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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Our Temples aren’t Biblical, or Are They? » Our Temples aren’t Biblical, or Are They?

Our Temples aren’t Biblical, or Are They?

Don - July 14, 2006

I was reviewing my material for this week’s S.S. lesson and realized our temples aren’t anything like Solomon’s Temple.  We tend to think our temples and our temple worship can be traced back to the ancient temples.  We talk about the Holy of Holies and the Veil of the temple in Solomon’s time and think they relate to our modern temples….I don’t see it.

When I compare Solomon’s temple and modern ones I see three similarities.  One the name temple, two the Holy of Holies and three the veil.  The purpose, the usage, the sacred items in the temple, the meaning of those items are all either missing or completely different today.

Maybe I have just come to realize that I have been deceived or at least mis-guided in my temple understanding.  Growing up, it seemed like I was taught that modern temples were closely connected to the ancient ones.  That temple worship was been around forever.  That ordainances we perform in the temple were performed in ancient temples.  Everyone else probably was taught different and already sees and accepts these differences I’m talking about and it’s no big deal.

The Holy of Holies in those modern temples that have them is very different than the one in Solomon’s temple.  The High Priest was allowed in only one time per year, to go in and sprinkle blood on the floor and on the mercy seat.  He had to go thru an elaborate purification process to become worthy.  Only he was allowed in, in fact he had a rope tied around his foot, in case he died while inside, the other priests could pull him out without going into the holy of holies.

The veil separated the holy place from the holy of holies.  It was a thick, very thick cloth veil…no special marks in it as with modern temple veils.  Our veil separates the Terrestial world from the Celestial world, a totally different concept.

I guess if I were really looking at this right, Solomon’s temple is as different in concept and usage to our modern temples as is the difference between ancient synagogues and our modern church buildings.  And the church for that matter is very different today when compared with it anciently. 

Why do we get so hung up on trying to make what we have today "like" what they had then?


  1. Where’s Ben Spakeman when you need him?

    Comment by Brett — July 14, 2006 @ 11:05 pm

  2. Part of that difference is because of the limit to the Aaronic Priesthood whereas our temples are primarily focused on the M.P.

    Comment by Clark Goble — July 14, 2006 @ 11:13 pm

  3. There is probably a point to be made about the differences between Solomon’s temple and modern temples. However, I must take issue with a few points.

    First, if you are just trying to list superficial similarities (as you seem to be doing with your three similarities) then you left out a whole bunch of obvious ones. How about a laver of water on the backs of oxen? How about the altar of sacrifice (modern temples have altars and the law of sacrifice)? How about the altar of incense representing prayer (Rev. 8:3-4) which sits in front of the veil? There is a pretty obvious parallel to modern temples there.

    Second, you claim the veil separating the terrestrial kingdom from the celestial is a totally different concept than the veil in the ancient temple, but I don’t know why you think that. The holy of holies in ancient temples represented the presence of God, just like the celestial kingdom does. The reason the priest couldn’t go in is explained in D&C 84:23-27. It was because the people didn’t want to enter the presence of God (rejected the fullness of the gospel), the Melchizedek priesthood was taken away (with its ordinances which are necessary to enter within the veil), and they were left with the lesser priesthood and could not go into the holy of holies as a result. The basic symbolism seems exactly the same to me.

    Third, there is obviously a mountain of scholarship on the topic of temple worship. Even if some aspects of temple worship were different (which they obviously were), your idea that modern temples were just totally different in concept strikes me as remarkably uninformed. The basic concept of temples is the same as it has always been. It ritualizes the journey man must make to get from here to the presence of God.

    Comment by Jacob — July 14, 2006 @ 11:17 pm

  4. Don, I think you may be underestimating the similarities. Also, how do you KNOW there were no markings on the vail of Solomon’s Temple? We are told that the Tabernacle veil was made scarlet, blue, purple, and embroidered with golden Cherubim. What if these Cherubim ARE markings? Or what if the markings themselves are representatives of the Sentinels that we must pass? Funny hand signs? Yes, they did abound in Solomon’s Temple, and I could prove it if we were in the proper place, and it’s clearly written in the Bible if you have ears to hear it, and if you spend some time in Leviticus.

    They also had their own form of washing, and anointing by dabbing of oil and blood on the ear, thumb, and toe, and clothing in garments of the priesthood.

    I think there is more similar than I could ever hope to understand, and I keep learning more as I progress forward.

    Comment by Jeff Day — July 14, 2006 @ 11:34 pm

  5. It is not conclusive evidence, but you should really read Margaret Barker on the subject of the First Temple in Jerusalem.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 14, 2006 @ 11:58 pm

  6. I hear my call! Hope it wasn’t sarcasticly made ;)

    “The purpose, the usage, the sacred items in the temple, the meaning of those items are all either missing or completely different today.”

    I’d disagree. Certainly there are differences, no question.

    One person on a thread elsewhere summarized the Israelite ritual as focused on animal sacrifice, and we don’t do that. On that simplistic a level, no similarity.

    For an Israelite, however, the meaning of sacrifice went far beyond the simple act of animal slaughter. Ritual animal sacrifice in the temple was, for an Israelite, *inherently* tied to covenant-making, covenant-renewal, and atonement. That should sound somewhat more familiar.

    I believe there are some props missing from our temple, as it were. That is, we do things prop-less that the Israelites had tangible objects for, and if the props were there today, people would more easily grasp the OT connections and significance.

    Check out the temple essays and resources at Mormon Monastery.

    Comment by Ben — July 15, 2006 @ 12:32 am

  7. There is also the issue of narrative. There are strong similarities between ancient and modern temples regarding a general movement into sacred space. For example, artifacts and ordinaces that were place/performed without the ancient tabernacle coincide with those in the “lone and dreary world.”

    Also, those artifacts found in the Holy Place (imo) decidedly reflect some of the higher obligations that petain to that space in modern temples. Consider the alter of incense which was placed directly infront of the veil. The incense represents the prayers of the faithful ascending to heaven. This has direct correlation to what is done today at that particular point in the narrative. Their are other symbols, covenants, and artifacts in the HP that have to do with the emblems of the Savior which correlate beautifully with what is done today.

    And then there is the similarity in narrative between the Holy of Holies and the Celestial room which has already been discussed here.

    Overall, what we have is a similar progression into higher or more sacred space which culminates in entering the presence of God.

    Comment by Jack — July 15, 2006 @ 12:32 am

  8. “For example, artifacts and ordinaces that were place/performed without the ancient tabernacle coincide with those in the “lone and dreary world.”

    I should clarify that they coincide with elements in the narrative that both precede and are within the lone and dreary world.

    Comment by Jack — July 15, 2006 @ 1:11 am

  9. If Ben can endlessly flog his Temple stuff, so can I.

    Of course the ancient and modern temples vary. The ancient temple had its foundation in the Law of [literal] Sacrifice as moderated by the Law of Moses as administered by the Aaronic Priesthood. The ancient temple was in general “owned and operated” by the Levites and the ordinance thereof were more specifically performed by the Cohen, the sons of Aaron (under ideal circumstances). This is a dramatically different social, political and religious context than that in which we operate at present, so we would have to expect there to be significant differences based solely upon that.

    So, what fundamental similarities would have to remain? The spiritual purpose of the covenants made there. And, that remains the same between the ancient and modern temples, as argued in the piece I link immediately above.

    Comment by Kurt — July 15, 2006 @ 11:26 am

  10. Hey, I agree and appreciate the feedback. If we look for the differences they are everywhere. If we look for the similarities there are many.

    Sometimes I think we strain ourselves too much to try and find those similarities. Equating the Cheribim on the veil to the marks in our modern veil….the brazen sea which had absolutely nothing to do with baptism for the dead…their holy of holies and our holy of holies (I agree their’s represented the presence of God as does our Celestial Room – but what does our holy of holies represent then?)

    To me our modern temples represent modern revelation and I’m 100% ok with that. The same as the WofW isn’t biblical…it’s modern day revelation and that’s what this church is all about. Modern day revelation is where it’s at, not trying to prove every point from previous scripture.

    Comment by don — July 15, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

  11. By the way, thanks for your comments, they have given me a great perspective for part of my Gospel doctrine lesson this week.

    Comment by don — July 15, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

  12. It’s a fun topic, Don.

    I agree that we may strain ourselves to find similarities. In fact, I think we (collectively as LDS) have the unfortunate tendency to proof-text the scriptures to death on certain topics.

    PS. It was my alter ego that spelled “altar” a-l-t-e-r in my previous comment.

    But even so, it seems to me that the scriptures are repleat with strong common threads of narrative. Such narratives as the “exodus pattern” (which is reflected in the temple narrative) are IMO unmistakable. The “cycle of pride” is another one. And there are many others, of course.

    Your GD class is in for a treat!

    Comment by Jack — July 15, 2006 @ 1:59 pm

  13. Whoops! I don’t know how I inserted that Post-script in the middle of my comment. Oh well, y’all know it’s supposed to go at the end.

    Comment by Jack — July 15, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  14. I am acutely uncomfortable with the tone of such discussions on the internet. Though I see a need for an open forum, I feel caught between serious reverence for sacred ordinances administered in the House of the Lord. If I was at all susceptible to being offended myself, some of the comments here would have crossed the line of appropriate respect.

    Please, keep in mind when discussing such things that they are most sacred to many of us.

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — July 15, 2006 @ 3:05 pm

  15. Interesting, to me at least, most of the most significant parallels between modern temples and the ancient world can be found in Merkebah literature. Often the best parallels are found not in Solomon’s temple but the heavenly temple the prophet visits in his heavenly ascent.

    Comment by Clark Goble — July 15, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

  16. In regards to the current Temple Veil being different than the ancient Temple Veil, a major event occurred that changed the Veil entirely.
    After Christ died the Veil was rent, which symbollically means that passage into God’s presence was now possible thanks to Christ’s atonement. But it also meant that the Temple Veil was now approachable by the common person, and that conversing and passage through the Temple veil was now possible for everyone. The rending of the Veil mentioned in the scriptures applies to the Temple veil as well as the Veil into Heaven.

    Comment by Starfoxy — July 15, 2006 @ 6:15 pm

  17. Jim, I appreciate your sensitivity to sacred things. I’m not trying to make light of those sacred things. I am under covenant not to reveal the signs and tokens. I feel it is appropriate to discuss the symbolism, the items described in the scriptures and other elements if done carefully and with proper reverence….hopefully we are doing that.

    Comment by don — July 15, 2006 @ 8:06 pm

  18. Don, with respect to the molten sea being a baptisty, I have asked different Rabbis what their take is on it (e.g., “Is the molten sea a mikvah?”) and I have gotten three different types of responses: No way; Maybe; Nobody really knows. So, that one isnt all that far fetched.

    Comment by Kurt — July 15, 2006 @ 10:16 pm

  19. How do Nephi’s temples fit into this? They are barely even mentioned in the Book of Mormon, so I think any answer would be speculative. Nevertheless, Nephi says that he builds the temple like Solomon’s, but are the ordinances the same? After all, Nephi is non-Levite and non-Judah, and we see dramatic differences in the Old Testament between the Shilohists and the Aaronids. Do the Nephite ceremonies change after Christ’s visit?

    In other words: Do we have three very different kinds of worship in temples:ancient Israel, Nephite, and latter-day?

    Comment by BrianJ — July 16, 2006 @ 4:13 pm

  20. I was just catching up with the comments on this thread. When I re-read my own comment I was surprised how grumpy it was, I must have been in a bad mood that day…sorry for my dour tone.

    Anyway, I do agree with Don that we sometimes try to find direct parallels to everything without becoming comfortable with the differences between ancient and modern temples.

    As to the cherubim on the veil of the ancient temple (Ex 26:31), I always understood that to represent the cherubim guarding the way of the tree of life:

    So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Gen 3:24).

    On the topic of Nephi’s temple, I had an institute teacher who interpreted the very famous 2 Ne 31:17-20 as Nephi’s commentary on the temple. His stait and narrow path was the path through the temple. Nephi mentions:

    “baptism by water” — laver
    “remission of your sins by fire” — altar of sacrifice
    “having a perfect brightness of hope” — candlestick
    “feasting upon the word of Christ” — shewbread
    “thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” — tree of life in the holy of holies
    “ye must pray always, and not faint” (2 Ne 32:9) — altar of incense

    Comment by Jacob — July 16, 2006 @ 11:07 pm

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