During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)
Chapter 8: We Look to Christ
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016
“We believe in Christ. We teach of Christ. We look to Christ. He is our Redeemer, our Lord, and our Savior.”
This lesson will be taught in LDS chapels around the world on Easter Sunday 2017, so it’s not a surprise to have this particular chapter assigned for this day. While Mormons claim to be believers in Jesus and even call Him “Redeemer, Lord, and Savior,” what Mormonism’s leaders teach about Jesus is different from what has been taught for 2,000 years in biblical Christianity. In fact, President Hinckley acknowledged this fact in 1998, as reported in the LDS Church periodical Church News:
In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints “do not believe in the traditional Christ.” “No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages” (“Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads,” Church News, June 20, 1998, p. 7).
Three years later he told a general conference audience:
As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say (“We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90).
Let’s take a closer look at several of these obvious differences.
From the Life of Gordon B. Hinckley
In the April 1975 general conference, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shared the following experience:
“We recently held an open house in the [Mesa] Arizona Temple. Following a complete renovation of that building, nearly a quarter of a million people saw its beautiful interior. On the first day of the opening, clergymen of other religions were invited as special guests, and hundreds responded. It was my privilege to speak to them and to answer their questions at the conclusion of their tours. I told them that we would be pleased to answer any queries they might have. Many were asked. Among these was one which came from a Protestant minister.
“Said he: ‘I’ve been all through this building, this temple which carries on its face the name of Jesus Christ, but nowhere have I seen any representation of the cross, the symbol of Christianity. I have noted your buildings elsewhere and likewise find an absence of the cross. Why is this when you say you believe in Jesus Christ?’
“I responded: ‘I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian brethren who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.’
“He then asked: ‘If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?’
“I replied that the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship. …
“… No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when he said, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’ (John 14:15.)
“As his followers, we cannot do a mean or shoddy or ungracious thing without tarnishing his image. Nor can we do a good and gracious and generous act without burnishing more brightly the symbol of him whose name we have taken upon ourselves.
“And so our lives must become a meaningful expression, the symbol of our declaration of our testimony of the Living Christ, the Eternal Son of the Living God.
“It is that simple, my brethren and sisters, and that profound and we’d better never forget it.”
It’s a nice story, quaint, in fact. But the question being asked by the Christian minister was side-swiped by Hinckley, even though his words appear quite witty and fresh. I’ll save this topic of the cross for later in this article.
The Sermon on the Mount
“Absolutely basic to our faith is our testimony of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. … He is the chief cornerstone of the church which bears His name.”
Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley
Jesus Christ is the living Son of the living God.
Absolutely basic to our faith is our testimony of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. … He is the chief cornerstone of the church which bears His name.
We believe in Christ. We teach of Christ. We look to Christ. He is our Redeemer, our Lord, and our Savior.
To the Christian who doesn’t have much exposure to Mormonism, the words given by Hinckley may sound very spiritual and correct. After all, haven’t Christian leaders for 2,000 years said the same things? Indeed, as Ephesians 2:20 puts it, Jesus Himself is the chief cornerstone of Christianity. Proper belief in the person of Jesus Christ has always been considered essential to Christian fellowship. History bears out that a biblical view of Christ was imperative if an individual or organization was to be considered part of the Christian fold. The question is, which view of Jesus is true?
Despite the claim of those advocating that all religions each have a path to God—a system known as Universalism or Pluralism—a belief in a false Jesus is just as dangerous as no Jesus at all because faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. Indeed, James 2:19 shows that an intellectual belief in God is not the same as true faith. Paul certainly admonished the Corinthians for accepting a false version of Christ when he said in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” The apostle added in Galatians 1:6–9:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Heretical views of Christ have plagued Christianity since its beginning. Because of the importance of the belief in Jesus, early heresies (false teachings) needed to be dealt with by the young church. Christian scholar Harold O. J. Brown wrote,
To a degree that is hard for twentieth-century people to grasp, the early church believed that it was absolutely vital to know and accept some very speciﬁc statements about the nature and attributes of God and his Son Jesus Christ (Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present, p. 21).
Belief in the biblical Christ is vital because it affects one’s eternal destiny. So what exactly does the Mormon Jesus look like?
He who was the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son, left His Father’s celestial courts to take on mortality. At His birth, angels sang and Wise Men came to bestow gifts. He grew as did other boys in Nazareth of Galilee. There He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
Let’s consider what it means when Hinckley used the term “Only Begotten Son.” According to Mormonism, Jesus was the ﬁrstborn son of God the Father in the First Estate, called the preexistence or premortality. Lucifer was another son who wanted to become the savior of the world. One of the more offensive attributes designated to the Jesus of Mormonism is the claim that Jesus is the spirit-brother of Lucifer. Seventy Milton R. Hunter wrote,
The appointment of Jesus to be the Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer, son of the morning. Haughty, ambitious, and covetous of power and glory, this spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind. (The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15).
Mormon educator Jess L. Christensen said:
On ﬁrst hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some, especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations. But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. . . . Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and inﬂuence. But as the First-born of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother (A Sure Foundation, pp. 223-24).
Ironically, the same passages of the Bible that expound on Christ’s eternal deity also show that Lucifer could not be the brother of Christ. John 1:1–3 says that all things (including Lucifer) were made by Jesus, who was, is, and always will be God. Colossians 1:15, the one biblical verse used by Christensen, says that He (Jesus) “is the image of the invisible God, the ﬁrstborn of every creature.” However, this has nothing to do with Jesus and Satan being brothers. In fact, it proclaims Christ’s deity (“image of the invisible God”). Verses 16–17 show that Christ created all things and that He is before all things, holding them together. Just as a person can look into the mirror to see a reﬂection, so too is Jesus the exact image of God.
BYU professor Charles R. Harrell refutes the commonly held LDS notion, writing, “Paul is not referring to premortal spirit birth, but to Christ becoming the ﬁrstborn in attaining God’s glory, a status which would subsequently be attained by ‘many brethren’ (i.e., disciples)” (This is My Doctrine, p. 168). The Bible adamantly declares Lucifer to be a creation of Jesus, not in any way the brother of Jesus. Besides, Jesus and Satan are as opposite as light and darkness. Satan merely tries to imitate an angel of light in order to fool as many people as possible (2 Cor. 11:14).
As far as the Virgin Birth is concerned, the Bible says that Jesus was born as a result of a miraculous conception, as attested in Matthew 1:18. Mormon leaders have insisted in a belief of the virgin birth, yet they give a description far removed from that held by Christians throughout the centuries. An instructor’s guide explains how Mormonism disagrees with the traditional doctrine:
The teacher might wish to point out that many people in the Christian world want to believe in Jesus, but only as a great human being, only as a great man. They feel uncomfortable about the concept of the miraculous, virgin birth. Yet if this is denied, all of the Atonement must be rejected as well. It was the inheritance that came from a mortal mother and a divine Father that made the Atonement possible. (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles Instructor’s Manual: Religion 211-212, p. 14).
What exactly does the leadership mean when it refers to a “mortal mother and a divine Father”? Let’s allow the LDS leaders and their church’s resources to speak for themselves:
- “Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the ﬂesh. Well, now for the beneﬁt of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. . . . Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body” (Family Home Evening Manual 1972, pp. 125-26).
- “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the ﬂesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 15).
- “To condescend is literally to go down among. The condescension of God lies in the fact that he, an exalted Being, steps down from his eternal throne to become the Father of a mortal Son, a Son born ‘after the manner of the ﬂesh’” (Book of Mormon Seminary Student Study Guide, p. 22).
- “He is the Son of God, literally, actually, as men are the sons of mortal parents” (“What the Mormons Think of Christ,” tract).
- “Thus, God the Father became the literal father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father” (Gospel Principles, p. 53).
- “Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is called the Only Begotten Son because He is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father. . . . Modern prophets have testiﬁed: [Jesus Christ] was . . . the Only Begotten Son in the ﬂesh, the Redeemer of the world” (“The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: The Only Begotten Son,” Ensign, December 2013, p. 7).
Since Mormonism teaches that Mary did not have sexual relations with a mortal man but instead was impregnated by an immortal man (Elohim), many Latter-day Saints have no qualms about using the phrase “virgin birth.” Harrell describes the difficulties with this position when he writes:
Of course, for Latter-day Saints who hold the belief that Christ was literally conceived by God the Father, the idea of a virgin birth becomes a bit problematic as it would presumably change Mary’s status as a virgin. Bruce R. McConkie gives his resolution to this conundrum by redeﬁning “virgin” to mean a woman who has not known a mortal man: “She conceived and brought forth her Firstborn Son while yet a virgin because the Father of that child was an immortal personage” (“This is My Doctrine,” p. 167).
When one considers how Mormonism teaches that every human born on earth is a literal child of God, the above quotes become even more disconcerting. Mormon leaders have maintained that all humans, Mary included, are literally God’s spirit children, born in the preexistence via a sexual relationship between Heavenly Father and one of his goddess wives. If LDS leaders are telling the truth when they say that God physically impregnated Mary, then we have no other recourse than to assume that the Jesus of Mormonism was created through an incestuous relationship.
For more on this topic, click here.
With Mary and Joseph, He visited Jerusalem when He was 12. On their journey home, they missed Him. They came back to Jerusalem and found Him in the temple conversing with the learned doctors. When Mary upbraided Him for not being with them, He answered, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). His words were a premonition of His future ministry.
That ministry began with His baptism in the river Jordan at the hands of His cousin John. When He arose from the water, the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and His Father’s voice was heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). That declaration became the affirmation of His divinity.
He fasted for 40 days and was tempted of the devil, who sought to take Him from His divinely appointed mission. To the adversary’s invitation, He responded, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7), again declaring His divine sonship.
Once more, a Christian who reads these paragraphs and hears about how Jesus’s baptism was “the affirmation of His divinity” might think that the same Jesus worshiped in historical Christianity is being referenced. However, there are a number of ways that Mormonism corrupts the very being of Jesus. For example, consider how Jesus—as with everyone born onto this earth—lost His ability to remember anything from the preexistence and had to “progress.” Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, explained, “When the Lord came to earth, He had a veil of forgetfulness placed over His mind, as we do, but He, like us, progressed from grace to grace” (Ensign, January 2011, p. 42). One resource traces the teaching back to Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith:
As Joseph Smith taught, Jesus was born with a veil of forgetfulness common to all who are born to earth, but even as a child he had all the intelligence necessary to enable him to govern the kingdom of the Jews (see source under Basic Library), because he overcame the veil and came into communication with his Heavenly Father (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles Instructor’s Manual, p. 11).
Jesus became a god, according to Milton R. Hunter, “through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws.” That effort, Hunter continues, included Jesus’s own baptism:
Although John recognized Jesus as a perfect man, the Master made it clear that it was absolutely necessary for even the Son of God to be baptized. He—like the least of us—must obey every law of the Gospel if He was to receive all the blessings predicated on obedience (The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 200).
This idea that Jesus was under obligation of the law has been taught by a number of leaders. President Joseph F. Smith said, “Even Christ himself was not perfect at ﬁrst; he received not a fullness at ﬁrst, but he received grace for grace, and he continued to receive more and more until he received a fullness” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 153). Apostle Bruce R. McConkie claimed, “Jesus kept the commandments of his Father and thereby worked out his own salvation, and also set an example as to the way and the means whereby all men may be saved” (The Mortal Messiah, 4:434). McConkie’s use of Philippians 2:12 (“work out your salvation”) misses the meaning of the passage. Paul does not use this expression to mean “work for your salvation,” as so many Mormons will assume. Rather, as the words literally read, it means that believers “should ‘conduct’ themselves in a manner worthy of their right standing before God at the day of Christ” (Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians, p. 138). Apostle Russell M. Nelson said Jesus achieved His perfection only after His resurrection:
That Jesus attained perfection following his resurrection is conﬁrmed in the Book of Mormon. It records the visit of the resurrected Lord to the people of ancient America. There he repeated the important injunction previously cited, but with one very signiﬁcant addition. He said, “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). This time he listed himself along with his Father as a perfected personage. Previously, he had not (See Matt. 5:48). (Ensign, November 1995, p. 87).
It is difficult to understand why Jesus, who allegedly became a god before His mortality, would have to work out his own salvation. Such a comment also fails to take into account that only sinners need to be saved in the ﬁrst place. To say Christ had to do anything to gain His own salvation should rightfully be considered blasphemous by anyone who holds the Bible dear. Problematic also is the fact that the Jesus of Mormonism is but one of many saviors. According to Brigham Young:
Consequently every earth has its redeemer, and every earth has its tempter; and every earth, and the people thereof, in their turn and time, receive all that we receive, and pass through all the ordeals that we are passing through (Journal of Discourses, 14:71-72).
If such a comment was true, we could assume that there are literally millions of saviors on millions of worlds! Imagine the difference between the biblical Jesus and the Mormon Jesus in this quote given by McConkie when he said,
And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal uncreated, immaterial and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 269).
The Bible states that Jesus is God and always has been God from all eternity. John 1:1–2, 14 says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. . . . And the Word was made ﬂesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.
The minimalization of Jesus in Mormonism should cause great concern for followers of truth.
He walked the dusty roads of Palestine. He had no home that He could call His own, no place to rest His head. His message was the gospel of peace. His teachings were those of generosity and love. “If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also” (Matt. 5:40).
He taught with parables. He performed miracles the like of which were never performed before or since. He healed those whose sickness was of long standing. He caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. He raised the dead, and they lived again to speak His praises. Surely no man had ever done such before.
A few followed Him, but most hated Him. He spoke of the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites, as whited sepulchers. They plotted against Him. He drove the money changers from the house of the Lord. They doubtless joined those who planned to destroy Him. But He was not deterred. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).
Was not all of this enough to make His memory immortal? Was it not enough to place His name among, and even above, those of the great men who have walked the earth and who have been remembered for what they said or did? Certainly He would have been ranked among the great prophets of all time.
But all of this was not enough for the Son of the Almighty. It was but prelude to greater things to come. They came in a strange and terrible way.
In all of his description, Hinckley doesn’t mention the marriages Jesus had according to early LDS leaders. When plural marriage was being practiced openly in Utah, some early LDS leaders defended this practice by insisting that God the Father and Jesus were also practicing polygamists. Consider the following quotes:
- “The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple, with His train; I do not know who they were, unless His wives and children” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:309).
- “Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error. We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into the relation whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified” (Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 2:82).
- “From the passage in the forty-ﬁfth Psalm, it will be seen that the great Messiah who was the founder of the Christian religion, was a Polygamist. . . . the Messiah chose to take upon himself his seed; and by marrying many honorable wives himself, show to all future generations that he approbated the plurality of Wives under the Christian dispensation, as well as under the dispensations in which His Polygamist ancestors lived” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 172).
- “It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it” (Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 4:259).
- “The grand reason of the burst of public sentiment in anathemas upon Christ and his disciples, causing his cruciﬁxion, was evidently based upon polygamy, according to the testimony of the philosophers who rose in that age. A belief in the doctrine of a plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were ‘Mormon’” (Jedidiah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses, 1:346).
It is doubtful that many modern Mormons would go out of their way to defend the above statements regarding Jesus’s polygamy. However, they cannot consistently ignore the notion that Jesus must have been married to at least one person if He had to “work out His own salvation.” It would seem necessary that He was married to at least one woman, since marriage is a very important element in the exaltation process according to LDS leaders. Either these earlier leaders were wrong about their teaching of Jesus and his marriage to multiple women, or current leaders such as Hinckley realize that it’s not politically correct to talk about this in public.
Arrest, crucifixion, and death
He was betrayed, arrested, condemned to death, to die in awful agony by crucifixion. His living body was nailed to a cross of wood. In unspeakable pain, His life slowly ebbed away. While yet He breathed, He cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The earth shook as His spirit passed. The centurion who had seen it all declared in solemnity, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54).
Those who loved Him took His body from the cross. They dressed it and placed it in a new tomb. …
His friends must have wept. The Apostles He loved and whom He had called as witnesses of His divinity wept. The women who loved Him wept. None had understood what He had said about rising the third day. How could they understand? This had never happened before. It was totally unprecedented. It was unbelievable, even for them.
There must have been a terrible sense of dejection and hopelessness and misery as they thought of their Lord taken from them in death.
But that was not the end. On the morning of the third day, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary returned to the tomb. To their utter amazement, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was open. They peered inside. Two beings in white sat at either end of the burial site. An angel appeared to them and said, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?
“He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,
“Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:5–7).
These simple words—“He is not here, but is risen”—have become the most profound in all literature. They are the declaration of the empty tomb. They are the fulfillment of all He had spoken concerning rising again. They are the triumphant response to the query facing every man, woman, and child who was ever born to earth.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I wanted to address the issue of the cross. Consider this citation from 10th President Joseph Fielding Smith:
To many, like the writer, such a custom is repugnant and contrary to the true worship of our Redeemer. Why should we bow down before a cross or use it as a symbol? Because our Savior died on the cross, the wearing of crosses is to most Latter-day Saints in very poor taste and inconsistent to our worship. Of all the ways ever invented for taking life and the execution of individuals, among the most cruel is likely the cross. This was a favorite method among the Romans who excelled in torture. We may be definitely sure that if our Lord had been killed with a dagger or with a sword, it would have been very strange indeed if religious people of this day would have graced such a weapon by wearing it and adoring it because it was by such a means that our Lord was put to death (“The Wearing of the Cross,” Answers to Gospel Questions 4:17).
Many Mormons misunderstand the usage of a cross on a church building or on a necklace worn around a neck. It must be understood that the cross is a symbol, and symbols can be very powerful. Consider your immediate reaction upon seeing the Nazi swastika or a white dress on a wedding day. Because LDS leaders have said the symbol of the cross is an unpleasant reminder of the pain suffered by Jesus during His passion, Mormon people have been discouraged from using this symbol. Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm for the cross is based not so much on the suffering Christ bore there as it is on the Mormon belief that the atonement took place someplace else. Mormon authors Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate surmise,
It is probably the case that if one hundred Protestants were asked where the atonement of Christ took place, those one hundred persons would answer: At Golgotha, on the cross. It is also no doubt true that if one hundred Latter-day Saints were asked the same question, a large percentage would respond: In Gethsemane, in the garden (Third Nephi 9-30: This is my Gospel, p. 14).
Joseph Field Smith taught:
GREATEST SUFFERING WAS IN GETHSEMANE. We speak of the passion of Jesus Christ. A great many people have an idea that when he was on the cross, and nails were driven into his hands and feet, that was his great suffering. His great suffering was before he ever was placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the blood oozed from the pores of his body: “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” That was not when he was on the cross; that was in the garden. That is where he bled from every pore in his body (Doctrines of Salvation 1:130).
Brigham Young University professor Robert J. Matthews certainly minimized the role of Golgotha when he 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” (A Bible! A Bible, p. 282). Andrew Skinner, also a BYU professor, wrote,
All of our Heavenly Father’s planning and preparation, all of his interest in his children and all of his desires for them, all of his aims and goals for the entire universe came down to a singular moment in a specific time and place on this earth in a garden called Gethsemane. Without Gethsemane in God’s eternal plan, everything else would have been a colossal waste—everything (Gethsemane, p. 5).
In a 2004 general conference message, Apostle M. Russell Ballard said,
Thankfully, Jesus Christ courageously fulfilled this sacrifice in ancient Jerusalem. There in the quiet isolation of the Garden of Gethsemane, He knelt among the gnarled olive trees, and in some incredible way that none of us can fully comprehend, the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world (“The Atonement and the Value of One Soul,” Ensign, May 2004, p. 85).
In an article published in the Ensign magazine, Apostle Joseph C. Winther wrote,
As terrible as Christ’s suffering on the cross was, perhaps it was not as great as His suffering in Gethsemane. When He sweat drops of blood as He bore the weight of all the sins of mankind, the great agony of the Atonement took place (“Because of His Love,” Ensign, April 2002, p. 19).
Winther’s conclusion raises an interesting question. If Christ actually bore (past tense) “all” of the sins of mankind in Gethsemane, what was left for Him to bear on the cross?
There are several reasons Christians must reject the notion that Christ’s work of atonement had anything to do with His agony in Gethsemane. One of them lies in the prophetic passages of the Old Testament. Psalm 22, for example, contains several verses that speak to events taking place while Christ was hanging on the cross (Ps. 22:1, 6-8, 15, 16). It should be noted that the Book of Mormon also points to an atonement that took place on a cross. First Nephi 11:33 says that Christ “was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world,” while 3 Nephi 27:14 says this allowed Jesus to “draw all men” unto Himself.
As with the Bible, there is no mention of a garden atonement in the Book of Mormon. Consider also Christ’s prayer at Gethsemane. It could easily be summarized that Jesus agonized for Himself in the garden, as opposed to the cross, where He agonized for mankind. In Luke 22:42, Jesus prayed to the Father to “remove this cup.” Mormons often see this as a reference to the “bitter cup” in Doctrine and Covenants 19:18 and conclude that Jesus partook of this cup by suffering for the sins of mankind while in the garden. However, Matthew 26 provides some interesting details that rule out this assumption. In verse 39, Matthew records how Jesus pleads with the Father that, if it be possible, “let this cup pass from me.” Three times in a relatively short period of time, Jesus petitioned the Father to remove the cup.
Then when Peter attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrest by cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus rebuked him, saying, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). Jesus was arrested immediately after He asked this question of Peter. His time in the garden was already over. Thus it makes more sense to conclude that Jesus’ metaphoric drinking of the cup was still future at this point, after He left the garden. When it comes to the atonement, it could be said that Mormons emphasize Jesus’ perspiration, whereas the New Testament emphasizes Christ’s expiration. For example, Paul reminded the believers in Romans 5:6–8 that “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:3, Paul reminds believers that he delivered “first of all” the message that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” Since Jesus didn’t die in Gethsemane, the Mormon notion must be rejected. Peter left no room for doubt as to where Christ took upon Himself our sins. He wrote in 1 Peter 2:24 that Christ bore our sins “in his own body on the tree,” an obvious reference to the cross.
The response by Hinckley in Teachings of Presidents of the Church is problematic. The comparison makes it seem as if Christians who see a great deal of significance in the cross fail, in some degree, to grasp the significance of Christ’s resurrection. This historical event is indeed a vital aspect of the Christian faith since it validates Christ’s role as Messiah. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Paul later added in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that if Christ were not raised, then the Christian’s faith is worthless.
Nowhere is there any indication in the New Testament that the cross should somehow be minimized because Christ rose from the dead. There is certainly room to remember the importance of both. These two events, in fact, go hand in hand since there can’t be a resurrection without a death. Why Mormons such as Hinckley hold that the memory of the cross must be given a backseat in order to draw attention to the resurrection is puzzling since the cross clearly is a major New Testament theme.
This response also overlooks the fact that, every Sunday throughout the world, members of the LDS Church participate in the sacrament service in Mormon chapels, a ritual meant to remind members of the death and sacrifice of Christ. It is common for Mormons to misunderstand the meaning of the cross, erroneously suspecting that Christians worship the symbol itself. The truth is, the cross is the most powerful symbol in the Christian world because it embodies God’s love for us. It is a reminder of all that was accomplished through Christ’s suffering. What exactly did His suffering and death on the cross accomplish? Consider these biblical passages:
- Romans 5:9—The shedding of His blood on the cross makes justification before an all-holy God a present reality. Christians need not wonder whether they will be “good enough.”
- Romans 8:34—Christ’s death resulted in Christians having One who intercedes on their behalf.
- 1 Corinthians 5:7–8—As the sacrificed Passover Lamb, Christ enables believers to rid themselves of the contamination of malice and wickedness and to embrace sincerity and truth.
- Galatians 3:13—Christ’s death on the cross redeemed believers from the curse of the law, a system by which no sinful human could ever be justified.
- Colossians 1:21–22—Through the physical death of Christ, those who were at one time alienated and enemies of God are now reconciled and made holy in His sight.
- Colossians 2:13–15—The written code of regulations that condemned all people was nailed to the cross, resulting in the forgiveness of all the believer’s sins.
- Hebrews 2:14—By His death Jesus removes the sting of death and frees those who were once held in slavery by the fear of death.
- Hebrews 9:13–14—Whereas the regular sacrifices of bulls and goats had no power to take away sins or clear a worshiper’s conscience, Christ’s once-for-all death cleanses the conscience of the believer and takes away sin, enabling the believer to serve the living God.
- Hebrews 10:14—It is Christ, through His sacrifice, who perfects the believer, meaning that the anxiety of striving to be “good enough” has been taken away.
Pastor/theologian John Piper correctly notes that, without the cross, a believer’s sins could not be blotted out.
There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records. The record of our bad deeds (including our defective good deeds), along with the just penalties that each deserves, must be blotted out—not balanced. This is what Christ suffered and died to accomplish. The cancellation happened when the record of our deeds was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:13). (Fifty Reasons Why Christ Came to Die, p. 33).
In John 15:13, Jesus foreshadowed what would happen at the cross: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Nowhere did the apostle Paul avoid an association with the cross. In Galatians 6:14, he exclaimed, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Despite what the world thinks, Christians feel no shame when they emphasize the cross. In his tract titled “Calvary!,” John Charles Ryle, a well-respected bishop in the Church of England during the nineteenth century, summed it up well:
Would I know the fullness and completeness of the salvation God has provided for sinners? Where shall I see it most distinctly? Shall I go to the general declarations in the Bible about God’s mercy? Shall I rest in the general truth that God is a God of love? Oh, no! I will look at the crucifixion at Calvary. I find no evidence like that: I find no balm for a sore conscience and a troubled heart like the sight of Jesus dying for me on the accursed tree. There I see that a full payment has been made for all my enormous debts. The curse of that law which I have broken, has come down on One who there suffered in my stead; the demands of that law are all satisfied: payment has been made for me even to the uttermost farthing. It will not be required twice over. Ah, I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven; my own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief; I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.
It also should be pointed out that the reverence Christians show the cross is no different than the respect Mormons might give to their symbols. For instance, Mormons wear symbols of temples on jewelry such as necklaces. And anybody who has visited Salt Lake City will quickly notice that Mormon symbolism is found throughout the downtown area. Probably the religion’s best-known symbol is the angel Moroni, represented on the top of the majority of LDS temples in the world. Beehives, moonstones, sun stones, the all-seeing eye, and Masonic “grips” are in abundance on the physical temple in Salt Lake City. While Mormons are quick to distance themselves from the cross, some have no problem defending the numerous five-pointed pentagrams that decorate both the Salt Lake City and Nauvoo temples. Not all Christians choose to wear a cross, but is the wearing of a cross wrong? Christian theologian Paul Copan responds to this common question:
Once a Muslim expressed to me his disbelief and even scorn at the idea of Christians wearing crosses: “How can Christians wear with pride the instrument of torture and humiliation? If your brother were killed in an electric chair, would you wear an electric chair around your neck?” I replied that it depends: “If my brother happened to be Jesus of Nazareth and his death in an electric chair brought about my salvation and was the means by which evil was defeated and creation renewed, then he would have transformed a symbol of shame and punishment into something glorious” (Is God a Moral Monster, p. 33).
As the hymn puts it, “As the cross, as the cross, where I first saw the light, And the burden of my heart rolled away, It was there by faith I received my sight, And now I am happy all the day!”
“His message was the gospel of peace. His teachings were those of generosity and love.”
The risen Lord spoke to Mary, and she replied. He was not an apparition. This was not imagination. He was real, as real as He had been in mortal life. He did not permit her to touch Him. He had not yet ascended to His Father in Heaven. That would happen shortly. What a reunion it must have been, to be embraced by the Father, who loved Him and who also must have wept for Him during His hours of agony.
He would appear to two men on the road to Emmaus. He would converse with them and eat with them. He would meet with His Apostles behind closed doors and teach them. Thomas was not present on the first occasion. On the second occasion, the Lord invited him to feel of His hands and His side. In utter wonder he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). He spoke with 500 at [another] time. …
And there is another witness. This biblical companion, the Book of Mormon, testifies that He appeared not only to those of the Old World but also to those of the New. For had He not at one time declared, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd”? (John 10:16).
For a full refutation of John 10:16 as used by Hinckley, click here.
To those of this hemisphere He appeared following His Resurrection. At His descent through the clouds of heaven, the voice of God the Eternal Father was heard again in solemn declaration: “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him” (3 Ne. 11:7). …
And if all of this is not enough, there is the testimony, sure and certain and unequivocal, of the great prophet of this dispensation, Joseph Smith. As a boy he went into the woods to pray seeking light and understanding. And there appeared before him two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above him in the air. One of them spoke to him, calling him “by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” [Joseph Smith—History 1:17].
Only verse 17 is given here, but if one were to continue reading verses 18 through 20a in this description of the , but Christian, please understand that it was at this “First Vision” where Joseph Smith was told about the “Great Apostasy.” ”Verses 18-20a state,
18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.
If Joseph Smith is telling the truth, then there are no other true churches outside of Mormonism. “All their creeds” are “an abomination in his sight” as they don’t have authority. If you go to a Christian church, you do not have the authority of the priesthood. Those who say Mormonism is just another version of Christianity do not understand the implications of a passage such of this.
For more information about the Great Apostasy as well as the First Vision, check out these articles:
- Acts 1 and the 12 Apostles
- Calling the Apostle John
- Surviving Apostles
- The Great Apostasy
- Early Varieties of Christianity (Blog/Video)
The First Vision
- Do the First Vision Accounts Coincide?
- The First Vision Account: Response to the LDS.org Essay
- First Vision: Fact or Fiction?
- Which First Vision Account Should we Believe?
- The First Vision’s Slow Entrance
- The Importance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (Blog)
This same Joseph declared on a subsequent occasion: “We beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; …
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!” (D&C 76:20, 22).
To all who may have doubts, I repeat the words given Thomas as he felt the wounded hands of the Lord: “Be not faithless, but believing” [John 20:27].
Thomas believed that Jesus was God, not just “a god.” Consider the next two verses in this passage:
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
In Mormonism, Jesus is merely the “first born” son and is not everlasting God. As 10th President Joseph Fielding Smith puts it,
We worship Elohim, the Father of Jesus Christ. We do not worship Adam and we do not pray to him. We are all his children through the flesh, but Elohim, the God we worship, is the Father of our spirits; and Jesus Christ, his first Begotten Son in the spirit creation and his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, is our Eldest Brother (Doctrines of Salvation 1:106).
This is very different from what biblical Christianity teaches.
Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the greatest figure of time and eternity. Believe that his matchless life reached back before the world was formed. Believe that he was the Creator of the earth on which we live. Believe that he was Jehovah of the Old Testament, that he was the Messiah of the New Testament, that he died and was resurrected, that he visited the western continents and taught the people here, that he ushered in this final gospel dispensation, and that he lives, the living Son of the living God, our Savior and our Redeemer. Each of us can know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world, resurrected from the grave.
Yet, as previous quotes have pointed out, leaders of the Mormon Church hold that Jesus lacks in some things. Current leaders certainly don’t talk like leaders from the past, but there are so many places where Jesus is said to have evolved in godhood. As 10th President Joseph Fielding Smith put it,
CHRIST GAINED FULNESS AFTER RESURRECTION. The Savior did not have a fulness at first, but after he received his body and the resurrection all power was given unto him both in heaven and in earth. Although he was a God, even the Son of God, with power and authority to create this earth and other earths, yet there were some things lacking which he did not receive until after his resurrection. In other words he had not received the fulness until he got a resurrected body, and the same is true with those who through faithfulness become sons of God. Our bodies are essential to the fulness and the continuation of the seeds forever (Doctrines of Salvation 1:33)
Seventy Milton R. Hunter wrote,
Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws (The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 51).
This doesn’t sound anything like the Jesus as described in the Bible.
There is a … battle being waged for the faith of men, but the lines are not always … clearly drawn, for even among the forces of Christianity there are those who would destroy the divinity of the Christ in whose name they speak. They might be disregarded if their voices were not so seductive, if their influence were not so far-reaching, if their reason were not so subtle.
… Multitudes will gather on a thousand hills to welcome the dawn of the Easter day and to remind themselves of the story of the Christ, whose resurrection they will commemorate. In language both beautiful and hopeful, preachers of many faiths will recount the story of the empty tomb. To them—and to you—I raise this question: “Do you actually believe it?”
I do. In fact, it was Christ’s resurrection that made it possible for Christians to be forgiven of their sins and have eternal life.
Do you actually believe that Jesus was the Son of God, the literal offspring of the Father?
Not in the same way that LDS leaders have taught this (“literal offspring of the Father”), as described earlier in this review.
Do you believe that the voice of God, the Eternal Father, was heard above the waters of Jordan declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”? (Matt. 3:17.)
Do you believe that this same Jesus was the worker of miracles, the healer of the sick, the restorer of the infirm, the giver of life to the dead?
Do you believe that following his death on Calvary’s hill and his burial in Joseph’s tomb, he came forth alive the third day?
Yes, I do.
Do you actually believe that he yet lives—real, vital, and personal—and that he will come again as promised by the angels at his ascension?
Do you actually believe these things? If you do, then you are part of a shrinking body of literalists who more and more are being smiled at by philosophers, who more and more are being ridiculed by certain educators, and who more and more are being considered “out of it” by a growing coterie of ministers of religion and influential theologians.
… In the eyes of these intellectuals, these are myths—the birth of Jesus as the Son of God of whom the angels sang on Judea’s plains, the worker of miracles who healed the sick and raised the dead, the Christ resurrected from the grave, the ascension and the promised return.
These modern theologians strip him of his divinity and then wonder why men do not worship him.
Hmmm, except for the part where I acknowledge rejecting the idea that Jesus is the “literal offspring of God,” I too hold to these points. But let me remind the reader that it was Hinckley, as quoted above, who said that he did not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity.
Here are three questions I would ask the faithful Latter-day Saint:
- Do you believe that Jesus is “very God of very God,” as one church creed has put it, and is no lesser God than God the Father?
- Do you believe that it is what Jesus did on the cross (alone) that is able to forgive all sins—with nothing else added, including baptism, joining the Mormon Church, or keeping the commandments as dictated in Mormonism?
- Do you believe that you can pray (address) Jesus in a direct way, as Stephen did in Acts 7:59?
These questions will help us to understand that the Jesus of Mormonism is different from the Jesus of the Bible.
Road to Emmaus
The resurrected Savior walked with two men on the road to Emmaus.
These clever scholars have taken from Jesus the mantle of godhood and have left only a man. They have tried to accommodate him to their own narrow thinking. They have robbed him of his divine sonship and taken from the world its rightful King. …
Yet I wonder, does Mormonism also rob Jesus of his divine sonship? By declaring that he is created by the Father and is not eternally God, Hinckley and other LDS leaders have made Jesus into something other than what the Bible declares Him to be.
The acquisition of understanding and enthusiasm for the Lord comes from following simple rules. … I should like to suggest three, elementary in their concept, almost trite in their repetition, but fundamental in their application and fruitful in their result. …
The first is to read—to read the word of the Lord. … Read, for instance, the Gospel of John from its beginning to its end. Let the Lord speak for himself to you, and his words will come with a quiet conviction that will make the words of his critics meaningless.
Here’s something that the Mormon president and I can finally agree on!
Read also the testament of the New World, the Book of Mormon, brought forth as a witness “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” (Book of Mormon title page.)
But then he had to add this sentence! What evidence is there that the Book of Mormon is authentic historical scripture? There are many problems with the Book of Mormon. For more information on this topic, click here.
The next is to serve—to serve in the work of the Lord. … The cause of Christ does not need your doubts; it needs your strength and time and talents; and as you exercise these in service, your faith will grow and your doubts will wane. …
Not sure how this rule will help a person to find the authentic Jesus of the Bible.
The third is to pray. Speak with your Eternal Father in the name of his Beloved Son. “Behold,” he says, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20.)
And why can’t a person just pray to Jesus too? The answer is because, in Mormonism, Jesus is not qualified to receive our prayers, only to have people pray in His name.
We need to continually ask ourselves, “What shall we do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
I ask anew the question offered by Pilate two thousand years ago, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:22.) Indeed, we need continually to ask ourselves, What shall we do with Jesus who is called Christ? What shall we do with his teachings, and how can we make them an inseparable part of our lives? …
What shall we do? There has been a “historical quest” for Jesus for several hundred years. Scholars have turned Jesus into someone who He never was and never will be. What we do with Jesus is all important. Turning Him into someone who He isn’t is very dangerous and can lead a person astray.
… “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29.) How poor indeed would be our lives without the influence of his teachings and his matchless example. The lessons of the turning of the other cheek, going the second mile, the return of the prodigal, and scores of other incomparable teachings have filtered down the ages to become the catalyst to bring kindness and mercy out of much of man’s inhumanity to man.
But there is so much more than His influence on our morals and helping us to become better people. As one hymn states, Jesus is the “lover of my soul.” It’s because of this that makes me want to love Him even more. Indeed, it is only through His efficacious work that allows me to have a personal relationship with the God of this universe.
What shall we do with Jesus who is called Christ?
Learn of him. Search the scriptures for they are they which testify of him. Ponder the miracle of his life and mission. Try a little more diligently to follow his example and observe his teachings.
Search the Bible and give your life over to Him. This must be done before we “diligently” attempt to “follow his example and observe his teachings.”
In conclusion, Christianity has historically taught that Jesus, as the very God, took upon Himself the form of a man. This is not to say that at any time His Godhood was diminished in any degree after His physical appearance on earth (His incarnation). Jesus was, and is, both divine and human: 100 percent God and 100 percent man. He was conceived through the agency of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:35); He lived a sinless life while subjected to human temptations (John 5:19; Heb. 2:18; 4:15); He died a real death and rose again bodily from the dead to conquer sin (Rom. 5:6–10; 1 Cor. 15:3–4); He will return to judge all humanity (John 5:22); He sent the Holy Spirit to empower the believers (John 14–16; Acts 1:8); and He can be prayed to (Acts 7:59). Finally, He is deserving to receive honor, love, faith, and worship as the Father (Matt. 10:37; John 5:23; 14:1; Heb. 1:6). At the same time, He shares attributes with the Father because Jesus is also God.
This is the Jesus whom I want to worship!