Mormonism and the Bible/Old Testament practices/Animal sacrifice
Did Joseph Smith teach animal sacrifice?
It is claimed that Joseph Smith favored "Old Testament practices" including "teaching animal sacrifice."
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Modern Church leaders teach that the need for sacrifice by the shedding of blood was superseded by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.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 lds.institute.org) These statements are discussed in the following sections.
Why was animal sacrifice ended?
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ ended the need for performing sacrifice by the shedding of blood:
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)
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)
Will the practice of animal sacrifice be restored?
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. (DC 124:39) (emphasis added)
What have modern prophets said about the restoration of sacrifice?
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)