Posts Tagged ‘animal sacrifice’

Sometimes a researcher is looking for one thing and stumbles on something unexpected. This was my experience last week when I was researching Joseph Smith’s teachings about the temple. I knew that Joseph was looking for a rebuilt temple as part of the Restoration and that he also claimed that God had restored the Aaronic priesthood. However, the two didn’t seem to have much if any connection in LDS religion. My impression was that Mormons accepted the traditional Christian belief that the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ had made animal sacrifices obsolete, and I assumed this had been Joseph Smith’s teaching as well.

It turns out I was mistaken (hey, it happens!). Well, partly mistaken. For most of his career as a prophet, Joseph Smith apparently did hold that animal sacrifice had become obsolete following the death of Christ. I found an explicit statement from him making this point in 1834 (four years after he founded the LDS Church). However, in 1840 he took a different position, arguing that animal sacrifices would be performed in the restored temple. It’s right there in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Surprised, I did some searching in LDS publications to see what LDS authorities and theologians made of this. The answer was, not much: hardly anyone seems to have noticed it. The only well-known LDS teachers to have commented on it at all appear to have been Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, two of the most prolific LDS authorities who commented on just about everything Joseph Smith ever said. Even they had very little to say about it. Meanwhile, most of the LDS sources I found that addressed the general topic of animal sacrifices stated that Christ’s atonement had made them obsolete.

I have written up my research in a new article that we’ve added to IRR’s website, entitled “I Didn’t Know He Said That! Joseph Smith and the Restoration of Animal Sacrifice.” The article documents what Joseph taught on the subject and what other LDS teachers have said about it. I also offer some thoughts about why LDS authorities have said so little about this question in the 170 years since Joseph presented his view that animal sacrifices would be performed in the restored temple.

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