Mormonism and the atonement of Jesus

by Matt Slick

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not view the atonement of Christ in the biblical and historical Christian manner. Instead of the atonement occurring on the cross, Mormonism teaches that the atonement occurred primarily in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus shed His blood. Please consider the following quotes from a BYU professor and the Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie.

  • BYU professor Robert J. Matthews, who on page 282 of his book, A Bible! A Bible!, wrote, "It was in Gethsemane, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, that Jesus made his perfect atonement by the shedding of his blood-more so than on the cross."
  • Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie, stated, "Where and under what circumstances was the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God made? Was it on the Cross of Calvary or in the Garden of Gethsemane? It is to the Cross of Christ that most Christians look when centering their attention upon the infinite and eternal atonement. And certainly the sacrifice of our Lord was completed when he was lifted up by men; also, that part of his life and suffering is more dramatic and, perhaps, more soul stirring. But in reality the pain and suffering, the triumph and grandeur, of the atonement took place primarily in Gethsemane," (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, vol. 1, p. 774, emphasis mine).
  • For more quotes regarding the atonement and Mormonism please see Interesting Quotes on the Atonement from Mormon writings.

There is no biblical record of Jesus atoning for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Garden is where He suffered greatly in prayer because He did not want to go through the coming ordeal of His beating and crucifixion. The agony of the Garden was so intense for Him that He apparently sweat blood (Luke 22:44). But, the only references in the Bible dealing with Christ and the atonement are in reference to the cross--not the Garden of Gethsemane.

  1. Reconciliation is through the cross:
    1. "And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity." (Eph. 2:16).
    2. "And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven." (Col. 1:20).
  2. Our debt nailed to the cross
    1. "Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Col. 2:14).
  3. He bore our sins on the cross
    1. "And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." (1 Pet. 2:24).
  4. Reconciled through Christ's death--which occurred on the cross.
    1. "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Rom. 5:10).
    2. "Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach--," (Col. 1:22).

Paul says, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2). He does not mention anything, ever, about Jesus bearing our sins in the Garden. He only mentions sins in relation to the cross of Christ. Wherein did God purchase the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28)? It was the cross--not the Garden.


A propitiation is a sacrifice that turns away wrath. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was just such a propitiation. It was on the cross where Jesus bore our sins (1 Pet. 2:24) where he became a propitiation, the sacrifice for our sins. Notice that the sacrifice on the cross is a public event, and it is this public display where propitiation occurred: "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith." (Rom. 3:25). When Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, that was not a public display. Therefore, the sacrifice of redemption, where Jesus bore our sins as the propitiation, did not occur in the Garden of Gethsemane but in the public display of the cross. Thus, when we see the term propitiation referred to in Scripture, we know it is referring to the sacrifice on the cross. Let's take a look at more Scriptures dealing with this:

  • "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (Heb. 2:17).
  • "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." (1 John 2:2).
  • "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10).

Notice that Jesus, the high priest, was the propitiation for our sins. This means that He bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) as a publicly displayed sacrifice (Rom. 3:25) by which we are cleansed from our sins (1 John 1:7). It is not the blood that He sweat in the Garden that cleanses us of our sins but the blood that was shed in the public display of the propitiatory sacrifice on the cross that cleanses us. This is why the scripture says, "and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity." (Eph. 2:16).

In Conclusion

There is so much wrong with Mormon theology to begin with (plurality of gods, goddess mother, becoming gods, keeping the commandments to be forgiven, etc.,) that it is no surprise to learn that Mormonism lays the emphasis of the redemptive work of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of the cross.

  • "Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all mankind, even as many as will, shall be redeemed. The Savior began shedding His blood for all mankind, not on the cross but in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He took upon Himself the weight of the sins of all who would ever live. Under that [page 6] heavy load, He bled at every pore," (Russell M. Nelson, "His Mission and Ministry," New Era, Dec. 1999, p. 4, 6, emphasis mine).
  • "Jesus paid for all our sins when He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane," (Laurel Rohlfing, "Sharing Time: The Atonement," Friend, Mar. 1989, p. 39).

Error comes from error. If the Mormon church would only repent of its false doctrines and come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the true Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in His body on the cross and redeemed us freely, then the Mormons could also enjoy the free forgiveness of sins earned by Christ. Instead, because of the error of Mormonism regarding God and salvation, Mormons are still under the law and are required to obey all the commandments in order to receive the atonement work of Christ.

  • "We accept Christ's atonement by repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and obeying all of the commandments," (Gospel Principles, Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979, p. 68, emphasis mine).

Nobody can obey all the commandments and to try in any way is to take on an impossible burden of guilt: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10). And, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified." (Gal. 2:16). Therefore, not only is the Mormon position dealing with the atonement false but also so is its doctrine of salvation. Mormons are, unfortunately, still dead in their sins.

The True Gospel

The true gospel is that Jesus Christ, who is God in flesh, obeyed perfectly all the Old Testament laws. He fulfilled everything and never sinned. It was necessary that He do this because we could never do it. Because our works are filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6), there is absolutely nothing we have to offer God. The only thing we have is what Christ has done, and the only way to be forgiven of our sins is to trust in Christ alone. But in Mormonism, Christ is the brother of the devil begotten through sexual relations between God and his goddess wife who both came from another planet. This is not the Jesus of the Bible. This is critical because the object of the Mormons faith is false. And since we have seen that their doctrine of the atonement is also wrong, we can now recognize more easily that they are lost.

Salvation, complete forgiveness of sins, does not come through obedience to the laws and the commandments. Complete forgiveness of sins comes by faith in Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Bible--not the Jesus of Mormonism.




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.