(Photo courtesy LDS.org Media Library)

Elder James E. Talmage’s iconic book “Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to the Holy Scriptures Both Ancient and Modern” has taught and blessed countless readers in the 100 years since its initial publication in September 1915. The 736-page text is comprised of 42 chapters, rich in detail and doctrine. But even if you haven’t read the book cover to cover, there are a few basic points you should understand from this powerful volume.

In honor of the book’s 100th anniversary this month, here are 10 powerful takeaways from “Jesus the Christ,” with characteristically lengthy excerpts from Talmage’s own words. (Note: Page numbers correspond with the 1990 Missionary Reference Library mass-market edition.)

1. Jesus Christ was the only being suited to perform the Atonement.

Talmage explains why no other was qualified to perform the Atonement and become the Savior of the World:

“The atonement was plainly to be a vicarious sacrifice, voluntary and love-inspired on the Savior’s part, universal in its application to mankind so far as men shall accept the means of deliverance thus placed within their reach. For such a mission only one who was without sin could be eligible. … Jesus Christ was the only Being suited to the requirements of the great sacrifice: 1—As the one and only sinless Man; 2—As the Only Begotten of the Father and therefore the only Being born to earth possessing in their fulness the attributes of both Godhood and manhood; 3—As the One who had been chosen in the heavens and foreordained to this service.” (p. 20)

2. Christ is a sacred title

Though often used interchangeably with Jesus’ given name, “Christ” is actually a title given to Him as the Messiah. Talmage explains:

“Jesus is the individual name of the Savior, and as thus spelled is of Greek derivation; its Hebrew equivalent was Yehoshua or Yeshua, or as we render it in English, Joshua. In the original the name was well understood as meaning ‘Help of Jehovah,’ or ‘Savior.’ Though as common an appellation as John or Henry or Charles today, the name was nevertheless divinely prescribed, as already stated. Thus, unto Joseph, the espoused husband of the Virgin, the angel said, ‘And thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.’

Christ is a sacred title, and not an ordinary appellation or common name; it is of Greek derivation, and in meaning is identical with its Hebrew equivalent Messiah or Messias, signifying the Anointed One. Other titles, each possessing a definitive meaning, such as Emmanuel, Savior, Redeemer, Only Begotten Son, Lord, Son of God, Son of Man, and many more, are of scriptural occurrence; the fact of main present importance to us is that these several titles are expressive of our Lord’s divine origin and Godship. As seen, the essential names or titles of Jesus the Christ were made known before His birth, and were revealed to prophets who preceded Him in the mortal state.” (p. 33-34)

3. The illegality of Christ’s trial

In Talmage’s own words, “Many volumes have been written on the so-called trial of Jesus. Only a brief summary of the principal items of fact and law can be incorporated here.” However, Talmage does list another writer’s (Chandler’s) 12 points that attest to the illegality of Christ’s trial, including “The Arrest of Jesus was illegal,” “The proceedings of the Sanhedrin against Jesus were illegal because they were conducted at night,” and “The members of the Great Sanhedrin were legally disqualified to try Jesus.” These and other points are notable, even if they are not Talmage’s original thoughts. (See pages 598-601.)

4. The doctrine of the Godhead

Though made plain by Joseph Smith decades earlier, Talmage adds his witness to the nature of the Godhead:

“The scriptures specify three personages in the Godhead; (1) God the Eternal Father, (2) His Son Jesus Christ, and (3) the Holy Ghost. These constitute the Holy Trinity, comprising three physically separate and distinct individuals, who together constitute the presiding council of the heavens.” (p. 30)

5. Christ performed miracles by authority

Jesus Christ held special authority to perform miracles and other tasks as commanded by the Father. Talmage wrote of the resurrection of Lazarus:

“He did not ask the Father for power or authority; such had already been given Him; but He gave thanks, and in the hearing of all who stood by acknowledged the Father and expressed the oneness of His own and the Father’s purposes. Then, with a loud voice He cried: ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The dead man heard that voice of authoritative command; the spirit straightway reentered the tabernacle of flesh, the physical processes of life were resumed; and Lazarus, again alive, came forth. His freedom of motion was limited, for the grave clothes hampered his movements, and his face was still bound by the napkin by which the lifeless jaw had been held in place. To those who stood near, Jesus said: ‘Loose him, and let him go.'” (p. 460)

6. Origin of modern ordinances

Talmage explains the significance of the ordinances Christ introduced at the end of His mortal ministry, including the washing of the feet.

“He knelt before each of the Twelve in turn, washed his feet, and wiped them with the towel. When He reached Peter, that impulsive apostle protested, saying: ‘Lord, dost thou wash my feet?’ That the proceeding was something more than mere service for personal comfort, and more than an object-lesson of humility, appears in the Lord’s words to Peter—’What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.'” (p. 552)

“The ordinance of the washing of feet was reestablished through revelation December 27, 1832. It was made a feature of admission to the school of the prophets, and detailed instructions relating to its administration were given. Further direction as to the ordinances involving washing were revealed January 19, 1841.” (pg. 574, note 3)

7. The nature of the Virgin birth

The Bible says relatively little concerning the circumstances of the Virgin birth, but Talmage explains the concept in greater detail. He says:

“Mary’s promised Son was to be ‘The Only Begotten’ of the Father in the flesh; so it had been both positively and abundantly predicted. True, the event was unprecedented; true also it has never been paralleled; but that the virgin birth would be unique was as truly essential to the fulfilment of prophecy as that it should occur at all. That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the “Son of the Highest.” In His nature would be possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate—after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman.” (p. 77)

8. The nature of a resurrected body

In writing about the resurrection of Christ, Talmage also makes clear some of the attributes of resurrected personages generally. He writes:


“The fact that an earthquake occurred, and that the angel of the Lord descended and rolled the stone from the portal of the tomb in the early dawn of Sunday—for so we infer from Matt.28:1, 2—does not prove that Christ had not already risen. The great stone was rolled back and the inside of the sepulchre exposed to view, so that those who came could see for themselves that the Lord’s body was no longer there; it was not necessary to open the portal in order to afford an exit to the resurrected Christ. In His immortalized state He appeared in and disappeared from closed rooms. A resurrected body, though of tangible substance, and possessing all the organs of the mortal tabernacle, is not bound to earth by gravitation, nor can it be hindered in its movements by material barriers. To us who concevie of motion only in the directions incident to the three dimensions of space, the passing of a solid, such as a living body of flesh and bones, through stone walls, is necessarily incomprehensible. But that resurrected beings move in accordance with laws making such passage possible and to them natural, is evidenced not only by the instance of the risen Christ, but by the movements of other resurrected personages. Thus, in September, 1823, Moroni, the Nephite prophet who had died about A.D. 400, appeared to Joseph Smith in his chamber, three times during one night, coming and going without hindrance incident to walls or roof.” (p. 648)

9. Christ’s visit to the spirits in prison

Talmage explains Christ’s visit to the souls in spirit prison with the following:

“While divested of His body Christ ministered among the departed, both in paradise and in the prison realm where dwelt in a state of durance the spirits of the disobedient. …

“The disobedient who had lived on earth in the Noachian period are especially mentioned as beneficiaries of the Lord’s ministry in the spirit world. They had been guilty of gross offenses, and had wantonly rejected the teachings and admonitions of Nora, the earthly minister of Jehovah. For their flagrant sin they had been destroyed in the flesh, and their spirits had endured in a condition of imprisonment, without hope, from the time of their death to the advent of Christ, who came as a Spirit amongst them. We are not to assume from Peter’s illustrative mention of the disobedient antediluvians that they alone were included in the blessed opportunities offered through Christ’s ministry in the spirit realm; on the contrary, we conclude in reason and consistency that all whose wickedness in the flesh had brought their spirits into the prison house were sharers in the possibilities of expiation, repentance, and release. Justice demanded that the gospel be preached among the dead as it had been and was to be yet more widely preached among the living.” (p. 624-625)

10. The physical cause of Christ’s death

Though the physical cause of Christ’s death isn’t discussed widely, Talmage offers his insight on this significant event in the Atonement of Christ:

“While, as stated in the text, the yielding up of life was voluntary on the part of Jesus Christ, for He had life in Himself and no man could take His life except as He willed to allow it to be taken, there was of necessity a direct physical cause of dissolution. As stated also the crucified sometimes lived for days upon the cross, and death resulted, not from the infliction of mortal wounds, but from exhaustion of vital energy. Jesus, though weakened by long torture during the preceding night and early morning, by the shock of the crucifixion itself, as also by intense mental agony, and particularly through spiritual suffering such as no other man has ever endured, manifested surprising vigor, both of mind and body, to the last. The strong, loud utterance, immediately following which He bowed His head and ‘gave up the ghost,’ when considered in connection with other recorded details, points to a physical rupture of the heart as the direct cause of death. If the soldier’s spear was thrust into the left side of the Lord’s body and actually penetrated the heart, the outrush of ‘blood and water’ observed by John is further evidence of a cardiac rupture; for it is known that in the rare instances of death resulting from a breaking of any part of the wall of the heart, blood accumulates within the pericardium, and there undergoes a change by which the corpuscles separate as a partially clotted mass from the almost colorless, watery serum.”  (p. 620)

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