The Bible is certainly a magnificent witness of Jesus Christ and His divinity, but the crowning witness of the Savior and His Atonement is to be found in the Book of Mormon. Here are some of the ways the Book of Mormon deepens our understanding of Christ's Atonement.
1. The Power to Comfort Us in Our Afflictions
Some might wonder if the Savior’s Atonement plays any part in our lives beyond raising us from the dead and cleansing us of our sins. The Book of Mormon makes clear that it does. Through His Atonement, the Savior acquired the powers to strengthen, support, and comfort us as we experience the afflictions and infirmities of life. The Bible gives us some beautiful insights into Christ’s healing and comforting powers, particularly as recorded in Isaiah 53:3–5 and Isaiah 61:1–3. The Book of Mormon confirms these powers and gives us some additional insights into their breadth and origin.
Perhaps there are no more instructive verses in all of scripture that explain how and why the Savior suffered for us, and how that suffering enabled Him to be the ultimate Comforter, than these found in the book of Alma:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; see also Mosiah 3:7).
It is one thing to understand that the Savior has comforting and healing powers. It is another to know how these powers might be applied in our own lives. The Book of Mormon shares multiple ways in which this is accomplished. Sometimes the simple words from the Lord, “Be comforted,” are sufficient. When the sons of Mosiah needed comfort as they began their mission to the Lamanites, “The Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted” (Alma 17:10; see also Jacob 2:8).
Amulek counseled the persecuted poor among the Zoramites to “bear with all manner of afflictions,” and then he gave them the eternal perspective that made this possible—“a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions” (Alma 34:40–41). The Atonement of Jesus Christ brings eternal perspective, eternal perspective brings hope, and hope brings comfort.
When Limhi and his people were in bondage to the Lamanites, they suffered great afflictions, “and there was no way that they could deliver themselves out of their hands” (Mosiah 21:5). Then the Lord stepped in with His comforting powers “and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens” (Mosiah 21:15).
On a similar occasion, when Alma and his people were in bondage, the Lord chose yet another way to comfort His people:
“I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
“And . . . the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease” (Mosiah 24:14–15).
The Book of Mormon not only helps us understand that God can comfort us, but it also gives us specific examples as to how that might occur—by sharing the power of His words, by enhancing our eternal perspective, by softening the hearts of our enemies, and by strengthening us so we can more easily bear the burdens at hand. No doubt the Lord can comfort us in other ways, such as removing the affliction entirely, if He so desires.1 Recognizing all this, it is no wonder that Alma should say: “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3).
These insights from the Book of Mormon, along with specific examples of their application, can strengthen our faith in the Savior’s healing powers and in His divine nature.
2. The Power to Overcome Our Weaknesses and Perfect Us
One of the glorious insights into the Atonement of Jesus Christ, as taught in the Book of Mormon, is that the Savior can not only cleanse us but also perfect us. The doctrine that we can become Christlike because of Christ’s Atonement is considered blasphemous by some Christians, even though it is clearly taught in the Bible.2 Nonetheless, this is the crowning aim and achievement of Christ’s Atonement: to take a mortal with all of his or her weaknesses and imperfections and convert those weaknesses not only to strengths but even more—to godlike attributes (see Moses 1:39). The Book of Mormon clarifies this doctrine that unfortunately is so confusing to those who rely upon the Bible alone.
King Benjamin addressed this topic in his final sermon. He spoke of the need to “[put] off the natural man and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). In other words, the way to become saintly, meaning godly, is to avail oneself of Christ’s grace (His enabling powers) made possible by the Atonement. Moroni was lamenting his weakness in his writing skills when the Savior said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). If one weakness can become a strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, why cannot all weaknesses become strengths? And as each weakness becomes a strength, the road to perfection is traveled.
The prophet Mormon also testified that we can become godlike, inviting us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart . . . that ye may become the sons of God; that when he [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him, . . . that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48). Moroni also bore witness of this possibility to become pure and perfect like the Savior, but in addition revealed to us the means by which this might be accomplished:
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
“ . . . Then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, . . . that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:32–33; emphasis added).
We recognize that becoming holy or godly through Christ’s Atonement is a step-by-step process, a struggle that involves successes and failures along the way, but Christ has given us the comforting assurance that He will be with us each step of the path in that pursuit (see D&C 84:88; Abraham 1:18).
Because the Savior provided the way to become more like Him through His Atonement, He could command us to “be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48), and He could further command, “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27).
This doctrine of perfection as taught in the Book of Mormon is so consistent with the ultimate purpose of Christianity and biblical scripture that it is difficult to understand why other churches do not readily embrace it. For example, suppose you were to ask one of your Christian friends if all Christians should be striving to become more like Christ. No doubt your friend would respond “yes,” since to say “no” would destroy the principal reason for the existence of Christianity, namely to become disciples of Christ and thus become more like Him and ultimately live with Him. But once he says “yes,” he has crossed the line from which there is no return. Suppose you further asked, “Then to what extent can you become like Christ?” He might respond, “To a very small degree, since He is perfect and beyond our comprehension.” You might then suggest, “Let’s assume it’s 1 percent. But if it’s 1 percent, why not 5 percent? And if 5 percent, why not 10 percent? And if 10 percent, why not 50 percent? And so on. Once someone has acknowledged that it is possible to become like Christ to any degree, then what prevents such a person from becoming like Christ and our Father in Heaven to the degree commanded by Christ, namely: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).3 In other words, if it is blasphemous to think we can become godlike, then at what point is it not blasphemous to become like God—90 percent, 50 percent, 1 percent? Is it more Christian to seek partial perfection than total perfection as the scriptures have commanded us to do?
Knowing that we are the spirit offspring of God (see Acts 17:26–29) and thus have His “spiritual DNA” embedded in our souls, and that we may live for eternity with God as our Father and guide, then what limits would we want to ascribe to man’s spiritual progress?
This glorious truth and hope—that men and women, with all their weaknesses and imperfections, can eventually become godlike through the Atonement of Jesus Christ—is one of those pearls of great price, one of those plain and precious truths that was lost in the apostasy of Christ’s original Church but restored through the Book of Mormon. How grateful we should be for this divine disclosure of infinite worth!
3. Other Insights into Christ’s Infinite Atonement
The Book of Mormon reveals not only the magnificent heights to which we can rise due to Christ’s Atonement but also the tragic depths to which we must sink if there were no Atonement. Just as the crowning aim of the Savior’s Atonement is to become at one with Christ, and at one like Him, Jacob discloses the tragic consequences that must exist without Christ’s Atonement—we must become at one with the devil and at one like him, for as Jacob said, “our spirits must have become like unto him [the devil], and we become devils, . . . and to remain with the father of lies” (2 Nephi 9:9).
King Benjamin gave us other insights. He taught that the Atonement of Jesus Christ was planned in the premortal existence—“prepared from the foundation of the world” (Mosiah 4:6)—and that there was no plan B, no other way by which man can be saved, “neither are there any conditions [other than the Atonement of Jesus Christ] whereby man can be saved” (Mosiah 4:8; see also Mosiah 3:17).
Mormon exposed the false doctrine of original sin and infant baptism. He declared: “He that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption” (Moroni 8:20; see also Moroni 8:22).
Some have expounded the theory that Christ’s suffering was mitigated by the fact that He was half divine and therefore His divinity protected Him from hunger when He fasted, from exhaustion after a long day’s work, and from suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross. Some have even speculated that Christ did not really bleed from every pore but merely sweat “as [though] it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). King Benjamin refuted these misconceptions with this declaratory statement, “And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7; emphasis added).
The Book of Mormon introduces a phrase not found in the Bible: “an infinite atonement” (2 Nephi 9:7; Alma 34:12), thus revealing the expansiveness, scope, and depth of Christ’s saving powers.
In addition, the Book of Mormon teaches that if we embrace the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be of good cheer regardless of how dire our circumstances may be. Mormon wrote to his son Moroni of the Nephites’ devastating losses in battle, of their depraved and degenerate condition, but then put it all in perspective: “My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever” (Moroni 9:25; see also John 16:33).
We learn a great lesson from this revealed truth. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we are in the driver’s seat as to our eternal destiny. There is no external force or person or event—no disaster, financial loss, divorce, sickness, or abuse—that can rob us of our exaltation, provided we exercise faith in the Savior and follow Him. We can be optimistic about life because, as Nephi taught: “Cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Nephi 10:23; see also 2 Nephi 2:27).
Nowhere is the Savior’s Atonement taught more powerfully, more concisely, and more expansively than in the Book of Mormon. It restores much that has been lost or mystified on this most sublime of all gospel truths. In this regard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has noted: “Much of this doctrine [of the Atonement of Jesus Christ] has been lost or expunged from the biblical records. It is therefore of great consequence that the Book of Mormon prophets taught that doctrine in detail and with clarity.”4
Before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized, its keystone was in place. That keystone, the Book of Mormon, has been shared, studied, respected, and embraced by millions of people the world over. It has also been scrutinized, analyzed, dismissed, even ridiculed by critics for nearly 200 years.
In A Case for the Book of Mormon, best-selling author Tad Callister offers a comprehensive overview of many of the critics' claims and provides carefully reasoned explanations that shed new light on the discussion. He presents compelling evidence, both physical and spiritual, for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and invites readers on a spiritual journey that promises a witness stronger than any intellectual argument could create.
"The book focuses on a case for the Book of Mormon," Brother Callister writes, "but in one sense the Book of Mormon does not need a case presented on its behalf. It is its own best witness—its own best evidence. . . .It bears witness of the Savior with precision and power; and it invites the Spirit in unrestrained proportions. Every aspect of the Book of Mormon bears witness of its divine origin because, in fact, it is divinely inspired."
1 I am not sure if Jesus acquired all of these comforting powers as a result of His Atonement or if some are independent powers possessed by the Savior, but it seems plausible that Christ knows which comforting powers to use in each of our trials because, as a part of His Atonement, He suffered all our afflictions and thereby knows “according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12; emphasis added).
2 See Genesis 3:22; Matthew 5:48; John 10:32–34; Acts 17:28; Romans 8:16–17; Ephesians 4:12–13; Philippians 2:5–6; Philippians 3:14; 22 Peter 1:4; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 21:7.
3 The word perfect as used in this scripture comes from the Greek word telios. Some have suggested this might be translated as “finished” or “completed,” resulting in a connotation other than godly perfection—perhaps meaning a complete or mature Saint. When read in context, however, this scripture seems to require a conclusion of godly perfection, since the type of completeness or perfection to which it is referring is “even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” In other words, God is not perfect like a mature Saint or in any other relative sense.
4 Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, 199.