Joseph Smith and Old Testament practices


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Did Joseph Smith teach animal sacrifice as part of the "restoration of all things"?

Modern Church leaders teach that the need for sacrifice by the shedding of blood was superseded by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ

It is claimed that Joseph Smith favored "Old Testament practices" including "teaching animal sacrifice." However, modern Church leaders teach that the need for sacrifice by the shedding of blood was superseded by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith taught that it would be necessary to restore some form of sacrifice as part of the restoration of all things. The Lord clarified that these sacrifices would be a "memorial" to the sacrifices practiced by the Sons of Levi. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that a symbolic restoration of sacrifice would occur.

Official Church publications on the subject

Statements made by Joseph Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith regarding animal sacrifice are included in the Doctrine and Covenants Institute Student Manual, Section 13 - The Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. See section: D&C 13:1. What Is Meant by the Sons of Levi Offering an Offering of Righteousness unto the Lord? (online at These statements are discussed in the following sections.

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ ended the need for performing sacrifice by the shedding of blood

Monte J. Brough said,

Latter-day Saints believe that the law of sacrifice is an important element of their lives. Because the great sacrifice of the Son of God ended sacrifice by the shedding of blood, today we live the law of sacrifice in other ways.
(Monte J. Brough, "Living the Law of Sacrifice," Ensign, Apr 2000, 44)

M. Russell Ballard,

Usually, the first thing people think of when they hear "law of Moses" is animal sacrifice. The somewhat gruesome nature of blood sacrifice has led some to ask, "How could such an activity have anything to do with the gospel of love?" We can better understand the answer to that question when we understand the two major purposes for the law of sacrifice. These purposes applied to Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the New Testament Apostles, and they apply to us today as we accept and live the law of sacrifice. Its two major purposes are to test and prove us and to assist us in coming unto Christ.
(M. Russell Ballard, "The Law of Sacrifice," Ensign, Oct 1998, 7)

In 1840 Joseph Smith taught that the Old Testament (Malachi 3:3) foretells the restoration of elements associated with ancient Israelite temple service

In 1840 Joseph Smith taught that the Old Testament (Malachi 3:3) foretells the restoration of elements associated with ancient Israelite temple service, including some form of sacrifice.

[Jehovah] continued to [Noah] the keys, the covenants, the power and the glory, with which he blessed Adam at the beginning; and the offering of sacrifice, which also shall be continued at the last time; for all the ordinances and duties that ever have been required by [p.211] the Priesthood, under the directions and commandments of the Almighty in any of the dispensations, shall all be had in the last dispensation, therefore all things had under the authority of the Priesthood at any former period, shall be had again, bringing to pass the restoration spoken of by the mouth of all the Holy Prophets; then shall the sons of Levi offer an acceptable offering to the Lord. 'And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord.' (See Malachi 3:3).

It will be necessary here to make a few observations on the doctrine set forth in the above quotation, and it is generally supposed that sacrifice was entirely done away when the Great Sacrifice [i.e., the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus] was offered up, and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of sacrifice in future: but those who assert this are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the priesthood, or with the Prophets . . . .

These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. This ever did and ever will exist when the [p.212] powers of the Melchisedic Priesthood are sufficiently manifest; else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the holy Prophets be brought to pass? It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the Prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses' day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued. (History of the Church 4:211).

Joseph Smith's comments on animal sacrifice comments were made on 5 October 1840. The Lord further clarified the nature of these sacrifices in the Nauvoo Temple revelation (D&C 124) dated 19 January 1841:

Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name. (D&C 124꞉39) (emphasis added)

Joseph Fielding Smith stated that animal sacrifice would happen again to fulfill a symbolic role

Joseph Fielding Smith stated that animal sacrifice would happen again to fulfill a symbolic role as part of the restoration of all things in this dispensation:

Now in the nature of things, the law of sacrifice will have to be restored, or all things which were decreed by the Lord would not be restored. It will be necessary, therefore, for the sons of Levi, who offered the blood sacrifices anciently in Israel, to offer such a sacrifice again to round out and complete this ordinance in this dispensation. Sacrifice by the shedding of blood was instituted in the days of Adam and of necessity will have to be restored.

The sacrifice of animals will be done to complete the restoration when the temple spoken of is built; at the beginning of the millennium, or in the restoration, blood sacrifices will be performed long enough to complete the fulness of the restoration in this dispensation. Afterwards sacrifice will be of some other character. (Doctrines of Salvation 3:94)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is there a contradiction between the Old Testament concept of "cursing" enemies and Latter-day Saint scriptures stating that we should "bless" our enemies?

Some Christians argue that restoration scriptures or remarks by Church leaders are inconsistent with the Christian command to "bless, not curse"

Some Christians claim that Joseph Smith focused on Old Testament ideas and concepts, such as the "cursing of enemies." They appeal to New Testament prohibitions of cursing enemies (e.g., Romans 12:14, and then argue that restoration scriptures or remarks by Church leaders are inconsistent with the Christian command to "bless, not curse." However, if one wishes to condemn anyone who calls God's judgment down on the wicked, they will also condemn every prophet in the Old and New Testament, and a large proportion of the Christian preachers, missionaries, and ministers throughout history.

Such a stance is hypocritical—they condemn Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, Joseph Smith, and others not because they pray that God's judgment will come upon the wicked and vindicate the righteous, and not because they (the critics) believe such actions to be always and everywhere wrong. They condemn LDS prophets because have decided already that these men are neither righteous nor prophets.

Jesus cursed a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit

The New Testament command not to curse has some marked exceptions. For example, Jesus cursed a fig tree that had leaves (implying that its fruit would be present, since figs appear before the leaves) but no fruit.

Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! (Matthew 21:18-20)

Jesus was pronouncing a curse, then, on hypocrites—those who "claim" to have worthy characteristics, but this is only a facade.

Peter described a sinful group whom he declared to be "cursed"

14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children. (2 Peter 2:14)

Paul too was emphatic that false teachers were "accursed"

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 1:8-9)

Paul's use of the word "anathema" means "a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction"

Paul likewise told the Corinthians:

22 If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema (1 Corinthians 16:22).

Anathema means "a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction," "any imprecation of divine punishment," or "a curse; execration."[1] (The Greek word is "anathema" (Ανάθεμα)—"bind under a great curse.")[2]

The Doctrine and Covenants contains a cursing—but, significantly, the command comes from God

The critics are, to be sure, not willing to grant that the Doctrine and Covenants is divine scripture. They must, however, concede that Joseph and other members believed they were obeying God's command to curse; they did not take that right upon themselves:

And inasmuch as mine enemies come against you to drive you from my goodly land, which I have consecrated to be the land of Zion, even from your own lands after these testimonies, which ye have brought before me against them, ye shall curse them; And whomsoever ye curse, I will curse, and ye shall avenge me of mine enemies (D&C 103꞉24-25).

Significantly, this instruction was given after mobs drove the Saints from their homes and lands in Missouri with scenes of arson, rape, and murder. Ostensibly committed to justice, religious freedom, and the rule of law, their enemies demonstrated that they had only the hypocrisy of fig leaves—but no fruit.

Were curses pronounced upon the enemies of the Church in the Kirtland Temple?

George A. Smith says nothing about cursing in the temple, but does indicate that some prophesied the death of persecutors and apostates

Critics charge that the Saints cursed their enemies in the Kirtland Temple, citing George A. Smith:

Some of the brethren thought it was best to apostatize, because the spirit of cursing was with men who had been driven from Missouri by mob violence. Yet every word that they prophesied has been fulfilled. They prophesied that the bones of many of those murderers should bleach on the prairie, and that birds should pick out their eyes, and beasts devour their flesh. Men who have traversed the plains of Mexico, California, Nebraska, and Kansas, have often seen the fulfilment of that prophecy in the most marvellous manner. We have seen their names upon trees, on the heads of old trunks, and bits of boards; the names of men that I knew, and I knew just as well, in the Kirtland Temple, what would be their fate, as I know now. But that tried us, some of us were awfully tried about it. The Lord dared not then reveal anything more; He had given us all we could swallow; and persecution raged around us to such an extent that we were obliged to forsake our beautiful Temple, and flee into the State of Missouri.[3]

George A. says nothing about cursing in the temple. He indicates that some prophesied the death of persecutors and apostates (often the same people) and that God fulfilled this prophecy in a miraculous way. The critics misrepresent this source.

Prayers were offered in the Kirtland Temple for their persecutors

The critics also neglect to mention the prayer offered in the Kirtland Temple for their persecutors, praying that his judgment come upon them (D&C 109꞉27-34) but asking that repentance come to them if possible:

47 We ask thee, Holy Father, to remember those who have been driven by the inhabitants of Jackson county, Missouri, from the lands of their inheritance, and break off, O Lord, this yoke of affliction that has been put upon them. Thou knowest, O Lord, that they have been greatly oppressed and afflicted by wicked men; and our hearts flow out with sorrow because of their grievous burdens. O Lord, how long wilt thou suffer this people to bear this affliction, and the cries of their innocent ones to ascend up in thine ears, and their blood come up in testimony before thee, and not make a display of thy testimony in their behalf? Have mercy, O Lord, upon the wicked mob, who have driven thy people, that they may cease to spoil, that they may repent of their sins if repentance is to be found; But if they will not, make bare thine arm, O Lord, and redeem that which thou didst appoint a Zion unto thy people. And if it cannot be otherwise, that the cause of thy people may not fail before thee may thine anger be kindled, and thine indignation fall upon them, that they may be wasted away, both root and branch, from under heaven; But inasmuch as they will repent, thou art gracious and merciful, and wilt turn away thy wrath when thou lookest upon the face of thine Anointed. (D&C 109꞉47-53, (italics added))

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did George A. Smith pray that the Lord would kill the mobbers that were attacking the Saints?

George A. does not say "kill the mobbers," or ask that their neighbors die, but rather the members prayed that the mob would be done away

Critics also report with disapproval George A. Smith's prayer that God would kill the mobbers:

We were a pious people in those days; but, notwithstanding our piety, our neighbours soon talked of mobbing us. They had already tarred and feathered the Prophet Joseph and Sidney Rigdon, and they threatened us with mobbing and expulsion. As I remarked, we were then very pious, and we prayed the Lord to kill the mob.

It was but a little time before the Saints were driven out of Jackson county, Missouri, the printing press destroyed, men tarred and feathered, women ravished, and men, women, and children scattered to the four winds of heaven, all in consequence of our religion.[4]

In the face of rape, murder, and expulsion, all the Saints did was pray to God to "kill the mob." George A. does not say "kill the mobbers," or ask that their neighbors die. They only wish for the persecution to stop; "our neighbours soon talked of mobbing us," and the members prayed that the mob would be done away.

If the critics insist on reading this as a plea for God to kill the mobbers, the Saints must at least be credited with leaving judgment and the meting out of justice to the Lord—they do not seek to do the killing themselves.

Did Heber C. Kimball curse the president of the United States?

Heber C. Kimball cursed the U.S. president when the U.S. army invaded Utah based on false rumors about the Saints' actions

Critics describe Heber C. Kimball cursing the U.S. president. They do not reveal that all the statements which they collect were made during the war, when the U.S. army invaded Utah based on false rumors about the Saints' actions:

There is a poor curse who has written the bigger part of those lies which have been printed in the States; and I curse him, in the name of Israel's God, and by the Priesthood and authority of Jesus Christ; and the disease that is in him shall sap and dry up the fountain of life and eat him up. Some of you may think that he has not the disease I allude to; but he is full of pox from the crown of his head to the point of its beginning. That is the curse of that man; it shall be so, and all Israel shall say, Amen. [The vast congregation of Saints said, "Amen."] He is laying plans to destroy us, and is striving with his might to stir up the Government of the United States and the President to send troops here to bring us into collision and destroy this pure people—man, woman, and child. May God Almighty curse such men, [Voices all through the congregation: "Amen!"] and women, and every damned thing there is upon the earth that opposes this people. I tell you I feel to curse them to-day. [Voice: "And they shall be cursed."]. Yes, they will be; and the Devil shall have full possession of every man and woman that raises the tongue to sympathise with those poor curses.[5]

Will the President that sits in the chair of state be tipped from his seat? Yes, he will die an untimely death, and God Almighty will curse him; and he will also curse his successor, if he takes the same stand; and he will curse all those that are his coadjutors, and all who sustain him. What for? For coming here to destroy the kingdom of God, and the Prophets, and Apostles, and inspired men and women; and God Almighty will curse them, and I curse them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to my calling; and if there is any virtue in my calling, they shall be cursed, every man that lifts his heel against us from this day forth.[6]

And may God Almighty curse our enemies. [Voices: "Amen."] I feel to curse my enemies: and when God won't bless them, I do not think he will ask me to bless them. If I did, it would be to put the poor curses to death who have brought death and destruction on me and my brethren—upon my wives and my children that I buried on the road between the States and this place.

And the President of the United States, inasmuch as he has turned against us and will take a course to persist in pleasing the ungodly curses that are howling around him for the destruction of this people, he shall be cursed, in the name of Israel's God, and he shall not rule over this nation, because they are my brethren; but they have cast me out and cast you out; and I curse him and all his coadjutors in his cursed deeds, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the authority of the Holy Priesthood; and all Israel shall say amen.[7]

...I feel, in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ and my calling, to curse that man that lifts his heel against my God and his cause and kingdom; and the curse of God shall be upon him: the angels of God shall chase him, and he shall have no peace. The President of the United States and his coadjutors that have caused this thing shall never rest again, for they shall go to hell.[8]

Heber declares that his cursing is done out of his apostolic role—just as Peter, Paul, and even Jesus could declare curses against the ungodly, the adulterer, the hypocrite, or the anti-Christian, so Heber felt justified in calling for God's judgment upon liars, those who stirred up military action on false pretenses, murderers, and those who used political or military means to crush the Church.


  1. Unabridged, based on the Random House Dictionary (Random House, Inc. 2009), s.v. "anathema."
  2. Strong's number G331.
  3. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 2:216.
  4. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 5:107.
  5. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 5:32.
  6. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 5:133.
  7. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 5:95.
  8. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 6:38.