Early Christianity and Mormonism:
The LDS Temple Endowment: An Introduction
©Barry Bickmore. All rights reserved.
Reference Info - glossary of
ancient Christian writers and documents, guide to abbreviations, bibliography.
Introduction - Why So Hush-Hush?
The reinstitution of temple worship was an integral part of the "Restoration
of All Things", and yet the content of these ordinances is so shocking
to much of the rest of the Christian world that they are routinely labelled
as satanic in anti-Mormon literature.1 A large
part of the information purveyed in these "exposes" is patently
false, however, so perhaps the average Christian would be quite a bit less
shocked by LDS temple ordinances if he could be disabused of his wild notions
about what goes on in them. This is easier said than done, unfortunately,
since Latter-day Saints do not speak openly about certain aspects of these
sacred ordinances, especially the Endowment.
Certainly this is the crux of the problem encountered by a site such
as this, which seeks to present parallels to LDS beliefs and practices
in ancient Christianity. As a Latter-day Saint who has participated in
these rites, I am bound not to discuss certain aspects of them outside
of our temple walls. This is no attempt on the part of Mormons to make
their rituals seem more mysterious and impressive. Rather, Latter-day Saints
do not discuss certain things in order to follow Jesus' command: "Give
not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before
swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend
you."2 That is, even though many may be
curious about certain aspects of the gospel, they are probably not willing
to take on the added responsibility which goes along with that knowledge.
For anyone who is willing to learn the mysteries of God "precept upon
precept; line upon line,... here a little, and there a little"3,
and to make such commitments, the doors to the knowledge of the temple
are soon opened. (Latter-day Saints may qualify to enter the temple after
only one year of membership, as long as the candidate has been living in
accordance with his or her covenants.) As Jesus said immediately after
he charged his disciples not to cast their pearls before swine, "Ask,
and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall
be opened unto you...."4 The Book of
Mormon explains this principle clearly:
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is
given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid
under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the
portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according
to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. And therefore, he that
will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word;
and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion
of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until
he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is
given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning
Therefore, I will begin this series of essays with an explanation of
the temple Endowment which will consist exclusively of the information
available in publicly published statements of various Latter-day Saint
general authorities. I will neither go beyond the substance of these statements
in my commentary nor comment very much on those parts of ancient ceremonies
presented which parallel the Endowment. That is, certain aspects of the
ancient ceremonies I will present are very similar to the temple ceremony,
and certain aspects are not. (Very little doctrine or practice was transmitted
through the apostasy without changes or corruptions, and given their esoteric
nature, the temple ceremonies would probably have been among the first
ordinances to become corrupted and/or lost.)
In large part I will leave it up to the reader to judge the significance
of each article of information presented. Thus, those readers who have
participated in the Endowment will necessarily be better equipped in their
judgement than those who have not. However, much of the information presented
will be related to those parts of the temple ceremony which are public
knowledge, so even one who is only cursorily familiar with this aspect
of Mormonism will be in a position to examine much of the evidence.
The temple Endowment is primarily a vehicle to present knowlege to the
Saints. Therefore, the Plan of Salvation is presented to the participants
in symbolic form, reminding them of their covenants before God and the
way to exaltation. If one gains this knowlege and lives by it he
has the keys he needs to come into the presence of God in the world to
come. The public descriptions and explanations of the Endowment by prophets
and Apostles of the LDS Church which follow should give the reader some
idea of what goes on in this sacred ordinance.
Elder John A. Widtsoe, formerly an apostle in the Restored Church, outlined
the Endowment thus:
The endowment and the temple work as revealed by the Lord to the
Prophet Joseph Smith fall clearly into four distinct parts: The preparatory
ordinances; the giving of instruction by lectures and representations;
covenants; and, finally, tests of knowledge. I doubt that the Prophet Joseph
Smith, unlearned and untrained in logic, could of himself have made the
thing so logically complete.6
Boyd K. Packer, of the Twelve, explains that the first phase of the
Endowment ceremony deals with preparatory or "initiatory" ordinances
wherein the participant is washed and anointed. He points out that these
ordinances are "mostly symbolic in nature."7
The Lord has said concerning these ordinances: "I say unto you,
how shall your washings be acceptable unto me, except ye perform them in
a house which you have built to my name?"8
Also: "I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings...
are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house."9
Elder Packer goes on to explain that in connection with the washings and
anointings, candidates are officially clothed in a symbolic white garment
and promised certain blessings.10
The next phase consists of Christ-centered instruction about one's place
in the Plan of Salvation. Apostle James E. Talmage gave the following description:
The Temple Endowment, as administered in modern temples, comprises
instruction relating to the significance and sequence of past dispensations,
and the importance of the present as the greatest and grandest era in human
history. This course of instruction includes a recital of the most prominent
events of the creative period, the condition of our first parents in the
Garden of Eden, their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful
abode, their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live
by labor and sweat, the plan of redemption by which the great transgression
may be atoned, the period of the great apostasy, the restoration of the
Gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensable
condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life,
and a strict compliance with Gospel requirements.11
Elder Packer explains that much of the instruction in the temple is
given in symbolic fashion. This should come in no surprise, since so much
of the teaching in the scriptures is done symbolically, as well.12
Associated with this instruction are various covenants the participants
make in relation to their daily conduct. Elder Talmage made the following
observations about this phase of the ceremony:
The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the
part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law
of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and
pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and
the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth;
and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the
earth may be made ready to receive her King,-the Lord Jesus Christ. With
the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised
blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the
No jot, iota, or tittle of the temple rites is otherwise than uplifting
and sanctifying. In every detail the endowment ceremony contributes to
covenants of morality of life, consecration of person to high ideals, devotion
to truth, patriotism to nation, and allegiance to God. The blessings of
the House of the Lord are restricted to no privileged class; every member
of the Church may have admission to the temple with the right to participate
in the ordinances thereof, if he comes duly accredited as of worthy life
In relation to the final phase of the endowment, the tests of knowledge,
not much can be said beyond the following statement by the prophet Brigham
Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive
all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for
you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the
presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being
enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to
the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which was approved for publication
by the Church leadership, also reveals that there is a symbolic "prayer
circle" associated with the Endowment, which, along with the rest
of the ceremony "precedes the symbolic entrance into the celestial
world and the presence of God."15
The temple Endowment is a profound experience for those who participate
in it seeking light and knowlege from above, so one could say that its
own fruits justify it, no matter whether it was ever practiced by the ancient
Church, or not. However, significant evidence does exist that not only
ancient Christians, but ancient Jews practiced similar rituals, including
both "orthodox" and gnostic divisions of these groups. Therefore
the next task at hand is to describe various of these rites in the context
of the people who practiced them.
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1 e.g. see Decker and Hunt, The God Makers, p. 209.
2 Matthew 7:6.
3 Isaiah 28:10.
4 Matthew 7:7.
5 Alma 12:9-11.
6 Widtsoe, "Temple Worship," p. 58.
7 Packer, The Holy Temple, p. 154.
8 D&C 124:37.
9 D&C 124:39.
10 Packer, The Holy Temple, p. 155.
11 Talmage, The House of the Lord, pp. 99-100.
12 Packer, The Holy Temple, p. 38.
13 Talmage, The House of the Lord, p.100.
14 Widstoe, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 416.
15 Compton, T., "Symbolism", in Encyclopedia
of Mormonism, vol. 3.