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Last Update:  5/2014

1 Corinthians 1:17-18 "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.  For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."

1 Corinthians 2:2 "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

Galatians 6:14 "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."

Colossians 1:20 "And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself..."

Ephesians 2:16 "And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross..."

The Cross

The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity as its meaning is central to the Gospel message.  How could the very place where Jesus was brutally tortured in a slow and painful death be viewed as a symbol of good news and hope for Christians?  As Paul Little states, "One the surface, Jesus Christ dying an undeserved, cruel death on a cross seems flagrantly inappropriate, to say the least - bizarre, if nothing else.  Unless, that is, we grasp two fixed truths:

  • the extent of God's love that designed the cross

  • our assured need for forgiveness

When we fully understand it, the cross is good news.  It can be rightfully called God's magnificent design" (Paul Little, Know Who You Believe, p.55).

In this section many topics regarding the cross are discussed with regard to how Christians and Mormons view the cross. 

The Cross or Gethsemane?

Mormon doctrine teaches Jesus died on the cross but atoned for sin in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In the April 2004 General Conference, Mormon Apostle M. Russell Ballard confirms this doctrine by stating:

"Thankfully, Jesus Christ courageously fulfilled this sacrifice in ancient Jerusalem. There in the quiet isolation of the Garden of Gethsemane, He knelt among the gnarled olive trees, and in some incredible way that none of us can fully comprehend, the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world" (M. Russell Ballard, "The Atonement and the Value of One Soul," Ensign, May 2004).

The reference they use to support this claim is the only reference of its kind in the entire Bible so let’s examine the verse as well as the gospel to see just where the atonement took place.

Luke 22:44 states, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

To put it into perspective, the atonement is the most important event in the history of humanity.  So understanding what the gospel teaches us about this event is extremely important with which the Bible provides great clarity into this question.

Luke is the only of the three synoptic gospels (or any New Testament gospel for that matter) which mentions Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in a manner which could even be portrayed in a redemptive sense.  Would it not make sense if the most important historical event in human history (the atonement) took place in the Garden of Gethsemane there would be more than a single reference to it in the Bible?

Figure of Speech or Literally Sweating Blood?

This verse does not explicitly say Jesus was sweating blood, but "his sweat was as it were [like] great drops of blood... ."  The phrase "as it were" is a figure of speech intended to magnify the effect so the reader can better visualize the tremendous stress and anguish set before Jesus.  Any further interpretation of this verse is just not supported by scripture.  Doctrines, especially one as important as the atonement, must be firmly built on sound biblical principles and supported throughout scripture and not a single verse requiring mental gymnastics.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed as was under a tremendous amount of stress and anguish because He knew what events were to transpire in short time (John 18:4).  He knew He was to be tortured and slowly die on the cross, which was among the most horrific and excruciating methods of execution at the time.  The prophetic words of Isaiah centuries before were He would be flogged and beaten so horrifically He would be disfigured and humanly unrecognizable (Isaiah 52:14).  This is one of the reasons why He earnestly prayed to the Father to let this cup pass from Him.

The other reason, and perhaps most important, was because Jesus did not want to be separated from the Father’s bosom.  He had never been separated from the Father and soon the Father would turn from the Son and forsake Him.  Why? Well it was not because the Father did not want to see His Son suffering.  It was because the Son, who knew no sin, was about to become sin for us, which the Father cannot allow in His presence.

In Luke 22:42, Jesus prays to the Father to "remove this cup," which is an obvious reference to the atoning sacrifice which was soon to take place.  Doctrine and Covenants 19:18 similarly references Jesus partaking "the bitter cup" in the Garden of Gethsemane as an obvious reference to the atonement.  Now here is the big issue.  When Jesus was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (after the prayer was completed, which according to Mormonism is when the atonement occurred), Peter cut of the ear of Malchus, the high priest's servant.  Jesus told Peter "... Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" Jesus obviously indicates here the metaphorical drinking of the cup, representing the atonement, is something which is still to take place.  Just like the dozens of other supporting references in the Bible, this clearly demonstrates the atonement was not in the Garden of Gethsemane, but on the Cross at Calvary.

Forgiveness of Sin: Shedding of Blood, not Sweating of Blood

Forgiveness of sins has always required a blood sacrifice all of which pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  This is evidenced from the very first sin in the Garden of Eden where God made coats of skins from an animal sacrifice to cover Adam and Eve which they were clothed with.  This is the first of many foreshadows in the Bible to the “once for all” sacrifice of Jesus Christ who clothes us in His righteousness through believing in Him alone for our eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Another great example is the Passover in Exodus 12 where the blood of the lamb was to be put on the doorway which was the identification for death to pass over that particular home.

Hebrews 9:22 states, “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”  It is clear here for the remission of sin, shedding of blood (not sweating of blood) must take place.  Shedding of blood requires death, and since the Law of Moses required continuous animal sacrifice for forgiveness (Leviticus 17:11), this was deemed imperfect.  A more perfect sacrifice would be everlasting was required by a spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ.  The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf made effective a new covenant written in our hearts and was the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices to receive a perfect forgiveness to those who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:1-18).

This is how serious God’s wrath against sin is; He sent His only Son to die on the cross so we may be reconciled to Him.  This is why if there were a law which could have been put in place to give eternal life it would have been implemented (Galatians 3:21).  Our works, moral effort, and obedience to laws and ordinances do not reconcile us to God and they never will.  Only by placing our complete trust in the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us can reconcile us to God.  Because we know we have eternal life through the finished work on the cross by Jesus Christ alone, our faith is demonstrated by our works.  Therefore, the motivation is selflessly for the love of Christ so we may not boast in our own efforts and works to earn this free gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:27, 4:2).  God does not want our works, He wants our hearts.  He wants the fellowship and personal relationship restored He once shared with Adam before the fall.  Our works, obedience and moral effort do not change our hearts because if they did then the Pharisee's would have been accepted and declared righteous by Jesus, yet he rebuked them because although they followed the law, this only developed a self-righteous and prideful heart.

Why Can’t God just forgive us?

Well why did Jesus have to die on the cross for us to be forgiven?  Why couldn’t God just forgive our sins?  If God could simply just forgive our sins, He would become an abomination as Proverbs 17:15 states.  Can a judge forgive a murderer letting him walk free?  I suppose, but then he would no longer be just because the demands of justice were not satisfied.  God though, is a just judge who will apply justice and pour out His wrath upon us.  He is a just God and cannot simply forgive.  If God would declare the sinner to be righteous without satisfying the demands of justice He would be an abomination.

The law of God is the fine has to be paid by the death of the sinner.  Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death.  Blood is symbolically and literally tied to life.  Therefore, the payment for sin is the blood (life) of the sinner.  All sin demands the death penalty according to the word of God.  Since we are all in sin (Romans 3:10, 5:12), all should be put to death and cast into hell because there is no law that brings righteousness (Galatians 3:21).  The only way for us to be forgiven is if the One who created the law and demands fulfillment of the law comes down Himself to pay the fine. 

Only God can pay the price of justice and He became human in the flesh of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 3:16) becoming the ultimate sacrifice taking on our sin so we could be declared righteous.  So when we are “saved” there is more going on than just being forgiven by God.  We are “saved” from the wrath of God through the propitiatory payment (complete and satisfactory) by Jesus Christ.  His perfect record of righteousness is credited to our account so when God sees us, He sees the record of Christ.  This is why the Christian who understands the depths of the grace God has freely given to us has a completely selfless love for Jesus Christ because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us so we can be forever reconciled to God (Romans 5:8-10).  This is why the Bible was written and what it is all about; the meaning of the cross.

What does the Bible say about the Atonement and where it took place?

The Bible does explicitly clarify in several areas where the atonement took place because of the importance.

1 Peter 2:24 “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

Does this verse state Jesus atoned for sin on the tree (cross) or in the Garden of Gethsemane?  Did Jesus receive stripes (wounds) by which we are healed on the cross or in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Colossians 2:14 “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;”

The demands of justice from the handwriting of ordinances (the law) that convicted us Jesus forever paid for and nailed them to the cross.

Colossians 1:20-22 “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:”

Jesus made peace or atoned (paid the penalty of sin) for us through His blood shed on the cross as this verse plainly states and not in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We are also reconciled with God and presented holy without sin in God's sight because of what Jesus accomplished and not our works and obedience to laws.

Hebrews 12:2 “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Are you seeing what God is trying to tell us over and over again throughout the Bible?  The cross is the message and where Jesus Christ sacrificed His life so we may be reconciled to God.  This verse, like all the other's show us the cross is where the atonement took place.  If it were the Garden of Gethsemane it would have said Jesus endured the Gethsemane, but it doesn't.

1 Corinthians 1:23 “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;”

Mormons do not preach the message of the cross as it is confusing (a stumbling block) and foolish in the way Christianity views and preaches the message of the cross.

1 Corinthians 2:2 “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

Mormons do not like to think about Christ crucified nor understand the meaning and what it coupled with the Jesus' resurrection accomplishes for all who place their faith in Christ alone - eternal life.

Ephesians 2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:”

We are brought close (reconciled) to God by the shed blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary.  He broke down the wall (the law) that separated the Jew and the Gentile.  The veil has been torn in two so both can now have direct access to God through a personal relationship with Christ.  Again, we see Jesus Christ abolishes the law of commandments in ordinances making peace between us and God by the cross and not by praying/sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane!

In Mormonism, you cannot have a personal relationship with Christ for two reasons:

    1.  The channels of communication do not allow for you to have a personal relationship with Christ as the line goes                              God to Prophet to Members.

    2.  Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated in a BYU devotional speech in 1982 a personal relationship with Christ "is both                improper and perilous" (Bruce R. McConkie, BYU Devotional, "Our Personal Relationship with the Lord," 1982).

1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”

Jesus Christ suffered to pay for our sin; the just (Christ) for the unjust (humanity).  Why?  He did it not to just merely resurrect us from the grave so eternal life is based on our works; He did it to bring us to God.

Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

The old me, a slave to sin, is put to death as I am crucified with Christ.  It is not me that lives, but Christ within me.  Paul says this because the love Christ showed by His sacrifice, being the only one God would accept, makes me perfect and sinless reconciling me with God.  If the atonement took place in the Garden of Gethsemane then Paul and Peter are wrong many times over.

Isaiah 53:5 “But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Was Jesus wounded (pierced) and bruised in Gethsemane or on the cross?

Romans 5:10-11 “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. And not only [so], but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”

This shows we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son even as we were enemies to Him because of our sin.  There is so much more the love of God is demonstrated in this verse though.   If he loves His enemies this much, then how much more does He love his children who have been reconciled to Him?  Paul tells us we are saved by His life.  God’s righteous wrath is forever turned from believers as our sin was paid for by the death of Christ on the cross.  Paul stresses the point this reconciliation/salvation we have now in God is through Jesus Christ alone and absent anything we have to offer.

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

Christ became sin for us because a perfect, holy and sinless sacrifice was the only payment God would accept to turn away His righteous wrath.  When we believe in Christ this perfect righteousness of Christ is credited to our account so God sees us a holy and clean.  This is why Christian's sing songs of amazing grace, because Christ did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

In the process of the substitutionary atonement, Jesus became an enemy of God as he took upon our sins and became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).  Jesus had never known what separation from the Father was like, but in Matthew 27:46 He said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Jesus not only had to experience the absence of the Father’s fellowship, but also took upon the Father’s wrath through his vicarious atonement for us.  This is the only time Jesus referred to God as "God," and not "Father," which shows Jesus’ separation from the Father was due to taking on the sins of the world.  And where did this take place?  On the cross!

In John 19:30, Jesus said, “it is finished” just before He died.  Well, what was finished?  What was finished was the largest and most important transaction which has ever occurred.  God had placed all the sins of the world, past, present and future, on Jesus who vicariously bore the sins and completely satisfied God’s wrath against humanity (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 3:5, 4:10).  Jesus ripped the pages from our book of life and inserted His pages so when God sees us, He sees us as righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus Christ’s redemptive work for us was complete.  This means God will never pour out His wrath upon those who believe because Jesus drank it from the cup.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Even the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants agree Jesus' death on the cross was where Jesus atoned for the sins of the world.

1 Nephi 11:33 “And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.”

D&C 35:2 “I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world...”

There is not a single reference to the atonement taking place in the Garden of Gethsemane within the Book of Mormon.

The Cross of Christ

1 Corinthians 1:17-18 “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.  For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

Paul admonishes the Corinthian Christians he did not preach the gospel with wisdom of words (with eloquence or cleverness), if so, then the cross of Christ, which is the core message of the gospel, would be ineffective.  Why would he say the cross of Christ instead of the prayer and bleeding of Christ in Gethsemane if that is where the atonement took place?  Then Paul makes a very powerful statement by saying the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to those who are saved.  Paul is saying the people who are foolish (spiritually blind) do not believe or trust Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone saves us, but those who do trust in this alone for salvation, it is the power of God.  This shows you just how important the message of the cross was to Paul.  It is the message and the heart of the gospel.  Paul cannot preach the gospel without preaching the message of the cross, that is, trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross and not our own works to have eternal life.  Sermons on maintaining high morals, works, or obedience to laws is not preaching the gospel according to Paul.  Interestingly, these are the very topics the vast majority of assigned talks are in the LDS church.

Galatians 6:14 “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

Paul says here he glories in nothing (not the Garden of Gethsemane, baptism, temples, ordinances, obedience to laws, works, moral effort, wealth, power, status, etc.) except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  What exactly is meant when he says he glories only in the cross?  Paul is calling to our attention the work Christ did on the cross - we are declared righteous (justified) before God based on the work Jesus did on the cross and nothing else.  When we try to earn our own righteousness from God based on our own works, efforts, and obedience, we reject Jesus Christ’s work on the cross.  Attempting to earn our salvation from God would give us reason to glory (boast) in our own efforts which places the glory somewhere else besides where it alone should reside, in Jesus Christ.

There are many verses in the gospel which clearly indicate the atonement took place on the cross.  As you read and study the gospel as a whole this message becomes crystal clear as even more of God’s word alludes to this fact.

For the Christian, the cross represents the redemptive work Christ performed vicariously for us because there was nothing we could do to earn eternal life as we were dead (no just weakened) in our sins (Ephesians 2:5).  The cross stands for the triumph over sin and defeating death while being made alive in Christ.  The cross represents the intersection of God’s justice and mercy; the very place where God chose to save humanity.  Thought it should be important to recognize what the cross means and symbolizes, yet Christ alone is the object of a Christian’s worship and nothing else.

Mormon view of the Cross

Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley stated the following regarding the LDS church not using the cross as a symbol of their faith:

"...for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ...And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith" ("The Symbol of Our Faith," Ensign, April 2005).

Mormons typically shun the cross as they feel it only represented the suffering and death of Jesus, because according to Mormon doctrine, the real atonement mainly took place in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Actually, the cross was not shunned by the Mormon Church until President David O. McKay established a no-cross policy back in 1957. This decision was formed from his anti-Catholic stance based on his time spent as President of the European Mission1.  Before this, it was actually a symbol used and worn by many Mormons.

Mormons will say they would rather celebrate Jesus’ life rather than his death, but it was by the shed blood (which requires death) of Jesus Christ that reconciles us to God.  Remember, an empty cross represents a resurrected Christ.  Jesus defeated death on the cross by His resurrection and all who believe in His sacrifice alone will have eternal life with Him.  Paraphrasing Shawn McCraney:  Can there be a greater false doctrinal teaching than to remove our focus from the very place where Jesus reconciles us to God, the cross, shunning and exchanging the symbol and meaning for a focus on a gold angel, a prophet, a church and obedience to a mountain of laws and ordinances one must follow to qualify for eternal life?  This belief strips Jesus of His deity, glory and redemptive work on the cross as Mormons believe the atonement only guarantees everyone a resurrection and access to eternity with God is based on works and obedience to Mormon laws and ordinances (3rd Article of Faith).  This is the very definition of legalism, which is what Jesus and His Apostles spoke out against throughout the entire New Testament (especially Galatians).

Virtually all Christian churches have a cross somewhere on the building or inside the building because of the importance of its message.  Recall, the Apostle Paul gloried only in the cross (Galatians 6:14) and was sent to preach the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).  Mormon churches and temples do not have crosses on them or in them.  However, all Mormon temples do have a gold image of the angel Moroni perched atop every temple, along with many Masonic signs and symbols pictured on exterior walls.

I remember asking the missionaries about the cross before I joined and why the Mormon Church does not use them and their response was “If Jesus was killed by a gun would you wear a gun around your neck?”  Looking back on this I realize the Mormon understanding of the cross is a mile wide and an inch deep.  Mormons make a statement like this at the same time they are wearing their temple garments with the Masonic compass and square on the breasts and level on the navel.  It really makes me think of 1 Corinthians 1:18 which says, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness…”  A person who has not been spiritually regenerated will never understand the message and meaning of the cross.

Satan will do whatever he can to keep people away from the word of God.  That even means having good people read and believe “another gospel” like Paul warns us about (Galatians 1:6-9).  Satan will appear as an angel of light and his ministers will appear as ministers of righteousness to deceive us (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-14).  Remember, the angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to the Book of Mormon and he was referred to as the “angel of light” in the pre-1979 introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, because all the work He asks us to do is have faith on His sacrifice (John 6:29).  This is because Jesus Christ already did all the work on the cross necessary for us to have eternal life with Him and why he states to us His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  This is why we can have liberty and peace in the knowledge our eternal salvation is already secure (1 John 5:13).  The message of the gospel is clear in this manner if you will open your heart, read it and study it.  It is the power unto salvation.  Christ alone has the perfect sinless record God requires to turn His wrath from us and this record was credited to us as a gift to all those who believe on His shed blood (Romans 5:15-18, 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21, 9:15; Ephesians 2:8)

1Article in Salt Lake Tribune, May 1, 2009: