38 Blood Atonement of Christ

Blood Atonement: Jesus Christ is the Source

CES Letter Core Question

Brigham Young and several early church leaders taught that some sins required a voluntary shedding of ones blood to fully atone for them. Was this an incorrect teaching?

Blood Atonement

Along with Adam-God, Brigham taught a doctrine known as “Blood Atonement” where a person’s blood had to be shed to atone for their own sins as it was beyond the atonement of Jesus Christ.

There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world.

I know, when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people off from the earth, that you consider it is strong doctrine; but it is to save them, not to destroy them...

And furthermore, I know that there are transgressors, who, if they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can obtain forgiveness, would beg of their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God as an offering to appease the wrath that is kindled against them, and that the law might have its course. I will say further;

I have had men come to me and offer their lives to atone for their sins. It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet men can commit sins which it can never remit...There are sins that can be atoned for by an offering upon an altar, as in ancient days; and there are sins that the blood of a lamb, or a calf, or of turtle dove, cannot remit, but they must be atoned for by the blood of the man.

UPDATE: The Church now confirms in its Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints essay that Blood Atonement was taught by the prophet Brigham Young.

As with the Adam-God theory, the Blood Atonement doctrine was later declared false by subsequent prophets and apostles.

Yesterday’s doctrine is today’s false doctrine. Yesterday’s prophet is today’s heretic.


CES Letter, Pages 62-63

The Atonement of Christ is Our Central Doctrine

The atonement of Jesus Christ is the most central doctrine in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. . . wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:69).

  • Through the Savior’s sacrifice, the power of death was destroyed, and all mankind receive the blessing of restoration to immortality that they can die no more.
  • The Bible refers to situations where there is no sacrifice for sin:

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:9-10; Mark 3:29)

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins…He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26, 28-29)

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. (1 John 5:16-17)

  • 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.
  • The Deseret News reported the following on June 17, 2010, reporting the Church's recent statement on the subject of Blood Atonement:

In the mid-19th century, when rhetorical, emotional oratory was common, some church members and leaders used strong language that included notions of people making restitution for their sins by giving up their own lives.

However, so-called "blood atonement," by which individuals would be required to shed their own blood to pay for their sins, is not a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe in and teach the infinite and all-encompassing atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes forgiveness of sin and salvation possible for all people.


Additional Resources:

“Dead Men Tell No Tales!”: The Blood Atonement Balance Sheet by McKay V. Jones

FairMormon on Blood Atonement

Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints

Blood Atonement - The Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Mormon church statement on blood atonement | Deseret News