The Church currently teaches that Adam and Eve ushered in the temporal existence of the earth approximately 6000 years ago. At least on its face, this idea is incompatible with the archaeological record.
Joseph Smith claimed to receive direct revelation from God on various topics, and this Q&A session is recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 77. Verses 6–7, 10, 12 read:
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.
7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was 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.
10 Q. What time are the things spoken of in this chapter to be accomplished?
A. They are to be accomplished in the sixth thousand years, or the opening of the sixth seal.
12 Q. What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets, mentioned in the 8th chapter of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things; and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years—the preparing of the way before the time of his coming.
Doctrine and Covenants 88:108–110 and Joseph Smith’s translation of 2 Peter 3:3–6,8 echo this understanding. The historical record indicates that Joseph Smith and the early Saints understood the 6000 years in literal terms—they were occupying the end of the sixth thousand year period.1
Given their understanding of this timeline, the earth would have began its temporal existence2 and Adam and Eve made mortal sometime around 4,000 BCE.
However, a 4,000 BCE date for the existence of Adam and Eve is difficult to reconcile with what is known about, for instance, Australian aboriginal artifacts, the invention of agriculture, the evidence suggesting continuous inhabitation of the city of Jericho since 9,000 BCE or the migration of ancient Siberians to the Americas. LDS scientists3 and even the Church in its essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon seem to accept the basic validity of these migration events and their timing.4
The LDS currently teaches the idea that the earth began its temporal existence (beginning with the Fall) roughly 6,000 years ago. To my knowledge, every manual linked below is its current version (as of September 2020).
The Doctrine and Covenants manual on section 77 (emphasis added):
D&C 77:6–7. Why Was the Book Sealed That John Saw?
“‘The book which John saw’ represented the real history of the world—what the eye of God has seen, what the recording angel has written; and the seven thousand years, corresponding to the seven seals of the Apocalyptic volume, are as seven great days during which Mother Earth will fulfill her mortal mission, laboring six days and resting upon the seventh, her period of sanctification. These seven days do not include the period of our planet’s creation and preparation as a dwelling place for man. They are limited to Earth’s ‘temporal existence,’ that is, to Time, considered as distinct from Eternity.” (Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts, p. 11.)
11. The Savior will appear to all the world sometime in the beginning of the seventh thousand years of the earth’s temporal existence (see D&C 77:12–13).
Various New Testatment teacher and student manuals
In Revelation 6–7 Jesus Christ opens the book with seven seals. As each seal is opened, John sees a representation of an event or events of a thousand years of the earth’s history.
John saw in vision a representation of important events from the first six thousand years of the earth’s temporal existence.
The 7,000-year period of the earth’s “temporal existence” (D&C 77:6) refers to the time since the Fall of Adam and Eve. …
As each of the seven seals of the book was opened, John saw visions concerning a thousand-year period of earth’s history (see D&C 77:7). Thus, the first seal related to the first thousand years of earth’s revealed temporal history (from about 4000 to 3000 B.C.), and so forth. The following chart identifies the first six thousand-year periods and offers possible interpretations of the symbols John used to describe his visions.
The left hand of the chart that follows includes a column “Seal and Approximate Dates”. The first column and row states: “First seal (verse 2) About 4000 to 3000 B.C.”
Explain that the 7,000-year period refers to the time since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It does not refer to the actual age of the earth, including the periods of creation.
The current New Testament Teacher Manual (from 2014):
John saw visions associated with the opening of the first six seals of the book, which symbolize the earth’s first six thousand years of temporal existence.
Ask students to recall what each of the seven seals on the book represented (see D&C 77:7). Tell students that Revelation 6 contains John’s visions of the earth’s first 7,000 years of temporal existence.
The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual introduction to The Book of Abraham:
Who Is Abraham and When Did He Live?
Adam and Eve and the Fall (approximately 4000 B.C.), Enoch (approximately 3000 B.C.), Noah and the Flood (approximately 2400 B.C.), and the tower of Babel (approximately 2200 B.C.) preceded Abraham’s time. Abraham, who was born in about 2000 B.C., was the father of Isaac and the grandfather of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. (See Bible Dictionary, “chronology,” 635–36.)
Currently taught in LDS Scriptures as part of the Bible Chronology
Recent teaching on churchofjesuschrist.org
The following statements were recently part of official LDS discourse (general conference or approved manuals) and can currently be found on churchofjesuschrist.org:
President Monson in GC in 2011 quoting President Benson:
For nearly six thousand years, God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the second coming of the Lord.
Tell them that Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden about 4000 B.C. and the book of Malachi was written about 400 B.C.
I want to ask who are looking for the fulfillment of these events, and who upon the earth are preparing themselves for the fulfillment of the word of the Lord through the mouths of prophets, patriarchs and apostles for the last six thousand years? Nobody that I have any knowledge of, [except] the Latter-day Saints …
The January 2002 Ensign published a chart, Old Testament Times at a Glance, which positions Adam at roughly 4,000 BCE. The chart was a student resource until at least 2017. The chart is available on churchofjesuschrist.org as a standalone PDF.
Other recent teaching
Elder Holland spoke in a Fireside in Arizona in 2016 and included discussion about the time between Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ:
… For all these generations, for four-thousand years, Adam and Eve and their descendants took these little lambs and offered them on an altar as devotion and loyalty and love of God. That we trust the future. We trust the future. How far away is the Savior from Adam and Eve? We don’t know all the dating in the world but traditionally, scripturally we mark it as at least 4,000 years—that’s a lot of time to live by faith. That’s a lot of time to believe that somebody is going to come and help. Well, you can trust in it because divine beings said it’s so. And for 4,000 years God’s children offered a little lamb to represent the great lamb who would come and save the world. …
This idea has been repeatedly taught in the past
The general 6000 year timeline has been taught frequently and consistently by the Church and its leaders in the past:
Searching the LDS General Conference Corpus for “six thousand years” and “seven thousand years” yields nearly 100 references in General Conference to this teaching.
When the first seal is opened in the beginning verses of Revelation 6, there is shown to John an important occurrence from the first thousand years after the Fall. The Bible dictionary of the LDS edition of the King James Bible places the Fall near 4000 B.C. (See Bible Dictionary, p. 635.) When the second seal is opened in the subsequent verses, John is shown something about the second thousand years. And so on through the first four seals. The fifth seal information presented to John represents both a time period and some events of which John knew a great deal.
Bruce R. McConkie in General Conference 1974:
For 4,000 years all the prophets testified of his coming and proclaimed his goodness and grace.
The Joseph Smith Foundation defends a 6,000 year old earth with statements from:
- Joseph Smith
- Brigham Young
- John Taylor
- Wilford Woodruff
- Joseph F. Smith
- George Albert Smith
- Joseph Fielding Smith
- Bruce R. McConkie
An open letter, identified by Joseph Smith Papers historians as “‘from the elders in Kirtland,’ including JS” states (emphasis added):
You have no right to collect the calamities of six thousand years and paint them upon the curtain of these last days, to scare mankind to repentance …
The World has had a fair trial for six thousand years the Lord will try the seventh thousand himself;
Finally, the fourth verse of Hymn 69 of the 1835 hymnal included these words (emphasis added):
So wicked men, in every age, Far from the God of heav’n have stray’d, Till near six thousand years have fled, And left the world with faith that’s dead.
The idea that the earth began its temporal existence 6,000 years ago should not be confused with the length of creation (i.e., the 6 “days” of creation are different than the 7 seals referred to by Joseph Smith in D&C 77 as diagrammed here). The Church freely admits the earth could have been created over a long period of time, suggesting that the “the Hebrew word for day … can also be used in the sense of an indeterminate length of time” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Earth). ↩
Ugo Perego is an institute director and one of the world’s experts on ancient DNA and American migrations. He appears to accepts the basic dating for an ancient migration from Asia (for example at 1:34:27). ↩
While the quotes and resources presented below all indicate that Adam and Eve walked out of the Garden of Eden at roughly 4,000 BCE, in its defense of the Book of Mormon narrative in light of DNA research, the LDS Church seems to tacitly accept the basic reality of ancient human migrations which significantly pre-date 4,000 BCE. For instance, among others implying the same basic migration timing, the essay cites research on Siberians from ~20,000 years ago and North American Clovis culture dating to 11,000 BCE (essay footnote 15 points to Raff and Bolnick) and 17,000 and 24,000 year old Siberian ancestors of the Native Americans (essay footnote 17 points to Raghavan et al.). Were it not for the tension with so much official material, these citations would be unsurprising since virtually all scientists at LDS sponsored schools accept the general validity of these migration models and the methods used to date them (like carbon-14 dating). ↩