 sqft of ground-floor retail. Residential amenities include a swimming pool, fitness center, clubroom, and business center. Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York is the project designer, with BLT Architects of Philadelphia serving as associate architect.

Deseret Ranches has more than 40,000 cattle and is one of the nation’s largest producers of calves.

Orlando Sentinel, 3/6/2014

“Mormon Church Moves to Build a City in Florida”

The Mormon church is going to Disney World. The church-owned Deseret Ranches is going through the bureaucratic process in Florida to win approval to transform rural farmland, used for 65 years to raise cattle, into a metropolis of a half-million residents within a 133,000-acre corner of Osceola County, not far from Orange County, the home of the world-renowned Disney resort in Orlando. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the project would be the biggest development ever planned in Florida.

Salt Lake Tribune, 7/10/2015

The county only approved such a large purchase when the Church promised to keep the land for farming and timber. After the acquisition. The Church changed the plans to develop the lands for “half a million residents”.

Riverton, UT

“Riverton sees Mormon Church Daybreak-like Project as ‘Crown Jewel”

City Council members voted unanimously for an agreement to develop about 550 acres of what is now open land owned by Suburban Land Reserve, a for-profit real estate arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The plan, adopted after years of discussion, provides for transforming the Hamilton Farm property and adjacent acreage into a massive shopping center, office towers, and business nodes as well as nearly 3,800 homes, condominiums, and apartments.

Salt Lake Tribune, 2/17/2016

Private Hunting Reserve

“Tending the Flock”

As a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Clair Huff shed the traditional dark suit, white shirt, and tie. For more than two years, he and his wife, Beth, have been serving God most unusually. They operate a private hunting preserve owned by the LDS Church. “Just like the farm derives revenue from harvesting crops, the preserve is designed to produce revenue when hunters harvest the wildlife here,” Elder Huff said. The preserve, known as Westlake Farm Commercial Hunting Area, is managed by the LDS  Church’s  Farm  Management Co. The for-profit farming and  ranching (not intended for Church  welfare  use)  is  overseen  by  the  church's

Presiding Bishopric. The church owns thousands of acres of farm and ranch land throughout the West, including the Deseret Land and Livestock Co., a private big-game hunting preserve scattered over 200,000 acres in northern Utah. Hunters from around the country vie for a limited number of elk and moose permits there that cost as much as $8,500 each. 

Deseret News, 7/8/2000

Las Colinas TX

"New Las Colinas Apartment Community Sells to Mormon Investment Company"

Apartment builder JPI sold its new Jefferson Las Colinas, 286-unit, six-acre apartment community to Utah-based Property Reserve Inc., a real estate investment and development company owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, county deed records show. The terms of the sale were not disclosed,  but the property taxes value the community at almost  $45  million.  The apartment community has been renamed  Fountain Pointe Las Colinas on Las Colinas Blvd. just north of Northwest Highway.                                                                               Dallas News, 7/25/2016

Raytheon Corporate Campus

"Raytheon’s Richardson campus at CityLine sells to real estate arm of Mormon Church"

Raytheon Corp.’s new office campus in Richardson’s $1.5 Billion CityLine project has sold. It’s been purchased by Property Reserve Inc., a real estate and investment arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Finished in early 2016, the four-story [multi-building] office campus houses almost  1,700  workers for  Raytheon,  the Massachusetts-based high-tech and defense manufacturer. The Mormon Church bought the Raytheon offices from Dallas-based developer KDC.

Dallas News, 8/7/2017

Lake Park Corporate Center

Utah Property Management Associates (UPMA), formerly Zions Securities Corporation, is a subsidiary of Property Reserve Inc., which manages properties owned by The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. They manage major corporate, residential, and retail spaces along with parking lots and plazas.


Live/Work Environment – Lake Park Corporate Center provides employees with numerous housing options. From new townhomes to class ‘A’ apartments, and single-family homes, there is a price point for everyone.


Amenities – Shopping, dining, Cinemark theater, schools, and a hotel are all part of the Lake Park Corporate Center experience. Target, Walmart, Kohls, Michaels, PetsMart, Cafe Rio, Chilis, and Starbucks just to name a few are all within minutes down Lake Park Blvd.

Corporate Campus – Some of the world’s finest and most recognized corporations call Lake Park Corporate Center their home. Discover Card, United Health Care, Verizon, and Intermountain Health Care to name a few.


No other office park campus provides this kind of continuity in a master-planned environment.

The Church’s for-profit businesses include multiple real estate firms, commercial land holdings, banking institutions, insurance companies, financial advising firms, newspapers, radio stations, cable channels, and many more. Every year billions of tithing dollars are funneled into these businesses for non-religious and non-humanitarian aid purposes.

Charitable Donations

Where these funds are not being spent: Between 1985-2011 the Church donated a total of $1.4 billion on humanitarian aid. This includes international disasters, welfare service missionaries, and bishops' storehouses.

The $1.4B figure includes the value of thousands of labor hours donated by the members in events such as Mormon Helping Hands. While this figure is something to be proud of, we must look at how the LDS Church, which generates double-digit billion-dollar revenue each year, compares to other charitable organizations.


In 2014, The American Red Cross received $2.9 billion in donations and dispersed $2.7 billion in aid and services, the balance covering administration and fundraising expenses.

The Red Cross donates over 93 cents for every dollar received. In comparison, the Church donates between half and 1 penny for every dollar received.

The leaders of the Church continually remind us that Jesus Christ himself is at the head, yet we see such a contrast in his teachings compared to the Church’s pursuit of money.

Luke 18:18-23

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.

Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.


Matthew 25:35-40

For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

If showing charity for the less fortunate is truly a personal goal, then perhaps members should donate money directly where we feel it will do the most good. Do we really believe that Jesus would require his church to build multi-billion dollar business properties instead of hospitals, homeless shelters, and schools?

Chapter 25 Scientific Evidence

Many scientific disciplines such as geology, astronomy, paleontology, and biology, have given us a great deal of information about the nature of the Earth. This chapter briefly discusses the Church’s opposing views regarding the age of the Earth, evolution and the existence of death before Adam and Eve.

Age of the Earth and Evolution

Many scientific disciplines such as geology, astronomy, paleontology, and biology, have given us a great deal of information about the nature of the Earth. This chapter briefly discusses the Church’s opposing views regarding the age of the Earth, evolution and the existence of death before Adam and Eve.

Age of the Earth and Evolution

Fossils are mainly found in sedimentary rock such as the layers of the Grand Canyon. Sedimentary rock is formed when layers of sediment are deposited on top of one another. Strata can range from less than an inch thick to hundreds of feet thick. The deepest layers were formed first and are the oldest and those on top formed more recently. Geologists use radiometric dating to determine the age of the rock layer in which fossils are found. Due to erosion or tectonic shifting, exposed strata can be seen on canyons, cliffs, mountains, or cutbanks. Each layer represents a certain period in history. The fossils found in each layer are the plants and animals that lived during that period.

The oldest layers of rock we find on the Earth are about 4 billion years old and are void of any fossilized life. The oldest evidence of life are fossils of single-celled bacteria that are found in rock dating 3.4 billion years old. For nearly the next billion years, fossils show no multicellular life at all.

In rocks dating 580 million years old, beginning the Cambrian era, we finally find the first fossils of multicellular animals. We begin to see very simple organisms like sea sponges and anemones. Around 20 million years later we find simple mollusks and worms. Another 15 million years later the very first vertebrates appear, beginning with small worm-like animals and onto simple fish. In 410 million-year-old sediment, more familiar jawed fish begin to appear.

The Earth’s sediments, up until about 400 million years ago, contain no land animals. The Devonian period marks the arrival the first evidence of insects. For the next 100 million years there are no reptiles, birds or mammals, only amphibians and insects. Plant life during this period only shows the existence of simple ferns, no seed-bearing plants.

Finally, during the Mesozoic era (Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods: 250-65 million years ago) fossils show the rise and fall of the dinosaurs. After the large predators became extinct, the environment allowed for the remaining small animals to flourish. Animals resembling mammals began to be found about 190 million years ago. The first trees begin to be found in rock layers dating to about 65 million years ago. During this time we also find the emergence of modern birds from small-feathered reptiles.

The “Homo” genus first appeared about 2.8 million years ago, marking the dawning of early humans. About 1.9 million years ago we found skeletal remains in eastern Africa showing fully upright features. Neanderthals began about 300,000 years ago, and by 200,000 years ago, we began to find anatomically modern human skeletal remains. This marks the arrival of Homo s. sapiens, our current version of spices.

The Original Claims


“It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this Earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men.”

First Presidency Statement – “The Origin of Man”, 1909

“I will state frankly and positively that I am opposed to the present biological theories and the doctrine that man has been of the earth for millions of years. I am opposed to the present teachings in relation to the age of the earth, which declare that the earth is millions of years old. Naturally, since I believe in modern revelation, I cannot accept these so-called scientific teachings, for I believe them to be in conflict with the simple and direct word of the Lord that has come to us by divine revelation.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol.1, pp101-103


“I say most emphatically, you cannot believe in this theory of the origin of man, and at the same time accept the plan of salvation as set forth by the Lord our God. You must choose the one and reject the other, for they are in direct conflict and there is a gulf separating them which is so great that it cannot be bridged, no matter how much one may try to do so.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, v.1, pp141-42


Age of the Earth

Doctrine and Covenants section 77 has a unique Q&A session between Joseph and God. In verse 6 Joseph poses two questions and records two answers.


Doctrine and Covenants 77: 6

Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

Q: What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it is sealed?

A: We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.


President Joseph Fielding Smith clarifies the term “temporal existence.”

“Here is a definite statement by revelation to us that this Earth will go through 7,000 years of temporal existence. Temporal, by all interpretations, means passing, temporary, or mortal.”

Joseph Fielding Smith – Doctrines of Salvation, vol.1, p. 80


Death Before Adam and Eve

“If, for example, a student accepts the untrue theory that death has been present on the earth for scores of thousands or millions of years, he must reject the revealed truth that there was no death either for man or animals or plants or any form of life until some 6000 years ago when Adam fell.”

Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 3:95-96;Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 681


“There was no death in the world for him or for any form of life until after the Fall; that the Fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world; that this temporal death passed upon all forms of life, upon man and animal and fish and fowl and plant life.”

Bruce R. McConkie, BYU, June 1, 1980


“From the revelations of the Lord we learn that there was no death in this world before the transgression of Adam and Eve.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation vol.1, p101


“There was no death upon the earth, either vegetable, insect or animal, prior to the fall of man, and that human life did not exist upon the earth prior to Adam.”

Heber J. Grant, 1931 Statement of the First Presidency


Beginning in the oldest layers of rock and continuing up through newer layers, the sequence of fossils shows a consistent pattern to the emerging levels of life. Fossils of simpler organisms are encased in layers of rock that are very old and very deep. Gradually, more complex life is found in younger, shallower layers of rock. This sets the timeline for the evolution of life literally in stone. Life and death occurred on this planet long before human existence. The first sin could not have brought about the physical death of all living things upon the face of the Earth from the creation until the time of Adam.


Distancing From Past Claims

The doctrine of the Church once assured us that the age of the Earth was less than 7,000 years old, that evolution was false, and that no form of death existed in this world before the creation of modern humans, but today the Church has decided to distance itself from those past doctrines.

LDS Scientists Offer A Different Viewpoint

Dr. Michael F. Whiting – Director of the BYU DNA Sequencing Center and professor of Integrative Biology.

“Many critics of evolution portray evolutionary theory as a series of made-up stories that require just as much faith to believe in as any religion requires. In fact, evolution is widely considered to be one of the most successful scientific theories ever proposed because of its ability to elegantly explain a plethora of biological observations.”


Dr. Bart Kowallis – BYU Dean of Physical and Math Sciences

“Students and the BYU community are reminded that organic evolution, anthropogenic climate change, radiometric dating, and a 4.56 billion-year-old Earth are all seriously taught on campus by professors who are in good standing with the Church, in fields directly relating to these subjects.”


After concluding that its stances on evolution and other scientific subjects were in direct contrast to overwhelming data, again the Church decided to invalidate the statements made by past prophets by taking a more neutral position.


“The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Organic evolution, or changes to species’ traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on Earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.”

What Does The Church Believe About Evolution? – New Era, 2016


“While it is interesting to note these various theories, officially the Church has not taken a stand on the age of the Earth. Therefore, while Latter Day Saints are commanded to learn truth from many different fields of study an attempt to establish any theory as the official position of the Church is not justifiable.”

Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis-2Samuel, CES Religion 301, 2003


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