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But the LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him. Hab 2:20

December 2, 2009

I think non-Mormons have an innate curiosity about LDS temples. As I drive past the local temple in my area I often wonder what is going on inside. The sheer imposing size and augustness of the architecture leave many to marvel at the significance of these temples. I’ve never been inside one but I’ve seen pictures. They look like places of immaculate design and pristine decor.

The concept of having such a huge private church-operated building outside of the local church is a concept foreign to most Christians today; but the use of temples was not foreign to early Jewish Christians. Acts records,

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. (Acts 2:46)

These believers would have been in the public place of worship in the temple. They did not abandon their times of prayer that were so central to Jewish religious life but remained fervent in their attendance at the temple. It is a common theme of the book of Acts. The apostles and believers were constantly going to the temple to pray and to teach.

The fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE marked a definite end to temple worship for Christian Jews. The most grievous loss to the Jews was the destruction of their temple—an event foretold by Jesus (Mark 13:1-4). The sacred temple mount of Jerusalem is also the location of the Dome of the Rock—one of the most sacred locations in Islam.

The New Testament epistles frequently use the word “temple” in a figurative sense. Paul’s admonishment “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) was repeated several times. The concept of the believer’s body being the location of the indewelling Holy Spirit is a fact that should cause holy living! “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19).

Believers together are compared to a building, “for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor 6:16).  The church itself is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and with Christ as the chief cornerstone, “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21).

While LDS would agree with the figurative sense that the word “temple” is used for in the New Testament, they also believe in the function of a literal temple.  For LDS the temple is necessary for making covenants with God. It is the location members receive endowments and seal marriages. One of the central tenets of faith for LDS is the belief that the church entered into a profound state of apostasy in the early church period and through the prophet Joseph Smith the fullness of the gospel was restored to the earth.

Some Christians feel that Joseph Smith did not restore the teaching and practices of the early church, but instead created doctrine and practice. Such an example is found in temple ceremonies. If the temple was a place for ordinances, there is no such mention of these ceremonies in the New Testament or in early historical accounts. In his book The Inevitable Apostasy Tad Callister offers this explanation for such a lack of data.

There were certain other ordinances in the primitive church of such a sacred nature that they were not mentioned or were only briefly alluded to in the scriptures and by the early Christian writers. These ordinances included baptisms for the dead and, in addition, may have included the ordinances of washings and anointings, endowments, and sealings (which includes marrying spouses for eternity and binding children to parents for eternity). It seems that at least some of these ordinances, all of which are currently performed in Latter-day Saint temples, were available since the days of Adam (pp. 248-249).

Of the list, Callister is only able to find biblical precedent for one practice—baptism for the dead. Scholars differ on the meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29, which states, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” LDS believe it to be scriptural support for the practice of vicarious works for the dead. Others view it as a chastisement for disbelief in the resurrection among people who do baptize for the dead. This view may be problematic however. Albert Barnes notes that there is no evidence that this custom existed during Paul’s day. He holds the view that the proper understanding of the passage is baptized as dead in the likeness of Christ. There are many other viewpoints. And while the practice is mentioned by Paul in this verse, no commandment is ever issued in regards to its practice.

What about the other temple practices?  Callister says that these practices may have been available since Adam but offers no support for his statements. What of the concept of multiple temples–but none of them on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem?  Do LDS believe that they are practicing the same Christianity as the early church in their temple ceremonies? If so, why is there no Scriptural evidence for such a central focus of Mormonism?

The topic of temples reminds me of the vision of the prophet Isaiah.  His telling of the account always gives me shivers.

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.  Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.  And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isa. 6:1-3).

When Isaiah beheld the awesomeness of God in the temple he became completely undone.  He became aware of his sin and absolute inadequacy.  What tremendous symbolism this Old Testament vision gives of the New Testament reality of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.  My body is a temple filled with the holiness of God.  I’m reminded again of the great cost that this gift required and of the words of the Apostle Paul:

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body,

and in your spirit, which are God’s.  (1 Cor. 6:20)

23 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2009 3:58 pm

    You’re looking in the wrong book.

    Try the Old Testament.

  2. December 3, 2009 6:35 pm

    I just knew this was going to be Seth’s favorite I Love Mormons post ever.

    Jessica ~ I’ve never been in an LDS temple, either. Would love to catch an open house sometime, but they never seem to be happening in my area. I understand the need for utilitarian meetinghouses and chapels, but I sometimes wish Protestants utilized more beautiful architecture somewhere.

    Regarding baptism for the dead and 1 Corinthians 15:29, I recommend that you check out this article:

    Joel R. White, “‘Baptized on Account of the Dead’: The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in Its Context,” Journal of Biblical Literature 116/3 (1997):487-99.

    The article argues that “the dead” in verse 29a is a metaphor for the apostles, and the adverb meaning “really/truly” is meant to modify the second use of “dead.” So the passage actually means:

    “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the [metaphorically] dead [i.e. the apostles]? If the truly dead are not raised, why are people baptized for them [i.e. the apostles]?”

    My friend J. P. Holding covered this interpretation in his chapter on baptism for the dead in his book, The Mormon Defenders: How Latter-day Saint Apologists Misinterpret the Bible, p. 72-74. In fact, I was shelving my book collection a few weeks ago and discovered that I have an extra copy, so if you don’t own that book I’d be happy to send it to you. It’s not doing me much good being doubled-up on my shelf.

  3. December 3, 2009 9:07 pm

    Hi Jack,

    Stephanie actually wrote this post, not me. But I agree with her about 99.99% of the time and I’ve never been in a temple either. Thank you for the book offer! The book sounded good when I saw you mention it somewhere in cyberspace a number of months ago so I ordered myself a copy. Unfortunately, I have not made time to read all of it yet. Some days I wish I could just quit my job and read all day. I have so many books I want to read and not enough hours in the day. Ah well….. The other article you recommended sounds good as well – I’ll check it out! Thanks! 🙂

  4. December 3, 2009 9:32 pm

    Whoops, I didn’t even look at the author. Sorry Stephanie! Darned group blogs have been screwing me up lately…

    If anyone else here wants my extra copy of the book, let me know. I had ordered tons of them from JPH at a bulk price when the book came out for giving away, but I think I’m down to that one last extra copy now.

  5. Stephanie permalink
    December 4, 2009 12:30 am


    You’re looking in the wrong book.

    Try the Old Testament.

    Wait. I’m confused. 🙂 What am I supposed to be looking for in the Old Testament?

  6. faithoffathers permalink
    December 4, 2009 3:18 am


    I have heard and read many explanations and interpretations of the 1 Corinthians verse. JRW’s is really no different- to me it looks like he is inserting his opinion into the text in a huge way.

    Be honest, doesn’t the verse obviously describe a vicarious ordinance or act- one person doing something for somebody else. And that act is baptism. Where does that fit into any EV interpretation of the NT?

    In my opinion, it is a major hand waving to explain away the word “dead” as a metaphorical tool. PAUL IS TALKING ABOUT THE RESURRECTION. Does it not seem out of place for him to use the word “dead” in a metaphorical sense when he is trying to convince people that there IS a resurrection?

    Of course there are countless religious scholars who will explain away this verse because they do not believe in such a doctrine. I would be shocked if this weren’t the case.

    Is it reasonable to claim that if a teaching or ordinance is not in the NT, it did not happen? Consider how many times Christ limited the circle of people to whom a particular teaching or miracle was shared during his mortal life, not to mention the 40 days after His resurrection wherein He taught the Apostles “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3.

    Clement said that the Lord commanded the apostles to preach to the world “for the time being” no doctrine beyond that of baptism. Of this Peter said: “Be this therefore the first step to you of thirty commands, and the second sixty, and the third a hundred, as we shall expound more fully to you at another time.” Clementine Recognitions IV, 35—36.

    From Hugh Nibleys chapter on the topic which I highly recommend:

    Pastor of Hermas, one of the most trustworthy guides to the established beliefs of the early church, that not only Christ and John but also “these Apostles, and the teachers who had proclaimed the name of the Son of God, after they had fallen asleep in [the] power and faith of the Son of God preached likewise to the dead; and they gave them the seal of the preaching. They accordingly went down with them into the water and came out again. But although they went down while they were alive and came up alive, those who had fallen asleep before them (prokekoimemenoi) went down dead, but came out again living; for it was through these that they were made alive, and learned the name of the Son of God.”


    “I think,” says Clement of Alexandria, commenting on this passage, “that it was necessary for the best of the Apostles to be imitators of their Master on the other side as well as here, that they might convert the gentile dead as he did the Hebrew.” Elsewhere he says: “Christ visited, preached to, and baptized the just men of old, both gentiles and Jews, not only those who lived before the coming of the Lord, but also those who were before the coming of the Law . . . such as Abel, Noah, or any such righteous man.” In the “Discourses to the Apostles” Jesus says:

    I went down and spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, your fathers, and declared unto them how they might rise, and with my right hand I gave them the baptism of life and release and forgiveness of all evil, even as I do to you here and to all who believe on me from this time on.”

    The Sheperd of Hermas said it was “those apostles and teachers” of the first generation who “went down living into the water” in behalf of those who had died.

    John Tvedtnes has another good article you might look at:

    Again, I highly recommend these two articles on the topic.

    Sorry for the long quotations, but I thought it worth the hastle.

    Don’t know where you live, but if you live in Utah, the Brigham City temple is being built sometime soon- you might take a tour before it is dedicated. I think doing so changes what many non-LDS people think about the temple.


  7. December 4, 2009 4:21 am

    FoF ~ Have you read the article by Joel R. White in question? Or at least the summary of it in JP Holding’s book?

    If you want to disagree with my conclusions on the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29, that’s fine, but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t imply that I’m not being honest with myself or the text.

  8. December 4, 2009 4:21 pm

    I have read the Old Testament and specifically paid close attention to the passages which speak about Jewish Temple ritual… there is no mention of:

    1. sealings
    2. endowments
    3. baptisms for the dead
    4. initiatory ( other than ceremonial cleanings/washings for the priests only )

    I see very little resemblances between the Jewish Temple ritual and the LDS temple ritual. I have been thru the LDS temple many times, and honestly I don’t see any resemblance. The only resemblence mentioned is the priestly garments , which by the way were only worn by the priest in the actual tabernacle/temple.( not by every day Jews, and not by women) … also the ritual washings for purification.. but this was gone done only by priests . There is also no mention of women being involved in Jewish temple ritual, other than they would go there w/ their husbands to offer once a year their offerings.


  9. December 4, 2009 4:28 pm

    p.s. I know that the N.T. does mention ‘Ana’ as being at the temple and being a prophettes. So, that would lead me to believe that women did have some role in the Jewish temple at the time of Christ.

  10. December 4, 2009 4:35 pm

    One other thing I find interesting, is that in the book of the Revelation, it is specifically mentioned that there will be *no* temple in the new Jerusalem.

    “And I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God almighty and the lamb are the temple of it. ” Rev. 21:22

    The Holy city ~ ” The New Jerusalem” will descend from heaven ( verse 10)
    and that holy city, will have no temple… no need of Sun or Moon for the Glory of God will lighten it.

    Contrary to what the LDS teach, there will be no temple in the New Jerusalem. ( no huge temple complex in Missouri, etc.)

    Why would we need it, if we will live in the presense of the Living God and the Lamb will be the light thereof? ( verse 23)

    I recall the first time I read that.. I was like, “wow” all those teachings about the temple complex in Independence Missouri and such was simply not true.

    Why would we need a temple when Jesus himself will be there?


  11. December 4, 2009 9:06 pm

    Washing and annointing was an Old Testament ritual performed upon kings. That’s one example. Use of consecrated oil was another. The Holy of Holies being in the presence of God. Prayer circles. Divinization of humanity. It’s there if you know what you’re looking for.

    Giving the five books of Moses the once-over probably isn’t going to cut it though.

    I might have time to get more specific. In the meantime, this particular blogger has done a lot of work researching biblical and historical parallels to the LDS temple ceremony:

    I’d suggest browsing through his archives if you are interested.

  12. Stephanie permalink
    December 5, 2009 12:20 am

    Hi Seth and FOF,

    I wasn’t the one that claimed there was no NT record for these events. It was LDS author Tad Callister who wrote the book The Inevitable Apostasy. His argument is that the ordinances were too sacred to be written about. This seems a poor argument to me since other ordinances commonly practiced by the church are taught frequently in the Bible–communion / sacrament, baptism, laying on of hands for the sick, etc. What makes an endowment or marriage sealing more sacred than baptism or the sacrament? I can’t think of any more holy practice than the taking of the Lord’s Supper. I don’t mean to argue with you, Seth, but Callister has already done the work here. His book is quite well researched and this is his presentation. I think if he knew of OT or NT references to these ordinances he would have presented them.


  13. December 5, 2009 12:34 am

    The endowment is a symbol of the oneness that characterizes the Father, Son and Spirit. While the Sacrament is a necessary symbolic means to achieving this holy unity (via forgiveness), it is in the Endowment when it is actually realized. You come into the presence of God and share in his glory.

    I haven’t read Tad Callister. But I have read other scholars, and they have uncovered a great deal of temple symbology in the Bible. It’s not really of concern to me if Callister failed to realize this.

  14. December 5, 2009 12:37 am

    Incidentally however, I do agree with his overarching point that much was lost to us in the 1st and 2nd centuries. If you recall, I’ve made the same point myself.

    But that does not rule out what is there in the Bible.

  15. Stephanie permalink
    December 5, 2009 12:47 am

    Logistically speaking, though, how would a marriage sealing work in any Biblical scenario? There was only one temple in Jerusalem. The women were allowed to watch ceremonies from an outer porch but not to participate in ceremonies. How are they supposed to be sealed to their husband and children if they can’t participate?

  16. December 5, 2009 1:04 am

    Don’t sweat the details Stephanie.

    I’m after overarching themes here. Every detail of modern temple practice need not be found in the old world for me to feel a continuity with it.

    And I was talking about the Endowment. Not the Sealing ceremony. They are two completely different things – even in the modern LDS temples.

  17. Stephanie permalink
    December 5, 2009 1:07 am

    Well its not really a “detail” if it wasn’t a practice allowed by Jewish law. Don’t you think its a bit of a problem to present these ordinances being available since the time of Adam if, in fact, they weren’t?

  18. December 5, 2009 2:14 am

    Keep in mind that a good chunk of the Old Testament is conducted in absence of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

    So what you are really looking for is a temple tradition conducted in absence of Melchizedek authority. That significantly alters what details you would be looking for.

  19. Stephanie permalink
    December 5, 2009 4:09 am

    First, that doesn’t address the issue that I brought up about women. Women weren’t allowed to participate in ceremonies in the temple. How did they engage in endowments, marriage sealing and family sealing from the time of Adam until the Great Apostasy?

    Obviously I don’t believe that they were performing these ordinances so it doesn’t matter to me about the Melchizedek priesthood. I’m not the one claiming that they were participating in LDS ordinances.

    You can’t have it both ways. Either they were engaged in LDS-type ceremonies from the time of Adam or they weren’t. Callister says they were. Perhaps you are saying that they weren’t because they didn’t have the Melchizedek priesthood. Earlier it seemed you were arguing that LDS-type ceremonial themes were seen in the OT.

  20. December 5, 2009 7:48 am

    Because I was.

    What you don’t seem to get is that the two positions are not incompatible.

  21. faithoffathers permalink
    December 8, 2009 9:04 pm


    Been gone a few days.

    I apologize if I wrote something that demeaned you or suggested that you were not being honest. I cannot see what I wrote that offended. I intended no such thing, but I can be a little sloppy and obtuse at times. The reason I return to this site is is the honesty and reasonableness of you and other non-LDS here. Sorry if I offended you.


  22. January 6, 2010 4:09 am

    Best book I’ve read on what goes on in LDS Temples and the meaning of the symbolism.

    Here’s the link. You can read it for free.

  23. January 6, 2010 6:07 am

    I don’t know Jenny…

    I looked at the other book descriptions on that website, and whoever is running it comes off as a slightly mentally unhinged conspiracy theorist.

    I half expected to see a book about how the US government engineered 9/11.

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