Unofficial LDS Temple Preparation FAQ

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Updated June 25, 05

Introduction. (Jump down to list of questions)

So, you or someone you know is preparing to go to the Temple, make covenants, and receive their endowment. What do you need to do? Is there something you should read or know? Is there something you should be doing to prepare? Whom should you talk to? I'm certainly not claiming to be authoritative here, but I think I have pulled together some pretty good suggestions to commonly asked questions, using the scriptures, Church magazines, and General Authority teachings. My only goal is to help people be prepared for the Temple by acquainting them with relevant scriptures, General Authority guidance and other such things that they might otherwise be unaware of. (Who is this guy, anyway?)

First- If you are serious about going to the Temple, you should talk to your Bishop. Even if you know you're not going for a while, letting your Bishop know is good for several reasons. First, he can help you prepare, especially if there are things you need to discuss with him. Second, he may call someone in the ward to teach a Temple Preparation class that you can attend. Generally speaking, new members must wait one year from the date of their confirmation before they can receive their endowment, though they can attend the Temple to perform baptisms for the dead within a few months after baptism. "Set up an early interview with your bishop or branch president to review the temple recommend questions and to ensure you can honestly and properly answer each of those questions. In that way, if a change of conduct or repentance will be required, you will be able to discuss it with your bishop or branch president in adequate time to allow it to occur before seeking a recommend."- Elder Cree-L Kofford, "Marriage in the Lord's Way, Part 2," Ensign, (July 1998): 15.

Second- In order to attend the Temple, you must be living in such a way that you can enter the House of the Lord with "clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4). In other words, you need to be living certain moral standards as well as demonstrating that you have kept the covenants you made when you were baptized. Before you attend the Temple, you need to arrange an interview with someone in the Bishopric and then a second interview with someone in the Stake Presidency. This is called a "Temple recommend" interview, and they are private and confidential. (See the "interview section" in the Church's new book, True to the Faith.) After interviewing you, they give you a small piece of paper (called a "Temple Recommend") and sign it, indicating that they have certified your moral lifestyle and commitment to the gospel and thus "recommend" you to the Temple. You also sign the Temple Recommend. "I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current Temple recommend, even if proximity to a Temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it” (President Howard W. Hunter, “The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, Oct. 1994, 5)

Questions

How old do I need to be to go to the Temple? When am I ready?

How should I prepare for the Temple? And what's a Temple Recommend?

Should I read something in particular before I go?

What's it like the first time? What should I expect?

What exactly do we do in the Temple?

What parts of the Temple can I talk about outside the Temple or to non-members?

What is an endowment?

What is a covenant?

Why should I commit to something if I don't know what I'm committing to?

I've heard some strange things about the Temples. Are they true?

What are "garments" and when/where do I buy them?

How do I know where the closest Temple is, or what the Temple schedule is?

There are things in the Temple that I don't understand. How can I understand more? Who can I ask, or where can I find appropriate resources?

Can the Temple "change"?

If you have questions that you think should be on this list, please let me know.

Answers

How old do I need to be and how long after baptism do I wait until I can go to the Temple? When am I ready and prepared?

That depends. Any member over the age of 12 can get a temporary recommend to perform baptisms for the dead, after an interview with the Bishop. It is extremely rare, if it happens at all nowadays, for someone to receive their endowment before the age of 18 (this age has risen since Brigham Young's day). Generally, one must have been a member in good standing for at least 1 year as measured from the date of confirmation (not baptism), and men must receive the Melchizedek priesthood before attending the Temple. Since missionaries must be endowed before leaving on their missions, this means that men tend to receive their endowment around age 19, and women who choose to serve a mission around age 21. Others may receive their endowment as they and their leaders feel they are ready, though how one determines readiness may vary from person to person, and priesthood leader to priesthood leader. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that

Children should not go to the Temple until they are old enough to understand the purpose of their going. They should be taught the principles of the gospel, and to have faith in God, and in the mission of Jesus Christ, and should gain a testimony of the truth before they receive the blessings of the Temple. I believe that a young man or a young woman should seek after these blessings in the Temple, and just as soon as they are old enough to understand the meaning of Temple ordinances, they should have them. Moreover, they should not go to the Temple until they do have a testimony of the truth and a knowledge of the gospel, no matter how old they may be. It is not intended that these sacred covenants should be given to those who do not have faith and who have not proved themselves worthy by obedience to the gospel. - Doctrines of Salvation, 2:253-4.
Similarly, Elder Packer wrote that
The ordinances and ceremonies of the temple are... sacred. They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared. Curiosity is not a preparation. Deep interest itself is not a preparation. Preparation for the ordinances includes preliminary steps: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, worthiness, a maturity and dignity worthy of one who comes invited as a guest into the house of the Lord. All who are worthy and qualify in every way may enter the temple, there to be introduced to the sacred rites and ordinances.           -“The Holy Temple,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 32.

Back to list of Questions

How should I prepare for the Temple? And what's a Temple recommend?

For those who are planning missions, I suggest that you go talk to your Bishop at least a year before your anticipated departure date. Perhaps you could ask your Bishop for a practice Temple Recommend interview. That way, you become acquainted with the questions you will be asked and the standards that the Lord has set for entering His house. (Ben McGuire lists and discusses the Temple recommend questions in this FAIR article, and you can read about the history of Temple Recommend requirements from the article listed here.) If you have questions or moral issues you need to discuss with your Bishop, having an interview a year ahead of time gives you time to turn, change, and repent. The Lord does not require perfection to enter the Temples (or they'd be empty!), but He does require you to be living high standards, and demonstrate that you are keeping your baptismal covenants. Once you have gone to the Temple, you will wear garments under the rest of your clothing. These may require a change in your wardrobe, if you have short-shorts, or tank tops, etc. In other words, try to be living the Temple standards in every way for one year before you go.

In terms of spiritual preparation, several things may help. First, pray to be humble and teachable, and especially to have a good experience in the Temple. You may hear negative stories about some people's first experiences. That does happen, particularly to people who go unprepared in some respect. Even President David O. McKay did not enjoy his first experience at that Temple, because he had not been sufficiently prepared! (Those of us who had good experiences are often too reluctant to share them.) However, it will do you no good to pray for humility and a good experience if you don't also try to be humble and teachable in your actions. Show the Lord you are willing to be taught by reading the scriptures and other good books that relate to the Temple. Read the next topic for suggestions  Elder Russell M. Nelson.

Second, ask yourself if your actions and attitudes in regards to your family, friends and others are truly Christ-like. Much of the Gospel centers on how we treat others, not on how "righteous" we are in keeping the outward, visible commandments of attending meetings, or paying tithes and offerings, etc. (Matt. 25:31-46, 23:23, Micah 6:6-8, Isa. 1:10-17) The altar of the Temple was where the Israelites were to bring their offerings and sacrifices, but they were to do so in purity of heart. "Therefore if you bring your offering to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Mat. 5:23-24) In 1890, Elder Francis Lyman, an Apostle, similarly taught that we should be anxious "as to our preparation to go into [the Temple], so that when we go there we will have settled all our quarrels, all our difficulties, all our hardness of heart, bitterness, jealousy and heartburnings, and that we may never do another evil thing in our lives after we have gone through' that building." (Collected Discourses, Vol. 3. Discourse of Francis Lyman, Oct. 9, 1892).

The Lord does not require perfection of us when we go, but we should be striving to live in such a way that our actions and relations are pleasing to God. "When you come to the Temple and receive your endowment, and kneel at the altar and be sealed, you can live an ordinary life and be an ordinary soul-struggling against temptation, failing and repenting, and failing again and repenting, but always determined to keep your covenants... Then the day will come when you will receive the benediction: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (Matthew 25:21)." (Elder Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, 257-258)

(Back to list of Questions)

Should I read something in particular before I go?

Yes, definitely! There are some very helpful things to read, though you may not understand their significance until afterwards. While you read, if you're frustrated not to be getting deep, significant insights, congratulations! You're completely normal. Some of these things you've probably read many times before, and the reason for doing so again is so that they are fresh in your mind when you go to the Temple. This is an introductory list, and should only take a few hours. (Several  of these are drawn from Elder Nelson's talk, "Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings" Ensign, May 2001 and the rest from my experience as a Temple prep. teacher.)

Scriptural readings:

Other important readings:

You may find the reading list on my Temple page overwhelming, so I've put together a "short list" of secondary readings if you've done everything above and don't know what to read next. These are the papers I think are most helpful in preparing.

Once you've done all these, you're well prepared to start browsing through the full list, and read whatever interests you. Don't forget your scriptures! When you come across a scripture in one of these books or articles, look it up!

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What's it like the first time? What should I expect?

The only thing I can tell you for sure is that your expectations are probably wrong I can tell you that many people find it somewhat strange and unfamiliar. This is a completely normal reaction, because the things we do in the Temple and the way we do them are unfamiliar, unless you've read everything on my Temple page or the suggestions above (President David O. McKay spoke several times about how and why his initial temple experience was less than stellar, and "ritual" was part of it.) In our normal Church meetings, we don't have many rituals or formality, or things that have to be done in very specific ways. Yet in the Temple ordinances, we wear ritual clothing, perform ritual actions, and say ritual things. As long as you go in expecting the unfamiliar (and read a few of the things here), you should be just fine. Don't expect to have great epiphanies or insights the first time through. Most people are simply trying to keep up

It's also normal to be a little nervous, but there is absolutely nothing to worry about! The Temples have special sessions for people receiving their own endowment, and temple workers pay special attention to them. You will have a little piece of paper pinned to your clothes indicating you're there for the first time (it usually says "own endowment"), and someone will be close to you at all times. That person is called your "escort," typically a parent or close friend of the same gender (so they can accompany you in the appropriate locker room), and they wear a little sign that says "escort." Frequently, there will be a small meeting of people receiving their own endowment and their escorts before the endowment session in which someone from the Temple Presidency gives a brief introduction and may answer questions. During the ceremonies themselves, you don't ever need to worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. A Temple worker will always be close enough to prompt you or help you with whatever you need. As Elder Monson is fond of saying, "when the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past." Once you arrive at the Temple, the time for preparation is past! I've made suggestions above, and your Bishop or Stake President may have specific suggestions for you.

On the day you actually go to the Temple, you should be clean and neat in dress and appearance. "When you go to the Temple, you should wear your best clothing, as you do when you attend church. When you are inside the Temple, you exchange your clothing for the white clothing of the Temple. This change of clothing takes place in a dressing room, where you use a locker and a private dressing space. In the Temple, modesty is carefully maintained. As you put your clothing in the locker, you can leave all your worldly distractions behind. Dressed in white, you can feel a oneness and a sense of equality with others in the Temple, for everyone around you is similarly dressed." (True to the Faith)  "...it is pleasing to the Lord when we bathe our bodies and put on clean clothing, however inexpensive the clothing may be. We should dress in such a way that we might comfortably attend a sacrament meeting or a gathering that is proper and dignified." (Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, p. 73)

Normally, you and your escort will go to the Temple and present your Temple Recommends to the person at the front desk. At that point, if you have already purchased your own Temple clothing, you will go to the changing room. If not, it is possible (at least in the larger Temples) to rent the necessary clothing in the Temple for a minimum charge that covers the laundering costs, usually a couple dollars for everything you need. Once you have the appropriate clothing, you might meet with someone in the Temple Presidency for some brief instruction and then go to the locker room, at which point your escort and a Temple worker will accompany you through your Temple ordinances.

(Back to list of Questions)

What exactly do we do in the Temple?

I can't tell you exactly what we do in the Temple, because I have made a covenant not to discuss certain things. However, General Authorities and published LDS sources from the church give a pretty good outline. All of what I'm saying here has been publicly stated by General Authorities, and I will provide sources so people don't feel that I'm discussing things I shouldn't. (What can I talk about outside the Temple?)

There are several parts to the Temple ordinances.

When Joseph first introduced the Temple ordinances to nine men on May 4, 1842, he

instruct[ed] them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days [that is, Adam], and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church. . . .The communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place [i.e. a Temple] is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build; and wait their time with patience in all meekness, faith, perseverance unto the end, knowing assuredly that all these things referred to in this council are always governed by the principle of revelation. (History of the Church 5:2, also in The Holy Temple, 32-33, and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.237.)

A few things to note from the above quotation-

  1. There are both Melchizedek and Aaronic portions of the Temple ceremonies.

  2. The Temple ordinances include "washings, anointings, endowments, and [Priesthood] keys." Cf. D&C 124:39-40

  3. Joseph Smith was teaching "the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days" who, according to D&C 138:38, is Adam.

  4. The Temple ordinances are the means by which we obtain "the fulness of blessings" that God has prepared for us.

  5. The Temple ordinances are spiritual, and cannot be understood except by the spiritual-minded. (Cf. 1 Co. 2:14 "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.")

  6. Temple ordinances do not exist for making an elite club or class distinctions. Rather, they are given to anyone who is prepared to receive them.

  7. The proper place for Temple ordinances is in a Temple, though if absolutely necessary, they can be performed in other places, such as the upper room of Joseph's Red Brick Store, or on a mountain (e.g. Moses on Sinai or various missionaries on Ensign Peak in Utah.)

  8. The elements of our Temple ceremony are governed by revelation. They came by revelation and may be modified by revelation. (Can anything in the Temple change?)

As to the Temple ordinances themselves, Elder John A. Widtsoe characterized them this way.

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. (John A. Widtsoe, "Temple Worship," The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 12 [April 1921]: 58. (As quoted by Elder Packer in The Holy Temple, 37-38.)

The Temple ordinances for the living include the following-

Initiatory ordinances- "The ordinances of washing and anointing are referred to often in the Temple as initiatory ordinances. It will be sufficient for our purposes to say only the following: Associated with the endowment are washings and anointings- mostly symbolic in nature, but promising definite, immediate blessings as well as future blessings." Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 154.

"As they come into the sacrosanct washing and anointing rooms and are washed, they will be spiritually cleansed. As they are anointed, they will be renewed and regenerated in soul and spirit." President James E. Faust, To Reach Even Unto You (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 82.

"In setting forth as much as can, with propriety, be spoken outside of the Temple, the Lord says that 'the fulness of the priesthood' is received only in the Temple itself. This fulness is received through washings, anointings, solemn assemblies, oracles in holy places, conversations, ordinances, endowments, and sealings. (D&C 124:40)" Elder Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 315.

"After baptism and prior to making further covenants and receiving an endowment of knowledge and blessings, each person receives initiatory ordinances called washings and anointings. The men and women go to separate areas in the Temple where men administer these ordinances to men and women administer them to women. Somewhat like baptism, the washings are symbolic acts of purification, followed by anointings that give the recipient certain powers and blessings—some immediate, and some to be fulfilled later, even in the next life. As the ancient priests in Israel were purified and anointed prior to their standing as representatives of the Lord, we today are similarly prepared in the Temple to become spiritually begotten sons and daughters of the Savior.

The ancient priests also put on special clothing symbolic of the Lord's covenants with Israel. Today, symbolic of our transformation into "new creatures in Christ," we also put on sacred clothing, a new garment, after the initiatory washing and anointing ordinances. We wear this special white underclothing afterward throughout our lives as a reminder of our covenants and as protection through our close association with the Holy Spirit Since the initiatory ordinances prepare us to become truly begotten sons and daughters of Christ, we begin to assume a new spiritual identity, symbolized with a new name, before proceeding to the endowment session itself. (See Rev. 2:13-17)"

-From Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992) Longer excerpt here.

D&C 124: 37-39 mentions this. The practice of washing and anointing is also found among the Israelites in the Old Testament and among the early Christian Church. See "Washings and Anointings" in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1551 and the references here on the full reference list.

Endowment-

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.
As will be shown, the Temples erected by the Latter-day Saints provide for the giving of these instructions in separate rooms, each devoted to a particular part of the course; and by this provision it is possible to have several classes under instruction at one time.

-Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 83-84.

As Elder Packer says, the Endowment ceremony begins at creation, and progresses through the Fall of Adam. As we follow Adam and Eve, we also symbolically participate in the Fall and go through a "step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence." (President David O. McKay.) In some Temples, such as the Salt Lake Temple, each particular stage has its own room.

For the instructions and ordinances within [the Salt Lake Temple], a processional plan is followed through several rooms, each signifying a stage in man's path of eternal progression. Each room is decorated with murals depicting that stage of the journey. First is the Creation Room, where the creative periods of the earth are considered. Next, the events of Eden are the subject in the Garden Room. The World (or Telestial) Room depicts conditions following the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, providing a background for the Atonement of Christ, the great apostasy, and the restoration of the gospel. In the Terrestrial Room, the requirements of the pure life and of complete commitment to the work of the Lord are taught. The path then leads through the veil of the Temple to the Celestial Room, representing the "heaven of heavens," the glorious kingdom of God. - From "Salt Lake Temple," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1254.

The Ensign (March, 1993) has pictures of parts of these rooms in the Salt Lake Temple. Not all Temples have so many separate rooms or decorative murals in each room. Another difference in presentation is that in most Temples a film is used but in a few Temples, such as Salt Lake and Manti, Temple workers present the ordinances live, without a film. As with all aspects of the Temple, these differences and any changes that are made are governed by revelation. (Can the Temple Change?) President Hinckley played a large role in adapting film as a medium for the Temple, which allowed Temple-goers who speak different languages to attend the same session. The story is found in Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley by Sheri L. Dew. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996): 176-184. Gospelink (subscription required)  (Cf. Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth: 158-160.)

It is well known that the in the process of receiving our Endowment,  we make covenants. Elder James E. Talmage wrote that

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 conditions.... 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 House of the Lord, p.100. Also quoted in The Holy Temple, 163.)

President Benson taught that "We covenant to live the law of consecration. This law is that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion. Until one abides by the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, and chastity, he cannot abide the law of consecration, which is the law pertaining to the celestial kingdom." Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988): 121.

  Besides a place of covenants, the Temple is a "house of prayer" (D&C 88:119) and therein we have opportunity to pray. Elder Maxwell once noted that "among the transcendent things restored as a part of the 'restitution of all things' were... the initiatory ordinances, the holy endowment, the true order of prayer, baptism for the dead, [and] the sealing power." -A Wonderful Flood of Light (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990): 23. In the temple, we may offer group prayer, called a "prayer circle." The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states, "The prayer circle is a part of Latter-day Saint temple worship, usually associated with the Endowment ceremony. Participants, an equal number of men and women dressed in temple clothing, surround an altar in a circle formation to participate unitedly in prayer." (George S. Tate. “Prayer Circle.” –EM: 1120-21  CF. the list of Prayer articles.)

Since the Endowment is a symbolic return to God's presence, or a "step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence," to use President McKay's phrase, the endowment concludes in the Celestial Room. 

Sealing- Most members know that the ordinance of sealing families together takes place in the Temple. This may be either the sealing together of a man and woman in marriage, sealing a convert family together as parents and children, or sealing adopted children to a previously sealed couple. This ordinance takes place in special "sealing rooms."

"Temple marriage, that sealing ordinance, is a crowning blessing that you may claim in the holy Temple." (Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 8) This ordinance can only be performed by a "sealer." Sealers are different from Temple workers, in that they are called and set apart directly by Apostles. Since this sealing takes place within the Temple, only those who hold a Temple Recommend attend. This can cause friction when there are family members and friends who wish to attend the sealing and are not able. However, exchanging rings is not part of the sealing, though a couple may exchange rings inside if they wish. Holding a ring exchange "ceremony" outside the Temple can help other family members feel included.

For those who are being sealed and have not been previously endowed, try to arrange things so that you are not being endowed and married on the same day. I think even a week or a month would be good. In making your endowment and your sealing two different experiences, you can focus on each one separately. Being endowed and sealed on the same day usually means a very high level of stress and emotion due to the presence of extended family and friends, schedules, the emotion of getting married, etc. Go through with your fiancé several days beforehand, and make your endowment its own special experience.

Once you have gone through the Temple for yourself, you may go back and perform any of these ordinances- baptisms and confirmations, initiatory, an endowment session, or sealings- on behalf of those who have already died without the opportunity to receive them.

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What parts of the Temple can I talk about outside the Temple?

In the Temple, we make specific covenants not to reveal certain things. Because of this, many member feel uncomfortable discussing any aspect of the Temple at all. Though there is a fine line, I believe we have sometimes been too reluctant, to the extent that many people go unprepared. "Because of [the Temple's] sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the Temple to our children and grandchildren. As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the Temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into." (President Benson. "What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple." Ensign, August (1985): 6-10) We should always "remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit;" (D&C 63:64) "While we make reference to washings and anointings, sealings and endowments, we do not discuss the details." (Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 29. Emphasis added)

A good rule of thumb is that we are on safe ground when we quote official and public sources of the Church. We may follow the example of General Authorities and the prophets of the scriptures, in that what they have taught or spoken publicly is allowable, IF the setting is appropriate.  The context of our discussion should determine how much we say though, again, certain thing are always off-limits for discussion outside the Temple because of the covenant we make not to discuss them. Ask yourself these questions of setting, intent, and appropriateness. Is the conversation public or private? Is our discussion for worldly or spiritual purposes? Is it to help someone prepare for or understand the Temple? Is it with a humble person seeking an answer or a hostile person on a message board seeking debate? Does the Spirit attend our conversation ( "Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit" D&C 63:64) Or is our conversation contentious? ( "He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another." 3 Nephi 11:29) Are we treating the Temple ordinances or related things lightly? These questions should govern how we discuss the Temple ordinances outside of the Temple.

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What is an Endowment?

There are several definitions of "endowment." In terms of where the word itself comes from, Greek enduō, "to endow" can mean "to put on clothing" or "take on characteristics." It also means "a gift." All three of these meanings can be seen in the Temple ordinances. On April 6, 1853, at the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the SLC Temple, President Brigham Young gave this well-known definition which has been quoted many times in the Ensign, in General Conference, and in other official Church publications. It also appears in the official Temple Prep. manual and student guide.

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 and hell. (Discourses of Brigham Young, 416. Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 153)

Elder James E. Talmage gave this definition.

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. (The House of the Lord, pages 99-100. Both quotes can be found in Elder Packer's The Holy Temple, p.154)

The scriptures talk about being "endowed with power" (D&C 38:32, 38:38, 43:16, and 105:11). Members sometimes talk about "taking out their endowments" but this isn't entirely the best phraseology. You yourself only have one endowment because you only go to Temple once for yourself. When you go back to the Temple, you are standing in for someone else, as a proxy.  Since one of the meanings of the word "endowment" is "a gift," it is perhaps more appropriate to talk about "receiving my endowment" or "being endowed." This is a nitpick on my part, but hey, it's my webpage Normally when people "go to the Temple," they go to do "endowments," that is, an endowment session. A session generally takes 2-3 hours, depending on which Temple you're at and how many people are in the session. These are not the only things you can do at the Temple. As said above, you can also do baptisms/confirmations, initiatory, or sealings.

See here for further references.

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What is a Covenant?

We often talk about covenants, in connection with the Temple. But what is a covenant? In terms of function, a covenant is very similar to a contract or treaty. Among the ancient Israelites and their neighbors, the covenant pattern had several parts, though not every part was expressed in every covenant, nor was an order strictly followed. Understanding this pattern can help us understand the scriptures and the Temple ordinances.

  1. The Preamble- The two parties making the covenant are identified. I'm going use buying a car as an example of a contract, the modern counterpart of a contract. The "preamble" of a contract specifies that the two parties involved are, say, Smithson Honda Dealership and John Doe.
  2. The Historical Prologue- The relationship of the two parties is spelled out. In the covenant at Sinai, for example, "I am the Lord your God. I brought you out of Egypt and delivered you from the house of bondage."
  3. Stipulations or Terms - The requirements of the covenant. In Exodus, these would be the 10 Commandments and the other stipulations or commandments that Moses gives. In our car example, the stipulations would be that you pay x amount of money per month for y months to the car dealership (or bank). These stipulations can be quite detailed.
  4. Deposition of the Text- The covenant/contract is written down and made known in detail to the public.
  5. Witnesses- Israelites frequently called upon God, heaven, and earth to witness their covenants. Other nations made covenants in the names of whatever gods they worshipped. The car dealership might have multiple signatures on the document, or perhaps a notary public to provide an official witness.
  6. Blessings and Cursings- Covenants frequently spelled out precisely what the blessing was for obedience to the covenant. Similarly, they also spelled out. a cursing, a penalty, if the covenant was not kept. The seriousness of the covenant at Sinai can be clearly seen in Deuteronomy 27:14-28:68, where both the blessings and cursings appear in graphic detail. In essence, God "set before [them] life and death, blessings and cursings." (Deuteronomy 30:19) Similarly, our car contract probably specifies that if we make our payments in accordance with the agreement, then at a certain time, the car legally becomes ours without being holden to the bank. If we do not make our payments, breaking the agreement, then the dealership sends someone to repossess the car.

Covenants were enacted in a covenant ceremony or ritual, most frequently involving the sacrifice of an animal. Sometimes the covenant ceremony also included a ritual meal. (All of these elements can be seen in the experience of the Israelites at Sinai (Exo. 20-24, esp. 24:5-8) and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament, and even the Book of Mormon -Alma 46:21-22, for example).

In Hebrew, covenants are not "made," but "cut," because an animal is "cut," or killed, in the process of making the covenant. (Joseph Smith seems to have been particularly aware of this, as JST Hebrew 9:17-18 demonstrates. This passage is not included among the JST excerpts in the LDS KJV, but it can be read here.) Normally, the animal's throat was cut by the person offering it and the blood was collected, called the "blood of the covenant" as in Exo 24:8. (Remember that when instituting the sacrament, Jesus called the wine "the blood of the new covenant," Matt. 26:28.) The animal, in effect, stood in as proxy, or as a physical representation, of what would happen to the person if they did not keep the covenant. Scholars refer to this as a "simile curse." In Exodus 24, the blood of the covenant is splashed on the people, which is where the blood would be if their throats had been cut as the animal's throat had been. It was a "symbolic action in which the people were identified with the sacrificed animal, so that the fate of the latter is presented as the fate to be expected by the people if they violated their sacred promise (i.e., it is a form of self-curse). Thus the ratification ceremony was, in effect, the pledging of their lives as a guarantee of obedience to the divine will." (Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:1185 "Covenant") The Israelites' neighbors made these curses explicit in the written record of their treaty/covenants. "This head is not the head of the ram; it is the head of Mati'ilu. . . . Just as the ram's head is torn off, . . . so may the head of [Mati'ilu] be torn off if he breaks the covenant." Another example from Alalakh- "Abbael swore the oath to Yarimlim and cut the neck of a lamb, <saying:> “If I take back what I have given you <may I so die.>”' (Similar curses in the Book of Mormon are discussed in this article.)

In other words, the Israelites bound themselves to follow the Law of Moses on pain of death, a very solemn and serious covenant indeed. Given that they almost immediately began to have serious obedience problems, why don't we have more stories of Israelites being killed for violating the Law? At least two human witnesses were required to put someone to death, according to the Law of Moses. (This happened rarely, according to the Old Testament.) Why didn't God, who is both a reliable witness and sees all, exercise justice and enforce his covenantal right as sovereign? The answer is that God is also merciful and, knowing that his children would not be perfect, provided a way to teach about the Atonement and allow the Israelites time to learn and repent-

Leviticus chapter 1 describes the "burnt" (because it is burned up) or "whole" offering (because the animal is completely burned.) This sacrifice required a male animal with no imperfections to be brought to the door of the Temple/Tabernacle. The person offering it placed his hand on the animal's head, indicating that the animal was the proxy for the person- the animal was "acceptable on his behalf" or in his place (Lev. 1:4.) Then the offerer killed the animal by cutting the throat, collected the blood, and then the priests scattered the blood and burned the animal completely upon the altar of the Temple. In this way, the curse, the covenantal agreed-upon penalty for violating the law was still carried out, but by proxy, on a male animal without blemish. Having made a covenant by sacrifice (Psa. 50:5), each time sacrifice was offered after that represented atonement for the person (Lev. 1:4) as well as a reminder and renewal of the covenant.

I should note that what I am setting forth here is not the full Law of Moses, which was a complicated group of "performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him." I have simplified the presentation somewhat to show how " these things were types of things to come" (Mosiah 13:30-31), that is, the sacrifices of the law of Moses typified "the great and last sacrifice" (Alma 34:10-14).

Though it should be obvious how this relates to Jesus and the Atonement, let me point out a few scriptures. Remember that "the reward of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Paul taught that Jesus "redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'" (Gal. 3:13). The Law of Moses specified in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 that someone who committed a crime worthy of death was cursed and their body would be publicly displayed on a tree or stake. Paul draws on that passage to show that Jesus, like the burnt offering, bears the covenant curse for us, goes in our place, and dies in our behalf. "Surely, he hath borne our sins, and carried our sorrows." (Isa 53:4). In doing so, Jesus, by his own blood, both fulfilled the Old Covenant and was the sacrificial animal for ratifying the New Covenant, which we make at baptism and renew each week by partaking of the sacrament. (See Jeremiah 31:31, Hebrews 9, Matthew 26:28, Moroni 4-5)

So just how does all this relate to Temple covenants? For starters, we don't sacrifice animals there and there's no blood involved. But, the ordinances and other things in the Temple are highly symbolic. As with all symbols, they can mean different things depending on the context they're in. Some symbols may be familiar to you already, depending on your background and familiarity with symbolic systems. The ordinances of the Temple are strongly rooted in the symbolism of the Old Testament sacrificial system, which, as shown above, represented covenant making and atonement. The Atonement itself, as is well known, is rooted in the symbolism of the Old Testament sacrifices. Sacrifice, atonement and covenant are very closely tied together in the scriptures AND in the Temple. (See the Ensign article on Atonement above).

As noted above, Israelites sacrificed animals in making covenants, binding them to obey the Lord's commandments. Indeed, they were commanded to do so in specific terms by the Law of Moses. However, Psalm 51:17 also teaches that "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart...." That should sound familiar. Once Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, he taught the Nephites that they should "offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings." What were they to offer as a sacrifice? "And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit." (3 Nephi 9:19-20) In other words, the Nephites were to continue making their sacrifices of will, of humbling themselves and committing to do what God asked, just as they had done all along. Again, note the connections between atonement, sacrifice, and humbly keeping covenants in 2 Ne. 2:7 "Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit;"

We make the same covenants of obedience that the Israelites and Nephites made, but without the shedding of blood, s they did after Christ came and the Law of Moses was no more in effect. Are our covenants any less serious than theirs? Speaking to those who had made Temple covenants, Heber C. Kimball said "You can't sin so cheap now as you could before." Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 196): 118.

As I mentioned, there is a difference between covenants and contracts. In our covenants, it is God who sets the terms and the resultant blessings and cursings. God is our "partner" in the covenant, and thus, any breach of the covenant can come only from our side. God is perfectly faithful, and the scriptures are unambiguous on this point. "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." (D&C 82:10). "God is no lying mortal, nor a fallen being who arbitrarily changes his mind. Has he ever promised, and then not done it? Has he ever spoken, and not brought it to pass?" (My loose translation of Numbers 23:19). "Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?" (D&C 58:31) In other words, when God predicates certain blessings on our obedience and faithfulness, we can know that that promise is certain.

"When men go forward and attend to other ordinances such as receiving their endowments, their washings, their anointings, receiving the promises connected therewith, these promises will be fulfilled to the very letter in time and in eternity—that is, if they themselves are true to the conditions upon which the blessings are promised." George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, p.177.

"Now these people go into the Temple; instruction is given them there that these ordinances are sacred, and holy, and must be kept. They raise their hands, and they enter into a covenant that they will observe and keep these covenants which they receive in the house of the Lord. Then straightway they go out, and, like the man that James speaks of who looked into the glass, saw his face, and then went away and forgot what manner of man he was, so do they. I say unto you, the Lord is not bound, unless you keep the covenant. The Lord never breaks his covenant. When he makes a covenant with one of us, he will not break it. If it is going to be broken, we will break it. But when it is broken, he is under no obligation to give us the blessing, and we shall not receive it. There are people who go into the house of the Lord and receive covenants which are based on faithfulness, who go out and are unfaithful, shall they not receive their reward?" President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:256-7.

See also The Holy Temple, chapter 15.

Further readings on covenants and the covenant pattern from the full Temple page.

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Why should I commit or covenant to something if I haven't been told what I'm committing to?

Though we do not specifically covenant not to discuss what covenants we make in the temple, many will not do so. Naturally, then, some going to the temple for the first time have been bothered to know that they are about to make covenants, without knowing specifically what covenants they are going to make. While there is an explicit opportunity to back out early on in the ordinances, I think most people are not comfortable doing so by that point.

There is something else to consider. Most people understand that the Temple recommend interviews help determine whether someone is prepared and living in such a way to enter the Temple. Beyond this, however, the Temple recommend questions, generally speaking, parallel the solemn covenants that one makes in the Temple.

If your life is such that you can honestly answer all the Temple recommend questions, than you are already living the requirements of the covenants that you will make in the Temple. 

From that perspective, the covenants of the temple do not go beyond the baptismal covenants. How can one covenant to do more than keep all the commandments and repent when we do not?  The temple covenants differ in that they are more specific and more serious. Heber C. Kimball, speaking to a group of recently endowed members,  said "You can't sin so cheap now as you could before." Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 196): 118.  

Beyond this, several General Authorities have spoken of temple covenants in the past.

Elder James E. Talmage wrote that

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 conditions.... 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. (Elder Talmage, The House of the Lord, p.100. Also quoted in The Holy Temple, 163.)

President Benson taught that

We covenant to live the law of consecration. This law is that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion. Until one abides by the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, and chastity, he cannot abide the law of consecration, which is the law pertaining to the celestial kingdom.- Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988): 121.

(Don't confuse the law of consecration with the United Order, which was the attempt the early members of the Church made to put the law of consecration into action as a community. We can each live the law of consecration as individuals.)

"In the Temples of the Lord, we learn obedience. We learn sacrifice. We make the vows of chastity and have our lives consecrated to holy purposes." James E. Faust, To Reach Even Unto You (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 82.

Hugh Nibley had several things to say about covenants.

 "One does not enter lightly into such a covenant. To organize a race of priests in ancient as in modern days, God processed all volunteers by a series of preparatory steps. First, there is an initiatory stage in which one is physically set apart from the world: actually washed, anointed, given a protective garment, and clothed in sanctified robes. This is merely preliminary and qualifies one to proceed, in earnest not of what one has become, but of what one may and wishes to become.

            After the initiatory, the candidates are assembled and asked (and this we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as in many other ancient works): "Do you agree and are you resolved to do things his way rather than your way—to follow the law of God?" The candidate is not told at this time what the law of God requires, only whether he is  willing to trust God's judgment and accept it no matter what it is. After that, all argument is out of the question.

           Next the candidate is asked, "If so, will you be obedient to him no matter what he asks of you?"—a commitment to obedience before demand is made. The next step is more specific and more serious: "Will you willingly sacrifice anything he asks for, including your own life?"

            Whoever accepts this in the solemnity of the occasion may easily relax his resolve in days that follow, and so the next question is, "Will you at all times behave morally and soberly?"—that is, take all this very seriously, not just now but every day throughout your life. Thus a pattern of life is set to implement this. Your determination must be confirmed by your deportment at all times. This is the law of the gospel.

            Finally God says, "Very well, this is what I want you to do" (see Deuteronomy 5:6). The next verse begins to describe the Ten Commandments..." - Approaching Zion, p. 424 - 425

 "We have noted that the covenants of the endowment are progressively more binding, in the sense of allowing less and less latitude for personal interpretation as one advances. Thus (1) the law of God is general and mentions no specifics; (2) the law of obedience states that specific orders are to be given and observed; (3) the law of sacrifice still allows a margin of interpretation (this is as far as the old law goes—the Aaronic Priesthood carries out the law of sacrifice and no farther; and it specifies that while sacrifice is a solemn obligation on all, it is up to the individual to decide just how much he will give); (4) the law of chastity, on the other hand, is something else; here at last we have an absolute, bound by a solemn sign; (5) finally the law of consecration is equally uncompromising—everything the Lord has given one is to be consecrated. This law is bound by the firmest token of all."

            -Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, 441-442.

 

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I've heard some strange things about what goes on in the Temple. Are they true?

Some former members of the Church have made radically false claims about the Temple. Some of these assertions are so outlandish, so looney, as to be laughable, if not for the fact that they have frequently been taken at face value by those who know little about the Church. Anything you've heard involving skull racks, virgin sacrifices or orgies is not true.☺ The plain reality cannot compete with the comic-book fictionalizing or the antimormon sensationalizing. In fact, people regularly fall asleep in the Temple. No one is naked, men and women have their own dressing rooms, etc. "No jot, iota, or tittle of the Temple rites is otherwise than uplifting and sanctifying." James E. Talmage, House of the Lord, p.100.

In other words, nothing is shocking, but there are certainly things that are unfamiliar, such as the clothing worn in the Temple, the symbols used, the ritual words and actions. Truman Madsen, after recounting this story about President McKay's first experience at the Temple, offered three reasons why he himself had been unprepared and uncomfortable with the Temple. One reason was that he "had a built-in hostility to ritual and to symbolism. I was taught by people both in and out of the Church -with good intention, I have no doubt- that we don't believe in pagan ceremony; we don't believe in all these procedures and routines; that's what they did in the ancient apostate church: we've outgrown all that. Well, that in effect is throwing out the baby with the bath water. We're not against ordinances. God has revealed them anew." The Radiant Life (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994): chapter 10.

All of the things that can seem strange stem from one thing- the Temple ordinances follow an ancient paradigm, very different than what we are accustomed to, with formal ritual and symbolism. Bringing our modern assumptions and expectations to the Temple can negatively color our experience. Like beauty, strangeness is in the eye of the beholder. As you come to see it with ancient eyes (as the readings here are meant to help you do), it will become more enriching and less strange. Even some non-LDS people who know little about our Temples but much about the ancient world have very positive things to say about it. See the comments below. I believe the keys to a good temple experience are 1) realistic expectations, 2) being morally clean and intellectually awake, 3) seeking the Spirit and 4) having an open mind, one that can adapt to an ancient paradigm.

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What are "garments"? Where and when should I buy them?

Shortly before you go to the Temple, you will need to buy what we call "garments." This is sacred underclothing worn by those who have received their endowment in the Temple. (You don't actually wear them until after you've gone through.) There are several different patterns and fabrics available, but all reach to the knees. You may thus need to make adjustments to your wardrobe if you're used to wearing short shorts or tank tops. Your parents, Bishop, Elders Quorum President or Relief Society President will know where to buy them locally and can assist you if you have questions. If you know your membership number, garments can be ordered from the Church's catalog.

Garments are sacred, and we treat them as such.

"In connection with [the Temple] ordinances, in the Temple you will be officially clothed in the garment and promised marvelous blessings in connection with it. It is important that you listen carefully as these ordinances are administered and that you try to remember the blessings promised and the conditions upon which they will be realized." Elder Packer, The Holy Temple, 155.

"Once you are endowed, you have the blessing of wearing the Temple garment throughout your life. You are obligated to wear it according to the instructions given in the endowment. Remember that the blessings that are related to this sacred privilege depend on your worthiness and your faithfulness in keeping Temple covenants. The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants you have made in the Temple. You should treat it with respect at all times. You should not expose it to the view of those who do not understand its significance, and you should not adjust it to accommodate different styles of clothing. When you wear it properly, it provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior." ("Temples" in True to the Faith.)

Elder Carlos Asay wrote an article in the Ensign about garments,  “The Temple Garment: An Outer Display of an Inward Commitment.” Ensign, August 1997:19-23  and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article is also helpful.

Other references about garments and Temple clothing in general can be found here, on the full reference list.

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How do I know where the closest Temple is, or what the schedule is?

You can find the Church's official webpage for Temples here. It has a few pictures of every Temple, contact information, and a schedule.

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There are things in the Temple that I don't understand. How can I gain greater understanding? Who can I ask, or where can I find appropriate resources?

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Can the Temple "change"?

Some people have asserted that Joseph Smith believed and taught that the Temple ordinances always had been and always would be done exactly as he presented them. In other words, they believe the Temple ordinances should be unchangeable in every aspect. In support of this, they frequently cite Joseph Smith.

Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. (TPJS, 308)
I believe that in context and properly understood, this and other such references do not support the idea of one single ceremony which must be performed in exactly the same manner from Adam on down. Rather, the full quote teaches that God requires the same covenants and ordinances for salvation and exaltation for everyone, regardless of the dispensation one lives in. Note especially the last sentence in the complete quotation.
It was the design of the councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and laws of the priesthood should be predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything to gather the people, and they would not be gathered, and He therefore poured out curses upon them. Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles. (TPJS, 308)
In other words, baptism and other ordinances can't be a salvational requirement for some but not for others. Other teachings of Joseph Smith and the early brethren support this interpretation.
  1. "Every individual who is prepared for the celestial kingdom must go through the same things." -Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 395.


  2. "If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord." TPJS, 308.


  3. "The question is frequently asked, 'Can we not be saved without going through with all those ordinances?' I would answer, No, not the fulness of salvation.... any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law, and the whole law too." TPJS, 331.


  4. "We all admit that the Gospel has ordinances, and if so, had it not always ordinances, and were not its ordinances always the same?...all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much before the coming of Christ as since; if not, God has had different plans in operation (if we may so express it), to bring men back to dwell with Himself; and this we cannot believe." TPJS, 59.


  5. (This one is longer, so I've underlined key points.) "I wish to speak a few words about the Bible as I have hinted at it. The Ordinances of the Kingdom of God on the Earth are the same to the children of Adam from the commencement to the end of his posterity pertaining to the carnal state on this Earth, and the winding up scene of this mortality. With regard to the Bible we frequently say, we believe the Bible, but circumstances alter cases, for what is now required for the people may not be required of a people that may live a hundred years hence. But I wish you to understand, with regard to the Ordinances of God's House to save the people in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, there is no change from the days of Adam to the present time, neither will there be until the last of his posterity is gathered into the Kingdom of God.

    Those who are not acquainted with our doctrine are astonished, and say, "That is strange indeed; we thought no such thing as preaching faith, repentance, and baptism was practiced in ancient, or Old Testament times." I can tell you that no man from the days of Adam, no woman from the days of Eve to this day, who have lived, and who are now living upon the Earth will go into the Kingdom of their Father and God, to be crowned with Jesus Christ, without passing through the same Ordinances of the House of God, you and I have obeyed. I wish you distinctly to understand that.

    There are many duties, and callings spoken of in the scriptures, and there are many not written, those for instance which are handed out to you by your President as circumstances require. Those imposed by the President of the Church of God, or by the president of any portion of it, are duties as necessary to be observed as though they were written in the Bible; but these requirements, duties, callings etc. change with the circumstances that surround the people of God. But when you speak of the system of Salvation to bring back the children of Adam and Eve into the presence of our Father and God, it is the same in all ages, among all people, and under all circumstances worlds without end[.] Amen." From The Essential Brigham Young, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992):89.

Clearly, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught that the same ordinances, beginning with baptism and up to the ordinances of the temple, will  accompany the preaching of the Gospel in a dispensation, and are required for all people regardless of the time period they lived in. They clearly did not teach that every detail must be the same from Adam on down.

Others have assumed that because "Jesus Christ  is the same yesterday today and forever," (Heb. 13:8)  the ordinances have always been presented in exactly the same way. This is clearly not a logical inference from that scripture, nor a reasonable assumption when we examine the only "history" of God's actions we have (ie. the scriptures). 

For example, we receive our temple ordinances in English, a language not around until the middle ages. Did Adam or Moses or Peter receive their ordinances in English? Though a silly question, we tend to assume that the way we do things today is the way they have always been done.  

In Old Testament times, details of the Tabernacle and Temple and how the prescribed ordinances and sacrifices were carried out also underwent changes. For example, the molten sea on the back of 12 oxen which was used for ritual washings  (2 Chr. 4:6) did not exist in the Tabernacle. How would they have carried it around? A smaller washbasin or laver was made, according to Exo. 30:18.  The large bronze "sea" seven feet high and roughly 14 feet across,  was made by Solomon for his temple (see 1 Kings 7:23). Solomon also constructed 10 smaller washbasins (1Ki 7:38 /2Chr. 4:6) Later on, King Ahaz (one in a series of less-than-righteous kings of the southern kingdom of Judah)  removed the "sea" from the backs of the oxen and placed it on a stone foundation (2 Kings 16:7). When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 586/87, it was broken up and hauled off to Babylon (Jeremiah 52:17 and 2 Kings 25:13) No mention is made of the molten sea after this time, and it was presumably not rebuilt, but replaced by smaller water holders that performed the same function.

Clearly, the Lord may altar and adapt such things as necessary for the culture and time the ordinances are in. Language (Hebrew, English, Adamic?), location (on a mountain, in a garden, in a dedicated temple), manner of presentation (live or film, with decorations, murals and props or not), or what President McKay referred to as "mechanics" vs.  etc. As Brigham Young said above, circumstances alter cases, and as long as the ordinances themselves are the same ones required of each person in each dispensation, the ceremony, the packaging, the mechanics or wording  may change. Let us not confuse the message with the messenger, or the realities and symbols with the mechanics through which they are presented.

On a related note, see my blog post entitled, "Should We Expect to Find the Temple Ordinances as One Coherent Whole in the Scriptures?"

See also the list of relevant articles on the Temple index page.

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About Me

 Let me share a little about myself. I certainly don't speak officially on behalf of the LDS Church, and I'm really nobody of consequence.  However, I am an active and faithful member of the LDS Church, and currently teach the Temple Preparation class in our ward in Chicago. I have served in various capacities in my wards and taught elsewhere from time to time.  After my mission in France, I served as a Temple worker in the Provo Temple, and still have large chunks of the ceremony memorized. I've watched and helped several family members, friends, and converts attend the Temple for the first time, and I think I understand the concerns of someone in that position. I have invested time and effort in learning about the history, symbolism, and meaning of the LDS Temple "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118) The more useful and edifying things I have discovered are listed on my LDS Temple resources page, but I recommend sticking to the stuff here until you have been to the Temple once. If you're still curious (or suspicious!) about my background, you can learn more about me here, with pictures!

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David O. McKay story about Temple Preparation

In our day, instances of lack of preparation have been cited by our prophets. When the Los Angeles Temple building program was commenced, President McKay called a meeting of the stake presidents of the Temple district. During this meeting, President McKay took occasion to express his feelings about the holy endowment. He indicated how some years before, a niece of his had received her ordinances in the house of the Lord. He had learned that she only recently before that had received an initiation into a sorority at the local university. She had had the crassness to say that she found the sorority initiation superior in effect and meaning to her than the endowment. President McKay was open and frank with them about the experience of one in his own family with the endowment. He wasn't worried about their audible gasps. With characteristic aplomb, he paused, and then said, "Brothers and sisters, she was disappointed in the Temple. Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the Temple. And so were you." Then he said something incredibly important that should be engraven on all our souls. "There are few, even Temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning and power of the Temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence." Then he added, "If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives!"

- From Andrew Ehat, “‘Who Shall Ascend into the House of the Lord?’ Sesquicentennial Reflections of a Sacred Day: 4 May 1842”- TAW: 48-62 The story is also told by Truman Madsen in The Radiant Life (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994): chapter 10. BACK

President McKay elsewhere recounted similar feelings.

"Do you remember when you first went through the House of the Lord? I do. And I went out disappointed. Just a young man, out of college, anticipating great things when I went to the Temple. I was disappointed and grieved, and I have met hundreds of young men and young women since who had that experience. I have now found out why. There are two things in every Temple: mechanics, to set forth certain ideals, and symbolism, what those mechanics symbolize. I saw only the mechanics when I first went through the Temple. I did not see the spiritual. I did not see the symbolism of spirituality... I was blind to the great lesson of purity behind the mechanics. I did not hear the message of the of the Lord...How many of us young men saw that? We thought we were big enough and with intelligence sufficient to criticize the mechanics of it and we were blind to the symbolism, the message of the spirit. And then that great ordinance, the endowment. The whole thing is simple in the mechanical part of it, but sublime and eternal in its significance." From Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005): 277.

Update History

Feb. 3 Little bit of rewriting for clarity, expanded a few things, added a few scriptural links, and added a new question.

June 25 Added some new questions, fixed some links, expanded some questions, did some minor rewriting.

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