Joseph Smith, Gethsemane, and the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

John Hilton III

The Savior’s Atonement is central to the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”[1] On another occasion, he revealed that those inheriting the celestial kingdom are “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:69).

The specific phrase “perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” is unique to this revelation and perhaps ambiguous in its reference to a specific location or act in the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. While some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (herein referred to as the Church) might immediately locate such an event in Gethsemane, others would place it on the cross—and some might suggest both.

Curious to see which aspect of Christ’s Atonement his students would emphasize, a BYU professor asked his students this question: “Where would you say the Atonement mostly took place? A. In the Garden of Gethsemane. B. On the Cross at Calvary.” Approximately 750 students responded to this survey; 88 percent answered “In the Garden of Gethsemane,” and 12 percent indicated “On the Cross at Calvary.”[2] While certainly not a scientific study, these data suggest that many members of the Church believe Gethsemane is the most important location in the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.

Perhaps this fact is not surprising given the powerful prose Elder James E. Talmage wrote regarding Gethsemane in Jesus the Christ[3] or Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s memorable last conference talk, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane.”[4] While they both spoke of the importance of Christ’s Crucifixion, their words regarding Gethsemane were particularly striking. The lack of Crucifixion imagery in chapels may also contribute to an emphasis on Gethsemane.[5] An additional reason for a focus on Gethsemane is that three prominent Church leaders—Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, and Bruce R. McConkie—occasionally gave preeminence to Gethsemane. For example, in a general conference talk delivered in 1953, Romney (then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve) said, “Jesus then went into the Garden of Gethsemane. There he suffered most. He suffered greatly on the cross, of course, but other men had died by crucifixion; in fact, a man hung on either side of him as he died on the cross.”[6]

Such teachings were taken up in curriculum materials or publications such as the noncanonical but influential Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which states, “For Latter-day Saints, Gethsemane was the scene of Jesus’ greatest agony, even surpassing that which he suffered on the cross.”[7] Several scholars have noticed the Latter-day Saint emphasis on Gethsemane. Protestant theologian and scholar Douglas J. Davies argues that Church leaders have emphasized Gethsemane “to parallel and perhaps even to predominate over the crucifixion of Calvary as the prime scene of the act of atonement.”[8] Davies writes elsewhere that “Mormonism relocates the centre of gravity of Christ’s passion in Gethsemane rather than upon the cross and Calvary.”[9] John G. Turner, another Protestant scholar of the Church, explains that for Latter-day Saints “the principal scene of Christ’s suffering and, thus, his atonement, was at Gethsemane rather than on the cross.”[10] These statements indicate that non–Latter-day Saint scholars see Gethsemane as having a distinctive theological place in our tradition.

Latter-day Saint scholars have made similar observations. For example, Robert Millet writes, “Because we had come to know, through the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, concerning the purposes for the Master’s pains in the Garden, we seem to have begun to place a greater stress upon Gethsemane than upon the cross.”[11] Where does this greater stress on Gethsemane come from? The Bible? Restoration scripture? The collective voice of modern prophets?

While previous studies have clarified what the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Church leaders after Joseph Smith have taught regarding Gethsemane and the Crucifixion,[12] to date there has been no specific examination of Joseph’s revelations and teachings on Gethsemane and Calvary. The purpose of this study is to identify what the Prophet taught and revealed about these locations and whether his teachings focus on the soteriological value of one more than another.

After briefly reviewing previous studies regarding what the scriptures and Church leaders after Joseph Smith have taught regarding Gethsemane and Calvary, I will survey three sources from Joseph Smith’s teachings and revelations: first, his revelations as given in the Doctrine and Covenants; second, inspired adjustments he made in his Bible translation; and third, his writings and sermons.

Teachings from the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Church Leaders[13]

The New Testament emphasizes Calvary significantly more than Gethsemane. While the Synoptic Gospels provide a narrative account of Christ’s prayers in Gethsemane, they make no explicit mention of any salvific importance related to this event, and John does not even mention Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane. In contrast, the New Testament includes at least twenty-one passages that connect Christ’s death with our salvation.[14] For example, Paul taught that Christ “died for us, that . . . we should live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).

The Book of Mormon likewise emphasizes the importance of the Crucifixion. Only one passage, Mosiah 3:7, makes a clear textual connection between our salvation and Gethsemane with its discussion of Christ bleeding from every pore because of his anguish for our sins. In contrast, eighteen Book of Mormon passages specifically describe the salvific power of the death of Christ.[15] For example, Nephi saw in vision Christ “lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Nephi 11:33; emphasis added throughout). Abinadi proclaimed, “These are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions” (Mosiah 15:12). Samuel the Lamanite declared, “[Christ] surely must die, that salvation may come; . . . this death . . . redeemeth all mankind” (Helaman 14:15–16). The Savior himself said at the temple in Bountiful, “Come forth . . . that ye may know that I . . . have been slain for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:14).

Research has shown that modern Church leaders have mirrored this scriptural emphasis on Christ’s Crucifixion: across a corpus of talks in the Journal of Discourses and published general conference reports from 1897 to 2018, for each reference by Church leaders to Christ suffering for our sins in Gethsemane, more than five speak of him dying for our sins.[16]

For example, in 1860 President Brigham Young taught, “Jesus was appointed, from the beginning, to die for our redemption, and he suffered an excruciating death on the cross.”[17] President John Taylor taught that Christ was “crucified . . . to open up the way of life and salvation, that man might attain to exaltation,”[18] and President Wilford Woodruff said that the “Lord Jesus Christ . . . died as a ransom for the sins of the world.”[19]

Recent Church leaders have continued this emphasis. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that through “the offering of His life on Calvary’s Hill, [Christ] expiated the sins of mankind, relieving us from the burden of sin if we will forsake evil and follow Him.”[20] President Thomas S. Monson said that Jesus “died upon the cross to redeem all mankind.”[21] President Russell M. Nelson exhorted, “Remember the Savior upon the cross suffering from the sins of the world.”[22] Such quotations indicate a consistent focus by Church leaders on the atoning efficacy of Christ’s death.

None of the foregoing is intended to diminish the importance of the Savior’s salvific suffering in Gethsemane. Christ’s suffering during his Crucifixion and in Gethsemane should not be held in competition. Rather, I am simply identifying emphases within the scriptures and the teachings of modern Church leaders. In the scriptures, as well as from Brigham Young to the present, leaders have more frequently placed emphasis on Christ’s death than on Gethsemane when discussing our redemption from sin. I now turn to the topic of this study, which is to consider what Joseph Smith taught about these important subjects.


As stated previously, to identify what Smith taught and revealed about Gethsemane and Christ’s Crucifixion, I examined three corpora: (1) the revelations received by Smith and canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, (2) the adjustments he made in his inspired translation of the Bible, and (3) Smith’s teachings and writings.

In terms of the methodology used to identify relevant passages in the Doctrine and Covenants, I performed an electronic search looking specifically for words related to Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane as well as his death.[23] In addition to searching for explicit words such as Gethsemane or Calvary, I also searched related words such as bleed or death.[24] Some passages were ambiguous in their meaning. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 38:4, Christ speaks of “the virtue of the blood which I have spilt.” This could allude to suffering in Gethsemane that caused Christ to “bleed at every pore” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18; see Mosiah 3:7; Luke 22:44) or to “the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20; see John 19:34; Hebrews 13:11–12; Alma 34:11–13; 3 Nephi 9:19). Although the scriptures indicate that the shedding of blood is a reference to death,[25] in order to avoid any bias toward the Crucifixion, I excluded passages about blood from this study if they were not explicit regarding location.[26]

To identify passages from the Joseph Smith Translation that might have bearing on Gethsemane or Calvary, I analyzed the New Testament verses identified in previous research as specifically relating to the salvific power of Gethsemane and the cross.[27] In addition, I examined the Joseph Smith Translation of narrative passages regarding the events of Gethsemane and Calvary.

To identify additional teachings from Joseph Smith regarding Gethsemane and Christ’s Crucifixion I searched the Joseph Smith Papers website for a wide variety of relevant terms.[28] Statements that were clearly from Joseph Smith, authorized scribes, and unsigned editorials for publications of which Joseph Smith was the editor were all included in this study.[29]

The Doctrine and Covenants

Revelations about Gethsemane[30]

A revelation likely dictated in the summer of 1829 provides the clearest canonized description of Christ suffering for our sins in Gethsemane. In this revelation the Savior says, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; 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” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–18).

While this revelation does not use the word Gethsemane, the statement “bleed at every pore” echoes Luke 22:44 (“his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground”), and the statement “would that I might not drink the bitter cup” alludes to Matthew 26:39 (“if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”). These New Testament connections likely indicate that the revelation is connected to Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane.[31] Although Joseph Smith did not refer to these verses in his later teachings or writings, one or more verses from Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–18 have been quoted in general conference more than 120 times, illustrating their significant impact.[32] Aside from Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–18, there are no other explicit references to Gethsemane in the Doctrine and Covenants, perhaps a surprising finding given the emphasis that many Church members place on Gethsemane.

Revelations about the Crucifixion

At least fifteen revelations given to Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants refer to Christ’s death. In one instance, Joseph Smith received a revelation that mentions those who “denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:35). Four instances record the voice of Jesus Christ describing himself in a manner connected to his death, but not explicitly stating that he atoned for our sins in his Crucifixion. For example, on one occasion he said, “Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:37; see 45:4, 52). Christ’s invitation to behold his wounds may remind us that he is our atoning Savior. On another occasion Jesus Christ appeared in a vision to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and identified himself, saying, “I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:4). Although this instance does not provide a direct statement about Christ atoning for our sins on the cross, it does provide a powerful connection between Christ’s death and his role as our Savior and advocate.

Eight revelations received by Joseph Smith, which were later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, explicitly connect the death of Jesus Christ with salvation from sin:

  • “The Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him” (18:11).
  • “He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day . . . that as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved” (20:23, 25).
  • “Jesus was crucified . . . for the sins of the world, yea, for the remission of sins” (21:9).
  • “I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world” (35:2).
  • “Jesus Christ . . . was crucified for the sins of the world” (46:13).
  • “I, the Lord . . . was crucified for the sins of the world” (53:2).
  • “Thus saith the Lord, . . . even he who was crucified for the sins of the world” (54:1).
  • “Jesus [came] to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world” (76:41).

In addition, two revelations to Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants focus on the connection between the death of Christ and our resurrection, or being brought to Christ:

  • “He hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance” (18:12).
  • “For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and glory of the Lamb, who was slain” (76:39).

The revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith and published in the Doctrine and Covenants clearly emphasize the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Only one passage describes his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and at least fifteen passages discuss his death on the cross of Calvary.

The Joseph Smith Translation

The Garden of Gethsemane

The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) makes two interesting changes with respect to Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane, although neither impacts its saving significance. KJV Mark 14:33–34 states that Christ “taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; and saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.” The parallel Joseph Smith Translation states, “The disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah. And Jesus knowing their hearts, said to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him, Peter, and James, and John, and rebuked them, and said unto them, my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch” (JST Mark 14:36–38). Thus, while in both versions Christ states that his soul is “exceeding sorrowful,” the JST alters the phrases “sore amazed” and “very heavy” to describe the disciples. This change takes a Markan passage emphasizing Christ’s mortality and shifts it to a high Christology passage in the JST by moving the human feelings of amazement and heaviness from Christ to his disciples.[33]

The other Gethsemane passage with a significant JST revision is Luke 22:44.[34] The KJV declares, “Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” The JST changes this slightly to be “he sweat as it were great drops of blood,” perhaps shifting the emphasis from sweat to blood. Robert J. Matthews commented on this JST revision as follows: “This change tends to place the emphasis on the blood as such, instead of on the sweat that was ‘as blood.’ In one instance sweat is the subject; in the other, it is the action brought about by the Savior’s agony.”[35] Even with the Joseph Smith Translation, the phrase “as it were” leaves it unclear whether Christ literally bled; however, restoration scripture and latter-day prophets have clarified this issue (for example, Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–18, as described above). These two JST revisions to Christ’s recorded experience in Gethsemane are valuable but do not significantly influence our understanding of the atoning power of Gethsemane.

The Crucifixion

Within the narratives of Christ’s Crucifixion, the JST revisions do not alter our view of Calvary’s soteriological significance. In KJV Matthew 27:44, both thieves mock the Savior; however, in JST Matthew 27:47–48 only one thief does so, with the other crying to Jesus to be saved—similar to what takes place in Luke 23:42–43.[36] This request suggests that the thief believes not only that Christ will return as king but also that his Crucifixion has saving power.

Another interesting revision occurs regarding Christ’s statement “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).[37] JST Luke 23:35 adds a clarifying phrase—“meaning the soldiers who crucified him”—to make it clear who was the object of Christ’s forgiveness, as well as the fact that they were being forgiven for the act of crucifying him.

A third revision of note occurs in the final statement Christ makes in Matthew’s account. In the KJV, as Christ “yielded up the ghost,” he “cried again with a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50), but no mention is made of what he said. The Joseph Smith Translation adds an additional statement made in the loud voice, stating, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, saying, Father it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost” (JST Matthew 27:50).[38] The phrase “thy will is done,” if connected to the Savior’s cry in Gethsemane—“O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42)—could indicate that at least part of the cup the Savior referred to in Gethsemane was what would occur on the cross.

Throughout the remaining New Testament JST revisions, only minor changes are made to the references regarding Christ’s Crucifixion, none of which have theological relevance to the event.[39] The most significant JST changes regarding Christ’s Crucifixion occur not in the New Testament but in Joseph’s translation of Genesis 1–8, later canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. In Moses 7:45, “[Enoch] cried unto the Lord, saying: . . . When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?” In response to this question, the Lord showed Enoch “the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain” (Moses 7:47). A few verses later, the Lord qualifies the phrases “the Righteous,” “the Lamb,” and “lifted up,” showing to Enoch “the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, after the manner of men” (Moses 7:55). This removes any ambiguity as to the meaning of the phrases. These verses make it clear that the phrase “the blood of the Righteous be shed” equates with Christ’s being “lifted up on the cross.” In other words, Christ’s Crucifixion is the answer to Enoch’s earlier question “When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?”

An additional (although not explicit) reference to the Crucifixion occurs in Moses 5:5, 7, in which Adam and Eve were commanded to “offer the firstlings of their flocks . . . [in] similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.” The death of the animal typifies the death of Jesus Christ, the firstling of the Father’s “flock” of children. As will be demonstrated later in this paper, Joseph Smith clearly viewed these earlier animal sacrifices as foreshadowings of Christ’s death.

The Teachings and Writings of Joseph Smith

References to Gethsemane

Aside from the Doctrine and Covenants and Joseph Smith Translation, Joseph Smith did not make any specific references to Christ’s suffering for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane.[40] I have not been able to identify a time Joseph Smith used the word Gethsemane,[41] but he did use garden in reference to Gethsemane. In a sermon given on 27 August 1843, Joseph Smith used Christ in Gethsemane as an example of not setting limits on our willingness to obey God’s commandments. Smith said we should view “the son of God as saying it behooveth me to fulfil all righteousness also in the garden saying if it be possible let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless thy will be done.”[42]

References to Christ’s Crucifixion

Utilizing the methodology previously described, I located thirty-four statements by Joseph Smith regarding the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.[43] In two instances, the word crucified was used as an adjective to describe the Savior when Joseph Smith said, “Preach Christ and him crucified,” echoing the words of 1 Corinthians 2:2. For example, Joseph Smith once said, “Go in all meekness in sobriety and preach Jesus Christ & him crucified not to contend with others on the account of their faith or systems of religion but pursue a steady course.”[44] On five occasions, Joseph Smith spoke of Christ’s Crucifixion briefly or in passing. For example, on one occasion he paraphrased Acts 2:37 and 3:17, saying, “Several days after the people asked what shall we do, Peter says, I would ye had done it ignorantly speaking of crucifying the Lord.”[45]

Five passages could not easily be categorized but were significant nevertheless. For example, Joseph Smith used Christ’s Crucifixion to instruct the members of the Quorum of the Twelve in a letter written 4 August 1835. He wrote, “Remember that Christ was crucified, and you are sent out to be special witnesses of this thing.”[46]

Another interesting reference occurs in the minutes of an 1842 Relief Society meeting when Joseph Smith talked about Christ’s example of love while on the cross: “Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness. . . . The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more are we disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls.”[47] The minutes next record that Joseph Smith “then referred [those present] to the conduct of the Savior when he was taken and crucified.”[48]

On 11 June 1843 Joseph Smith gave a sermon in which he expounded on “the sayings of Jesus (when on the cross) to the thief, saying this day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”[49] Joseph Smith, in discussing the meaning of the word paradise, said, “There is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken, that signifies paradise, but it was this day thou shalt be with me in the world of Spirits, then I will teach you all about it, and answer your inquiries.”[50] It is interesting to note that while Joseph Smith makes it clear that the penitent thief will not automatically be saved, he does rephrase the Savior’s words to indicate that the Savior would personally attend to the thief in the spirit world. Such a gracious act, in the midst of the pain Christ was experiencing on the cross creates a powerful lesson of extending love and mercy to others even when we ourselves are hurting.

In addition to the previous quotations, two specific themes deserve discussion—the wickedness of those who crucified Christ and the fact that Christ was crucified for the sins of the world. There are also two specific statements regarding the shedding of blood and the fundamental principles of our religion that merit special attention. The following sections address those themes and statements.

The wickedness of those who crucified Christ

The most common theme surrounding Joseph Smith’s discussion of Christ’s Crucifixion was the wickedness of those who crucified Christ. There are eleven passages with this theme, most commonly in the context of how some people in Joseph Smith’s day had the same spirit of hostility as Christ’s persecutors had in his day. While not theologically relevant in terms of Christ’s Atonement, it is nevertheless interesting to see how Joseph and early Saints used the term crucifixion. For example, in 1841 Joseph related an experience when “a number of men commenced abusing me in every way possible. They spit upon me, pointed their fingers at me saying ‘Prophesy, prophesy’ and thus did they follow the example of those who crucified our Savior not knowing what they did.”[51] In 1844 he said that people in his day were as corrupt as those who crucified Christ and that if Christ “were here today and should preach the same doctrine he did then, why they would crucify him.”[52] Similarly, he said later in the same year, “When a man begins to be an enemy, he hunts me. They seek to kill me; they thirst for my blood; they never cease. He has the same spirit that they had who crucified the Lord of Life: the same spirit that sins against the Holy Ghost.”[53] While perhaps not theologically significant, they may indicate the personal connection Joseph felt with Christ.

The Crucifixion for the sins of the world

A key principle found in nine passages from Joseph Smith is that Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of the world. One significant example of this statement comes as Joseph records the words of Jesus Christ in his 1832 account of the First Vision. Joseph wrote, “The Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. And he spake unto me, saying, ‘Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world, that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life.’”[54] Thus in his earliest written account of the First Vision, Joseph Smith shared the important detail that Christ introduced himself as one who offers redemption because of his crucifixion. This is consistent with other introductions of the Savior in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants (for example, 3 Nephi 11:14; Doctrine and Covenants 53:2).

Similar statements are found in blessings given by the prophet. When ordaining Oliver Cowdery to an office, Joseph said, “In the name of Jesus Christ who died was crucified for the sins of the world, I lay my hands upon thee, and ordain thee . . .[55] This strikethrough of died appears in the original text. Its replacement with “was crucified” may not be significant, but it perhaps illustrates how in some cases at least “death” for Smith and other early Saints specifically meant “crucifixion.”

In four separate instances Joseph referred to scriptures that describe Christ dying for the sins of humanity. One example comes from Romans 5:10, which states, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”

A second example provides Joseph’s commentary on his inspired translation. In a letter written on 16 November 1835, he alludes to Moses 7:47 and writes, “God clearly manifested to Enoch, the redemption which he prepared, by offering the Messiah as a Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world: by virtue of the same, the glorious resurrection of the Savior, and the resurrection of all the human family.”[56] In this instance, Joseph Smith connects redemption with the “Lamb slain,” indicating that the death of Jesus Christ was the key component in Christ’s Atonement.

On two separate occasions Joseph used or paraphrased Revelation 5:9. On one occasion he said, “The Lamb was worthy to take the book, and to open its seals; because he was slain, and had by his blood redeemed them out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation.”[57] Another instance of his use of Revelation 5:9 will be discussed more fully below.

The shedding of blood

As explained above, references to the atoning blood of Christ were excluded from this study as it is unclear whether they referred to bleeding in Gethsemane or on the cross (or both). A specific example of this ambiguity, provided in the introduction, is the phrase “perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.” In some instances, however, Joseph connected Christ’s blood to his Crucifixion. As stated previously, Joseph pronounced a blessing on Oliver Cowdery in the name of “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was crucified for the sins of the world, that we through the virtue of his blood might come to the Father.”[58] In at least two other instances, Joseph unmistakably equated the phrase “blood shed” with death.[59]

An unsigned letter from “The Elders of the church in Kirtland” (of whom Joseph Smith was one) to “Their brethren abroad” provides significant insight on the phrase “shedding of blood.”[60] The letter states, “God . . . prepared a sacrifice in the gift of his own Son which should be sent in due time, in his own wisdom, to prepare a way, or open a door through which man might enter into his presence, from whence he had been cast for disobedience.”[61] What is meant by this sacrifice? The letter next contrasts sacrifices offered by Abel and Cain:

By faith in this atonement or plan of redemption, Abel offered to God a sacrifice that was accepted, which was the firstlings of the flock. Cain offered of the fruit of the ground, and was not accepted, because he could not do it in faith: he could have no faith, or could not exercise faith contrary to the plan of heaven. It must be the shedding of the blood of the Only Begotten to atone for man; for this was the plan of redemption; and without the shedding of blood was no remission; and as the sacrifice was instituted for a type, by which man was to discern the great Sacrifice which God had prepared; to offer a sacrifice contrary to that, no faith could be exercised, because redemption was not purchased in that way, nor the power of atonement instituted after that order.[62]

The connection between the phrase “shedding of the blood of the Only Begotten to atone for man” with Abel’s sacrifice of the first animal to come from his flock indicates that in this passage, Christ’s atoning blood is speaking of his death. The letter continues:

Certainly, the shedding of the blood of a beast could be beneficial to no man, except it was done in imitation, or as a type, or explanation of what was to be offered through the gift of God himself; and this performance done with an eye looking forward in faith on the power of that great Sacrifice for a remission of sins. . . . The ordinance or institution of offering blood in sacrifice, was only designed to be performed till Christ was offered up and shed his blood.[63]

After clearly relating animal sacrifice (which involves the death of the animal) to the shedding of Christ’s blood, the letter speaks about the Resurrection and how the ancients knew of the coming of Christ. Toward the end of the letter, Revelation 5:9 (briefly discussed above) is paraphrased: “The Lamb . . . was slain, and had by his blood redeemed them out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation.” Consistently, this letter connects the shedding of Christ’s blood with his death, and no other event. This, along with Joseph’s other statements equating the shedding of blood with death may provide important interpretative insight into scriptural passages regarding the blood of Christ.

The fundamental principles

Joseph Smith declared, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”[64] In this brief statement Joseph identified the death of Christ as being one of the “fundamental principles” of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This statement has been quoted in general conference more than a dozen times and used in many other church publications.[65] It is notable that it mentions Christ’s death and Resurrection but omits any mention of Gethsemane.


In the Doctrine and Covenants, there is one reference to Gethsemane and fifteen references to Christ’s Crucifixion. While the JST does not provide any doctrine-altering information about Gethsemane or the cross, it does provide two passages that clearly teach about the salvific nature of Christ’s Crucifixion and none about the expiation of sins in Gethsemane. With respect to the teachings and writings of Joseph Smith there is one reference to the Savior in Gethsemane (although not about his atoning for our sins) and thirty-four references to Christ’s Crucifixion, nine of which refer to its saving power.

The purpose of this research is not to undermine the importance or significance of Christ’s experience in Gethsemane but rather to shed light on what Joseph Smith taught regarding Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane and his death on Calvary. In contrast with the statement from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism cited in the introduction, the teachings and revelations of Joseph Smith give Christ’s death on the cross the primary locus of soteriological significance. Smith’s teachings, combined with scriptural teachings and the words of later Church leaders make it clear that Christ’s death on the cross was distinctly different from every other victim of crucifixion. Jesus “was crucified for the sins of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:13). The teachings and revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith clearly teach the centrality of the Crucifixion in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


[1] History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842],” p. 1285, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[2] John Hilton III, “Teaching the Scriptural Emphasis on the Crucifixion,” Religious Educator 20, no. 3 (2019): 133–53.

[3] James E. Talmage wrote that in Gethsemane, “in some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world.” Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1915), 613.

[4] Bruce R. McConkie, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” Ensign, May 1985.

[5] Terryl Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 114, observes that Church members “shun virtually all representations of the cross . . . in both art and culture.” It is important to note from a historical perspective that the dearth of the cross has not always existed among Latter-day Saints. Michael Reed points to a deemphasis of the cross in the mid-twentieth century, demonstrating that while in the early years of the Church there was some support for the use of the cross as a visual symbol, it became less acceptable over time. See Michael G. Reed, Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2012).

[6] Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, October 1953, 35. For eight similar statements made by General Authorities, see John Hilton III and Joshua P. Barringer, “The Use of Gethsemane by Church Leaders: 1859–2018,” BYU Studies Quarterly 58, no. 4 (2019): 49–76.

[7] S. Kent Brown, “Gethsemane,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 542.

[8] Douglas J. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism (New York: Cambridge University Press), 154.

[9] Douglas J. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000), 48; emphasis added.

[10] John G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), 284.

[11] Robert L. Millet, What Happened to the Cross? Distinctive LDS Teachings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007).

[12] See Hilton, “Teaching the Scriptural Emphasis”; Hilton and Barringer, “Use of Gethsemane”; and John Hilton III, Emily Hyde, and McKenna Trussel, “The Use of Crucifixion by Church Leaders: 1852–2018,” BYU Studies Quarterly 59, no. 1 (2020): 49–80.

[13] This section of the paper utilizes text and data taken from Hilton, “Teaching the Scriptural Emphasis”; Hilton and Barringer, “Use of Gethsemane”; and Hilton, Hyde, and Trussel, “Use of Crucifixion.” Additional insights on the scriptural emphasis on Christ’s Crucifixion are found in Gaye Strathearn, “The Crucifixion,” in New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament, ed. Lincoln Blumell (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2019), 353–71; Millet, What Happened to the Cross?; and Eric D. Huntsman, “Preaching Jesus, and Him Crucified,” in His Majesty and Mission, ed. Nicholas J. Frederick and Keith J. Wilson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 55–76.

[14] See John 3:14–15; 12:32; Romans 5:6, 8, 10; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20, 21–22; 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Hebrews 9:15, 26; 10:10, 12; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Revelation 5:8–9. Here, and throughout this paper, all Bible quotations come from the 2013 edition of the King James Version of the Bible with notes and supplementary material prepared by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[15] These verses are as follows: 1 Nephi 11:33; 2 Nephi 2:7–8; 9:5; 26:24; Mosiah 14:12; 15:7–9, 12; 18:2; Alma 21:9; 22:14; 30:26; 33:22; 34:15; Helaman 14:15–16; 3 Nephi 9:21–22; 11:14; 27:14; Ether 12:33. Note that some of these verses specify crucifixion or a cross, while others speak of Christ’s death or being slain (which of course took place on the cross). For additional analysis, see Hilton, “Teaching the Scriptural Emphasis.”

[16] Hilton, Hyde, and Trussel, “Use of Crucifixion.”

[17] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 8:115 (8 July 1860).

[18] John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 16:307 (16 November 1873).

[19] Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of Discourses, 19:360 (30 June 1878).

[20] Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Ensign, November 1986, 50.

[21] Thomas S. Monson, “Mrs. Patton—The Story Continues,” Ensign, November 2007, 23.

[22] Russell M. Nelson, “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women,” Ensign, May 1999, 39.

[23] I used the program WordCruncher, available at This corpus uses the 2013 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

[24] The words searched were bleed, blood, Calvary, crucified (in all of its variant forms), cross, cup, die, death, garden, Gethsemane, Golgotha, lifted up, sacrifice, slain, and sweat. These words were selected based on their relevance to either the events of Gethsemane or Calvary.

[25] See Genesis 37:20, 22; Deuteronomy 21:6–7; Matthew 23:35; Acts 22:20; 1 Nephi 4:10; Mosiah 17:10; Alma 1:13; 20:19; 39:5; Doctrine and Covenants 132:19, 26; 136:36; Moses 7:45, 47.

[26] This follows the methodology of Hilton, “Teaching the Scriptural Emphasis.”

[27] See Hilton, “Teaching the Scriptural Emphasis.”

[28] The following terms were searched: angel strengthening, body and (Christ, Jesus, Savior, or Lord), Calvary, cross, crucified, crucifixion, die, death, expiation, garden, Gethsemane, Golgotha, lifted up, pore, reconcile, reconciliation, sacrifice, sin, slain, thy will, and tree. These searches were mostly completed by September 2019. I note the limitation that the material posted on the Joseph Smith Papers website is in flux; additional materials may be added, thus changing the overall results of this study.

[29] Joseph Smith Translation revisions and revelations canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants were not considered in this section because they are treated elsewhere in the paper. References to relevant passages in the Book of Mormon were also not included. In addition, some writings and sermons from Joseph Smith were essentially identical but published in multiple places. For the purposes of this study, these were combined and only one reference was counted. For example, the statement “Darkness prevails, at this time as it was, at the time Jesus Christ was about to be crucified” appears in both “History, 1834–1836,” p. [126], The Joseph Smith Papers,; and “Discourse, 12 November 1835,” handwriting Warren Parrish, p. [31], The Joseph Smith Papers, Only the quotation from “History” was used in this study.

[30] This section and the one that follows draw on Hilton, “Teaching the Scriptural Emphasis.”

[31] The phrases “tremble because of pain” and “suffering both body and spirit” could potentially also refer to the Crucifixion, although this is not explicit in the text. Christ states that he “finished [his] preparations,” perhaps indicating that Gethsemane was a completion of preparation that would further culminate on the cross, resurrection, and Second Coming. Mark E. Peterson used Doctrine and Covenants 19:18 specifically to discuss “blood shed on the cross.” Peterson, “O America, America,” Ensign, October 1979. Similarly, Elder John Taylor (then of the Quorum of the Twelve) connected Christ’s sweating blood with his Crucifixion, stating, “Jesus himself sweat great drops of blood, and in the agony of his suffering cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 20:259.

[32] Data taken from Stephen W. Liddle and Richard C. Galbraith, “LDS Scripture Citation Index,”

[33] See Dave LeFevre, “Christology in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Gospels,” in Thou Art the Christ, the Son of the Living God: The Person and Work of Jesus in the New Testament, ed. Eric D. Huntsman, Lincoln H. Blumell, and Tyler J. Griffin (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2018), 367–68. Nothwithstanding the JST, some Church leaders have used the KJV Mark text to highlight Christ’s wonder at the pains of Gethsemane (perhaps alluded to in Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–18). For example, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Imagine, Jehovah, the Creator of this and other worlds, ‘astonished’! Jesus knew cognitively what He must do, but not experientially. He had never personally known the exquisite and exacting process of an atonement before. Thus, when the agony came in its fullness, it was so much, much worse than even He with his unique intellect had ever imagined!” Maxwell, “‘Willing to Submit,’” Ensign, May 1985, 72–73.

[34] This passage has a complicated textual history, and some people argue that these verses are not part of the original text of Luke. For an in-depth discussion of these verses, see Lincoln H. Blumell, “Luke 22:43–44: An Anti-Docetic Interpolation or an Apologetic Omission?,” TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 19 (2014): 1–35.

[35] Robert J. Matthews, A Plainer Translation: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 373.

[36] In many instances throughout the JST, changes are made to harmonize differences between accounts in the four Gospels.

[37] This passage has a complicated textual history. See Nathan Eubank, “A Disconcerting Prayer: On the Originality of Luke 23:34a,” Journal of Biblical Literature 129, no. 3 (2010): 521–36.

[38] Compare JST Matthew 27:50 with John 19:30.

[39] Two such minor changes can be seen in the book of Hebrews. The JST changes the phrase “he is the mediator of the new testament . . . by means of death” (KJV Hebrews 9:15) to “he is the mediator of the new covenant . . . by means of death” (JST Hebrews 9:15; compare Jeremiah 31:31). KJV Hebrews 10:10 states, “We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” whereas the companion JST passage states, “We are sanctified through the offering once of the body of Jesus Christ.”

[40] On one occasion, speaking of the persecution early Saints had experienced in Missouri, an editorial in the Times and Seasons signed “Ed” said, “The cause of humanity cries aloud for help, while suffering Justice is bleeding at every pore.” While this statement bears a clear connection to Gethsemane, it does not directly reference Christ nor his suffering for our sins. See “Universal Liberty,” Times and Seasons, 15 March 1842, 722, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[41] Within the Joseph Smith Papers, the word Gethsemane appears one time, in a letter written from Orson Hyde. In 1842 Orson Hyde traveled to the Holy Land. Describing his experience of looking out at Jerusalem, he wrote, “The fact that I entered the garden and plucked a branch from an olive, and now have that branch to look upon, demonstrates that all was real. There, there is the place where the Son of the Virgin bore our sins and carried our sorrows.” Context suggests Hyde may be referring to Gethsemane, but it is also possible he is referring to the Savior’s Crucifixion. See Orson Hyde, “A Sketch of the Travels and Ministry of Elder Orson Hyde,” Times and Seasons, 15 July 1842, 851.

[42] Joseph Smith, “Discourse, 27 August 1843, as Reported by James Burgess,” p. [13], The Joseph Smith Papers,; spelling and punctuation modernized.

[43] In two additional instances, Joseph used the word crucify but not directly in relation to Christ. For example, in a discourse given 16 June 1844, he used it as a way to show how people were opposed to his teachings: “Paul says there are Gods many and Lords . . . but if Joseph Smith says there is Gods many and Lords many, they cry ‘away with him crucify him.’” “Discourse, 16 June 1844, as Reported by Thomas Bullock,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers,; spelling and punctuation modernized).

[44] “Minutes, 30 March 1836,” p. 188, The Joseph Smith Papers, See “Letter to Church Officers in Clay County, Missouri, 31 August 1835,” p. 80, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[45] Joseph Smith, “Discourse, 10 March 1844, as Reported by Wilford Woodruff,” p. [211], The Joseph Smith Papers,; spelling and punctuation modernized.

[46] Joseph Smith to the Quorum of the Twelve, “Letterbook 1,” p. 92, The Joseph Smith Papers,; spelling errors corrected. In context, Joseph appears to be exhorting missionaries not to worry excessively about their families. He said, “Your duty requires you to seek first the kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness, that is—attend to the first things first, and then all things will be added, and that complaint about your families will be less frequent—Don’t preach yourselves crucified for your wives sake, but remember that Christ was crucified, and you are sent out to be special witnesses of this thing.”

[47] “Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, June 9, 1842,” p. 62, The Joseph Smith Papers,; spelling and punctuation modernized.

[48] “Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, June 9, 1842,” p. 62.

[49] “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843],” p. 1571, Joseph Smith, Discourse, 11 June 1843, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[50] “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843],” p. 1571; emphasis added.

[51] “History, circa 1841, fair copy,” p. 78, The Joseph Smith Papers,; spelling and punctuation modernized.

[52] Joseph Smith, “Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 3, 15 July 1843–29 February 1844,” p. [131], The Joseph Smith Papers,; spelling errors corrected and punctuation modernized.

[53] “Minutes and Discourses, 6–7 April 1844, as Published by Times and Seasons,” p. 616, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[54] “Joseph Smith, History, circa Summer 1832,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers,

[55] Joseph Smith, “Journal, 1832–1834,” p. [93], The Joseph Smith Papers, On another occasion, Smith blessed Cowdery, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who was crucified for the sins of the world, that we through the virtue of his blood might come to the Father, I lay my hands upon thy head, and ordain thee . . .” “Account of Meetings, Revelation, and Blessing, 5–6 December 1834,” p. [19], The Joseph Smith Papers,

[56] “Letter to the Elders of the Church, 16 November 1835,” p. 209, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[57] “Letter to the Church, circa March 1834,” p. [144], The Joseph Smith Papers, (note that this letter is designated as being from “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland,” of whom Joseph Smith was one, and is unsigned); and “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843],” p. 1523, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[58] “Account of Meetings, Revelation, and blessing, 5–6 December 1834,” p. [19].

[59] In a letter written to Henry Clay on 13 May 1844, Joseph wrote, “A man that accepts a challenge or fights a duel, is nothing more nor less than a murderer, for holy writ declares that ‘whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’” “Letter to Henry Clay, 13 May 1844,” The Joseph Smith Papers, p. [2], While traveling with others in Zion’s Camp, Joseph recorded (for 16 May 1834), “I told them I felt much depressed in Spirit, and lonesome, and that there has had been a great deal of blood shed in that place, and whenever a man of God is in a place, where many have been killed; he will feel lonesome and unpleasant.” “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 7 [addenda], The Joseph Smith Papers,

[60] The historical introduction to this document on the Joseph Smith Papers websites states, “JS and other Church of Christ leaders in Kirtland prepared this installment for publication in the Church’s newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star.” “Letter to the Church, circa March 1834,” p. [143].

[61] “Letter to the Church, circa March 1834,” p. [144.]

[62] “Letter to the Church, circa March 1834,” p. [143].

[63] “Letter to the Church, circa March 1834,” p. [143].

[64] This comes from “Elders’ Journal, July 1838,” p. [44], The Joseph Smith Papers,; emphasis added. A separate entry includes the statement on August 8, 1838: “I spent with Elder [Sidney] Rigdon in visiting Elder [Reynolds] Cahoon and the place he had selected for his residence, and in attending to some of our private personal affairs. Also in the afternoon I answered the questions which were frequently asked me while on my last Journey but one from Kirtland to Missouri, as printed in the Elders Journal.” In Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” p. 795, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[65] A search of “testimonies of the apostles and prophets” on the WordCruncher corpus of General Conference talks (available at identifies seventeen separate instances of this quotation.