Q. The direct copying of KJV verses into the Book of Mormon that don’t reflect the Joseph Smith Translation version of the KJV.
In your question, you did not cite any specific examples. Perhaps you could be more specific. Are you referring to the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon or the portions of 3 Nephi which parallel the Sermon on the Mount?
Are you aware that there are variants found only in the Book of Mormon passages which are attested in ancient manuscripts?
Q. Joseph had 33 wives and lied to his wife about it several times. 11 of these women were married to other men.
A. When approaching the question of Joseph Smith and plural marriage the modern historian encounters various challenges. One has to do with the sources of information. Joseph Smith himself left little information on the details of these relationships himself, so we have to rely in large part on the testimony of the men and women themselves, where this is available and others who may have reported these events. Other sources of information come from those who were critical of the Church or enemies of Joseph Smith. While these later sources sometimes may provide true information, one can seldom accept them at face value. They require caution and careful interpretation to sort out errors and inaccuracies often based on hearsay. There are also large gaps in information we might like to have. Many historians have written on the topic and reached different interpretations of the evidence. Here I would recommend Greg Smith’s discussion which you can access here.
There are other good sources relating to the topic in the links that the Bishop forwarded to you. Current historical research on the question suggests that in Nauvoo, there were actually several kinds of marriages or sealings and these sometimes have caused confusion among later interpreters. Some marriages were for both time and eternity. In other cases, you had marriages in which a couple for various reasons was married for time only to one spouse, but sealed to another spouse for eternity. This seems to have been a matter of choice on the part of the wife and the husband concerned. Some of Joseph Smith’s marriages to women in Nauvoo appear to have been a sealing for eternity only, as in the case of Helen Mar Kimball. In such cases, the woman was free to marry another for time only. In such eternity only marriages there would have been no sexual component. In other cases, the Prophet was sealed for both time and eternity to various women. Most of these were marriages to single women. In about ten or eleven cases there was a sealing to women who were at the time already married. Some critics of the Church have attempted to portray this in a bad light, but the evidence available thus far suggests that there were no sexual relations between Joseph Smith and these women, while they were married to these men and in cases where this can be known, the husbands of these women approved of the sealing ordinance to Joseph Smith while he was alive and in some cases stood as proxies for him in the Nauvoo temple after he was dead.
As for the question of lying about plural marriage see the discussion here under “polygamy and lying” here
In the case of Emma Smith, I think the Prophet did the very best he could under the circumstances. Joseph was not perfect. Joseph taught her the principle and at times she accepted it and at other times she rejected it. She even gave him several of his plural wives and then later changed her mind and then after his death denied that he ever practiced it. I think that it was obviously a tremendous trial to all involved and I feel inclined to be charitable.
As I see it this boils down to the question of whether Joseph Smith was a Prophet or not. If he was not what he said he was then plural marriage was wrong. If he was a Prophet and if he was authorized and commanded by God to do those things, then it was right. Everything I have read suggests that plural marriage was a tremendous trial for those early saints, but nothing that I have learned convinces me that Joseph Smith did anything other than what the Lord commanded him. It is significant, I think, that many of those who accepted the principle only did so after first being opposed to it and then receiving divine confirmation that it was right. They were convinced that he was a Prophet of God. Plural marriage, of course, is not the sacrifice that the Lord requires of us today. Today, he only requires that we live in accordance with the commandments and teachings which we have been given.
I still have many questions for which I do not yet have answers, but I have found answers to the questions that matter most to me and these anchor me in how I approach the challenges in my life. Knowing that God lives and hears and answers my prayers gives direction to how I live. I have found it to be the case that the same Spirit that testifies that God lives, also witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith lived and died a true Prophet of God and that the Church he restored continues today.
Q. Why did Joseph need the plates if he just translated using his seer stone?
A. It is very clear not only from Joseph Smith’s own testimony, but from that of others, that he had the plates in his possession (Emma Smith states that the plates often lay on the table covered with a cloth). You are correct in noting (popular artistic representations notwithstanding) that Joseph apparently did not have to use the plates themselves as he dictated the translation from the seer stone. One obvious reason for this is that he was unlearned and the translation did not come about through his study of ancient languages, but through the gift and power of God by means of the Holy Ghost as he read it from the seer stone. If that is the case, and this is what those who witnessed the dictation reported, why did he need to have the plates at all? One obvious reason is that the prophecies said that he would be entrusted with the book (2 Nephi 27:19-20). So this was necessary to fulfill prophecy, but a more important reason, I think, was so that it would be more difficult for others to rationalize away the reality of the Book of Mormon and its account. If the Book of Mormon had merely been words from a dream or a vision, it would be more easy for doubters to dismiss the story as a mere product of imagination or illusion. The doubter might even grant that the prophet was sincere and experienced something, but that it was all in his mind and the events in the Book of Mormon were fiction. On the other hand, if there were real plates, there was a real Moroni and a real Mormon, a real Alma or Nephi. The resurrected Savior really did visit the multitude at the temple at a real place called Bountiful described in 3 Nephi. So while it was not necessary for the Prophet to use the plates themselves during the translation, it was necessary for them to be entrusted to him and for other chosen witnesses to see, feel and bear testimony of their reality, so that it would be impossible to dismiss the Book of Mormon as merely the result of Joseph Smith’s imagination. One is forced to choose whether the account and the testimony of its witnesses is true or not true. The Apostles testified that Jesus appeared to them and visited them after his resurrection from the dead. Jesus did not appear to everybody, but to chosen witnesses. They saw him. They touched his body. He spoke with them and they even ate with him. They were subsequently able to testify, “for we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). John spoke of that “which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). Like the resurrection of Jesus, the existence of the plates forces people to make a choice as to whether it is true or not. Of course there may have been other reasons for this as well, but that would be my take.
Incidentally, there are many issues associated with the translation of the Book of Mormon which I think are very significant. Let me recommend you take some time to read a short summary of some of these things by a friend of mine. See Daniel C. Peterson, “Not so easily dismissed: Some facts for which counter explanations of the Book of Mormon will need to account,” FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): xi-xxxii which you can access here
Again, there is some very good and solid scholarship that has been done on the historical background of the translation, if you are interested in exploring it further. If so, just let me know and I will get you what you need.
Q. Egyptoligists refute Joseph's Translation of the Book of Abraham.
A. This is a common criticism based upon the questionable assumption that the text of the Book of Abraham came from the text of the eleven papyri fragments recovered in 1967. While these fragments contain the original vignette from which Facsimile 1 was taken, there are good reasons to believe that the text of the Book of Abraham was on a different portion of the Joseph Smith papyri now missing.
First some background.
In late June 1835, Joseph Smith purchased four mummies with some Egyptian papyrus that was found with them. The Prophet indicated this collection of papyri included important ancient records relating to the ancient biblical patriarchs Abraham and Joseph. These papyri, as described by those who saw it, consisted of two long rolls of papyrus as well as an unspecified number of other fragments and pieces, some of which had been damaged previous to their arrival in Ohio. In his history, the Prophet recorded that “with W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt”(History of the Church 2:236). In 1842, the text of the Book of Abraham, as we have it now was published in March an April of that same year.
During this period (from 1835-1844) many people, including both friends and foes, visited Joseph Smith. Some of them described the papyrus, which he displayed freely. From these descriptions we can gain a general idea of the condition of the papyri collection when the early Mormons had them in Ohio and Illinois. At least one of the rolls, apparently the one which Joseph Smith associated with Abraham’s record, was partially damaged before it came into the Prophet’s possession. Those pieces of papyri, that were damaged were carefully cut from the outside beginning portion of the roll and placed on paper and in wooden frames under glass to facilitate their display. One of these was the original for facsimile # 1 in the Pearl of Great Price. In 1856, twelve years after the Prophet’s death, the mummies and the papyri were sold to a man named Abel Combs, who in turn sold or gave them to various people. Some of these papyri were sold to the Woods Museum in Chicago. Unbeknown to Latter-day Saints, ten additional fragments, including the original for facsimile 1 were given to his granddaughter. After several decades her family sold these to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. In the 1870s the Woods Museum in Chicago burned down in the Chicago fire. Other papyri associated with that collection may or may have perished there.
In 1967, the Metropolitan Museum in New York returned the fragments in their possession to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eleven fragments of the papyri once possessed by Joseph Smith are now in their possession. Eight of these small fragments are parts of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Three other fragments (the original for facsimile 1 and two adjoining pieces) originally formed the outside or beginning of one roll were part of an Egyptian text, sometimes called the Book of Breathings by Isis. Both the Book of the Dead and the Book of Breathings were associated with Egyptian temple practices and sometimes accompanied some Egyptian burials in order to assist the dead to successfully pass by heavenly guardians in the afterlife. None of the extant eleven fragments contain any of the text from the Book of Abraham narrative.
The rediscovery of eleven fragments from Joseph Smith’s collection of Egyptian papyri, clarify some historical issues surrounding the Joseph Smith papyri and also raise several questions of interest to Latter-day Saints relating to the Book of Abraham. First, the papyri fragments which have been recovered date to a period long after the time of Abraham. Latter-day Saints assume that the papyri in Joseph Smith’s possession contained a copy of what Abraham once wrote rather than the original document Abraham wrote with his own hand upon papyrus. Similarly, ancient biblical manuscripts contain copies of Paul’s writings which he once wrote by his own hand, even though they may date hundreds of years after the time of Paul. While Abraham may have originally prepared illustrations to accompany the text, his original illustrations may not have survived in later copies. Egyptian vignettes and motifs from a later period may have been adopted or adapted by a later scribe to accompany a copy of the Book of Abraham narrative in order to explain or represent events and teachings in the Abraham account, much like Jews and Christians of the Hellenistic and Roman periods adapted Greek, Roman and other foreign motifs and symbols to depict Biblical events. Under this assumption, Joseph Smith’s inspired interpretations would provide, not an explanation of Egyptian funerary practices, but rather explanations of how those symbolic Egyptian vignettes and motifs were designed by Abraham or a later scribe to represent events and teachings from Abraham’s life.
Second, it is now clear that we don’t have all the papyri that Joseph Smith once had. This is clear from the statements of those who viewed and examined the papyri in Joseph Smith’s day. After the damaged fragments were cut off the outside of the rolls and placed under glass, visitors report being shown long rolls of papyri. What this means is that the eleven small fragments, which could be easily laid out on a small desk represent only a very small portion of what Joseph Smith once had. Although not known in Joseph smith’s day, Recent research indicates that Egyptian papyri sometimes contain several documents, including Books of the dead and other unrelated documents on the same roll or papyri. It is sometimes assumed that if the Joseph Smith papyri contained so-called funerary documents, they could not contain anything else. Current evidence suggests that the Joseph Smith papyri rolls may have contained, as other known papyri do, multiple texts. The evidence of papyri containing multiple documents allow for the possibility that the Abraham text was a secondary document on the inside of the papyrus roll. Another mistaken assumption is that because the first fragment from the outside of the Abraham roll contains the original to facsimile 1 that the accompanying text must be the text of the Book of Abraham. Some scholars note that pictures adjoining the texts on Egyptian papyri often have nothing to do with the accompanying texts, but may refer to events described in other documents on a different portion of the papyri or roll. Also, in late copies of documents, the vignettes can often get mixed up in their placement in relation to the text that is copied.
Third, although the recovered papyri fragments contain the original vignette for facsimile one, it is clear that the accompanying text of the Egyptian Book of Breathings on this and two other fragments do not contain the text of the Book of Abraham narrative. In light of this fact, some may wonder why a Jewish scribe would associate an account about Abraham with Egyptian themes and vignettes. Although entirely unknown to in Joseph Smith’s day, there is now evidence that ancient writers, sometimes did so. Some recent scholars assert that the story that Jesus told about the Rich man and the poor man Lazarus who die and go to hades (Luke 16:19-31) may have been patterned after of adapted from the Egyptian tale of Satme Khamuas. In the New Testament story, the angels in the account are a substitute for an Egyptian figure , “perhaps Horus or the falcon of Horus.” (K. Grobel, “`. . . Whose Name was Neves,’” New Testament Studies 10 (1963): 378.). Moreover, “Abraham,” in the story related in Luke, “must be a Jewish substitute for the pagan god Osiris” who in Egypt was originally the Lord of the Amente, the Egyptian equivalent of hades (Grobel, 380).
A second example is also of interest. In the Jewish apocryphal text, entitled the Testament of Abraham, which dates to the first century A.D., Abraham is shown many things before he dies, including a representation of the final judgement. In that text the patriarch describes seeing Adam and Abel and Enoch and several angels participating in various roles. Scholars who study this ancient Jewish text affirm that the description of the judgement in this ancient apocryphal story is based upon a judgement scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and that the Jewish scribe adopted these judgement motifs in describing a Jewish understanding of the Judgement. (George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jr., “Eschatology in the Testament of Abraham: A Study of the Judgement Scenes in Two Recensions.” Nickelsburg, Studies on the Testament of Abraham (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1976), 32-33, 39-40.). The Jewish writer in this case substituted Abel for the Egyptian god Osiris, and the angels Dokiel and Puroel and other angels for the gods Anubis, Horus and Maat. Enoch the scribe fills the roll of Thoth. In other words, Egyptian religious symbols were in this case, adopted and modified by a Jewish scribe to convey an apocryphal Jewish story. Similarly, although Latter-day Saints accept the Book of Abraham as authentic scripture, not apocrypha, it is not unreasonable to assume that Jewish writer may have adapted illustrations from Egyptian religious art to accompany a copy of the Book of Abraham.
It is also significant that the name Abraham appears in other late Egyptian papyri, nearly contemporary with the Joseph Smith papyri. One document contains a representation of a figure on a lion couch similar to the one portrayed in facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham. Below this figure are the words, “Abraham who is upon . . .” It also says, “[write these] words and this image on a new papyrus.” ( John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid and John Gee, eds., Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham (Provo: FARMS, 2001), 501-502.). Another document speaks of “Abraham, the pupil of the wedjat eye,” an term which the Egyptian Book of the Dead applies to a deity associated with hypocephali such as facsimile 2 (Tvedtnes, Hauglid and Gee, 50). Since many of these papyri come from Thebes, where the Joseph Smith papyri were also discovered, they may shed additional light on the Book of Abraham.
I would highly recommend the following article by Kevin Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies Brigham Young University, 2005), 107-30. There is a link to it here
If you would like me to make you a hard copy, just let me know and I will get one to you. Also, if you would like further explanation of anything I have said, I would be glad to go into more detail.
While this does not specifically relate to your question, there is evidence suggesting that the Book of Abraham is indeed an authentically ancient account that fits well into the what we now know about the age of Abraham. For example, the Book of Abraham mentions a place called Olishem (Abraham 1:10), a name which does not appear in the Bible. This name place name is attested in ancient Near Eastern documents from Abraham’s day. There are other examples of this kind of thing, which may also be of interest to you. Just let me know and I will provides copies of the material for you.
Q. Blacks and the Priesthood - Why not until 1978? It doesn't make any logical sense, it feels wrong and seems racist.
A.The Lord has not revealed why he has restricted certain blessings at various times and I think that in the absence of further revelation on the question it is useless to speculate. As members of the Church striving to be saints, we are only required to believe what is true, not the personal speculations of others, even former leaders of the Church. Revelation is one thing. Opinion is another. I must admit that for me today this is no longer an issue since I accept that the 1978 revelation was true and I rejoiced when it came. I think a more significant question would be what the hundreds of thousands of black members of the Church today think about this issue. I have known and spoken to many friends of African American heritage who are also members of the Church. Some of them were members of the Church before 1978 and yet they tell me that they knew then and that they know now that the Book of Mormon is true, the Church is true and the Priesthood is of God. They know this and bear this witness even though they are aware of this issue you mention and have sometimes been treated unkindly by others. Incidentally, there is a very good book, which is a collection of testimonies from many converts to the Church in Africa, some of whom gained a testimony of the Church years before missionaries could even be sent there (E. Dale LeBaron, ed., “All Are Alike Unto God”: Fascinating Conversion Stories of African Saints (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990). If you would like to read some of these I would be glad to lend it to you. I personally found it very humbling to learn of the great faith of these fellow saints who endured so much. It was also a testimony to me that the Lord is indeed mindful of all his children, wherever they are and that he blesses them according to their individual needs and circumstances, regardless of race, nations or language, just as the Book of Mormon says that he does (1 Nephi 1:14, 20; 2 Nephi 26:24-28, 33; Alma 26:36-37; 29:8). If good and faithful Saints like these, who have been through so much and sacrificed so much for their testimonies can still have a testimony in spite of the earlier restriction on priesthood, so can I.
While we do not have an explanation for the earlier restriction, we do know from the scriptures that at various times in the past, for reasons known only to God, that many of God’s blessings have been restricted to certain people. In ancient Israel beginning with the time of Moses only Levites were allowed to serve in the duties of the tabernacle and only descendants of Aaron could hold the office of priest and high priest in the Aaronic Priesthood (Exodus 28:1-4; 40:12-15; Numbers 3:5-10). That the Lord took these restrictions very seriously can be seen in the episodes of Uzza who tried to steady the ark (2 Sam 6:6-7) and that where King Uzziah attempted to offer incense upon the altar (a duty reserved for Aaronic priests) and was smitten with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). At one time the Lord even prohibited certain classes of individuals from entrance into the congregation (or Church) of the Lord! These included individuals who had been castrated (Duet 23:1), born illegitimately, including their descendants to the tenth generation (Duet 23:2), and those who were descended through Moab and Ammon because they refused to give Israel food or drink and because they hired a prophet to curse Israel (Duet 23:4). This would seem rather unfair to us today.
After many of the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity, they found, after searching the geneologies that many of the children of Israel were descended from intermarriages with descendants of the Canaanites and the Hivites and other nations of whom the Lord had commanded Israel not to intermarry (Duet 7:1-3; Lev 21:14). Those who were descended from these marriages were expelled from the congregation of the Lord (Neh 13:1-3, 23-30). Priests who had done this or who could not prove their genealogy who expelled from priestly service, “therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood” (Ezra 2:62).To some these might seem foolish reasons to bar generation from membership in the congregation, but God apparently had his own reasons for doing so, although he has not revealed the reason why this was so.
The New Testament also contains several examples of the delay of Gospel blessings to the various nations and peoples who lived in Palestine and its surrounding regions. During his mortal ministry Jesus himself instructed his twelve disciples that they were not to go to any of the Gentile nations or to the Samaritans to preach the Gospel, and that they were to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 10:5-6). On another occasion, when speaking to the gentile woman, he stated, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:21-28). When the woman continued to ask for help, Jesus replied, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to the dogs” (Matt 15:26). This passage indicates that were it not for the great faith and persistence of this gentile woman, Jesus would not have healed her daughter until the time came for the Gospel to go to the gentiles! Was Jesus a racist? Certainly not. But the Lord clearly had his own time table in extending Gospel blessings to the nations. In the Lord’s plan apparently some people had to hear the Gospel message first.
After his resurrection Jesus commanded his disciples to go and “teach all nations” (Matt 28:19), yet during their mission to preach the gospel the Apostle Paul and Silas his companion were at one time “forbidden of the Holy Ghost” to go at that time into Asia and Bithynia to preach the Gospel (Acts 16:6-7). Apparently the reason for this was that the Gospel needed to be preached first in Macedonia (Acts 16:6-7). We know that later the Gospel was preached in Asia and Bithynia also, but the Lord apparently felt that it was important for it to be preached elsewhere first. These New Testament passages suggest that while God loves all his children, he has his own time-table for extending Gospel blessings to the people.
For nearly half of the apostles’ ministry the Gospel was preached mainly to Israelites. The scriptures relate that a Roman officer named Cornelius was a good man and was visited by an angel who told him to send for Peter. Peter who had grown up believing that gentiles were unclean, had a vision from God. God told him, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15). When Peter visited Cornelius he said, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). When he saw that these gentiles believed Peter commanded them to be baptized (Acts 10:44-48)..
It is clear that Peter, an apostle and a Prophet, before the revelation, believed some things about gentiles that were not correct. Perhaps he could even have cited scriptural passages from the Old Testament to support his opinions. Was Peter a racist because he had thought (before receiving the revelation) that gentiles were unclean? I don’t think so. What matters is that after he received the revelation Peter obeyed God and extended the Gospel blessings to the Gentiles. Even after this revelation many Christians believed that gentile converts had to be circumcised and it required additional revelation through Peter and the Apostles to decide that this was not necessary (Acts 15:1-30).
From the early days of the Church to 1978, Latter-Day Saints leaders felt inspired to pursue a policy of generally not extending priesthood blessings to black members of the Church. Along with this policy there has always been the additional expectation that at some future time these blessings would be given to all people irrespective of race, color or ethnicity. In 1840 the Prophet Joseph Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency stated, “If the work rolls forth with the same rapidity it has heretofore done, we may soon expect to see... persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color; who shall with us worship the Lord of Hosts in his holy temple and offer up their orisons [prayers] in his sanctuary” (History of the Church 4:213). “Some time in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood” (David O McKay to Lowell Bennion and Students of the University of Utah, November 3, 1947).. As the First Presidency stated in 1969 the reasons for this restriction were “known to God” but “not fully known to man” (Improvement Era 73 February 1970: 70-71). In the absence of further revelation on the subject subsequent leaders and other Latter-day Saints have offered a variety of interpretations and speculations based upon scriptural and other statements by LDS leaders. Concerning such statements, one must always remember the council of President Harold B. Lee to the saints in Munich Germany in 1973: “If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church Works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speaks a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth” (Harold B. Lee, “Measure Truth by Standard Works.” In The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Held in Munich Germany August 24-26, 1973 with Reports of Discourses, 70-71).
Recently, President Gordon B. Hinkley, who was present when the 1978 revelation on Priesthood was received has indicated that these earlier statements about the reason for this policy were based upon an personal interpretation rather than revelation. When asked why black members of the Church could not become priests in the Church from 1830 to 1978 he explained, “Because the leaders of the Church at that time interpreted that doctrine that way” (Mike Wallace interview with President Gordon B. Hinkley, 60 Minutes, Broadcast on CBS Television, April 7 1996).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie an apostle who was also a witness to the 1978 revelation explained shortly afterward: “There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality.... Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that has now come into the world. We get out truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thought of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year (1978). It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles” (Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike unto God.” In The Second Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium: A Symposium on the Book of Mormon, August 17-19, 1978, Brigham Young University (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1978, 3-4).
Let me also respond to a few other related questions that also touch on this issue.
Was the So-called Revelation in 1978 not a result of Pressure within and without the Church?
Actually the real pressure from outside the Church came during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and early 1970s and had ceased by 1974 and this was why the announcement came as such a surprise to many. This fact has been often noted by some who have commented on this issue. During the time of greatest criticism from outside the Church in the 1960s and early 1970s If the Church was going to capitulate to pressure from outside the Church the time to do this would have been in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights movement not 1978. Presidents David O McKay and Harold B.Lee had during that time each asked the Lord the lift this restriction, but had only received the answer, “not yet” (Leonard J. Arrington, “The Long Promised Day.” In Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998, 180).
Was there really a Revelation in 1978?
Some critics of the Church have wondered why no written revelation was added to our scriptures if one was really received by the Prophet, however this criticism is unjustified since not all revelations need to be written in order to be considered revelations. There have been a number of instances in Church history where this was the case. In the New Testament, at a time when members of the Church were disputing over whether or not circumcision was required for gentile converts, the Apostles and other Church leaders met in a council. After much discussion they decided that circumcision was not required and sent a letter the Churches explaining their decision. In this letter they stated that it, “seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to them,” (Acts 15:25) that circumcision not be required of gentile converts. No record of any revelation was written nor was there any quotation from the revelation in the letter.
The revelation on the Priesthood was received by President Spencer W. Kimball on June 1, 1978. Concerning this revelation, many of those who were there have given their testimony. Although I can also provide similar statements by other witnesses to this event, I will here cite the testimony of Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
“We were all fasting and had just concluded a meeting of some three hours duration that was attended by nearly all the General Authorities. That meeting also was held in the room of the First Presidency and the Twelve in the holy temple.... After this meeting, which was one of great spiritual uplift and enlightenment, all of the brethren except those in the First Presidency and the Twelve were excused.
“When we were alone by ourselves in that sacred place where we meet weekly to wait upon the Lord, to seek guidance from his Spirit, and to transact the affairs of his earthly kingdom, President Kimball brought up the matter of the possible conferral of the priesthood upon those of all races. This was a subject that the group of us had discussed at length on numerous occasions in the preceding weeks and months. The President restated the problem involved, reminded us of our discussions, and said he had spent many days in this upper room pleading with the Lord for an answer to our prayers. He said that if the answer was to continue our present course of denying the priesthood to the seed of Cain, as the Lord had therefore directed, he was prepared to defend that decision to the death. But, he said, if the long sought day had come in which the curse of the past was to be removed, he thought we might prevail upon the Lord so to indicate. He expressed the hope that we might receive a clear answer one way or the other so the matter might be laid to rest.
“At this point President Kimball asked the brethren if any of them desired to express their feelings and views as to the matter in hand. We all did so, freely and fluently and at considerable length, each person stating his views and manifesting the feelings of his heart.... This session continued for somewhat more than two hours. Then President Kimball suggested that we united in formal prayer....
“It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoek to his prophet. The message was that the time had now come to offer the fulness of the everlasting gospel, including celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the basis of personal worthiness. And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord.
“President Kimball’s prayer was answered and our prayers were answered. He heard the voice and we heard the same voice. All doubt and uncertainty fled. He knew the answer and we knew the answer....
“In the days that followed the receipt of the new revelation, President Kimball and President Ezra Taft Benson–the senior and most spiritually experienced ones among us both said, expressing the feelings of us all, that neither of them had ever experienced anything of such spiritual magnitude and power as was poured out upon the Presidency and the Twelve that day in the upper room in the house of the Lord. And of it I say: It is true; I was there; I heard the voice; and the Lord be praised that it has come to pass in our day” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The New Revelation on Priesthood.” In Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 127-28.
The Lord stated in a revelation given in November 1831 that the Priesthood leaders of the Church “shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. And whatsoever they shall speak whenmoved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:3-4). In 1954 President J. Reuben Clark Jr., who was in the First Presidency spoke on the subject,”When are the writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” In that sermon, he observed that “the very words of the revelation recognize that the Brethren may speak when they are not `moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ yet only when they do so speak, as so `moved upon,’ is what they say Scripture. No exceptions are given to this rule or principle. It is universal in its application.” he noted that, “Sometimes in the past, they have spoken `out of turn,’ so to speak. Furthermore, at times even those not members of the General Authorities are said to have been heard to declare their own views on various matters concerning which no official view or declaration has been made by the mouthpiece of the Lord, sometimes with an assured certainty that might deceive the uninformed and unwary.... There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been `moved upon by the Holy Ghost’.... This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where Presidents of the Church and the people themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not `moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ How shall the Church know when these adventurous expeditions of the brethren into these highly speculative principles and doctrines meet the requirements of the statutes that the announcers thereof have been `moved upon by the Holy Ghost?’ The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are `moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (J. Reuben Clark Jr., “When are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claims of Scripture?” Discourse delivered at Brigham Young University, July 7, 1954, since reprinted in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12/2 ([Summer 1979]: 68-69, 73-74).
It is important to establish whether or not a statement is inspired by the Spirit or not before we accept it as authoritative. Here are a few additional statements which are relevant to this subject which I present for your consideration:
Elder Charles W. Penrose stated, “At the head of this Church stands a man who is a Prophet... we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God” (Charles W. Penrose, March 21, 1892, Millennial Star 54 : 191).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith stated that the saints should follow the teachings and counsel of Church leaders, “unless they can discover in them some conflict with the revelations and commandments the Lord has given. There are times when the leading brethren have expressed their own opinions on various subjects... but when the Lord has spoken through his servant who holds the keys, there should be unity among the members of the Church” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1958, 2:112-13).
“If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know that standards, you have no adequate measure of truth (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 149).
“If there is any teacher who teaches a doctrine that can’t be substantiated from the standard Church works–and I make one qualification, and that is unless that one be the President of the Church, who alone has the right to declare new doctrine–then you may know by that same token that such a teacher is expressing his own opinion.... no matter what his position in this Church may be. The President of the Church alone may declare the mind and will of God to His people. No officer nor any other church in the world has this high and lofty prerogative. When the President proclaims any such new doctrine, he will declare it to be a revelation from the Lord” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 149).
“When all is said and done, the test of the doctrine lies in the standard works of the Church. These have been accepted in conference and assembled as our doctrinal standards” (Gordon B. Hinkley, General Authority Training Meeting, October 1, 1996, in Teachings of Gordon B. Hinkley, 574).
As perhaps the most vocal and well known Church leader who had earlier expressed his views on the subject of blacks and the priesthood and pre-existence (These were largely based upon the views of his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith), and as one who witnessed the revelation 1978, it was entirely appropriate that Elder McConkie should admit that these earlier speculative views in justification of the priesthood denial were incorrect and should no longer be followed.
As I mentioned above, the Lord’s apostle Peter faced a similar situation in which he had held a view for most of his life that gentiles were “unclean.” Revelation changes the situation, however, as it did for Peter. Following his remarkable vision he then realized that he “should not call any man clean or common” (Acts 10:28). The New Testament record shows that many members of the Church were uncomfortable with this new policy and wanted to circumcise all gentile converts. It took another revelation to clarify this issue for the Church. Following this second revelation the early Church Apostles and other leaders sent a letter indicating that, “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us,” to discontinue this circumcision practice (Acts 15:28). I suppose that members of the Church could have said, “Peter is so impudent. I can’t forget all the statements from the Moses and the prophets about the gentiles being unclean. Wasn’t circumcision an eternal law. Didn’t Peter himself used to say that gentiles were unclean? How can we forget these statements?” Men and women might have said such things then, but they would have been wrong. Revelation comes according to the Lord’s plan and time and he does not always reveal the reasons why.
Was Black Skin a Sign of Unworthiness in the Pre-existence?
This theory is without scriptural foundation. While scriptures in both the Bible and the Pearl of Great Price document that God has sometimes, for reasons unspecified, withheld priesthood and other Gospel blessings from some of his mortal children, the scriptures say nothing about how skin color may or may not relate to pre-existence. There is no scriptural passage in any of the standard works that states that Priesthood denial was ever based upon pre-existence or that the spirits of blacks were neutral in the war in heaven or that blacks or anybody else were less faithful than other spirits. It is just a theory. It is not scriptural and I simply do not believe it. Also, as far as I can tell, no acting President of the Church has ever claimed revelation for those ideas, whatever, personal opinion may have been. No such revelation has ever been claimed by them or presented to the Church membership for their sustaining vote. Consequently, the statements of these general authorities and other writers or members of the Church are a matter of personal interpretation and speculation and not official doctrine and as Joseph Fielding Smith himself stated, we are “duty-bound to reject them.” Again, I make a distinction between an inspired policy and secondary interpretations and uninspired justifications for that policy.
What about Elijah Abel?
As I noted above, at various times in the past, for reasons known only to God, many blessings have been restricted to certain people. I neglected to say that even with these Old Testament restrictions, there were rare exceptions to the general policy and the Lord has again never revealed why. One notable example is King David who was partially Moabite in lineage through his ancestor Ruth (a lineage which was not allowed to enter the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation Duet 23:3). Not only was David a part of the Lord’s congregation, but he even exercised sacred responsibilities in the priesthood organizing the priests and Levites in their courses and responsibilities (Psalms 22:22; 1 Chronicles 15:27; 29:10,20; 23:1-6; 24:1-3; 25:1-6). Although persons who had been castrated were not permitted to enter the congregation of the Lord, Isaiah the prophet foretold that even these individuals would at a later time be able to enter the temple and be numbered among the Lord’s people (Isaiah 56:3-7). Jesus healed the gentile woman’s daughter because of her great faith, although he was only sent to the House of Israel (Matt 15:21-28). So even in the biblical record where there are restrictions for certain blessings, there are rare exceptions the reasons for which are known only to God.
Elijah Abel was indeed ordained as a seventy during the 1830s. As far as I can tell Elijah Abel was a man of faith who even served three missions for the Church. It may be that he was ordained before the restriction policy was fully understood or put in place or revealed or it may be that the Lord had a special work for him to do. I do not know. He did faithfully serve three missions for the Church, although he did not receive his temple blessings unto after his death. I am sure that this was a great personal trial for him, but the most important thing to remember is that he did not leave the Church over this or give up on his testimony because of what may have seemed an unfair policy. He stayed with the Church and remained faithful. I have no doubt that the Lord will bless and reward him for his patience and faith.
More important from a modern perspective is the testimony of many black converts who maintained their faith and testimony during the time the priesthood was denied to them. I have met some of these people and I have also heard and read many of their testimonies. They tell of marvelous spiritual experiences which they witnessed which confirmed their faith that the Church was true. They have grown and matured in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and some of them have a testimony and Christ-like life that would rival that of any other member of the Church. They testify that the Church is true, the priesthood is real and that we have living prophets guided by revelation. I personally find their testimonies of courage and faith quite remarkable.
How was the 1978 Revelation Received?
Remember that all revelation and gifts of the Spirit come through the Holy Ghost. As Moroni explained there are many ways that the Spirit can communicate to us and manifest itself, but it is still the same Spirit: “And ye may know that he is by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever. Again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different waysthat these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them” (Moroni 10:7-8). On the question of the 1978 revelation, the key issue is if revelation was received, not how. You quoted part of the statement from Gordon B. Hinkley. The apparent inconsistency, however, is resolved when we examine the full statement which I reproduce here:
“There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage. Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. It was a quiet sublime occasion. There was not the sound `as of a rushing mighty wind,’ there were not `cloven tongues like as of fire’ (Acts 2:2-3) as there had been on the Day of Pentecost. But there was a Pentecostal spirit, for the Holy Ghost was there. No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But The voice of the Spirit whispered with a certainty into our minds and our very soul. It was for us, at least for me personally, as I imagine it was with Enos, who said concerning his remarkable experience, `And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind’ (Enos 1:10). So it was on that memorable June 1, 1978. We left that meeting subdued and reverent and joyful. Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. All of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision had come from the heavens. The answer was clear. There was perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding” (Gordon B. Hinkley, “Priesthood Restoration” Ensign (October 1988): 70).
As President Hinkley’s more complete statement makes clear, there was a divine voice speaking to them. It was not a voice audible to their physical ears, but one which was heard and felt in their minds and very souls. He compares his own experience on that day with that of Enos in the Book of Mormon. I suggest you re-read that account in the Book of Mormon
(Enos 1:1-19). Although it was not an audible voice heard by physical ears Enos did hear a voice. It was real and it carried with it a powerful assurance and certainty which removed all doubt and instilled within him a faith that was “unshaken.”
President Hinkley has subsequently testified that revelation was experienced on this occasion. In 1993 he stated: “I was in that circle in that sacred room when President Spencer W. Kimball on a June day in 1978 pleaded with the Lord for direction on a matter fraught with tremendous consequences. It concerned the eligibility of all worthy men to receive the priesthood. I can testify now, as I have testified before, that the spirit of revelation was felt on that occasion, and that the fruits which have flowed from that revelation have been sweet and wonderful for great numbers of people across the world” (Gordon B. Hinkley, “The Salt Lake Temple” Ensign 23/3 [March 1993]: 6). At a fireside in Alaska in 1995 he also testified’: “Each Thursday, when we are at home, the First Presidency and the twelve meet in the temple, in those sacred hallowed precincts, and we pray together and discuss certain matters together, and the spirit of revelation comes upon those present. I know. I have seen it. I was there that June day in 1978 when President Kimball received revelation, surrounded by members of the Twelve of whom I was one at the time. This is the work of God. This is his almighty work. No man can stop or hinder it. It will go on and continue to grow and bless the lives of people across the earth” (Gordon B. Hinkley, Ketchikan Alaska Fireside, June 22, 1995, in Teachings of Gordon B. Hinkley, 555).
Elder David B. Haight who was also present on this occasion related the following:
“I was in the temple when President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation regarding the priesthood. I was the junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I was there. I was there with the outpouring of the Spirit in that room so strong that none of us could speak afterward. We just left quietly to go back to office. No one could say anything because of the powerful outpouring of the heavenly spiritual experience. Just a few hours after the announcement was made to the press, I was assigned to attend a stake conference in Detroit, Michigan. When my plane landed in Chicago, I noticed an edition of the Chicago Tribune on the newsstand. The headline in the paper said, `Mormons Give Blacks Priesthood.’ And the subheading said, “President Kimball Claims to Have Received a Revelation.” I bought a copy of the newspaper. I stared at one word in that subheading–claims. It stood out to me just like it was in red neon. As I walked along the hallway to make my pane connection, I thought, Here I am now in Chicago walking through this busy airport, yet I was a witness to this revelation. I was there. I witnessed it. I felt that heavenly influence. I was part of it. Little did the editor of that newspaper realize the truth of that revelation when he wrote`... Claims to have Received a Revelation.’ Little did he know, or the printer, or the man who put ink on the press, or the one who delivered the newspaper–little did any of them know that it was truly a revelation from God. Little did they know what I knew because I was a witness to it” (David B. Haight, Conference Report, April 1996, 30-31).
Latter-day Prophets and apostles have testified that they witnessed the manifestation of the Holy Ghost testifying that that it was the will of the Lord that all Gospel blessings should then be extended to all men regardless of race, color or ethnicity. They testify that the Holy Ghost manifested itself in a powerful and marvelous manner, that they all experienced it. Below I have provided excerpts from the public or written statements of those who were there.
President Spencer W. Kimball
“This revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it” (Gerry Avant, “Pres. Kimball says Revelation was Clear” Church News January 6, 1979, 15).
Ezra Taft Benson
“We experienced the sweetest spirit of unity and conviction that I have ever experienced.... We took each other in our arms, we were so impressed with the sweet spirit that was in evidence. Our bosoms burned with the righteousness of the decision we had made. Thank God for the inspired leadership and the great and enduring principle of revelation” (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987, 457).
Howard W. Hunter
Concerning this experience Elder Hunter noted, “Seldom, if ever, had there been greater unanimity in the council” He also referred to “the powerful witness of the Spirit last Thursday, and how this confirmed the divine origin of the revelation” (Cited in Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994, 235-36).
Gordon B. Hinkley
“The Spirit of God was there.... Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing.... The voice of the Spirit whispered with a certainty into our minds and our very souls.... We left that meeting subdued reverent and joyful. Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that” (Gordon B. Hinkley, “Priesthood Restoration” 70).
“I can testify now, as I have testified before, that the spirit of revelation was felt on that occasion” (Gordon B. Hinkley, “The Salt Lake Temple” 6).
Bruce R. McConkie
“The Lord in his providences poured out the Holy Ghost upon the First Presidency and the Twelve in a miraculous and marvelous manner, beyond anything that any then present had ever experienced. The revelation came to the President of the Church; it also came to each individual present.... The result was that President Kimball knew, and each one of us knew, independent of any other person, by direct and personal revelation to us, that the time had now come to extend the Gospel and all its blessings and all its obligations, including the priesthood and the blessings of the house of the Lord, to those of every nation, culture, and race. There was no question whatsoever as to what happened or as to the word and message that came” (Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” 4).
“All of us then present in the Holy Temple on that blessed occasion became living witnesses of the reality of the revealed word that then came to the one appointed to receive revelation for the Church and for the world. Each of us received a confirming witness in our souls–The Holy Spirit of God speaking to the spirits within us–so that we can and do testify to the world that the revelation came and that it is the mind and will and voice of the Lord” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 243).
David B. Haight
“The outpouring of the Spirit in that room [was] so strong that none of us could speak afterward.... No one could say anything because of the powerful outpouring of the heavenly spiritual experience.... I was there. I witnessed it. I felt that heavenly influence. I was part of it.... It was truly a revelation from God.... I was a witness to it” (David B. Haight, Conference Report, April 1996, 31)
It seems that the evidence points more towards evolution.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. . . . Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes .”
But the fossil records point towards a gradual evolution to our present state. Thus no literal Adam and Eve.
First two statements for your consideration, one from Brigham Young, another from Orson Pratt relating to the question of the age of the earth.
In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its professors are true, but its leading principles are; they are facts--they are eternal; and to assert that the Lord made this earth out of nothing is preposterous and impossible. God never made something out of nothing; it is not in the economy or law by which the worlds were, are, or will exist. There is an eternity before us, and it is full of matter; and if we but understand enough of the Lord and his ways, we would say that he took of this matter and organized this earth from it. How long it has been organized it is not for me to say, and I do not care anything about it. As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not, and whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant. This we know by what we have learned naturally since we have had a being on the earth. We can now take a hymn book and read its contents; but if we had never learned our letters and knew nothing about type or paper or their uses, and should take up a book and look at it, it would be a great mystery; and still more so would it be to see a person read line after line, and give expression therefrom to the sentiments of himself or others. But this is no mystery to us now, because we have learned our letters, and then learned to place those letters into syllables, the syllables into words, and the words into sentences. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.14, p.116, Brigham Young, May 14, 1871. Emphasis added).
In have no doubt a great many changes have taken place upon our globe since that great change wrought upon it at the time of the creation. There certainly was a great change wrought upon it then, for we are told that when the Lord organized the earth it was enveloped in a great ocean of water, there being no dry land in sight. But the Lord, by his power and word, or, in other words, by his immutable laws, caused that the waters should be gathered together into one place, and hence the dry land appeared. I do not suppose that this change was effected in the twinkling of an eye; I believe the Lord has certain established laws by which he accomplished his wonderful works pertaining to all his creations. How long this submerged earth had an existence before the Lord commanded the great deep, that enveloped the whole surface of the same, to be removed, is not for me to say; no one can tell how many years, or thousands of years, or how many millions of years, this earth may have existed in the form of partial or imperfect organizations before this great event happened, of which Moses gives an account. The periods mentioned in the history, as recorded in the 1st chapter of Genesis, are represented as beginning with the evening and ending with the morning. Seven such periods are mentioned. How long these periods, called days, were, I cannot tell; it is very evident they were not governed by the rotation of the earth on its axis, because the sun did not give light during the first three days or periods. It was on the fourth day that the lord caused the light of the sun to shine upon this little speck of creation. But there were three days prior to that, when the sun did not shine upon the earth. What then was to distinguish between the light and the darkness we of course cannot say. There was an eternity of past durations, before the period, called "the first day." The materials we, as Latter-day Saints, believe existed from all eternity, the materials had no beginning; they were not created. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.18, p.316 - p.317, Orson Pratt, December 3, 1876. Emphasis added).
So the actual age of the earth is an open question.
You should know that there has been and continues to be a difference of opinion, even among some LDS leaders regarding to the question of the Evolution of Man. The Church has no official position on this question. I have some materials on this that I could send to you, if you would like to read up on the question. I do not believe that the creation accounts were intended to give us a complete history of the creation. You may, however, find interesting the article by two associates of mine, particularly as it relates to how the various days of creation and the chronology of the earth as currently accepted by scientists. See Michael D. Rhodes and J. Ward Moody, “Astronomy and the Creation in the Book of Abraham,” in Astronomy, Papyrus and Covenant, 17-35). The link is here:
Another perspective from a Jewish non-LDS physicist can be found in Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom(New York: Free press, 1997). He reads the Genesis accounts in terms of the entire Universe, while the Book of Abraham and Book of Moses accounts seems to place those events from the perspective of the earth.
As far as the flood, I think it is fair to say that most LDS scientists accept the account as real, but interpret the flood as a localized destructive event, rather than one that covered the world. This is also my view. The scriptures talk about the waters covering the “earth,” but the Hebrew word for earth is eretz and it is the same word for “land” and was likely not intended originally to refer to the entire planet. Later interpreters, in my view, placed a more universal interpretation on the account and tended to see those events as typological. I think they were real, but localized to a region such as Mesopotamia.
Origin of Man (April 1910 Statement)
Priesthood Quorums' Table.
Improvement Era, Vol. XIII, April 1910, Nr. 6
Origin of Man.-"In just what manner did the mortal bodies of Adam and Eve come into existence on this earth?"
This question comes from several High Priests' quorums.
Of course, all are familiar with the statements in Genesis 1:26, 27; 2: 7; also in the Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price, 2: 27; and in the Book of-Abraham 5:7. The latter statement reads: "And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man's spirit) and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul."
These are the authentic statements of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and it is best to rest with these, until the Lord shall see fit to give more light on the subject. Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.
For helpful discussion of the subject, see IMPROVEMENT ERA, Vol. XI, August 1908, No. 10, page 778, article, "Creation and Growth of Adam;" also article by the First Presidency, "Origin of Man," Vol. XIII, No. 1, page 75, 1909.