Monday, July 9, 2012

Where did Jesus pay for our sins?

Sunday school answers--

If you're a Mormon: the garden of Gethsemane.

If you're a Christian: the cross.

In the Bible Dictionary at the end of the King James Version of the Bible printed by the LDS church is the following phrase listed under "Atonement" as it refers to Jesus:
"...the shedding of his blood in the garden of Gethsemane..."
I remembered this from all my years of hearing it and I double-checked with two long-time LDS friends to see if they would also give the same response when I asked them, "Where did Jesus pay for our sins?" Their response was the same.

Why the garden and not the cross?  Perhaps because Joseph Smith, in his revision of the Bible, changed a verse in Luke.

King James Version of Luke 22:44: "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."
Joseph Smith Version of Luke 22:44 as seen in the footnotes: "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and he sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."
I put in the italics--it seems to be that Joseph Smith was saying Jesus sweat blood where the original text indicated that it was like unto, or similar to, blood.  I looked at every translation I own.  Nowhere else does it say it was actual blood.  But generations of LDS prophets and leaders, even up to the present day in General Conference, have spoken about Jesus' suffering in the garden and call that the payment for human sins.  They also expand on it, saying he took on humanity's infirmities, sickness, pain, etc.  (See the manual called "Gospel Principles," chapter 11, "The Life of Christ.") To be fair, some LDS authorities do state that the time on the cross was part of the sacrifice for sins (see James Talmage, "Jesus the Christ"). 

Even if Jesus did end up sweating blood, this is not a sufficient sacrifice for sins, according to the Old Testament Law of Moses.  The animals sacrificed to God then were not just bled a little and set free.  They were killed.  And those sacrifices were a foreshadowing of Jesus.

What's interesting is that Gethsemane, by name, is only mentioned once in Matthew and once in Mark, and appears in the same context of it being the place where Jesus went to pray on the night he was arrested.  In Luke the place is only named as the Mount of Olives.  (The name Gethsemane comes from Aramaic for "oil press.")  If it was such an important place where Christ saved us, then why did the original apostles and disciples repeatedly call attention to the cross?  Paul teaches about it several times in the epistles.  Jesus himself in Matthew 10 and 16 (and Mark 8 and 10, and Luke 9 and 14) refers to the cross.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that Jesus "Christ died for our sins," not that he prayed and suffered and sweat blood for them in the garden. Death is the ultimate penalty of sin.

What came to mind for me was someone awaiting the death penalty in prison.  That person might kneel in their cell and pray and suffer, knowing that they are facing death, but that does not "pay" for their sins.  Only death in the electric chair "pays" the price. 

For an excellent article, see "Calvary or Gethsemane?" by the Mormonism Research Ministry.

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