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Response to questions related to the relationship between Freemasonry and the temple

Important note: Members of FairMormon take their temple covenants seriously. We consider the temple teachings to be sacred, and will not discuss their specifics in a public forum.

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"Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from the Masonic ritual when he created the LDS temple endowment ceremony"

The author's unresolved question

"Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from the Masonic ritual when he created the LDS temple endowment ceremony"

Author's source(s)

Response to the author's claim


Some elements of Masonry have parallels to the LDS temple. The similar items involve ritual acts or gestures—there is nothing of the message of Masonry in the doctrines and principles taught in the temple. (There were many other elements of temple ritual which Joseph clearly knew about prior to Nauvoo, and thus prior to his own exposure to Masonry.)

Prior to presenting the temple endowment in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith encouraged many LDS men to become Masons. If Joseph simply intended to "borrow heavily from Masonic ritual," why would he encourage his followers to first become familiar with the very source he planned to steal from? Furthermore, many Church members were already Masons prior to becoming Mormons.

Joseph's early followers were well aware of the similarities to Masonry, because Joseph encouraged them to become familiar with Masonry. They did not draw the conclusion that the author draws, which suggests at this late date that the author has misunderstood.

Joseph Fielding wrote during the Nauvoo period:

Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry. This I have also seen and rejoice in it.... I have evidence enough that Joseph is not fallen. I have seen him after giving, as I before said, the origin of Masonry. [1]

Heber C. Kimball wrote of the endowment:

We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the Priesthood which would cause your soul to rejoice. I cannot give them to you on paper for they are not to be written so you must come and get them for yourself...There is a similarity of Priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph says Masonry was taken from Priesthood but has become degenerated. But many things are perfect. [2]

Thus, to Joseph's contemporaries, there was much more to the LDS temple endowment than just warmed-over Freemasonry. None of Joseph's friends complained that he had simply adapted Masonic ritual for his own purposes. Rather, they were aware of the common ritual elements, but understood that Joseph had restored something that was both ritually and theologically ancient and God-given.

Joseph's decision to encourage Masonic initiating prior to teaching the templed ordinances suggests that he intended to use the Saints' experience with Masonry as a tool or "ritual language" which would permit him to more easily convey the message of the endowment to the Saints.



Question: What criticisms are associated with the temple ritual and its relationship to Freemasonry?

Critics of the LDS Church often point to similarities between the rituals of Freemasonry and the LDS temple endowment

Critics of the LDS Church often point to similarities between the rituals of Freemasonry and the LDS temple endowment and claim that since Joseph Smith was initiated as a Freemason in Nauvoo, Illinois shortly before he introduced the full endowment to the Saints (as opposed to the partial endowment given in the Kirtland Temple), he must have incorporated elements of the Masonic rites into his own ceremony. Implicit in this charge is the idea that Joseph Smith's ritual was not revealed to him by God and thus not a legitimate restoration of ancient Israelite and early Christian ordinances.

It is worthwhile to note that these critics are also often critical of Freemasonry, and thus attempt guilt by association.

Some of the endowment was developed and introduced in the weeks following Joseph Smith's initiation as a Master Mason, but other elements were developed prior to his association with Freemasonry

While it is true that some of the endowment was developed and introduced in the weeks following Joseph Smith's initiation as a Master Mason. This oversimplifies the issue considerably. The endowment and other parts of LDS temple worship developed slowly over a period of years. It did not happen all at once. Joseph Smith's critics want to label him as an intellectual thief by claiming that he stole some of the ritual elements of Freemasonry in order to create the Nauvoo-era temple endowment ceremony. The greatest obstacles to this theory are the facts that

  1. Joseph Smith claimed direct revelation from God regarding the Nauvoo-era endowment,
  2. Joseph Smith knew a great deal about the Nauvoo-era endowment ceremony long before the Nauvoo period—and thus long before his entry into the Masonic fraternity, and
  3. the Nauvoo-era temple endowment ceremony has numerous exacting parallels to the initiation ceremonies of ancient Israelite and early Christian kings and priests—parallels which cannot be found among Freemasons.

Furthermore, Joseph's contemporaries saw the parallels to Masonry clearly, and yet no one charged him with pilfering.

In order to understand this issue, a few facts need to be understood:

  1. Joseph Smith, Jr. was initiated as a Freemason in Nauvoo, Illinois on the 15th and 16th of March 1842; his brother Hyrum and (possibly) his father Joseph Sr. were Masons before the Church's organization in April 1830.
  2. A few of the early leaders of the Church were Masons before the Church's organization while many others were initiated into the Masonic institution after the Prophet was in 1842.
  3. Masonry was a well-known social institution in mid-19th century America.
  4. There are similarities between the rituals of Freemasonry and those of the LDS Temple endowment. These similarities center around
  • the use of a ritual drama—the story of Hiram Abiff is used by the Masons, while the LDS endowment uses the story of Adam and Eve and the creation (the LDS versions have parallels to ancient Israelite temple worship).
  • some similar hand actions in the course of the rituals (the LDS versions having distinct parallels to ancient Israelite temple worship and early Christian usage).

Symbolist F. L. Brink suggested that Joseph Smith successfully provided an "innovative and intricate symbology" that suited well the psychic needs of his followers. [3]


Question: When did Joseph Smith demonstrate knowledge of the elements of the endowment ritual?

Joseph Smith knew of Nauvoo-era endowment ritual, phraseology, vestments, and theology at least a year before he ever became a Freemason

Critics have noted that Joseph's initiation into Freemasonry (15–16 March 1842) predates his introduction of the full temple endowment among the Saints (4 May 1842). They thus claim that Masonry was a necessary element for Joseph's self-generated "revelation" of the Nauvoo-era temple ceremonies.

But one LDS author draws attention to the fact that there is much more to the history of the endowment restoration than critics of the Church are willing to admit.

Plenty of evidence...is available that Joseph Smith had a detailed knowledge of the Nauvoo temple ceremonies long before he introduced them in May 1842 and long before he set foot inside a Masonic hall...While Joseph Smith was translating the book of Abraham from Egyptian papyri, he wrote a series of short explanations for three of the illustrations that accompanied his translation. The Prophet noted that in Facsimile 2, figures 3 and 7 were related in some manner to "the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood" and "the sign of the Holy Ghost." When he came to figure 8, he explained that this area on the Egyptian drawing contained "writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God."...

Other writers have used the Facsimile 2 material to sharpen the chronological argument against Joseph Smith. Facsimile 2 and its temple-related explanations were first printed in the 15 March 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons, the same day that the Prophet received the first of three Masonic initiation rites. Latter-day Saints have traditionally argued that this issue of the newspaper was published during the day while the Prophet's Masonic initiation did not occur until that evening. Thus Joseph Smith must have had temple knowledge before he had Masonic knowledge. But critics point out that the 15 March issue of the paper was not actually published until 19 March, several days after the Prophet witnessed the Masonic ceremonies.

This is where terminology becomes crucial. Some claim that the phrases employed by Joseph Smith in the Facsimile 2 explanations are Masonic and that it was not until several days after his Masonic induction that Joseph Smith "first spoke of 'certain key words and signs belonging to the priesthood.'" These critics assume the terms are necessarily "Masonic," yet it must be remembered that Freemasonry's rites are little more than borrowed baggage. Then what about the supposedly incriminating timing of these incidents? This is precisely the point at which the entire argument falls apart. On 5 May 1841 William Appleby paid a visit to Joseph Smith, who read to him the revelation on temple ordinances, now identified as Doctrine and Covenants 124, that was received 19 January 1841. After the two men discussed baptism for the dead, the Prophet got out his collection of Egyptian papyrus scrolls and, while exhibiting Facsimile 2, explained to Appleby that part of the drawing was related to "the Lord revealing the Grand key words of the Holy Priesthood, to Adam in the garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and to all whom the Priesthood was revealed."

It is also clear from Doctrine and Covenants 124 that Joseph Smith was well aware of the main ritual elements of the Nauvoo endowment ceremony at least as early as 19 January 1841. (See D&C :124.) [4]

The note from Appleby is found in his journal under the date of 5 May 1841, a little less than a year before Joseph's initiation into the Masonic Lodge at Nauvoo. [5] There is a great deal more historical evidence that the Prophet Joseph Smith knew of Nauvoo-era endowment ritual, phraseology, vestments, and theology long before he ever became a Freemason.

In evidence of this fact, we find that upon his initiation into Masonry Joseph Smith was already explaining things which the Masons themselves did not comprehend. According to one witness:

"the Prophet explained many things about the rites that even Masons do not pretend to understand but which he made most clear and beautiful." [6]


Question: Why would Joseph Smith incorporate Masonic elements into the temple ritual?

There are two aspects of temple worship: The teaching of the endowment, and the presentation of the endowment

In order to understand the relationship between the temple endowment and Freemasonry it is useful to consider the temple experience. In the temple, participants are confronted with ritual in a form which is unknown in LDS worship outside of that venue. In the view of some individuals the temple endowment is made up of two parts:

  1. The teachings of the endowment, i.e., the doctrines taught and the covenants made with God.
  2. The method of presenting the endowment, or the "ritual" mechanics themselves.

It is in the ritual presentation of the endowment teachings and covenants that the similarities between the LDS temple worship and Freemasonry are the most apparent. The question is, why would this be the case?

Joseph's challenge was to find a method of presenting the endowment that would be effective

It is the opinion of some people that in developing the endowment Joseph Smith faced a problem. He wished to communicate, in a clear and effective manner, some different (and, in some cases, complex) religious ideas. These included such abstract concepts as

  • the nature of creation (matter being organized and not created out of nothing)
  • humanity's relationship to God and to each other
  • eternal marriage and exaltation in the afterlife

The theory is that Joseph needed to communicate these ideas to a diverse population; some with limited educational attainments, many of whom were immigrants; several with only modest understanding of the English language; all of whom possessed different levels of intellectual and spiritual maturity—but who needed to be instructed through the same ceremony.

Ritual and repetition are important teaching tools

Joseph Smith's very brief experience with Freemasonry before the introduction of the full LDS endowment may have reminded him of the power of instruction through ritual and repetition. Some people believe that Joseph may have seized upon Masonic tools as teaching devices for the endowment's doctrines and covenants during the Nauvoo era. Other people are of the opinion that since these elements were previously present in the worship of the Kirtland Temple they were not 'borrowed' by the Prophet at all.

Regardless, the use of symbols was characteristic of Joseph Smith's era; it was not unique to him or Masonry:

Symbols on buildings, in literature, stamped on manufactured goods, etc. were not endemic to Mormons and Masons but were common throughout all of mid-nineteenth century American society (as even a cursory inspection of books, posters, buildings and photos of the periods will bear out.) So, assuming [Joseph] Smith felt a need to communicate specific principles to his Saints, he might naturally develop a set of easily understood symbols as were already in familiar use about him. [7]


Question: Why is confidentiality associated with the temple ordinances?

The LDS temple ceremony was, and still is, considered to be sacred, and was not to be exposed to the view or discussion of outsiders

Joseph Smith was of the view that some of the Saints were not good at keeping religious confidences:

The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us, is because we do not keep them but reveal them; we do not keep our own secrets, but reveal our difficulties to the world, even to our enemies, then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord? I can keep a secret till Doomsday. [8]

A few of the early leaders of the Church pointed out that one of the aims of Masonry was to teach adherents proper respect for promises of confidentiality. [9] For instance,

  • Joseph Smith: "The secret of Masonry is to keep a secret." [10]
  • Brigham Young: "The main part of Masonry is to keep a secret." [11]

This institutionalized Masonic principle was a trait that would be necessary for the Saints to incorporate into their lives once they were endowed, because certain elements of the temple ritual were considered to be very sacred and were not to be divulged to the uninitiated. This may be the key for understanding why the Prophet encouraged so many of the Nauvoo-era Saints to join the Masonic brotherhood.


Question: How do the goals of Freemasonry compare to those of the Latter-day Saint endowment?

The goals of Masonry and the LDS endowment are not the same

It is worth noting that some of the similarities between the endowment and Freemasonry which are highlighted by Church critics are only superficial. For example, critics typically focus on the common use of architectural elements on the Salt Lake Temple and in Masonry, even though the endowment makes no reference to such elements. In almost every case, shared symbolic forms have different meanings, and thus should not be seen as exact parallels.

It should also be emphasized that the goals of Masonry and the LDS endowment are not the same. Both teach important truths, but the truths they teach are different. Masonry teaches of man's relationship to his fellow men and offers no means of salvation; i.e., it is not a religion. The temple endowment, on the other hand, teaches of man's relationship to God, and Latter-day Saints consider it to be essential for exaltation in the world to come.


Question: Where did 19th-Century Latter-day Saints believe that Freemasonry came from?

It was a common 19th century belief of both Mormons and Masons that Masonry had it origins in the Temple of Solomon

The Saints of Joseph Smith's era accepted the then-common belief that Masonry ultimately sprang from Solomon's temple. Thus, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball understood Masonry to be a corrupted form of a pristine ancient temple rite. [12] One author later wrote that masonry as an "institution dates its origins many centuries back, it is only a perverted Priesthood stolen from the Temples of the Most High." [13]

It was a common 19th century belief of both Mormons and Masons that Masonry had it origins in the Temple of Solomon. A few Masons cling to this view even today. An opinion not, it turns out, supported by the historical evidence but it was only an opinion. When studying the relationship between Mormonism and the fraternal order known as Freemasonry it is important to acknowledge and understand the perspective expressed by nineteenth century Latter-day Saints. Below are seven examples of what some Mormons thought about where the rites and teachings of the Masons came from (some of these people were also Masons). Notice that some of these quotes purport to reflect the view of the Prophet Joseph Smith on this subject.

Early Latter-day Saints' views of Freemasonry

Joseph Fielding wrote during the Nauvoo period:

Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry. This I have also seen and rejoice in it.... I have evidence enough that Joseph is not fallen. I have seen him after giving, as I before said, the origin of Masonry. [14]

Heber C. Kimball wrote of the endowment:

We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the Priesthood which would cause your soul to rejoice. I cannot give them to you on paper for they are not to be written so you must come and get them for yourself...There is a similarity of Priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph says Masonry was taken from Priesthood but has become degenerated. But many things are perfect. [15]

Thus, to Joseph's contemporaries, there was much more to the LDS temple endowment than just warmed-over Freemasonry. None of Joseph's friends complained that he had simply adapted Masonic ritual for his own purposes. Rather, they were aware of the common ritual elements, but understood that Joseph had restored something that was both ritually and theologically ancient and God-given.

Early Church leaders believed that Freemasonry was an "apostate" form of the Endowment

  • Willard Richards (16 March 1842): “Masonry had its origin in the Priesthood. A hint to the wise is sufficient.” [16]
  • Heber C. Kimball (17 June 1842): “There is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Brother Joseph [Smith] says Masonry was taken from priesthood.” [17]
  • Benjamin F. Johnson (1843): Joseph Smith “told me Freemasonry, as at present, was the apostate endowments, as sectarian religion was the apostate religion.” [18]
  • Joseph Fielding (December 1843): The LDS temple ordinances are “the true origin of Masonry.” [19]
  • Saints in Salt Lake City (1849–50): “Masonry was originally of the church, and one of its favored institutions, to advance the members in their spiritual functions. It had become perverted from its designs.” [20]
  • Heber C. Kimball (9 November 1858): “The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy. . . . They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing.” [21]
  • Church Authorities (1842–1873): “The Mormon leaders have always asserted that Free-Masonry was a . . . degenerate representation of the order of the true priesthood.” [22]


Important note: Members of FairMormon take their temple covenants seriously. We consider the temple teachings to be sacred, and will not discuss their specifics in a public forum.

Question: What are the differences between the Endowment and Freemasonry?

Researcher Matthew B. Brown offers the following list of elements found in Masonic ritual that have no analogue to LDS temple worship

It is common to point out similarities between Masonic and LDS temple ritual. This may give uninformed readers the impression that vast amounts of the LDS ceremony and the Masonic ritual are the same or show clear evidence of borrowing. If we consider the many areas of Masonic ritual with no analogue in LDS temple ritual, it becomes obvious that this is not the case.

Masonic elements with no analogue to LDS temple worship

Researcher Matthew B. Brown offers the following list of elements found in Masonic ritual (as Joseph Smith and his contemporaries would have experienced it) that have no analogue to LDS temple worship:[23]

  • officers who are present during ceremonies (master, wardens, deacons, treasurer, secretary),
  • three candles/lights,
  • circumambulation,
  • emphasis on cardinal directions,
  • call from labor to refreshment,
  • the Great Architect of the Universe,
  • opening and closing prayer,
  • business proceedings,
  • balloting for candidates,
  • blindfold,
  • cable-tow/rope,
  • space is called a lodge,
  • the holy lodge of St. John at Jerusalem,
  • candidate declares trust in God,
  • sharp object being pressed against candidate’s body,
  • reading of a Psalm,
  • ritualized walking steps,
  • touching of the Bible to take an oath,
  • mention of the parts,
  • points,
  • and secret arts of Freemasonry,
  • clapping of hands/“the shock,”
  • stamping the floor,
  • pillars Jachin and Boaz,
  • Solomon’s temple,
  • different ways of wearing an apron,
  • working tools of a mason (twenty-four-inch gauge, gavel, trowel)
  • jewels,
  • check-words,
  • divested of all metals,
  • candidate asked to give a metallic memorial,
  • ritualized method of standing,
  • motion given for closing the lodge,
  • asking if the assembly is satisfied with proceedings,
  • entire lecture of each degree in Q&A format,
  • placement of legs and feet in a symbolic shape,
  • clothing configuration that signifies distress/destitution,
  • the teaching that the left side is the weakest part of the body,
  • the ancient pagan deity called Fides,
  • the apron represents innocence,
  • cornerstone placement in the northeast,
  • mention of a charter that enables work to be performed,
  • wisdom-beauty-strength,
  • Jacob’s ladder,
  • faith-hope-charity,
  • ornaments/checkered pavement-indented tessels-blazing star,
  • Bethlehem,
  • trestle board,
  • rough ashlar,
  • perfect ashlar,
  • churches and chapels,
  • Moses and the Red Sea,
  • King Solomon as an ancient Grand Master,
  • St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist,
  • politics,
  • the value of two cents and one cent,
  • swearing to support the constitution of the Grand Lodge,
  • the valley of Jehosaphat,
  • Succoth and Zaradatha,
  • changing configuration of mason tools,
  • kissing the scriptures,
  • lettering or syllabling words,
  • symbol-filled floor carpet,
  • mention of speculative activity,
  • maps of the heavens and the earth,
  • mythological material on the pillars of Solomon’s Temple serving as archives,
  • the winding staircase in Solomon’s Temple,
  • five orders of architecture,
  • the five human senses,
  • seven sabbatical years,
  • seven years of famine,
  • seven years in building Solomon’s Temple,
  • seven golden candlesticks in Solomon’s Temple,
  • seven planets,
  • seven wonders of the world,
  • seven liberal arts and sciences,
  • Jeptha and the Ephraimites,
  • army-war-battle,
  • the river Jordan,
  • the letter “G” denoting Deity,
  • the destruction of Solomon’s Temple,
  • emphasis on geometry (and claiming geometry and Masonry were originally synonymous),
  • Grand Master Hiram Abiff,
  • corn and the waterford,
  • charge to conceal another initiate’s secrets,
  • no help for the widow’s son,
  • humanity-friendship-brotherly love,
  • so mote it be,
  • white gloves,
  • three ruffians,
  • physical assault with weapons,
  • enactment of a murder,
  • coast of Joppa,
  • Ethiopia,
  • buried in the rough sands of the sea at low watermark,
  • kingly court/judgment scene,
  • execution of murderers,
  • discovery of a grave,
  • substitute word,
  • faint letter “G” on the chest,
  • raising of a dead body from a grave,
  • the “traditional accounts”/Old Charges,
  • the drawing of architectural plans and designs,
  • a sprig of acacia/the immortal soul,
  • a cavern in the cleft of a rock,
  • a coffin,
  • being buried for two weeks,
  • monument of a weeping virgin and broken column,
  • an urn with ashes,
  • a depiction of Time,
  • no rain for seven years in the daytime while the temple was being built,
  • thousands of pillars and columns made of Parian marble to support the temple of Solomon,
  • the king of Tyre,
  • a pot of incense,
  • the beehive,
  • a book of constitutions,
  • Tiler’s sword,
  • heart,
  • anchor,
  • all-seeing eye,
  • Noah’s ark,
  • 47th problem of Euclid,
  • hourglass,
  • scythe,
  • Pythagoras,
  • Eureka,
  • Greek language,
  • sacrifice of a hecatomb,
  • three stairs/three stages of life/Entered-Apprentice-Fellowcraft-Master Mason,
  • a spade,
  • a death-head,
  • and due-guards.


"oaths of vengeance"

The author's unresolved question

"oaths of vengeance"

Author's source(s)

Response to the author's claim


The author is here confusing a matter that was often mentioned and distorted in 19th-century anti-Mormon potboilers and literature.

Early temple ritual likely included a request that God would take vengeance upon those who had murdered Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and persecuted the Saints. This was not an "oath" that the Saints would perform such acts, but rather a turning over to God of their desire for retribution and restitution.



Question: Was there an oath in a former version of the temple endowment that required vengeance upon the government of the United States?

It is likely that there was an oath that asked members to pray that God would avenge the blood of the prophets

Until 1927 the temple endowment very likely contained such an oath. The exact wording is not entirely clear, but it appears that it did not call on the Saints themselves to take vengeance on the United States, but that they would continue to pray that God himself might avenge the blood of the prophets.

Although the Oath of Vengeance contains no curses like those in the imprecatory psalms, like the psalmists, the Saints apparently had the wisdom to take directly to God their strong feelings in response to the injustices they had been dealt. By doing so, they turned over to Him the responsibility for both justice and healing.

In nearly every anti-Mormon discussion of the temple, critics raise the issue of the "oath of vengeance" that existed during the 19th century and very early 20th century. These critics often misstate the nature of the oath and try to use its presence in the early temple endowment as evidence that the LDS temple ceremonies are ungodly, violent, and immoral.

The leaders of the Church have modified the endowment from time to time. Prior to changes made in 1927, there was an oath to pray for the Lord's vengeance on those who murdered the prophets. In their sworn testimonies and temple exposes, apostates gave conflicting accounts on who was to do the actual avenging: the Lord or the Saints themselves.[24] Surveying Mormon history for teachings about of vengeance can add perspective and help evaluate which possibility is more likely.

During the Missouri conflict, the Saints were instructed through revelation to petition for governmental redress for the outrages they suffered

In 1833, the Mormons were driven out of Jackson County, Missouri, in part due to anti-slavery sentiments that differed from the more established settlers. Through revelation, the Saints were instructed to petition for governmental redress for the outrages they suffered. The Saints were expected to be pacifists, but only up to a point. D&C 98:23-31:

Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded; But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you. And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold. And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold; And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out. And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands; And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.

The use of violence was condoned only in cases of self-defense or after the Lord had delivered up a previously warned enemy in the Saints hands

Even then mercy towards enemies was encouraged and indications are that the Lord can fight his own battles (see v. 37) to extract his vengeance on the wicked. Note the repeated references to third and fourth generations of children that is added for rhetorical effect despite the impracticality of a single enemy being a menace for the encompassing time span.

The earliest known oath of vengeance in a Mormon temple appears to have been introduced by Joseph Smith in Kirtland

The earliest known oath of vengeance in a Mormon temple appears to have been introduced by Joseph Smith spontaneously at the Kirtland dedication on March 30, 1836:[25]

The seventies are at liberty to go to Zion if they please or go wheresoever they will and preach the gospel and let the redemption of Zion be our object, and strive to affect it by sending up all the strength of the Lords house whereever we find them, and I want to enter into the following covenant, that if any more of our brethren are slain or driven from their lands in Missouri by the mob that we will give ourselves no rest until we are avenged of our enimies to the uttermost, this covenant was sealed unanimously by a hosanna and Amen.

The Mormons used military force to defend themselves in Missouri, but eventually they were driven out after an exterminating order was issued against them by governor Boggs. Further petitions for redress in Missouri were met with rejection. Martin van Buren remarked "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you." Enemies in Missouri, including the next governor, conspired to kidnap Joseph in Illinois and bring him to Missouri to face trumped up charges.

Nauvoo Developments: Wilford Woodruff later situated the temple instruction in praying for the Lord's biblical vengeance of blood of the prophets

Perhaps anticipating his death, Joseph met often with apostles and other close associates to restore the temple endowment prior to the completion of the Nauvoo temple. Wilford Woodruff, later situated the temple instruction in praying for the Lord's biblical vengeance of blood of the prophets as follows:[26]

I have already said that there is nothing [antagonistic to the government in the Mormon endowments] of that kind in any part or phase of Mormonism. I ought to know about that as I am one of the oldest members of the church. A good deal is being made of a form of prayer based upon two verses in the sixth chapter of the revelations of St. John as contained in the New Testament. It relates to praying that God might avenge the blood of the prophets. An attempt has, I see, been made to connect this with avenging the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and to have reference to this nation. It can have no such application as the endowments were given long before the death of Joseph and Hyrum and have not been changed. This nation and government has never been charged by the Mormon people with the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. As it is well known the murder was the act of the local mob disguised.

Recent generations of Latter-day Saints, who haven't experienced mob violence, may be surprised at or uncomfortable with such oaths

Recent generations of Latter-day Saints, who haven't experienced mob violence, kidnapping attempts, and death threats, may be surprised at or uncomfortable with the feelings of many earlier saints who were praying for justice instead of praying for their enemies. But we live in kinder, gentler times; and nineteenth-century Mormons—especially those who came out of Nauvoo—saw the hand of God whenever their persecutors suffered misfortune, a feeling common to most powerless, persecuted minority groups.

After Joseph Smith's death, his closest friends continued to meet after his death.[27] This group met to test revelation ("try all things"), pray for the healing of sick members, pray for the success of church projects, and pray for deliverance from their enemies. Heber C. Kimball recalled that after Joseph's death the prayer circle met and prayed for God's vengeance.[28]

Summarizing Willard Richards' activities immediately after the martyrdom, historian Claire Noall wrote:

True, in this [1850] speech Richards finally denounced the actual murderers; but when notifying the Church of Joseph Smith's death at Carthage jail, he wrote to Nauvoo that the people of Carthage expected the Mormons to rise, but he had "promised them no." The next day from the steps of the Prophet's home, he reminded his people that he had pledged his word and his honor for their peaceful conduct. And when writing the news of Smith's death to Brigham Young then near Boston, Willard Richards said the blood of martyrs does not cry from the ground for vengeance; vengeance is the Lord's.[29]

Temple work in general and, more specifically, prayers that God, rather than Mormon members, would avenge Joseph Smith is what was the salvation of the church in Nauvoo. Instead of giving vent to passionate desires for revenge using the impressively-sized Nauvoo Legion, the brethren were able to get members to channel their frustration and anger into petitions to the Almighty for justice. Their actual energy was concentrated on the things of heaven through temple building and service. Temple prayer became a way of ritually memorializing Joseph Smith's martyrdom.

Conflict in Utah: To pray the Father to avenge the blood of the prophets and righteous men that has been shed

After the exodus to Utah, ordinances usually reserved for the temple were performed in the Endowment House, while temple construction was in progress. In a late recollection, David H. Cannon described the instruction at the Endowment House in regards to vengeance:

To pray the Father to avenge the blood of the prophets and righteous men that has been shed, etc. In the endowment house this was given but as persons went there only once, it was not so strongly impressed upon their minds, but in the setting in order [of] the endowments for the dead it was given as it is written in 9 Chapter of Revelations [sic] and in that language we importune our Father, not that we may, but that He, our Father, will avenge the blood of martyrs shed for the testimony of Jesus.[30]

Although the religious stress was on letting God perform the actual vengeance, individuals sometimes imagined they might be called upon to take a more active role. This phenomenon reached a low point after the rhetorical hyperbole of Mormon Reformation[31] and the war time hysteria created by President James Buchanan sending troops against Utah. From the pulpit, many Church leaders held the United States as a nation responsible for letting mobocracy get out of control. As tensions mounted, vengeance motifs surfaced in the apocalyptic language of some patriarchal blessings. The Saints were prepared to fight in a just war.

While the Utah War was nearly a bloodless conflict, tragedy struck some caught in the crossfire. A recent work has examined the way conspiring, local Mormon leaders manipulated others to become complicit in the Mountain Meadows Massacre in part by exploiting their desires for vengeance.[32] However, in their approach to explain how basically good people could commit such an atrocity, the authors found elements in common with vigilantism and mass killings perpetrated everywhere. They agree that these southern Utah Mormons were acting against the principles of their religion.[33] Their oaths of taught them to channel their righteous indignation into petitioning God for justice while they worked constructively to build and defend Zion.

The Reed Smoot Hearings brought to light that the Saints were covenanting to ask God to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith on the nation

Most accounts of the temple oath of vengeance stressed that God, rather than man, would do the actual punishing. For example, August Lundstrom, an apostate Mormon, testified at the Reed Smoot hearings in December 1904:

Mr. [Robert W.] Tayler [counsel for the protestants]: Can you give us the obligation of retribution?
Mr. Lundstrom: I can.
Mr. Tayler: You may give that.
Mr. Lundstrom: "We and each of us solemnly covenant and promise that we shall ask God to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith upon this nation." There is something more added, but that is all I can remember verbatim. That is the essential part.
Mr. Tayler: What was there left of it? What else?
Mr. Lundstrom: It was in regard to teaching our children and children's children to the last generation to the same effect.[34]

One could object that Lundstrom, as an apostate, fabricated the existence of such an oath or, intentionally or unintentionally, distorted its wording. However, others who spoke publicly (such as David H. Cannon above) had similar recollections.

Biblical Perspective: justice is a responsibility reserved for God

The Oath of Vengeance is a vivid reminder that the Saints understood the writings of the Apostle Paul -- that justice is a responsibility reserved for God.

Romans 12:19

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.


"Many of these Masonic rituals....were later removed from the temple ceremony"

The author's unresolved question

"Many of these Masonic rituals....were later removed from the temple ceremony"

Author's source(s)

Response to the author's claim


"Many" is in the eye of the beholder. In any case, the temple endowment has been modified from time to time as necessary. One must distinguish between:

  1. the presentation of the endowment (i.e., the ritual method of presenting the teachings) and
  2. the content of the endowment (i.e., the doctrine taught and covenants put in place).

The author seems to wish us to believe that Joseph Smith used Masonic ritual, and then the Church removed evidence of this. Such a pattern, though, gets the sequence of events completely backward. He has the Church using Masonry when many Saints were Masons, only to remove Masonic elements later on when members were not Masons. This is a poor way to keep a secret.

The modification of elements in common with Masonry suggests, instead, that some ritual elements are altered if the symbolism used is no longer familiar or useful to members. Thus, the Church's leaders removed some presentation elements once they no longer helped teach the underlying content.



Question: Why would the Church remove or alter elements of the temple ceremony if these ceremonies were revealed by God?

There is a difference between the ordinance of the endowment and the mechanism used in the presentation of the ordinance

Latter-day Saints believe that the Temple endowment is an eternal ordinance that Joseph Smith received by revelation from God. Why, then, have changes been made to it several times since it was first revealed?

People sometimes confuse the ordinance of the endowment with the presentation of the endowment. The presentation has undergone many changes since the time of Joseph Smith as it is adjusted to meet the needs of a modern and ever changing membership.

Joseph Smith restored the endowment ordinance, but the method of presentation of the ordinance is adapted to fit the needs of the times. There would be no point in having continuing revelation, a founding idea of our faith, if we are not permitted to advance and meet new needs. God’s directives and how He deals with His people may vary according to His people’s understanding and needs. God doesn’t tell everyone to build an ark and wait for a flood. Changes sometimes occur as a result of God dealing with His children according to their changing circumstances.


Question: Did other ceremonies or practices ever change in the ancient Church?

major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry

We know that major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry. Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses and practices associated with that law were no longer necessary. Changes also took place after Christ's earthly ministry. For example, Christ originally taught the gospel only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 15:24) and forbade His apostles from going to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5–6). After Jesus' death Peter was commanded by an angel to take the gospel to all people (Acts 10, Acts 11; Matt 28:19). Following Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry the practice of circumcision also became unnecessary (Acts 15, Galatians 6:15). Changes in the Church are sometimes necessary. Such changes, however, must be done by inspiration or revelation from the head of the Church, who is Jesus Christ.

Relative truths can change, while absolute truths do not

There are absolute truths and relative truths. Absolute truths (such as: God lives and Jesus is the Christ) do not change. Relative truths or practices (such as: circumcision, plural marriage, and age of priesthood ordination) do change. Many relative truths deal with procedural issues, and how absolute truths are presented, rather than the absolute truths themselves. As additional truths are revealed, our understanding of previous revelation is modified to accommodate additional light.

That the temple ceremonies have undergone occasional changes, improvements, and refinements, should cause no concern since -- as Joseph Fielding Smith noted -- the “work of salvation for the dead came to the Prophet [Joseph Smith] like every other doctrine — piecemeal. It was not revealed all at once.”[35]

President Brigham Young gave a brief definition of the endowment and thereby identified some of its essential elements. He said,

"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."[36]

On 4 May 1842, after President Joseph Smith gave the first Nauvoo-era endowment to a small group of Latter-day Saints he told apostle Brigham Young that because of their limited spacial circumstances the overall experience was “not arranged perfectly” and he wanted Brigham to “organize and systematize” the ceremonies. This indicates there were some presentational modifications allowable in the rites while still preserving the core elements of the experience.


Question: Is it ever allowable to modify a religious ceremony?

The ceremony by which the endowment is administered is subject to modification, but the elements of the endowment are not

Harold B. Lee emphasized that the means by which the endowment and its message are presented are subject to modification

Now, you think for a moment—in the upper office over [Joseph Smith's] store, with no equipment like we have in our temples today, the endowment had to be given by lecture. The Prophet Joseph Smith through these, his counselors, and others as you heard their names, attended to the matters that we now have given in various ways. Sometimes our people who go through the temples are a bit startled because of the varied ways in which the endowment is presented. Perhaps, as under inspiration they studied the nature of the endowment, they thought to make it a little more meaningful to the patrons who would come: part by dramatization, part by question and answer, part by lecture, part by picturization on the walls of some of the temples. We have artists who have tried to put those who go through the temple in the mood of the lesson to be taught as they proceed through the temple.
....But it is the same message that was given by lecture by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his office over [his] store. Now, when we have that in mind, we will see why the Prophet, in the beginning of this dispensation, gave certain instructions to have the brethren stimulated in their thinking.[37]


The ordinance versus the ritual used to present the ordinance

Summary: Important note: Members of FairMormon take their temple covenants seriously. We consider the temple teachings to be sacred, and will not discuss their specifics in a public forum. Critics of Mormonism often confuse an ordinance with the manner in which the ordinance is administered. They therefore claim that changes to the presentation of the ordinance are not allowed.

Jump to Subtopic:


"begging the question as to whether the LDS temple ceremony was inspired of God to begin with"

The author's unresolved question

"begging the question as to whether the LDS temple ceremony was inspired of God to begin with"

Author's source(s)

Response to the author's claim


Since the author is doubtful about God's existence and the Church's truth claims, it seems unlikely that he would conclude that God inspired the LDS temple ceremony.

Revelation must always address itself to humans in a manner which they can understand. A revelation in Chinese, for example, would do no good to Joseph Smith, who spoke only English. Likewise, the principles taught in the temple's "ritual language" had to be at least somewhat accessible to early Saints. Later Saints may require, from time to time, that that ritual language be "updated" to convey the intended meaning.

The author also ignores the many parallels between LDS temple worship and early Christian worship. He has a double standard: he presumes that the Masonic connection—which Joseph and others never heard, and even went out of their way to point out—is evidence of a nineteenth-century influence, but does not acknowledge that parallels with early Christian worship suggest a connection to ritual and doctrine from much earlier.



Modern and ancient temple rituals

Summary: Important note: Members of FairMormon take their temple covenants seriously. We consider the temple teachings to be sacred, and will not discuss their specifics in a public forum.


Notes

  1. Andrew F. Ehat, "'They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet'—The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 2 (1979), 145, 147, spelling and punctuation standardized.
  2. Heber C. Kimball to Parley P. Pratt, 17 June 1842, Parley P. Pratt Papers, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, spelling and punctuation standardized.
  3. T. L. Brink, "The Rise of Mormonism: A Case Study in the Symbology of Frontier America," International Journal of Symbology 6/3 (1975): 4; cited in Allen D. Roberts, "Where are the All-Seeing Eyes?," Sunstone 4 no. (Issue #15) (May 1979), 26. off-site off-site
  4. Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site (citations omitted)
  5. William I. Appleby Journal, 5 May 1841, MS 1401 1, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  6. Horace H. Cummings, "True Stories from My Journal," The Instructor 64 no. 8 (August 1929), 441.; cited in Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  7. Allen D. Roberts, "Where are the All-Seeing Eyes?," Sunstone 4 no. (Issue #5) (May 1979), 26. off-site off-site(emphasis added)
  8. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 194–195, (19 December 1841). off-site Direct off-site; see also History of the Church, 4:478–479. Volume 4 link
  9. See footnote 20 of Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  10. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 329. off-site{15 October 1843)
  11. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 5:418, (22 January 1860, spelling standardized). ISBN 0941214133.
  12. See Footnote 30, Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  13. H. Belnap, "A Mysterious Preacher," The Instructor 21 no. ? (15 March 1886), 91.; cited in Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  14. Andrew F. Ehat, "'They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet'—The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 2 (1979), 145, 147, spelling and punctuation standardized.
  15. Heber C. Kimball to Parley P. Pratt, 17 June 1842, Parley P. Pratt Papers, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, spelling and punctuation standardized.
  16. Letter, 7–25 March 1842, Willard Richards to Levi Richards, published in Joseph Grant Stevenson, ed., Richards Family History (Provo, UT: Stevenson’s Genealogical Center, 1991), 3:90.
  17. Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 85.
  18. Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Heber City, UT: Archive Publishers, 2001), 113.
  19. Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, Winter 1979, 145; hereafter cited as BYUS.
  20. John W. Gunnison, The Mormons, or Latter-day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake (Philadelphia: Lippincott and Company, 1856), 59.
  21. BYUS, vol. 15, no. 4, Summer 1975, 458.
  22. Thomas B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), 698.
  23. Matthew B. Brown, Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons (American Fork, UT: Covenant, 2009), Kindle edition, location:268–297, converted to bullet list for readability.
  24. Van Hale, "The Alleged Oath of Vengeance," recorded 1 July 2007 during the Mormon Miscellaneous Worldwide Talk Show, off-site
  25. See 30 March 1836 Jesse Hitchcock record in "MS Joseph Smith Journal, 1835-36," 193 pp., Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives cited in Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002).
  26. Wilford Woodruff interview, Deseret News 22 November 1889
  27. For a history of prayer circles, see D. Michael Quinn, "Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 1 (Fall 1978), 79–105. PDF link
  28. See his 21 December 1845 diary entry in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845–1846: A Documentary History, Richard Van Wagoner, Devery Scott Anderson, and Gary James Bergera, eds. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005).
  29. Claire Noall, "The Plains of Warsaw," Utah Historical Quarterly 25/1 (January 1957): 47–51.
  30. David John Buerger, "The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 34 no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2001), 103.
  31. Paul H. Peterson, "The Mormon Reformation of 1856–1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality," Journal of Mormon History 15/1 (1989): 59–88.
  32. Richard Turley, Ron Walker and Glen Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Oxford University Press, 2008), 13–14,92,135,181,286n48.
  33. Turley, Walker and Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, xiii–xiv.
  34. Testimony of August W. Lundstrom, Proceedings before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate in the Matter of the Protests Against the Right of Hon. Reed Smoot, a Senator from the State of Utah, to Hold His Seat (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 2:153. PDF link
  35. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 168.
  36. Brigham Young, "Necessity of Building Temples—The Endowment," (April 6, 1853) Journal of Discourses 2:31.
  37. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 578. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)