Indeed the Atonement of the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh is the crucial foundation upon which all Christian doctrine rests and the greatest expression of divine love this world has ever been given. Its importance in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be overstated. Every other principle, commandment, and virtue of the restored gospel draws its significance from this pivotal event.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland – The Atonement of Jesus Christ – Ensign, March 2008
One of the most significant pericopes in all of scripture is that which is recorded in the Gospels. And that is where Christ finds himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. Its significance helps us understand the nature of our Heavenly Father’s love, the devotion our Lord and Savior has in fulfilling his ministry, and the depth of suffering Christ faced in the coming days that led up to His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. In one article: The Suffering Servant: Christ in Gethsemane and its Significance to the Cross, I briefly address the importance this pericope has on our understanding. Another article: Having A Gethsemane Experience toward Spiritual Transformation I provide an in-depth commentary on the spiritual application this pericope has in our lives as we face our own sufferings, adversities, and move toward a richer and more meaningful spiritual transformation. Discussion on the symbolism of the Garden itself, how it plays in the way the olives are crushed to produce the necessary oils used, and the humility of surrendering our will and desire over to the care of our Heavenly Father.
However, I was recently asked by some to write up a response to an article written by Paul Gee – a pedestrian Christian Apologist who appears to misrepresent teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He published an article dated April 25, 2022. His article, entitled: False Versus True Gospel, as an attempt to dismiss the Restored Gospel’s teaching on the significance and importance of the Garden of Gethsemane. He writes:
It is important to know the truths of the gospel message in order to not believe in a false gospel unknowingly. For this reason, we will put the true gospel in Christianity versus the false gospel in Mormonism side by side. See for yourself how Mormonism is not of God, for it undermines the importance of the gospel and the atonement by adding Gethsemane to the mix…..
Paul Gee opens up with the logical fallacy of begging the question regarding what he attempts to convey to his readers. The presumption he begins with is that the teachings of the Latter-day Saint Christian Faith is already presumed to be false compared to what he perceives to be true Christianity. He even presumes that the readers will stand in agreement with his conclusion; on how the Restored Gospel is not of God and how it undermines the importance of the gospel and the atonement by adding Gethsemane to the mix. This latter presumption of his is a cognitive distortion known as mind reading. He appears to already read the minds of those who peruse his article to draw the same conclusion he is already presenting – with little to no evidence to base such cognition on.
Based on this – the takeaway from Paul Gee’s article appears to be a contrast and comparison between what he perceives to be the Gospel and Atonement from a Christian perspective with that of the Restored Gospel perspective. Another take away is how Paul establishes his argument as a means to support his perspective and understanding first, and then uses that to break down his presumed understanding of the Restored Gospel (as already deemed false). In essence – it appears he establishes a strawman argument in a reverse order. He also quotes specific passages in each section as a means to bolster his position and already drawn conclusion.
The Atonement According to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ
One of the best definitions of how the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ presents an understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is with the words of Jeffrey R. Holland:
The literal meaning of the English word Atonement is self-evident: at-one-ment, the bringing together of things that have been separated or estranged. The Atonement of Jesus Christ was indispensable because of the separating transgression, or Fall, of Adam, which brought two kinds of death into the world when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Physical death brought the separation of the spirit from the body, and spiritual death brought the estrangement of both the spirit and the body from God. As a result of the Fall, all persons born into mortality would suffer these two kinds of death. But we must remember the Fall was an essential part of Heavenly Father’s divine plan. Without it no mortal children would have been born to Adam and Eve, and there would have been no human family to experience opposition and growth, moral agency, and the joy of resurrection, redemption, and eternal life.Ensign, March 2008: The Atonement of Jesus Christ
In his wonderful work – The Infinite Atonement – Tad R. Callister writes the following regarding how the atonement is at the heart of the Gospel:
The Atonement is not just a prime teaching of the gospel; it is the heart of the gospel. It infuses life into every doctrine, every principle, and every ordinance, transforming what might otherwise be a lofty but nonetheless lifeless ideal, to a vibrant spiritual truth. So essential is the Atonement to a purposeful life that on occasion it is referred to as “the gospel”. While expounding to the Nephites the Savior confirmed this: “This is the gospel … that I came into the world to do the will of my Father … And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the Cross” (3 Nephi 27:13-14). This same doctrine was audibly declared from the heaves to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “This is the gospel, the glad tidings … that he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world” (D&C 76:40-41). The LDS Bible Dictionary defines the gospel as “good news” and then adds, “The good news is that Jesus Christ had made a perfect atonement.”Callister: The Infinite Atonement, p. 8; Deseret Book; 2000
Since the Atonement is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – it is also the heart of the plan of salvation whereby we are brought unto eternal life and immortality. And to understand the nature of the Atonement, we do well to consider the nature of its rich and deeply rooted symbolism associated with the Old Testament and the sacrifice the Jews were required to provide.
Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement
One of the holiest days of celebration within Judaism is the observance of the Sabbaths of Sabbath. This is known as Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement. We find this recorded in Leviticus 16:30 (cf. Leviticus 16):
For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before Adonai from all your sins.
Prior to verse 30, the ritual requirement was for Aaron to bathe himself first, put on the Holy Temple Garments, and take two goats and one young bull. He is to sacrifice the bull accordingly as a sin offering and atonement for himself and his household, while he casts lots to which goat will be consecrated and sacrificed to YHWH while the other will be consecrated as a sin offering and atonement and sent out (known as the scapegoat).
This ritual was practiced up until the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Today, Jews continue to celebrate Yom Kippur differently as it is a time of reflection, seeking forgiveness, and making personal sacrifices in observance of it as a sabbath time.
What we draw significance from is that this is the Holiest Day established by YHWH as a promised messianic observance. And when we read the ritual Aaron was to preform (or the High Priest preforms) is that the Goat who is consecrated unto the LORD and the Goat that is sent away – both have the sins of the Nation of Israel transferred unto them. This is what we see happening in the Garden of Gethsemane – Christ taking upon himself the sins of humanity, the consequences of the fall, the physical and spiritual death that all humanity has, will, and eventually experience. He is pressed down with the weight of responsibility to be our scapegoat and therefore submits to the will of the Father in humility to bear our sins. This takes place before the actual sacrifice. Namely – Christ took upon himself our sins and transgressions and carried them upon his shoulders and then eventually was placed on the Cross at Calvary.
This does not mean that the pericope of the Gethsemane experience our Savior endured is more important than the events that transpired on him suffering on the cross. It means that both places – Christ suffered significantly and both events are integral of the atonement of Christ (See, Atoning Crucifixion – John Hilton III – Podcast Episode).
Understanding the Misunderstandings and Correcting our own Perceptions and Doctrine
What one may encounter is some truth where certain leaders, and even lay members, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have placed the episode of the Garden of Gethsemane over the suffering of the Cross and the crucifixion. To that, we ought to do well in fully understanding the nature and significance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in its entirety.
As previously stated, the Garden and the Cross are integral components to the full pericope of the infinite atonement. It is in the Garden Christ suffered, took upon him the sins of the world as the scapegoat, and carried them to the cross to complete the work given. And it is through the power and authority of Christ that he rose again the Third day – being the first fruits of the resurrection.
And while our critics appear to misinterpret and misunderstand some of our teachings – nothing is more significant than Latter-day Saint Christians holding to our own false and misunderstandings of the Atonement of Christ. And it is in this vein of reasoning we find some aspects of how our critics may appear to present some truth – comingled with some misrepresentations and misunderstandings of their own.
As Paul Gee points out – from his perspective and worldview – Christianity views the Atonement as the Gospel of Christ where the focus is:
True Gospel in Detail = Jesus died for our sins on the cross, was buried, and rose from the grave. We only learn from scripture that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. The Bible doesn’t teach us anything else. No person in the faith would teach something as to take away or diminish from the message of the cross. And adding Gethsemane to the gospel does this.
“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 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.” (Colossians 2:13,14)
Cross: This is the location for the penalty of our sins. No other place was ever mentioned in scripture. To make mention of anywhere else would undermine the Bible, which is God’s Word. For this reason, we contend for the faith and help people know the true gospel.
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:3,4)
His presumption and misunderstanding of the Restored Gospel rests upon this perspective:
False Gospel = Gethsemane, Cross, Burial, and Resurrection. This is not only a different gospel but an addition to the atonement. Where the Bible is clear that the atonement only took place on the cross. Notice how an angel of light can come down and declare this false gospel to someone. Isn’t this a coincidence that an angel of light came to Joseph Smith with this message?
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
False Gospel In Detail = Jesus started the payment of sins in Gethsemane and finished it on the cross. He was then buried and rose from the grave. Nowhere is this taught in the Bible. You only hear this in the Mormon faith and no other church but maybe breakoffs from this cult. They say this new gospel is true because of their so-called modern-day revelations, which are not of God.
“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)
Gethsemane + Cross: The moment the evil prophets of Mormonism added Gethsemane to the atonement, they began to deceive millions of people into following a false gospel. This goes against God and the purpose of Jesus coming into the world to die for our sins.
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:6-8)
The only falsehood perpetrated here is the lack of understanding the integral part and role the pericope of Gethsemane plays within the full aspect of the infinite atonement. This does not mean that the garden played a better role than the cross, the death, and eventual resurrection. It means that the bridge between mortality and immortality and eternal life begins in the Garden, carried to the Cross as the climax, and the culmination of fulfillment of the Plan of Salvation where Christ rose from the grave after three days. It is fitting in this sense to understand the deep meaning when Christ said – It is finished. Meaning, he has completed the mission and work the father had sent him to do. He provided the necessary sacrifice and atonement so that we may experience eternal life with our Heavenly Father.
And there is no other gospel – except what one gives themselves over to studying to understand. Neither is the infinite atonement a false Gospel in Latter-day Thought. Some may misunderstand such a teaching; however, the truth stands that the Infinite Atonement is at the heart of the Gospel Message and that is Jesus Christ. And it is the reason there needed to be a restoration of what the heart of the message is – to convince each one of us that Jesus is the Christ, son of the Living God – whereby all men receive redemption and salvation unto eternal and immortality.