Remembering Christ's Blood Which Was Shed

Ryder Seamons and John Hilton III

John Hilton III and Ryder Seamons, "Remembering Christ's Blood Which Was Shed," Religious Educator 23, no. 3 (2022): 108–125.

John Hilton III ( is a professor of religion at Brigham Young University.

Ryder Seamons ( is a law student at Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School.

statue of christIntegral to the spiritual cleansing we can experience as we take the sacrament is our remembrance of and reflection on Christ's Atonement - but what exactly are we being invited to reflect on when we consider Christ's blood "which was shed for [us]?" Photo by Wim van 't Einde,


Each Sunday, as part of one of the most familiar rituals in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we hear in our sacrament prayers that the broken bread we eat is a symbol of Christ’s body, and the water we drink a symbol of Christ’s “blood . . . , which was shed for [us]” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:79). Most importantly, we are invited to take these emblems “in remembrance” of his body and shed blood, both at that moment and “always.” Integral to the spiritual cleansing we can experience as we take the sacrament is our remembrance of and reflection on Christ’s Atonement—but what exactly are we being invited to reflect on when we consider Christ’s blood “which was shed for [us]”?

For many modern Latter-day Saints, the first or primary image that comes to mind when thinking of Christ shedding blood is the Savior suffering in Gethsemane. As part of a recent class, a teacher asked his Latter-day Saint college students the following question: “Consider this sentence: ‘The blood of Christ was shed to atone for our sins.’ Do you think the phrase ‘the blood of Christ was shed’ in this sentence mostly describes Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane or his death on the cross?” Students were given only two response options: (a) Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane or (b) Christ’s death on the cross. Across 108 students surveyed, 74 percent selected “Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane.”

In a different class, the teacher slightly modified this question by offering a third possible answer: (c) Equally what he experienced in Gethsemane and on the cross. In this case, of the 68 students, 53 percent selected “Equally,” while 43 percent selected Gethsemane and 4 percent selected Calvary. Both versions of the survey indicate that these students focus more heavily on Gethsemane than they do Calvary when thinking of Christ’s blood being shed.

These two informal class surveys are completely anecdotal and in no way represent an attempt to create generalizable knowledge about what Latter-day Saints believe about the shedding of the blood of Christ. But they do suggest that some Latter-day Saints do not primarily see the phrase “shedding of blood” as connecting with the Savior’s death.

To be clear, there is atoning efficacy both in Christ’s “bleed[ing] at every pore” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18) and in “the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). The purpose of this present study is not to attach greater atoning significance to one site or the other, nor is it to argue that our understanding of Christ’s Atonement cannot continue to grow through modern revelation.[1] Rather, in this paper we will examine how the words “shed” and “blood” have historically been used when they collocate in the scriptures and in the words of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries (as documented in The Joseph Smith Papers). In these corpora, the phrase “shedding of blood” and its variants has been consistently used to refer to violence or death and never to describe Christ in Gethsemane. Thus, strictly speaking in this historical sense, scripture passages about the need to remember Christ’s shedding of blood (such as the sacrament prayers) refer to remembering his death. We first describe our methodology and findings within the standard works and then do the same for the text found in the Joseph Smith Papers online corpus. Finally, we briefly explore possible reasons why many Latter-day Saints today connect the phrase “shedding of blood” with Gethsemane when the scriptures and Joseph Smith did not do so.

Blood in the Scriptures


We used the electronic corpus WordCruncher to identify every time the word “shed” or its variants collocates with the word “blood.” We found 107 verses in which these words appear together; in addition, the word “bloodshed” or “bloodsheds” appears in 30 more verses. We analyzed these 137 verses,[2] as well as their surrounding context,[3] to identify what scriptural authors meant by the phrase “shedding of blood” and its variants. In the sections that follow, we highlight passages that provide context for the meaning of these phrases.

The Shedding of Blood and Clear Connections to Death

Forty-four scripture passages (nearly one-third of the total) explicitly connect the words “shed” and “blood” with death. When Joseph’s older brothers wanted to “slay him” (Genesis 37:20), Reuben told them, “Shed no blood” (Genesis 37:22). Jesus used the phrase “blood shed” to refer to a man who was killed (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:50); Paul did the same thing when he said, “When the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death” (Acts 22:20; emphasis added). Nephi likewise equated the shedding of blood with death when he recorded, “Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him” (1 Nephi 4:10; emphasis added). Consider a few additional examples that clearly demonstrate that “shedding of blood” equals “death”:

  • “All the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands . . . and say, Our hands have not shed this blood” (Deuteronomy 21:6–7; emphasis added).
  • If ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood” (Mosiah 17:10; emphasis added).
  • “I know that if I should slay my son, that I should shed innocent blood” (Alma 20:19; emphasis added).
  • “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:27; emphasis added).

These passages make it clear that scriptural references to the shedding of blood refer to death.

The Shedding of Blood and War

An additional thirty-nine passages (not counted in the previous group) connect bloodshed and war. While these verses do not explicitly connect the shedding of blood with death, their relationship to war provides some evidence that the shedding of blood is a euphemism for death. Consider the following examples from each of the standard works:

  • “Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3).
  • “We had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed” (Omni 1:3).
  • “Now Moroni, when he saw their terror, commanded his men that they should stop shedding their blood” (Alma 43:54).
  • “I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80).
  • “From that time forth there were wars and bloodshed among them” (Moses 7:16).

This sampling of verses (to which many more could be added) suggests a theme of intense violence associated with the phrase “shedding of blood.” While not explicit, these passages appear to connect bloodshed with death (via warfare).

Nonexplicit Passages

Excluding the thirteen passages that directly connect with Jesus Christ (discussed in the following section), a total of thirty-seven passages do not explicitly connect the concept of shedding of blood to either death or warfare. While these passages are more ambiguous, they also have violent overtones that point toward death. For example, 2 Kings 21:16 states, “Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.” While the author is not specific in what it means to “shed innocent blood,” the contextual descriptions of extreme wickedness seem to suggest that it was related to death, perhaps specifically human sacrifice.

Eleven of these more vague verses (nearly one-third of the total) come from the book of Ezekiel, where we find passages such as “Thou art become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed; and hast defiled thyself in thine idols which thou hast made” (Ezekiel 22:4) and “Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain” (Ezekiel 22:27). While these passages from Ezekiel do not specifically connect shedding of blood with death, elsewhere Ezekiel does attach these ideas together (see Ezekiel 35:5).

In every one of these thirty-seven ambiguous passages, it would make sense to substitute the concept of death or murder for “shedding of blood.” For example, Mosiah “unfolded unto [his people] all the disadvantages they labored under, by having an unrighteous king to rule over them; yea, all his iniquities and abominations, and all the wars, and contentions, and bloodshed, [murders,] and the stealing, . . . and all manner of iniquities which cannot be enumerated” (Mosiah 29:35–36). While these verses do not provide direct evidence as to the meaning of “shedding of blood,” they certainly do not indicate that it means anything other than death.

The Shedding of Blood and Jesus Christ

Thirteen instances of the phrase “shedding of blood” explicitly connect to Jesus Christ; seven of these involve the sacrament. For example, Matthew 26:27–28 states, “[Jesus] took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (see also Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 3 Nephi 18:11; Moroni 5:2; Doctrine and Covenants 20:79; 27:2). Although it is not clear that these verses equate the shedding of blood with death, there is an implied relationship. For example, the Savior said, “It mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2).

A clearer connection between the shedding of blood and Jesus Christ is found in the context of “the many murders” committed by the people of Ammon. Their leader Anti-Nephi-Lehi said, “Let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins” (Alma 24:11, 13). While not explicit, the connections between blood, murder, and the Savior’s blood being shed suggest that Anti-Nephi-Lehi interpreted Christ’s shedding of blood as his death.

In a modern revelation, the Savior is more direct: “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:3–4). In this passage, the blood that was shed is connected with the Savior’s “sufferings and death.”[4]

Perhaps the clearest scriptural example connecting blood being shed to Christ’s Atonement is found when Enoch asks the Lord, “When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?” (Moses 7:45). In response, the Lord shows him “the Son of Man lifted up on the cross” (Moses 7:55). Thus, the direct answer to Enoch’s question regarding the shedding of blood is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Scriptures, Blood, and Gethsemane

Among the four Gospel accounts, only Luke uses the word “blood” in connection with the events of Gethsemane. He records that Christ “being in an agony . . . prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). While the authenticity of this New Testament passage has been contested,[5] King Benjamin confirms that Christ “shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7).

Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–19 provides the clearest scriptural explanation of Christ suffering for our sins in Gethsemane. In this passage 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—nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

Collectively, Luke 22:44, Mosiah 3:7, and Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–19 make it clear that Christ’s blood in Gethsemane was an important part of his Atonement. At the same time, the phrase “shedding of blood” and its variants do not occur in these passages. Thus the scriptures do not textually support the idea that the “shedding of blood” refers to Gethsemane.

Blood in The Joseph Smith Papers


We searched the online corpus for the word “blood” collocating with “shed” (including “bloodshed” and “bloodsheds”). To narrow the focus of our analysis, we removed the uses of “blood” found in scriptural sources (that is, Book of Mormon manuscripts or revelations currently found in the Doctrine and Covenants), secondary sources (that is, anecdotal information added by modern historians), and any duplicate sources that repeated verbatim the words of another source. After this elimination, we had 116 instances in which shedding blood, or its variants, was discussed.[6] In the following sections we identify specific themes that provide valuable context into what Joseph Smith and his contemporaries meant when referring to the shedding of blood.

Shedding of Blood as Mob Violence

Of the 116 collocations of “blood” and “shed” in the Joseph Smith Papers database, the words are most frequently used in reference to the threat of mob violence against early Saints, occurring fifty-nine times. In at least ten of these instances, it is apparent that Joseph and his contemporaries used the phrase “shedding of blood” not in reference to harming, wounding, or maiming but explicitly in reference to killing.

For example, John Corrill wrote a letter to Church leaders to notify them of attacks from rioters that had caused violent clashes between the mob and a group of Saints. He wrote, “We then thought it wisdom to stop the shedding of more blood; and by agreeing to leave immediately we saved many lives.”[7]

Joseph and his contemporaries referred to mob members who “shed innocent blood” as murderers, further establishing the precedent that bloodshed is a euphemism for death and killing. In a letter to the Church concerning their increasing number of persecutors, Joseph wrote, “They have been the means of shedding innocent blood. Are they not murderers then at heart?”[8] The author of an 1842 Times and Seasons article wrote, “Whether a Herod, a Nero, or a [Lilburn W.] Boggs, causes the affliction, or the blood to be shed, is all the same,—these murderers will have their reward!”[9] The author associated Lilburn W. Boggs, the governor who infamously ordered early Saints to leave Missouri and fanned the flame for persecution of the Saints, with Herod and Nero, who left their mark on early Christian history through heinous murders.

Though the majority of instances of “blood shed” from the database in reference to violent mob attacks are ambiguous as to whether they explicitly mean death or just violence, there is one instance that provides a compelling interpretation of the phrase “shedding of blood” as a reference to death. Robert D. Foster, in a letter to the Nauvoo City Council, specifically distinguished between the threat of mob violence and the threat of “shedding of blood,” suggesting that the latter was more severe: “We are and always have been opposed to mob violence and more especially the shedding of Blood and may heaven avert the handing down of our names to posterity in connection with this horrid massacree [sic].”[10] Foster thus suggests that the phrase “shedding of blood” should be understood to mean something separate and more severe than just mob violence—the ultimate sin of taking innocent life.

Shedding of Blood—Jesus Christ

Of the 116 collocations of “blood” and “shed” in the Joseph Smith Papers database, only 9 of them refer to the Savior. Six of these instances are obvious references to Christ’s death, as they utilize sacrificial language.

For example, a sermon recorded in an early record of Church history correlates Christ’s “shedding of blood” with the laying down of his life: “We find Jesus Christ neither last nor least . . . , who was chosen to lay down his life for the redemption of the world, for without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins.”[11] In this passage, the author makes the laying down of Christ’s life—that is, his death—synonymous with the shedding of blood.

In a letter to the Church from Joseph Smith and fellow Kirtland leaders, the writers explained how the sacrifice of Abel and the commandment of animal sacrifices were shadows and types of the “great sacrifice” of God’s Only Begotten Son. In the letter, the phrase “shedding of blood” is used interchangeably with the notion of sacrificing animal or human life. Joseph wrote that “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.”[12] Later they wrote that “the ordinance or institution of offering blood in sacrifice, was only designed to be performed till Christ was offered up and shed his blood.”[13] This language compares Christ to a sacrificial animal, whose life would be offered up as an emblem of atonement for the sins of God’s people. In these examples, it’s apparent that the phrase “shedding blood” is a euphemism for killing.

Shedding of Blood—Martyrdom

The phrase “blood shed” and its variants are a clear reference to death in many excerpts from The Joseph Smith Papers that refer to martyrdom. Out of the 116 uses of “blood shed” we identified in the Papers, 9 refer to martyrdom; of these 9, 6 are obviously referring to death, particularly the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

Concerning the members of the mob who killed Joseph Smith, an early Church history states that they “have a poor excuse to offer the world, for shedding his [Joseph’s] innocent blood; and no apology to make the Judge of all the earth, at the day of judgment. They have murdered him because they feared his righteousness.”[14] Later the record states that “the eyes of the Lord are upon those who have shed the blood of the Lord’s anointed, and he will judge them with a righteous judgement.”[15] The writers here draw a clear link between the act of shedding blood and the act of murder.

Shedding of Blood—the Unpardonable Sin

The “shedding of innocent blood” was often used to describe “the unpardonable sin” of murder. General references to “blood shed” as murder occur twelve times in the Joseph Smith Papers database, not counting references previously described.[16] Joseph Smith taught that “a murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness.”[17] Elsewhere, he taught that “the unpardonable sin is to shed innocent blood, or be accessory thereto.”[18] In a discourse in 1844, Joseph said, “When you find a spirit that wants bloodshed, murder, the same is not of God, but is of the devil.”[19] It is evident that Joseph did not use “shedding of blood” to mean bodily harm, or to cause one to bleed. His language is clear in implying that to shed blood is to murder.

It is important to note that this figure of speech was not used exclusively by Joseph and his contemporaries. A volume of Church history records an interaction between traveling Church leaders and a Native American chieftain, who said that “the white man has hated us and shed our blood until it has appeared as though their [sic] would soon be no Indian left.”[20] The bloodshed in this instance, as in the examples above, is a direct reference to death.

The One Exception

There are many examples throughout the Joseph Smith Papers database in which the phrase “blood shed” is used ambiguously, with no clear link to death. Out of the 116 usages of the phrase “blood shed,” only 35 specifically denote death. The remainder are used ambiguously to reference violence, war, or persecution. In almost all these instances it is logical and fitting to substitute the idea of “death” into their usages. However, of the 116 references to “blood shed” in the Joseph Smith Papers database, there is one (and only one) instance where “blood shed” is explicitly not a reference to death. An article published in the Times and Seasons in 1842 states, “Some boys insulted a military German company, while training and after dismissed, which finally terminated in a riot of the citizens, in which considerable blood was shed, though we believe no lives were lost.”[21] Though this anomaly shows that “blood shed” does not always equal death, it is a reference to violence. But whether the phrase “blood shed” is a euphemism for death or just refers to violence, it still suggests that the “shedding of Christ’s blood” fits better as a reference to his death than to his suffering in Gethsemane, since the bleeding in Gethsemane was not the result of violence at the hands of another.

Possible Sources of Connections between “Blood Shed” and Gethsemane

Given the consistency with which the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and Joseph’s contemporaries equate the shedding of blood with death, a question naturally arises: “How is it that some Latter-day Saints are more likely to connect the shedding of blood with Gethsemane than with Calvary?” Although a comprehensive answer to this question is beyond the scope of this essay, we offer an initial exploration based on a preliminary review of literature.

Key Works of Literature

Surprisingly, influential Latter-day Saint texts between 1830 and 1980 do not offer any compelling insights into why some twenty-first-century members might associate the phrase “blood shed” more closely with Gethsemane than with Calvary. In his work Mediation and Atonement, John Taylor uses the phrase “blood shed” to refer to death and sacrifice, and he does not link it to Gethsemane. Taylor writes of the act of animal sacrifice, stating that an animal’s “blood shed and its life sacrificed . . . prefigur[ed] the atonement of the Son of God.”[22] Though one could read here a subtle linguistic notion that “blood shed” and “life sacrificed” are two steps in an atoning process, other instances throughout the text affirm that Taylor’s use of “blood shed” referred to death. Concerning Christ’s blood in Gethsemane, Taylor writes of “great drops of blood” and blood that “oozed from His pores” but does not mention the shedding of blood.[23]

Elder James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ uses the phrase “blood shed” only to refer to death, particularly to animal sacrifice and its foreshadowing of Christ’s death. He writes, “The blood of countless altar victims . . . ran . . . in similitude of the blood of the Son of God appointed to be shed as an expiatory sacrifice for the redemption of the race.”[24] Talmage’s attention to Gethsemane does not include the phrase “blood shed,” though he does recognize the “bloody sweat,” referring to it as “torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore.”[25]

The word Gethsemane appears twice in Joseph Fielding Smith’s five volumes of Answers to Gospel Questions, and in neither case is it connected with Christ shedding his blood. On multiple occasions, however, Smith connects shedding of blood with the cross. Consider these quotes: “Jesus Christ . . . redeemed us from eternal death by the shedding of his blood on the cross”[26] and “by the shedding of his blood on the cross he could redeem us.”[27] In Doctrines of Salvation, Smith asserts that Christ’s “greatest suffering was in Gethsemane”[28] but does not connect it with the shedding of blood. However, in these volumes Smith frequently links bloodshed with death.[29]

In his encyclopedic Mormon Doctrine, Bruce R. McConkie quotes Leviticus 17:11 (“The life of the flesh is in the blood”) under four different topics, explaining in each entry that “mortal life ceases when the blood is shed.”[30] McConkie’s definition of “blood shed” clearly references death. There is no entry for Gethsemane—in fact, Gethsemane is only mentioned once in the entire text. Under the entry “Passion of Christ,” McConkie writes that “the sectarian world falsely suppose[s] that the climax of his torture and suffering was on the cross . . . , yet the great pains were endured in the Garden of Gethsemane,” where “he trembled because of pain, and bled at every pore.”[31] Like the other prolific authoritative writers mentioned herein, McConkie affirms Christ’s bleeding in Gethsemane but does not expand the definition of “blood shed” beyond death.

Neither Joseph F. Smith’s Gospel Doctrine nor Spencer W. Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness—both prominent Latter-day Saint texts that helped shape the theology of twentieth-century Latter-day Saints—use the word Gethsemane. References to “blood shed” in these books are to Christ’s death on the cross. Smith writes that just as Joseph Smith sealed his testimony with his “shed blood,” “the blood of Jesus Christ is in force and a binding testimony upon all the world, and it has been from the day it was shed until now.”[32] Kimball similarly provides an unambiguous explanation of how he and his contemporaries conceptualized blood shed: “Surely the crucifixion of the perfect Son of God constituted the shedding of innocent blood.”[33]

The Journal of Discourses and General Conference

The word “bloodshed” and its variants do not collocate with the words “Gethsemane,” “garden,” or “pore” in the Journal of Discourses.[34] In a search for these same word combinations in general conference talks, the first example of a clear connection between Gethsemane and shedding blood comes from Elder Milton R. Hunter in 1960. Elder Hunter said, “Jesus Christ . . . shed his blood for the sins of the world both in Gethsemane and on the cross.”[35]

No similar references were made for more than two decades. This changed with Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s final general conference talk in April 1985, in which he said, “And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world.”[36]

Two years later, in April 1987, Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of both the scourging and Gethsemane as Christ shedding his blood: “The necessary but awesome shedding of Jesus’ blood thus occurred not only in the severe scourging, but earlier in Gethsemane.”[37]

Between 1987 and 2017, there have been eleven other examples of Church leaders connecting the shedding of blood with Gethsemane in a general conference address. As of this writing, the most recent example is the October 2017 address by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, which states, “As we drink the water, we think of the blood He shed in Gethsemane and on the cross and its sanctifying power.”[38]


Context in both scripture and the online corpus of the Joseph Smith Papers indicates that the phrase “shedding blood” is explicitly tied with death on dozens of occasions, and dozens more refer to acts of violence. While more research is needed—for example, a comprehensive analysis of what early Church leaders beyond Joseph Smith taught regarding the shedding of blood—the present study creates a compelling argument that the phrase “shedding of blood” as used in the scriptures and by Joseph Smith is a figure of speech used to refer to violence or death and is not a literal reference to the act of bleeding. Thus, ancient and modern-day references to Christ’s “blood shed” should be primarily linked to His death on the cross.

Why is this finding important? When Jesus appeared to his followers in the Western Hemisphere, he administered the sacrament to them. After giving them wine to drink, he said, “Ye shall do [this] in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you” (3 Nephi 18:11). Similarly, those who bless the sacrament water state that they “bless and sanctify this [water] to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them” (Moroni 5:2, emphasis added; see also Doctrine and Covenants 20:79; 27:2). Using the scriptural context of shedding blood, members who partake of the sacrament are specifically being asked to do so in remembrance of the Savior’s death. Understanding that the sacrament prayers direct us to think of Christ’s Crucifixion provides an important avenue to focus on Jesus during the sacrament. Religious educators can help their students understand the contextual meaning of the phrase “shedding blood” and, as a result, point their students to additional ways to focus on the Savior’s Atonement during the sacrament.

To be clear, we are not suggesting that people should not think about Gethsemane during the sacrament, rather, we are pointing out that when Jesus instituted the sacrament—both in the Old World and the New, as well as in his words in modern times—he connected it with the shedding of his blood—or in other words, his death. Understanding this principle may invite additional understanding into the lives of Latter-day Saints who have heretofore primarily thought of this phrase as a description of Gethsemane. Perhaps this understanding can motivate some to find spiritual strength as they fulfill Jacob’s exhortation to “believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross” (Jacob 1:8; emphasis added).


[1] As shown in this paper, the scriptures and Joseph Smith do not use the phrase “shedding of blood” to refer to Gethsemane. However, in recent years Church leaders have repeatedly linked the phrase “shedding of blood” with both Gethsemane and Calvary. For example, Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught that “as we drink the water, we think of the blood He shed in Gethsemane and on the cross and its sanctifying power.” “The Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven,” Ensign, November 2017, 37.

[2] These verses are as follows: Genesis 9:6; 37:22; Exodus 22:2, 3; Leviticus 17:4; Numbers 35:33; Deuteronomy 19:10; 21:7; 1 Samuel 25:26, 31, 33; 1 Kings 2:5, 31; 2 Kings 21:16; 24:4; 1 Chronicles 22:8; 28:3; Psalms 79:3, 10; 106:38; Proverbs 1:16; 6:17; Isaiah 59:7; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3, 17; Lamentations 4:13; Ezekiel 16:38; 18:10; 22:3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 27; 23:45; 33:25; 35:5; 36:18; Joel 3:19; Matthew 23:35; 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 11:50; 22:20; Acts 22:20; Romans 3:15; Hebrews 9:22; Revelation 16:6; 1 Nephi 4:10; 2 Nephi 1:12; 6:15; 10:6; Jacob 7:24; Omni 1:3, 24; Mosiah 7:25; 9:2; 11:19; 17:10; 20:22; 29:7, 21, 36, 40; Alma 1:13; 20:19; 24:13, 17, 18; 26:24; 27:28; 28:10; 34:13; 35:15; 39:5; 43:14, 47, 54; 44:2; 45:11; 48:11, 14, 16, 23; 51:4; 52:4, 37; 53:11; 55:19; 56:6, 13; 58:28; 60:16; 61:10, 11; 62:35, 39; Helaman 4:1; 6:17; 3 Nephi 3:10; 9:19; 10:12; 18:11; Mormon 1:12; 4:5, 11; 7:4; 8:8; Ether 8:19, 22; 11:10; 13:31; 14:21, 22; Moroni 5:2; 10:33; Doctrine and Covenants 20:79; 27:2; 45:4; 49:21; 58:53; 63:28, 31; 76:69; 87:6; 88:94; 101:80; 109:66; 130:12; 132:19, 26, 27; 136:36; Moses 6:15; 7:16; 7:45.

[3] Specifically we looked at the fifty words before and after each use of “blood” and “shed” collocating. In some instances, we examined additional surrounding words to see additional context.

[4] Given that suffering is sometimes linked with Gethsemane in scripture (see Mosiah 3:7) but also with Jesus’s death (see 1 Nephi 19:10–12; Jacob 1:8; and Helaman 14:20), it cannot be textually established with certainty whether a specific location is intended by the word “sufferings.”

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

[6] The phrase “blood spilt” or “spilling of blood” appears in The Joseph Smith Papers as a parallel to the phrase “blood shed,” used in similar situations and referring exclusively to death and violence. There are thirty instances of “blood” and “spill” collocating in The Joseph Smith Papers. We chose not to include examples of “blood spilt” in our study in order to maintain a primary focus on the term “blood shed.” Within scripture the words “blood” and “spill” collocate four times, appearing to refer to death. For example, in Mosiah 7:24 Limhi says, “Behold how many of our brethren have been slain, and their blood has been spilt in vain” (see also Alma 44:11; 57:9; Doctrine and Covenants 38:4). Additional examination of the phrase “blood spilt” in The Joseph Smith Papers could be the subject of future research.

[7] “Letter from John Corrill, 17 November 1833,” 120, The Joseph Smith Papers,; emphasis added.

[8] “Letter to the Church in Caldwell County, Missouri, 16 December 1838,” 2, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[9]Times and Seasons, 1 September 1842,” 903, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[10] “Letter, Robert D. Foster to Nauvoo City Council, 8 July 1844,” 5, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[11] “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842],” 1137, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[12] “Letter to the Church, circa March 1834,” 143, The Joseph Smith Papers,

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

[14] “History, 1838–1856, volume F-1 [1 May 1844–8 August 1844],” 268, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[15] “History, 1838–1856, volume F-1,” 276,

[16] The citations from this category (Shedding of Blood—the Unpardonable Sin) that link the notions of “blood shed” and “murder” are not double counted in other categories, despite the word “murder” being present in the above categories of “Mob Violence” and “Martyrdom.” We distinguished each category thematically. The examples from the Joseph Smith Papers database that appear in this category are those that did not fit thematically into other categories.

[17] “History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844],” 1921, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[18] “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1 [1 August 1842–1 July 1843],” 1551, The Joseph Smith Papers,

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

[20] “History, 1838–1856, volume E-1,” 1654.

[21]Times and Seasons, 1 September 1842,” 900, The Joseph Smith Papers,

[22] John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1892), 149.

[23] Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, 127, 150.

[24] James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1916), 45.

[25] Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 373, 613.

[26] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957–66), 5:82.

[27] Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:32.

[28] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 1:130.

[29] For example, Joseph Fielding Smith writes, “The sealing of the testimony through the shedding of blood would not have been complete in the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith alone; it required the death of Hyrum Smith” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:219), and “He was nailed to a cross and his blood was shed” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:4).

[30] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 443. The four entries in which McConkie includes the reference to Leviticus and some variation of the phrase “mortal life ceases when the blood is shed” are “Flesh and Blood,” “Life,” “Mortality,” and “Vengeance.”

[31] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 555.

[32] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1919), 211.

[33] Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 119.

[34] Bloodshed and its variants do collocate with death. For example, on April 28, 1861, John Taylor taught, “The people of this nation are evidently bent upon their own destruction, and they are full of enmity, hatred, war, and bloodshed.” In Journal of Discourses, 9:234. On September 11, 1859, Orson Pratt said, “Look abroad among the nations of the earth, and see the spirit of murder and bloodshed that exists in the hearts of millions towards their fellow-men.” In Journal of Discourses, 7:261. In the Journal of Discourses, bloodshed collocates with murder and war dozens of times. In 1874, George Albert Smith equated bloodshed with death when he said, “Vexatious law-suits, mob violence, tar and feathers, and finally, bloodshed were successively adopted in hopes of stopping this religion, and it was believed by those who regarded ‘Mormonism’ as a wild theory, that the death of Joseph would scatter the people and destroy their faith in the work.” In Journal of Discourses, 17:94. We identified many similar examples when death is specifically connected to bloodshed. For example, Brigham Young taught, “Our enemies cry out, ‘bloodshed,’ and ‘oh, what dreadful men these Mormons are, and those Danites! how they slay and kill!’” In Journal of Discourses, 12:30. In 1859, Elder Orson Pratt specifically connected the death of Christ to the shedding of blood, saying, “When could this principle of mercy begin to be exercised? Could it be exercised before the blood of the atonement was shed? Yes. There was the free, voluntary offer of the Son of God to do all this work, and suffer and die for his brethren, before man was placed in the garden: hence, in the mind of God, it was just the same as though it had actually been fulfilled. Therefore he is called a lamb slain, as it were, before the foundation of the world.” In Journal of Discourses, 7:256; emphasis added. In 1887, Franklin D. Richards spoke of the sacrament as “an institution since the crucifixion, since the shedding of His blood.” In Conference Report, October 1887. Numerous other examples from general conference could be used to show connections between the shedding of blood and death.

[35] Milton R. Hunter, in Conference Report, April 1960, 118. In 1953, Elder Hunter said something similar but not quite as explicit, as the phrase “blood that Jesus shed” could refer either to Golgotha or Gethsemane: “It is also my testimony that through the blood that Jesus shed and the sacrifice that he made, he atoned for the sins of those who receive him and keep his commandments; but, on the other hand, as Jesus of Nazareth declared, those who will not receive him and repent and keep his commandments will be required to suffer even as he, the greatest of all, suffered; and his suffering was so intense that it caused him ‘to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.’” In Conference Report, April 1953, 79–80.

[36] Bruce R. McConkie, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” Ensign, May 1985, 11.

[37] Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Overcome . . . Even as I Also Overcame,’” Ensign, May 1987, 72.

[38] Christofferson, “Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven,” 37.