Mormonism, the Sin of Murder, and Blood Atonement
Does Christ’s Death Atone for the Sin of the Murderer?

© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2007

One of the lesser known doctrines of the Mormon Church is that the sin of murder is considered so grievous that the one who commits this sin can never find forgiveness. The Doctrines & Covenants declares the following:

"And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come." (Doctrines & Covenants 42:18).
"The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord." (Doctrine & Covenants 132:27).
Bruce R. McConkie, in his well known work Mormon Doctrine, had this to say about the sin of murder:
"...a sin for which there is "no forgiveness" (D&C 42:79), meaning that a murderer can never gain salvation. "No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:15) He cannot join the Church by baptism; he is outside the pale of redeeming grace." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, page 520).
Modern Mormon writings continue to reinforce the above views. In the recent Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, series the volume which focuses on Brigham Young, records the words of the Mormon leader explaining that the idea of someone being able to repent of "murderous acts" and be saved is "nonsense." (Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, page 62)

Similarly, the Mormon owned Church News had the following to say on the sin of murder:

“There are many scriptures which show that restitution is an important part of true repentance,” Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Council of the Twelve, wrote in The Miracle of Forgiveness. “Some of them even go so far as to prescribe the amount of restitution which should be made in return for a wrong.” He noted the children of Israel were given specific ways to make restitution for a stolen ox, a field or vineyard eaten by animals, or fire that destroys another’s crop. (See Ex. 22:1-6.)

“It is true that Moses was concerned with governing and controlling a population larger than many of our modern cities, and to that extent some think of his laws as being secular in purport,” Elder Kimball wrote. “But observe that in [Lev. 6:2-5 the Lord equates actions against one’s neighbor with committing ‘a trespass against the Lord’ or, as He goes on to say, with sin. Thus the restoration spoken of was to be not merely a legal requirement for the maintenance of earthly justice but also part of the process of repentance from sin.”

Elder Kimball observed that sometimes making complete restitution is impossible. “There are some sins for which no adequate restitution can be made, and others for which only partial restitution is possible. . . .” Perhaps the reason murder is an unforgivable sin is that, once having taken a life whether that life be innocent or reprobate - the life-taker cannot restore it. . . . Those who lose their possessions may be able to recover their wealth. Those defamed may still be able to prove themselves above reproach. Even the loss of chastity leaves the soul in mortality with opportunity to recover and repent and to make amends to some degree. But to take a life . . . cuts off the victim’s experiences of mortality and thus his opportunity to repent, to keep God’s commandments in this earth life.” (LDS Church News, Date: 02/26/94, Restitution Part of Repentance, Gospel Link Infobase Plus CD Rom).

It is sad that Mormonism attempts to limit the forgiveness of God in Christ by shutting murderers out in this way. Despite this, however, the Bible clearly teaches that the sin of murder, although a terrible sin, is not unforgivable. For example, the Apostle Paul was surely a murderer yet went on to be the greatest Christian in history. Before his conversion, as Saul, he agreed with the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1), he breathed out threats of murder against the disciples (Acts 9:1), Ananias heard that he did "much harm to the saints" (Acts 9:13). Most importantly of all is the testimony of Paul himself, after his conversion, when he gave this confession: "...I persecuted this Way [i.e. the Christians] to the death..." (Acts 22:4).

Further biblical support to show that the sin of murder is not unforgivable can also be found in Revelation 9:21, which says of those on the earth during the tribulation period: "...they did not repent of their murders nor their sorceries nor their immorality nor of their thefts." The implication here is that they are able to repent of their murder and be saved, but choose not to do so. Also notice that murder is simply placed along other sins, implying that it is no different.

Interestingly, in contrast to the above quotes by Mormon leaders, even the Book of Mormon reveals that murderers are able to repent and be saved. This is seen in 3 Nephi 30:2, which shows that gentile murderers were able to repent, be baptized in the name of Christ, be filled with the Holy Ghost, and be numbered among the house of Israel.

At this point, it might be useful to mention that some Mormon apologists will contend that the sin of murder is only unforgivable when it is committed by members of the Church. They will say that because the commands in the Doctrine and Covenants are written to the Church, then murderers, who are not Mormons, can be forgiven and enter into LDS Church membership.

Two points can be made in response to this particular objection: Firstly, if the sin of murder, being categorized as an unforgivable act, is applied only to those in the Church, what effect has that persons conversion had if they were a murderer? Obviously, that person could never have come to have know Christ in any way if he at first professes Him, then denies Him by showing himself to be a murderer (1 John 2:3). Such a person would never have been a true believer in the first place. The reason a murderer has no eternal life in him (1 John 3:14) is because he has never been truly converted in the first place. He shows this 'by' being a murderer. Secondly, to apply the quotes in the Doctrines & Covenants to Church members alone is a very restrictive interpretation and not one in line with the general teaching of the LDS Church. Certainly, in Mormon belief, the sin of murder is seen as unforgivable for members of the Mormon Church to commit. But the wider view, as taught by Mormon apostles and prophets, is that murder is unforgivable for both LDS Church members and non-members (or gentiles) alike. Examples of this are numerous. The quote by Bruce McConkie at the beginning of this article is one example. Notice that McConkie citing one of the D&C references on murder, actually excludes non-Mormons, who have committed murder, from membership into the Mormon Church: "...a sin for which there is "no forgiveness" (D&C 42:79), meaning that a murderer can never gain salvation. "No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:15) He cannot join the Church by baptism; he is outside the pale of redeeming grace." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, page 520).

Here is a quote from the Doctrine & Covenants Commentary on section 42 (page 224): "Thou shalt not kill as our Lord explains it (Matt. 5:22 ), stamps anger "without a cause," or malice in all its manifestations, as a crime. There is a difference between the anger that is but malice or thirst for revenge, and the emotion that is felt in the presence of injustice and wrong. It is malice that is forbidden. To take the life of a fellow-being in order to gratify malice is the highest crime one human being can commit against another. The Prophet Joseph recognized this when he said, "A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness." This commandment prohibits dueling, because dueling is but manslaughter, actual or potential. It prohibits suicide. which is self- murder . It condemns unjustifiable wars, which are but wholesale murders. There have been wars which are justifiable from the standpoint of one side of the contesting parties, but when the nations have courts of arbitration there will be no justification for any war, any more than there is for murder. The moral law must be applied to nations as well as individuals. "He that killeth shall die" (v. 19)." (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary: Section 42., page 224). Notice that in this quote there is no mention of whether the person is a member of the Church or not. The only qualification is whether the act of murder was done in malice or not. Notice also that it is a "human being" in general who commits this sin in malice who are unforgiven: "To take the life of a fellow-being in order to gratify malice is the highest crime one human being can commit against another."

Here is another interesting quote to consider; this time, from the LDS History of the Church: "If there be such a thing as the greatest and least crimes among the archives of the better world, the willful murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith will be first and worst, without forgiveness in this world or the world to come, 'for no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." (History of the Church Volume 7, Chapter 15., page 187). The account of Smith's murder describes how a hundred armed men stormed a prison cell where Smith was being held and killed him. (See: Truth Restored, Gordon B. Hinckley, page 83). As far as I have understood, these men were not Mormons, yet the quote from the History of the Church says that they would never be forgiven. Also, notice that like the previous quote, the only qualification placed on the act of murder here is whether it was done intentionally. According to the position taken by some LDS apologists, who argue that the sin of murder applies only to those who commit this offence as members of the Church, these men would be able to obtain forgiveness if they repented. However, according to the quotes above, they would never be able to obtain forgiveness. The act was done both with malice and willfully.

Two biblical texts that sometimes arise in this discussion are Matthew 12:31-32 and 1 John 5:16.

Matthew 12:31-32 reads:

"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or the age to come."
1 John 5:16 reads:
"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this."
The best commentary on the Gospel of Matthew is Mark. Mark 3:23-30 parallels the story in Matthew. The scene is the same, with the Jews accusing Christ of doing works by Satan. Now obviously, the Jews who were saying this would not accept Christ or His claims. Their reasoning was such that they equated the Spirit, by which Christ did his works, with an unclean spirit (v. 30) and therefore, would not accept Him.

Similarly, concerning 1 John 5:16, it seems likely that as John wrote his epistle to combat the heresy propagated by those who denied that Christ had come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3), then he is applying these words to those who do not accept Christ and subsequently do not receive salvation in Him. It seems most likely therefore, that both these passages are talking about those who do not accept Christ and consequently cannot be forgiven as they choose to cut themselves off from the one source of true forgiveness. It is also worth pointing out that neither of these passages even mention murder.

There is no sin that Christ's blood cannot wash away (1 John 1:9). Christ turns away none who are willing to come to Him in an attitude of trust and repentance (John 6:37), no matter what they have done - murder included.

Blood Atonement
Although, on the one hand, Mormonism teaches that Christ’s blood will not atone for the sin of murder, on the other hand, it has been taught that an individuals own blood an be spilt to atone for the sin. Although the current Mormon leadership do not advocate this doctrine, it appears that they do believe it and would be willing to practice it if a theocratic Church and state system existed. All of this will be examined further below.

Joseph Smith himself taught this doctrine of blood atonement:

"I am opposed to hanging, even if a man kill another, I will shoot him, or cut off his head, spill his blood on the ground and let the smoke ascend thereof up to God..." (Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church 5:296).
Brigham Young, the second Mormon president, was much more explicit:
There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world. ....I know that there are transgressors, who, if they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can obtain forgiveness would beg of their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God....It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet men can commit sins which it can never remit... (President Brigham Young, Sept. 21, 1856, Deseret News, page 235; See also Journal of Discourses 4:53-54).

Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, an put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands...There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 247).
Sometimes, defence for blood atonement is given by comparing it with the Old Testament capital punishments that Israel administered to those who had committed serious acts such as murder. However, the parallel falls short as there is no evidence that any of these capital punishments were ever intended to atone for anyone’s sin. Forgiveness of sin only comes through God, not one's own death.

Another defence for the statements given in the past writings of church leaders about blood atonement is that the doctrine was only ever one of theory and speculation, has never happened, and if it ever does happen this will only be when there is no separation between church and state. This is a defence that the Mormon apologetic website, SHEILDS, puts forward when it reproduces a letter by Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie on the subject, part of which is quoted below:

There simply is no such thing among us as a doctrine of blood atonement that grants a remission of sins or confers any other benefit upon a person because his own blood is shed for sins. Let me say categorically and unequivocally that this doctrine can only operate in a day when there is no separation of Church and State and when the power to take life is vested in the ruling theocracy as was the case in the day of Moses. From the day of Joseph Smith to the present there has been no single instance of so-called blood atonement under any pretext.

Anything I have written or anything said by anyone else must be understood in the light of the foregoing limitation. Brigham Young and the others were speaking of a theoretical principle that operated in ages past and not in either their or our day. As I recall, Brigham Young's illustrations were taken from the day of Moses and the history of ancient Israel and could not be applied today.

There is no such a doctrine as blood atonement in the Church today nor has there been at any time. Any statements to the contrary are either idle speculation or pure fantasy. It is certainly not the current teaching of the Church and I have never in over 60 years of regular church attendance heard a single sermon on the subject or even a discussion in any church class. (

However, church leaders in the early days of Mormonism certainly felt that they had a situation where church and state were one, thus further confirming that blood atonement must have taken place: John Taylor stated:
"This principle [i.e. obedience to Mormon leadership] pervades all, whether in a civil or military capacity or in any other capacity. We used to have a difference between Church and State, but it is all one now. Thank God, we have no more temporal and spiritual! We have got Church and State together" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 266 (1857))

The kingdom the prophets spoke of was both a Church and a State and this is what the Mormons have. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 24 (1857) )
Brigham Young stated:
"Some of our old traditions teach us that a man guilty of atrocious and murderous acts may savingly repent when on the scaffold; and upon his execution you will hear the expression — 'Bless God! he has gone to heaven to be crowned in glory, through the all-redeeming merits of Christ the Lord.' This is all nonsense. Such a character never will see heaven." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p. 61 (1860) )
Orson Pratt:
The same authority God established in the beginning is again restored. "Ours is an ecclesiastical Church and and ecclesiastical state." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p.105 (1860))
[The above quotes are from the Institute for Religious Research article on Blood Atonement]

Should anyone think that the statements on blood atonement are so far in the dim and distant past of Mormonism that the doctrine is not relevant to modern Mormons the following quotations from more recent Mormon sources speak for themselves:

"But men may commit certain grievous sins - according to his light and knowledge - that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved he must make sacrifice of his own life to atone - so far as in his power lies - for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail. ATONEMENT AND SINS UNTO DEATH. Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offences are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf. This is scriptural doctrine, and is taught in all the standard works of the Church. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1., pp. 134-135. Capital letters in the original).
Although Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie begins to talk about the doctrine of blood atonement in a dismissive way he then goes on to admit that some sins (such as murder) cannot be cleansed by Christ’s blood and that the sinners own blood needs to be spilt to atone:
But under certain circumstances there are some serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate, and the law of God is that men must then have their own blood shed to atone for their sins. Murder, for instance, is one of these sins; hence we find the Lord commanding capital punishment. (Mormon Doctrine, p. 92)
To teach that Christ’s blood is insufficient to cleanse sinners from the sin of murder but then teach that the sinners own blood can provide atonement is distorted indeed. As was noted earlier, Christ’s blood atones for all sin even the serious sin of murder.

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