Will animal sacrifice be restored in the latter days?

December 3, 2011

Generally I believe the things that were taught to me by the missionaries when I was converted and baptized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1962-1963.  These teachings were further reinforced when I read The Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage along with other doctrinal works such as A Marvelous Work and a Wonder by LeGrand Richards, The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, and Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie.  Since I read these during the early 196o’s when I was receiving the bulk of the personal revelation that led to my joining the Church, I tend to believe them even though they were not “official Church doctrine” which I was unaware existed in those days.  For me “official Church doctrine” is what I learned from the missionaries who taught me since they were official representatives of the Church.

These doctrinal books were amazingly consistent in their teaching of the doctrines, so much so that along with the promptings of the spirit I felt, I believed them to be true. After all, the truth never contradicts itself even though our faulty perception of the truth occasionally does.

I found especially interesting the concept of “the restitution of all things” initiated in our day by the Prophet Joseph.  It was the beginning of the ongoing restoration of ancient Christianity.  Part of that restitution was to be the restoration of animal sacrifice, something that the Prophet Joseph taught and that President Joseph Fielding Smith taught.

I have since become aware of an apparent inconsistency in the teaching of doctrine surrounding the ancient ordinance of animal sacrifice.  It puzzles me, and I am hoping that someone with a greater knowledge of doctrine and the history of doctrine can help me understand.

Joseph Smith taught:

“Thus we behold the keys of this Priesthood consisted in obtaining the voice of Jehovah that He talked with him [Noah] in a familiar and friendly manner, that He continued to him 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 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….

… 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.

The offering of sacrifice has ever been connected and forms a part of the duties of the Priesthood. It began with the Priesthood, and will be continued until after the coming of Christ, from generation to generation. We frequently have mention made of the offering of sacrifice by the servants of the Most High in ancient days, prior to the law of Moses; which ordinances will be continued when the Priesthood is restored with all its authority, power and blessings….

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 powers of the Melchizedek 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.

It may be asked by some, what necessity for sacrifice, since the Great Sacrifice was offered? In answer to which, if repentance, baptism, and faith existed prior to the days of Christ, what necessity for them since that time? The Priesthood has descended in a regular line from father to son, through their succeeding generations.”—Joseph Smith (Oct. 5, 1840), in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,, 171-73.

I especially remember the phrase “the restitution of all things” when it was explained to me by the missionaries.  It made sense. It caused me to love better the Old Testament because for the first time the Old Testament was integrated into my understanding of the gospel which earlier as a Baptist was poor because the Old Testament was almost entirely ignored along with those parts of the New Testament that were not included in the writings of Paul.

But… I have since learned that there seems to be some inconsistency between this teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith and what has been taught by his successors in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I have further been confused to find a passage in my study of the Book of Mormon that seems to say that animal sacrifice has been completely done away since the death of Jesus Christ in ancient times.

18 I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:18-20)

Other modern prophets have confirmed this:

“The law of sacrifice was ended upon the cross and a new era was inaugurated, the era of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which would give men the opportunity to serve God in the spirit of love.”—Joseph L. Wirthlin, Conference Report, April 1948, 144.

“With the sacrifice of Jesus, ‘the performances and ordinances of the Law of Moses’ were fulfilled (4 Ne. 1:12), and his death ended the practice of sacrifices on an altar. To his disciples in the western continents, Jesus said that he would no longer accept burnt offerings, but that anyone who believes in him should offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit (3 Ne. 9:19-20; cf. D&C 59:8).”—Gloria Jean Thomas, “Sacrifice,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1248.

So which is it?  Does an apostle’s statement or the The Encyclopedia of Mormonism have more authority than the first president of the Church, Joseph Smith, or the apostle who became the tenth president of the church, Joseph Fielding Smith?  Is there some other way to understand the passage in the Book of Mormon?  We know that when considering the teachings of the apostles and prophets we need to make allowance for the possibility that they were not “speaking as a prophet” as is the case when they are giving their personal opinions. We also know that the scriptures are not always correctly interpreted by accepting the first understanding that comes to mind.  Sometimes there are other scriptures that do not verify the questioned passages and even some that seem to contradict.  There is also the possibility of ancient errors in the Book of Mormon.  Those possibilities are referred to by the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon themselves.

I am pretty confused on this issue.  I do not like contradiction because I know that the truth is always consistent with itself.  Whatever was true in the early 19th century is still true today.  If there seems to be an inconsistency, it is only because our perception of truth is faulty or incomplete.

Can anyone reading this clear it up for me?  This is a gospel question.  What is the answer?