Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Atonement, revisited

Posted by cherylem on March 24, 2008

Here is my Easter lesson for 2008. I know we have talked about the atonement here before, and if anyone can find the link feel free to post it here:

It is interesting to think about how BOM writers, who certainly had never heard of any “atonement theories,” understood this concept.


Based on two lectures by Robert L. Millet.

The Atonement and the Fall are a package deal – you can’t teach one without the other in the Book of Mormon

The word atonement gained widespread use in the sixteenth century after William Tyndale recognized that there was not a direct translation of the concept into English. In order to explain the doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice, which accomplished both the remission of sin and reconciliation of man to God, Tyndale invented a word that would encompass both actions. He wanted to overcome the inherent limitations of the word “reconciliation” while incorporating the aspects of “propitiation” and forgiveness. It is interesting to note that while Tyndale labored to translate the 1526 English Bible, his proposed word comprises two parts, ‘at’ and ‘onement,’ which also means reconciliation, but combines it with something more. Although one thinks of the Jewish Fast of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the Hebrew word is ‘kaper’ meaning ‘a covering’, so one can see that ‘reconciliation’ doesn’t precisely contain all the necessary components of the word atonement. Expiation means “to atone for.” Reconciliation comes from Latin roots re, meaning “again”; con, meaning “with”; and ultimately, ‘sol’, a root meaning “seat”. Reconciliation, therefore, literally means “to sit again with.” While this meaning may appear sufficient, Tyndale thought that if translated as “reconciliation,” there would be a pervasive misunderstanding of the word’s deeper significance to not just reconcile, but “to cover,” so the word was invented.

Throughout the centuries, there has been some confusion regarding exactly what the atonement of Jesus Christ is and does. Various theories have been put forth over the centuries, including such theories as a ransom to Satan, satisfaction theory, penal substitution, and moral influence.

What does the Book of Mormon teach regarding the atonement?

B. H. Roberts (Brigham Henry Roberts: 1857-1933). Truman G. Madsen: BH Roberts: The Book of Mormon and the Atonement, in The Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 297-314.

Less than a year after B. H. Roberts returned from presiding over the Eastern States Mission, he was asked by an editor of a national magazine, “Why does Mormonism appeal to you?” He sat down and wrote the following nine-point list:
1. Its views of God,
2. Its views of man,
3. Its views of creation and the universe,
4. Its views of the purpose of life,
5. Its views of the atonement of the Christ,
6. Its views of the gospel as a means of man’s salvation,
7. The grandeur and consistency of its development as the dispensation of the fulness of times, the completion of the plans of God with reference to the redemption of the earth and the salvation of man, and finally,
8. Its views of the physical resurrection and the
9. future degrees of glory to which man will be assigned as the outcome of his earth life.

“The fundamental principles of our religions are the testimonies of the apostles and the prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that he died and was buried and rose again the third day and ascended into heaven, and all other things that pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (Prophet Joseph Smith)

“This truth is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Mediator” Ensign, May 1977)

“I am deeply concerned about what we are doing to teach the saints, at all levels, the gospel of Jesus Christ as completely and authoritatively as do the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. By this I mean teaching the great plan of the eternal God, to use the words of Amulek. Let me ask this question. Are we using the messages and the method of teaching found in the Book of Mormon, and other scriptures of the restoration, to teach this great plan of the eternal God?” – President Ezra Taft Benson April 1987 General Conference (See Alma 34:9)

Alma 22:7-16

Robert L. Millet, Dean of Religious Studies, BYU:

“I would challenge you to try to find many places in the Book of Mormon where the doctrine of atonement is taught, that the doctrine of fall is not taught, either directly or by implication.

“Adam and Eve went into the garden to . . . fall.

“Ours is an optimistic view. . . We do not believe, therefore, that as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve, that type of original sin entails upon the posterity of Adam and Eve. We do not believe, with Catholic or Protestant thinkers, that men and women are depraved by nature, or that they do not even have the capacity to chose good.

“What went on in Eden was not a travesty or tragedy, but was part of the plan. . . ”

Discuss: So – do we have to worry about the fall? What are the consequences of the fall?

1 Nephi 10:4-6 What does it mean to be lost?
The doctrine of the fall teaches us who we are, what we are, and what we may become.

Small digression:
Moses 6:53-55 This is Joseph Smith’s vision, of Moses’ vision, of Enoch’s vision, of Adam.
The transgression in Eden is forgiven.
Children are born innocent – they stay innocent via the atonement (see below)
“Conceived in sin” = brought forth into a sinful world
= the effects of sin are passed on.
Fallen nature = mortality. The effect of the fall = mortality/separation from God

2 Neph 2:19-21 Lehi to Jacob.
“lost” does not equal “depraved.” Rather there is an alienation, spiritual death . . . a seeking for a reconciliation.

Ether 3:2 “nevertheless”
2 Neph 4 Psalm of Nephi
fall and atonement a common thread through the prayers

Mosiah 3:16 Why are little children innocent? Because . . . of the atonement of Christ. By nature,
children fall; the atonement of Christ covers their sins.
Mosiah 3:17-18 name = our family name, the name of life.
How do we become like little children? We seek/permit/rejoice in having our sins
covered by the atonement – and then we seek for the qualities of the ideal child to the
ideal parent.

Mosiah 3:19 “natural man” = the man [or woman] produced by the natural birth (see Alma 41:10-11)

2 Nephi 2:22-25 ff fall/atonement
Mosiah 16:1-5 “persist in carnal nature” = a choice not to be changed.
Do these adjectives apply to the very very wicked only?

The fall is both personal and global.
The fall of man through Adam.
The fall of me.

Alma 42:5-10 the probationary time

What does it mean to say “I know the gospel is true?” = the church???
How would you answer the question, what is the gospel? (How can the BOM contain the fullness of the gospel when it doesn’t refer to eternal marriage, degrees of glory, has only a passing reference to premortal existence? How can it contain the fullness of the gospel?
3 Nephi 27: what should the church be called?
1) his name, but anyone can so call the church
2) built upon this gospel
3 Nephi 27:13 The GOSPEL
3 Nephi 27:14 “lifted up”

What is the nature of Christ’s atonement?
2 Nephi 9:4-6 v. 4 = Job
fall/atonement – what kind of atonement? Infinite
Why infinite? “corruption could not put on incorruption” – our bodies, and all
created things.
Timeless – “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” – takes affect from the
very beginning of creation.

Alma 39:17-19 The issue is not when, but that he comes/is come/came
Alma 34:13-14 Atonement is infinite and eternal because Christ is infinite and eternal (see also D&C

2 Nephi 9:8-9 What if there is no resurrection? Why would we be “subject to the devil?” (See 1 Cor. 15:12-16)
If there is no resurrection there is no atonement . . . no “at one” with God.

Salvation is in Christ the Person

Enos 7-8
Mosiah 4:2
Alma 36:17-18
Mosiah 13:27-28

Salvation is by the grace of Jesus Christ

Principle is taught with balance in the Book of Mormon (Millet)
Trying too hard can be spiritually counterproductive. There has to be a point when we’ve done all we can do and then learn what it means to trust . . . . to say: “I’ve done all I can do. Help me.”

2 Nephi 2:8 grace
2 Nephi 2:3 why will Jacob be redeemed? Because of the righteousness of thy redeemer.
2 Nephi 31:19 “relying wholly”
2 Nephi 9:23 “perfect faith” ?? who has perfect faith? Could this mean to rely perfectly?
See Philippians 2:12-13
Alma 22:12-14 whose merit?
Moroni 6:4 whose merit?
Moroni 10:32 Perfection is in Christ

“It requires all the atonement of Christ, the mercy of the Father, the pity of angels, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with us always. And then to do the very best we can to get rid of this sin within us so that we may escape from this world into the celestial kingdom.” – Brigham Young

” Are we using the messages and the method of teaching found in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures of the Restoration to teach this great plan of the Eternal God? . . . The Book of Mormon Saints knew that the plan of redemption must start with the account of the Fall of Adam. In the words of Moroni: “By Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, … and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man” (Morm. 9:12). . . Brethren and sisters, we all need to take a careful inventory of our performance and also the performance of those over whom we preside to be sure that we are teaching the “great plan of the Eternal God” to the Saints. . . . Are we accepting and teaching what the revelations tell us about the Creation, Adam and the Fall of man, and redemption from that fall through the Atonement of Christ?” (Ezra Taft Benson, April 1987 General Conference)

“Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths.
Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life.
But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.
May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.
We must cast aside the philosophies of men and the wisdom of the wise and hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.
We must search the scriptures, accepting them as the mind and will and voice of the Lord and the very power of God unto salvation.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Purifying Power of Gethsemane, May Ensign 1985).

For further reading, see http://jesuschrist.lds.org/SonOfGod/eng/his-life-and-teachings/articles/the-atonement-of-jesus-christ for Elder Holland’s article on the Atonement.

One Response to “Atonement, revisited”

  1. NathanG said

    Thanks for sharing that background on the word atonement and how it related to reconcile.
    I just read Jacob’s words in 2 Nephi 10:24 the other morning.

    24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

    I thought of this in relation to the often quoted 2 Nephi 25:23

    23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

    Except I usually just hear the “after all we can do” bit and nothing about what immediately precedes it with “believe in Christ” and “be reconciled to God”. Is “all we can do” to reconcile believe and reconcile? So what does reconciliation entail? A large portion of reconciliation seems to have been performed by Christ through the atonement as you discussed, but Jacob talks about reconciling ourselves to the will of God. I often hear people say all we can give is our will, and that seems to work here. I don’t think this surrendering of our will is quite caught by a recitation of a prayer saying I have accepted Jesus or by saying I’m a member of the true church. I imagine that this surrending of will to God entails a more sincere wrestle before God resulting in a mighty change of heart.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: