A uniquely Mormon atonement

August 20, 2014    By: Matt W. @ 8:21 pm   Category: Atonement & Soteriology

What are the elements within our Faith’s conception of the atonement which are unique to it? Here I will attempt to name a few.

  1. Gethsemane Event
    1. Blood from every pore (Mosiah 3)
    2. Taking sickness, sin, death, infirmity, upon himself (Alma 7)
  2. Premortal life
    1. No beginning (Abe 3)
    2. Life chosen (exegesis on Job)
  3. Fortunate Fall (Modern Prophets)
  4. Separateness and individuality of God the Father and Christ (JS-Hist)
  5. Restoration of sealing power on families (Modern Prophets)


With These 5 elements, I think we can construct a uniquely Mormon narrative. Christ, in Gethsemane, took upon himself the fullness of the challenges of this fallen life to the point of bleeding from every pore. (1 a and 1 b) He did this to help those who were like him (2 a) and had chosen this life. (2 b and 3) He did this so he could lead the way for us to come unto and be one with each other and God the Father (4) in a united full family. (5)

What other items in our theology relate to the atonement and are uniquely Mormon?

Anything in the above that you do not find uniquely Mormon?



  1. 1a – not very unique. Luke mentions Christ sweat was “as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) It isn’t as clear-cut as K. Benjamin’s “blood cometh from every pore,” but many Christians still view the Garden event as stressful enough that Jesus sweat blood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hematidrosis).

    Comment by Mary Ann — August 20, 2014 @ 10:02 pm

  2. Can you site an instance where the sweating blood is highlighted in another faith tradition? Would love to see examples.

    Comment by Matt w. — August 20, 2014 @ 10:09 pm

  3. Growing up catholic, Luke’s “as it were great drops” was considered symbolic, not actual.

    Comment by Matt w. — August 20, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

  4. Peter Gallwey, a Jesuit priest, wrote concerning Luke 22:44 in 1896 “Now, however, His sweat changes and becomes as drops of Blood. Does this phrase mean that the drops became like to blood, though they were not really blood? The holy Fathers and the learned commentators and the senses of the faithful are all in agreement in rejecting this interpretation. All believe that the words mean a sweat of real blood. So that St. Athanasius writes: “Anathema to him who denies that there was a sweat of Blood.” (p. 590 in The Watches of the Sacred Passion: With Before and After, Vol. 1 – accessed via Google Books).

    Church of England: The Litany from The Book of Common Prayer states “By thine Agony and bloody Sweat;” (https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/psalter,-collects-and-other-resources/litprayr/litanybcp.aspx)

    Variety of Christian Commentaries on Luke 22:44: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/22-44.htm

    Comment by Mary Ann — August 20, 2014 @ 10:56 pm

  5. Excellent list, although I would trace the concept of the “fortunate fall” beginning with Eve’s comment in the PofGP.

    Comment by larryco_ — August 21, 2014 @ 3:19 am

  6. 1. Bishop Hugh Latimer preached that Christ “would not suffer only bodily in the garden and upon the cross, but also in his soul, whit it was from the body, which was a pain due for our sin.” Quoted in William Hone, Ancient Mysteries Described, Especially the English Miracle Plays (London, 1823), 128.
    2. See this post
    3. Arthur O. Lovejoy, “Milton and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall,” Journal of English Literary History 4, no. 3 (1937): 161-79.
    4. Andrew Michael Ramsay summarized Clarke’s views in The Travels of Cyrus. Said Ramsay, “In order to silence the incredulous, and make this mystery intelligible to them, a famous doctor of the church of England, and, as I am assured, the greatest philosopher of modern times, believed that it would do no prejudice to the faith, to consider the three Persons of the Trinity as three individual agents, or three distinct beings.” Andrew Michael Ramsay, The Travels of Cyrus, 349.
    5. See this post. And this post.

    “Unique” is a strong word, though I would agree that the elements are unusual and are put together in original ways.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — August 21, 2014 @ 5:48 am

  7. Fortunate fall may also be traced to 2 Nephi 2

    Comment by D — August 21, 2014 @ 6:03 am

  8. Whether or not the literalness of “blood from every pore” is uniquely Mormon, I don’t regard it as being central to Mormonism. If the Church started treating it as symbolic, it would create some dissonance with the D&C, but it would not lessen the meaning of the atonement even slightly.

    As for the separateness of the Father and the Son, there are other nontrinitarian Christian Churches. And at least to my mind, the Church has not explained why, given their otherwise complete unity, their separateness is important.

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 21, 2014 @ 6:37 am

  9. There is clearly some difference with the fortunate fall, but I’m not sure how much or what kind of difference. ‘Felix culpa’ is part of some versions of the Mass. At the same time, Mormons often exaggerate the extent to which our own doctrine and scripture treat the Fall as a sound, prudential choice. I’m not sure how it affects the Atonement either way, though.

    One addition probably is that Mormonism has some notion that Christ had a need to perform the Atonement in some way. It was for our benefit, but not solely for our benefit. That’s also in Alma 7.

    Comment by Adam G. — August 21, 2014 @ 9:37 am

  10. Agree with Last Lemming — The separation of the Son and the Father isn’t necessarily unique (JWs see them as separate, and depending on the denominational Trinity interpretation, others do as well). The idea that Heavenly Father has a physical body is unique, though. From what I can tell, most major Christian denominations see the Father as non-corporeal.

    Given our belief in a Resurrected body not being able to suffer death, I can see a big reason why we insist that Jesus is a separate entity from the Father (aside from First Vision accounts). According to our doctrine, a mortal body was necessary to act as sacrifice in the process of the Atonement. The power of deity was also necessary to withstand the weight of sin (plus all other consequences of the fall) long enough for the Atonement to be completed before the physical body could be allowed to die. The resurrected body of the Father eliminates him as a candidate for the mission. In fact, it seems that the Father had to completely sever any connection to Christ for death to occur (“Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”).

    Also, the belief that the Atonement was necessary isn’t unique. I’m not sure which denominations believe it, but I know that Margaret Barker (Methodist) argues that the Atonement became necessary once the “bonds of creation” were broken by human sin. Basically, the Atonement was necessary to fulfill the measure of the earth’s creation, in addition to helping humankind become one with the Father.

    Comment by Mary Ann — August 21, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

  11. Other unique element: Jesus is redundant in a way. We say we have Christ, who suffered all we suffer as humans, to fight our case before the Father. But if the Father was also once a man, as we believe, he too understands our plight. Thus Christ, at least in this sense, is redundant.

    Also, there is a lot about this sealing business I just can’t understand. We aren’t all going to make it back, which will result in huge gaps in the chain. If I am sealed to my parents, and they can’t endure and fall away, what happens to everybody from me onward? Our link back to God is broken. Will I then have to be sealed to my grandparents? But what if they fell away, too? What if everyone from my parents all the way back to Adam reject it. Do I get sealed directly to Adam? If there is going to be all this mess, wouldn’t it be more efficient to wait until we’ve all resurrected and have been assigned our kingdoms, and then just all get sealed together then, leaving out the people who didn’t make it?

    And, if we are all sealed together anyway, what is so great about our concept of eternal families. There won’t be families (plural) just family. And if that is the case, what is with all this necessity for sealing us together in families? Why, exactly, do we even need to be sealed then? Let me rephrase that question, what exactly is it about mortality that requires us to be sealed together? Before we got here in this life, we were just all one family up there. There weren’t Johnsons and Smiths, and Miyagis. What happened between there and here that made it so that the families we form here can’t be together there, without sealing? Where is there any scriptural explanation for the mechanics of all of this. I don’t know…you think about this stuff too long, and it all starts to seem quite silly.

    Comment by JMAN — August 21, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

  12. Interesting Comments all.

    Mary Ann: Thanks for teaching me something I did not know, re: the ubiquity of the “bloody sweat”. That was a bad assumption on my part. I was thinking here explicitly about Ostler and others interpretation of the atonement’s infiniteness as being always occurring. I think we can’t escape that at least some part of the atonement is grounding in the moment of time in gethsemane, and again on golgotha.

    For your Comment #9, How do we connect the corporeality of God with the Atonement directly? If not the seperateness of God and Christ as unique to Mormonism, do you feel the “severence” of God and Christ is unique?

    Adam G.: Yes, the Christ learning/gaining ability via the Gethsemane event feels very uniquely mormon. While I have seen instances where the atonement does more than save man, there isn’t much out there that signifies Christ as lacking prior to the atonement in some way.

    JMAN- I will have to think on this redundancy part. I have always felt like there was an explicit reason Heavenly Father could not fulfil the atoning act himself.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 21, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

  13. #11 JMAN –

    Those are some interesting points. Per the “redundancy” part – I will preface by this by saying I’m not sure how much the Church really knows about Elohim’s existence as a man, and I know even less. But what I think would distinguish Christ and Elohim is that Christ suffered for **OUR** sins, and experienced **OUR** sufferings, pains, guilt, doubts, etc. Although Elohim may have suffered such things, it would have been for different beings, not us (no need to have multiple Deities suffer for the same sins). So Elohim is familiar with suffering, pain, guilt, doubts, etc. – and likely has superb insight into Our particular suffering – but it is Christ alone who has actually atoned for our particular sins and burdens, placing Christ in a unique, intimate position to understand us and advocate for us. My preliminary two cents.

    Comment by PP — August 21, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

  14. Wasn’t the concept of a “fortunate fall” also seen in gnostic sects? However, I think they had a very different interpretation of what went on. I am sure someone out there knows more than I do.

    Comment by DD — August 22, 2014 @ 6:05 am

  15. I am not saying Heavenly Father needs to fulfill the atoning act. I can accept that Christ needed to do that. I am just talking about this teaching we have (at least that I have heard first in Sunday School as a youth) that says Jesus is our “defense lawyer” at the judgement before God because he was here and knows what it was all like, unlike God. But Joseph Smith and others clearly taught that God was once a man and experienced mortality, so he should be able to understand where we are coming from when we mess up.

    In response to PP: If Christ’s atonement is infinite, it should be sufficient to save all beings everywhere who need saving, right? That is what the word infinite implies. And if God the Father was once a man, he too would need a savior. Does that mean Christ’s atonement saved God the Father during his mortal probation.

    I know I am starting on a premise that may or may not be true: that Christ’s atonement saves all being everywhere and in all times that need saving, but think about this for a while. And then read Isaiah 43:10. There is no God formed but God, who is our savior. There was none before and there will be none afterwards.

    Comment by jman — August 22, 2014 @ 9:18 am

  16. Hi JMan – We may be getting beyond “deep doctrine” here and into speculation, which I’m happy to identify as such. We’re certainly getting beyond what I confidently know.

    The concept of “infinite” can have many meanings. Perhaps it means what you suggest. Perhaps it should be understood in a manner similar to “endless” in D&C 19. Perhaps it should be understood as “infinite” with respect to OUR “world” (consider Moses Ch 1 for a glimpse of the plurality of worlds that exist – and there may be much more!).

    Interestingly – and almost unbelievably – abstract mathematics (e.g., real analysis, set theory) teaches that there are indeed different levels of infinities! There are some infinities that are infinitely greater than other infinities! The epilogue of Chapter 1 of the book “Understanding Analysis” by Stephen Abbott discusses why this is possible. It is mind blowing, but true. Thus, it may be too simplistic to say that Christ’s atonement saved everyone that ever existed in any world in any number of universes (!) Or not – I don’t know. I personally do not think that Christ’s atonement would have retroactively covered the sins of Elohim when he was a man.

    As for your citation to Isaiah, if you want to interpret that as meaning there is a single God who is Our Savior (which this verse in isolation seems to suggest), you would need to account for the evidence of the plurality of Gods that participated in creation in Genesis, other references in the Bible to plurality of Gods, the relationship of Jesus to the Holy Ghost and the Father, etc. Perhaps a Trinitarian point of view? No doubt there are some churches that teach this, but it doesn’t seem to be LDS doctrine.

    I also feel that you didn’t give my previous post a good hearing! What about my argument that Christ suffered for OUR sins, and therefore knows US in a way that someone who hasn’t suffered for our sins could not?

    Comment by PP — August 22, 2014 @ 10:42 am

  17. Matt W. – my discussion of the severance was more in relation to the question expressed as to why the Father and the Son had to be separate beings doctrinally. The severance of the Father and the Son is not unique among Mormons, but it’s only one of several interpretations of Christ’s statement on the cross. From what I can find, some Christians say that the Father DID forsake the human nature of Jesus because of Christ offering his human body in place of sinners (and God cannot tolerate sin). Other interpretations are that Christ was merely quoting Psalms and we shouldn’t take the forsaking literally. Still another interpretation is that the scripture is mistranslated (meaning both the statement on the cross and the quoted Psalm are mistranslated).

    The corporeality of the Father is tangential to the Atonement in this discussion. I just wanted to point something that does seem to be unique to us. ;)

    The corporeality of the Father becomes important when considering the Plan of Salvation as a whole, or if you want to go into the murky subject of the infinite atonement in relation to our belief of other worlds/creations. The fact that the Father is a resurrected being prior to Christ’s resurrection would seem to suggest a different figure had performed an Atonement for him (assuming he wasn’t the atoning figure himself). At this point, I refer to #13 PP’s “preface”….

    Comment by Mary Ann — August 22, 2014 @ 11:07 am

  18. Sorry to skip over your point about Christ suffering for OUR sins. This implies that the sins of OUR mortality would be different in nature than the sins of God the Father’s mortality, which is why he couldn’t understand OUR sins and needed to send Christ. This starts to get into strange territory. It is like asking someone to imagine a color that hasn’t been created by the colors we do see and know. Can’t be done. Imagine a sin that isn’t in any way shape or form related or like unto a sin we know in mortality.

    Regardless of all that, I do like what you say about infinity. I agree now that Christ’s infinite atonement probably only applies to God the Father’s creations, and not to God the Father himself. However, you say that Christ’s atonement wouldn’t have retroactively covered Elohim’s sins, and I agree, but we do believe it does retroactively cover the sins of those who lived before the Atonement happened. So retroactivity (is that a word?) itself is no problem for Christ.

    Interesting discussion. Thank you for entertaining my questions.

    Comment by JMAN — August 22, 2014 @ 11:12 am

  19. As a follow up to my previous post, I probably should have come up with something simpler than referring to a math textbook to discuss different sizes of infinities. So here’s another try based on simple geometry (hopefully a real mathematician will correct me if I err!):

    Consider a square. The edge of the square is a line segment, and there are an infinite number of points in that line segment. However, the square itself has an infinite number of points, but it is a different type of infinity…it contains all the points of the line segment that is its edge, but has infinitely more (it has area, or 2 dimensions).

    Now consider a cube that has the square as one of its faces. The cube has infinitely more points than the square (and has 3 dimensions), which has infinitely more points than the line. Thus, even though the line segment, square, and cube each have an infinite number of points, we see that there are different sizes to these infinities.

    If I were big into numerology, I might puzzle over the interesting correlation between the number of infinite beings in the Godhead, and the number of spatial dimensions we can grasp (each of which has its own type of infinity wholly apart/orthogonal from any other). But I’m not, and I won’t!

    Comment by PP — August 22, 2014 @ 11:14 am

  20. JMan,

    You are clever! But I think your “retroactive” argument has holes in it. Yes, Christ’s atonement retroactively covers the sins of people in this world who were born before Him.

    But, at the time of the foundation of this World, Elohim was already a perfect being, so he was perfect before Christ underwent the atonement (or created this world), so some atonement applied to Elohim before Christ even entered the scene! That’s a key difference.

    I think a clearer way to think of this is that Christ’s atonement covers all the sins that are, ever were, or ever will be in THIS “world.” But, again, if Elohim were indeed a mortal man once upon a time, then it would seem that he experienced the benefit of an atonement before THIS world was ever created.

    Comment by PP — August 22, 2014 @ 11:24 am

  21. JMan,

    Regarding your comment about Elohim understanding OUR sins: During my life, I have told a lie and repented of it. I can well imagine what someone else going through this process might be feeling. But I do not know all the details, feelings, and unique circumstances of that person.

    In the same way, I think God well understands the nature of the sins we have committed, but I believe that since Christ alone atoned for our particular sins, Christ alone knows all the details, feelings, and unique circumstances of us as individuals. In that sense, Christ has a unique understanding of us that he can share with the Father as He (Christ) advocates for us.

    Just my personal opinion – NOT necessarily doctrine!

    Comment by PP — August 22, 2014 @ 11:31 am

  22. PP,

    Okay, I understand what you are saying now about Christ atoning for our particular sins. I totally misunderstood you. Makes sense now. Thanks.

    Comment by jman — August 22, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

  23. Can someone point to any Scripture where it is taught that, “Christ alone knows all the details, feelings, and unique circumstances of us as individuals,” because I think this is folk doctrine. Yes, he took upon him our sins because of the atonement, but that is not the same as understanding our sins in a very specific way. He is the advocate to the Father on our behalf not because of what he knows out of unique insight, but what he did. Besides, he didn’t do anything that he didn’t see His (and our) Father do, that I think is a unique Mormon teaching about the atonement not shared by others. There is nothing that Christ knows that the Father does not.

    My theory is that the act of an atonement is “generationally” required. That is why it can cover worlds without end created by the Father for His children, but not The Father and His “generation” that came before our own. That said, I don’t think Mormonism teaches in any detail how the Atonement ultimately works, and therefore not tied down to one theory as is often the case with other Christian denominations. It is more concerned with the results and eternal significance.

    Comment by Jettboy — August 23, 2014 @ 4:39 am

  24. When speaking of Christ as advocate (like a lawyer), it must be clarified that when we are ultimately brought before judgment, it is Christ who is both judge and advocate. The Father is present, but does not seem to be directly involved in judgment (see 3 Nephi 27:16, John 5:22, D&C 76:68, Roans 14:10, etc.).

    Jettboy – the most applicable scripture is Alma 7:11-12 (with emphasis on the end of v. 12) “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
    And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, 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.” (See also 2 Nephi 9:21)

    Elder Neal A. Maxwell used other scriptures to justify the idea: “Thereby Jesus’ personal triumph was complete and His empathy perfected. Having “descended below all things,” He comprehends, perfectly and personally, the full range of human suffering! (D&C 88:6; see D&C 122:8). A spiritual sung in yesteryear has an especially moving and insightful line: “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus” (see also Alma 7:11–12). Truly, Jesus was exquisitely “acquainted with grief,” as no one else (Isa. 53:3).” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1997/10/apply-the-atoning-blood-of-christ?lang=eng)

    Comment by Mary Ann — August 23, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  25. I’m not an expert on other religions but have never heard them teach any of this at least in this way:

    1. There were two parts to the atonement: Immortality and Eternal life – healing two parts of the fall, namely physical death and spiritual death. And of course that is why the sacrament is two parts: bread and water…

    2. Covers completely Adam’s transgression
    A. Resurrection is a gift to all because a. we didn’t take of the fruit b. we kept our first estate
    B. All will be brought back into the presence of God

    3. Atonement automatically covers the innocent no confessing Christ needed – including the transgression in the garden

    4. All will have access to the atonement whether in this life or the next.

    5. Atonement applies to an infinite (at least to my mind) amount of people see Moses 7:28-30 and D&C 76:24

    6. Something also about the main purpose of the atonement is for us to receive the fullness of the Father

    Comment by greg — August 29, 2014 @ 9:19 pm