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Blood Atonement

Lowell M. Snow
Elder Bruce R. McConkie

by Lowell M. Snow

The doctrines of the Church affirm that the Atonement wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior's sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ.

Several early Church leaders, most notably Brigham Young, taught that in a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood—presumably by capital punishment—as part of the process of Atonement for such grievous sin. This was referred to as "blood Atonement." Since such a theocracy has not been operative in modern times, the practical effect of the idea was its use as a rhetorical device to heighten the awareness of Latter-day Saints of the seriousness of murder and other major sins. This view is not a doctrine of the Church and has never been practiced by the Church at any time.

Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced "blood Atonement," by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. This claim distorted the whole idea of blood atonement—which was based on voluntary submission by an offender—into a supposed justification of involuntary punishment. Occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement.


McConkie, Bruce R. "Blood Atonement Doctrine." In Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. Salt Lake City, 1966.

Penrose, Charles W. Blood Atonement, As Taught by Leading Elders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1884.

Peterson, Paul H. "The Mormon Reformation," pp. 176-99. Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. "The Doctrine of Blood Atonement." In Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 1, pp. 180-91. Salt Lake City, 1957.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Blood Atonement

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

by Elder Bruce R. McConkie

From the days of Joseph Smith to the present, wicked and evilly-disposed persons have fabricated false and slanderous stories to the effect that the Church, in the early days of this dispensation, engaged in a practice of blood atonement whereunder the blood of apostates and others was shed by the Church as an atonement for their sins. These claims are false and were known by their originators to be false. There is not one historical instance of so-called blood atonement in this dispensation, nor has there been one event or occurrence whatever, of any nature, from which the slightest inference arises that any such practice either existed or was taught.

There are, however, in the sermons of some of the early church leaders some statements about the true doctrine of blood atonement and of its practice in past dispensations, for instance, in the days of Moses. By taking one sentence on one page and another from a succeeding page and even by taking a part of a sentence on one page and a part of another found several pages away -- all wholly torn from context -- dishonest persons have attempted to make it appear that Brigham Young and others taught things just the opposite of what they really believed and taught.

Raising the curtain of truth on this false and slanderous bluster of enemies of the Church who have thus wilfully chosen to fight the truth with outright lies of the basest sort, the true doctrine of blood atonement is simply this:

1. Jesus Christ worked out the infinite and eternal atonement by the shedding of his own blood. He came into the world for the purpose of dying on the cross for the sins of the world. By virtue of that atoning sacrifice immortality came as a free gift to all men, and all who would believe and obey his laws would in addition be cleansed from sin through his blood. (Mosiah 3:16-19; 3 Ne. 27:19-21; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 5:9-10.)

2. But under certain circumstances there are some serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate, and the law of God is that men must then have their own blood shed to atone for their sins. Murder, for instance, is one of these sins; hence we find the Lord commanding capital punishment. Thus, also, if a person has so progressed in righteousness that his calling and election has been made sure, if he has come to that position where he knows "by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood" that he is sealed up unto eternal life (D. & C. 131:5), then if he gains forgiveness for certain grievous sins, he must "be destroyed in the flesh," and "delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God." (D. & C. 132:19-27.)

President Joseph Fielding Smith has written: "Man may commit certain grievous sins -- according to his light and knowledge -- that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved, he must make sacrifice of his Own life to atone -- so far as in his power lies -- for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail. . . . Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf" (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 133-138.) This doctrine can only be practiced in its fulness in a day when the civil and ecclesiastical laws are administered in the same hands. It was, for instance, practiced in the days of Moses, but it was not and could not be practiced in this dispensation, except that persons who understood its provisions could and did use their influence to get a form of capital punishment written into the laws of the various states of the union so that the blood of murderers could be shed.

Mormon Doctrine, p. 92

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