Book of Mormon Theology

Atonement in the Book of Mormon

It’s here that you first see reference to an “infinite atonement.”

The Book of Mormon provides several interesting teachings about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It’s in this scripture of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ that you first see reference to an “infinite atonement.” The Book of Mormon is also one of the only places in scripture that emphasizes the role of Gethsemane. In this interview, Nick Frederick discusses the Atonement of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Book of Mormon.

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Read more about atonement in the Book of Mormon in a full chapter by Nicholas J. Frederick in Latter-day Perspectives on the Atonement.

What is the Atonement of Jesus Christ?

That’s a complicated question and the answers that are often given usually depend upon why you think God would require one. Is it to forgive sin? Heal wounds? Satisfy justice? Restore God’s honor? Provide a model for repentance? Deter God’s children from sinning?

Again, how any given individual answers those questions will likely lead to how they define “the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

What does “atonement” mean in the Old Testament?

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is kpr (kipper). What exactly the term refers to is complicated, but likely it means something like “to expiate” or perhaps “to cover.”

In the New Testament, the Greek term is katallagē, which means something akin to a “reconciliation” between two estranged parties.

How many times does the word appear in the Bible versus the Book of Mormon?

There are about 70 verses in the King James Old Testament that use the term “atonement.” In the New Testament, “atonement” appears in only one verse, Romans 5:11. However, this can be deceptive, as the Greek term katallagē actually appears much more frequently, the King James translators just tend to translate it as “reconciliation.”

In the Book of Mormon, there are about 24 verses that specifically use the term “atonement” and the terminology of “atone,” “atoneth,” and “atonement” appear a total of 39 times.

But again, we want to be careful here. I’ll hear on occasions that the Book of Mormon is better than the New Testament because the Book of Mormon uses “atonement” so many times and the New Testament only uses it once. As I said, that argument is deceptive and doesn’t account for the original Greek text.

Learn how the prophet Jacob taught about the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon.

Do all Book of Mormon prophets use variations of the word “atonement” in the same way?

Not at all. It’s actually really enlightening to see how different Book of Mormon prophets and authors will attach different meanings to the concept of “atonement.”

Latter-day Saint Perspectives on Atonement includes a chapter by Nicholas J. Frederick about the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon.

What theological points is atonement built upon in the Book of Mormon?

The physical death and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, the requirement that a divine figure be the one to perform atonement, and the act of shedding blood as atonement.

How would you summarize Lehi’s approach?

So, Lehi focuses specifically on a “sacrifice for sin” that requires the death and resurrection of the Messiah. As Lehi seems to see it, there is no atonement without a resurrection.

How does Jacob build upon Lehi’s teachings?

It is Jacob who first gives Book of Mormon readers the familiar phrase “infinite atonement,” but as with Lehi Jacob seems to view the “infinite atonement,” that which bestows incorruption in place of corruption as being brought to pass through the process of resurrection. There is little sense of a Gethsemane experience in Lehi and Jacob’s words–they seem to be squarely focused upon the messianic resurrection.

What is unique about Abinadi’s emphasis on a “divine” atonement?

Abinadi places the emphasis for atonement upon “God himself.” This is one of the reasons for the lengthy quotation from Isaiah 53, to demonstrate that Jesus is both “Father” and “Son” and as such he possesses the requisite divinity to perform such a sacrifice.

How does King Benjamin emphasize the role of Gethsemane?

It’s from King Benjamin that a lot of the Latter-day Saint emphasis upon Gethsemane comes. It is only King Benjamin who observes that the Savior will bleed from every pore (although this is confirmed in Doctrine and Covenants 19). It is only Benjamin who seems to have in mind the Gethsemane experience when he speaks of atonement.

Why does Gethsemane play such a big role if it isn’t proportionately recognized in the Book of Mormon?

That’s a great question. I do think we’re starting to recognize that a proper understanding of the “Atonement of Jesus Christ” requires us to look beyond just the Gethsemane experience. What Jesus experiences on the Cross and in the Tomb are also requisite parts of this grand experience.

I do wonder if part of this is a need to separate ourselves as Latter-day Saints from other Christians, and so we emphasize Gethsemane while those of other faiths emphasize the cross.

But the lesson of the Book of Mormon is that honing in on one experience of the Savior and saying “That’s the most important one” can be foolhardy. The truth is there are multiple factors involved, some of which we may not even be aware of. That’s why I appreciate the Book of Mormon because it broadens the scope of how we can understand and appreciate the “Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

How might future research shed more light on what the Book of Mormon can teach?

A lot of this is already being done. John Hilton III wrote a wonderful book called “Considering the Cross.” Before that, Robert Millet wrote a book called “What Happened to the Cross?” I expect that in the coming years the Latter-day Saint church will find a way to still emphasize Gethsemane while also becoming more comfortable with other elements of Jesus’s passion experience.

Further reading

Book of Mormon Atonement resources

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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