Blood Atonement

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In June of 2010 the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church, issued the following statement:

"In the mid-19th century, when rhetorical, emotional oratory was common, some church members and leaders used strong language that included notions of people making restitution for their sins by giving up their own lives.
"However, so-called 'blood atonement,' by which individuals would be required to shed their own blood to pay for their sins, is not a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe in and teach the infinite and all-encompassing atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes forgiveness of sin and salvation possible for all people."

Even in modern times, detractors of the Church accuse the early Latter-day Saints of taking the lives of early apostates. This accusation is false.

The First Presidency issued an official declaration on the matter of killing apostates, as a form of blood atonement, in 1889. This declaration reads, in part:

"Notwithstanding all the stories told about the killing of apostates, no case of this kind has ever occurred, and of course has never been established against the Church we represent. Hundreds of seceders from the Church have continuously resided and now live in this territory, many of whom have amassed considerable wealth, though bitterly opposed to the Mormon faith and people. Even those who made it their business to fabricate the vilest falsehoods, and to render them plausible by culling isolated passages from old sermons without the explanatory context, and have suffered no opportunity to escape them of vilifying and blackening the characters of the people, have remained among those whom they have thus persistently calumniated until the present day, without receiving the slightest personal injury.
"We denounce as entirely untrue the allegation which has been made, that our Church favors or believes in the killing of persons who leave the Church or apostatize from its doctrines. We would view a punishment of this character for such an act with the utmost horror; it is abhorrent to us and is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of our creed" (Official Declaration, 12 December 1889).

See also: Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Blood Atonement.

Blood Atonement of Christ

Atonement of Christ

To atone means to reconcile with God. In the scriptures, to atone is to suffer the penalty for an act of sin, thereby removing the consequences, or effects, of sin from the sinner who repents, allowing him to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ was the only perfect person who was capable of making this Perfect, Infinite Atonement for mankind.[1] Ancient Israel, as well as many cultures today, view blood as the “seat of life or vital energy of life.” Thus, the atoning power—or the power to reconcile the sinner to God—of a sacrifice “was in the blood because the blood was regarded as essential to life.”[2] The power of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is in the blood He spilt—His Blood Atonement.

The Pure Blood of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world—the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Creator of the earth. He is the literal Son of God, the greatest being who ever lived on the earth. He was the only person on earth who lived a sinless life and set the example for all mankind, showing us the way back to our Father in Heaven. His blood was the only blood pure enough to perform the Infinite Atonement. The scriptures teach:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Leviticus 17:11
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

The scriptures also teach that Jesus Christ was foreordained from the foundation of the world to perform the Atonement for all mankind.[3] Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church), taught:

His mission was the Atonement. That mission was uniquely His. Born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father, He was the only one who could voluntarily lay down His life and take it up again (see John 10:14-18). The glorious consequences of His Atonement were infinite and eternal. He took the sting out of death and made temporary the grief of the grave (see 1 Corinthians 15:54-55). His responsibility for the Atonement was known even before the Creation and the Fall. Not only was it to provide for the resurrection and immortality of all humankind, but it was also to enable us to be forgiven of our sins—upon conditions established by Him. Thus His Atonement opened the way by which we could be united with Him and with our families eternally. This prospect we esteem as eternal life—the greatest gift of God to man (see Doctrine & Covenants 14:7).
No one else could effect the Atonement. No other person, even with the greatest wealth and power, could ever save one soul—not even his own (see Matthew 19:24-26). And no other individual will be required or permitted to shed blood for the eternal salvation of another human being. Jesus did it “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).[4]

Christ’s Atonement

The Atonement of Jesus Christ included His suffering for the sins and sorrows of mankind, the shedding of His blood and His death and resurrection. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

The literal meaning of the English word Atonement is self-evident: at-one-ment, the bringing together of things that have been separated or estranged. The Atonement of Jesus Christ was indispensable because of the separating transgression, or Fall, of Adam, which brought two kinds of death into the world when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Physical death brought the separation of the spirit from the body, and spiritual death brought the estrangement of both the spirit and the body from God. As a result of the Fall, all persons born into mortality would suffer these two kinds of death. But we must remember the Fall was an essential part of Heavenly Father’s divine plan. Without it no mortal children would have been born to Adam and Eve, and there would have been no human family to experience opposition and growth, moral agency, and the joy of resurrection, redemption, and eternal life.
The need for this Fall and for an atonement to compensate for it was explained in a premortal Council in Heaven at which the spirits of the entire human family attended and over which God the Father presided. It was in this premortal setting that Christ volunteered to honor the moral agency of all humankind even as He atoned for their sins. In the process, He would return to the Father all glory for such redemptive love.
This infinite Atonement of Christ was possible because (1) He was the only sinless man ever to live on this earth and therefore was not subject to the spiritual death resulting from sin, (2) He was the Only Begotten of the Father and therefore possessed the attributes of godhood that gave Him power over physical death, and (3) He was apparently the only one sufficiently humble and willing in the premortal council to be foreordained to that service.[5]

In the Garden

Jesus Christ’s Atonement began in the Garden of Gethsemane—a “garden, across the brook Kedron, on the slope of the Mount of Olives.”[6] Christ came to the garden with Peter, James and John. Christ left them and knelt and prayed. Luke records Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane:
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.[7]
Elder Holland taught:
To begin to meet the demands of the Atonement, the sinless Christ went into the Garden of Gethsemane, … there to bear the agony of soul only He could bear. He “began to be sore amazed and to be very heavy,” saying to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, unto death.” Why? Because He suffered “the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.” He experienced “temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great [was] his anguish.”
Through this suffering, Jesus redeemed the souls of all men, women, and children “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” In doing so, Christ “descended below all things”—including every kind of sickness, infirmity, and dark despair experienced by every mortal being—in order that He might “comprehend all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.”[8]

On the Cross

But Jesus Christ’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane was not the end of His Atoning sacrifice. Elder Nelson explains:
Later He was beaten and scourged. A crown of sharp thorns was thrust upon His head as an additional form of torture. He was mocked and jeered. He suffered every indignity at the hands of His own people. “I came unto my own,” He said, “and my own received me not.” Instead of their warm embrace, He received their cruel rejection. Then He was required to carry His own cross to the hill of Calvary, where He was nailed to that cross and made to suffer excruciating pain.
Later He said, “I thirst.” To a doctor of medicine, this is a very meaningful expression. Doctors know that when a patient goes into shock because of blood loss, invariably that patient—if still conscious—with parched and shriveled lips cries for water.
Even though the Father and the Son knew well in advance what was to be experienced, the actuality of it brought indescribable agony. “And [Jesus] said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” Jesus then complied with the will of His Father.[9]
Elder Holland said:
The utter loneliness and excruciating pain of the Atonement begun in Gethsemane reached its zenith when, after unspeakable abuse at the hands of Roman soldiers and others, Christ cried from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In the depths of that anguish, even nature itself convulsed. “There was a darkness over all the earth. … And the sun was darkened.” “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent,” causing many to exclaim, “The God of nature suffers.” Finally, even the seemingly unbearable had been borne, and Jesus said, “It is finished.” “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Someday, somewhere, every human tongue will be called upon to confess as did a Roman centurion who witnessed all of this, “Truly this was the Son of God.”[10]

The Resurrection

The final act of the Atonement was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Elder Nelson said:

Three days later, precisely as prophesied, He rose from the grave. He became the firstfruits of the Resurrection. He had accomplished the Atonement, which could give immortality and eternal life to all obedient human beings. All that the Fall allowed to go awry, the Atonement allowed to go aright.[11]

Gifts of the Atonement

The gifts of the Atonement of Jesus Christ are many. Some are extended to all unconditionally. Other gifts require action. Elder Holland explains:
Some gifts coming from the Atonement are universal, infinite, and unconditional. These include His ransom for Adam’s original transgression so that no member of the human family is held responsible for that sin. Another universal gift is the Resurrection from the dead of every man, woman, and child who lives, has ever lived, or ever will live on earth.
Other aspects of Christ’s atoning gift are conditional. They depend on one’s diligence in keeping God’s commandments. For example, while all members of the human family are freely given a reprieve from Adam’s sin through no effort of their own, they are not given a reprieve from their own sins unless they pledge faith in Christ, repent of those sins, are baptized in His name, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and confirmation into Christ’s Church, and press forward in faithful endurance the remainder of life’s journey….
Of course neither the unconditional nor the conditional blessings of the Atonement are available except through the grace of Christ.[12]

Blood Sacrifice—a Similitude of the Atonement

From the time of Adam until Jesus Christ came, His followers were commanded to make sacrifices. Elder Nelson taught:

Adam, Eve, and generations to follow learned that whenever they shed blood from an animal, its life was terminated. For their sacrificial rite, not just any animal would do. It was to be a firstling of the flock and one without blemish (see, for example, Exodus 12:5). These requisites were also symbolic of the eventual sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God.
Adam and Eve were given a commandment: “Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:8). From that day to the meridian of time, animal sacrifice continued to be a type and shadow of the eventual Atonement of the Son of God.[13]

Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, explained how the sacrifice was a similitude of Jesus Christ:

First, like Christ, the animal was chosen and anointed by the laying on of hands. (The Hebrew title Messiah and the Greek title Christ both mean “the Anointed One.”) Second, the animal was to have its life’s blood spilt. Third, it had to be without blemish—totally free from physical flaws, complete, whole, and perfect. Fourth, the sacrifice had to be clean and worthy. Fifth, the sacrifice had to be domesticated; that is, not wild but tame and of help to man (see Leviticus 1:2-3, 10; Leviticus 22:21). Sixth and seventh, for the original sacrifice practiced by Adam and the most common sacrifice in the law of Moses, the animal had to be a firstborn and a male (see Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 22:18-25). Eighth, the sacrifice of grain had to be ground into flour and made into breadstuffs, which reminds us of our Lord’s title the Bread of Life (see John 6:48). Ninth, the firstfruits that were offered remind us that Christ was the firstfruits of the Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:20). (See also Bible Dictionary, “Sacrifices”; Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. [1992], 3:1248–49.)[14]

Following the death of the Savior, the sacrifices changed. Elder Nelson said:

When the Atonement was accomplished, that great and last sacrifice fulfilled the law of Moses (see Alma 34:13-14) and terminated the practice of animal sacrifice, which had taught that “the life of the flesh [was] in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). Jesus explained how the elements of ancient sacrifice were subsumed by the Atonement and commemorated symbolically by the sacrament. Note again references to the life, the flesh, and the blood:
“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).[15]

Additional Resources:


  1. See Atone, Atonement in the Bible Dictionary.
  2. See Blood in the Guide to the Scriptures.
  3. See Ether 3:14.
  4. Elder Russell M. Nelson, “The Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, April 2013.
  5. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Liahona, March 2008.
  6. See Gethsemane in the Bible Dictionary.
  7. See Luke 22:39-44.
  8. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Liahona, March 2008.
  9. Elder Russell M. Nelson, The Atonement, General Conference, October 1996.
  10. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Liahona, March 2008.
  11. Elder Russell M. Nelson, The Atonement, General Conference, October 1996.
  12. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Liahona, March 2008.
  13. Elder Russell M. Nelson, “The Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, April 2013.
  14. Elder M. Russell Ballard, The Law of Sacrifice, Ensign, October 1998.
  15. Elder Russell M. Nelson, “The Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, April 2013.