In a recent Ensign article and in his talk at the April 2000 General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cited a passage from a fourth-century-A.D. document known as Discourse on Abbaton.1 Written by Timothy, archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt (d. 385), the text contains a passage in which Christ says of his Father the following:
He . . . made Adam according to Our image and likeness, and he left him lying for forty days and forty nights without putting breath into him. And He heaved sighs over him, saying, If I put breath into this [man], he must suffer many pains. And I said unto My Father, Put breath into him; I will be an advocate for him. And My Father said unto Me, If I put breath into him, My beloved Son, Thou wilt be obliged to go down into the world, and to suffer many pains for him before Thou shalt have redeemed him, and made him to come back to his primal state. And I said unto My Father, Put breath into him; I will be his advocate, and I will go down into the world, and will fulfil Thy command.2
This noncanonical work lends support to information given to us by Joseph Smith in the Pearl of Great Price, where we read that the premortal Christ accepted the Fathers plan that he come to earth to save mankind (Moses 4:13; Abraham 3:2228).
The Book of Mormon repeatedly informs us that the atonement of Christ was prepared from the foundation of the world (Mosiah 4:67; 15:19; 18:13; Alma 12:30; 18:39; 22:13; 42:26; see 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). When the premortal Lord appeared to the brother of Jared, He declared: Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ (Ether 3:14). The idea that Christ was prepared from before the foundation of the world is also found in Moses 5:57 and 7:47.
The Book of Moses also informs us that God sent angels to Adam and his posterity to teach them of the coming of Christ to save mankind from the fall (Moses 5:67, 5758). A number of early Christian stories of Adam also have angels coming to deliver the same message. Among these are several Armenian texts; Adam, Eve and the Incarnation 3943; Adam Story I;3 History of Abel and Cain the Sons of Adam;4 and the 10th-century Byzantine scholar George Cedrenuss Historiarum Compendium, 1:17.5
In other texts it is the premortal Christ himself who tells Adam and Eve of his future redemption of mankind. Among these texts are the Armenian Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden6 and the Ethiopic Conflict of Adam and Eve I.7 In still other passages, it is the Father who tells Adam of the forth coming atonement of Christ. These include the Arabic Book of the Rolls, folios 96a, 100b;8 and the Syriac Cave of Treasures, folio 7b, columns 12.9
It would be impossible in this brief report to describe the full extent to which these early texts confirm the accounts found in the books of Abraham and Moses. That task is being taken up in a forthcoming FARMS book tentatively titled Joseph Smith and the Ancient World. But from the examples here, we can see that early Christians in such disparate locations as Armenia, Syria, Egypt, and Ethiopia believed not only that Christ had been designated as Savior prior to Adams creation, but also that Adam and his immediate posterity were fully aware of Gods plan of redemption.
1. See Russell M. Nelson, Jesus the Christ, Our Master and More, Ensign, April 2000, 13. Elder Nelson first referred to the passage in a fireside address on 2 February 1992 at BYU. See Jesus the ChristOur Master and More, in 199192 Devotional and Fireside Speeches (1992), 6364.
5. See Stephen E. Robinson, The Testament of Adam: An Examination of the Syriac and Greek Traditions (1982), 13, 129; Robinson, The Testament of Adam: An Updated Arbeitsbericht, Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 5 (1989): 95.
By John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew P. Roper