Did the Atonement Happen in the Garden of Gethsemane, or on the Cross of Calvary?

by Rocky Hulse

March 2008

As a Christian, the title above may seem absurd to you. As a Mormon, it is the doctrine of your church. “Wait a minute,” many Mormons have said to us, “I don’t believe that, and our Church doesn’t teach that!” As is the case so many times with uninformed Mormons, “Yes, Mr. or Mrs. Mormon, your Church does teach that the “Atonement” was in the Garden of Gethsemane, not on the Cross of Calvary’s hill.”

Why do Mormons shun the cross? It’s quite simply really: their Church completely misses the importance of the event accomplished on the Cross of Calvary by falsely teaching that the “Atonement” for sin was accomplished in the Garden of Gethsemane. Being born and raised as a 6th generation Mormon, I was taught that we were not to wear crosses, nor would our Church in any way display one, as it exemplified the cruel means by which the Savior was put to death. The 10th Prophet of the Mormon Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, said: “While we have never questioned the sincerity of Catholics and Protestants for wearing the cross, or felt that they were doing something which was wrong. The motive for such a custom by those who are of other churches, we must conclude, is a most sincere and sacred gesture. To them the cross does not represent an emblem of torture but evidently carried the impression of sacrifice and suffering endured by the Son of God. However, to bow down before a cross or to look upon it as an emblem to be revered because of the fact that our Savior died upon a cross is repugnant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”1 

One has to ask, how can anyone who calls themselves a Christian, find the most important event in the history of the world, Jesus’ death on Calvary, which was the payment for all of mankind’s sin, repugnant? The answer: because, they totally miss the significance of, and deny, that event! Jesus was born to die; to die for you and me. That is the gospel message; the first four verses of I Corinthians 15 is the gospel, the “Good News”:
1. Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2. By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The “Gospel,” really is no more complicated than the four verses Paul gave us above – we, men, try to make it more complicated. The “Good News” truly is that we are saved “through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone.” That’s it. That’s the gospel!

Mormonism takes the greatest event in all of world history, the substitutionary death, for you and me, of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary, and changes it from death, to sweat. What do I mean? Mormonism changes the event of the “Atonement,” from Jesus’ death on the Cross to his sweating of great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Former 2nd Counselor to Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, James E. Faust, the third most powerful position in the Mormon Church, wrote the following: “He suffered so much pain, ‘indescribable anguish,’ and ‘overpowering torture’ for our sake. His profound suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He took upon Himself all the sins of all other mortals, caused Him ‘to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.’”2 This statement is quite clear: Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The 13th Mormon Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, who served as their Prophet from 1985-1995, gave us the following: It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that his pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that he descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him.”3 Again, from a Prophet of Mormonism we see Gethsemane, not Calvary.

Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, the most prolific writer in Mormonism of the 20th Century, wrote: The most transcendent of all such events occurred in a garden called Gethsemane, outside Jerusalem’s walls, when the Chief Citizen of planet Earth sweat great drops of blood from every pore as He in agony took upon Himself the sins of all men on conditions of repentance.”4 Once again, we have from a top leader of the Mormon Church, who was sustained as a “Prophet, Seer and Revelator” the doctrine of Mormonism that Jesus paid for sin in Gethsemane: “and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Most recently I read two new affirmations of this teaching in two different “official” Mormon Church periodicals. The first was in the February 2008 issue of the Ensign magazine: In Gethsemane, Jesus took upon himself not only the sins of the world but also the pain, afflictions, temptations, sorrow, and sadness of all God’s children.”5 The second was in the Church News, for January 26, 2008: “‘From the first breath of Christ to His last, you feel His joys, pains and agony in Gethsemane,’” said Ty Porter of Gilbert.”6  

Does the Bible back up this profession of Christ taking upon Himself our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane? The answer is: No! The Bible emphatically states that Christ “died” for our sins, not sweated for our sins. Romans 5:8 says: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Sin and death are coupled together in that verse of scripture, not sin and sweat. Ephesians 5:2 says: “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”

Ephesians 5:2 shows not only that Christ became the fulfillment of the Temple Sacrifices upon the Cross of Calvary, but that Mormonism blasphemes the picture the sacrifices of the Temple gave us as to the ultimate sacrifice of the Savior, by claiming their temple ceremonies are a restoration of the Old Testament rituals. The Mormon Temple ceremonies are a complete fabrication and have no basis in a Biblical or historical setting; there is no evidence to support this teaching by the Mormon Church.

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 1: “17. 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.” Paul is telling us here that he was sent to preach the gospel, not with slick words or a fancy delivery of a program – “lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” What was the “effect of the Cross?” The “effect of the Cross” was the Atonement of Christ; for it was there that Jesus paid for our sin. Paul goes on in verse 18 and tells us: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” You see, Colossians 2:14, tells us only God, by the power of His blood, could blot out our trespasses and sin: “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;” Our sin was not sweated to the Cross, it was nailed to it.

It is really sad that at this time of the year, when we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior that there is a major religious movement in this country, trying to pass itself off as Christian, that completely and totally misses the very reason Jesus came to earth: to die, not sweat, for our sins on an old rugged Cross on Calvary’s Hill.

We are often challenged via email or phone calls, that we are remiss in presenting our TV show “Truth Outreach,” because we are only one sided and don’t allow the Mormon Church to present its teachings. We are filming a “Truth Outreach Program” on this very topic and I sent a certified letter to Mormon Church Headquarters, inviting them to participate by providing a spokesperson. I received a letter in return from the local Mormon Church Public Affairs representative from the Illinois Nauvoo Mission. It is dated February 20, 2008 and reads as follows:

Dear Rocky,

We decline your invitation to participate in your weekly television program, “Truth Outreach.”

Sincerely,

Vern Whisenant
Historic Nauvoo Public Affairs

Just in case anyone should ask, we’ve tried, but the Mormon Church refuses to accept our invitations. It truly is remarkable that the “only true church on the face of the whole earth,” is afraid to come and use the exposure of our international TV show to tell the world the truth of Mormonism.

If they don’t come, they can say “Rocky wasn’t telling the truth.” If they do come, and on the TV show their representative is confounded in his presentation, or shown not to be telling the truth, they have no plausible deniability; so, they simply decline and then they can go on making denials that we are not telling the truth about their false teachings.

1 Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 4, pp. 16-  17.
2 Liahona, Jan 2002, 19-22 (sourced from  www.lsd.org, “The Atonement: Our Greatest  Hope
3 Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pg 15.
4 Ensign, April 2005, p. 54.
5 Ensign, February 2008, pg 18.
6 Church News, Week ending January 26, 2008,   pg 11.